Smell Like Montreal! Perfumer Creates Scents for Anniversary
Claude André Hébert came up with five fragrances that evoke different areas of his home city, and different personalities. Which one are you?
Montrealer Claude André Hébert isn’t just a perfumer. He also considers himself a storyteller. So when the idea of creating a scent to represent Montreal came to him three years ago, ahead of the city’s 375th anniversary, he donned his knapsack and set out on foot in the hope of sniffing out its essence and bottling it as a fragrance.
Hébert quickly realized that a lone fragrance couldn’t capture the soul of a place as diverse as Montreal. After all, Hébert felt that Montreal was like its own little country. “We’re not Canadians or Quebecers, we’re Montrealers,” he says. So the project developed into a series of five Montreal perfumes, each representing a distinct geographic area. Claude André Hébert’s Montreal line sells for $185 per 100-millilitre bottle and will be available through Hébert’s website starting Jan. 30, and from the Hudson’s Bay website from March onward.
If you’re wondering how one bottles the essence of a neighbourhood, for Hébert, it’s simple: “I write about how I feel and what I can smell … Every word that’s important in the story is transformed into an ingredient, so every perfume has its own soul, its own story, and its own smell.”
We smelled the fragrances, wore them around, and listened to Hébert explain the thinking behind each one. Here’s what Billy learned, along with our suggestions about who should wear each scent.
A L’Ombre des Clochers
Suitable for: someone with a nose for old things
A L’Ombre des Clochers represents Old Montreal. “It’s right by the water, so I wanted to capture that freshness,” Hébert explains. “And when you walk down the cobblestone streets, there’s a faint smell of dust, which is translates into musk.”
He also drew inspiration from La Place Royale in Old Port, the site of the 1701 Great Peace Treaty, which ended the conflict between the Iroquois, English and French. To pay homage to the Indigenous people, Hébert added the earthy aroma of sage, along with hints of cinnamon, cardamom and pleasant orange blossom. Hébert calls A L’Ombre des Clochers a classic and vintage perfume.
Courtesy Claude André Hébert
Suitable for: the person anticipating a big day
Hébert spent many hours sitting inside Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica, where had visions of a glamorous woman, who wears a fur jacket and high heels. She attends midnight mass. “This woman is a sinner,” he narrates. “She doesn’t go to church every day, she’s just there once a year because it’s so beautiful.” He added incense to the fragrance to embody the spirit of the church, and iris to represent femininity. For Hébert, Notre Dame is a scent that’s meant to be worn during the big occasions in one’s life.
Suitable for: go-getting businesspeople
Ville Marie is Hébert’s ode to the business hub on Boulevard René-Lévesque. His muse? The powerful male archetype, who wears a well-tailored suit and carries a leather briefcase. He works in the concrete jungle of Montreal’s financial district, motivated by money. There’s a metallic finish to the scent, to convey the steel within the skyscrapers, and Hébert claims “you can actually smell the American dollar in the perfume.” It’s powerful, mysterious and masculine, but anyone can wear it, Hébert says. “Who am I to say if it’s for a man or a woman? If you like it and it fits you, it’s yours.”
Suitable for: party people
If Hébert had to pick one fragrance to represent Montreal, Métropole would be it. He walked along Rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, where the French-speakers mingle with English, and people from all of Montreal’s many immigrant communities congregate as well. This diversity is what makes Montreal, Hébert says. It’s a party perfume: To celebrate the rows of bars along Sainte-Catherine there’s a beery hint of yeast, and even the partygoers who huddle outside smoking cigarettes are represented with the aroma of tobacco.
Courtesy Claude André Hébert
Suitable for: the person in search of a religious experience
A lifelong resident of the Plateau neighbourhood beside Mount Royal, Hébert reflects his home using the smell of fresh-cut grass, birch and pine (the pine really does come through). “In the month of May, there’s about two weeks when there’s lilacs everywhere in Montreal, so I put lilacs in it also,” he explains.
Meanwhile, to some Montrealers Mont-Royal is synonymous with the striking St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal. Hébert hopes the scent will inspire prayer and meditation, as well as creativity. We found ourselves inspired enough to potentially dish out the cash for a bottle. It seems Hébert made fragrances a non-Montrealer can love, too.