Today we have a special guest writer Lauren Salisbury. Lauren and I met as students at the IFF Perfumery Academy, and we’ve spent many hours smelling together. A life-long lover of perfume, Lauren has worked in the fragrance industry for nearly a decade, developing fragrances for many popular brands around the globe. She now works as an evaluator for ScentAir Technologies, Inc., and writes her blog, The Little Nose. Lauren will give you a glimpse inside a perfume lab and introduce you to a very important person–the fragrance evaluator.
In recent years, the media has focused on the particular talents and tasks of the perfumer, and we are fascinated. They are admired as artists, respected for their finely-tuned, highly-trained olfactory abilities and their knowledge about fragrance materials. But few of us are aware of the perfumer’s trusted sidekick: the evaluator. Until recently, perfumers remained completely anonymous, but today you will still rarely see mention of the evaluators in the press. Despite their work behind the scenes, not only does the evaluator help the perfumer complete the project, but also, she can significantly influence the final fragrance.
First, let me explain where the evaluator fits into the process. When the brief, or fragrance request, arrives from the client (and by client I mean a fragrance house like Calvin Klein or Christian Dior) via the sales department, the evaluator starts her work. She reaches out to one, or several, perfumers, communicating the desired fragrance goal, as well as all the project specifications, such as the maximum cost allowed for the fragrance, material restrictions, target consumer details, and due dates.
The perfumer, with his knowledge of raw materials, writes the fragrance formulas. The formulas are sent to the compounding lab, where technicians mix and blend them into the final oils. Once diluted in alcohol, the samples are then passed under the evaluator’s nose. She smells and evaluates all the mods against the fragrance brief, searching for the best fit for the client. Does it have an alluring top note? Would it be appealing to young women as described in the fragrance request?
Throughout this whole process the evaluator has been involved, ensuring that everyone is on track, with the correct understanding of the project details. Once the evaluator receives the samples, it is crucial for her to smell them alone, with peace and deep concentration; but she must also consult her fellow evaluators and, of course, the perfumer! They discuss the samples together, but ultimately it is the evaluator who decides which sample is the best fit for the brief. Usually this requires many rounds of work. At first, the ‘best’ fragrance is chosen as a starting point. The evaluator gives the perfumer more feedback (more lemon-like citrus, less moss in the background, etc.) and as the perfumer creates modifications, the process begins again.
With all those duties, some may take offense to the term ‘sidekick,’ as an evaluator carries a great deal of responsibility for the success of a fragrance project – and all the joys and burdens that responsibility bequeaths. An evaluator must have the nose, the love of perfume, and the knack for following her gut, just as perfumers do. She must be brave and bold enough to dream up her own ideas and share them, but modest enough to listen to others, as well.
The career of an evaluator is both thrilling and exhausting. The best parts are evaluating and smelling everything out there on the market; sharing and brainstorming ideas with other evaluators; offering an idea to a perfumer and seeing the spark of creative excitement in his eyes because he ‘gets’ it and you two might be on to something…and then winning a project. The worst parts are constantly reinventing the old while trying to make it new; being the bearer of bad news when telling a perfumer that the ideas didn’t work or didn’t smell right (nobody likes to be criticized!), or that the project was lost.
Competition in the billion-dollar fragrance world is fierce, and while the job of the evaluator requires a backbone and a thick skin, it also requires certain sensitivities to navigate. But the success is addictive. When an evaluator sees the final product with her fragrance on a shelf in the marketplace – or better yet, when she recognizes a whiff of something she developed on a person in the street – the feeling of satisfaction is like no other. People bring fragrances to life. The evaluator has the privilege of offering a guiding hand –and nose—in the process.
If you have any questions on the way perfume is made, how perfumers and evaluators work, and on any other scent related topics, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Photography by Bois de Jasmin