perfumery business: 15 posts

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.

“Noble” Materials

It seems that the niche houses, and everyone else in the know, have received a memo advising that the new trendy thing is noble materials. It can be the only explanation for the surfeit of noble verbiage in the press releases that pass my hands. “We are reviving the venerable traditions of the art of perfumery using only noble materials.” “The combination of noble materials and extreme sophistication takes your breath away.” “Our extraordinary fragrances are pure, authentic and use high concentrations of noble materials.” “We use only 100% all-natural noble materials, no water, other toxins or chemicals.” I will stop here before all of us start losing IQ points.

marie-antoinette st denis

So what is this social hierarchy in scent all about? In French, the phrase “matières nobles” generally refers to substances that are not synthetic, but it can also mean anything fine and luxurious, especially in the world of fashion. Even in science, where the “noble metal,” a term dating to the late 14th century, means a metal that doesn’t corrode or oxidize in humid air, different disciplines have their own lists of materials.

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Elie Roger and Estee Lauder Knowing

Who was the perfumer behind Estée Lauder’s Knowing, a chypre of roses tangled up with dark moss? For many years, Lauder, like many other companies, didn’t put the perfumers into the limelight, and this is why Elie Roger’s name is not often linked with Knowing if you search for the information online. Roger worked for the fragrance house of Firmenich, and he signed both Knowing (1988) and Clinique Wrappings (1990). While his portfolio wasn’t as extensive as that of some other perfumers, he had a distinctive style, and both Knowing and Wrappings remain beloved classics.

estee-lauder-knowing

Roger passed away on Nov. 19, 2010, after a long career, which started in 1946 in Grasse, France, his hometown. He worked for 20 years at Firmenich, both in New York and Paris, and he received the American Society of Perfumers’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. Since he crafted two American classics as well as some other interesting fragrances, it’s well-deserved recognition.

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How Many Roses Does it Take to Make a Drop of Essence?

Here is a bit of perfume math: 4 tons of roses = 1 600 000 rose blossoms = 1 kg of rose oil. No wonder rose oil is one of the most expensive essences, and a kilo of golden liquid will fetch around $7 ooo. The cosmetics company Lush uploaded a terrific video about the rose harvest in Senir, a town in the Turkish province of Antalya, and it shows all stages of rose oil production, from handpicking the blossoms to turning them into the essence. The video also helpfully explains the difference between rose oil and rose absolute.

If you don’t have time to watch the whole clip, fast forward to 2:50 and enjoy the view of the processing facility filled with rose petals. I can almost smell the aroma of sun-warmed roses through my screen.

How Balsams are Harvested for Perfume

Peru Balsam is one of the workhorses in a perfumer’s palette providing a solid base note and voluptuous drydown. It’s a resinous material that, depending on the extraction method and provenance, can smell either warm and ambery or smoky and spicy. When you enjoy perfumes like Hermès  Elixir des Merveilles, Serge Lutens Amber Sultan, or Yves Saint Laurent Opium, you’re admiring the complexity of this interesting note.

I have enjoyed experimenting with Peru balsam ever since my early days in perfumery school, but it was only last year that I discovered how it’s grown and collected. The process hasn’t changed much since antiquity and it’s fascinating. I had been meaning to write about it when I discovered something even better. A company, Nobs Naturals, uploaded a video on Youtube showing how Peru balsam is gathered and you can see for yourself what it’s like.

Nobs Naturals provided the following explanation:

“A piece of bark measuring about 36 by 6 inches is removed starting from the lower part of the tree trunk. The tree can be harvested at all heights of its trunk, which can have a height of over 30 meters. The exposed area is then burnt with a torch, and then a piece of dry cloth is placed on the wound to absorb the oleoresin produced by the tree in response to the treatment. After a month and a half the cloth is recovered and the oleoresin is extracted from it by boiling in water for many hours and then passage through a rustic wooden press. The bark removed from the tree trunk is subject to a similar process.”

Styrax, benzoin and many other balsamic-resinous materials are collected in a similar manner.

Extra: Tolu Balsam, Benzoin, Styrax and Other Oriental Balsamic Notes

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