Guy Robert on Theories of Perfume Creation

Enfleurage

Guy Robert, the creator of fragrances such as Hermès Calèche, Christian Dior Dioressence and Rochas Monsieur Rochas, during the course of a lecture given in April of 1998 to the British Society of Perfumers brought up a very interesting point about perfume creation. He notes that “our art is so mysterious, most of the perfumers cannot explain the proceedings they use to build a perfume. Our method could be compared to the Art of Cooking, a sort of “rule of thumb” (empiricism), and I agree this is not looking very serious!”

Recognizing the relationship between music and painting, Robert proceeds to offer two theories, even though they have not been defined. First, “for every perfume note there are several levels, like what the musicians call “octaves”.

(example : Damascones, Rose Oxydes, Otto of Rose, Geranium, Rose Absolute, Rhodinol, Geraniol, Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol …)” Second, “it is also possible, by comparing perfumery to painting, to imagine an “inter communication of tones” like what is happening between the colors…. And like a painter, if he [perfumer] accumulates too many elements he is going to get a sometimes awful confusion of grey and sad tones.”

Finally, what makes perfume memorable and what causes its scented veil that conjures images and creates associations to entrench itself in the mind, beyond the physical perception of scent? “We all know these many little songs we are hearing anywhere and forgetting almost immediately, but, from time to time, one of these songs sticks to our ear and we go on whistling it the whole day … I can assure you the author of these successful songs do not use any “fixatives ingredients” to get that result …” (from notes taken by Robert himself) Please read the entire lecture in British Society of Perfumers 1998 newsletter. He touches upon a number of fascinating topics, with his characteristic sharp wit.

Photo: process of enfleurage from British Society of Perfumers.

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13 Comments

  • parislondres: Thank you for this post dear V. I admire Monsieur Robert’s creations very much and have worn some over the years. I will read the article. October 4, 2005 at 2:42am Reply

  • Tania: His lecture shows an exact intelligence, a sense of humor (rare), a sense of reality (rare), and a deep understanding of the creative process (rarer than rubies). I admired his willingness to talk so plainly and directly about the process from the perfumer’s perspective. As I said on Robin’s blog, I am fond of Calèche; furthermore, I hope someday to smell the original Dioressence. Thank you for the link! October 4, 2005 at 10:00am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, the article is very interesting and refreshing. Robert is not only a talented perfumer, but he also has a very clear understanding of the creative process. Like Tania said below, it is very rare indeed. Like you, I also love and wear many of his creations. October 4, 2005 at 10:40am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Tania, you pointed precisely the qualities I admired from reading the lecture and other writings by Guy Robert. It is refreshing to see such a sense of perspective and the willingness to talk about it plainly. Another favourite bit that I have not posted is “If never creating any perfume would be compatible with a creative perfumer’s job, our life would be a dream!”

    And

    “That is why I would advise you to start by being a “Taboo Perfumer”.

    The “Taboo Perfumer” never creates ordinary perfumes … he is only “achieving masterpieces”.

    As he never heard of any other existing perfumer, he goes on working alone.

    He is convinced his ideas are the only original. For instance, if in one of his creations, he put once : Patchouli and Hedione together, he is assuming any perfume containing Patchouli and Hedione are copied on his work.”

    This is priceless! October 4, 2005 at 10:50am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Oh, T! This is not related, but I just put on some Bond 9 Chinatown, and I am enjoying it very much. It has a very juicy note that makes me think of mirabelle plums. Laced by jasmine and cardamom, it makes for a very luscious composition. We shall see how it dries down. So far, I really like it. Thank you for giving me a push to try it. October 4, 2005 at 11:10am Reply

  • Robin: Great post, V, and I love the comparison to cooking. This is why people like me with no basic skills (I need a cookbook to cook anything more complicated than a hamburger) should not create perfumes, LOL! October 4, 2005 at 11:11am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, cooking hamburger is an art in itself! Moreover, I still remember the stories of you making pesto in quantities that are large enough to last for the entire winter. 🙂 October 4, 2005 at 11:29am Reply

  • Tania: Excellent! I thought you would like Chinatown. It does have a surprising burst of juicy stone fruit—peach or plum, take your pick. The drydown is even better. Enjoy! (Hope you review it in a post at some point.) October 4, 2005 at 11:29am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: I would have to! I keep discovering all of these fragrances with peach/plu notes that I like, from Bois des Iles (just a touch of peach to give a luscious sweetness) to caramelized animalic plum of Rumba. Therefore, one week would have to be devoted to that note. October 4, 2005 at 11:32am Reply

  • Tania: I agree, I’m beginning to realize that if a fragrance makes me think of plums, it’s a good sign. Hmm, makes me want a glass of plum wine for lunch. October 4, 2005 at 12:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ha, you read my mind! Although I am afraid that a glass of wine for lunch=not being productive for the rest of the day! October 4, 2005 at 12:13pm Reply

  • carmencanada: Dear V., thanks for the link to that fascinating conference. I’m interested in what Guy Robert says about a perfumer’s palette. Also in the “concerto” vs. the “accord”. It seems we always have to resort to metaphors in other art forms to get any fragrance description across. It’s so complex to review a fragrance: you can’t rely on a picture to convey information (as in fashion), so you have to get quite technical (ingredients, structure) at some point. I’ve been practicing my reviewing skills and hope to be able to launch my series soon on the la-couture.com site, starting with Ormonde Jayne, Bornéo 1834 and Bandit. A “confidential” perfumer, a new “couture” release and a controversial classic. I am quite open to suggestions along that line… October 5, 2005 at 6:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Denyse, I am looking forward to reading the reviews! Certainly, the scents are difficult to render in an easy manner given their elusive quality. You can smell an apple without seeing it. You can smell your grandmother’s garden, or something that makes you think of it, in a drop of perfume. It is very complex, yet what makes the person understand the scent you are talking about is through metaphors and analogies. October 5, 2005 at 8:45pm Reply

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