Love at First Scent

How the sense of smell makes this couple fall in love and stay in love


Their first meeting 10 years ago started well. He, from Toulouse, was living in Paris. She, from Provence, was living in New York. They shared the same profession, the same passion for perfume Рand even the same favorite scent.

“It was amazing,” said Christophe Cervasel. “Sylvie [Ganter] said her dream scent was Mugler Cologne by Thierry Mugler. I told her I had been wearing it for years.”

But their conversation quickly turned sour.

“I found Sylvie very good. And just when we were about to leave, I discovered that she is French,” said Cervasel, recalling the job interview for which he had invited Ganter.

Back then, Cervasel operated his own perfume distribution firm. Said Ganter: “He said: ‘Oh! You almost have no accent when you speak French.’ I told him I am French.”

“She was not happy,” explained Cervasel.

Ganter: “I asked him: ‘Did you not read my resume?’ And he said: ‘I never read resumes.’ ”

Cervasel: “So after this first meeting, I thought she might not call me back.”

But as it turned out, Ganter did call back.

She was then working for Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton – commonly known as LVMH – to develop Fresh, a newly acquired cosmetic brand of the luxury conglomerate.

After a long telephone discussion, Ganter agreed to become a business partner of Cervasel’s firm, helping it expand its sales network in the United States.

A year later, they met in New York again. “Maybe we drank too much at dinner, but we realized we were in love – after one year. It was not love at first sight,” Cervasel chuckled. “We decided to leave what we were doing to start a company together. It was a complete change.”

Said Ganter: “I had lived in New York since I had my children. The girls are now 12 years old. Christopher lived in Paris with his two boys. And after launching our own brand, we were expecting our child together.”

That was their sixth “child.” The fifth was their own maison de parfum – Atelier Cologne – the couple said.

The perfume brand that was established in 2009 is a project about passion and two great minds making something out of nothing together.

Like the Mugler Cologne by Thierry Mugler, all the perfumes that the husband-and-wife team created are unisex. Their perfumes are also all citrus based, and have a concentration of between 15 and 20 percent of essential oils.

Their perfumes were based on such a new concept that they could not be categorized. So the couple invented a new category for their creations, calling it “cologne absolue” – a collection of pure perfumes that lasts.

“Customers today are looking for a perfume that’s fresh and elegant, not too strong. It’s different from the 1980s and 1990s, when they were looking for a strong scent,” Cervasel said. “We were lucky to be part of that trend.”

Atelier Cologne now has six stores worldwide: three in Paris, two in New York, and one in Hong Kong.

The shop at the International Finance Centre in Central was opened in September. It’s the brand’s first foray into Asia. The brand also retails through Galeries Lafayette and Sephora.

Only recently, the maison de perfume entered Indonesia and Malaysia.

Cervasel said that he plans to expand the brand further by rolling into big cities such as Shanghai, Seoul and Singapore in the coming two years.

Cervasel and Ganter work hand in hand to manage the creative and production process of each fragrance, although he’s more in manufacturing and sales, and she’s more in fragrance creation and communications.

Most of the time, the couple agree on the final result. But when they don’t, “I always have my say,” Cervasel said. “Alors, I am more difficult to convince.”

There were a few times when Ganter got her way. One was Orange Sanguine – a fragrance that Cervasel thought would be a flop as the scent smells exactly like a blood orange.

“Every time he smelled it, a smile came to his face,” said Ganter. “So I said: ‘You should look at yourself. You have that smile every time because it’s a happy scent. A happy scent is a great way to get people to sit down with us and want to discover more.”

Turned out, Orange Sanguine was a best-seller. It still is.

As bossy as Cervasel wants to project himself to be, Ganter said he actually is a very understanding husband.

“Christophe can see my point of view,” she said. “I always like to think of myself as someone who can reach the moon. He is like me, probably even worse. He always challenges – but in a positive way – go faster, bigger and better, pushing you to always be your best self.”

The article first appeared in the Standard on March 18, 2016.