perfumery business: 14 posts

How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : Perfumers

The first article in this series described the process through which the perfume brief goes before it ends up on the perfumer’s desk (Brief). Then, my perfumery school classmate and former colleague Lauren gave you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a perfume evaluator (Evaluator). Today, I will describe the role of the perfumer.

If you’re new to this series, I recommend starting with Part 1: Brief.

Ever since Frédéric Malle highlighted perfumers by adding their names on the fragrances created for Editions de Parfums, these actors, traditionally consigned to ghost writing scents, have become more prominent. We can find out which nose created our favorite perfume, read about perfumers’ work, and even hear them explain their metier. Names of houses that employ perfumers–International Flavors & Fragrances, Givaudan, Firmenich, Symrise, Mane, Robertet–even show up in the traditional media. Magazines call noses rock stars. Fans queue to meet them at store events. Isn’t then the perfumer the most important person in the process of creating a perfume?


Yes and no. With the exception of those who direct their own brands, most perfumers are only one of many groups that influence how a fragrance will smell. Today, it’s hard to speak of a perfumer’s fingerprint on a big brand launch because many fragrances are created as a collaboration among several creators, marketing reps, sales people, and evaluators. In most cases, an individual perfumer may not have a say in the matter and simply has to follow the given direction.

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Do We Have Too Many Launches?

Yes, of course, we  do! Only in 1990, we had 76 new perfumes, this year we have 700 and this doesn’t include the upcoming holiday launches.* Even the consumers are asking the industry to slow down. In various studies done on both sides of the Atlantic women express skepticism and disappointment when it comes to recent releases. “They all smell the same” is a common refrain. While the number of new launches is indisputably high, you can’t blame the malaise of the fragrance industry on the volume alone.


A couple of weeks ago I was researching materials for a presentation on 1920s fragrances which required me digging in the archives and leafing through lists of long forgotten perfumes. You can get a whiff of the 1920s today through Chanel No 5, Guerlain Shalimar, Caron Nuit de Noël, Molinard Habanita and perhaps 20-3o others, and it might seem as if the fragrance houses were launching one classic after another.

But one look into the Guerlain archives, and you see that in the 1920s the house launched more than 20 different fragrances. There were several variations on identical themes like jasmine, vetiver and leather. At the end of the day, only Shalimar, Liu, and Eau de Fleurs de Cédrat survived.  You can find similar trends from Chanel to Weil.

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How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : The Evaluator

Today we have a special guest writer Lauren Salisbury. Lauren and I met as students at the IFF Perfumery Academy, and we’ve spent many hours smelling together.  A life-long lover of perfume, Lauren has worked in the fragrance industry for nearly a decade, developing fragrances for many popular brands around the globe.  She now works as an evaluator for ScentAir Technologies, Inc., and writes her blog, The Little Nose. Lauren will give you a glimpse inside a perfume lab and introduce you to a very important person–the fragrance evaluator.  

How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : Brief

In recent years, the media has focused on the particular talents and tasks of the perfumer, and we are fascinated. They are admired as artists, respected for their finely-tuned, highly-trained olfactory abilities and their knowledge about fragrance materials.  But few of us are aware of the perfumer’s trusted sidekick: the evaluator.  Until recently, perfumers remained completely anonymous, but today you will still rarely see mention of the evaluators in the press. Despite their work behind the scenes, not only does the evaluator help the perfumer complete the project, but also, she can significantly influence the final fragrance.


First, let me explain where the evaluator fits into the process.  When the brief, or fragrance request, arrives from the client (and by client I mean a fragrance house like Calvin Klein or Christian Dior) via the sales department, the evaluator starts her work. She reaches out to one, or several, perfumers, communicating the desired fragrance goal, as well as all the project specifications, such as the maximum cost allowed for the fragrance, material restrictions, target consumer details, and due dates.

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Designing a Fragrance : From Idea to Scent

More on how perfume is made. The International Fragrance Association of North America (IFRANA) has recently released the first in a series of several short documentary-style films.“Designing a Fragrance: From Idea to Scent” features interviews with perfumers like Carlos Benaim, Christophe Laudamiel,  Steven Claisse and Mark Banwer. It’s a short 3 minute film that outlines how a scent concept takes shape.

How Perfume is Made

Givaudan has recently launched a series of videos about their perfumery school and the way fragrances are created. The first video is a fascinating glimpse inside one of the internal perfumery academies that produce creators who design your perfumes  (International Flavors & Fragrances, Firmenich, Symrise and Mane also have their own training programs). Presented by perfumer Jean Guichard, the director of the Givaudan perfumery school, this brief video takes you into the lab and explains how students are taught.

You can also then watch Video 2: The Structure of Perfume and Video 3: Introducing Olfactive Families.

Thanks to Jessica for a link!

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