Creative perfumers are called ‘noses‘ in the industry jargon. What differentiates one nose from another one, is their extended knowledge of the perfume raw materials (natural or synthetic), their unlimited access to as many as these ingredients as possible (thus the financial backup) and their creative ability to put them together to compose a perfume. A nose rarely uses more than 200 to 400 out of the thousands of ingredients available. Many perfumers such as Francis Kurkdjian work as independent perfumers AND as a nose on behalf of a major fragrance house. Most however work in the background of a fragrance house or for themselves as smaller independent perfumers and although not so famous, have as good a nose that can be hired.
So if you are a client (private or corporate) looking to develop a perfume, what would be the factors to hire one nose rather than another one?
Apart from the geographical location which might determine your choice, your first task is to decide which type of perfume you would like and prepare your brief to help you find the right nose for your scented goal. If you are looking at an all natural perfume, turning to one of the major house could be costly and disappointing. I met many highly trained chemist perfumers who find it hard to make a perfume with 100% natural ingredients. It is unfortunate that because they don’t know otherwise, clients most often turn to major fragrance houses for their briefs. This is OK if you do not have any restriction with your budget (major fragrance houses and manufacturers can costs 100 of thousands $!) but if budget limit is a problem, turning to a non-famous/celebrity perfumer can often produce wonders! A less known nose will work for you and only for you whereas the fame perfumer tends to work on several briefs at a time. In both scenarios, if you want an exceptional perfume, you will need to give time to the artist to perfect their work. It can take up to 2 years for your perfume to be ready to hit the store shelves.
As mentioned before, a perfumer tends to work with a certain number of ingredients and one thing you will often notice, is that a particular perfumer uses or always comes back to a set of similar core ingredients that s/he prefers. This is how a perfumer develops what is called their ‘signature‘. Whereas one might be more inclined to create light floral types of perfumes, another one will be more versed in strong Oriental or spicy perfumes. This does not mean to say that s/he is not able to create something different but identifying the signature of a perfumer does help your selection process.
I have been making bespoke perfumes for private clients for many years. Many of them came to me because they had tested my own collection and liked it. My signature is classic and vintage with perfumes such as Chypre and Fougère but there is always an exotic, tropical or Oriental trait to them; some are fresh and spicy scents that make you travel the world from the comfort of your home. My floral scents have more frangipani, jasmine, Asian lily and ylang ylang than rose or mimosa. The exotic twist is definitely present even when I create something as classic as a Cologne. So if you hire me as a nose, and you want an English garden, you will more likely be offered an afternoon tea in the Bahamas!
I worked and lived in Pacific and Indian Ocean islands as well as African countries and my nose has been trained in these exotic and tropical odours. A perfumer who has spent most of his/her life in the mountains or in a city might have a totally different scent memory and knowledge of smells. Since the first thing a nose does is to ‘visualise‘ the scent before even starting the composition, the olfactory memory of both you the client and the creator will play an important role in the end result.
The personal story of the perfumer is thus another factor that you want to consider.
When one reads accounts from the most famous perfumers such as Guerlain, Ellena or defunct Master Perfumers such as Roudnistka or Carles, there is one common thread to all of them: – at some point in their lives, they took upon themselves to travel round the world (sometimes for several years) to discover the raw materials live and in search for new ingredients but mainly to train their noses to odours that were unknown to them. The valuable learnings from these faraway trips made them create some of the most timeless perfumes still available today!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of businesses or institutions affiliated with the author.