Perfumersworld Thailand Course Review

A Review of Perfumersworld Foundation & Professional Level Workshops

If you’ve ever looked on Google for perfumery classes or suppliers of aroma chemicals in small quantities, then you’ll no doubt have come across Perfumersworld in Thailand. The chances are that you’ll have looked at the website, which is a little difficult to navigate, and thought – perfumery in Bangkok? Not sure about that. After all Thailand isn’t known for its contribution to the fragrance world. I love Thailand and feel very much at home in Bangkok, so I never need much of an excuse to visit and after many years of looking at the course and considering doing it, I took the plunge and decided to enrol in March. I stayed in Thailand for a month at the same time as the 3 week course was running. The first week is a foundation course, which is mandatory if you want to attend the two week professional workshop that follows.
perfumers world ThailandHaving been an evaluator for IFF (International Flavours and Fragrance) and been in the industry for years, as well as teaching classes myself, I was a bit sceptical that I would learn anything new. On the other hand, I love teaching workshops and love attending them even more, and I find that no matter how knowledgeable you are in a subject, there is always more to learn from others who may have had different experience. In fact with perfumery, like many other subjects, the more you learn and the deeper you study, the more you realise that there is so much that you don’t know – it really is a lifelong journey of discovery.
Stephen has been the industry since 1971 and trained in fine perfumery in the UK (Picot Laboratories – one of the last creative perfumery houses in the UK, the perfumes are now in the Jovan stable). In the 70s he worked as a perfumer and cosmetic chemist with Grossmiths, Norda, and Sarant’s in the UK, and went on to become a freelance consultant perfumer for 10 more years. He travelled to Thailand in 1989 and loved it so much, he says he didn’t want to leave!
My fellow students were a variety of both complete beginners and seasoned experts including several evaluators from a well known fragrance company, an oud trader, a flavourist, some wine and coffee experts, essential oil producers and many people who were just there for fun and who have never studied perfumery before. It was a really good mix and an example of how a good tutor can create a course that caters to all levels at once. Like any intensive course there really was a lot packed into this week and those that gained the most were those that were completely alert the whole time and committed to working hard!
Here’s a summary of what we did in Thailand:
Week 1
After an introduction to the materials used and their methods of manufacture we moved on to the ABCs of perfumery. Stephen uses a system that he himself has devised to help teach students of all nationalities and abilities to categorise and remember perfumery materials. The students Stephen teaches in Thailand often do not have English as their first language so the system was developed to enable communication without a language barrier. It’s based on grouping together materials by their odour and allocated to a letter of the alphabet, for example R is for rose type odours and contains materials such as Geraniol and Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol as well as the obvious Rose Absolute. It is a very effective system for beginners to learn with and ironically, those that struggled most with it were those with the most experience as we had to set aside previously learned categories, for example I kept losing the Cashmeran as it is categorised under X with the musks and I think of it as more woody and kept looking in W (I have since started to use the system myself for storing my materials as it makes perfect sense).
Learning by doing rather than just listening is a method I find most effective in my classes and it seems Steve certainly does too as he threw us all in at the deep end by giving us a fragrance to smell and then asking us to create a rough copy using bases in his beginners ABCs kit. Luckily I recognised the fragrance and knew where to start, some did flounder but both Steve and Ryan were on hand to help and we all discovered that there was more than one way to arrive at a rough match.

One of the major highlights of the week for many people was Steve’s method for teaching aroma chemicals. I wasn’t really expecting to go into much depth on this in the first week and I was blown away by the teaching method. Learning raw materials, particularly the thousands of aroma chemicals can take years and unless you do some practise every day it is very easy to forget and get names confused if you do not have a chemistry background. We looked at the molecular weight, solubility, structural body and the functional group of each aroma chemical. There was also a checklist which really did manage to demystify this complex subject, enabling everyone to roughly work out what a material is going to smell like before actually smelling it, just by looking at the chemical name. This was really exciting, even for an old hand like me.

Week 2
On the first day of week 2 we were put into teams, a bit like the show, The Apprentice. We had said goodbye to those who were only attending the week 1 foundation course and joined by more people who had already attended the foundation class that Steve ran in New Zealand. For the next 2 weeks as well as the regular course content we were in our teams expected to come up with a product line to include fragrance, packaging, concept etc.

The course content of this week was fantastic, we started by creating single florals from scratch starting with Rose, Jasmine and Muguet and then following on to the white, narcotic and green florals. The most challenging part of the week for me was white florals which we spent two days covering. Creating a tuberose (my least favourite flower) in the workshop room filled with the scent of everyone’s creations in the humidity of Thailand is no easy task. We also got the opportunity to visit a fragrance & flavour company that Steve works with on a factory visit. The highlight for me was the huge vats of Kaffir Lime oil being distilled and the teaching garden where they teach the local farmers how to grow and cut their crops specifically for essential oil production.

Week 3
By week 3 tempers were getting a little frayed over projects – everyone was taking it very seriously and quite competitively as the slackers and the dominant personalities were becoming apparent. We were given the task of creating a fragrance in each of the main fragrance families and we also had to match some commercial fragrances from smelling a sample and reading its Gas Chromatography print out. We were given the fragrances at random and I ended up with Fantasy by Britney Spears – all I have to say on the matter is that there is a heck of a lot of Hedione and Iso E super in it – no surprises there!

The final day was our project presentations. All of the groups did really well considering the shoestring budget and limited resources we were told to work from in order to create the packaging, concept, juice, and product line for the final presentation. In case you’re wondering, yes, my team won!

I loved the course so much and thought it so valuable that I asked Steve, who is a fantastic teacher, if he would consider coming to London to run a week’s course in September for those who can’t make it to Thailand. I’m pleased to say that he will be teaching the first Perfumer’s World Course in the UK from 10th to 14th September 2012.

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