On the scent

Capturing the essence of summer and winter in bespoke fragrances designed especially for the Audi A8.

In the new Audi A8, even the quality and the scent of the air circulating within the opulent cabin receives special treatment.

Lisa Först 

David Bruen

18 July, 2018

G-R-A-S-S-E. Six letters that mean the world to lovers of fine fragrances. In this town in the South of France between the Maritime Alps and the Mediterranean, first-class perfumers from the world’s oldest fragrance house have created two very special compositions. Grasse perfumers and Audi climate-control experts have come together to bring the fresh scents of the Alps and the sea into the new Audi A8 with two new fragrances for summer and winter.

It’s early in the morning when Leslie Girard turns onto Avenue Sidi Brahim. For more than 170 years, this place around 300 metres above sea level has been home to the headquarters of the Robertet Group. Run by the fourth and fifth generations of the Maubert family, the fragrance house steeped in history has dedicated itself to processing natural materials and the production of aromas and perfumes. Today, in the historical factory buildings on Avenue Sidi Brahim, fragrances are composed for big names across the world, essential oils distilled and the purest ‘absolues’ extracted.

Leslie Girard slips on a white coat and enters the lab. The room is lined with densely packed glass shelves, stacked to the roof with hundreds of bottles, pots, tubes and flacons. Each container is filled with a different scent – citrus extracts from orange, bergamot and lime; the woody aromas of patchouli, sandalwood and vetiver; floral fragrances like jasmine, ylang-ylang and iris. There are countless different types of rose alone available to Girard and her co-workers here for their creations. 

The perfumer is working with total concentration on a very special composition. Her task is to create a fragrance that brings the fresh scent of the sea into a luxury sedan – or, to be more precise, into the new Audi A8. In her head, she already has an exact idea of the fragrance, and logs the component parts of the recipe on her computer. 

The perfumer is working with total concentration on a very special composition

... the second Audi fragrance – a winter composition with a woody base, a warm middle note and a fresh pine nuance in the top note ...

“This fragrance should be as aromatic as a sun-ripened lime, as light as a delicate flower petal and as refreshing as the Mediterranean at the height of summer,” says Girard. “The unique fragrances of the Mediterranean coast and its climate are a wonderful source of inspiration for me.” She mixes the individual components together in the lab, sniffs and perfects them. Again and again, Girard makes the tiniest of changes to the composition, adds a new element or replaces a scent. This is how, in close co-operation with Audi experts over many months, such a unique, top-quality fragrance comes into being.

Just a few metres away, her co-worker Serge de Oliviera is refining the second Audi fragrance – a winter composition with a woody base, a warm middle note and a fresh pine nuance in the top note. Becoming a perfumer was the fulfilment of his childhood dream, yet, at the same time, he is also a total car guy: 

“When I close my eyes, I imagine myself driving along a mountain pass in winter. I see the snow-covered tree tops and breath in the fresh, crystal-clear air bearing a hint of pine needles and wood. At the same time, I feel the pleasant warmth of the leather seats.”

To be able to compose a fragrance so precisely, a perfumer must recognise and memorise several thousand different smells. 

“Our top perfumers have trained their olfactory memory over many years. It means they know exactly how to harmonise floral notes with oriental scents like vanilla, pepper or cinnamon,” explains Ulrich Jensch, Managing Director of Robertet for Central and Eastern Europe and the man heading up the co-operation with Audi on behalf of the perfume manufacturer. Jensch has travelled here today from Germany together with Audi developer Karsten Belz to test and approve the fragrances created by Leslie Girard and Serge de Oliviera.

Almost perfectly timed with the arrival of Jensch and Belz comes a very precious consignment from the land owned by Robertet – blooms from the centifolia rose delivered in a white van. This very special type of rose grows only in the area around Grasse and is therefore also known as ‘Rose de Grasse’. 

“The centifolia is particularly valuable for us because it has a unique and enchanting fragrance,” says Jensch. Early in the morning, when the concentration of the fragrance in the blooms is at its highest, the region’s rose growers pick their buds and collect them in textile bags sewn into their aprons. The entire crop is harvested by hand – just as it was 200 years ago. The flowers are brought to Robertet in linen sacks and processed immediately: “The fresher the rose, the better we can conserve its fragrance.”

The flowers are placed in a tank of water. The closed tank is then heated and the resulting steam washes the fragrance molecules out of the blossom, rises to the top and is channeled into a second vessel, where it condenses. This process is repeated several times to wash the fragrance completely out of the flowers. The resulting condensate consists of water and the essential oil of the rose petals. As it cools down, it drops into what is known as the Florentine bottle, where the water and oil separate. The essential oil and the floral water or hydrolate can now be used in cosmetic products.

Watching how the fresh blooms are processed is a unique experience for Audi developer Karsten Belz, too, especially as the two Audi fragrances have a subtle rose note. The top note of the summer scent combines fruity substances with rosewood, while de Oliviera’s winter scent has rose blossoms in the warm middle note. “Our brand promise is also reflected in the quality of our fragrances,” says Belz. “It was especially important to us to select top-quality, fine essential oils and natural ingredients in order to give the Audi fragrances a unique signature. With a proportion of up to 18 percent natural substances, the Audi fragrances are on a par with a very long-lasting, highly concentrated, first-class fragrance.” Karsten Belz has worked on the development of interior climate control at Audi for more than 20 years. He has already developed the ioniser, which generates in the vehicle’s interior the negative ions that would exist in nature, especially in mountain regions or by the sea – places we go to when we want to breathe deeply again and recharge our energy reserves. 

The top note of the summer scent combines fruity substances with rosewood

The second-generation ioniser, used for the first time in the new Audi A8, artificially produces up to 40,000 negative ions per cubic centimetre

Negative ions can invigorate human cells, strengthen the immune system and thus have a positive effect on wellbeing. In closed spaces, however, there are generally no negative ions. The second-generation ioniser, used for the first time in the new Audi A8, artificially produces up to 40,000 negative ions per cubic centimetre – the kind of concentration you would find naturally only in the mountains or at waterfalls.

The invigorating effect of negative ions is further magnified by the Audi fragrances: “We want to use our fragrances to bring the Alps into the car, and make the freshness of mountain and sea air part of the interior experience,” says Belz. But they definitely won’t mask that typical new-car smell loved by so many customers. The compositions that Audi is developing together with Robertet are more like fine, complementary elements to the climate filter and ioniser. The two creations from Grasse each effect the driver’s wellbeing in their own individual way, and he/she can choose to switch between them as preferred while driving. 

“The top note of the summer fragrance contains lime, bergamot and rosemary, which have an invigorating effect and promote concentration,” says Girard, while she trickles a tiny amount of the fragrance onto a scent strip. “The cedarwood and amber in the scent’s base note, on the other hand, help to strengthen and harmonise.” The winter fragrance by de Oliviera combines fresh notes with warm, sensual ones. “Bergamot, lavender and sage in the top note evoke the fresh feel of snow and ice and, at the same time, can have a relaxing, stress-reducing and restorative effect. Rose and geranium in the middle note have a harmonising effect and brighten the mood. I’ve added sandalwood to the fragrance’s base note. It can stimulate creative powers and fantasy and generate a sense of peace and satisfaction, which is why they have long been used in Ayurvedic teachings and traditional Chinese medicine.”