Jérôme di Marino – A Working Nose

We’re always fascinated to hear how perfumers structure their working days. The geeky stuff, the nitty-gritty. For this latest in our series, Jérôme di Marino – creator of new Molton Brown Suede Orris – shares the low-down on his day.


My day starts at 9 a.m. at the office. I always start with a coffee. Usually I have blotters from the day before to smell, deciding which are good and which aren’t. It always helps to check the work of the day before. For breakfast, I like salty breakfasts; I know the French are more into sugary breakfasts but I like bacon and eggs, or avocado toast. Or pain con tomate. So simple but so good.

Parisian rooftops

Our offices are in the 17th district in Paris. I have my own office with a huge window, which is great because I can enjoy the buildings, the architecture of the rooftops, the clichés of Paris! I have a huge wooden desk and I like feeling at home at work, so I have artworks, plants, pictures, books from home. If I spend so many hours there, I want to feel good. I have a lot of plants. I have a Magritte print framed; I am a big fan of the surrealists. And usually I’ll have a guide for my next trip, I love to travel so I am always keeping a guide to the next place. I work with a lab assistant, who sometimes saves my life, but she is upstairs. We work in tandem, when I’m out of the office I know I can trust and count on her.

The specificity of this job is you never have the same day twice. I organise my priorities depending on my projects. My nose is better in the morning, just before having coffee, when I smell the blotters from the day before. I love that time in the evening when people are leaving the office and I’m on my own. I need to be on my own to deep dive into the main projects that I’m working on. And I like to do that when no one is the office. It’s too busy otherwise. I turn the lights down low and put on my music.

I work on about 10-15 different scents at one time, depending on how busy I am. Some projects I do for pleasure, or friends, so they don’t all have the same level of importance.

The first step to visualising a fragrance is in my head. I visualise it first, then write it down. I used to work on paper, but now everything is going so fast and it’s all on the computer. So now I work on computer, and I send it over to the lab, where my assistant puts it together for me to smell. They need it on a computer to check whether its within regulations.

I rarely go outside to find inspiration, there’s nothing inspiring in the streets around our offices. Instead it can be a book, a magazine, or just music, that helps. Sometimes when I need to focus on something, there’s so many people going by, I close my door, put on music and just focus on that. I need to be on my own to focus on my creative idea. Especially now with all the phones ringing, there’s so much pollution to your everyday creativity.

If I’m in the middle of a big project, I won’t break for lunch. I’ll eat a sandwich at my computer. When we are very busy, my assistant is usually in a rush as well and if she’s not eating, out of solidarity, I’m not going to go have a one hour break and say ‘see you later’. But most of the time, I have lunch with colleagues. When you work in fragrance, it’s such a work of patience, that you share a lot with them. Most are friends, now, more than colleagues. You struggle so hard to finally ‘win’ projects and get the scent right, that when you do, you win together. When you lose, you lose together.

I don’t take my computer home, so I don’t work on formulas there. When my assistant leaves, I have no one to make the formulas, so I have nothing to smell, which forces me to stop at some point and not sleep at the office. But usually I’ll spray myself with whatever I’m working on to see if anyone comments, or not. Or any reactions, positive or negative. When I’m at home, you always have emails, and if I’m wearing a fragrance I’m thinking about it, but I still manage to disconnect.

To create a scent, I need calm. When I have a lot of pressure, the worst thing is how many people speak to you, and I need to center on the fragrance and how I want to make it, and for that I need calm, serenity. Namaste.

Sometimes finishing a fragrance can be very quick, if the brand knows exactly where they want to go. Or they have a very short deadline to make it by. But a normal process I’d say, takes about 8-9 months. Enough time to be dedicated to it in a good way.

Work by Pierre Soulages

I listen to jazz whilst I work, or chill out lounge stuff, I need music without lyrics. Otherwise I focus on the lyrics and not what I need to do. Sometimes just raindrops sounds, or storms, or rainforest. On Spotify there’s so much. I put headphones on and it helps to block out everything else.

The least number of modifications I’ve done on a scent was two. It was like love at first sight, we had two trials just to get back to the original. The most modifications: this year, it’s not out yet but it was 387 trials in 8 months. It really doesn’t sound like that much when you hear that La Vie Est Belle made like 5,000 modifications.

Internally we have almost 1000 ingredients at our fingertips, but I work with about 200-300. I guess some painters used the same colours. If you look at artists – for instance – Pierre Soulages, the French painter (he works only with black plastic) – all his work is black, but there are many blacks. In perfumery it’s quite the same; you have your own fetish colours/ingredients and you understand how to work with them. Or you take the risk to work with things you don’t know how to use. It’s more about habits. Sometimes I’ll use unfamiliar ingredients and have to do many trials, all of which the client hates, so it’s like they are blacklisted for me. Green notes can be complicated or some spicy notes.

95% of my time is dedicated to concrete projects where I have a deadline to meet. But I still keep the 5% to do other things because I need it. I need it to refresh myself, to entertain my mind, to not get stuck in the same thing all the time. I need it to explore new territories, new ideas. Sometimes in the middle of a project I use something I’ve worked on in my spare time so it keep doors open, instead of just being stuck doing the same thing. You can keep it up for a while but at some point you need new stuff.

Chanel No 19 is the fragrance I wish I’d created. It’s still the fragrance my grandmother wears. And it’s a straight orris scent, and years after when I fell in love with Dior Homme I discovered that’s an orris too. So actually I’m not surprised I worked on this (Suede Orris) with Molton Brown, because I love it. Orris is one of my favourite ingredients. So sophisticated, such a precious product. 

Suede Orris was composed by Jérôme di Marino.

Molton Brown Suede Orris £45 for 50ml eau de toilette

Written by Carson Parkin-Fairley 

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