A Working Nose: Sophie Labbé

My working day starts when I take my shower, I always have very clear ideas when I’m in the shower. I start to organize my day in that moment. When I’m under the water, something very clear happens, and it’s a good space for me to think about my plans. I imagine the scents, and it’s always very clear, thanks to the shower.

As a perfumer you can work anywhere, in your office or outside of it, you can’t stop thinking. You have ideas everywhere, but I love working physically in my office. I feel kind of peaceful there. I love to be there early in the morning or when everyone has left, when you can be alone and think of your ideas clearly.

When I first work on a perfume I love to write a kind of story for myself, the story of the perfume with words. Afterwards I translate the words to ingredients.

I always need a name. When we’re working on a perfume, it doesn’t always have the same name as it will have on the market, but its important for me to find the right name to work to. I think the name is the epitomisation of the whole fragrance. I read the brief, take in all the elements, look at the moodboards then I can translate into ingredients, and accords, and then blend. It’s the way I work.

In the morning I love to smell my blotters from the day before because I want to smell the evolution of the scents I’m working on, and what the trail and long lasting-ness is like. It’s important to check this technical element of how long it lasts, it’s the story of the perfume after the night.

You have very different stages in a perfumers day-to-day. I may go visit some customers later on, to present modifications or new ideas. Or I could be going to the launch of a perfume. You need to be alone in the morning to create. Then you need to see the evaluators (who are kind of like a mirror to yourself, they help you to choose and grow, to evolve with their comments), that’s when you need to be really focused.

It’s very important to smell blind, I always write which trial of a fragrance it is inside the blotter, but never look at it. It’s important to do it blind, I really need my nose to decide. You need to have a clear vision of which version is better, because sometimes its not your last trial, it may be the one before. You have to be unbiased.

I work on maybe 10-15 fragrances at one time, but they’re not all at the same stages of development. It may be a little accord I am working on or it could be a fragrance at the end of development. You need to be very focused at the end of development with a perfume, because you can be presenting new modifications every one or every two days. It’s very interesting for us to have fragrances in different stages of development because you smell better when you have other scents in a different olfactive orientation to smell. When working on say, a woody and a floral at the same time, they inspire different things in each other.

During weekends, or in the evening, I love reading. I think inspiration is everywhere. When you’re going to a restaurant, a kind of  fusion food, a combination of ingredients might be interesting. Or it could be a new palette of ingredients from flavours, or naturals. Or it could be something you experienced a long time ago, that suddenly appears during your working day, because it’s the right moment. Inspiration is everywhere, sometimes it just clicks in your head. All the things you enjoy or experience are your source of inspiration.

If there’s a modification of a fragrance I really love, it’s important for me to wear it on my own skin. I wear it home. It’s always a good sign when someone comments on a perfume you’re working on. If they stop you in the street, or comment in the elevator, then you know you’re really onto something. During the weekend it’s important for me to wear it as a consumer, not as a perfumer. This is only possible when you’re wearing one fragrance. To get the feeling of the fragrance, the story, to check if its powerful enough.

I think you continue to think about fragrances at home. You’re smelling it on your skin, you have ideas of how to improve your scents, you can have comments that are going to give you other ideas to evolve. I go home roughly 7.30/8pm, its good to be In the office in the evening when its empty, to write the ideas for your next day.

I think I need to have a kind of serenity when I work. But also to have adrenalin, you get it when you’re in a rush, or at the end of a project, when you’re excited. When you have an appointment the next day and you want to present something great. I need adrenalin, a positive stress, but not too much.

I cannot listen to music when I work. I think I need silence.

I never count the number of modifications I make. There’s always the number you have been working on and then there’s the number you show the client. It’s difficult to say the most modificiations I’ve ever made on a fragrance, but the least is two or three.

In my palette I probably have 500 – 1000 ingredients. Some will be different variations on the same note, you don’t just have one jasmine, you have more, Egyptian, Sambac, etc. We have a lot but I have an definite affinity with some ingredients. Sometimes with a new project you’ll discover a new captive that you love to work with, so you add that to your palette. I work closely with about 500 ingredients, with new additions added from each new creation I make.

I think it’s very important for us to work on our own personal projects as well, we call this proactive work. Because its not for a specific project. It’s great to work on these things, but sometimes you can’t when you have an emergency. I try to spend Friday afternoons working on personal accords, I call them my Secret Garden. It’s important for new inspiration, to garden your ideas.

The scent I wish I’d created is Mitsouko from Guerlain. There’s something incredibly special about this fragrance and I would be proud to have created it.


Signorina Ribelle by Salvatore Ferragamo was composed by Sophie Labbé and is available now at The Fragrance Shop 

Written by Carson Parkin-Fairley

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