Perfume Makers

In this 27 minute BBC Radio 4 The Forum audio programme, the listener is led through the process of capturing and bottling a scent. Two perfume makers from France and Malaysia talk to Kim Chakanetsa about how they have trained their noses to smell over 1,000 different raw ingredients. They explain why a scent made for the European market wouldn’t sell so well in Japan, and which smells they simply cannot stand.

I really liked the way in which the podcast began, ‘Is there anything that can evoke a memory quite like a smell?’ Perfume has the ability to transport you back to a particular place, person and time.’

Shyamala Maisondieu is a fine fragrance perfumer originally from Malaysia, who now works for Givaudan in Paris, one of the world’s largest perfume manufacturers. Shyamala says her childhood in south-east Asia influenced the scents she is drawn to, from frangipani blossoms to jasmine and ginger. I agree with this as I am always drawn to fresh scents, possibly because of all of the weekend walks I have had with my family in the past, round out local country park and lake. Shyamala has dreamed up fragrances for brands such as Tom Ford and Comme des Garçons.

‘Perfumes have to be emotion provoking.’

This was the quote from Shyamala that stood out to me the most throughout the interview. It shows how difficult the process of creating scents is. Everyone has different personal experiences and no two people are going to have the same history therefore creating something that will interest such a wide audience is a real challenge.

Caroline Gaillardot is a perfumer who specialises in creating scents for beauty care products, including shampoos, shower gels and deodorants. She was born in Grasse, France, which has long been the centre of the perfume world. She explains that she had always wanted to become a perfumer simply because she loves to smell. She now works for Mane in southern France, which is one of the global leaders in the industry.

‘I have to understand what the customer wants before starting’

This statement from Caroline stuck in my mind. There is always something interesting about different scents, and although it is innovative to experiment, listening to the consumers’ direct requests could, in my opinion, be the make or break of a business. Once Caroline has thought of the consumer and the bottle design, she then thinks of the smell that she would like to have.

I also learnt that when making a deodorant, tests have to be done to make sure that the scent is still the same after three months. When coming up with the scent, it is also vital to consider the ingredients that are going into each product as this will dramatically impact the overall price point.

Caroline writes a formula after which she will smell it. This informs her whether she has got it right or whether no, she really doesn’t have it! She does this around 15 times a day. The day after, it is smelt again and this is when the team come to conclusions such as does it need to be fresher or more long-lasting etc. This could involve coming up with 20 difficult formulas until the scent is as desired and therefore is a very long extended process. From getting the brief to having the finished bottle could be anywhere from two days to six months.

I didn’t realise that as part of their training, perfumers have to learn about all different types of raw materials and the smell of these. Memorising these must be so difficult, especially at the beginning; I know I definitely would not be able to do it! After they have this knowledge, they almost use it as their alphabet. Caroline states that the way she did this was to stick an odour with a memory that is very personal to her. She states that, ‘Because there is so many, if it is not personal, you could not remember all of them.’ They also explained that this process could take more than 18 months because it is not just about smelling it once and knowing it, but having to smell it over and over. This is because some smells provoke something immediately and others take longer.

Although fragrance is very expensive, the two women stated that some people gain pleasure from their laundry fragrances, their shampoos, their body washes. These become people’s fragrances. I know even at school, people always used to tell me I smell like my home which is why I think people now thrive off their home fragrance products more and more.


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