Not just a nose

Designer of many beloved perfumes recalls his favorite New York City scents

Rodrigo Flores-Roux ‘s favorite scents

Few scents evoke childhood for me as strongly as the mix of horses, hot dogs and the N train found only at Grand Army Plaza. The warm, meaty smell reminds me of holding my mom’s hand on the way to the Barbie room in F.A.O Schwarz. I cannot imagine a happier time.

That’s one of my favorite scents in New York (and the world), but what would an expert say? To find out, we met up with Rodrigo Flores-Roux, a senior perfumer at the major perfume manufacturer Givaudan.

“It is a strange thing to say that one of my favorite smells in New York is actually the soil of Central Park after a snowstorm,” he says over lunch at Fred’s at Barneys Uptown. He adds that he also loves the smell of a certain magnolia tree at the Frick Gardens when it blooms in the spring and 20th Street and Ninth Avenue around Christmas time when two different groceries put out their trees. “I always go there and stand at the corner,” he says. 

Flores-Roux has designed many of the world’s most popular perfumes, including 12 scents for John Varvatos, Clinique’s Happy (which he co-authored), Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet collection, Elizabeth Arden’s Green Tea collection, a signature scent for the St. Regis hotels and scents for celebrities like Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Minogue.

Just don’t call him a “nose.”

“It’s like, are you going to call a pianist a ‘hand’ or an ‘ear’? There’s technique in playing an instrument, but there’s also technique in using our instruments,” he says, tapping his own.

Rodrigo Flores-Roux was (twice) asked to create
a perfume based on the color black.

We wander downstairs to Barneys’ perfume counter, where he reaches for the scents he designed, spraying them liberally on the paper samplers. I mention to him that I love rose scents, and he recommends I try his Dolce & Gabbana’s Velvet Rose. The scent is fresh and rich without being overpowering. When a saleswoman recommends I try another rose scent — which Flores-Roux did not design — he sniffs it distastefully and says, “Mine is better.”     

He also gestures to a few lines that he designed but is regretfully unable to talk about. “Some important houses out there don’t reveal the names of the perfumers and they actually want to take credit,” he says. “So that’s a little bit sad and a little bit ungrateful.”

Indeed, designing a perfume is just as much an artistic process as designing a dress, particularly when Flores-Roux receives super abstract instructions from potential clients like: “Design me a perfume based on the color black,” a request he has received twice. Or “the moment when Louis XIV met his future wife,” which he did for the small but exclusive brand Arquiste Parfumeur. He enjoys the challenge, though, describing his process as simply “start with your gut.”

Perhaps the hardest thing for him to do is avoid smelling things (and passing judgment on them). “My fiancée, she’s always like, ‘Stop smelling, stop smelling!’” He laughs, insisting that he does know when to turn his super sense off:  “I don’t smell at the table,” he promises. “I think that’s kind of bad manners.”