How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : The Evaluator

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.  

How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : Brief

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.

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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

Next: How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : Perfumers

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53 Comments

  • george: I sought of see evaluators as the music producers of the perfumery world; in fact, I think perfume producer might be an equally valid title; and just like the role of music producer, the role of evaluator can be extremely varied in its level of participation in the creating of a final perfumery product. April 9, 2013 at 7:43am Reply

    • Lauren: Hi George,

      This is interesting because when I hear ‘producer,’ I think of the responsibilities of a movie producer, ie, a fundraiser of sorts. In my experience, the evaluator’s level of participation has been pretty much equal across projects…so I usually describe it to others as being a “project manager and a nose.”

      Lauren April 9, 2013 at 10:08am Reply

  • theperfumeddandy: Dear Lauren
    What an illuminating piece, and yes, there is something of the record producer about the role, but equally I would say an element of the impressario acting as a bridge between the client and ‘the talent’ placating and satisfying one motivating and pushing the other to achieve the best results.
    One supposes in a small niche house, the perfumeur must take both roles, requiring a significant degree of self restraint and highly hone faculties of self-criticism (of the positive kind).
    Thank you for this.
    Yours ever
    The Perfumed Dandy April 9, 2013 at 8:30am Reply

    • Lauren: Dear Perfumed Dandy,

      I couldn’t say it any better myself. 🙂 And I think the distinction you make between large houses and smaller niche ones is important, as well. Many of us, despite our actual titles, have to be chameleons in the fragrance world.

      Thank you for your comments! April 9, 2013 at 8:41am Reply

  • Annikky: Lauren, this was really fascinating to read, thank you! You mentioned (in your comment to The Perfumed Dandy), that evaluators need to be chameleons and this reminds me somewhat of my own work in communication – one needs to be able to communicate different messages and be mindful of the audience they are directed at.

    But I was wondering – are there evaluators, who are known for their specific style, like some of the noses? And are there “Star Evaluators” who are known in the industry for getting results/producing hits? April 9, 2013 at 9:34am Reply

    • Lauren: Annikky,

      For sure! I imagine that in any profession, certain people rise to the top. Office politics can be a big game-changer, but on the other hand, a project won is a project won, and nobody can argue the merits of a winning fragrance! So yes, some evaluators are more successful than others.

      And you can certainly recognize a style in a thread of successful fragrances, though I believe this comes more from the perfumer’s influence. Perfumers have certain styles or beloved notes, and perhaps an evaluator leans more towards one than another…or maybe the evaluator always seems to choose a winning combination of specific notes. So it appears that the evaluator has a style, but since her job is to address the specific project needs and not her own preferences, I think the ‘style’ comes more from the perfumers. Interesting question! April 9, 2013 at 10:25am Reply

  • Lucas: Dear Lauren,
    thank you for sharing how your job looks like from behind the scenes. It was really interesting to read this article and learn something from it.
    I, as a chemistry student who will graduate in a year of time am thinking a lot about my future. I know I would love to be involved with perfume industry or something closely related. I just keep asking the same question all the time – how does one get into this business? Is it hard to get a job in such a company?
    Here in Poland we don’t have any fragrance companies but there’s Firmenich in Switzerland and Givaudan. I know chasing my dream will require me to move to a different location, or even change continens but that’s what I want, to pursue a dream. April 9, 2013 at 10:11am Reply

    • Lauren: Dear Lucas,

      A quote I like to remind myself of is, “You can’t fail if you don’t give up.” And, be flexible. It sounds like you are on the right track with your passion, willingness to move, and chemistry background. I would urge you to look into programs at ISIPCA in Versailles, France if you are serious about a career in perfumery! Or into cosmetic chemistry or fashion programs. People come into the fragrance industry all kinds of ways, and in my experience it is not easy…but a real passion for the job is necessary and can be a great boost. And don’t be too proud to start small, or in a position that is not quite what you’re after but could still be good learning experience for your ultimate goals…I wish you all the best! April 9, 2013 at 5:55pm Reply

      • Lucas: When I wrote that I’m a chemistry student I forgot to mention that I’m a chemistry student of cosmetics chemistry specialty. I think I’m on a really good track 😉
        Thank you for recommending ISIPCA April 10, 2013 at 1:52pm Reply

  • Becky: Lauren, wow, your job sounds fascinating! I’m of course curious what perfumes you like and wear. April 9, 2013 at 10:15am Reply

    • Lauren: I do love my job, so thank you! My favorite perfumes are Cacharel Amor Amor and Calvin Klein Euphoria. I like the former in warm weather and the latter when it’s cooler. 🙂 April 9, 2013 at 5:57pm Reply

  • key change: Wow Lauren, this was a fascinating read; thanks for sharing with us!
    I actually did not know the trajectory a perfume is subject to from it’s inception (the first “idea”), and now I’m convinced that I want to toss out my law degree and join the world of perfumery. I, too, am curious as to how one becomes involved in the perfume industry, although I will forever remain grateful that I can always just remain involved through loving and collecting perfume. And, as Becky asked, what perfumes do you tend to gravitate towards? What do you love wearing? You know, your piece really deepend my love of and respect for perfume. I can just imagine holding a bottle of one of my favourite fragrances, and imagining all the hard work, held breaths, and hopeful hearts went into creating it! April 9, 2013 at 10:27am Reply

    • Lauren: I am so glad you enjoyed my article because my goal is to increase appreciation and understanding of perfume…so thank you for expressing that here! Please see more in-depth responses in my comment above! April 9, 2013 at 5:59pm Reply

  • Ariadne: I so enjoyed this post! Again I learn something new here.
    I cannot imagine ever being able to do this job. There are some perfume ingredients I just will never like and my bias would limit my ability to evaluate.
    I admire really anyone able to be so inclusive with their olfactory sense! My own seems quite uncontrollable. April 9, 2013 at 10:52am Reply

    • Lauren: Ariadne,

      Thank you for being so generous with your compliments! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Now, don’t get me wrong – there are certainly individual ingredients that I don’t like! But when evaluating a full fragrance, those ingredients can take on a new character – not literally, but in the sense that they add to the overall perfume, give it dimension or points of interest. Sometimes you might be surprised and end up appreicating more than you think! April 10, 2013 at 8:16am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Very interesting inside- information, but I feel a little bit sad… there it goes, the imago of the parfumeur as an artist….Fragrance goal…target consumer (young of course)….the best fit for the client…ultimately the evaluator who decides…
    Was it always like this? Was–for ex.–Jacques Guerlain working with an evaluator? Is this the reason why so many perfumes are simular? what happens if the perfumer has the talent, and the evaluator the sronger personality?
    There they go, my romantic thoughts..
    Schöne Welt, wo bist du? April 9, 2013 at 11:03am Reply

    • Lauren: Cornelia,

      Don’t be sad! There are all kinds of consumers, of course, and this time “young” was just an example. Perfume creation is ideally and necessarily a collaborative process, not just a war of personalities. It’s tough because you have to believe in yourself but also put your ego aside at times, to compromise and create the best fragrance. In the end it is really about the fragrance! And believe me, there is passion and romance in the hearts of the people who create them! This has to be kept alive to move the fragrance world forward. Passionless art does not sustain itself.

      Lauren April 9, 2013 at 6:06pm Reply

  • sara: it makes me appreciate perfumes i have more, to know how much work went into them. thank you so much for sharing! April 9, 2013 at 11:31am Reply

    • Lauren: Sara, you are so welcome! I’m very happy to know that it has increased your appreciation for perfume…they are labors of love that require a LOT of effort. Happy Smelling! April 10, 2013 at 8:20am Reply

  • Lydie: Lauren, someone mentioned it earlier. It got me wondering if you have your personal likes and dislikes and how you overcome them. April 9, 2013 at 12:41pm Reply

    • Lauren: Hi Lydie,

      I do have my likes and dislike, but what I have noticed is that the more I work with fragrances, the more my likes and dislikes shift and expand. They are not static, and I think this helps me most put my own preferences aside. Maybe the same way an actress can relate to a wide range of emotions, so she can place herself into a certain emotional “mode” for the sake of her performance.

      LS April 9, 2013 at 6:09pm Reply

  • Lydie: Great article, by the way! Thanks for sharing your experiences. April 9, 2013 at 12:42pm Reply

  • Jordan River: Thank you for these insights. I can tell you love your work and then it is not really work but lots of love. There must also be times when an evaluator and perfumer move foward reluctantly to meet perceived consumer demands while back benching something truely amazing. I imagine you both return to this at a future date when it suits a different brief? April 9, 2013 at 1:52pm Reply

    • Lauren: Jordan,

      Yes! This is true. No job can be awesome and joyful 100% of the time, I guess…but you certainly remember the real masterpieces and do your best to make sure they receive the spotlight they deserve…wherever, or whenever, that may be.

      Lauren April 9, 2013 at 6:12pm Reply

  • Daisy: What a fascinating look behind the scenes. Thank you, Lauren! April 9, 2013 at 1:58pm Reply

    • Lauren: 🙂 April 9, 2013 at 6:12pm Reply

  • Eleni: Thank you, I really enjoyed reading this – very informative. I had no idea of the process!
    A question: are there any evaluator/perfumer “pairs”? Does an evaluator tend to work more with specific perfumers (because of their common vision, wave length, communication etc)? Kind of like some cinema director tend to work with some actors more than with others. April 9, 2013 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Annikky: I wanted to ask this, too, but my post was long already. Thanks for help 🙂 April 9, 2013 at 3:24pm Reply

    • Lauren: Eleni,

      Not always, but sometimes, yes. I must say I am impressed by all these intelligent, insightful questions and comments from readers! Perfumers are human, after all, and have their own technical and artistic strengths and weaknesses. Part of the evaluator’s job is to understand this and navigate those differences diplomatically. April 9, 2013 at 6:15pm Reply

  • mtmama23: I wonder who decided that teenage girls want to smell like sugar. I think the consumer learns to want what she’s offered and not the other way around. April 9, 2013 at 2:27pm Reply

    • Lauren: I believe it’s a combination of both…supply and demand… and the times. Fragrance trends certainly evolve over time. In 50 or 100 years, most teenager-targeted scents might resemble rain, or grass, or woods, for all we know.

      LS April 9, 2013 at 6:17pm Reply

  • Austenfan: I loved this article because it gives an insight in the creative process of a fragrance. So a big thank you.
    Part of me agrees with Cornelia’s comment above. The romance of the creation seems to be lost because of commercial pressure.
    Then again Malle’s Carnal Flower apparently went through a large number of changes till it reached it’s current version. And that was because of the interplay between Ropion and Malle. And what a beauty they created between them. April 9, 2013 at 4:03pm Reply

    • Cornelia Blimber: Everything has more than one aspect, good point from Austenfan. Still, I regret that it is so much of a big business nowadays. Anyway, there are perfumes we can enjoy, Carnal Flower is a perfect example. Thank you, Austenfan. April 9, 2013 at 5:10pm Reply

      • Austenfan: I regret that too. Perfume has I suppose always been more tied with money than certain other arts. But over a 1000 new launches a year can’t be good for the quality. And that is a relatively recent development. April 10, 2013 at 10:55am Reply

        • Cornelia Blimber: 15 or 20 years already, and it will never stop–too many new perfumes, reformulations (sometimes due to IFRA, sometimes to make the formula of the perfume cheaper, maintaining the high price , I guess..) Niche perfumery is not always the antidote. There are too many ”niche”brands, and there are many medriocre niche perfumes. And there are many great mainstream perfumes! It is also a wellknown fact that most of the money we pay is not for the jus; nevertheless perfume is a joy and delight to all of us.
          And, Austenfan, as you pointed out: the modern way of perfumery can have benefits as well!
          Even reformulation can please some of us: I like the reformulated Opium better. April 10, 2013 at 1:03pm Reply

    • Lauren: Austenfan, thank you for your comments. I think about this too and am often reminded of the sky…we know that the sun is a giant ball of fiery gases, and that stars are just suns that are really far away…but does knowing that diminish the beauty of a sunset, or the sparkles in the night sky? Not for me…a
      the universe might be composed of molecules and vibrations, but it doesn’t make their combinations any less magical.

      Lauren April 9, 2013 at 6:20pm Reply

      • kaori: Lauren,
        I adore this reply, utterly wonderful. I love perfumes for a long time and for me, they seem to be old friends, who would stay with me in a difficult time. Thank you for your article.

        Kaori April 9, 2013 at 11:07pm Reply

  • Lauren: Apologies for the typos, as my laptop is currently out of commission and I am on a small keyboard! April 9, 2013 at 6:33pm Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks Lauren for a wonderfully illuminating article! And it’s always lovely to hear someone who’s passionate about their job. Just for fun, here’s another analogy for the evaluator’s role: orchestral conductor. So – you’ve got the composer’s score (the brief from the client), and the musical artistes (the perfumer) and the task is to allow the latter’s creativity to productively illumine the score whilst remaining true to it. Composers are creative people whose creativity resides partly in vision, partly in inspirational people-management – and it sounds like evaluating requires a bit of both! April 10, 2013 at 2:22pm Reply

    • Lauren: Figuier, Evaluation definitely requires vision! Though I don’t stand on a pedestal with my arms outstretched waving a batton 😉 I got a kick out of your analogy. You are right; having a clear vision from the outset of a project is half the battle, and that’s where the creativity really comes into play. Sometimes you have to meditate over the details and your market knowledge to come up with that vision in the first place. You either know it in a flash, or you have to be patient and let it evolve organically. People-management is the next challenge. So evaluation utilizes several skills… April 11, 2013 at 11:20am Reply

    • Figuier: Oops, the last sentence should read ‘conductors’, sorry! April 12, 2013 at 6:35am Reply

  • Figuier: Sorry to add to the long comment, but I had a question too: after an intensive bout of mod testing, do you find yourself more or less sensitive to ambient/personal scents once you finish? April 10, 2013 at 2:24pm Reply

    • Lauren: If you mean, does my nose get tired? Then yes, it does. If I’ve had an intense day, I notice that around 4 or 4:30pm I don’t smell as sharply as I did that morning. It’s also important to take care of yourself physically and get enough rest so that you can ‘smell your best,’ so to speak. 🙂 April 11, 2013 at 11:22am Reply

      • Claire: I was going to ask, when you are evaluating perfumes, what do you do to “revive” your nose in between fragrances? I read inhaling onto a piece of wool would clean the slate for the nose. Or is coffee beans really good to sniff in between perfumes? April 11, 2013 at 3:46pm Reply

        • Lauren: I would avoid coffee beans, since this is really no different from inhaling an additional fragrance altogether…if a piece of fabric is relatively odorless (not contaminated by detergents or previously-worn perfumes) and that works for you, why not. Personally, I think plain ol’ time, or a step outside for a few moments of fresh air, are the best ways to revive a tired nose. Sometimes you just need a break. 😉 April 11, 2013 at 3:58pm Reply

  • Claire: Wonderful information, Lauren! My sister actually works at the flavor branch of MANE and I think she refers to “The Evaluator” as project manager. She is a chemist, so she works in the lab to achieve a certain balance of various flavors, much like what they also do in fragrance.
    I do wonder, for perfumes that are produced “in-house” do they also follow similar process? What about perfumers like Byredo? Many thanks for your insight. April 10, 2013 at 11:53pm Reply

    • Lauren: Claire, very cool about your sister! I worked at Mane as well (in fragrances). Great company. Since I’ve never been at a niche house I wasn’t really sure how to answer your question, so I consulted the lovely Victoria. I believe SOME niche houses might employee evaluators, but most of them likely do not…we think it just depends on the brand. Smaller houses may have people wearing many hats. April 11, 2013 at 11:40am Reply

      • Claire: Yes, my sister loves her job very much. She stumbled upon it as a food scientist, so there are many entryway to working in fragrance industry — depending on our background, I guess. She goes every other year to Bar-sur-Loup in Southern France to do some tour/get education, etc. Very interesting job, indeed! April 11, 2013 at 3:42pm Reply

  • Orris: Hi Lauren,

    I was touched by this article of yours where you have rightly highlighted the role of the evaluator. Being a fragrance evaluator myself for the past 16 years I know the kind of efforts we put into each project and how the winning or losing of a project determines our capabilities of being a good evaluator.

    Also as your rightly mentioned the job is thrilling as well as exhausting but if one loves the job that they do then each new challenge only makes them want for more. Thank you for this lovely article and hope to see more of these.

    Will definitely keep track of your blogs on Little Nose. Also would like to thank Victoria who has been posting such wonderful articles on her website. April 13, 2013 at 3:52am Reply

  • Lauren: Orris, thank you so much for the kind comments. I’m happy for the opportunity to highlight our roles, but it is even more special to know that another experienced evaluator feels that the article portrayed our positions well…best wishes to you! April 13, 2013 at 3:35pm Reply

  • Ferris Egoiste: What a fascinating article on how the perfume evaluator operates. Sounds like a dream job to have! April 14, 2013 at 4:57pm Reply

    • Lauren: Thank you! It is a dream job, for many! April 18, 2013 at 5:50pm Reply

  • Sue Su: Dear Lauren, it is glad to read an article about our job, thank you so much for letting people know what exactly the work of evaluator. April 29, 2013 at 9:17pm Reply

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