Perfumer, nose, perfumer-creator or even a composer-perfumer. It doesn’t matter. Because behind these terms lies an artist, a multi-faceted worker in the shadows. Not only do they rely on an incredible gift, but they also work hard with their nose and their olfactory memory to create your next perfumed love at first sight… Find out today who is behind your favorite fragrances.
What is a nose?
It’s hard to imagine the creative process behind our fragrances, as perfume is such a part of our daily lives. However, when you spray a few drops of your favorite essence on your wrists and behind your ears, you are honoring the work of many professionals. Among them is the perfumer, the one who assembles the raw materials (natural and/or synthetic). By carrying out this meticulous task, the nose gives life to a composition that will soon become the wake that you will leave behind you. The sense of smell is therefore the main working tool of the composer who spends long hours inhaling essences to create the most beautiful accords.
It is an exceptional profession that intrigues and fascinates the collective imagination. It is quite difficult to establish an exact number. There are about a hundred noses in the world, many of them in France and Switzerland.
How to become a perfumer ?
Is it natural to be a nose?
We often tend to think that perfumers are a special category. Equipped with a real gift, a kind of innate vocation, their olfaction would be much more powerful than the common man! However, we are all equal physiologically speaking in front of our sense of smell. Future noses are not born with superpowers that allow them to identify thousands of different smells. The key to success is training and practice! To succeed in this profession, you need much more than a good nose and a relative interest in the world of perfume. To create a perfume, a nose must first and foremost call upon his imagination and artistic sensitivity. But if there was a time when we were a perfumer from father to son, and that being from Grasse greatly helped to succeed, this profession has gradually opened up to the world.
In order to train for the creation of fragrances and the various professions in perfumery, students work on different subjects. Chemistry allows them to understand the structure of molecules, how they are created and how they react with each other. Olfaction is also a key element of the training. This discipline involves learning about different raw materials. During these courses, the future noses discover perfume plants, precious woods, flowers, and all the odorous compounds found in nature or reproduced in the laboratory. They learn to decipher their different notes to record them in their olfactory memory. The goal is then to be able to identify them at a glance.
Then, they learn how to put words on smells, to transcribe what each one evokes to associate them. This will allow future perfumers to call upon their imagination or memories to create timeless scents, that will trigger an emotion with the final customer. A detailed sheet is created for each raw material. It describes its different properties: its appearance, its color, its stability over time, its approximate cost, its method of extraction, its associations… This learning of olfaction distinguishes the perfumer from the chemist, by acquiring a real perfume lexicon.
The perfumer’s job, in real life
Different types of perfumers
Once you become a perfumer, you might think that the nose can finally let his imagination and creativity run free. Yes, but no. Today, only a few major houses have integrated an in-house perfumer. Olivier Polge, who succeeded his father Jacques at Chanel, comes to mind. There is also Thierry Wasser who took over from the perfumers of the Guerlain family, or Mathilde Laurent at Cartier. Despite their talent, these perfumers work in close collaboration with the marketing teams and must comply with the law of consumer testing. The others work for aromatics and composition companies, creating perfumes at the request of a client.
Other perfumers specialize in more technical fields like the chromatography. Thanks to that, they are able to deconstruct the formulas of the products on the market in order to analyze the competition and the olfactory trends of the moment. Others develop a more advanced expertise of raw materials to enrich the palette of the laboratories in which they work. Finally, some noses specialize in the adaptation of existing scented formulas for other types of products such as candles, shower gels or creams. This is the case of Laurent, the perfumer who adapted the formula of our eau de parfum vanille to make a delicious scented candle!
The day of the perfumer
Contrary to what we might think, the perfumer does not spend his days doing formulation. If he works in a composition company, the nose exchanges a lot with the evaluator and the different teams, whether they are marketing or commercial. He creates olfactory associations that will be tested by the client. After several roundtrips, he will make various modifications to stick as closely as possible to the request initiated in the brief. Independent perfumers who market their own creations juggle formulation, regulation, communication and administrative management. Finally, in-house perfumers must always work on the coherence between the brand image and the creations. They are also more and more solicited to express themselves in the press or on the brand’s communication tools… As witnesses of a certain expertise and a specific olfactory universe.
The noses expertise is therefore essential. They master the dosages and the subtlety of the associations of raw materials, which will make it possible to create a unique, magic and unforgettable perfume…
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