The Fragrance Creation Process: From Inspiration To Release

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How does a perfumer turn a fragrance concept into a finished perfume? Why are many months required to bring a new fragrance to life? This description of the fragrance creation process is written from the artisan point of view since that is what I know best, but the steps are similar whether done on a large or small scale.

Light Bulb iconInspiration

The inspiration is the easy part! The original concept for a new scent might be based on a person, place, mood, fragrance ingredient, or another art form such as music, literature, or visual art. The inspiration could come directly from the perfumer’s personal experience, or the concept could come from a client or creative director in the form of a fragrance brief. The perfumer might need to research the subject to fully understand the client’s vision. The name of the scent might be part of the concept, but name availability must be checked to ensure that the name is not already in use. As in other areas of life, product ideas are more plentiful than time to complete them!

Defining The Notes

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The perfumer first chooses the notes and ingredients that will provide the scent’s main theme and structure. The fragrance concept usually defines some of the notes, but the perfumer must decide which ingredients should be used to create those notes and which ingredients to use as supporting notes. Many notes are created with accords of multiple ingredients. The perfumer might put drops of ingredients onto paper blotter strips (mouillettes) and fan the strips out, sniffing different combinations of the strips to help decide which ingredients to use in the scent.

Writing The Initial Formula

The method of formulation varies a bit from one perfumer to another. Some perfumers immediately write a complete formula with top, middle, and base notes, while other perfumers break the scent down to work on parts independently before putting the parts together. Perfumers often work on accords separately to use later in the full formula.

chocolate_key_new_smProfessional perfumers work in measurements of weight (grams) rather than in measurements of volume (drops or ml) because weight is more accurate and can be scaled up to large batches. Most perfumers write formulas in a spreadsheet that calculates the weight percentage of each ingredient in the formula based on the perfumer’s specified ingredient concentrations and amounts. Knowing the ingredient percentages is important because the perfumer has developed, over years, a feeling for reasonable percentages of each ingredient. Percentages also help the perfumer follow safety guidelines such as those established by IFRA. Perfume formulas are traditionally written for a total of 1000 grams (1 kilo), but the formula can be scaled to any desired total amount once the ingredient percentages are known.

The image above shows a short example formula, from Perfumer Supply House, for the Givaudan chocolate key accord, which is not meant to be a perfume by itself but can be used as a rich chocolate note in perfumes. Some sample formulas are also shown on the Firmenich website, such as a demo formula featuring their beautiful rose base called Wardia. Most spreadsheets for full perfume formulas would include more ingredients than these simple examples, and the spreadsheet would include columns for ingredient concentrations and percentages in the finished product as well as a scaling factor to increase/decrease batch size. Perfumers usually develop their own spreadsheet format  tailored to their method of formulating.

Weighing Out The First Trial Batch

scalecropWhen the formula looks promising, the perfumer weighs out a small batch on a scale. Most artisan perfumers start by making small amounts with at least some of the ingredients in dilution. Small batches conserve ingredients and save money, which is wise given that the perfumer will likely need to make many trial versions, often called mods (short for modifications).

When making a tiny batch, say 10-30 grams, even one drop of some ingredients might be too much, so pre-diluting becomes necessary. Some ingredients in formulas need to be used at orders of magnitude less than others. For example, aldehydes, geosmin, civet, indole, and birch tar are some ingredients that are used in very small amounts.

Perfumers at larger companies often have lab assistants who weigh out the mods, and some labs have sophisticated machines that help with weighing formulas. Artisan perfumers create mods by hand themselves and dream about those formula batching machines!

First Skin Test

Each time the perfumer weighs out a formula, he or she tests the result on skin and/or on paper scent strips. After sniffing, the perfumer adjusts the amounts of ingredients in the formula and might even add or remove a few ingredients. Evaluating each mod can require several wears, and the perfumer might need a few days away from the scent occasionally to freshen his/her nose. Working on two or more scents at once can actually help keep the nose fresh.

Creating Mods, Testing, And Getting Feedback

This smells lovely!The process continues with the creation of successive mods followed by testing on skin and paper, often comparing mods to each other to determine which mod is best. At some point, the perfumer asks other people to test mods. In the case of larger fragrance houses, this step likely includes professional fragrance evaluators, clients, and/or creative directors. Testing the formula on multiple people is important because each person’s nose, skin, and preferences are different. Sometimes feedback can be contradictory; for example, some people might say the scent has too much of one note while others might say they would prefer more of that note. The perfumer collects all the input and then tries to adjust the formula to work for as many people as possible, while also fulfilling the overall fragrance concept.

A fascinating and beautiful description of the fragrance formulation process is given in an interview with perfumer Michel Roudnitska on the Bois de Jasmin blog. Roudnitska says that he spent two years creating about 300 trials before finishing the scent Bois de Paradis for the brand Delrae. (The effort was worthwhile for the gorgeous result!) In an interview on Fragrantica, Firmenich perfumer Olivier Cresp says that fragrance creation takes a few hundred modifications. It is interesting, and perhaps somewhat comforting to indies and artisans, that even the great master perfumers create many trial mods.

Final Mod And Scaling Up The Formula

As with many creative endeavors, it can be hard to decide when to call the product done. The perfumer by nature feels the urge to keep tinkering, but eventually the formula is hard to improve any further and input from testers/clients/creative directors confirms that the final mod meets the goals and has some special appeal.

Once the final mod is chosen, the perfumer scales up the formula to production size. The perfumer adjusts the formula in the spreadsheet to increase the concentrations of most or all of the ingredients to 100% (neat), thus creating a nearly alcohol-free concentrate. All the alcohol is added after batching the concentrate, which is much more efficient than working in dilutions but is only possible when making larger batches.

The perfumer often creates a few final mods, diluting small trial sizes of the concentrate with different amounts of alcohol to determine the optimal final concentration of the finished fragrance. If several different concentrations are desired for multiple end products, like an edp and a parfum, the perfume concentrate formula will often need to be different for each end product.

Regulatory Paperwork

If the perfume will be sold in countries that require regulatory paperwork, these steps must be done once the final formula is complete and before the scent is released. Some countries require the fragrance to pass a product safety assessment, receive a certificate of IFRA compliance, and be registered. Modifications to the formula could be required, but most formulating is done with the regulations in mind to prevent the need for changes at this late stage. The final formula also determines the EU allergen listing for the packaging.

Batching, Maturing, And Macerating

With the formula done, the perfumer or a lab weighs out a large production size batch. The new blend will benefit from sitting to age in a cool, dark place for a least a few weeks to a month or more. This aging is usually done after adding the alcohol, but aging can be done before adding the alcohol as well. When the perfume concentrate sits for a few weeks before being diluted to the final concentration with alcohol, this aging stage is called maturing. When the perfume concentrate is diluted to the final concentration with alcohol and then sits for a few weeks to a month or more, this aging stage is called maceration. Different perfumers have their own customary ways of maturing and macerating, and their procedure can vary from one of their perfumes to another.

filters2sm Filtering

After maturing and macerating, the fragrance needs to be filtered to remove particulates that accumulate from natural ingredients like resins. Many perfumers put the perfume in a freezer or refrigerator for a short time immediately before filtering because that extra step prevents particulates from dropping out later if the perfume is subjected to low temperatures.


Bottling And Release!

Woman crossing the finish lineMonths have gone by, and now the perfume has been formulated, batched, matured/macerated, and filtered. Finally, the perfume is ready to bottle! The fragrance can now be added to websites and sold, if it will be released commercially.

The release stage and the inspiration stage are two of the most exciting parts of the perfume creation process, partly because they are shared with other people. More solitary moments of excitement and breakthrough occur when the formula starts to come together or when a specific formulation problem is solved. The process is addictive and is especially satisfying when multiple testers start to say that they would like a bottle for themselves. The process of bringing a perfume from concept to production requires a significant investment of time, money, and patience, but it can be very satisfying for the perfumer and the creative team, and with luck the end result is satisfying for customers as well.

Presentation: Art History in Perfume Advertising

Tickets are on sale for Jessica Murphy’s presentation titled Pleasures, Taboos, Magic: Art History in Perfume Advertising held in NYC at 7 p.m. on July 19. You might know Jessica through her writing for Now Smell This, but she also has a Ph.D. in art history and has worked in the museum field for many years. She also authors a blog, Perfume Professor. I have loved her blog posts on perfume art and bet this will be a fun presentation!

Review of Aera Home Scenting System

Recently I was asked if I wanted to test an Aera home scenting device with fragrances that were created by top perfumers such as Christophe Laudamiel, Annie Buzantian, Sabine de Tscharner, Raymond Matts, and Brian Wilcheck. Some of my readers might be interested in this unit and my testing results, so I’m posting a review.

The Aera system is made by Prolitec, which is a company that creates scent systems for commercial use (stores, hotels, etc.).  With Aera, they are entering the home market.

The Aera unit arrives with impressive packaging; the box design is handsome and functional, and all the parts inside are neatly organized. The unit comes with a power cord, an instruction booklet, and a scent capsule. You can buy multiple extra scent capsules and swap them out whenever you wish. The photo below shows the Aera presentation box as well as the boxes for two capsules, Poetry and Moondance.

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Using Aera

To use the unit, you just plug it in, press the on button, insert a capsule with a gentle push to activate the automatic lowering mechanism, and set your desired scent intensity from 1 to 10. I found that level 5 or 6 was about right for me when I wanted the scent to be stronger, and 3 or 4 was great for a soft background. The unit hums periodically, so you probably would not want it located where you sleep. It also needs to be near a power outlet.

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The scent takes a little time to drift throughout your space, but it does disperse very well. Personally, I prefer room scent to be contained to one or two rooms rather than through my whole house, and you can set the intensity to achieve a more limited distribution. The site says that fragrance capsules last up to 1,400 hours (about 60 days if used 24/7).

Aera does not use heat to disperse scent, but relies instead on proprietary technology that runs cool. The Aera site says, “Aera converts liquid fragrance compounds into tiny droplets which in turn explode into billions of fragrance molecules to blend with ambient air. This process forces the release of all fragrance ingredients at once so the whole fragrance can be experienced.” Unlike a scent on your skin that changes over time as more volatile top notes and mid notes evaporate, Aera scents remain consistent.

You can also control the unit from your smartphone via a downloadable app. I tried the app and it is easy to set up and is intuitive to use. You can create a schedule if desired, for example to have the unit running when you arrive home from work.

Scents

So, how are the scents? I tried five and found two that I like very much.

Poetry, composed by Sabine de Tscharner, is described on the site this way: “With an earthy and mysterious backdrop of saffron, woods, and smoke, Poetry is accented with the uplift of lemon and the coolness of cypress and eucalyptus. As smooth and sensual as suede, Poetry will put you in a sylvan reverie of time’s past and promises of what is yet to come.

Poetry’s key notes are stated to be eucalyptus, vetiver, and guaiac wood. This is a great type of ambient scent because it has some fresh notes without being clean and generic, and it is woodsy without being heavy or sweet. It is indeed very smooth with uplifting top notes. I don’t think I would tire of this scent easily, which is saying something; I’d look forward to it at the end of a day.

The other scent that I really liked is Moondance, also composed by Sabine. This one is warmer and sweeter, but not too sweet. It has a powdery amber/woods base with some iris and soft florals. The three key notes given are bergamot, iris, and amber. The site says it has some melon, but I do not get a noticeable melon note, thankfully. It’s a very pretty scent but is still unisex enough for men to enjoy (Poetry leans a little more masculine than Moondance).

The site describes Moondance this way: “Moondance is at once playful and sophisticated – its floral notes of iris and red honeysuckle are accented by bergamot and melon. With a trace of smoke, woods and vanilla to round out its effect, Moondance will entrance you with its ancient powers of relaxation.”

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I also sniffed Vibrance; the floral notes were very pretty, but it was too much of a fresh green floral for me (the green florals that I typically like have mossy bases and are not fresh). I sniffed Mosaic and got a fruity note that did not appeal to me, and I sniffed Indigo but did not like an ozonic note in it. I must say that I am very sensitive to ozone/melon/clean notes, so I am not representative of the general population. All three of these were nicely done and will find plenty of fans. Vibrance would be an especially cheery scent when you long for spring.

I have not been using ambient scent very often in recent years because I try to keep my nose fresh when I’m not working on new formulas or testing new perfumes, but I would look forward to using Poetry and Moondance as a treat. I found both to be soothing and enjoyable, and I liked them equally. It would be fun to alternate for variety. My assistant is currently trying the unit at her house (with cats) and might add her review too.

Some Thoughts For Future Aera Features

I do have a couple of wishes or suggestions for Aera. First, I found that the base of the unit was not as stable as it could be, and if you have pets or young children you will need to put it in a place where it won’t get knocked over. Second, I think a rechargeable battery would be awesome so that the unit did not need to be located near an outlet (assuming that the battery could be small enough not to significantly increase the unit size). And third, it would be great to see some all-natural scent offerings in the future, if they could be made compatible with the device; I think there would be a strong market for upscale all-natural room scents, even if the capsules cost more for the all-natural offerings.

Bottom Line

The Aera unit is fun, easy to use, and offers fragrances that are better composed than many room scents. It’s pricey, but so are upscale candles that don’t last as many hours as an Aera capsule. Aera can be considered in the company of other upscale home scent offerings. An Aera unit with one scent capsule is $250 (extra capsules are available for $50 each). Keep an eye out for Aera’s occasional sales, like the recent 20% off sale for July 4th.

For fragrance enthusiasts who find some Aera scents they love, this programmable system offers the treat of sophisticated high-end fragrance compositions that enhance a home’s atmosphere via fine-tuned dispersion without the worry of a candle flame.

Genetics and environment both play a role in the sense of smell

I saw this article a while back and haven’t had time to post a link until now, but I wanted to include it in our series of posts on the genetic variance in the sense of smell (to find the other posts, search for the tag “genetics” on Perfume in Progress).

I’ve posted links to other research demonstrating that genetics helps determine our sensitivity to various aroma molecules, giving each of us a unique sense of smell. New research indicates that the environment we live in may actually change the structure of the olfactory neurons and therefore change our ability to smell, meaning that both environment and genetics play a role. The research was conducted with mice, but presumably researchers will confirm that it applies to humans as well. Here’s a link to the interesting ScienceDaily article titled “Genetics, environment combine to give everyone a unique sense of smell.”

From the ScienceDaily article:
Dr Darren Logan, the lead author on the study from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, said: “The neurons in the olfactory system are highly connected to the neurons in the brain and studying these can help us understand neuronal development. We have shown that each individual has a very different combination of possible olfactory neurons, driven by genetics. In this study we also show that, with experience of different smells, these combinations of neurons change, so both genetics and environment interplay to give every individual a unique sense of smell.”

More research on the differences in our scent perception

A recent article in Inside Science describes more evidence that people experience scents differently. (Perfume In Progress has followed this research topic for a number of years; you can find a series of posts about it by searching for the #genetics tag on our posts.)

In this experiment, researchers broke the common smell of potato chips into three main aromatic molecules that smell like rotten cabbage, roasted potato, and toast when they are sniffed individually. When the three molecules are combined in the right ratio, they smell like potato chips. The researchers measured each person’s sensitivity to each molecule, which varied widely; people could be “tens of thousands of times” more sensitive to one molecule than to another, and each person had a unique sensitivity profile. Despite these different sensitivities to the individual components, three of four people could identify the mixture as potato chips based on their previous experience with eating potato chips. The article says, “Most of us know a potato chip when we sniff it. But at the chemical level, a new study shows, our noses smell quite different things.”

An article from 2013 described a study that found a 30% difference in people’s scent receptors in their noses, showing that genes play a role in why we have these different sensitivities to aroma molecules. The article says, “The human nose contains 400 different olfactory receptors – and Dr Mainland’s team found that changing a single receptor could dramatically change the way a person perceives a smell.”

Just something to think about when you discuss perfume with your friends! 🙂

Perfume In Progress is Finalist in 2017 Perfumed Plume Awards

logo_PerfumedPlume copyThe Perfumed Plume Awards  just announced the 2017 finalists for their fragrance journalism awards, and the Perfume In Progress post What Goes Into Running An Artisan Perfume Business? was named one of the 10 finalists in the digital category.

The winners in all categories will be announced on April 6 at the Society of Illustrators in New York City. The full list of the 10 finalists in the digital category is given below.

Congrats to all the finalists! I’m honored to be included!

Scent Stories in Mainstream Media – Digital
Basenotes – Ambergris: Myths, Truths, and Half-Truths
CaFleureBon – How To Smell Like a Parisienne
Charenton Macerations – De-Classifying Fragrance Families
Colognoisseur – Perfume Mythbusters: Skin Chemistry
ELLE Magazine – For $22,000 This Perfumer Finds Your Signature Scent
Fragrantica – Revival culture
Leafly – What’s that Smell? It’s Cannabis Flower perfume, dahling
Perfume In Progress – What Goes Into Running An Artisan Perfume Business?
SCENTURY – Friedrich Liechtenstein: I can smell Luck!
Temporary Art Review – Primal Art: Notes on the Medium of Scent

Editing to add a link to the winners for 2017. Congrats!

A Possible New Way To Develop Safety Standards For Natural Perfumery Ingredients

Concern has been growing over the last few years that natural perfumery oils could be regulated out of existence because natural oils are complex mixtures of aroma chemicals and often contain chemicals that are limited by safety rules. A recent Perfumer & Flavorist article about a possible new way to safety test natural ingredients caught my eye, partly because of the parallels to current food and diet research.

In his article Will All of Our Flowers Be Gone?, Kim Bleimann (Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Berjé Inc.) discusses whether we should test natural perfumery oils in their whole form rather than judging their safety by the levels of individual chemicals in them. For example, should we judge the safety of rose oil by tests conducted on the whole rose oil, or should we judge the safe limit for topical use by the maximum safe amount of each isolated chemical found in rose oil? We currently do the latter, but this article suggests that we should also investigate natural oils in their whole forms because some initial tests show that safe levels of whole oils may be higher than would be allowed if judged by the individual chemical components on their own.

This observation sounds similar to research in the food and diet arena, where whole plant foods have been found to be beneficial for all kinds of diseases, but supplements containing individual substances extracted from plants have not been nearly as effective as the whole plant food, and in some cases have even shown negative effects. Dr. Greger from Nutritionfacts.org has posted a number of videos on this topic, such as the benefit of whole turmeric vs curcumin supplements and the difference between beta carotene naturally found in food vs in supplement form. In the case of beta carotene, the isolated supplements seemed to increase cancer rates, whereas whole foods that contain beta carotene decrease cancer rates. The synergistic effects of all the substances in the foods seem to be important. The dose matters too: a much higher dose of an isolated component like beta carotene is possible in a pill than in whole foods, and more is not always better.

It is hard to say how much this pattern seen in food research might apply to the topical use of plant oils in perfume, but the subject seems worthy of research, and Mr. Bleimann states that a number of natural perfumery oils are now being investigated in their whole forms. The results will be interesting. Until now, the main approach to saving natural perfumery oils has been to develop oils with less of the components of concern, for example creating rose oil with reduced methyl eugenol. Developing standards based not only on individual components but also factoring in research on natural oils in their whole form is another approach that could help preserve the use of natural perfumery ingredients.

Equestrian on Fragrantica Best of 2016

Equestrian was included in Fragrantica’s Best of 2016 post, which was a wonderful surprise for me on Thursday morning. The post includes picks from many Fragrantica editors and also features photos of the editors in fun holiday-themed poses. The end-of-year posts always inspire me to buy samples of the scents I have missed during the year. Lots of good ideas in this post. 🙂

I’ve received some lovely emails from people who have bought Equestrian, saying that they ride horses and have found it to be very evocative. That’s always the best feeling for me when people make a connection to a scent of mine.

What Goes Into Running An Artisan Perfume Business?

Have you dreamed of creating your own perfume brand? Or wondered what keeps artisan perfumers busy behind the scenes? Maybe you have taken classes and developed some formulas, and now your friends say that they want to buy your fragrances. Should perfumery remain a hobby or should you take it to the next level?

I often receive emails from people who request advice about starting a brand; I can’t answer those questions individually, but this post covers some points that I think would be important for those inquirers to consider. You can find plenty of general advice for starting a business, such as how to obtain a license and business name, but this post covers details that are more specific to artisan businesses and to perfumery in particular. The following 12 suggestions are based on my experience gained from running an artisan perfumery since 2004. Your experience may vary, of course.

Ask yourself if you can juggle the many different aspects of the job beyond the formulating. Evaluate which tasks you cannot do, whether you will have the funds to hire help for those aspects of the business, and whether those expenses are one-time or ongoing. Can you design a logo and packaging? Use Photoshop? Create a brand identity? Design and maintain a website? Photograph your products?  File trademarks? Answer all customer emails promptly and courteously? Create all the juice and fill all the bottles? Pack and ship all the orders? Source ingredients and maintain ingredient inventory? Follow social media and post about your products? File 1099’s and payroll paperwork? Keep track of all the incoming payments and outgoing expenses in some kind of financial software so that you or someone else can file your income taxes and sales taxes? Certain people thrive on this kind of multi-tasking, while others find it overwhelming. You need skills in many areas and the self-discipline to stay on top of things. You also need the ability to research products and procedures. People are quick to visualize the fun aspects of creating a brand, but they tend to be less able to imagine all the little details that go into it.

Remember that your products have to be priced not just to cover the cost of your ingredients and packaging, but also to cover all the costs of running your business. One of the most common misconceptions I see about pricing artisan perfume is that the cost of a finished product can be approximated by the cost of the ingredients and packaging, when in fact the total cost to the creator is much more. I’m not trying to justify the absurdly high prices we’ve seen in the niche market lately, but product pricing is more complex than people realize. Expenses incurred by an artisan perfumery business include payment processing fees, website fees, business insurance, employees/contract labor (this will include ongoing helpers such as a shipping assistant or an accountant as well as one-time hires for tasks like graphic design), ingredients that go into product development, postage, sales taxes, alcohol taxes, equipment (computers, labelers, scales, crimping machines, refrigerators, shelving, etc.), supplies (bottles used for developing formulas, pipettes, filters, gloves, shipping tape, boxes, bubblewrap, mailers, ink, label tape, tissue paper, etc.), computer software (for example Photoshop, Excel, Quickbooks), promotional giveaways, business cards, education, licensing, contests, trade show displays, and organization dues. If you run a lean business and do most of the work yourself, you can keep prices lower, though you will not be paid for your many hours of work and you’ll still have the non-employee costs mentioned above. Artisan businesses tend to be labors of love, but they can also create income for you if you take all the costs into account. Some artisans create more profit by collecting fees for teaching classes, adding another source of income to the business in addition to product sales.

Realize that the economy of scale works against you when you buy ingredients, packaging, and supplies. Because you have to buy small quantities, the per gram price of your ingredients will cost many times more than the price per gram that larger companies pay for their ingredients. Items like bottles, labels, boxes, and shipping supplies all cost more in small quantities too. Still, it’s probably best to resist the urge to buy large amounts when you first start because you’re likely to make mistakes (for example, some people buy bottles that are too large, not realizing that perfume collectors prefer smaller bottles, and some people buy bottles/sprayers that they later discover are prone to leaking).

Recognize the good things about being a small company and use them to your advantage. Your agile artisan company can quickly adjust to market changes and can survive and even thrive in market downturns, which are harder feats for your less nimble larger competitors. Your small size also lets your brand be an extension of yourself (if you so desire), and it allows you to connect directly with your customers. You are free to use very expensive ingredients, unlike many larger brands, and you do not have to follow focus groups. Celebrate the artisan advantages that probably attracted you to this type of work.

Be aware that if you want to sell to boutiques and/or use distributors, your prices will have to be higher. Boutiques will pay you only half of your retail price (the price you charge for your products on your website) and distributors will take an even bigger cut. You need to look at the costs involved with wholesaling and evaluate whether you can price competitively and still come out enough ahead to make the business worthwhile. It’s much harder to make a profit when you split your sales income with retailers, but you may be able to do some wholesale as long as you also do a healthy portion of sales directly on your own website. You may prefer to limit wholesaling only to select boutiques that you trust to handle your brand with care. Your own website can be the best place to sell your products if you make your site attractive, easy to use, and easy for the fragrance community to find.

Be aware that you’ll need to follow some regulations and you’ll need to stay abreast of changes to regulations over time. In addition to local and state license requirements, you’ll also have to follow federal, and in some cases state, rules that govern cosmetics. If you sell scents in the USA, you will need to follow the FDA regulations for cosmetics, including conforming to the labeling requirements. You may also have state regulations, such as the California Safe Cosmetics Program.  More USA regulations are likely coming in the future (for example, the proposed Personal Care Cosmetics Act), though the smallest businesses may be exempt. If you create scents in the EU or sell to stores in the EU, you must follow the EU Cosmetics Directive. You have probably also heard about IFRA, the International Fragrance Association, which has compiled a long list of rules about ingredient usage, banning a few ingredients and restricting the levels of many others. It is true that you don’t need to follow IFRA rules if you don’t belong to the IFRA organization, but that’s not the whole story. You’ll want to carry product liability insurance, and you are expected to follow safe manufacturing processes and use safe formulas, which means that you should probably not stray too far from IFRA rules even if you don’t belong to IFRA. (You don’t have to purchase lab analysis to follow IFRA guidelines; you should be computing the percentage of all ingredients in your formulas, usually in software like Excel, and you can find all the IFRA guidelines online to check your formulas. Another great resource, for safe use of natural ingredients, is Robert Tisserand’s comprehensive book Essential Oil Safety.)

Realize that shipping alcohol is complicated. USPS allows domestic shipments of alcohol-based perfume by ground only and prohibits international shipments of perfume. The legal way to ship internationally is by UPS/FedEx, which is much more expensive than USPS (be sure to negotiate a business discount, which helps). Many small perfumers choose to ignore the USPS rules and ship international USPS anyway, but you can be fined and it is not a wise risk if you do very much volume. Some post offices are stricter than others about enforcing the rules. Perfume is considered hazardous goods and is difficult to ship via UPS/FedEx unless you stay within the amount that is allowed under the “excepted quantities” rule, which limits shipments to 30 ml bottles of perfume or smaller and limits the total amount of ml per shipment box. Even if you ship UPS/FedEx, you can run into rules in some countries that prohibit any perfume from being imported to individuals who do not have a license to import cosmetics, and you will have no legal way to ship directly to customers in those countries. International customers will be understandably disappointed if you can’t serve them, and they often won’t understand the rules because they see so many companies getting around the rules by lying about the contents of their packages. (Oil-based scents are generally much easier to ship, depending on their flashpoint.)

Be aware that you’ll need to keep an annual inventory of ingredients and finished products for tax purposes, which can be challenging with many hundreds of bottles. You’ll need a big enough space for your business, separate from the rest of your life, and you’ll need to stay organized with spreadsheet software such as Excel. You’ll need to track your inventory’s dollar value to use in your annual computation of cost of goods sold.

Decide whether you can handle being “on call” 24-7 and if you have the right personality for customer service. You’ll receive orders seven days a week, and you’ll need to hire help if you can’t keep up. Of course, this is a good problem to have! 🙂 You’ll want to treat customers the way you would hope to be treated yourself. I’ve found most people to be honest and wonderful, but it helps if you come from a place in your heart of wanting to please and wanting to be fair. You’re providing a product that will bring pleasure to people in their busy lives, and you want the transaction to be as pleasant an experience as using the product. You’ll want to make customer satisfaction and product quality your top priorities.

Understand the distinction between contractor and employee for any help that you hire. Any person that does not qualify as an independent contractor needs to be characterized as an employee and the paperwork is so complicated that it is easier to hire a payroll company to handle all the required filings. There are a few payroll companies that cater to small businesses, but you’ll still pay far more than the actual wages that your employee will receive.

Don’t quit your day job, at least not right away, and think about how your brand concept offers something new to a crowded field. Your new business will take some time to thrive, so you’ll probably need your current job while you grow your new brand. Each year numerous small artisan perfumeries enter the market, bringing with them ever more perfume releases; last year 2,044 new perfumes were launched, according to Fragrances Of The World. Think about what you have to offer that is new and how you can distinguish your brand from the rest.

Limit your initial investment to what you can afford to lose. You won’t need to invest large amounts of startup money if you do a lot of the work yourself, though your ingredients and packaging will require a significant investment. I was able to grow my business without taking loans and without investing very much at any one time, just by starting small and reinvesting the profits back into the business as I went. Starting small is the safest way to proceed if you can’t afford to lose money. Custom bottle designs are out of reach for most new artisan perfumers, but you can use stock bottles and then create distinctive branding with the design of your website, boxes, and labels.

If you’ve read through all these complications and don’t feel deterred, you may be the sort of person who can handle an artisan business. The upside is that your work will truly interest you and you’ll be your own boss with all the freedom that confers. You can work from home and set your own hours. You’ll also meet many wonderful people among your customers and fellow perfumers.

I didn’t plan the growth of my business; I just kept taking the next steps to see where it would take me. I would have valued the information in this post before I began my journey, so I hope these thoughts are helpful to those contemplating this line of work and to those who just want to know more about what goes into an artisan perfume business.

2016 Taste TV Artisan Fragrance Awards

TasteTV_awards_bottle_smFor several years, Taste TV has sponsored an annual awards program for artisan perfumers. I have not entered before, but I submitted three entries for 2016 (you are allowed to enter 1 to 3 entries each year, and they can be any scent that you have not entered before). Entries were due before the new Equestrian was ready, so I entered Yin & Ylang, Amber Incense, and Winter Woods.

Winter Woods received top score in all five of their categories (artistry, aroma, scent seductiveness, ingredient combinations, and uniqueness). Yin & Ylang (a collaboration with Cafleurebon) received top score in three categories. All three entries (Winter Woods, Yin & Ylang,  Amber Incense) received Silver Medals in the Judges Top Selections. The full page of results can be seen here. Congrats to all the perfumers and thank you to Taste TV and the judges for all their work on the awards program!