Artists & Perfumers: 101 posts

Articles about perfumers, artists and other interesting personalities. Also, please see Interviews.

Perfume Industry, Diversity, and Becoming a Perfumer

I continue the topic of perfume industry professions. I receive many questions and most of them are similar, so I decided to record a follow-up video. This episode addresses questions from people interested to become perfumers but worried about diversity and not being able to fit in. I’ll explain based on my own experiences and offer several practical suggestions.

This topic is certainly vast, but I hope to touch upon a few key issues. The main idea I would like to reinforce is that the fragrance industry is open to anyone who is passionate, curious, and motivated. I don’t come from a perfumery background. I don’t even come from a country where perfumery is a viable profession. I had no connections to the industry. Yet, I managed to enter it, learn, and create my own niche in it.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments. I also recommend taking a look at Things to Consider if You Want to Become a Perfumer.

How Artist Serge Lutens Revolutionized Perfumery

In his marvellous essay Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino offers 14 definitions of what makes a classic piece of literature. Reflecting on his list, I thought how easily its ideas could also be applied to perfumery. The same notions of the inexhaustible sense of discovery, timelessness, and “imprints on our imagination” also define a classic scent, be it Guerlain Shalimar or Chanel No 5. It was Calvino’s 13th point, however, that struck a chord. “A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without,” he says. They’re rooted in the present even as they transcend it.

Inspired by Calvino, I decided to draw up a personal list of perfume classics, creations that reflect their moment and yet have timeless relevance. The first I selected was Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, a fragrance conceived by the artist and photographer for Japanese brand Shiseido in 1992. Lutens wanted a perfume based on the Atlas cedarwood, and he sought to convey the softness of the ingredient that beguiled him ever since he came to Morocco in the 1960s. Initially when Lutens talked to the perfumers about his idea, he encountered a lack of comprehension. Cedarwood was traditionally treated as a sharp, masculine note and few fragrance professionals understood how to reinterpret it in a different guise.

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How to Save The Kashmiri Shawl

“On 5 August last year, I was finalising the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Kashmir. The same day, the Indian government revoked its special (limited) autonomous status, which the Muslim-majority state had held since joining the Union in 1947. The government then imposed a security lockdown, cut communication lines and restricted travel. I’m neither a reckless risk taker nor an irrepressible optimist, but I didn’t cancel my trip. I knew it was foolish to hope that the situation in the Kashmir Valley – a place whose borderland status between India and Pakistan has seen it become a violent battleground over the decades – would stabilise in time for my journey a mere month away, but I was obsessed. The reason? A piece of fabric so weightless and yet so warm that it seems to defy all laws of science. I wanted to meet the artisans and learn how real Kashmiri shawls were made. The escalating conflict only increased my resolve for a glimpse of this rare art that is under threat of vanishing.”

The article “How To Save the Kashmiri Shawl,” which appeared in last week’s issue of Financial Times magazine, is the result of my journey to India. I was determined to use whatever means I could to talk to the artisans and to understand why this craft is so meaningful to them. As I’ve learned, weaving has a venerated status in Kashmir. As a crossroads, Kashmir developed its culture through interactions with other people and traditions, and the Kashmiri shawl is the perfect example of this intricate synthesis.

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Cultivating Creativity : Perfumer Dora Baghriche & Victoria Frolova IGTV

Firmenich Senior Perfumer Dora Baghriche and I recently met on @FirmenichFine’s IGTV on Instagram to talk about cultivating creativity in today’s world, from our own perspectives. Many of you already know Dora through her beautiful creations, but what you may not know is that before becoming a perfumer she studied journalism. So, we have a lot in common.

Here is the recording of our conversation. Many of my IG viewers enjoyed it and requested the full version, so here it is. (You can also watch it on IGTV here.)

In the course of our conversation, Dora recommended a documentary called The Possibilities are Endless about a lyricist Edwyn Collins who suffered a stroke that deleted the contents of his mind. The documentary is about his recovery and journey. Among the things that inspire me, I mentioned a book by Ismail Kadaré, The Chronicle in Stone as well as a poem by Boris Pasternak, Let’s Drop Words.

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Do You Want to Be a Perfumer? Things to Consider

I receive many questions about training as a perfumer–how does one go about entering a perfumery school, what the salary is like, how many years the training takes place, etc. I try to respond to each letter, since I know how difficult it is to obtain the information about the industry, but lately I’ve noticed that many people contacting me have no idea what the profession entails. They hold romantic notions about working with beautiful scents and surrounded with other artistic people. It’s all true, but there is a negative side to this profession and it can be a shock to those who enter the industry. In my new video, I explain what the cons of perfumery as a profession is and what qualities a perfumer should have.

Of course, I share my experience working for some of the largest perfume companies in the industry, and my insight is influenced by that. People working for smaller houses or niche outfits would have a much different perspective. On the other hand, many people attempting to enter the industry want to work for the likes of IFF and Givaudan and create fragrances for brands like Dior and Estée Lauder.

My explanation is not meant to discourage anybody, but rather to give a realistic, clear-sighted view. Once you know what to expect, you are prepared. The positive sides of this profession are evident–creativity, passion, and of course, beautiful fragrances.

If you have any questions, please ask me in the comments.

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