The creator of fragrances for Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger, Nilsen is comfortable working with the biggest names in the industry. But even he was thrown by Madonna's chilly demeanour on their first meetings to produce her perfume Truth or Dare, during which she refused to remove her sunglasses. 'It was a little intimidating,' he admitted. And that was when he was granted an audience. More often than not in those first months of development, Nilsen was left in the dark about the actual direction Madonna intended for her perfume.
'She told me she wanted white florals, and she loved the 'addiction' accord I created,' - a blend of vanilla, caramel and amber. But it was hard to schedule face time with the busy performer, essential when trying to peg a client's tastes and establish a common vocabulary. Instead, Nilsen found himself scurrying back and forth between his Manhattan lab and Madonna's £20m Upper East Side compound every time he made a revision.
'I'd throw each new sample over her 8ft-high black steel wall,' he joked. Fortunately, his pitching arm was saved: 'Security always magically appeared behind me when I would ring the bell, as if they knew I was coming.'
'She needed the latest versions delivered by 2pm on a Friday afternoon so she could evaluate them over the weekend at her horse farm in the Hamptons.'
Her Madgesty's notes would then filter back – broad critiques such as 'too sweet', which given the vast palette of a perfumer, could mean any number of things. It turned into a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey as the perfumer struggled to second-guess the source of Madonna's displeasure, blending endless modifications in order to secure her approval. 'Once we started working together in person, it became much easier,' he recalled with evident relief.
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