The scent of success… Perfumer Karen Gilbert talks us through the fascinating world of 'functional fragrance'

When a perfumer creates the scent for a ‘functional fragrance’ – a product that millions of people around the world use daily in their homes or on themselves – they are composing the scent of a home, a loved one, the smell you associate with your own clean skin, perhaps. An incredibly technically challenging role, perfumers are plucked from the very same schools as those who create fine fragrances, indeed may often be the very same ‘nose’…
For a full exploration of this fascinatingly secretive cross-over between designer fashion fragrances and the scent of “clean washing”, see the hot-off-the-press Fashion & Fragrance edition of The Scented Letter magazine. But we wondered – is there room for a perfumer’s artistic expression, or does it necessarily take a differing form? We caught up with perfumer, expert consultant and teacher, Karen Gilbert, to talk about the challenges perfumers and evaluators face when evoking the scent of “clean washing”, and wondered how on earth she got into this fabric care – or “functional fragrance” – world.
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‘I fell into it by complete accident,’ Karen reminices. ‘I originally went to The London College of Fashion to train as a make up artist after working the cosmetics industry for a few years. I decided to stay on and do a cosmetics science diploma and two-week work placement at IFF [International Flavors & Fragrance]. They asked me back for a six-month temp position that turned into five years working on UK own label products as an evaluator, and running the fragrance library for the London office.’
Having interviewed the perfumer’s at IFF’s Centre of Excellence for fabric care, we knew how talented they are. But although the world of fine fragrance and fabric care/fucntional fragrances are entwined, some raw ingredients simply don’t translate because of the high temperatures and processes they’re subjected to.
Explains Karen, ‘Creating fragrances for an alcoholic fine fragrance is the easiest thing as there are much fewer technical challenges. When you are creating for a laundry care product you not only have to work with a base that already may have an unpleasant odour but you need to make sure the fragrance doesn’t get washed away during the wash/rinse cycle. There’s also the budget to consider, as most people will only pay a certain amount for something like a fabric conditioner.’
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And exactly how closely do the fabric conditioners and fine fragrances rub against each other? ‘Oh goodness everything filters down eventually to functional products. It’s so weird when people ask me to smell a perfume as I really learned about fragrance whilst I was at IFF so most of my days were spent sniffing “types” rather than fine fragrance. So if I smell a particular men’s “Aquatic” fragrance now I always think of blue toilet cleaner, and to me Tresor translated down to peach fabric conditioner. Whenever I smell a new fragrance I still find myself thinking “oh that would be good for a roomspray”  or “this would work in a men’s shower gel”. I was never a “perfumista” so my view of fragrance is quite different to the average fragrance fan I think!’
Such is the demand for perfumers to create various scented products for fragrancing every aspect of our lives that, as part of her fragrance training offering, Karen now runs a specialised course for those wanting to learn more about this intriguing yet technically challenging world. She explains that ‘…it came out of years of students coming to my live classes where we make an alcohol based EDT, who really wanted to create for their own product line.’ And that although the techniques of making a fragrance are the same ‘…there are lots of other things you need to take into consideration when creating for other types of product base.’
Aimed at anyone who want to learn more about developing fragrances for face, body and bath products – including how to professionally evaluate the performance of your products – you can find out more about Karen’s course, here
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Bvlgari Goldea – a golden scent for Cleopatra. Behind-the-scenes with Alberto Morillas on his creation of a ‘re-modelled’ musk that simply glows…

Having caught up with genius (and we do not use the word lightly) perfumer Alberto Morillas for our recent Nose interview, we couldn’t just leave it there. Actually, we could conceivably spend years listening to his tales of perfumes past and present – the intricacies of his methods, the creative process from brand’s brief through creative inspirations and onwards to the final scents we all know and treasure so dearly.

Specifically, we wanted to know all about how Alberto worked on the recently launched Goldea by Bvlgari (available to try at home in our Exquisite Essences Discovery Box), and graciously were granted an exclusive interview to find out more…

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What were your inspirations for the fragrance?
‘Goldea is a tribute to gold and femininity. It really hypnotizes you and makes you travel through the most mythical places of our History. It is a multifaceted interpretation of the Golden Age, from the antique goddess to the modern diva. The fragrance reflects the richness and timelessness of gold, just like a jeweler, I wanted to sculpt the radiance of gold. And create a deep and sensual fragrance that literally radiates on women’s naked skin.’

How did the use of musk help you to conjure up ‘a golden symphony’: what does it bring to this fragrance?
Among all the gems of my perfumer’s palette, musks are the talismans of Bulgari and create a mythical and sacred signature. Goldea plays with their sensual and bright royal aura which echoes gold. A waterfall of musks that I worked for Goldea with a lot of texture and richness. As a step back in the origins of musks, an ultra-precious ingredient of the perfume History which is today bathed with light and modernity. I wanted to push the radiance, beyond limits, to reach the full power, the supreme alchemy and express this “golden symphony”.’

How do you put ‘the sun’ into a fragrance, as a perfumer?
‘To create solar strength in Goldea, I wanted to add noble raw materials such as papyrus and patchouli wood. In the floral accord, we begin to sense the palpitation of flowers and the rare ylang-ylang from the Comoros Islands. An intensity golden yellow ylang-ylang is the perfect embodiment of a flower fusing with gold. I have always used bergamot as a citrus note; this fruit is round and luminous, intensely yellow and instantly suggestive of the sun. In Goldea, you feel at the same time the morning sun with its sense of renewal and unique freshness, the burning midday heat and the nostalgia of the evening sunset.’

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 Did you have an image in your mind, when creating?
‘Cleopatra was my muse for this unique fragrance. She is an absolute icon of femininity, power and seduction. And so the fragrance is. If it were a piece of art, it would be a golden sculpture of Brancusi. Brancusi was a visionary, a pioneer of modernism and one of the most influential sculptors of the 20th century. This craftsman of gold inspired me a lot to create a sculpted floral oriental, in which each ingredient is facetted and polished like a gold nugget.’

Unusually in a fragrance construction, this note is actually present in the head, heart and base notes, awakening the sensual amber and floral elements in the fragrance. Musk highlights the airy naturalness of orange blossom, alongside the voluptuous qualities of ylang ylang and a cascade of jasmine pearls. In the base, a soft and rounded velvet musk is ‘fanned’ by the carnal sensuality of that amber accord, with an intoxicating trail of golden patchouli and Egyptian papyrus…

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Bulgari Goldea £37 for 25ml eau de parfum
Buy it at Harvey Nichols

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Alberto Morillas – our exclusive interview with the iconic nose and ‘king of musk’…

Legend is a word bandied about so often it can be rendered meaningless, but when applied to the perfumer Alberto Morillas, there can be no doubting the truth of such a statement. Creator of any number of iconic fragrances – from Calvin Klein CK One, Kenzo Flower, Bvlgari Omnia, Cartier Panthere de Cartier, Giorgio Armani Aqua di Giò for women (seriously, the list is seemingly endless) – to more niche, modern interpretations of his art, working alongside remarkable brands such as Aedes de Venustas, A Lab On Fire and By Kilian to name but three of his extensive client list. Whatever your taste, wherever you began your quest for the perfect perfume – his scents have doubtless been in your collection and on your skin at one time or another.

Maintaining that he is ‘mainly self-taught’ as a perfumer, Morillas been working for Firmenich since 1970 and creating many of those all-time greats, while also finding time to work on side projects for Zara home, and now concentrating on devloping his Mizensir range of home candles into a luxurious collection of personal fragrances. Imagine our excitement at getting to sniff them at their press launch in the UK last week – with something for everyone (another oft-used phrase that’s equally true in this case) from soft musks, exqusite roses, uplifiting neroli and right through to ‘The Perfect Oud’ (yes, he went there)…

0000011775874_img_6319We’ll reveal our full interview with Alberto waxing lyrical about his love for candles and the new Mizensir fragrances very soon; but in the meantime, sit back with a cuppa and revel in our exclusive ‘nose’ interview in The Noses – a regular feature here on The Perfume Society website, in which we quiz some of our favourite perfumers on their passions, working methods and how you, too, could improve your appreciation of fragrance… Happy exploring!
Written by Suzy Nightingale

Fascinated by perfumers? Meet the talented Cécile Matton…

Continuing our conversations with the world’s leading fragrance creatives, we’d like to introduce you to Cécile Matton, a perfumer who grew up in Africa where she comments ‘the smells were very strong, because of the heat…’ Cécile originally began mixing fragrances herself as a teenager, using essences sold in the Pier Import shops in her native France, before training as a perfumer.

Her creations include YSL Baby DollValentino Gold (with Antoine Lie), Viktor & Rolf Bonbon (with Serge Majoullier) and most recently, the most ‘animalic’, sexy offering – Élegance Animale – in the Lalique Noir Premier Collection. Here are her scented musings…

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
The mosquito repellent which was sprayed on houses during my childhood in Zaïre, in Africa.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume? 
About the age of 14. So I decided to train as a pharmacist, because at the time a lot of perfume companies belonged to pharmaceutical groups.

What are your favourite smells in the world?

  • Nutmeg.
  • Puppies.
  • A synthetic called Orcanox™, when combined with vanilla.
  • Drying laundry.

If you had one fragrance note that you love above all others, what would that be?
The green Chypre accord.

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled.  (Honestly!) 
A mix of rotten garbage and metal I smelled next to some fast food restaurants in some big cities…

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
Chanel Chance.

Do you have a sense that this is the most exciting time to be a perfumer, since the dawn of fragrance? 
It is a tricky question. We have exciting new ingredients to work with, yet strong limitations at the same time, because of regulations and the need to please as many people as possible. Creativity may be stimulated when you are limited because you have to find a new path… But I would fancy more freedom!

If you could have created a fragrance for a historical figure, who would it be?
Marilyn Monroe. When it comes to beauty, she made history.

What’s the first fragrance you bought.  And the first bought for you…?
The first I bought was Van Cleef & Arpels First. I was given Jean Desprèz Bal à Versailles before that.

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
I really adore the bottle designed for Bonbon by Viktor & Rolf.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
Generally from 10 to 20.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
Yes it does… If it gets ‘saturated’ and I need it to work, I pause for a moment and smell wool.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
It all depends on the wishes of the person who I design it for. I sometimes find that the first trial is the best one!

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?
No, it doesn’t work for me like that.

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
You should smell fragrances outside in the fresh air, not in perfume shops. Preferably on skin. Always wear it before buying!

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
Train again and again. Improving your sense of smell has a lot to do with memory; you have to smell a lot (and often).

Discover more ‘Noses’

Nose-to-nose with Thomas Fontaine – the perfumer who’s revived Jean Patou for a new era

This charming, Paris-based perfumer has in recent years been responsible for the revival of the house of Jean Patou – a legend, in fragrance terms. (He also works on fragrance development for Worth and Jean-Louis Scherrer.) Thomas studied perfumery at the ISIPCA Fragrance Academy in Versailles, and went on to work for leading aroma companies including Mane and Chariot.

He definitely seems to specialise in ‘reviving’ heritage brands, having worked for Lubin (with Black Jade, Gin Fizz, Figaro, among others), Grès (Cabotine Floralisme and Miss Cabaret) – and lately, created three absolute stunners for the stunning ‘phoenix’ brand Le Galion, including Snob, Tubereuse and Eau Noble. (Do sniff them out at Liberty, if you get the chance.)

We caught up with Thomas for breakfast in Paris at The Lancaster Hotel…

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
My mother’s perfume.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer?
At th age of about 11 when  I smelt Chanel Pour Monsieur on a friend of my parents.

What are your five favourite smells in the world?  
Of course I love smell: it’s so varied and rich, and so difficult to pick just five. But if I must…

  • Orris
  • Rose
  • Patchouli.
  • Sandalwood
  • Galbanum

Do you have ‘signature’ ingredients that you like to include in fragrances?
I certainly use some ingredients more often, either through knowing them or like them more. (See above.) Generally it is more instinctive than conscious…

What’s the worst thing you ever smelled.  (Honestly!)
Rotten potatoes or animals; in some ways it’s the smell of death.

What are the fragrances you wish you’d created?
Hermès Bel Ami, Jean Patou Joy, Davidoff Zino Davidoff Cologne.

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

What’s the first fragrance you bought.  And the first bought for you…?
I bought myself Chanel Pour Monsieur – which I was so inspired by, at that first encounter.

Can you ‘switch off’ your nose?  How do you do that?
Yes, to a certain extent on vacation – but it is always on the alert, especially when something new or nice is around.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
It really depends of the project and the inspiration – from a few weeks to several years.
Is creating a fragrance ‘visual’ for you, as well as something that happens in the nose/brain? If so, are you able to explain in what way…?
In a certain way when I associate odours with colors or shapes

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
Mental concentration is very important to understand a fragrance. You really have to focus on what you’re smelling.

How does it feel to be asked to work on an iconic fragrance like Joy? Is it scary? Exciting?
Scary definitely because it is a huge responsibility because you can’t make any mistakes – and of course exciting as you are touching a part of fragrance history.

How have you immersed yourself in the history of Jean Patou – and how do you move on from that, as a perfumer, to make your creations relevant to the 21st Century?
I feel like I’ve had a relationship with the perfume house for a long time: when I was studying perfumery at the ISIPCA school because my class was under the patronage of Jean Patou. Secondly, Art Déco is a favourite period for me in history because of its minimalist approach – and my creations fit in with this aesthetic…

Rising star perfumer Violaine Collas is our ‘nose of the week’ interview

Another week, another ‘nose’… There may be fewer perfumers in the world than astronauts, but through our contacts in the fragrance world The Perfume Society is delighted to be able to share insights into their fascinating, aroma-filled lives.

Violaine Collas is a Parisian-based perfumer who trained at the city’s ISIPCA school, and trained alongside legendary perfumers including Dominique Ropion and Maurice Roucel. She’s now making waves in the industry through exciting creations like L’Occitane Cerisier aux Papillons, État Libre d’Orange Voyages en Orient (the Jasmin Poudré and Epices Sultanes creations), Amouage Honour Woman, Atkinson’s 24 Old Bond Street – and also created the Lalique Lalique Noir Premier Collection.

What is your first ‘scent memory’?
My mother’s perfume on her scarf.

When did you decide you wanted to be a perfumer/create your own perfume?
Quite early, around 12 years old.

What are your favourite smells in the world?
The smell of my daughter
• Melting chocolate

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

What is the fragrance you wish you’d created?
Bulgari Black.

What excites you about being a perfumer, in 2015? 
What is exciting today is working from a worldwide perspective. To think you create a fragrance which may be worn by someone who is on the other side of the planet is incredibly exciting.

If you could have created a fragrance  a historical figure, who would it be?
A scent for members of the Borgia family…

What’s the first fragrance you bought.  And the first bought for you…?
The first I bought was Cacharel Anaïs Anaïs, and the first I was given was Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps.

Do you have a favourite bottle design, from those that have been used for your fragrance creations?
I love the new designs of the Atkinsons collection, especially ’24 Old Bond Street Triple Extract’.

How many perfumes might you be working on, at one time?
It varies, but sometimes up to 20.

Does your nose ever ‘switch off’?
No! It wakes me up sometimes if I smell something strong or unusual.

How long, roughly, does it take you to create a fragrance?
It really depends on the project and the customer. It can take the time of a single trial, or take three years!

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?
Yes definitely. I often have a color in mind when I create, as well as a painting or a visual memory; So yes a mood board can be inspiring and helpful.

What can each of us do to enhance our appreciation of fragrance?
Smell them blindly (i.e. with eyes closed), in order to avoid any influence other than the scent itself.

What is your best tip for improving a person’s sense of smell?
The more you practice, the better it gets. But you have to actively focus and concentrate…