In the plush basement lounge of Henry Jacques’ recently opened Avenue Montaigne haute parfumerie flagship, which boasts direct views across the Pont de l’Alma to the Eiffel Tower, Rafael Nadal is speaking freely—a rarity for the often tight-lipped tennis star, especially when discussing his relationship with his wife, Maria Francesca Perello.
“I’m a very public person in my work, of course, but in my private life, one of the most important things—and what I consider to be one of my greatest successes—is that Maria and I have been able to have a really normal life,” says Nadal. The couple met as teenagers in Manacor, Mallorca, and were together for 17 years before they wed in 2019.
“We’re taking the next step in our lives now, though, so we thought—why not do something together?”
The collaboration Nadal has traveled to France to discuss, however, is not the birth of the couple’s first child, a baby boy who arrived in early October; it’s a set of fragrances, originally designed as bespoke eaux de parfums with the boutique French brand and available today for popular consumption.
Appropriately called In All Intimacy, the collection is a first for both Perello and Nadal—who has fronted fragrances for brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Lanvin but never collaborated on one of his own—as well as Henry Jacques, which has never teamed up with an outside partner. “It was just one of those beautiful surprises of life,” says Anne-Lise Cremona, the daughter of Henry Jacques founder Henry Cremona, who started the fragrance house as a bespoke perfumery on the outskirts of Grasse in 1975. Cremona’s uncle happens to be the watchmaker Richard Mille, whose timepieces Nadal first began wearing in 2008 and who served as matchmaker on the project.
“Richard started speaking to him about Henry Jacques and the perfumes, and Rafa just said, ‘I’d love to know more,’” Cremona recalls, adding how “touched” she was to see how interested Nadal was in the idea of working on such a personal perfume. “We loved the process so much, and found it so interesting, that we thought, Why not take it one step further?” Nadal adds of his and Perello’s decision to make their custom fragrances commercially available. “It happened in a very natural way.”
For those who know him well, Nadal’s passion for perfume is as much a part of his lore as being a right-hander who plays lefty. In fact, his interest in fragrance first evolved out of—and has become inextricably linked with—his tennis career.
“As a person practicing sport every single day of my life, almost, after showering I need the fragrance to help me recover, for me to feel clean and fresh,” Nadal says.
“If I take a shower and I don’t have fragrance with me, I don’t feel complete. It’s been a part of my life for a long time.”
His signature application is just another non-negotiable ritual, not unlike the many on-court practices that have become sacrament for the winner of 22 Grand Slam titles. (Nadal famously places his energy drink and water bottles in the exact same position every time he plays.) With sprightly, boyish energy, the 36-year-old gives me a demo: one spritz on each side of the neck and then one on the heart. “I don’t know why,” he laughs at the last part, a little bashfully.
As for the fragrances themselves, the starting point of inspiration for Nadal was—what else?—the sparkling blue waters of his native Mallorca. “I wanted something fresh, something clean, something with a touch of the Mediterranean,” he explains of the two scents he developed. (One is designed to be worn while playing tennis and includes bright, energetic notes of coriander and lemon, as well as the Spanish artemisia plant complemented by cedarwood and leather; the other presents a more subdued alternative, with a largely floral bouquet and a subtle zing of citrus and freesia.)
Perello’s fragrance, meanwhile, is soft, silky, and supremely elegant, with notes of violet and orange blossom, highlighted by bergamot and jasmine, that are enhanced with sandalwood and white musk.
Nadal firmly assures me he very much left Perello to her own devices when making her fragrance: “We were at home trying things, talking about it, but I stopped myself giving any input on it because, at the end of the day, it’s something very personal,” he reveals. Still, in a testament to the couple’s compatibility, there is a running thread between one of Nadal’s fragrances and Perello’s, with their shared notes of bergamot, jasmine, and sandalwood—a link, it turns out, that came about entirely coincidentally.
The inherent romance of the perfumes lies not just in the fact that during Nadal’s busy travel schedule, he’ll be able to take a little element of Perello with him in one of Henry Jacques’s sleek, stoppered crystal bottles but also that his own fragrance can serve as a transportive reminder of that equally treasured thing: home.
“Even when I’ve had opportunities to change my life and to live in other places, I’ve always come back to Mallorca to be with my family and the friends we’ve had since we were kids,” Nadal notes. “I’ll always have a strong connection with nature and the sea.”
Now, his fans the world over can enjoy a little slice of that Mediterranean escapism too, which is something Nadal is happy to give of himself. “I feel comfortable sharing that.”
The In All Intimacy collection is available from November 1 at Henry Jacques boutiques worldwide.
This story originally appeared in Vogue.com