Mathieu Nardin forages for Miller Harris

We tend to think of ‘noses’ insisting on using exotic ingredients to be found growing in vast jungles, or atop far-away, mist-shrouded peaks only reachable by particularly gutsy mountain goats; but the truth is, we all overlook those fragrant materials growing – often literally – right under our feet. Mathieu Nardin is a talented perfumer from a family of noses who hail from (where else?) Grasse, and has been doing some incredible work for Miller Harris, who asked him and fellow perfumer Bertrand Duchaufour to concentrate on the concept of foraging – searching for unusual ingredients to be found peeking through cracks in concrete, lurking beside pathways and creeping over buildings: nature always finding a way.

We were lucky enough to attend the launch of the Miller Harris trio of fragrances that resulted from this fascinating creative exercise, two fragrances from Mathieu – Lost and Wander – and Hidden from Bertrand (we’ll publish our interview with him, later, as Part Two); and we asked both of them to explain exactly how they work on a fragrance.

So, how does a perfumer take a brief and turn it into that final fragrance we so enjoy wearing…?

‘We received the brief from Sarah and she wanted us to go forgaing with an expert who knew what to look for. It was actually really cold – we were in a graveyard of all places, in Tower Hamlets! – and I wondered what we could possibly find. It was actually amazing. We found many ingredients, like violets, magnolia, something called sweet woodruff which is incredible and smells and tastes like tonka beans. If I hadn’t have been with the forager, I would never even have looked at them, and certainly not felt confident to pick them up and eat them.’

How does Mathieu structure his day, I wondered – can he devote an entire day to working on a single perfume?

‘Well, we have plenty of projects to work on at one time, but actually I find that’s a good thing, because it helps me not to focus too much on one thing. If I’m too immersed I cannot see the whole picture, so sometimes it’s good just to put it on one side and work on something else. Then I get another perspective – perhaps even the day after something will occur to me about that fragrance I put aside, and that gives greater clarity.’

So how does Mathieu balance these projects, then?

‘I continue working on things in my mind even when I leave the office, these ideas are there all the time, so in a way I don’t stop thinking about it even if I’m not actively engaged in working on it. All the time. There are moments when something suddenly becomes clear, what I have to do with it, and I can be at home reading when it happens. It becomes obvious.’

What about using visual stimuli, like photographs or notebooks?

‘Well we have mood-boards usually for the fragrances we are working on, they can be photographs or things from books and magazines, they help set a mood or give an idea of direction. But for me I take the idea of it everywhere, and like I say, I think the best ideas happen when you’re thinking about something else.’

Is there a time of day you prefer working on the ingredients?

‘I’m at my best, my nose works best, in the early morning because we are fresh – sometimes at the end of the day the nose can get tired. But you know, I also really like working late at night because my colleagues aren’t around and I can just do my own thing! I can really dig down and work on a project then, because often during the day you can get interrupted. So what I prefer is to work on the formula alone at night, and then be ready to smell it in the morning.’

‘There’s always a lack of time, because we’re working on so many projects. So what I try to do is allow myself, alone at night when everyone else is gone, to have maybe one hour that is not connected to any project at all, but is just experimenting. It’s free creativity. It could even be half an hour, but it’s so important for me.’

What did this experience, working on the Miller Harris fragrances, bring to Mathieu?

‘I feel that it’s always a learning process, and if a project isn’t moving or going in the right direction, then we just stop and experiment. My whole time is spent constantly working, experiementing and learning. So for me this foraging was an amazing experience – it’s quite rare to get that luxury of indulging in a project that way. To smell and taste new things, and then you try and describe these unknown things and liken them to things you do know. This is always what we do with new ingredients, we have to learn to describe them accurately.’

Was there something particular on the foraging trip that Mathieu was inspired by?

‘There was one herb we smelled and tasted it, and it was exactly like melon. It blew my mind really. And then magnolia blossoms – when they are dried I had no idea they tasted gingery! I knew the smell of magnolia blossom, but not the ginger taste. Things like this really help with my work because it gives you new ideas, new ways of thinking about ingredients and how they can be used…’

Ferns force their way through walls and concrete, their green intensity splashing vibrantly against the grey backdrop of buildings. In Lost, this intense verdancy is contrasted with the sharp pink snap of wild rhubarb, making the senses fizz.

Miller Harris Lost in the City £95 for 50ml eau de parfum

Stinging nettles spring up all over London, producing a unique, sparkling green scent. Before they flower their spiky greens are smoothed, the sappy earthiness of the stems blend with zesty fruits. A beautiful unisex fragrance with fresh notes of Pink Grapefruit and Juicy Mandarin to balance the green, sappy Nettle.

Miller Harris Wander through the Parks £95 for 50ml eau de parfum

Written by Suzy Nightingale

What does heaven smell of? Probably something like this…

Can you imaging being invited to enter a room in which several of the world’s best perfumers are seated, ready to share with you the secret scent they’ve been working on, just for the sheer pleasure of experiementing with the materials?

Step with us into the opulent surroundings of Claridges, and have your mind ready to be blown…

This week we were lucky enough to be treated to the annual (usually industry-only) Speed Smelling event, in which the IFF (International Flavours & Fragrances) perfumers gather to play. On this occasion, IFF had very kindly allowed spaces exclusively reserved for the winners of our Perfume Society competition – a rare opportunity, indeed.

And in case you’re what ‘Speed Smelling involves’, well it’s like speed dating, but with perfumers and their scents!

Given completely free reign, with no brief, no client and no expense spared, the noses get to work with materials and abstract concepts they’d never usually be allowed to explore in a commercial sense.

Judith Gross – Global Director, Fragrance Innovation at IFF – held aloft a bell and explained the concept. We were to experience a ‘Speed Smelling’ session with each perfumer, groups of us playing musical chairs as we moved from one to to another, and with a strict time limit of seven minutes per session (hence the bell).

Each year, the Speed Sniffing has a theme, and this time they chose the idea of ‘Post Modern‘ perfumes – like deconstructed works of art, we’d smell the accords or layers and then the final ‘fume. And oh boy, were we in for a treat!

‘Some of them go back to antiquity, others refer to the dawning of modern perfumery in the 19th Century,’ Judith explained before we began, ‘and they have been deconstructed, all the better to re-construct…’

At separate tables, the perfumers sat, passing blotters out with an array of fabulous ingredients and the final creation to smell…

It was with these incredible building blocks we began, as Christine Mortimer from LMR explained how precious the Naturals are (and how the IFF perfumers get so excited about using the latest of their ingredients). ‘We’re the premium supplier for fragrance ingredients, and also within the flavour market,’ Christine told us, while explaining how hard they work to obtain the very best quality of extractions for the perfumers to work with. Firstly we sniffed a stem-distilled juniper berry – which smelled like the best gin and tonic you’ve ever had – and soooo clean.

Our favourite of course had to be the most expensive – the orris – which can reach 100,000 euros per kilo. LMR use a blend of the very best, because the supply chain of orris can be incredibly unpredicatable, and so this way they can guarantee a vital constancy. The carrot seed – part of their ‘Heart Collection’ – was completely glorious, too. For this, they can remove the parts of the smell (in this case, the earthiness) they don’t like to amplify the very best aspects of an ingredient.

Rising star Fanny Bal’s Speed Smelling creation uses an innovative note evoking Nutella!

The first perfumer we spoke to was Fanny Bal –  who began her training eight years ago, and is now working with the legendary nose, Dominique Ropion. Mark our words, Fanny Bal is a name to watch and they way she’s begun her career is incredible (she’s been chosen by Fréderic Malle for the soon-to-be-launched Sale Gosse). Her creation was to revisit an amber base – bases are blends often used by perfumers to create the backbone of their fragrances – ‘I decided to remove ylang ylang from the original amber base and replace it with jasmine, which doesn’t have that medicinal note and isn’t so old-fashioned.’

Adding coriander and pink pepper to further the modernity, her final note was a real surprise… ‘It’s Nutella!’ she beamed, handing blotters for us to sniff. And it really smelled exactly like it! ‘I wanted an addictive, gourmand note, and so I added a completely natural LMR ingredient of cocoa accord. It’s not sweet at all, quite dry, animalic… I found it so interesting to use, with vanilla bean which is also quite dry, really spicy.’ We’d happily have bathed in vats of this, but, mouths watering, we had to move on.

Bruno Jovanovic and his Chypre creation – which he named ‘Neo Fur’

Next up it was the turn of Bruno Jovanovic, whose scent caused quite the sensation within our group – particularly for our Co-Founder Jo Fairley, who declared it was one of the best modern Chypres she’d smelled and ‘must have it!’ (and I’d be totally in on purchasing gallons of this, too).

Bruno’s inspiration was a memory of his (incredibly glamorous sounding) mother, who’d liberally spary her fur coat with Cabochard (a vintage leather Chypre) before kissing him goodbye when she went to work. ‘I wanted to create an olfactive snapshot of the whole image of her in that coat, with the lipstick, her face powder, everything.’ Talking about how special it was for him to remember her smell, that when he missed her while she was at work ‘the scent was a way to have her a little longer,’ he thought this deconstructing theme was ‘a perfect opportunity for me to use my “super powers” to create that again… but with none of the animal-based or unsustainable ingredients.’ And so, ‘this is a “vegetarian fur coat”,’ he grinned, ‘a way of indulging in that past without having access to the materials they used then.’

The final perfume he called ‘Neo Fur’ and he deliberately ‘didn’t look at the price – that’s the beauty of the exercise!’ Jasmine and rose absolute were used along with orris for the freshly made-up face effect… and oh, on the skin it’s just sublime. We couldn’t stop sniffing all day!

Domitille Bertier tricked our noses into detecting musk – without a droplet of that note

The wonderful Domitille Bertier was the next perfumer to describe her creation, and she ‘wanted to create a musk, but without any musk…’ And therefore the name, so suitably chosen, was Not A Musk. Using the indole from jasmine and natural vanilla extract, ‘smells very leathery, really animalic, and not like a cake!’ Domitille described using synthetics as being ‘the real art of the perfumer – a Trompe Nez! [to ‘trick the nose].’ Taking two months to finalise her composition, she said ‘it’s much easier this way, as I am the only judge.’ We asked if when she thought of a perfume idea, could she almost ‘smell’ it in her mind? ‘Oh absolutely!’ Domitille enthused, ‘It’s like when a musician writes a sheet of music. They can hear it before any sound has been made.’

Going back to perfumery’s very roots, Julien Rasquinet put myrrh at the heart of his scent

Julien Rasquinet was our next nose to visit, and he ‘wanted to go back to the very genesis of perfumery. And I want you to guess which note could be linked to this…’ Passing around the blotters, we thought perhaps frankincense? ‘Very close! But it’s myrrh, which the ancient Egyptians believed had healing properties. So for me this was for me a very important ingredient to work with.’ He wanted to capture the history, but also the literal act of smelling the wood, heating the incense and wafting the smoke. Using 8-10% of myrrh (incredibly expensive) he laughed as he said ‘I didn’t care about using so much, because IFF are paying, so it’s wonderful to use what you want!’ The name he gave it? ‘Myrrhveilleux [a play on “marvellous”]… because it also has another meaning. “Veilleux” can be someone who watches out for you and supports you – like a kid’s night light, you know? That’s called a veilleux.’ Adding flinty notes for ‘the gesture of the first man lighting the myrrh’ Julien used a mineralic molecule that’s also used ‘for scenting gas. Because naturally gas has no smell, so they have to scent it so you know if you have a leak.’

Whoah. Now this we did NOT know – did you?

Sophie Labbé challenged herself to create an Eau de Cologne – without using a single citrus note

‘I wanted to revisit an Eau de Cologne,’ Sophie Labbé said, while introducing her scent, ‘because originally they were drank for your health. And,’ she added, ‘it worked for the Queen of Hungary, as she managed to seduce a young prince, so it could be good for us, too!’ The original ‘unisex’ fragrance, Sophie explained she wanted her creation to echo this cocktail Cologne, and ended up calling the fragrance her ‘Moscow Mule Cologne’ to highlight this.

‘When you think of a Cologne, you think of traditional hesperidic notes such as orange, lemon, citruses, orange flower… but there are no hesperidic notes in mine.’ This we found incredible, because it really smelled as though it contained mandarin, but yet again this showed how a clever perfumer can ‘trick the nose.’ So the note she used to trick ours? ‘Ginger…’ And as soon as she said it, we could, fascinatingly, smell the fresh ginger, ‘both the heat and the cold of it,’ Sophie elaborated – a delicously juicy, fizzy juxtaposition of smells which she combined with gentian (that’s used to flavour Angostura Bitters, hence the booziness) and smelled exactly like walking into an old bookshop. The final fragrance was uplifting and comforting, familiar and new all at once.

Alexis Dadier blended four accords he’d previously perfected, to create ‘Rasta Vegan Milk’

Alexis Dadier began by explaining his approach was to use the concept of artists ‘who use collages of old things to create something new. And that’s what I wanted to do with this perfume.’ He described going to his lab and looking at traditional ingredients, but to combine them in a way that was ‘recycling’ them into a whole new smell.

At first he used an almond milk accord – which smelled exactly like hot milk, in fact, we all agreed. His second accord was green matcha tea ‘which is addictive but subtle, kind of salty…’ The next accord was hemp – a very traditional smell, but which we might now associate with a teenager’s bedroom. ‘Very bitter and araomatic, for me it has a nature that’s very vivid.’ An historic Fougere accord was made, and when combined with the other three accords, Alexis calls the scent ‘Rasta Vegan Milk. Something that’s addictive but good for your body!’ We didn’t know if we wanted to spray it on ourselves or eat it, so he defintely succeeded.

We staggered from the room at the final bell, noses having been tantalised, minds having been blown – but not before sharing a canapé and a drink or two with the Perfume Society readers who’d won a place, and were pinching themselves at their good fortune.

Certainly this was another day to be filled with wonder at the art of perfumers, and the skill of those who harvest and create their raw ingredients. The most frequently repeated word throughout the room? ‘Wow!’ And wowed we definitely were.

Wish you’d been there? Well now IFF are making a limited number (only 300!) of the Speed Smelling fragrances available for you to purchase.

From April in Europe they’ll be at shop.auparfum.com, the fabulous gift shop of the Grand Musée du Parfum, and also from luckyscent.com

And you can be sure we’ll be buying one for our archive…!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

7 of the women to thank for your favourite fragrances

There are reportedly more women now joining the famous French perfumery school, ISIPCA, than men – an about-face for the time women in the perfume industry were either not employed at all, or remained somewhat faceless behind-the-scenes as their male peers were lauded as genius perfumers in gleaming white lab coats, then the respectable (and respected) face of fragrance.

The perfume world – and all fragrance fans – have many pioneering women to thank for the centuries they spent, tirelessly working their way to the top. So, for International Women’s Day, here are just a few we’d like to put our hands together for, and whom we should all celebrate, not just today, but every single time we spritz…


Germaine Cellier was a pioneering nose from the 1940s who created scandalously daring scents such as Balmain‘s Vent Vert – overdosed with galbanum and considered the first “green” perfume of its kind – and Robert Piguet‘s Fracas, a bombastic, room-filling, man-slaying tuberose. Cellier believed in doing her own thing, and as such it’s often reported her male colleagues found her ‘difficult to work with.’ For ‘difficult’ read ‘opinionated’ and just wonder if those male colleagues were similarly chastised for daring to disagree. Here’s to ‘difficult women’ everywhere.

Had she been male, or growing up in an age of equality, Patricia de Nicolai might have become the next generation of the Guerlain family’s master perfumers (the title traditionally being passed from father to son). Undefeated, de Nicolaï has gone on to found an eponymous fragrance brand – Parfums de Nicolai – is a member of the technical committee of the French Society of Perfumers and now president of the prestigious Osmothèque scent archive. Having won the International prize for Young Perfumers (Prix International du jeune Parfumeur Créateur – Société Française des Parfumeurs) in 1988, her fragrance Number One garnered her the position of their first female laureate. Top that? She did. In 2008 going on to be decorated as a knight of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur. It’s fair to say de Nicolai is one of the all-time (if mainly still unsung) great perfumers.

Josephine Catapano is considered a mentor by many female perfumers working today, and when you read her list of accolades, it’s not hard to see why. In 1980 Capatano was granted the Cosmetic Career Women’s Award followed by a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Perfumers in 1993. Working during an era when perfumers were kept firmly within their labs, no names emblazoned on bottles, and most especially if they were female; creating the all-time classic Youth Dew for Estée Lauder, the original Shiseido Zen and Fidji for Guy Laroche; it is only now truly Catapano’s name has even begun to be truly acknowledged.

There are certainly more historical female pioneers we should hoist the bunting for, but we’d also like to pay tribute to just a few of the contemporary noses who’ve risen in the ranks to become distinguished perfumers we follow the careers of with fascination, and much respect.

Sophie Labbé spent her childhood between Paris and the Charente-Maritime area of France, encountering contrasting smells: the odours of a capital city, against the scents of the countryside, living to the rhythm of grape-picking and harvesting, swept with a salty breeze… She studied at IPSICA, and at the Givaudan Perfumery School in Geneva for six months. In 1992 she joined IFF as a junior perfumer, and since then Sophie has worked on fragrances including Bulgari Jasmin Noir and Mon Jasmin Noir, Calvin Klein Beauty, Estée Lauder Pure White Linen, Salvatore Ferragamo Signorina and Signorina Eleganza. We asked whom she’d most loved to have created for. Her answer? ‘Cleopatra – a powerful female figure whose legendary status is drenched in perfume!’ And which, we wondered, was her favourite bottle of all the perfumes she’s composed? ‘Givenchy Organza, with its beautiful feminine, goddess like curves.’

Ruth Mastenbroek was born in England, spent some of her childhood in America, and graduated with a Chemistry degree from Oxford University. Having been classically trained in Grasse, she’d studied alongside brilliant perfumers such as Olivier Cresp, who created Angel, and Jacques Cavallier who created the Jean Paul Gaultier ‘Classique’ fragrance. In the late she 70s worked as a perfumer in the UK and Netherlands with Naarden International (which later became Quest and is now Givaudan – one of the largest perfume suppliers in the world…)Ruth worked in Japan and in the perfume capital Grasse before returning to England to work for a small company, where she created fragrances for up-and-coming brands like Kenneth Turner and Jo Malone – including her Grapefruit candle. Ruth set up her own perfumery company, Fragosmic Ltd., in 2003 – the year she became president of The British Society of Perfumers. In 2010 Ruth launched a capsule collection of scented products featuring her signature fragrance – RM – and also became the first perfumer to use advanced micro-encapsulation technology… in a scented bathrobe! Inspired by her travels, ingredients she grew up with and most of all by her seemingly tireless zest for life, Ruth’s perfumes are shamelessly romantic, but still with a contemporary edge, and we’re always thrilled (and proud!) to wear them.

‘I didn’t want to make perfume as a child; I wanted to be a witch,’ says Sarah McCartney, founder and perfumer of the gloriously unconventional 4160 Tuesdays. ‘I started to blend my own essential oil combinations after I joined Lush as a writer in 1996; I’d been dabbling from 1999 and started seriously making fragrances when I left in 2009.’ The ‘dabbling’ as a hobby combined with her marketing experience, bag loads of energy (and bravery!) led to Sarah becoming an entirely self-taught perfumer with boundless imagination. Having written a novel about perfumes, readers asked if she could create the scents she’d invented, ‘This turned out to be impossible – and pretty expensive – because no one was making exactly what I wanted, so I started another quest to see of I could make them instead.’ And so she rolled up her sleeves and did just that. Her guilty pleasures include ‘playing on the swings at the park [in fact, she’s installed a swing at 4160 Tuesdays HQ, and invites visitors to have a go – did we mention unconventional?], red lipstick, watching Nashville, and drinking champagne…’ Now winning acclaim the world over, Sarah still delights in having fun with fragrance, and in making scents that work the way she wants them to. Bravo.

From the first time she met a ‘nose’, that’s what Christine Nagel knew she wanted to be. So she trained as a research chemist and market analyst, and in Paris, in 1997, was launched on a seriously distinguished career that’s included creations like the blockbuster Narciso Rodriguez for Her (with Francis Kurkdjian), Jimmy Choo Flash and Guerlain’s Les Elixirs Charnels collection. After several years at Jo Malone London, Christine joined Hermès, to work alongside the incredible perfumer, Jean-Claude Ellena. Strongly believing that fragrance should be genderless, she asserts that ‘In reality, anyone can wear whatever he or she likes – even if the fragrance is supposedly “masculine” or “feminine”. There’s no right or wrong…’ Her desire to ‘pare down’ fragrances chimes perfectly with Jean-Claude’s, and she describes her scent style as ‘characterised by simplicity, which mirrors their philosophy’. ‘Favourite’ notes go in cycles: ‘I’ve phases when I’m deeply into a single type: woody, oriental, green facets. It can turn almost into an obsession, until I have the feeling I’ve found what I’m looking for, and then I move on.’ And move on she certainly did, for in 2016 it was announced that Nagel would now succeed the much-beloved Ellena. With enviable shoes to fill, she began not at a trot but full gallop – Galop (a stunning blend of leather and rose) proving a huge hit and ensuring the perfume world is on tenterhooks, and our noses are primed, for whatever she next creates…

For more female pioneers of perfume, read a selection of our exclusive ‘working nose‘ interviews by searching for that term, above, or browse our perfumer interview archive – that just happens to be bursting with talented women, and which we’re constantly adding others to.

And how shall we give thanks? Seek out some of the perfumes created by these women, or treat yourself to a new one by an up-and-coming star. Now there’s an on-going reason to celebrate. Yaaas, sister! *fist-bump*

Written by Suzy Nightingale

The perfumer shares the secrets of her scent-creating day

We’re lucky enough to sit down with many of the world’s leading perfumers, in the line of duty. Few encounters are as pleasurable as when we get to catch up with Ann Flipo, truly one of the world’s ‘greats’ – and a hugely inspiring woman, one of the very few to bear the official title of ‘Master Perfumer’, endowed by her employers, IFF [International Flavors & Fragrances].

Her roll-call of fragrances stretches into the hundreds, and includes Paco Rabanne Lady Million (with Beatrice Piquet and Dominique Ropion), Jo Malone London Basil & Neroli, Jimmy Choo Illicit and Jimmy Choo Man, and recently, the fabulous Coach for Men.

At one point, Anne Flipo was a rarity: a woman working in a man’s world. Today, happily, many of the ‘rising star’ perfumers are women – and female recruits to ISIPCA, Paris’s elite perfumery school, outnumber males. But to celebrate International Women’s Week, we are delighted to bring you the latest in our series ‘A Working Nose’ – in which the world’s greatest perfumers share how they go about creating perfumes.

I often ‘dream’ my compositions. I’ve been a perfumer for 30 years and I definitely have a routine. An important part of my creative process happens overnight. Before I go to bed at night I think about all the projects I’m working on – and when I’m asleep, my brain processes those; I wake up and know exactly what I have to do next, with a fragrance. I always say to people, e-mail me at night – send me instructions just before I go to sleep, because I literally sleep on it.

First thing in the office, I make the modifications to my creations. I take those ideas that have come to me overnight, I write them down on the computer – perhaps three or four studies for what I’m working on – and I give the modifications to my assistant, who compounds everything. [Compounding = making up the formula.] After that, I’ll go to the coffee machine, talk to some of the other perfumers in the Paris office, and smell the modifications with the evaluator. [The evaluator is the company’s ‘bridge’ between the perfumers and clients, with an important ‘editorial’ role, often deciding when a fragrance meets the brief well enough to be shared.]

I always lunch alone. It’s another important part of the process; I need to continue to think. I have my lunch in the same place every day – just a salad – and I come back to the office. I might make some more modifications at that point.

Between 2 p.m. – 4 p.m., I like to do something different. I don’t work at my computer; I might look at magazines, stare into the garden in front of my window; it’s like a meditation. I am thinking, I am focusing. Maybe on another day at that time I’ll have some meetings – but I’m most definitely not sitting in front of the computer. I need to have a lot of time for just smelling and thinking.

Nowadays, several perfumers often collaborate on a single fragrance. We might be responsible for different accords – one of us might do the top notes, another the base… For Coach for Men, for instance, I worked with IFF perfumer Bruno Jovanovic, who’s based in our New York office. That’s not as difficult as it sounds; he will send formulations to the office in Paris, my assistant will compound them – and I’ll smell them.

So it doesn’t matter if we’re in the IFF office in Mumbai, or Paris, or Singapore, Shanghai or São Paolo – they all have the same materials, and we can smell exactly the same things wherever we are. In the case of Coach for Men, Bruno worked more on the masculine sensuality – the suede accord. These collaborations with other perfumers around the world work well – and he’s a nice guy, too.

I try to leave the office at 6 p.m., but sometimes it’s 7 or 8 p.m. In this job you never exactly switch off. It’s surprisingly tiring, because your nose is pretty much ‘on’ all the time.

Nowadays, some of the time, I’ll work at my house in Pas-de-Calais in the North of France. I have set up an office there. I have exactly the same routine. I don’t have my materials at home – but that’s OK, because I compose in my brain. My children are older now – 29, 27 and 20, so I can have a space in the house to work, and I love being able to work at home. I’ve been talking about working from home for years, and last year one of my friends said: ‘Stop talking about it; just do it.’ Perfumers aren’t machines; we’re very busy with a lot of different projects – and to do that, you need peace and quiet.

I have 1200 raw materials that I can play with. I tend to focus on around 40o of those in my own personal ‘palette’. I guess my signature is that fragrances are often very ‘luminous’ – and often with very addictive notes. My key ingredients – orange flower, and gourmand notes – go back to my childhood. One grandmother was a keen gardener and I remember smelling orange blossom in her garden. And both my grandmothers were big cooks, which I think is where the love of spices and vanilla comes from.

Part of my day is spent simply creating things for myself. As a perfumer, you need your ‘secret garden’, your treasures, which you can share later. I do this every day. It’s vital to have your own projects – although always a challenge to find the time.

If a client wants a particular ingredient, I can work with that. But I do have a problem with one particular family, the Pyrazines; they were introduced after my training and I get confused with which is which. These are ingredients from the flavours industry, giving strong notes of coffee or chocolate – and they have to be used with a very light touch. I always have to remind myself which is which…

The first evaluation is always on a blotter. That allows us to make an initial selection. But then we ask for ‘skin’ – this is what we call those people working in the office who have good skin for perfume, which gives a true representation of how the fragrance smells. You’ll walk into our office and see people with their arms out, and perfumers clustered around smelling them. We’ll stand there and discuss the fragrance – and sometimes forget that there’s a body there!

From brief to finished fragrance averages around 18 months. The quickest might be around nine months, whereas with Lancôme La Vie Est Belle, it was three or four years. That fragrance, which had three perfumers – and Invictus (four perfumers) – required around 5,000 modifications, to get right.

A moodboard is useful – but for me, words are even more useful. It might be a piece of text, shared by the perfume house, or it might be sitting down with that client and listening to what they say. Sometimes, it’s about reading body language as much as anything; as a perfumer, I am very attentive to detail. It’s easy to work with a client who knows what they want – but if they don’t know what they want, that’s part of our job: to listen and to guide them.

Sometimes you’ll work on a project and not get the job. But if your idea is strong, you have to battle. And if it’s not strong enough, that’s the reason you didn’t get the go-ahead. But it’s not a drama.

It’s amazing to be walking down the street and smell one of my creations on someone. Often it’s La Vie Est Belle, because it’s such a bestseller – and that’s such a ‘wow’ moment, every time.

I am excited that my ‘musical instrument’ is integrated into my body. I really love that I get to work with my nose – I consider myself very lucky to be able to do that.

Interview by Jo Fairley

Photo credit: L’Attitude

The top 3 perfume tips to ensure you're a nose in the know…

‘Can you help save my marriage?’ is probably the most – um, unexpected request we’ve had (terribly nice chap who phoned to ask for advice on the things he should tell his wife in order to justify buying himself a rather costly bottle of niche perfume. Long story short: no lawyers needed, in this instance). But generally we get asked the same kind of questions time and again.
So what does this tell us? Something we already knew from experience: the world of perfume can be a rather overwhelming and bewildering place. Full of confusing language and conflicting advice that could dizzy the best of us in to an olfactory coma, it’s often a confusing and even off-putting arena in which to set foot (or nose).
Here at The Perfume Society we are proud to be celebrating our third birthday – founded by Jo Fairley and Lorna McKay, we exist exactly because of this befuddlement. Our ethos is to bring perfume alive through our informative website, award-winning magazine, exclusive events and Discovery Boxes to try at home, and we always aim to make fragrance accessible to perfume-lovers of all abilities!
However experienced your nose is, it’s good to get a refresher now and again – and our FAQs section is jam-packed with tips for how to choose a fragrance, what the ‘fragrance families’ mean, how ingredients are harvested (and the best perfumes to smell them in) and so much more. But before you get flitting around all things fragrant, let’s start with our all-time top three tips your nose should know…

1 – How can I choose a perfume that’s right for me?
Short answer:
It’s a minefield, right? Where to even begin? Well, our first tip is to give a perfume time. So many of us spray, sniff immediately (bascially it’s just the alcohol you’re smelling, with perhaps a mere whiff of top notes) and walk away. STOP this immediately. Sorry to nag, but it’s never going to get you the fragrance you really want.
Further advice:
Initially, try the fragrance on a blotter (also known as a perfume ‘spill’); these should be available on perfume counters – and when you buy a Discovery Box from this site, you’ll find a pack of blotters inside. Allow a few minutes for the alcohol and the top notes to subside, and then smell the blotters. At this stage you may be able to eliminate one or more, if they don’t appeal – but it is really the heart notes and the lingering base notes which you will live with, and which are crucial.
Remember:  blotters are a useful way of eliminating no-hopers and lining up possibilities, but they’re not really enough to base a perfume purchase on.  You really need to smell a scent on your skin.
Do make the most of FR.eD: The Perfume Society’s ‘virtual fragrance consultant’ who you’ll find on this site here (the name’s actually short for Fragrance Editor). You can tell FR.eD which perfumes you’re keen on, and ‘he’ will make a personalised selection, suggesting up to six fragrances at a time for you to try, at various price-points. Genius!

2 – How can I make fragrance last longer?
Short answer:
If you moisturise your skin, this gives the oils something to ‘cling’ to, and will boost its staying power.  So, if the ‘matching’ body products are available, it’s a beautiful way to layer on your fragrance. If these range extensions aren’t available, go for an unscented body cream, butter or lotion which won’t clash with your chosen scent. Think of it as a primer for perfume.
Further advice:
Try spraying your hair as well as your skin – though be careful if the perfume is dark in colour as you may unintentionally dye your hair… Hair is porous and will waft the scent even longer than on your skin in many cases.
Spritz a scarf with with scent and the heat of your body will make the fragrance bloom. Also a handy way to try a new fragrance you’re not sure of. Bored of it? Simply take the scarf off and try something else…
Remember that the nose becomes desensitised and quickly gets used to the notes of your perfume. Although you may not be able to smell it at all after 30-40 minutes, your friends and colleagues may still be able to, so ask a friend if they can still smell it before dousing yourself afresh (tempting as we find it!)

3 – My perfume seems different to how I remember it.  Is my nose playing tricks…?
Short answer:
Possibly – our memories of scent can sometimes differ wildly to the reality. However, it’s also entirely possible your old favourite’s formula has been changed. This is because, when an ingredient is classified as a potential allergen – by IFRA, the International Fragrance Association – two things may happen:  it can be banned altogether, or its use limited by percentage, to minimise the risk of a susceptible perfume-wearer reacting.
Further advice:
When an ingredient’s re-classified, perfumes may be ‘tweaked’ by the manufacturer.  In some cases, a process called ‘fractionation’ – which allows ingredient manufacturers to remove the allergenic molecule of an fragrance note, while leaving the rest intact – can allow the continued use of that ingredient.
Case in point:  oak moss – invaluable in the creation of the chypre family of perfumes – has become restricted.  Thierry Wasser, Guerlain’s in-house ‘nose’, explained to us that he now uses a ‘fractionated’ oak moss.  ‘However, when you fractionate an ingredient, it leaves a “hole”:  there is something missing,’ added Thierry.  His solution to filling the sensory ‘hole’ in oak moss was to add a touch of – believe it or not – celery.  It’s impossible to discern, to the rest of us – but it gave the rounded quality to that so-essential note that Thierry needed to return the classic Guerlain creation Mitsouko to its former, long-lasting glory.
Occasionally, however, a perfume may change because the company which makes it is bought by another, and the formulation changed.
Written by Suzy Nightingale
 
 

The first gourmand: Brillat-Savarin – an 18th Century chemist who knew you are what you eat (and smell!)

Long before ‘gourmand’ foodie-inspired fragrances were even dreamed of and while smell was still perceived as the poor cousin of our other senses, one 18th Century polymath was championing the exquisite pleasures that taste and smell bring to everyday life. And more than mere pleasure alone: in fact, he heralded the proper appreciation and scientific study of these long-foregranted senses…
‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’ So said Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, 1755-1826, a French lawyer and politician whom, apart from law, studied chemistry and medicine, and eventually gained fame as an epicure and gastronome.
 

 
His seminal work Physiologie du goût (The Physiology of Taste), contains Savarin’s philosophies and observations on the pleasures of the food, which he very much considered a science – long before the birth of molecular gastronomy and serious studies of taste and smell had begun. And smell was very much at the forefront of the gastronomique experience, Savarin had worked out; exclaiming:
‘Smell and taste are in fact but a single composite sense, whose laboratory is the mouth and its chimney the nose.’
Previously considered the least important of the senses – indeed, smell remains the least scientifically explored, though technology is making huge leaps in our understanding – Savarin proclaimed that,’The sense of smell, like a faithful counsellor, foretells its character.’
 

 
Published only two months before his death, the book has never been out of print and still proves inspirational to chefs and food-lovers to this day.
 

 
Preceding the remarkable leaps in knowledge high-tech equipment has allowed and revealing how entwined our sense of smell is to the taste and enjoyment of food, Savarin also observed how our noses protect us from eating potentially harmful substances, explaining ‘…for unknown foods, the nose acts always as a sentinal and cries: “Who goes there?”‘ while coming to the conclusion that a person’s character may be foretold in their taste and smell preferences… ‘Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are.’
We devoted an entire issue of our award-winning magazine The Scented Letter (now available in print, and with online subscriptions worldwide!) to taste and smell – as of course we are gourmand fans in ALL the senses. And so it is heartening to know that Brillat was on our side here, with this extremely useful advice we selflessly pledge to carry through life:
‘Those who have been too long at their labor, who have drunk too long at the cup of voluptuousness, who feel they have become temporarily inhumane, who are tormented by their families, who find life sad and love ephemeral… they should all eat chocolate and they will be comforted.’
Wise words, indeed. We plan to enjoy all the sweet temptations that come our way, in scent form and in chocolate. Talk about having your cake and wearing it, too!
Written by Suzy Nightingale

#InternationalWomensDay – our celebration of six inspiring women: the pioneers of perfumery…

In celebration of #InternationalWomensDay, on our Instagram account we’re sharing our admiration of just a few of the incredibly inspiring women in perfumery, and wanted to take some time to write about them here, too…
Currently there are more women joining the famous French perfumery school, ISIPCA, than men – an about-face for those legions of ladies who spent years beavering away in labs but in fact remained somewhat faceless as their male peers were lauded within the industry (a time before noses were public names) as the genius perfumers: moustachioed masters in gleaming white lab coats, the respectable (and respected) face of fragrance.
So we say: let’s hear it for the gals! And do read on for ways you can join in the celebration, too.

Germaine Cellier was a pioneering nose from the 1940s who created outstandingly new (and scandalously daring) scents such as Balmain‘s Vent Vert – overdosed with galbanum and considered the first “green” perfume of its kind – and Robert Piguet‘s Fracas, a bombastic, room-filling, man-killing tuberose. A formidable woman who shone through in a time the entire scent world was otherwise dominated by male perfumers, forging the way fearlessly and stamping her mark in scent history; Cellier very much believed in doing her own thing, and how we applaud her for it.

Josephine Catapano is considered a mentor by Sofia Grojsman (see below) and when you read her list of accolades, it’s not hard to see why. In 1980 Capatano was granted the Cosmetic Career Women’s Award followed by a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Perfumers in 1993. Working during an era when perfumers were kept firmly within their labs, no names emblazoned on bottles, and most especially if they were female; creating the all-time classic Youth Dew for Estée Lauder, the original Shiseido Zen and Fidji for Guy Laroche; it is only now truly Catapano’s name is truly acknowledged.

Sofia Grojsman is a Belarus-born American perfumer who moved to Poland when she was fifteen, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in analytical inorganic chemistry there before being uprooted by her family and arriving as an immigrant to the United States in 1965. Delighting in creating multitudionous scents inspired by the rose, Grojsman composed such contemporary classics as Estée Lauder’s White Linen, Lancôme‘s Trésor, Calvin Klein‘s Eternity and Yves Saint Laurent‘s Paris. In 1999 Grojsman was honored by the Cosmetic Executive Women for her lifetime achievements in the fragrance industry.

 
Estée Lauder may not have been a perfumer but nevertheless was a complete perfume pioneer. In an interview for Vogue in 1986, Lauder spoke of her marriage, saying ‘…we
 decided 
that
 Joe
 would
 give
 up 
his 
business 
and 
come 
in to
 mine.
 We
 would 
work
 together:
 he 
would
 deal
 with
 the 
economics
 and 
practical
 aspects
 of
 the 
business,
 I
 would
 do
 the 
selling.’ Well-known as a generous philanthropist, supporting countless charities and the restoration of Versailles; Lauder was honoured with so many awards during her career, but one of the high points is said to have been receiving the French Legion of Honour.

Patricia de Nicolai might have become the next generation of the Guerlain family’s master perfumers, had she been growing up within an era of equality, but de Nicolaï has gone on to have her own eponymous fragrance brand – Parfums de Nicolai – is a member of the technical committee of the French Society of Perfumers and now president of the Osmothèque scent archive – striding forth on her own path rather than resting on her laurels. Having been decorated as a knight of the Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur, it’s fair to say de Nicolai is one of the all-time (if unsung) great perfumers. An inspiration.

Chantal Roos is legendary in the fragrance world for commissioning and launching some of the biggest fragrances of all time – seeking out the best of the best way ahead of her contemporaries. Lovers of Yves Saint Laurent‘s Opium and Kouros, Jean Paul Gaultier‘s Classique and Issey Miyake‘s L’Eau d’Issey have the genius marketing savvy of Roos to thank. Now working with her delightful and equally talented (musician and composer) daughter Alexandra on their own perfume line, Dear Rose; Roos can concentrate on launching fragrances closest to her own heart. Not so much #sisterdoingitforthemselves as a mother and daughter doing just that.

We’re donating a raffle prize to the International Women’s Day Celebration taking part this evening: Wednesday 8th March 2017
Venue: Good & Proper, 96A Leather Lane, London, EC1N 7TX
Time: 6.30pm – 9pm
Details: £20 on the door – £10 of that goes straight to the charities and then the other £10 goes on wine/beer/soft drinks and food which will all be laid on.
Organiser Roxy Walton says: ‘As well as selling the usual raffle tickets – for which there are some really great prizes this year – I have a fresh delivery from the Women’s Interlink Foundation of beautiful items handmade by women who have been rescued from human trafficking and the sex industry in West Bengal, India. Silk pyjama bottoms, weekend bags, silk wash bags, silk scarves and much more – nothing will cost more than £35 and it’s all lovely. Convenient shopping opportunity for anyone buying Mother’s Day gifts and I will accept IOU’s if you don’t have enough cash! 100% of the sales will go back to them.
The other two charities we’re supporting are Women For Refugee Women  and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. I will have lots more information on the incredible work they do to share with you on the night…’
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Superstar perfumer Calice Becker talks about her beautiful career (and more)…

When we learned that Calice Becker – perfumer behind masterpieces like Dior J’adore, Tom Ford Velvet Orchid and countless By Kilian fragrances – was collaborating on the new L’Occitane launch, Terre de Lumière, we sat up and took notice. A sign for sure that this beauty and perfume name, with its roots in Provence, is now taking fragrance Very Seriously Indeed. (Her fellow perfumers on this creation as Shyamala Maisondeau and Nadège Legarlantezec.)

Calice Eurostarred into London for the flower-filled launch, charming us with her easy manner and love for her work. In Terre de Lumière, she contrasts aromatic, fresh lavender, pink pepper and bergamot with sweet elements to create L’Occitane‘s debut gourmand perfume. Ambrette seed and acacia flower are drizzled with honey, with bitter almond taking the edge off the sweetness, and a final flourish of tonka and musk.
Calice happily answered our questions about how she became a perfumer, about how she works and what inspires her – so we’re delighted to share this latest in our series of ‘nose’ interviews with you here…

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?

The heart of my perfume memories begin with my mother. I was four years old, getting out of a bath.  She opened a bottle of eau de Cologne and applied it to me. I was fascinated and curious about the smell.  So I asked her how it was made. She said, ‘It’s made from flowers…’ But I couldn’t see the flowers in the bottle! I couldn’t imagine how the flowers got into the bottle and got out, dispersing this beautiful smell. I was very confused, and I kept asking, and asking her questions.

She said: ‘You will understand it later, when you get older.’ So I give credit to my mother, who helped me find my calling. She told me I should become a perfumer, a ‘nose’, after she recognised how sensitive I was to smell. When I was very little, she realised that I couldn’t recognize people by name but, only by their fragrance.
I would tell her, ‘This person is like that one!’ And she would say, “Oh, no! They have nothing in common!”’
What I meant, and what she understood later, was that they were wearing the same fragrance.

What is your first scent memory?

My scent memories as a child show my curiosity and learning that started with the illusion of flowers inside a bottle. I continue to feel this way today, in my daily life. I’m constantly discovering ways of translating emotions that fit inside a bottle. As perfumers, we have the right resources and knowledge to reconstruct these feelings.

What are your five favourite smells in the world? 

• Lychee.
• Leather and saddlery.
• Lily of the valley.
• Honeysuckle.
• Bergamot.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled.  (Honestly!)

The smell of hospitals. It is very unpleasant and associated to sadness.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?

Dior Diorissimo.

If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?

Michelle Obama.

What’s the first fragrance you bought?  And the first bought for you…?

The first fragrance I bought for myself was Dürer by Dürer, while the first fragrance someone gave to me was L’Artisan Parfumeur Eau de Pamplemousse.

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?

The bottle of Dior J’adore is outstanding, timeless, just beautiful. Otherwise the bottle for Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps is one of my favorites. It is at the same time aesthetically beautiful and highly symbolic.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?

I’m usually working on four to eight perfumes at the same time.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?

Yes, it does sometimes! For example when I have a cold or when I’m very tired at the end of day. (But it is more my brain switching off than my nose!)

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?

It depends. It usually lasts from three months to a year.

Is creating a fragrance visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? If so, in what way…? Is a mood-board helpful?

For me, a fragrance is at the same time visual, tactile and auditory. All the senses can help translate the olfactive emotion. A mood-board can be a starting point in a creation, as well as a harmony, or a texture.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?

For me, it is important to learn how to truly appreciate beautiful things. It is like tasting wine or discovering opera. You can like something beautiful at once but the more you develop your taste, the more you can understand what you like about it, the way it makes you feel. It is all about the capacity to feel emotions and share them with others. My advice would be: express and share your olfactive emotions…

L’Occitane Terre de Lumière from £58 for 50ml
Buy it at uk.loccitane.com and their many stores

By Jo Fairley

How can you improve your sense of smell? Watch this cute cartoon and book our 'How To' workshop!

Are perfumers possessed of magical noses gifted to them at birth – with a heightened sense of smell beyond the reach of mere mortals…?
Well, there’s an argument to made that perhaps some of the ‘noses’ behind our favourite fragrances are somewhat naturally gifted, but my goodness they had to work to get where they are. Perhaps also some of them grew up in perfume-y places – like Grasse – where the culture, history and even the streets themselves are awash with scent. But the truth of the matter is, they had to start somewhere. And those of us lucky enough to have a working sense of smell can undoubtedly go about improving that sense – and thereby enhancing every aspect of our lives.
We couldn’t resist sharing the wonderfully incisive (and undeniably cute) cartoon, below, that does a great job of explaining how important our sense of smell is in everyday life, and the basics of how one might begin mastering the sense of smell.

Apart from simple practice, practice, practice – the most important aspect, we have gleaned by interviewing those famous perfumers over the years; is learning to “fix” a smell in your head by creatively describing it in terms that are absolutely and entirely personal to you. And how on earth do you go about doing that? By attending one of our regular How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops
These fun, informal (but totally informative) sessions are held in groups, some people liking to bring friends along others preferring to sniff solo, and during which you will be taught how to start building your very own volcabulary of scent – pinning those intensely personal memories and emotions that are automatically triggered the second you smell something (good or bad!) and using that to invesitage – and vastly improve – your sense of smell. We’re not pretending you’ll come out as a fully fledged perfumer – and neither is this the reason we set up the workshops. But we can gurantee you’ll not only experience your favourite fragrances in a whole new way – you will appreciate your nose like never before.

Resized
[Photos by Essence PR]
So, do you fancy a morning or afternoon of sharing fragrances, laughter and learning to improve your sense of smell – with a fragrant goody bag at the end of it and as many biscuits and tea (or coffee) you can drink in-between? Of course you do!
Come and join us for the next How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshop in London on Saturday 4th February. Not a Londoner? Look here to find (or request) your nearest workshop.
How do you join in the fragrance fun? It’s simple:
How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops cost £10 for VIP Subscribers – which is 100% redeemable against any box purchase on the day of the workshop
Want to bring a guest? (it’s even more fun with a friend!) £20 for Guests of subscribers or non-VIP Subscribers
Maximise the opportunity by choosing to become a VIP with your booking for £35 to include a one-year VIP subscription to The Perfume Society, £10 of which is redeemable against box purchases on the day of the workshop.
Want to read a review from a happy attendee of a previous workshop? Cosmetic Candy blog waxes lyrical about attending one of our Manchester workshops, and Samantha Grocutt, MD of Essence PR describes her experience, here.
Workshops are generally hosted by Senior Writer of The Perfume Society, Suzy Nightingale within the London area, and co-founder Jo Fairley further afield.
Simply bring along a favourite fragrance – and your nose – and we so look forward to meeting you there.
Book your tickets here.
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Nose to nose with the best perfumers in the world – can you guess who said what?

Being in the privileged position of interviewing some of the most famous perfumers in the world about their lives, inspirations and perfumed preferences; we like nothing more than getting to share that with you – the people who actually fall in love with and buy their fragrances.
We believe their talents should be recognised and celebrated – just as composers, artists and (more recently) chefs are acknowledged for their gifts, and the enormous pleasure they bring us.  Until lately, almost all perfumers worked behind the scenes, anonymously.  Now, noses are emerging from their laboratories, starting to talk about their creations, and what goes into them.
635540834318a906e1a63957d6c86d48
We’re lucky enough to have met some of the very best perfumers working today, and love nothing more than finding out their history, inpirations, personal favourite smells and sharing them with you on our Noses page. But can you guess who said what? (Click on their answers to find out…)
What is your first ‘scent memory’?
‘Traditional Christmas Cakes that smelled like Anis and Vanilla, made by the Carmelite nuns in my town, we would order these cakes from Christmas and pick them up at the convent, this smell is imprinted in my memory.’
If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
For Napoleon! I would have created the best Cologne ever for him!’
What are your five favourite smells in the world?
‘I love the scent of a Pierre de Ronsard Rose and the scent of asphalt just after a pouring rain.’
What’s the worst thing you ever smelled. (Honestly!)
‘Dead Amardillo, road kill in Texas, US.’
What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
If you want to better appreciate a fragrance, learn how to verbalise the emotions that the fragrance arouses. You have to smell and describe, smell and describe…’
Written by Suzy Nightingale