Sabé Masson. Beyond this charming name, you’ll find a world populated by Zazou, Belle Furieuse, Parisian Rhapsody, Macadam Paz and many other mysterious characters with their own distinctive scents. Like their enchanting names, it’s difficult to forget the eloquent aromas that accompany them, all of which are made from natural ingredients, chosen with care and using the purest French savoir-faire. Behind this remarkable brand, is a remarkable woman, Isabelle Masson Mandonnaud. A modern-day Amazonian, she is one insatiable, inspiring lady who ceaselessly springs from ideas to projects, from battles to successes. Our story is set in Pélissanne, a small village in Provence. Isabelle has just moved there and is already completely at one with the place. In the soft torpor of the afternoon, she tells us how she gives scents their body. It all began with one of her greatest successes, Soft Perfume: a precious little balm stick made of natural ointment. With dreamy packaging, illustrated with coloured animals and graphic details, it is wonderfully portable and applied like a caress. And this was only the beginning. Ever since its creation Sabé Masson continues innovating. The brand offers more fragrances – alcohol-free liquids this time – and now gorgeous soaps that are almost too pretty to use. This delightful sensory discovery is an ode to well-being and never ceases to surprise us.
Isabelle, tells us your story ?
It’s the story of a little girl, ahead in school who always wants to go the furthest and run the fastest. The story of a rebellious and brazen teenager who flunked her studies only to pick them up long afterwards. The story of an ambitious and, I would say, a courageous young woman who sees the bigger picture in life. The story of a loving woman who adopts four children, not for her but because it was him, because it was them. The story of a woman who fell down but picked herself up again. The story of a sacred encounter with Philippe Véran, the man who would change the course of my life as an entrepreneur and as a woman. The story of a crazy mother who loves her children and a woman who cultivates friendships as powerful as any other love. My passion is searching and discovering life’s wonders.
How did Sabé Masson begin?
I had already created a collection of perfume balm sticks a couple of years ago. So with a taste for adventure I decided to create a brand of my own. One that would bear the values of my beautiful perfume and innovation à la française. I decided to give it a name that was mine. A perfume house to bring together all my experience and my love of perfumery.
Perfume and scents are at the heart of your brand, how would you describe them?
They are carefully-selected fragrances with natural medicinal properties, in liquid form, and soon to be in creams, mousses and essential oils.
Where do you draw inspiration?
Life never fails to inspire me. I can fall in love with things in the supermarket, as much as I can in front of a breath-taking landscape in South Africa, the small gesture of a child, a piece of calligraphy, an ancestral object unearthed in a flea market, the savoir-faire of a potter in the south of France, blueberry pie from one of my friends or a politician’s speech that fires me with indignation and desire for change. Everything in my life brings me back to my job: creating art and happiness out of the unexpected.
Can we talk about this house? How long have you been here?
I have been lucky enough to live in several places, both in the countryside and in the city. Each of of my homes have had an energy which I wanted to bring back to life. I love doing that, to shake loose the real from the unreal, to strip back to the essence of a house, and create a place of tranquility for my family. I’ve lived here for six months. My story is new to Pélissanne. It happened because I finally opted to move Provence – inspired by my friendships – instead of the Atlantic coast. It wasn’t so much a snap decision, so much as a long-standing desire to give back to nature, to have a gardening house, a weekly market, and neighbours across the river.
Is there one object you’re particularly proud of?
Yes, it’s been in the shop since the beginning! It’s a carved wooden bust that I brought back from my travels. In India it’s a symbol of tranquility because deers put their muzzles against Buddha when he spoke to his followers. I was leaving for the airport, in a rickety car jolting down the road, and we decided to stop for a few minutes to look around a huge antique furniture shed. In the dust and total disorder, nothing at first sight seduced me. I got back in the car and a minute later I asked our driver to turn back. I returned to the warehouse and bought for only a few rupees that head of doe placed on the panel of a stone. I knew she was going to accompany me. And I didn’t miss my flight.
You are a true nomad, which pieces do you always carry with you?
Two small gold sardines, the birth bracelets of my children, my donkeys – in honour of my native Poitou-Charentes – a precious ring that my daughter’s father slid onto my finger in a pool at the Ritz (when he knew a child was on its way), a jar of sand from the island of Yeu … And my passport. Luxurious objects delight me but I can leave without them. Those I take with me smile when I look at them.
How are your perfume recipes created and developed?
The cosmetic basis always starts with natural science. Raw materials and ingredients can have specific virtues: to moisturise, nourish or even work as an anti-inflammatory. Fragrances are the fruit of the nose’s talent and I leave it absolutely free to create. We have no brief, just the name of the perfume and its design.
How do you choose your ingredients?
In the olfactory composition that is added to the cosmetic base, I prioritise everything that is natural. When a raw material isn’t natural, it’s a clean substance, completely in line with our regulations and chosen because the perfume wouldn’t be as well formed without it.
Each product has its own aesthetic, how and with who do you create them?
I draw and write constantly. It is an outlet, a form of communication. To this, I add colours and words in the same spirit. It’s an impulse, I suppose, like a painter or a photographer who instinctively grasps precisely what he feels, perceives, and transmits. Then I transcribe all this in the packaging I create with Alain Godmegard, a graphic designer in St-Briac, and Lucille Clerc, an illustrator in London and most especially Mathilde Nicolas, my closest collaborator, who’s been with me from the beginning and completely understands my principles.
Animals have a big presence, why is that?
Without the fauna, the flora is nothing and vice versa. Evolution is the greatest show on earth, it’s humbling. That’s all I can say. We only have one earth. Whenever the fauna, the flora, the earth are harmed, man is harmed.
What are your key Sabé Masson products?
The Solid Soft Perfume is our most popular and luxurious product. In terms of perfume, Georges and I, Born of roses and Zazou are sold in 18 countries. But the most wonderful thing is that our customers often choose more traditional fragrances at first, and then are inspired to come back and choose more original fragrances. In this way, they become part of our “perfume culture.”
Where can we find Sabé Masson products?
In shops, e-shop but also on Corner Sabé Masson at Galeries Lafayette, BHV and at the Bon Marché.
Sabé Masson will be created more luxurious designs for Soft Perfumes, including the Jardin de la Comtesse de Ségur and Le Bain Sabé, with oils and powders. They’ll be objects of style and decoration, always useful and never futile and beautiful as a bright blue sky. There’s another secret project I’m working on with friends in the trade, to do with perfume and science and their role in emotional perception. My story is one I will keep telling my extended family. I have never been so happy and I often sing the lines of La Javanaise : “J’avoue j’en ai bavé pas vous, Avant d’avoir eu vent de vous.” – it has always moved me. We are not alone in this world, but all connected to the divine by our uniqueness.
Photography & Text: Eve Campestrini – Translation: TextMaster @thesocialitefamily