"I love your country. As soon as you arrive at the airport, you can already smell the perfume," says Alberto Morillas, 69. "Everybody wears a lot of perfume, even passport control [staff] – they smell really good."
While this is, I'm sure, true, Morillas is admittedly more switched on to scent than most. In fact, he has what many would regard as the world's most highly trained nose. You might not be familiar with Morillas by name, but one glance at his portfolio of perfumes and he will begin to feel like an old friend. CK One, Giorgio Armani Acqua di Gio, Marc Jacobs Daisy, Gucci Bloom – these are just a handful of the perfumes Morillas has created in his 50-year career, which shows no signs of slowing down.
Born in Seville, the Spanish perfumer grew up around lush gardens, where the scents of orange blossom, jasmine and rosemary filled the air, awakening his nose to what was to become a lifelong love affair. But it was while flicking through the pages of Vogue at Geneva's Ecole de Beaux-Arts architecture school as a young man that Morillas stumbled upon an article on Jean-Paul Guerlain and his fragrances – the moment he pinpoints as leading him on the path to becoming a master perfumer.
“I just had this passion to create,” he says. “I joined [Swiss fragrance firm] Firmenich at the age of 20, and still, I’m in the same company. I still have the same emotion every day when I create a new perfume; it’s my life, my energy, my love.”
Despite having created hundreds of scents, Morillas never forgets. He could be walking busy streets, but his finely tuned olfactory receptors can always distinguish one of his own, even after all these years. "I have so many, but of course I can recognise them all. The different flowers, different scents, each one tells a story," he says. "It makes me very proud because it helps me to understand why people love those scents. I'm full of emotion each time I smell one."
One of those provoked emotions, Morillas admits, is surprise. Talking of the worldwide success of CK One – the fresh unisex fragrance that became the scent of the 1990s – he says: “I never thought it would be such a big success. Suddenly, in six months, everybody in the world wanted to have this perfume. It had no gender, it was just a pleasure to smell. And it’s still a very strong success.”
The genderless notion of CK One is something Morillas has infused in his own perfume brand, Mizensir. He launched the house in 1999, originally as a maker of scented candles. Now, Mizensir has a line-up of unisex scents that, after five decades of creating for other brands, are completely in keeping with the perfumer’s aesthetic.
"For me, in perfume we do not have gender. Just emotion," he says. "If a man wants to wear a rose, why should he not? In the Mizensir collection we have just the plain silver and gold bottles, they are for everyone. It's marketing that decides if it's masculine or feminine. But in the UAE, the man, he does not care. He loves to wear an emotion; he does not think about gender."
This observation formed part of the reason why Morillas brought Mizensir to the UAE, a place he describes as the "scent of the world". The Middle East launch last week also coincided with four new fragrances – Poudre d'Or, Very Musc, Celebes Wood and Epine de Rose. They are available at Atelier Perfumery at Yas Mall and Dalma Mall; Perfume Bay, Marina Mall; Bloomingdales, The Dubai Mall; Etoile, Mall of the Emirates; Mademoiselle Department Store, City Walk; and Robinsons, Dubai Festival City.
"I wanted to create 'ma parfumerie', where each fragrance tells the story of my passions, my memories and my travels; a perfume that would be as intimate as a piece of music. I don't want to create niche, I want to create excellence," says Morillas. Accordingly, each scent can take from a few weeks to a few years to perfect, he says, adding that in reality, creating the perfect perfume is "almost impossible".
“My daughter is always telling me I need to hurry up and decide a perfume is finished, but it is very difficult for me. When you make a movie, you decide to stop here because you don’t have more time – but with perfume, there is always something else you could add.”
However, this never-ending quest for more is the joy of perfume-making, says Morillas, who also doesn't believe in having a signature scent. For the winner of the prestigious Prix Francois Coty honour, a scent should match your emotion of the day, and be switched to suit your mood. "It is very important, when you spray in the morning, you need to have this emotion," he explains.
"People don't like to change their perfumes, but when you wear every day the same, you can't enjoy it in the same way. For example, when I sometimes wear Acqua di Gio, I am always surprised by it. It smells like vacation; it makes me understand why people love it – everybody wants to smell like vacation."
If he were entreated to choose his perfect scent, though, Morillas says it would probably be Mizensir’s Perfect Oud, a big seller in Russia and Dubai. “It’s not so strong, but it has the emotion of the oud. It may just be my favourite.”