Narciso Rodriguez on Quiet Luxury and His Mystery Muse

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Much like his clothes, the success of Narciso Rodriguez For Her has always been quiet. Launched in 2003, Claire Danes and Scarlett Johannson were rumored to be fans of the perfume but more notably, the scent introduced a new way to smell sexy, without being obvious. At the time, big celebrity fragrances from Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were just starting, with their bombastic fruity notes and sugary cupcake-like accords.

But Narciso was sensual and brought back the usage of musk, a centuries old ingredient that was deemed “old-fashioned” for the time. Internet perfume fanatics have called the scent “like heaven” and described it as “Like sisters…effortlessly cool, mysterious in a way as you can hear gossip and laughter coming from their rooms.” Internet conspiracy theories also loosely connect it with one of Rodriguez’s original muses. Nowadays, a bottle sells every fifteen seconds and it’s going viral again on TikTok, thanks to a video that deems it the “French Girl perfume.”

Since its original release, several more versions have come out including the newest one, All Of Me. ELLE talked to Rodriguez about his mystery muse, revolutionizing the perfume industry, and the quiet luxury of fragrance.

You’re known for musks, and revolutionizing it. How did that start?

In the seventies, I was a kid and we took the train into the city to buy our little $8 bottles of musk. It was like such a big deal. We always kept those little bottles because the scent never left them. I loved the sensuality of it and the fact that it was an oil, and it smelled so differently on everyone.

For Her had an interesting process because I had a loft on Bond Street, and we were a very young company [at the time]. I had built a little altar with all my materials and ink and everything that I dreamed For Her would be. I sort of worked on it on my own. And then I handed it over to the “French authorities” and they were like Gasp, nobody wants musk. But I said, “No, I really like this.” Then, they hired different people, did different tests, and would try to sneak the musk into these long-smelling exams that we would do. I would always go for the musk. Then there was a wonderful man named Yves de Chirin who had given a lecture here on fragrance at Sotheby’s. He said, “Oh, somebody should re-invent musk for the next generation.” I was like, Don’t say that, don’t tell anybody. Then the rest is kind of history. I worked with an extraordinary team, Francis Kurkdjian and Christine Nagel. It really was a passion project.

But musk had not been in fragrance fashion for a long time. At the time, I remember that most fragrances were designed to be one thing. It was lily of the valley and you sprayed it and you wore it all day long. And the next day, it was lily of the valley again. So when I said, “Oh, there’s this ingredient that nobody has used for 30 years and it is so wonderful….” I think that caused a little bit of a stir.

For your original Narciso scent, you talk about this mystery woman being the muse. Why do you keep her a mystery? I feel like so many want you to say it was inspired by one person.

Fragrance, like this one, is inspired by so many women that I know that have been a muse to me. And you know, that name is specific to one woman but also to all women. The mystery just evolved because people are always dying for me to say that I made it for one person and I don’t think I’ve ever said that. But it’s good to keep a little bit of mystery.

What is your first scent memory?

I grew up around all these amazing Latin women and they loved fragrance. My aunt had these beautiful gardenia bushes at her home. I had never seen them before. I was from the North and this was in Florida. When we were kids, we would be running around and playing, and the incredible flowers and smells wafted through. She would pick them and put them in little bowls all around the house. Gardenias are such extraordinary flowers. They’re so thick and milky and fragrant. I thought it was the most beautiful thing ever.

Was it a childhood dream for you to create a fragrance?

Yeah, I loved fragrance and funnily enough my uncle, [my aunt] ’s husband, loved fragrance as well. He would collect the newest things from Europe. He thought it was funny that I got excited to open his armoire and look at all these fragrance houses — many of which don’t exist anymore. The bottles were so beautiful and fragrance is so precious. The whole thing just touches you in such a glamorous and romantic way. I have great memories of all of those fragrance bottles and I think that’s why I’ve always wanted to work very closely on either designing the bottles, or working with the people who did design the bottles. There’s a nostalgia that comes from being a kid and dreaming of making a fragrance and going to Parsons.

Maybe you’ve seen on TikTok or social media that quiet luxury has become a “new” thing. What is your reaction to it?

I think it’s funny and I’ve had many clients write to me since the trend became a thing. They say, “You’ve been working on this path since you started your career. How does that make you feel?” And I said, “Well, I’m glad everybody’s catching up finally.” I think quiet luxury is a very beautiful thing. It’s the kind of luxury that I’ve always preferred. I love things that are crafted beautifully and maybe not ostentatious. There are things that you acquire and cherish, and you never part with them and you save them for your children. Those are really special qualities that we need in our lives as opposed to disposing of things. That’s why I think quiet luxury is good. It’s a good thing.

When I started, I founded my company on the idea that something luxurious and beautiful and elegant could also be useful, cool, lasting and classic and modern. I worked in that direction for the entirety of my career and I think that’s filtered through to the fragrances to the accessories to the clothing, right?

When I work on a fragrance, it’s such a labor of love. It becomes such a personal project. I get very attached to the whole process at each step of the way. I was really proud to see the reaction from everyone on the new one [All Of Me], and that it was so positive. I love things that are completely modern, and clean, but harken back to things that had great quality. Craft is so important, and I always look back at things that I love that I cherish, whether it’s a beautifully made glove, or a garment, or a fragrance. It’s nostalgic because there isn’t so much of that in the world. [Nowadays] everything is so fast. I prefer it to be a little slower and more lasting.

Where does the name All Of Me come from? You put a lot of yourselves into all your creations, is this one even more so?

My son in an abstract way named this fragrance. I always said to him, “You’re my everything,” and we say all these sweet things to each other. Then one day he grabbed my face and he said, “But you’re my all,” and he was very serious. I was like, Wow, that is such a great name for a fragrance. It kind of evolved because he and his sister are all of me and they put all of me into this bottle and it just made perfect sense.

I always have this idea that I can never design a collection for an uptown lady, or a downtown lady, or the hip girl in Brooklyn. I like to open it up and to be more democratic, and be for every woman. It could be for a woman and her daughter, or something that’s loved by generations that has a youthful elegance to it. So many women have inspired my work, so many of my friends. All their personalities and their facets make them complicated and interesting. The more we talked about it some more, All of Me made sense because there it is all of me in a bottle, right?

This fragrance has almost peak musk you could say, with six different kinds. How did you develop the scent itself?

I knew I wanted an abstract floral and that all of this musk would envelop it, but what that was, wasn’t really clear to me. I kept saying it’s an abstract rose, because I didn’t want that very traditional rose scent. Often, every night, I experiment. In the kids’ bedroom, I have the diffuser and all my oils, and I keep mixing things.

There came a moment where I had mixed cedar, geranium, roses, and musk, and I kept doing iterations of it, and each one was more extraordinary than the next. I was like, This is it. It’s complicated. It’s a rose, but it has all of these facets to it. It’s not just the rose. I think all of the noses that participated in this process were really kind of excited about it because they’d never have had a designer say, “Here’s the key, you figure it out, you make it fly.” And everything that we got back too was incredible. It was really, really beautiful.

I did this incredible exploration of shape and bottles too. I started with an orb that was painted on the inside, and then the orb started to have facets and shape. I wanted it to harken back to old perfumery but be an object that was very moderate. The density of the glass and the seriousness of it gives it a bit of a foot in that, but there’s nothing archival about it. It took months. My office was covered in dust. We bought every form of molding material, we had sanders. The office was just a constant dust ball and the same for the caps. We had a great time exploring every shaped cap. Then they said, “OK, you can’t make one more cap because we have to go to production, we have wrap this, this labor of love up.” It took a better, better part of two years, a little bit more.

What makes fragrance feel precious to you?

It’s so sensual. It’s so much about you. It makes such a statement about who you are and how you present yourself to the world, what you’re thinking and what you’re feeling. It could be a date. It could be, you’re in love. It could be, I’m gonna kick ass in this meeting today. There’s something about the beauty of perfuming yourself. For me, I love to shower and use my fragrance when I’m still wet and let it become more of a part of me.

All of Me Eau de Parfum

Narciso Rodriguez All of Me Eau de Parfum
Headshot of Kathleen Hou

ELLE Beauty Director

Kathleen Hou is ELLE”s Beauty Director. Previously, she held the same title at New York Magazine’s The Cut. She’s appeared in publications such as New York, The New York Times Magazine, Vogue India, Forbes, and Allure. She was also a co-founder of Donate Beauty, a grassroots beauty donation project started during the COVID-19 crisis, which donated over 500,000 products to over 30,000 healthcare workers across 500+ hospitals. 

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