Patricia de Nicolaï
Patricia de Nicolaï is perfume royalty. She is a member of the iconic Guerlain family and grew up in the Guerlain family home in Paris surrounded by perfume. She had no intention of becoming a parfumeur herself until discovering she had a knack for chemistry. After graduating from university, she enrolled at the Institut Supérieur International du Parfum de la Cosmétique et de l'Aromatique Alimentaire (ISIPCA) in Versailles. After graduating she began working at Quest, which later became Givaudan. In spite of her connections to the Guerlain family, she never worked as a parfumeur at Guerlain. This was in part due to Madame de Nicolaï's desire to forge her own path and in part due to sexism in the perfume industry. In an interview with perfume blog Ça Fleure Bon Madame de Nicolaï explains "...it was not an obvious option for my family to believe that I could work as a perfumer. Remember that I began my career 30 years ago, in the 80’s and in those times, the Guerlain business was managed by my grandmother’s brother who believed that women in the family should not be working...However my uncle helped me to find my first real job as a perfumer and told me that I have to improve my skills and then 'we'll see.' This 'we’ll see' never happened and you know what occurred then."
As a brief aside, it is important to remember that Madame de Nicolaï and all female parfumeurs faced and continue to face challenges in an industry that continues to be dominated by men. Years later when the reigns of Guerlain were handed to Thierry Wasser, Jean-Paul Guerlain was asked if he thought women could be good parfumeurs. Guerlain reportedly "waved his hand dismissively and muttered something about de Nicolaï being a woman who made scented salts and candles."
Undeterred, Patricia de Nicolaï continued her work as a parfumeur and in 1988 was the first woman to win the Prix International du Meilleur Parfumeur, an award given to the best international parfumeur by the French Society of Perfumers (SFP). She went on to found her own company, Parfums de Nicolaï, in 1989 with her husband Jean-Louis Michau. In addition to running her own perfume company, Madame de Nicolaï is also the President of L’Osmothèque, the perfume museum in Versaiiles that strives to preserve the history of modern perfumery.