Perfume – Art or Consumer Product?

Talking to many perfumers they would say it is an art but I’m not sure that the companies they are creating for would agree.  Look at any large distribution fragrance brand and you will notice that the art goes into the advertising campaign and the packaging – the juice is almost an afterthought.

The huge disappointment amongst the perfume blogger community upon the much anticipated launch of Fame by Lady Gaga illustrates the fact perfectly. It could have been so good, the packaging, the hype, the photography, the video teaser campaign was spot on. We waited with baited breath – would she break the mould of celebrity dross? After all she has millions of little monsters guaranteed to part with their cash no matter how weird or niche the fragrance smelled. But then again her art form is not perfumery so I don’t imagine she had that much say in the final formula or perhaps I’m giving her too much credit. Perhaps she does want to smell like a Body Shop shower gel leaked into a bag of Haribo, which is incidentally what the fragrance smells like.  If the sales of 6 million bottles in a week are anything to go by so do all her little monsters!

The fragrances of today are a million miles away from the classics of the 20th Century created by the likes of Guerlain & Roudnitska but that is not always a bad thing  – just different. Due to increasing regulations and decreasing budgets the commercial perfumer’s palette is becoming more and more restricted. Most fragrances houses keep a very tight palette of materials and therefore any perfumer training with a large house or one of the “official” perfumery schools will not have worked with many materials that the artisan self taught perfumer’s would have. Many commercial perfumer’s are also quite blinkered when it comes to working with naturals with one well known French perfumer saying to me that:

“it is impossible to create a fragrance with just natural ingredients – it will smell disgusting”

I beg to differ as I’m sure will many artisan perfumers who just use naturals but of course it is just a matter of taste.

My own personal philosophy is that if perfume is to be an art form then the palette should be as unrestricted as possible. Of course this means we will have to find more creative ways to experience it than merely placing it on skin where we are at the risk of being regulated out of existence.

During my visit to Grasse last week I spoke to an elderly local perfumer who said that he felt that the industry is changing which he believes is a good thing. If you have not gone through the traditional channels of training at a large fragrance house or being a graduate of ISIPCA is is unlikely that you will be taken seriously by the industry. This does not mean that you cannot be a perfumer – nowadays anything is possible. The recent article in the FT Weekend’s “How to Spend It” highlights this perfectly and I feel that it is only a matter of time before independent and self taught perfumers become the new olfactory artists.

However, please do not confuse “Niche” with “Artisan” as many fragrance brands are consumer products in disguise – this article by Liz Zorn sums it up perfectly and is essential reading for the budding independent perfumer.


Want to make your own perfume?

In the Create Your Own Perfume Starter Guide, you’re shown exactly where to buy the best perfumery materials & equipment PLUS the essential steps to get started with making your own scent.