Safe scents: a perfumer explains

Safe scents – what are they, who checks, and what processes do fragrances have to go through?

It’s such a minefield, and there is much misinformation floating around the internet and social media, of late, regarding the topic of ‘safe scents’. So we welcome the ‘open door’ approach many perfume houses and perfumers are now taking, making the public more aware of what goes on behind-the-scenes in not only creating a fragrance, but ensuring its safety.

Perfumer Pia Long, from  the fragrance creation house and expert consultancy, Olfiction, recently created some images, while she was working on a new creation for a client – ‘…the creation in question being a sparkly citrus eau de toilette with a very high percentage of natural materials.’ (Because yes, even if a fragrance is 100% natural, it still has to be checked. Just because an ingredient is deemed ‘natural’, it’s still a chemical and it still needs to be safety checked).

Pia has been noticing more comments on social media from consumers, who, she explains ‘…say (wrongly) that there are no safety considerations for fragrance prior to it going into a product, or that natural is always safe and synthetic is always not (also wrong).’

So, Pia took some screenshots of ‘the stuff I have to be fluent in,’ and wanted to share them with the public because she thought, ‘Maybe it’s time we perfumers start to show you a little more than nice photos of us in our swish laboratories or eccentric offices; or maybe just seeing content from brands is not enough these days.’

We all love seeing those ‘sneak peeks’ into perfumers’ labs, or the harvesting of fragrant crops, but while that content is incredibly enjoyable to see, it doesn’t address the misinformation regarding fragrance safety. So while it’s fantastic to learn more about what Pia terms ‘the artistic and olfactive side of our work,’ she reminds us that not also talking about the various stages a fragrance goes through ‘…can make our contribution minimised.’

These images are from Pia’s ‘first sketch of a formula’. It’s vital she goes through this process for any kind of fragrance she creates – whether that will be a fine fragrance or to scent another product, because, she tells us:

‘I want to make sure the formula is compliant before I do any more to it. We are sometimes requested to do more than 100 modifications to a fragrance. We have to do the safety calculations each time. When the fragrance is signed off, it’s then off to (further) stability and safety testing.’

 

Basically, Pia wants to get the message across that if you are buying a perfume or fragranced product that has been supplied by a professional perfumer or perfume house, ‘they will be following IFRA guidelines.’

IFRA  – the International Fragrance Association – was formed in 1973, with a mission ‘to represent the collective interests of the industry and promote the safe use and enjoyment of fragrances around the world.’ And as for those guidelines, IFRA says that, ‘The IFRA Standards ban, limit or set criteria for the use of certain ingredients, based on scientific evidence and consumer insights.’

We’d love to see more of these insights from perfumers. While not as romantic as seeing them strolling through lavender fields, such conversations are a vital reminder of the huge amount of work that a fragrance entails. And clearly explained topics of safety and science go hand in (scented) glove with the questions consumers are (rightly) asking about sustainability and inclusivity – topics we cover in depth in the Beyond Fashion & Fragrance edition of The Scented Letter magazine, if you’d like to read more…

By Suzy Nightingale

Les Parfums – charming new French comedy film about a ‘nose’: watch the trailer here!

Les Parfums (‘Perfumes’) is a just-released and utterly charming French film following the life of a feared and reclusive ‘nose’, and her troubled realtionship with her new chauffeur.

The English-subtitled film is a gentle comedy, but takes a serious (and very well presented) look at the life of a perfumer, and it has been released in the U.K. Now showing at selected Curzon cinemas,  it’s also on Curzon Home Cinema (to stream at home, for those of us not near one of the venues or who prefer to watch from the comfort of our homes).

Curzon Home Cinema says: ‘Anne Walberg (Emmanuelle Devos) is a master in fragrance who has fallen from grace amongst the upper echelons of the perfume industry. However, her skills are still in demand from companies looking to mask the smell of their odorous products. Over the years she has become selfish and temperamental. When she hires Guillaume (Grégory Montel) – a down on his luck chauffeur with too many points on his license and a rocky relationship with his young daughter – they strike up an unlikely friendship. Together they look to repair their lives and create a new signature scent to return Anne to her previous fame.’

Our review:

There are so few films about perfumers and our sense of smell, and we were thrilled to discover this new movie more than lives up to expectations. Following the rather hapless chauffeur, at first, Guillaume’s first clue to the trials and tribulations ahead with his new client is when she sniffs him, names the brand of his cigarettes and, when he offers her one, throws the packet out the car window. Other clues to her profession (and her character) come when Ms. Walberg demands that he help her change the sheets in a hotel room, declaring: ‘They use a fabric conditioner full of galaxolides for that “clean” smell. I hate it!’
Asked to recreate the smell of an ancient cave to diffuse at a tourist attraction, Ms. Walberg takes Guillaume along with her, rubbing the walls. ‘Mineral, earthy, camphor, touch of moss… Iris root’ she bids him write down in her notebook. Later, she asks him to smell something she’s created on a blotter. He complains that he doesn’t know what it smells of, but she gently encourages him to say whatever thoughts come to mind. ‘Trust yourself.’ Before we know it, Guillaume is in the supermarket, sniffing various shower gels – under the watchful gaze of a bemused security guard. ‘Something quite mellow…’ he says, as the guard shuffles closer, clearly unused to such behaviour in Aisle 5.
The extent of of Walberg’s’ fame is revealed when she smells Dior J’Adore on a waitress and casually tells Guillaume she created it. (In fact, it was composed by perfumer Calice Becker in 1999, but this is a fictional film, after all). Later we learn that, after she became famous with her photo adorning the cover of magazines, she ‘began to lose (my) nose.’ She thought that ‘with my experience of blending I could do it from memory.’ But after making a mistake, her confidence in composing fine fragrance was truly troubled and Devos lost her contract. Her sense of smell came back, but ‘the perfume world is small,’ and so with her reputation struck down in flames, she stuck to smaller, industrial and functional fragrance jobs while avoiding the public gaze.
Suddenly, Walberg loses her sense of smell again. Terrified, she decides to part ways with her pushy agent and, under the treatment of an anosmia specialist – who describes the condition as when ‘The nose and the brain stop working together,’ she begins her journey back into the fragrance world. But can this chauffeur with ‘a good nose’ actually help her recover her reputation and heal his own life…?
Les Parfums is a wonderful evocation of that joy of sharing a love of fragrance, of watching someone develop and explore their own sense of smell. And it’s also a healthy reminder that anosmia – losing one’s sense of smell – can be a terrifying and life-changing experience, even if you don’t happen to be a perfumer. A gentle film that’s slow in pace but nonetheless completely gripping because of the sensitive character portrayal by the two leading actors, there’s some stunning shots of the French countryside and those Parisian streets we miss so much, too. A paean to the world of perfume and the gift that is our sense of smell, we say this is a must-watch for anyone who loves fragrance.

Now we’ve caught your interest, watch the trailer, below, and allow yourself to fall for Les Parfums’ charms…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Bodyguard hand sanitisers: made by French perfumers (you’ll LOVE how these smell!)

There are so many hand sanitisers out there now, but when we were looking for a special extra gift to pop into our Treat Box, we wanted something that would be incredibly useful and smelled beautiful (of course we did!)
So as soon as we heard the BODYGUARD Protect hand sanitisers are made by French perfumers at an atelier in Provence, we knew we had to get our noses on them. Let’s face it – if we have to use them every day, we’d rather our hands smelled fabulous. And this is a fragrant ritual we can get behind.
Founder Celia Nicolosi explains:
‘Our heritage and all our expertise comes from creating fine fragrances in Provence, France. We use traditional techniques passed down through generations that take time and patience to deliver.
Our BODYGUARD anti-bacterial hand sanitisers are fragranced with a fresh Eau de Cologne formula, with each bottle made in our own L’Atelier in Manosque, Provence, this allows us to maintain the quality standards of our product. Our formula is also incredibly gentle on your hands, this is because we use a very high grade moisturising glycerin, which we don’t filter so that you receive all the added goodness to care for you hands.’

 

As we’ve discussed before, fragrant Colognes were traditionally used for health purposes – the alcohol was cleansing to the skin and many of the ingredients added additional anti-bacterial properties (though people didn’t realise that, then. They simply thought pleasant smells warded off sickness).

The BODYGUARD anti-bacterial hand sanitiser contains a powerful 70% alcohol formula with moisturising properties, to cleanse and calm your hands, each beautifully scented in four unique fragrances, and priced at £4.95 each.

Which will you choose as a daily fragrant pleasure…?

MORINGA BLOSSOM
The gentle clean scent of the tropical moringa flower subtly enhanced with violet and a touch of cedar.

MARINE
A breezy sea fragrance, of fresh Mediterranean bergamot, with a hint of woody cedar and musc.

COCONUT
Our coconut fragrance is an irresistible, dreamy, exotic cocktail of coconut, vanilla, jasmine and amber. A holiday must have!

CITRUS
Bursting with orange, bergamot and lemon, this classic citrus fragrance is awakened with notes of lavender and epice.

bodyguardprotect.co.uk

Meanwhile, if you’d like to try the always reviving Citrus Bodguard Protect Hand Sanitiser as an extra goody in our fragrant Treat Box, you can buy the whole box of THIRTEEN perfumes and two scented treats for just £23 (or £19 if you’re a VIP Club Member)

By Suzy Nightingale

Wet Dog: a malodorous mystery solved by perfumer Christophe Laudamiel

We’re currently loving exploring ScentCulture.tube – a website offering ‘an incisive look at a research project that reveals the secrets of creative practice in perfumery.’ So how do perfumers solve a mysterious scent mystery when working on their composition?

‘In most cases, a perfume is meant to be a pleasurable odour,’ the ScentCulture piece begins, ‘Technically, it is a mixture of essential oils, aroma compounds, and solvents used to provide an agreeable scent. Yet, the process is more complex than often explained.’

 

 

In a fascinating film called Wet Dog: Chasing the Villain, offering a unique insight into (okay, we’re calling it) one of the most inventive and brilliant perfumers working today; we get to see how Christophe Laudamiel works with raw materials and traces the mysterious presence of sudden appearance that’s certainly less than ‘pleasurable’…

Together with fellow perfumer Christoph Hornetz, during the development of ‘a jewel-like perfume’, they suddenly discover ‘…an unpleasant facet, an annoying animalic note. Laudamiel calls it a “wet dog” that only appears after some delay. The two perfumers are puzzled. The phenomenon seems to be really special, if also undesired. They investigate the composition, ingredient by ingredient. In the end, the detective search for malodor delivered a suspect for which Christoph Hornetz had noticed the same unexpected effect in other previous instances.’

 

 

We wont spoiler it for you, but the chemical compound they trace it to is actually often described as ‘tropical coconut, tonka bean and tobacco’. So how do we get from delicious to dawg? The clip linked above tells the detective story of that puzzling perfume mystery…

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Carlos Benaïm – one of the most charming ‘noses’ we’ve ever met – talks scents…

When Carlos Benaïm landed from New York on a flying visit, we settled down into a pair of leather chairs and asked him to share his scent memories.

One of the perfumers we’ve been most charmed by in all our years of hanging out with ‘noses’, Carlos is a veteran of the industry, with so many fragrances to his name: the blockbuster Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb (with Olivier Polge and Domitille Bertier), Boucheron Jaipur Bracelet, Bulgari Jasmin Noir, Calvin Klein Eupohoria and Ralph Lauren Polo – among many others we’ve worn, loved or admired. More recently, he’s created for Frederic Malle, including the airily fresh and so-wearable Eau de Magnolia, as well as the sublime modern classic Icon for Dunhill.

His appreciation of scents and smells started early. ‘As a young boy I would often accompany my grandfather to the marketplace in Tangier and I remember the smells of the spices and fruits, oranges, peaches, melons and apricots – they are engraved in my memory…’

When summing up his career, we also love these words from Carlos: ‘There’s an old Arab saying: whatever is not given, is lost. That’s how I’ve tried to live my life and my career.’

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
The scent of my grandmother’s kitchen, cinnamon, mixed with sugar and other sweet smells. She’s someone I was very close to growing up in Tangiers, in Morocco; I was raised there, although my background is Spanish. I left Morocco at 17 to study chemical engineering and then at 23 went to Paris and New York, studying to be a nose alongside head perfumers Bernard Chant and Ernest Shiftan at International Flavors & Fragrances – I never went to a ‘classical’ perfumery school and for me, it was more like an apprenticeship.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?

  • Orris (iris) – an elegant smell; there’s something so cool (temperature-wise) about it that I really like.
  • Sweets and baking smells and chocolate – because I have a sweet tooth, and I’m often caught with something sweet!
  • Smells that remind me of my mother: Femme and Mitsouko – I always recognise both of those smells right away, which brings back wonderful memories.
  • Fruits. I love the smell of fruits, particularly raspberries and peaches, pineapple, cassis, blackberry, blackcurrant. There is nothing like the smell of a fresh-picked French raspberry; they taste and smell completely different to the ones you can buy in New York – so much more perfumed…
  • Tobacco. This is the smell of my grandfather; he used to have snuff tobacco, and my father who was a pharmacist used to perfume it, either with a violet perfume or a geranium aroma. It was a very rough tobacco from Morocco and that combination was very haunting, blended with those sweet notes. I use it a lot in fragrance as a note; I used to smoke when I was young and fortunately I stopped, but I do like a little ‘hit’ from using tobacco.

And your least favourite?
I hate the smell of garbage – but that’s an obvious one. Actually, I don’t like the smell of cats and dogs. We don’t have animals because my wife is very allergic to them – but I don’t like their scent, either.

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
The great Guerlains: the Mitsoukos, the Shalimars… My grandmother used to wear Shalimar. Those are magnificent, absolutely wonderful, with their mossiness – not just oakmoss, but the other mosses, which we’re restricted from using so much these days.

Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? Is a mood-board helpful?
Everything is helpful for me. A fragrance is a mood, it’s colour, it’s form – and so it’s definitely visual as well; I build up a picture in my mind, and start trying to bring it to life. It’s a process that takes several months.

Do you have a favourite bottle, from those which have been used for your creations?
I’m very fond of the Ralph Lauren Polo bottle, which is also very significant for me because it was my first success. I also love the bottle for Flowerbomb.

Does your nose ever switch off!
As a perfumer, you can switch off being in ‘work mode’, to a ‘not actively searching’ mode. When my nose is ‘on’, I’m sensing the environment, I’m interested in the smells around me, I’m trying to put my effort into understanding what’s going on in, say, that particular flower. But I like to relax, too, and my nose relaxes at the same time.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Be interested; that’s really the key. Pay attention and try to ‘fix’ smells in your mind by putting words to them. That’s how a perfumer starts; you smell everything, and you can’t remember abstract smells so you have to label them – I would smell something and think, ‘ah, that’s the wood in my grandmother’s house’ – and that’s how I’d be able to remember it…

 

Ralph Lauren Polo Red Rush: Exclusive Q&A with perfumer

We caught up with Olivier Gillotin, the perfumer behind Ralph Lauren’s Polo Red Rush fragrance, for an exclusive Q&A and a sneak peek behind the scenes of his inspiration for creating the scent…

Q1. What was your inspiration behind POLO RED RUSH?

In designing the Polo Red Rush fragrance, I was inspired by the acceleration, elation and intensity during the very beginning of a race. I wanted to translate the rush of those never-ending first seconds into the fragrance. To achieve this vision, it needed to bring an immediate, intense freshness. Two ingredients inspired me at first: red mandarin for an impulsive, crispy start, then fresh mint for its energizing power.

Q2. How would you describe the way POLO RED RUSH smells?

I like to describe Polo Red Rush as an energetic red water – a fresh water tinted with crisp, energizing red notes. The citrus top notes (red mandarin, red grapefruit, lemon and pineapple) complement the spearmint mid note for an immediate fresh effect. The scent evolves on the skin with facets of red saffron while orange flower adds a masculine watery fluidity. Finally, a vibrant burst of roasted red coffee is streamlined with Cedarwood, bringing a new sleekness and elevating the background with an enamoring trail of woody musk.

Q3. How does POLO RED RUSH fit into the POLO RED franchise?

Polo Red Rush takes the franchise to the next level, capturing the sensations of speed, seduction and freedom. With its fresh, invigorating and surprising association of citrusy mint and cedarwood, Polo Red Rush perfectly rounds out the Polo Red portfolio.

Q4. What are the main differences between POLO RED, POLO RED EXTREME AND POLO RED RUSH?

Polo Red Rush is a crisp, energetic new interpretation of the original Polo Red. It elevates a spiced, cool watery freshness and bold red citrus profile. Spearmint from Morocco joins as a new bracing and dynamic element. Coffee notes play a supporting role to enhance a sleekly sensual dry-down with cedarwood and musk.

Q5. How did you choose the key notes for POLO RED RUSH? What makes the olfactive structure so intriguing?

Polo Red Rush masters a high proportion of saffron that is paired up with citrusy mint. I chose to elevate saffron for its unique and vibrant character able to unveil a fascinating fresh-spicy facet. Mint – saffron is an unusual and surprising association that creates a fresh yet intense and refined energy. Both ingredients fit perfectly well and complement each other.

Q6. Were there any special techniques or stand-out ingredients used to achieve your vision for POLO RED RUSH?

The creation process has been a construction – deconstruction “game”. My original intention was to design the ultimate experience of fresh energy for the Polo Red thrill-seeker. After translating this idea into fragrance, I deconstructed the formula to clearly identify and highlight its best facets – crisp and citrusy mint, cedarwood, saffron. I then removed all unnecessary ingredients to maintain the most relevant ones and to develop the fragrance in a fresh, unique and refined way.

Q7. What makes POLO RED RUSH so crisp and energizing?

Polo Red Rush has everything of a fresh water putting the emphasis on citrus and mint. In addition to that, I highly elevated saffron, as a powerful red spice imbued with fresh intensity and a key ingredient for the franchise. The combination of citrusy mint and saffron create this unique crisp and energizing freshness.

Q8. You’ve often described how the color red inspires you. How did you channel that inspiration into an entirely different olfactive experience for POLO RED RUSH?

For each Polo Red fragrance, I ensured that the smell brought to mind the color red. Polo Red and Polo Red Extreme respectively focused on the symbolic of seduction and power. With Polo Red Rush, I wanted to explore another strong and explicit meaning: energy. It inspired me to design a red water acting like a booster. This red water needed to be olfactively infused with the positive and stimulating energy of the color to be able to master a never ending rush.

Ralph Lauren Polo Red Rush £55 for 75ml eau de toilette
Try it at debenhams.com

Nose to nose with Sophie Labbé & Signorina Ribelle

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, Paris’s perfumery school, and at the Givaudan Perfumery School in Geneva for six months. In 1992 she joined IFF as a junior perfumer, where Sophie has worked on so many famous fragrances (many of which you’re bound to have owned and adored). Most recently, she’s noted for her Signorina creations for Italian house Salvatore Ferragamo, and we caught up with her to find out about the inspirations behind the latest in the lineup, Signorina Ribelle.

Psst! And you can WIN a trio of Signorina fragrances if you enter our prize draw, HERE!

 What was your inspiration behind the new Salvatore Ferragamo Signorina Ribelle fragrance?

Sophie Labbé: For this new perfume everything started from the idea of this duality between an addictive Italian ingredient and a daring way of life. I must say for each Signorina you have an interesting combination of an iconic flower in perfumery with a twist of a hint of something addictive, and very Italian.

So, for this Signorina Ribelle I wanted to work with an addictive Italian heritage and a new iconic flower, the iconic flower is a specific ylang ylang heart that has been crafted especially for Ferragamo, with a delicious Italian gelato accord. Ribelle has an adventurous heart, addictive and exotic flowers that leads on to an addictive base with the delicious gelato accord and a hint of coconut milk.

 How did you work with Ferragamo to create the scent? What was your working process like?

The creative process for this scent, I wanted to have an iconic flower but in a modern way. For instance, if you think of the first Signorina eau de parfum it was a combination between jasmine and panna cotta, for Misteriosa it’s orange blossom and blackberry, so for Ribelle I really wanted a new iconic flower.

The ylang ylang flower is a traditional flower in perfumery but here we developed an exclusive heart, that makes it very modern. This heart of ylang ylang, developed for Ribelle, emphasizes the creamy and solar facets.

I wanted to signify the adventurous personality of this Signorina so I paired it with two other flowers. You have Jasmine Sambac from India, fearless, feminine and voluptuous, and then you have the Madagascan ylang ylang – a unique fractionization for Ferragamo – which is solar and sweet. Then frangipani flower; very exotic, solar and almond-like.

I represented the Signorina girl, who loves being with her friends, within a sisterhood, with these three flowers. It also represents the multicultural aspect of this perfume, with each of them coming from different parts of the globe.

For the top notes, it’s a luminous expression of freedom with the juiciness of the mandarin, the fieriness of the pink pepper ­– and the mouthwatering feeling of the pear, that is like a stolen kiss. And in the base, I used the vanilla gelato accord, which is my tribute to her Italian heritage.

You know the Signorina Family so well, what empitomises the Signorina girl to you?

For me the Signorina world is an endless source of inspiration and creativity. Every new launch is the opportunity to tell another part of her story, another facet of her personality, the DNA of Signorina is built around this relationship between an iconic flower and an addictive Italian ingredient. For me the Signorina girl is always chic and cheeky. The addictive note always adds a cheeky twist in the fragrances. I would say that Ribelle is very unique, she loves to be with her girlfriends, she’s adventurous and loves to be within a kind of sisterhood, which is very true to the girls of nowadays…

We were thrilled to include a sample of Signorina Ribelle in our fashion-forward #FROW Discovery Box so you can try it for yourself at home. One of thirteen incredible fragrances, the box is yours for just £19 (£15 for VIP Club Members).

Salvatore Ferragamo Signorina Ribelle £50 for 30ml eau de parfum
Try it at thefragranceshop.com

Givaudan perfumer Calice Becker, Knighted!

In France they don’t just honour perfumers with prize certificates, they actually award them with knighthoods! We’re thrilled to learn that Calice Becker, Vice President Perfumer and Director of the Givaudan Perfumery School, has been honoured by receiving the French médaille de Chevalier dans l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres for her significant contribution to the arts through perfumery.

Having created many of what we’re sure are your favourite fragrances – from Tom Ford’s Velvet Orchid to Dior’s J’Adore, L’Occitane Terre de Lumieré and hundreds more besides, we say it’s about time, too, and highly well deserved!

The prestigious honour was presented in Paris by Sylviane Tarsot-Gillery, Director of Artistic Creation at the Ministry of Culture for the French government.

Givaudan say: ‘Calice is an exceptional, award-winning perfumer having created some of the world’s most recognisable fragrances of our time.  She’s an extraordinary leader in the global perfumery community serving as the President of the International Society of Perfumer-Creators and also a dedicated advisor for aspiring young talents.  She joins the small number of perfumers who have been recognised by the French Ministry of Culture with this honour.

In 1985, Calice began her perfumery training at Roure in Grasse which led her to Givaudan where she has passionately contributed as a perfumer for almost 40 years. She was appointed to the prominent position of Director of the Givaudan Perfumery School in 2017 where she leads the training and development of future perfumery artists. She combines her passion for sharing her knowledge of creation as well as her constant quest to enhance the creative process.

Calice’s creative success is unique in its breadth across the United States and Europe where her fragrances have marked eras and defined brands.  Her creations include international classics such as: Monsieur Balmain by Balmain, Tommy Girl by Tommy Hilfiger, J’adore by Dior, Ambre Eccentrico by Armani Privé, Dylan Blue by Versace, and select By Kilian fragrances.

Calice Becker said: ‘I am truly honoured and gratified to receive this honour from the French Ministry of Culture.  I feel privileged to join the small group of perfumers who have been recognised and I am especially pleased of the recognition it brings to celebrating the heritage of perfumery today.’

Maurizio Volpi, President of Givaudan’s Fragrance Division said: ‘Calice’s passion for perfume creation and dedication to training young perfumers is an inspiration to all of us at Givaudan.  This honour celebrates her remarkable career in perfumery and her leadership in the industry.  We congratulate her for this magnificent, highly deserved achievement.’

In fact, this is the second time a Givaudan Perfumer has received this accolade – the brilliant Daniela Andrier, Vice President Perfumer, attained the same honour in 2012. And we’re stringing out the bunting and waving the flags to celebrate this double female success in the perfume world!

By Suzy Nightingale

Jérome Epinette: A Working Nose

Had he not become a perfumer, Jérome Epinette says he’d likely have been a sommelier. Growing up in the famous wine region of Burgundy, he loves to attend wine tastings, comparing notes just as he does in perfume. And if it wasn’t wine, it could just as likely have been a food career that beckoned – in his spare time Jérome is an accomplished cook, particularly enjoying blending unique combinations of herbs and cooking traditional French dishes.

Luckily for us fragrance lovers, Jérome’s passion for perfume had also been realised at an early age – his mother worked in a fine perfumery, and he would join her there during school holidays to help out. Having earned a Master’s Degree in Biochemistry in Dijon, France and attended the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in Grasse, Jérome’s career really began when he joined Robertet’s Paris office in 2003 and was part of the U.S. team to launch the New York Creative Center in 2006, where he now lives.

Known for his love of exceptional quality naturals and how elegantly he blends them with the finest synthetics, you’ll very likely have worn and loved many of his creations already – houses from Atelier Cologne, Byredo, Frapin, Olfactive Studio to Vilhelm have fought for Epinette to be their nose. Now, Jérome has turned his talents to the self-proclaimed ‘upstart’ fragrance house of Floral Street, who won the Fragrance Foundation Retail Award 2019 and are wowing fragrance fans the world over with their contemporary spin on floral ingredients.

We had the pleasure of meeting Jérome at our Perfume Society event in their Covent Garden flagship store, just as Electric Rhubarb was launching – a fragrance collaboration with Chelsea Flower Show, and a fruity/floral like no other. Of course we couldn’t wait to ask this brilliant perfumer exactly what makes him tick, and how he goes about creating a fragrance.

Describe your office and how you like to work…

‘It’s a very neat, white office, a white wooden floor, everything very minimal. My desk is bright white, very clean, I try to keep very tidy as I can only work like that. I couldn’t have a pile of blotters tumbling everywhere and a mass of stuff around me, that would drive me crazy.

Usually my nose is more efficient in the morning, I start working at 8:30am and smell all of the drydowns from the night before, it’s only then you can judge their longevity or see which aspects need adjusting. You need that time for it to develop overnight, but you also need time to let go of thinking about it, to come to it fresh. A fresh mind and a fresh nose.’

How do you like to think about a fragrance – do you use mood boards, go for a walk, read, listen to music…?

‘For Floral Street we use mood boards, because Michelle [Feeney – Floral Street’s vibrant founder] is very visual, as is the brand. I get an immediate idea from the pictures and colours, and I work from there. I think I’m very lucky to go to work by walking. I have a 25 minute walk and that gives me time to set my head up for the day. It’s a treasured time to reflect. I couldn’t take the subway, that’s too fast.

When I go home I walk through Central Park, and I think about what I’ve done that day, but when I get home I switch everything off and just relax with my family. Although I do spray my wife with fragrances I’m working on… she’ll sometimes say “have you put that ingredient I don’t like?” There are some things she likes so much she wishes I wasn’t selling it! I can’t listen to if my family and friends like a perfume, as such, because I’m not making it for them, but I see how it works on different skins.’

What did you want people to experience when smelling Electric Rhubarb?

‘For me this is buzzy, it has an energy, there’s a luscious juiciness and then a surprising smoothness. It’s so important to try on the skin, only then do I know to push the wood or whatever tweaks I need to do. You need to follow the perfume, how it behaves. When you smell the ingredients, like the sandalwood I’ve used in this one for example, you only then get the creamy aspect, a silkiness that only happens when it radiates on your skin, the full evolution of the fragrance.’

What are your favourite ingredients, and why?

‘I have tonnes of flowers I love, but gardenia is one of my all time favourites – I have one on my terrace and I can smell it whenever I walk past, and I’m always transported – that’s why I chose it for Electric Rhubarb. In the woody character, I think part of my signature is using patchouli and sandalwood, I’d say I use these practically all the time, in differing ways of course, but every perfumer has their signature, and that’s definitely mine.’

What do you say to people who ask why you use synthetic as well as naturals in your perfumes?

‘I’d say we need both, it’s as simple as that. If you ask me tomorrow to make 100% natural perfume, that’s incredibly challenging to make it smell good – you have a much smaller palette for a start, and synthetics add a complexity, they allow you to link everything together, the beautiful naturals and the clever synthetics make something whole.’

Jérome Epinette interviewed by Suzy Nightingale

Ane Ayo – A Working Nose

In our continuing series of A Working Nose interviews, we take the time to get nose-to-nose with some of the most talented perfumers on the planet. In these exclusive one-to-ones we dig a little deeper into what happens behind the scenes in the scent world, and discover how they structure their working day, how long a fragrance can take to work on and what, exactly, inspires them.

Today we focus on the brilliant young perfumer Ane Ayo – one of several women we’ve met recently who are, we are very glad to say, forging ahead way in the fragrance industry. We first met Ane at the launch of several new Lalique fragrances, one of which – Pink Paradise – she had been especially comissioned to create for the house.

Part of Les Compositions Parfumées collection, inspired by the modern lines of René Lalique’s jewellery and crystal designs, and fusing the best natural and molecular materials; Pink Paradise is a cloud-like swirl of heliotrope, pepper-sprinkled jasmin and sun-warmed creamy skin atop a lightly salted sea breeze. And for this fragrance, Ayo was the perfect choice, bringing her contemporary style to this ever-chic house…

Lalique Les Compositions Parfumées Pink Paradise £190 for 100ml eau de parfum
Try it at harrods.com

How did you start learning, and who were you inspired by?

‘I was trained in France and have been working in Paris the last six years. I really think that fragrance is like emotion, so I wanted to keep this one [Pink Paradise] very simple, to allow people space to interpret it themselves. When you’re using a short formula, as I prefer to,  it’s actually more difficult to create. Everything has to be perfectly balanced, nothing out of place or there without a specific reason

In this way I am very inspired by the work of perfumers like Jean-Claude Ellena who worked with this aesthetic all the time. He was the master of the short formula. For Pink Paradise I worked around two main molecular materials and built the entire fragrance around them, to make them light and airy, that was the most important thing for me.’

Do you use a mood-board, notebook, music or other creative stimuli to help you?

‘I’m a very visual person and always have been, I love working with photos and so sometimes I do use a mood board to collect these and focus on them. It depends on the brief the client gives of course, as sometimes they will supply the imagery, but I like to collect my own. I always try and work very closely with the brand, but not slavishly, because I think it’s important to have fun during the process and not to be afraid to try different things!’

When do you prefer to smell things – is it true your sense of smell works best in the morning?

‘There are times you don’t have the luxury of only smelling things in the morning, and after a time you get used to it, but it’s true that most perfumers I know prefer working early. If you’re working on an important project, the very first thing you would do is try the versions you created the day before, to see how they have settled and smell them afresh. Sometimes, that day before, you think something’s okay, and then you smell it again in the morning and you can spot all the mistakes and say, oh wow. No.’

Do you ever take fragrances home to test and wear them there?

‘Yes for me it’s very important to take it home. I think in the work environment you smell things very differently, clinically, and we do this for a reason, but at the end of the day, this is not how it’s going to be worn by the person buying the perfume! I always want to wear the perfume myself and just see how it performs.

I always ask family members, but you know what? Sometimes they will say ‘well actually I don’t like this one very much’ or ‘you should make it sweeter!’ and while I love them, I have to not get muddled by their personal preference. It’s something a perfumer has to learn to do – to step away from being too personally tied to a fragrance…’

[Many thanks to We Wear Perfume for the use of their lovely photo of Ane.]