By Jean Carles (Dec. 1961)
The Apprentice perfumer at the beginning of it’s career is like a ship without a rudder. If he is left to his own devices or badly led, his discoveries will lack organization and will lead him inevitably to wasteful and ineffectual use of his creative energy.
In my early days on this rugged pathway, I found myself in the presence of tutors who seems to have disregarded the necessity for basic rules and whose enthusiasm in our fate was of the mildest. Watching how they proceeded with their work was not particularly enticing, they appeared to believe in happy-go-lucky way of life, desultorily dipped smelling strips into the available samples of odorous materials, and thus their formulation progressed, small addition by small addition, and not according to some pre-established plan. Thus, in the past, most of the great perfume creations, or rather, of the commercially successful perfumes, were produced almost by chance, sometimes to the unfeigned surprise of their authors! Although such happy occurrences are always possible, a firm belief in them should not be the guiding rule.
Since the trial and error method held no appeal for me, I attempted from the very outset of my career – 50 years ago – actually to understand the whys and wherefores of the fascinating world I entered for better or worse. This is why I feel I may now offer to share whatever experience I’ve acquired since with my younger colleagues, many of whom still work undirected and create in haphazard fashion, in the expectation of a potential miracle.
In perfumery, however, miracles are few and far between. From the very outset, a perfumer should be able to tell whether a creation stands a chance of becoming a sales success. The technique I eventually worked out has made perfume creation surprisingly easy. Thanks to it, I am never a loss for creating new perfumes.
Although some sort of apology should be in order for the seemingly inordinate conceit of what I have just set forth, all my laboratory colleagues and all those who have come to us for tuition can vouch that I’ve stated nothing but the truth. Also, I firmly believe that the simplicity and the ready applicability of my method will become fully apparent once I disclose my views on organized creative perfumery.
Perfumery at present is at a crossroads. The number of trained perfumers tends to decrease, since the long apprenticeship required appears an insuperable obstacle to most young people, who cannot afford to wait long enough before earning a living. Such a situation should be remedied at all costs. While it is not to be expected that originality can be taught or that the potential sales appeal of a novel composition will be apparent to the young perfumer before he has gained the experience which only time will bring, it is nevertheless of prime importance that the apprentice perfumer be given help and guidance for coordinating his first attempts in the field of perfume formulation.
There is no mystery in the way I work. Over the past 35 years, more than 100 students, both French and foreign, have taken courses in perfumery in the company’s laboratory at Grasse and have been taught according to the simple method which I had originally devised for myself.
I am here trying to record the result of 50 years of sometimes disappointing, but often most rewarding experiences, in the hope that my young colleagues will find therein new possibilities for future creations and will see their enthusiasm increase tenfold when their efforts are crowned with success: since without enthusiasm there can be no perfumer.
PERFUMERY AN ART
Actually, what is perfumery and how should be understood?
Perfumery is an art, not a science, as many seem to believe. A scientific background is not necessary for the perfumer; scientific knowledge may even sometimes prove an obstacle to the freedom required in perfume creation. The creative perfumer should use odorous materials in the same way that a painter uses colors and give them opportunity for maximum development and effect, although it is understood that potential reactions such as discoloration within the ultimate formulation and also the stability of the perfume should be given due consideration. This is about the only use the perfumer will be able to make of his scientific training, if any.
The perfumer’s only tool is his nose. I was first called “Mr. Nose” in the USA about 20 years ago. But any one of us is a potential Mr. Nose since, in perfumery, there just is no privileged “nose”.
Anyone may acquire a highly developed sense of smell, as this is merely a matter of practice. A good nose, that is, an excellent olfactory memory, is not sufficient for producing a good perfumer. By the term “a nose” is meant a perfumer who is able to distinguish a pure product from unadulterated product, who can tell lavender 50% from lavender 40%. I myself, in spite of my long experience, am but a beginner in comparison to the old “noses” I met at Grasse at the beginning of my career, and who were able to detect olfactorily the geographical area where a given oil of neroli or of lavender came from.
Olfactory training is of prime importance and should never be neglected or interrupted. Our own perfumers make it a strict rule to test daily their knowledge of perfume materials and this is why a half-hour is set apart for this exercise, which we all perform in a truly competitive spirit.
Let it be emphasized again that no “nose” can be said to be better than another, and that it is merely a question of olfactory memory for which daily training is not only necessary , but indispensable.
Thus, the training of a beginner who knows nothing about perfumery should begin with the olfactory study of all odorous materials, both natural and synthetic. In order to facilitate such a study, the beginner will first be given to smell contrasting odors, and later materials belonging to a certain odor “family”.
Learning to smell his smelling strips, to identify and to distinguish from one another all odorous materials, the beginner will soon notice that the odor of the products changes with time, that the rate of evaporation is not the same for all products.
TOP, MIDDLE AND BASE NOTES
Therefore, the next step will be for him to establish a classification of odorous materials according to their volatility.