Christopher Laudamiel : Perfumer on Science and Perfumery


“In music, a “ti” note will always sound like a “ti,” independently of the note played before and the one played after. This is close to impossible in perfumery. Even after 30 years of successful creations, experienced perfumers are down to trial and error when combining notes. This is explained by basic chemistry principles such as the second principle of thermodynamics. To predict the influence of a material in a mixture containing 60 other ingredients is difficult because of the real versus ideal chemical potentials in thermodynamics. The possibilities are endless, 1000 to 2000 scents are available to use in a fragrance, and they may be dosed at different magnitudes within the fragrance depending on the desired effect. Also, a molecule from one supplier smells different than the same molecule from another supplier due to the smallest amount of impurities derived from different synthesis routes or starting materials. In terms of natural molecules, a bergamot from South Eastern Italy smells different than a bergamot from South Western Italy. The nose, even a layperson’s, is very sensitive.” Excerpt from interview (thanks to Anya for sending the link).

Christopher Laudamiel is the creator of fragrances like Slatkin Fig & Absinthe, Clinique Happy Heart, and Michael Kors Island.



  • Tania: I confess I don’t quite understand what he’s going on about in terms of the second law of thermodynamics (which is a law of physics regarding entropy, so is he talking about evaporation? chemical instability? confused), but his hair is totally punk rock.

    Also, a “ti” may always sound like a “ti” (by definition) but 1) its effect is different if it’s in a major chord or a minor chord, for instance, or even depending on what sort of interval it makes the with the notes preceding and following, and 2) a “ti” played on a Bösendorfer piano and a “ti” played on the cheap standing piano in my aunt’s living room sound different. So maybe that’s what he’s saying? Eh, who knows.

    Anyway, the hair is delightful. He looks like Moby’s rebellious brother or something. And I liked Slatkin Absinthe. September 30, 2005 at 11:04am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, I knew that you would have something to say here. I think that he means chemical instability, but I could be wrong. Some compounds tends to break down under certain conditions, but it is not clear why it is not predictable. September 30, 2005 at 11:14am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Oh, yes! The hairdo is great.

    Notice how much younger the perfumers are getting? Or maybe it is just my biased sample set. September 30, 2005 at 11:15am Reply

  • Tania: If the perfumers are getting younger, they’re the only ones it’s happening to. 😉 September 30, 2005 at 11:35am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: LOL! I feel younger now than I did a few years ago. Now, that is a function of being in school for too long–one begins to lose the sense of time….

    Seriously, many up-coming perfumers seem much younger than was the case even a decade ago. September 30, 2005 at 11:46am Reply

  • Test Subject: I’m not entirely clear how he’s using the second law of thermodynamics. But it seems like he’s discussing the basics of chaos theory. The idea is simply that even if we know the laws governing a complex system we can never accurately predict outcomes because the predication relies upon precise knowledge of the starting conditions. In the case of perfumes, this includes the subtle differences in starting ingredients as Laudamiel mentions. A more general example would be something like weather prediction. The challenge in predicting tomorrow’s weather has as much to do with knowing today’s weather exactly as it does with the calculations required to extrapolate to tomorrow. The second issue that Laudamiel raises seems to be essentially one of combinatorix. Having a library of thousands of different odor molecules leads to an incredible number of permutations. How these different permutations will smell is something we don’t know yet. But even if we could predict how a permutation SHOULD smell, we may still be wrong because of the chaos theory argument that I mentioned earlier. At least, this seems to be what Laudamiel is arguing; although, I have no idea if he’s actually correct. September 30, 2005 at 6:03pm Reply

  • Katie: V – it’s not just perfumers I don’t think. It’s fashion in general. There was an interview on Charlie Rose’s show not too long ago with Zak Posen and Alice Roi, and they were talking about how their young age is surprising only to those who don’t see just how many young designers are making names for themselves right now. It was a fairly interesting show if you can ever spot it on a rerun. Although they also had this lady from Vogue (who’s name eclipses me at the moment) and she bored me – too much highfalutin pretension. Posen and Roi were so aware of the footsteps of those who’d come before them, and did so with such a refreshing sincerity.(I got a Roi purse after watching the inteview – she just seemed like such an interesting gentle person. Of all the silly reasons, I know. Hee!) September 30, 2005 at 2:16pm Reply

  • Test Subject: Tania, I think you basically understand me correctly. In some complex systems, the outcome is very sensitive to the initial conditions which ultimately makes things unpredictable. Whether I’m understanding Laudamiel correctly is a separate matter. September 30, 2005 at 6:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, I will have to watch out for the show. I agree that it is a wider phenomenon. The same thing can also be said for political party leaders and academics. An interesting structural dynamic must be in play to allow these changes, and it is fascinating to observe it. September 30, 2005 at 4:33pm Reply

  • Tania: Test Subject: You mean, basically, he’s talking about unknown initial conditions making a big difference in the end result? I think you’re righter than he is, then. Chaos is interesting, but it’s not really the same thing as entropy. I mean, in common parlance, chaos and disorder seem like the same thing, but as names for Big Ideas, they’re distinct. Whatever, I don’t care if perfumers know anything about science, so long as they make things that smell good! 🙂 September 30, 2005 at 6:28pm Reply

  • Denes: Christopher, Very intersesting article.
    I know what you mean about the bergamot being different
    from one part of the country to the other.
    I have the same problem with sandalwood from India.
    Since the sandalwood plantation burned down it is
    really difficult and expensive to get my hands
    on east indian sandalwood. March 17, 2006 at 7:00am Reply

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