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.

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.

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.

Update and some links…

I’m making progress on all fronts here (dishwasher installation is in progress at this moment, I’m researching medical insurance, we’re hosting some family visits etc). I’m working on Amber Incense in my spare moments.

I’m very appreciative to see that Robin included Incense Pure on her fall 2014 incense list yesterday along with some other great incense ideas. I’m hoping people will like the new all-natural Amber Incense too.

Last week Mark posted a nice explanation of supercritical extracts and included a fun video by Mane that explains the process. It might be of interest if you missed it.

I wanted to bookmark/link here to another article I’d noticed about the genetic variation in olfactory perception. It’s a topic we’ve discussed here over the years, so I try to tag the studies I notice on this subject.

One more link of interest: recently U.K. perfumer Pia Long was interviewed by Christine of Perfumer Supply House. Pia has worked for Lush Cosmetics (she’s currently at Equinox Aromas) and is an eloquent speaker and talented writer. The audio interview runs long but is quite worthwhile, especially if you are interested in the perfume ingredient regulations issue.

EU Regulations Update — Good News For Now

Reports are coming out that the EU has decided, at least for now, to continue to allow the low atranol version of oakmoss and tree moss while only banning moss that has not had the allergens atranol and chloroatranol reduced. Most perfumers (myself included) already switched to the low atranol version of oakmoss years ago when that standard was first set by IFRA, so there will be no change for us. IFRA not only requires the use of the low atranol type but also places a limit on the percentage of use of the low atranol type. Even at the IFRA level it is useful though, and I have the low atranol natural moss in many of my perfumes. I am glad to hear they are not banning it. Suppliers are actually getting better at removing atranol and chloroatranol, so the levels are extremely low.

The EU also decided not to implement the drastic restrictions on a number of ingredients, like citral and eugenol, that would have made it virtually impossible to use naturals anymore. They are going to conduct more research so this saga will continue, but at least the pace has slowed and better studies will be done.

Lyral (a synthetic lily of the valley ingredient sometimes referred to as HICC, short for hydroxyisohexyl 3-cyclohexene carboxaldehyde) will be banned. It was already heavily restricted and this move was expected, so I doubt anyone will be surprised. I do not use Lyral in any of my scents and never have used it, so this issue does not affect my formulations.

It sounds like the EU still wants to require labeling for over 80 allergens rather than the current 26, but they may allow the allergen listings to be made online rather than on the product boxes. There will still be a lot of work to comply with the EU rules, but this is overall very good news, at least for now. I think the great outpouring of concern over the proposed regulations helped persuade lawmakers to do further research before taking those drastic steps.

I’m not selling in the EU so these rules don’t technically apply to me at the moment, but I believe that the EU is setting precedents that may well migrate to the USA eventually. Also, the IFRA and EU ingredient regulations affect what is considered “currently accepted practices” for product liability insurance purposes, so the standards do have an effect on all perfumers whether directly or indirectly.

I will update if the news changes.

European Commission Accepting Comments

The European Commission is accepting comments about restrictions and labeling of allergens in perfume. The following link takes you to a post that provides more information and gives the email and snail mail addresses for public comment. This is your chance to make your voice heard.

Mark Behnke wrote a very interesting blog post on his new blog the Colognoisseur about the inadequacy of the allergy testing used to make the EU rulings, and he explains why we need better allergy trials. He is a chemist with the background to speak knowledgeably on this topic. He writes, “The studies these bans and restrictions have been based on were performed one time at one concentration on 25 patients with no controls, positive or negative!” He suggests that proper studies be done with controls, multiple concentrations, more people, and multiple ethnicities to see if the 23 identified allergens are really a problem.

A post on Grain de Musc gives the timeline for what will happen and encourages people to contribute their opinions via the contact addresses given.

Weekend Update

First I wanted to say thank you to Ida for her lovely review of Ambre Noir on Fragrantica yesterday! I’ve heard from a number of people over the years that they like to use Ambre Noir as a layering fragrance, which makes sense to me.

I’m still testing the new floral scent and tinkering a little bit with the formula. I’ve not had much time to spend on it but am getting close.

A few interesting links that you may have missed recently:

I love natural perfumery ingredients and prefer fragrances that contain high percentages of them, but this post caught my eye because, even though I am a fan of naturals, I still dislike the misuse of the word “chemical.” An Australian chemistry teacher created illustrations of natural foods with accompanying ingredient lists to illustrate that even things like natural raw fruits contain chemicals and that “chemistry is everywhere.” When people say that they want a perfume without chemicals, they really mean that they want a perfume without synthetic chemicals. Or, they may mean that they want a perfume without toxic substances. There are synthetic and natural chemicals, and there are synthetic and natural toxic substances. I don’t want to get into the natural/synthetic debate, but the chemistry teacher’s illustrations do help make his point about the word “chemical.”

Here’s an article about taking the study of the genetic influence on scent perception one step further by trying to understand how some smells (like rotting meat) are genetically hard-coded from birth to be distasteful (at least to most humans!).

Jordan of The Fragrant Man is posting a series on oud on Fragrantica; his series on sandalwood on basenotes was excellent so I look forward to reading the oud series too.

Brave New World: ingredients synthesized by micro-organisms

Several articles have been published recently about a relatively new technology for creating perfumery ingredients (as well as flavorings and some drugs); yeast, fungi, and bacteria can be genetically altered so that they synthesize perfumery ingredients such as vanillin. Although the yeast is a GMO substance, the ingredient it synthesizes is not GMO and is currently considered to be “natural” in the USA and Europe, though there are some challenges to that claim and we’ll have to see what happens.

One stated advantage to this new technology is potentially lower costs for ingredients and therefore the possibility for better formulas to reach the mass market by making natural ingredients more affordable. Another possible advantage would be saving natural resources like sandalwood by synthesizing them instead of harvesting them from nature. Disadvantages include putting some farmers out of business since it would be difficult to compete with the lower prices offered by biotech ingredients. You also have to wonder whether it is wise to create more GMO organisms given the problems we’ve encountered in the past with them, though these micro-organisms would be used in the lab and not introduced into the world the way GMO crops have been. This is likely to be a thorny hot topic in the future.

For more information, see the NYT article “What’s That Smell? Exotic Scents Made From Re-Engineered Yeast” and also see the article titled “Biotechnology Ushers in a New Era of Innovation for Perfumers and Flavorists” by Carolyn Fritz in the November 2013 issue of Perfumer & Flavorist. The NYT article explains the overall topic in lay terms, and the P&F article explains more of the chemistry and science behind the technology.

At the end of the P&F article, the author writes that typical mass market prestige formulas are restricted to cost limits of around $20 per pound, and that this new biosynthesis technology could lower the cost of ingredients enough to allow better ingredients to be used in prestige scents, vastly improving their character. The author lists things like natural rose, jasmine, osmanthus, violet leaf, sandalwood, and vanilla that would be used if cost-effective versions existed. (I think she is envisioning reconstructions of the natural oils by putting together the appropriate biosynthesized natural isolate aroma chemicals that are found in the natural oils.)

I don’t know enough about this topic to make judgments yet, but I couldn’t help having a gut reaction to the lament about today’s poor mass market formulas. Artisan perfumers have been using expensive natural ingredients for years — we do use rose, jasmine, osmanthus and violet leaf absolutes, natural sandalwood oil, natural vanilla absolute, etc. We put the money into the juice rather than packaging, advertising, and celebrity endorsements. We operate on crazy budgets, doing as much as we can ourselves so that every possible dollar can go into the juice. Maybe the answer to the poor quality of mass market juice is not just to look for ways to lower the cost of ingredients but to also change the emphasis from the packaging and advertising to the juice. Artisan brands may put a larger dent into the market in the future because there are now so many of us. Each artisan can only make so many bottles, but together we create quite a lot. I suppose what we do is not significant compared to the quantity of mass market juice, but one can dream that together we are making a difference by offering more options.

Learning Perfumery: Classes & Schools

I am frequently asked what types of classes and schools are available to learn about perfumery. I decided to post about this topic since it seems to be of interest, and now I can refer to this post whenever I’m asked the question in the future. I learned perfumery on my own through self-study and do not have personal experience with classes, but I can provide a list of many of the options. Some of the short courses are appropriate for people who just want to learn more about perfumery, while the longer programs are intended for those who want to make perfumery their life’s work. This information can also help you understand the background of perfumers who list schools in their bio information.

Studying in France to be a Perfumer:

ISIPCA (Institut supérieur international du parfum, de la cosmétique et de l’aromatique alimentaire) in Versailles is one of the most well-known and respected perfumery schools. It was founded in 1970 by Jean-Jacques Guerlain. Only about 20 students are accepted into the intensive program each year, and they must have chemistry degrees to apply. Students learn to recognize perfumery ingredients and study classic formulas before beginning to create their own perfumes. The program lasts two years, and then the students apprentice at a fragrance house for several years. Very few indie perfumers have studied at ISIPCA (the only one I know is Ineke Ruhland of Ineke Perfumes).

The Givaudan Perfumery School, located in the outskirts of Paris, was founded with the guidance of perfumer Jean Carles in 1946 and offers a three-year program. Jean Guichard is the school’s current director. The Givaudan site says, “The school attracts hundreds of applicants for the prized few places available each year.” Givaudan, a Swiss company, is one of the major suppliers of raw ingredients for the fragrance and flavor industries, and they create many of the scents on the market today. You must work for Givaudan to attend their school (that is true for all the schools that are internal to a major fragrance/flavor company — Givaudan, IFF, Mane, etc).

The Grasse Institute of Perfumery was founded in 2002. The student perfumer training program is an intensive nine-month course open to only 12 students each year. They also offer some summer school programs and a seven-month program to become a technical assistant. I know of two indie perfumers who studied at GIP: Jessica September Buchanan of 1000 Flowers and Anne McClain of MCMC Fragrances. Jessica wrote an interesting chronicle of her time at the perfumery school. Clayton Ilolahia gives a great description of his experience attending the GIP two-week intensive summer course on his blog What Men Should Smell Like.

Mane Perfumery School is a two-year program followed by further training while working at Mane, which is another major supplier of fragrance/flavor ingredients and products.

Cinquieme Sens, which means Fifth Sense, was founded in Paris in 1976 and then expanded its program to New York in 2008 and to Amsterdam (their Northern European division) in 2017. Cinquieme Sens offers workshops and training programs at both the introductory and professional level. Programs can also be individually tailored. Gaia wrote about her visit to the Paris location of Cinquieme Sens on her blog The Non-Blonde. Swiss perfumer Vero Kern of Vero Profumo trained at Cinquieme Sens in Paris.

Short Classes in France Open to the Public:

Galimard is a perfumery in Grasse that offers 2-5 hour workshops designed for the lay person to learn about the art of perfumery. Perfumers lead classes with small groups of people and each person has access to an organ with over a hundred ingredients. You learn notes and then compose your own scent. You get a 100 ml bottle of your creation and a diploma for completing the several hour class. It’s meant to be a quick introduction to perfumery, and anyone can pay to take the class with no admission requirements. These types of short classes are offered at some other fragrance houses too (Fragonard and Molinard), and are targeted to the tourist market. They can be a fun though and might spark an interest in some people to study perfumery. Here are some reviews.

Studying in the USA to be a Perfumer:

IFF (International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc), like Givaudan, is one of the major suppliers of fragrance and flavor ingredients as well as creator of many of today’s fragrances. They have an internal perfumery school (you must work for IFF in order to attend the school) in New York headed by Ron Winnegrad. It is very competitive to be admitted to one of the few spots each year. Victoria Frolova of the Bois de Jasmin blog has studied perfumery at the prestigious IFF school.

Cinquieme Sens, offers training programs at the professional level both in Paris and in New York (see entry above).

Many USA indie perfumers offer classes or internships for those who want to learn perfumery. Many more natural perfumers seem to offer these courses than perfumers who use combinations of naturals and synthetics. I can’t give a complete list here, but classes are given by natural perfumers Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes and Ayala Moriel of Ayala Moriel Parfums. Anne McClain of MCMC is a mixed media perfumer who offers perfumery workshops. Anya McCoy of Anya’s Garden and the Natural Perfumery Institute offers a home study course and textbook in natural perfumery and leads an online Yahoo Natural Perfumery Group. Charna Ethier of Providence Perfumes and Jeanne Rose, esteemed aromatherapist and author, also teach natural perfumery classes. Roxana Villa of Roxana Illuminated Perfume teaches classes in person and also offers an online program for learning natural perfumery. Eliza Douglas, a GIP trained perfumer, offers classes in Brooklyn, NY; she is a mixed media perfumer so you would have the opportunity to learn about both naturals and synthetics. (Even if you choose not to use synthetics in your blends, sniffing a full range of available synthetics and naturals helps educate your nose. You can also sniff natural isolates for aroma chemicals that are available in natural versions.) Many other indie perfumers offer classes, books, or internships, and you can find information on their websites.

Short Classes in the USA Open to the Public:

The Los Angeles Institute For Art And Olfaction has introduced workshops, talks, and once-a-week drop-in sessions open to anyone who wants to learn. For upcoming events, check their schedule page. Update on 7/14/2015: The IAO is starting a resource page with a listing of perfumery classes around the world, many of which are given by indie perfumers.

Cinquieme Sens, offers workshops and training programs that are open to the public in its New York location. See also the entries for Cinquieme Sens above.

Scenterprises is a New York company that offers one day workshops in which you can learn about perfumery and make your own scent.

The Perfumer’s Apprentice offers an introductory course in perfume creation at their Scotts Valley, CA location that is open to the public for a $30-$35 fee.

Perfumer’s World, based in Thailand, now offers workshops in Los Angeles (as well as in other locations around the world).

Long Distance Classes:

The ICATS (International Centre for Aroma Trades Studies)program leads to an IFEAT (International Federation of Essential Oils and Aroma Trades) diploma. The course is associated with Plymouth University in the UK, and the director is Dr. Tony Curtis. Part of the course description reads, “In distance learning the normal university approach of lectures, tutorials and workshops are replaced with reading and activities. The approach has proved its worth over 30 years. All the necessary materials are included in the learning pack (ICATS module workbooks on CDs, textbooks, monographs, aroma reference standards, smelling strips and IFEAT expert papers). There is a lot of flexibility. There is no fixed exam at the end of the academic year or fixed hand in dates for assignments. Students can work through the material at their own pace.”

Other Classes Outside The USA:

The Perfumer’s World, located in Thailand, offers classes on location in Thailand and in other countries and also offers correspondence courses. Karen Gilbert has written a review of a three-week Perfumer’s World course that she took on location in Thailand.

Karen Gilbert now offers her own classes in the UK. She also has an online course. She has also written several books that you can find on her website.

Other fragrance and flavor companies have internal schools, such as the Symrise Perfumery School, which has locations in Germany and India.

As mentioned, Cinquieme Sens offers training programs in Amsterdam through their Northern European division. (They are based in Paris and also have programs in New York.)

Another program in the UK is called The Perfumery Art School; it offers both in-person classes and long-distance study. You can check their website for more information, and if you look down in the comments below you can find a comment by the founder with some helpful links to blog reviews of the program.

Self-Study Resources:

Many indie perfumers are self taught, and there are even some very famous self-taught perfumers such as the much-loved and prolific Bertrand Duchaufour, the 2006 Prix Francois Coty award winner Lorenzo Villoresi, and one of the first very successful indies Any Tauer. Most small indie perfumers learn from a variety of sources — reading books, researching online, experimenting with ingredients, and joining online groups to interact with others who are also learning. Three online groups with lots of links to books/formulas/suppliers are the Yahoo perfumemaking group (for both mixed media and natural perfumers), the Yahoo Natural Perfumery Group, and the Basenotes DIY group. The Yahoo perfumery group is no longer very active but it has moved to a Facebook group called Perfumemaking (from the Yahoo group). I joined the Yahoo perfumemaking group very shortly after its inception. I was one of the few members of that original Yahoo group who was already in business when the group began, but it was nice to meet online with others who were learning about perfumery with the intention of starting businesses. We made friendships there that allowed us to buy kilos of ingredients together and split them before our businesses were large enough to need whole kilos. Today the Facebook version of that group is a place where you can post questions and receive feedback from other indies. An indispensable online reference for ingredient information is The Good Scents Company. Small quantities of ingredients (including synthetics) can be ordered from The Good Scents Company, The Perfumer’s Apprentice, Perfumer’s Supply House, and Creating Perfume.

Hope that list is helpful, though I know it is not all inclusive.