Professional Perfumery Training and tips for improving sense of smell

I’ve made a video explaining how professional perfumery training is organized. My explanation is based on my own experience as a perfumer student at IFF. I will also point out a few tips that anyone can use to develop a sharper, more acute sense of smell.

Ever since I’ve posted the video, I’ve received several comments to continue the series, so the next video on the topic of professional training will be on the Jean Carles method of learning raw materials.

I hope that you like the videos, and if you have any specific topics that you would like me to cover, please let me know.

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33 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for this wonderful insight into the world of the perfumery student.

    After watching the video, it occurred to me that one could draw an analogy between perfume notes and colours. Some years ago, I realized that developing my vast nail polish collection had given me a level of training in colour, as I had eventually bought every colour of the rainbow, in both creams and frosts! I don’t use them all; sometimes I enjoy simply looking at them. I learned about cool and warm colours, tints and shades and so on – all of the colours that make up a “colour cone”.

    https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~sequin/CS184/TOPICS/ColorSpaces/HSV_cone.gif

    And just as several colours can be blended to create one particular colour, so different fragrance notes can be blended to create an accord. I just need to learn my scent notes as well as I know my colours!

    I’m glad you think it is worthwhile for us to have a go at creating accords, and perhaps even fragrances. It is certainly fun! I wonder whether anyone could recommend a good but not overly expensive range of perfume oils that come in many basic notes. I can buy some oils from Perfect Potion in Brisbane, but it doesn’t have an extensive range. January 8, 2021 at 8:33am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s a great analogy! In fact, it’s a known fact in perfume industry that many perfumers are also good photographers and have a good sense of colors and light.

      I think that it’s best to buy oils separately, starting with someone inexpensive like lemon, orange, rosemary. Blending lavender and orange together is also a good exercise. Then you can build up your collection as you learn more.

      By the way, I wanted to say congratulations on your young-adult book project. How exciting! January 8, 2021 at 8:38am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

        Thank you, I’m glad you think so. Well, I know one perfumer who is an excellent photographer and clearly has a good sense of colour and light! In fact, she usually takes the photos for this blog…

        That is good advice about buying the oils separately and starting with just a few. It will also be more affordable to buy just a couple at a time. I still have bottles of spearmint oil and lime oil that I bought from Perfect Potion more than 15 years ago. Since I mixed some drops of them together and added and alcohol base (from the same shop) to create a perfume version of a Lime Mint Julep, they have languished in my fridge.

        From that simple exercise I remember learning a couple of valuable lessons. The first was the power of any mint fragrance; as you will know, both in perfumery and in cooking, a little goes a long way. The second was that you have to add lots of water to your composition, to avoid it stinging your skin. (I should have known better!) Consequently, I understand your meaning about taking small steps.

        In relation to my book project – thank you so much! A friend of an aunt is an editor, mainly of text books, and recently she very kindly read the most recent draft of Book One of my trilogy and emailed me some extensive feedback. Some of it was wonderful and some was a little difficult to take (of course – it’s my first!), but I am very grateful to her. I suspect that I shall eventually sell it as an Amazon Kindle book for $1.00 per copy or something, but that will be fine by me. I just want it to be available to all those young adult girls (mainly) who like stories about witches, perfume, jewellery and magic! January 8, 2021 at 8:57am Reply

        • Victoria: Fantastic! Your book project really sounds wonderful.

          If your oils have not spoiled, then you can try a simple exercise of blending them in equal proportions and then changing them little by little. Lime and mint work perfectly together, but they’re different enough and you can still observe their nuances in mixtures. January 10, 2021 at 9:00am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

            Thanks so much! I’ll keep chipping away at my draft and then get on to the second book. I have a detailed “plot skeleton” that I’ve written for the whole trilogy to guide me. My absolute favourite part of writing is editing my own work, so I’m spurred on by thinking of how enjoyable it will be to edit the draft.

            I should check those oils, and if they are not rancid then I’ll try your suggested exercise. It does sound like fun!

            Thanks again. January 10, 2021 at 9:12am Reply

            • Victoria: If you have any doubts, just get new ones! Rancid citrus oils, though, are easy to identify. January 10, 2021 at 9:33am Reply

              • Tourmaline: Shall do!

                🙂 🌷 January 10, 2021 at 10:01am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

        Speaking of colour, on Radio National this morning, I heard this wonderful, 47-minute special on the discovery of mauve that you might be interested in hearing.

        Note that the book on which it is based was published in 2002 (they are repeating old favourite segments), so you might well have read it years ago.

        https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/scienceshow/the-discovery-of-mauve/13034018

        It would be great to listen to it whilst sipping violet tea! January 8, 2021 at 11:52pm Reply

        • Silvermoon: Hello Tourmaline! Oh an excellent story/programme. Coincidentally, just last week, I read about the colour mauve’s “discovery”. It was in the context of an article commenting on the costumes in the new Netflix series Bridgerton, which is set in Regency times. The article noted that even though they used a lot of mauve in the costumes, in fact mauve dyes weren’t available in that time period.

          Of course, this doesn’t detract from the almost fantasy world feel to the series. I very much enjoyed Bridgerton in the spirit of fun and pure entertainment in what are dreary times. Are you able to watch it in Australia? January 9, 2021 at 4:20pm Reply

          • Peter: Hello Silvermoon. I am a big fan of Shonda Rhimes (I was watching “Scandal” Season 5 tonight) and I was looking forward to “Bridgerton”. Unfortunately, I don’t have Netflix, so I will wait for the DVD. It sounds quite colorful and amusing. January 10, 2021 at 12:38am Reply

            • Rakasa: Hey, Peter. FWIW if you have CableTV service, a great many providers have from about six months ago rolled Netflix into their basic or 1st Tier service pkgs —as an app available at no additional charge. Did so without much, if any, fanfare. Seems lots of consumers aren’t noticing the change. January 10, 2021 at 3:56pm Reply

              • Peter: Hi Rakasa. Mahalo for the information. I’m trying to research. I don’t have a Smart TV and I just have a regular cable box. My brother hooked me up with Amazon Prime Video on my laptop. I just finished “Mozart in the Jungle” and I started “The Marvelous Mrs Maisel”.
                It’s like Perfume. I can’t brood on what I don’t have, I shall enjoy what I do have. January 11, 2021 at 10:00pm Reply

          • Tourmaline: Hi Silvermoon,

            Yes, wasn’t it great? I’ve downloaded it so that I can listen to it whenever I want.

            So, you caught out the producers of “Bridgerton” on a little anachronism… Well spotted! It sounds like a marvellous series, but I don’t get Netflix, so, like Peter, I’ll await the DVD. (I always enjoy the “extras” that come on DVDs, and they might well have one on the costumes.)

            Back in 2003 (according to my note inside the cover), I bought a copy of the book, “Colour: Travels through the Paintbox”, by Victoria Finlay (published in 2002). I remember heading straight to Chapter 10 – “Violet” – and reading all about Tyrian purple and other such wonders. I think it might be about time for me to re-read that chapter, and then the remainder of the book! January 10, 2021 at 9:57am Reply

    • Peter: Aloha Tourmaline. Mahalo for reminding me of color class in college. There was a lot to learn in one semester. Victoria’s complex study of fragrance takes four years! January 8, 2021 at 11:41pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: G’day Peter,

        You’re welcome. Yes, Victoria has really inspired me to take the time to stop and smell the scents around me and the items I’m using and cooking with (also comparing them) on a daily basis.

        My Shalimar is really smelling ravishing now! January 8, 2021 at 11:46pm Reply

  • Abhi Rao: Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge so freely! I am very grateful for the insights I get from you. Have a wonderful weekend! January 8, 2021 at 10:28am Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! Thank you for watching. January 10, 2021 at 9:19am Reply

  • Alicia Fleischer: Love it. As a former Creative Fragrance Evaluator at Givaudan, you spoke to my heart. Thank you for sharing. January 8, 2021 at 7:45pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m so glad to hear this. Thank you! January 10, 2021 at 9:20am Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria, for taking us behind the scenes of your extensive training. I can see how your intensive study created Bois de Jasmin, the artist who shares her scholarship with beautifully descriptive reviews. January 8, 2021 at 11:33pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Amen to that! January 8, 2021 at 11:47pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much, Peter! January 10, 2021 at 9:27am Reply

  • J.Martinez: Wonderful video, and after reviewing your web, I’m sure I will be entertained for quite some time.

    Regarding the main tip: studying the materials. How do you get a set of them? is there a kit of materials that can be purchased? is it something you have to do yourself? what is a good way to keep the materials so the smells last for a long time?

    Thank you so much! January 9, 2021 at 12:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: I don’t know about kits per se, since I usually recommend buying your own selection. It’s best to start slowly. Materials keep well at cool temperatures, and citrus oils especially need to be refrigerated. You can skip it if you buy small amounts and use them up quickly. January 10, 2021 at 9:28am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Fascinating! Very much enjoyed hearing about the training process. Did the ‘smell and describe’ exercises take up all day? I imagine that would be exhausting (especially in the beginning). Were there other things that happened during those early months? Classes, seminars, other activities? Were you given feedback on your descriptions? How did you develop the vocabulary for the descriptions and impressions that the smells created? As an academic myself, I am very curious about the pedagogical aspects here. Would love to hear more about that.

    Many thanks Victoria for sharing your knowledge so generously. January 9, 2021 at 4:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: There was nothing else, apart from smelling and recreating accords. The time at school was focused solely on that. As for the vocabulary, you’re told how each material is supposed to be described and you memorize it. You develop your own vocabulary as you go. January 10, 2021 at 9:31am Reply

  • Nick: As a student, I also went through the same training in the beginning. I was discouraged from immediately guessing the identity of the oil/aroma chemical and told to smell blindly. It’s frustrating not knowing what they were and trying to guess them was just..instinctive!

    But over time, I realised that this has helped me to free my thinking and opened up rooms for creativity in accords. For example, I could imagine touching up a green jasmine accord with cumin oil for a certain effect. This is what I love about perfumery! One plus one is not always two! January 9, 2021 at 8:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that’s exactly it. It’s more than the sum total. January 10, 2021 at 9:31am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much, Victoria, wonderfully informative. I marvel that the Jean Carles method is still used today. I have his Embrujo de Sevilla perfume, do you know it? January 11, 2021 at 12:30pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’ve smelled it a lot time ago. Is your bottle vintage?

      I don’t know how methodically it’s followed, but yes, smelling by alternating families is a good idea to help you overcome olfactory fatigue. January 11, 2021 at 12:48pm Reply

      • Aurora: Hello Victoria, yes, sealed in its box which looks art deco (black and gold). I untied the golden thread but was unable to open the bottle. It smelled tantalisingly good at the neck as I was trying to disloge the cap but no luck. I should try again, maybe this weekend. January 12, 2021 at 1:07pm Reply

  • Charlotte: Really fascinating and clear description of the training which a perfumer undertakes to hone their olfactory lexicon. You talked about the need to use descriptors of materials rather than names of them in the method and I tried that with something as I was watching and found it very hard. Can you give examples of the sorts of descriptors that attach to typical materials? January 12, 2021 at 4:14am Reply

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