Perfumers on Perfume : Ernest Shiftan

“What a character he was,” said Sophia Grojsman when I once asked her about Ernest Shiftan. When Grojsman came to International Flavors & Fragrances as a young chemistry student, Shiftan (1903-1976) was an experienced perfumer with a great portfolio of fragrances. Over the years, he created fragrances like Brut (with Carl Mann), Révillon Detchema, Jean Naté, Givenchy Le De, Prince Matchabelli Wind Song (with Léon Hardy) and Revlon Intimate. (Some sources mention Estée Lauder Youth Dew and White Linen as his co-creations too, but this is not correct. The former was created by Josephine Catapano, while the latter was the work of Sophia Grojsman. Since at the time Shiftan held the position of vice-president at IFF, his name would sometimes be automatically added to the successful creations of other perfumers.)

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Shiftan certainly was a character. Well-versed not only in technical and artistic aspects of perfumery, he was excellent at winning customers’ trust and sensing the direction of trends. Shiftan made a famous quip that “in all of America there is only one true nose and it belongs to Estée Lauder.” In turn, Leonard Lauder was unstinting in his praise for Shiftan and the way he put American perfumery on the map. While many of his own creations have been either discontinued or reformulated, the fact that companies like Estée Lauder and Avon can compete with the French brands, and in some sectors of the market, even overtake them, is one of his achievements.

In partnership with the Osmothèque, I would like to share several excerpts from Review of the History of Perfumes, an essay by Ernest Shiftan:

“The discovery of a multitude of aromatics, which exist in very small quantities in natural products, and their synthesis was used for the specific reconstruction of the same natural note and also for their effect as a single chemical in entirely different notes.

François Coty’s great success, La Rose Jacqueminot, could not have been made without several very important synthetic products, as with his following creations, like Jasmin de Corse, Violette Pourpre, Œillet France and Cyclamen. All these perfumes were based on inventions in the aroma chemical field.

Coty can certainly be called a genius among the creators of perfumes because his later perfumes, Chypre, L’Origan and Émeraude, are some of the greatest creations ever made.

Paul Parquet, perfumer of the house of Houbigant, started in 1881 and created Fougère Royale and Le Parfum Idéal. Le Parfum Idéal is a perfume which was composed with many synthetic products and is the forerunner for the creation of Chanel No. 5.

The second perfumer-chemist of Houbigant, Robert Bienaimé, who created Quelques Fleurs, used aldehydes and other aromatic chemicals which were new at the time. In my opinion, Quelques Fleurs had been created with the help of several artificial floral bases made by aromatic chemical houses and therefore the perfume could never have been created if firms doing chemical and perfumery research had not existed at that time.

Jacques Guerlain created his great perfumes Shalimar, Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit, Sous le Vent and L’Heure Bleue. He utilized new chemicals and isolates in such an admirable and proficient manner that he achieved entirely new notes of the most natural character. These perfumes are the greatest example of the blending of aroma chemicals with natural products.

Ernest Daltroff founded the house of Caron. He created perfumes of outstanding originality. We can say that he is the originator of perfumes of remarkable diffusion, strength and lastingness. His perfumes Le Tabac Blond, Le Narcisse Noir, Nuit de Noël, Bellodgia and Fleurs de Rocaille are the most unusual creations of perfumery. In my opinion, Daltroff used much larger quantities of aroma chemicals than did Jacques Guerlain, but he blended them in such a skilful manner that the final products smell again of natural flowers, leaves and woods as were never smelled before. The new Caron perfume, Infini, although not originated by Daltroff, follows his tradition.

After the First World War, Ernest Beaux came from Moscow to southern France and after several years created his famous perfume Chanel No. 5. He again used the aliphatic aldehydes in entirely different proportions than Piver had used much earlier and, as he had told me, he mixed them in a base he had made in the type like Le Parfum Idéal by Houbigant. He blended the classical Le Parfum Idéal formula with aldehydes and achieved the new effect of the Chanel No. 5 perfume. He also used the finest quality of absolutes and essential oils existing at that time. He used large quantities of the purest jasmine and the purest rose especially prepared for Chanel and in this way created a perfume which became, for a while, the most famous in the world.

The same note was used for another perfume called Rallet No. 1, which later became Coty’s L’Aimant. The firm of Coty bought the firm of Rallet and sold its perfume for a time under this name but later, with modifications, sold it under the name of L’Aimant and it is still successful today.

Ernest Beaux also created the perfume Gardenia for Chanel which is a wonderful but different combination of fatty aldehydes and other new aroma chemicals blended with natural products. Cuir de Russie, another of his creations, has a fine leathery note and is very elegant and seductive on women.

The first inspirational offspring of Chanel No. 5 was the perfume Arpège, created in 1927. When I say “inspirational offspring”, I do not mean an imitation because Arpège has its own distinctive note which cannot be mistaken for a Chanel note. It has a different combination of aldehydes and a different top note. As far as I know, Arpège was created by Paul Vacher and modified by André Fraysse who made it the great success it still is today.

Other perfumes created in this era were Un Air Embaumé by Rigaud, a heavy, beautiful balsamic perfume probably based on a woody speciality of one of the aroma chemical houses, and Crêpe de Chine by Jean Desprez, a combination of flowery and mossy notes which have given inspiration to many other perfumes on the market today.

The most important one is Aphrodisia by Fabergé which is much stronger and longer lasting than Crêpe de Chine and for this reason has been much more successful in the United States.

The amazing Mr. Alméras created, besides many other perfumes, Joy and Moment Suprême (the prototype for Blue Grass). I have met the late Mr. Alméras many times and I use the adjective “amazing” because he was undoubtedly the most “amusingly unrefined” perfumer I have ever encountered. He detested elegant restaurants and would eat only in bistros. His language was saltier than his food and his escapades with women were legendary. He professed to have created his outstanding perfumes being “sloshed”, but there is no question that he was one of the truly great perfumers.

Shiftan, Ernest. “Review of the History of Perfumes.” circa 1973.

Edited by Will Inrig. 8 June 2014.

Osmothèque, the International Perfume Conservatory and Museum
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78100 Versailles, France
Tel : 01.39.55.46.99
email: osmotheque at wanadoo dot fr
www.osmotheque.fr

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57 Comments

  • Cornelia Blimber: Great article (as always), lots of information! How lucky we are that many of these perfumes are still there, although reformulated. February 16, 2015 at 8:20am Reply

    • Victoria: His influence is also in the perfumers he coached, such as Carlos Benaim of International Flavors and Fragrances. February 16, 2015 at 8:46am Reply

      • Marc: Sophia Grojsman was taught by him too, I thought. I didn’t know about Benaim. February 16, 2015 at 12:32pm Reply

        • Victoria: She was mentored by Josephine Catapano. Catapano was the one convincing Shiftan to give Sophia a chance to train. February 16, 2015 at 2:00pm Reply

  • yomi: Thank you for such an exciting piece.
    I’ve always wondered how excited the perfumers of that age were when new molecules, notes and accords were discovered.
    It also makes one truly humble when one realizes how much contemporary perfumery owes to the work and effort of those past masters…
    Well done and thanks. February 16, 2015 at 9:40am Reply

    • Victoria: Definitely! Imagine the new opportunities, nuances, impressions one could create with those ingredients. Today, the main problem is not the disappearance of naturals, but the lack of new developments in synthetics. There are many reasons for this, not least of which is the regulatory. February 16, 2015 at 10:43am Reply

  • Michaela: Interesting person, and what a character! I especially liked the powerful compliment for Estee Lauder and the comments on Caron and about the father of Joy.
    I remember Brut years ago. One of my colleagues, a beautiful 20 years old woman, wore this as a signature perfume (how daring!) and it was amazing on her. February 16, 2015 at 10:27am Reply

    • Victoria: Brut is a striking fragrance on anyone, and it takes some confidence to pull it off. I still remember my mom’s friend who wore Chanel Pour Monsieur and how elegant she seemed to me.

      I think Shiftan might have been ingratiating himself with Lauders with that comment, but it certainly shows his skills at wooing his clients. 🙂 February 16, 2015 at 10:45am Reply

      • Alicia: I would wear Chanel Pour Monsieur and Guerlain Habit Rouge with pleasure. Eau Sauvage is one of my summer staples.
        One question, after yout article on PP Mon Parfum, I have been trying to buy it, but all I find is Paloma Picasso EDP. an interesting dark chypre. Are they the same or is PP Mon Parfum discontinued? February 16, 2015 at 12:51pm Reply

        • Victoria: I believe it’s the same thing. They did a few tweaks, but all in all, it’s still a great chypre. If one loves their mosses dark, then it’s a fine choice.

          Habit Rouge and Eau Sauvage were the first perfumes I took from the men’s side of the fragrance bar. February 16, 2015 at 2:03pm Reply

          • Alicia: Thank you, Victoria. I like Paloma Picasso very much. In general I am fond of chypres, and in particular of dark chypres like Magie Noire, and the slightly gentler Diva. I thank you for the recommendation of PP. Lately I am wearing Jubilation 25 with great pleasure.Like you Habit Rouge and Eau Suvage are favorites (I used to give them to my late husband knowing full well that I’d wear them nearly as much as him). This Christmas I bought for a friend of mine Pour Monsieur. The poor man is anosmic, but I enjoyed it immensely when I go to the opera with him. May I ask if everything is peaceful in your grand mother’s town? The news continue to be so alarming, and each time I hear them I think of her. February 16, 2015 at 4:45pm Reply

            • Victoria: I can definitely see how one would enjoy both Paloma and Magie Noire. They have this dark, sultry aspect to them.

              Poltava is safe (knock on wood). Thank you for asking. February 17, 2015 at 7:43am Reply

      • AndreaR: Wonderful essay, Victoria

        I wore Jean Nate for years quite some time ago during hot summers in Los Angeles. I tried it again a few years ago and it just wasn’t the same. It seemed harsh and sour. Still, a great scented memory. February 16, 2015 at 2:56pm Reply

        • Victoria: Someone mentioned on FB that the drydown is still close to the original, but yes, I imagine, it’s very different now. February 17, 2015 at 7:41am Reply

      • Michaela: Completely off-topic…
        I admire those confident women so much! It was not easy 30 years ago to wear men’s fragrances, to swim against the current.
        Before BdJ, I thought a perfume shines on the right person. From BdJ on, I believe a person shines with a right perfume at the right time. This makes a huge difference. February 17, 2015 at 3:52am Reply

        • Victoria: Imagine how at one point it was even unseemly to buy a perfume for oneself. The only rule in perfume is that there are no rules to follow. 🙂 February 17, 2015 at 7:59am Reply

          • Michaela: If I remember well (from your perfume history series) Youth Dew was the first one which broke this rule, and it was Josephine Catapano’s.
            Yes, indeed, joy and freedom! 🙂 February 17, 2015 at 9:24am Reply

            • Victoria: Yes, Estee was really determined to make a perfume that women could buy for themselves, so she made it into a bath oil.

              Josephine Catapano is also the author of beautiful Fidji by Guy Laroche. February 17, 2015 at 3:00pm Reply

              • Michaela: She was a very special woman!
                I can never forget old Fidji, it was very special to me. Now it’s changed too much. February 18, 2015 at 3:50am Reply

                • Victoria: Do you find it that dramatically different? I spritzed it on at Planet Parfum not long ago and was surprise to see how close it is to my childhood memory. Especially once it settles. February 18, 2015 at 6:35am Reply

                  • Michaela: Maybe I’m wrong. I’ve tested 1 ml EDT recently and I was rather disappointed, I remember it much greener and bolder. I had a small splash bottle that I loved dearly, more than 30 years ago, it could have been concentrated perfume. February 18, 2015 at 10:50am Reply

                    • Victoria: I doubt you’re wrong! I was just curious. I didn’t compare the new with my older bottle, and it’s possible that my memory is playing tricks on me. February 18, 2015 at 12:36pm

  • Jean: Detchema was one of my biggest loves, but where to find it now? February 16, 2015 at 12:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: Ebay, perhaps? It has been discontinued for a while. February 16, 2015 at 1:59pm Reply

      • Karen Motylewski: Early formulations of Detchema, my all-time favorite, too, are available through e-bay and Etsy sellers. Buyer, beware, of course. My sample of what Perfumed Court is decanting in March 2019 is short-lived and carries a whiff of urinal. The ingredients of the (fortunately) poorly promoted 2012 Revillon Detchema EDT release are known only to whoever is flogging this to the original’s mourners and the suppliers. It does not even suggest Detchema, but is available at this writing from Jovoy. March 26, 2019 at 8:42pm Reply

  • Solanace: This series is such a gift, a big thank you, to you and the Osmothèque, Victoria. And now I want to find out more about M. Alméras, it seems he was quite a figure, too! February 16, 2015 at 1:22pm Reply

    • Victoria: I believe Will no longer works with the Osmotheque, but I will see if I have an article about Almeras in my own archives. He was also a character! February 16, 2015 at 2:03pm Reply

  • Aisha: It’s been decades since I first smelled Jean Naté. But the mere mention of its name triggers the memory of that scent. It was a favorite of my older cousin’s wife, and she wore it well.

    I love how Shiftan gives praise where it’s due.

    Thanks for sharing the essay! February 16, 2015 at 1:40pm Reply

    • Victoria: I haven’t smelled Jean Nate for a while, but now I’m interested to see how it was kept up.
      Since Lauder was such a big and important client, Shiftan’s comment made me chuckle. But all the same, Lauder did have a good nose. Sophia Grojsman said that Estee would take perfumers’ mod, mix them and then say, “ok, now please reproduce that!” She was definitely a character too. February 16, 2015 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Courant: I love these pieces Victoria, they float my boat February 16, 2015 at 1:59pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m very happy to hear this! February 16, 2015 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Karen Strickholm: Hi Victoria, that was a delightful read! February 16, 2015 at 2:55pm Reply

    • Victoria: Glad that you liked it! February 17, 2015 at 7:40am Reply

  • Austenfan: Thanks for another glimpse into the fragrant world.
    I love his comment about Alméras. Maybe Joy was composed under the influence? He must have enjoyed life;) February 16, 2015 at 3:03pm Reply

    • Victoria: He definitely seemed like he wouldn’t say no to a glass of wine, working hours or not! February 17, 2015 at 7:41am Reply

  • FearsMice: Oh, to be swept back in time to 1973, when Mr. Shiftan was writing about storied perfumes that were still beautiful and still available… February 16, 2015 at 4:51pm Reply

    • Victoria: If you’re in France or visiting Versailles, it’s possible, since the Osmotheque keeps all of the original versions of famous perfumes. They offer private sessions (which used to be reasonably priced, although I don’t think it’s the case now) and group sessions (something between 10-20 euros per session). February 17, 2015 at 7:45am Reply

  • Cornelia Blimber: Yes, a wonderful voyage into the world of great perfumes of the past. But not everything is lost..now there a wonderful perfumers as well, and tradition continues, Victoria told us.
    In 2050 parfumistas will be nostalgic about our perfumes, maybe.

    I love Joy, and wear it a lot,also in its present condition. Perfumes which are not as glorious as they used to be, like No5 (imo), l’Air du Temps, L’Heure Bleue, Climat, etc. are in my opinion still enjoyable, I still can see (smell I mean) their beauty, more at a distance, but still there.

    Maybe we could have an article one day about one of my heroes, Edouard Fléchier. February 16, 2015 at 5:10pm Reply

    • Victoria: I very much like your attitude. Yes, imagine that some years down the road, people will think with fondness about the original version of La Vie est Belle. And before anyone starts laughing at me, I receive on regular basis comments asking how to find the original version of Angel, because “it’s been destroyed by the reformulations.”

      I’ll have to check about Flechier too, although I don’t recall seeing much about him. February 17, 2015 at 7:46am Reply

      • Cornelia Blimber: Maybe he has a quiet character! He is my hero because he created Poison. I never was so happy with a perfume as i was with Poison, in 1985.
        It was real bliss. The same balsamic note in Une Rose, also a favourite, but in Poison in was so new and exciting .
        I am deeply sorry that I did not buy C’est la Vie, I liked it but I postponed. And then it was gone. February 17, 2015 at 10:08am Reply

        • Victoria: I heard one story that Poison was a result of his assistant’s mistake. Her name was Nathalie, and she mixed too much of damascone. Not sure if it’s true or not, but Poison was completely different from anything that came before. I also adored it when my mom wore and stole drops from her bottle. February 17, 2015 at 3:06pm Reply

          • Cornelia Blimber: God bless Nathalie. February 17, 2015 at 4:42pm Reply

  • Theresa: Thank you for the very interesting article! I love reading about the old perfumes & perfumers. I was excited by the small mention of Blue Grass. Back in the late 80s or 90s they reintroduced it, and I snatched up several bottles of it before it was discontinued again as it was a favorite of one of my sister’s – so I have a lifetime stock of it. I don’t wear it too often, but it is very beautiful! February 16, 2015 at 6:17pm Reply

    • Victoria: Blue Grass is such a fascinating composition, and the way it develops is both unpredictable and delightful. The drydown is very elegant. February 17, 2015 at 7:48am Reply

  • Illdone: Mr Almeras and Mme Cellier would have made quite a pair according to what I’ve read about both..

    Victoria, it strikes me that often perfumers have or had Russian roots, is there some sort of historical explanation or context for that?

    Illdone February 17, 2015 at 12:57am Reply

    • Victoria: I had to think about your question, but I really don’t know of many Russian perfumers and even perfumers with some distant Russian connection are very few. Ernest Beaux was French, although he worked in Moscow until the revolution of 1917. Before 1917, the Russian court was the most opulent in Europe, and it attracted all sorts of artisans from the European centers, which is how Beaux family ended up running their perfumery business in Russia. Sophia Grojsman is not Russian, but in her words, she’s “from a Belorussian Jewish family.” Daltroff’s family left Russia many years before he was born because the growing anti-Semitism. Calice Becker is French, but her parents are from the white Russian emigre families. Perhaps, I forgot anyone? February 17, 2015 at 7:40am Reply

      • Trudy Hoffmann Bolter: Hello I wonder if anyone has heard of the Jewish Hoffmann family who worked in the Moscow perfume industry in the mid 19th c.
        My great grandfather, Solomon Hoffmann, a chemist, was the second generation in the industry-and left in 1895 because of anti-semitism, coming to the USA where he invented the unbreakable doll and started a toy firm. February 3, 2022 at 8:28am Reply

  • annemarie: I enjoy the fact that Shiftan gives credit to the aroma-chemists of his time. Thinking of my own field, many historians can thank the librarians, archivists and curators who make source material available for the writing of history.

    If Intimate is one of the world’s seven great fragrances, the others are … made by Revlon I guess. February 17, 2015 at 3:46am Reply

    • Victoria: I liked that very much about the article. I also like his characterizations, and through this you can glimpse his own personality.

      Throughout my life as a book lover, librarians have been my guardian angels. I still remember the first librarian at our local library in Kyiv where I came with my mother to acquire my first library card. She patiently explained how things work and when I said that I love books about animals, she directed me to the stories of Vitaly Bianki, which I still enjoy today. And of course, all of those amazing librarians at my universities who helped me to gather materials from topics as disparate as the Napoleonic laws, Swedish welfare state or the Ukrainian textile arts. February 17, 2015 at 7:57am Reply

  • Aurora: These excerpts are outstanding, Victoria, thank you for continuing the series.

    Reading them, I am struck first by Ernest Shiftan’s expertise, how easily he is able to describe and judge the work of others. It’s a great reminder of the enormous impact that aroma chemicals had in the creation of great perfumery at the beginning of the XXth century; sometimes I am timorous and lean to all natural perfumes (I love Liz Earle’s) but this reminds me masterpieces of the past exist in great parts thanks to labs. February 17, 2015 at 8:01am Reply

    • Victoria: I agree with you, Aurora. What’s more, even natural perfumers owe much to fragrance chemistry. The natural isolates they use wouldn’t be possible within the work of chemists. And even to obtain essences and absolutes from plants requires much lab work. February 17, 2015 at 8:29am Reply

  • Karen: Thank you for posting this! It is interesting to read the words of those responsible for creating the perfumes we love and remember. Even if it’s nothing like my childhood memories, a bottle of Jean Naté will be a summer purchase. February 17, 2015 at 9:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Did you wear it or your mother? February 17, 2015 at 3:04pm Reply

  • Normand: Hello Victoria,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post! It is so unusual to get SO close to a primary source of information. We are not at the perfumer level for most of these classic creations but certainly Ernest Shiftan writes with authority… it comes through clearly.

    The very first perfume I ever smelled was the perfume my mother wore.. Crêpe de Chine by F. Millot (we are talking early 60s) however my father told me that my mother wore Fleurs de Rocaille when he was dating her back in the late 40s.

    Thanks so much for posting this.

    Normand February 17, 2015 at 9:56pm Reply

    • Victoria: That’s the reason I enjoyed this article. Imagine, he talked with Beaux and discussed the intricacies of No 5 and aldehydic accords with him.
      I always found Shiftan to be an intriguing figure, so studying and working with Grojsman and Benaim, I pestered them with questions about him. They had very different impressions of him (if not to say, polar opposite), but both agreed that he was a character and an important figure for the American perfumery. February 18, 2015 at 6:34am Reply

      • Rednails: Was Shiftan American born? February 24, 2015 at 9:05pm Reply

        • Victoria: He was born in Germany. February 25, 2015 at 10:44am Reply

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