…..And Does It Really Matter Anyway
I think by now, most of the general public know that Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian don’t actually don a lab coat and create their own fragrances but what about the indie and niche brands with a “perfumer” at the helm.
There is an annoying current trend in niche perfumery to market yourself as a perfumer when really you are not and after a lively debate on Twitter I decided to dedicate a post to the subject.
The celebrity perfumer thing started out well, with lines such as Frederic Malle crediting the perfumer on the bottle of each fragrance. (I have seen journalists refer to Malle as a perfumer – I think they missed the point somewhere!) This was to recognise and celebrate some of the great noses behind many popular fragrances and give them the credit they deserve.
In perfumista or fumehead circles perfumers are the celebrities and so I suppose it follows that those with a bit of an ego, a desire for fame and a passion for perfume may want the glory without putting in the hard work when they realise it’s really not that easy. Not only is this dishonest and confusing to the consumer but it also creates an impression that its fairly easy to jump from being a retailer or stylist to being a perfumer overnight with absolutely no knowledge or training. Why bother studying for years when you can just pay someone else to create your fragrance and then tell everyone it was you.
First I think we need to establish what is meant by the term perfumer. The dictionary definition is “producer or seller of perfumes” so you can see why there is a slightly grey area. I think the wikipedia definition is much more helpful!
To me a perfumer is someone who after extensive study and practice is able to consistently create fragrances from a combination of materials that is then incorporated into a finished product.
Some may say you need a track record of successful fragrances to call yourself a perfumer but I disagree. Just because something fails to sell it doesn’t mean it’s a bad fragrance and just because it does, doesn’t make a great one. Some may say you must have done an apprenticeship with a major fragrance company or studied at ISIPCA to be qualified but again I disagree, it’s all about study and practice. Some kind of formal training is useful but doesn’t guarantee success and just because you trained with a great perfumer or at a renowned school the talent doesn’t necessarily transfer to the student!
So what really happens in the fragrance industry
First there comes the client who may or may not have a clue what they want or what is even possible. Often the client will have a marketing consultant or product designer on hand to help create the brief. Most perfumers work to a brief so they do not necessarily come up with the ideas themselves but are able to translate thoughts, feelings and images into an olfactory impression. All large fragrance houses employ evaluators to assist with this translation and to ensure things stay on track.
An evaluator understands the process of creation and materials involved but also has a marketers eye and an editor’s role – cutting out things that do not fit the brief before they are passed to the client.
It is important to note here that some people who are calling themselves perfumers today are in fact either the client, the marketing consultant or the product designer – not the perfumer.
On a final note I think there is nothing wrong with a person with a great idea collaborating with a perfumer, in fact it usually works better than a perfumer creating in isolation – the Serge Lutens/Christopher Sheldrake partnership is a great example. Lets have a bit more honesty and transparency in perfumery please!
Since writing this article in 2012 there have been very exciting new developments especially in the area of Artisan perfumery with self taught perfumers such as Liz Moores from Papillion having more mainstream recognition (3 of her fragrances were FIFI finalists) and along with another truly artisan perfumer Bruno Fazzolari commended by Luca Turin himself. The problem that we now have is that due to the vast amounts of smoke and mirrors in the industry if a fragrance is that good, many people are suspicious that “someone else must be making it for them” quite upsetting if you have poured blood, sweat and tears not to mention vast amounts of money on materials into your fragrances.
What do you think? Please feel free to comment below