Perfumers from around the world weigh in on what inspires them in and out of the lab.
Before a scent is blended, it must first be imagined. Yet creativity cannot be summoned at will. While there are no formulas for creativity–the process is as unique to each perfumer as their finished creation–we can stoke the flames of our
creative fires by drawing inspiration from others. Recently, sandalwood company Quintis, located in Australia, announced the “Sandalwood Reimagined” competition, tasking perfumers from around the globe to reimagine sandalwood in a new fragrance, an open brief inviting creativity without constraints.
The winners of the competition are scheduled to be announced on July 1, 2022, at the World Perfumery Congress in Miami. This piece was constructed and contributed on behalf of the Quintis team.
Here, perfumers reflect on finding inspiration and the intangible journey of creation.
Travel is an eternal source of inspiration for artists, from literary heroes to fashion designers and, yes, perfumers. Adeline Monediere from LVMH Perfumes in France loves to visit new places, soaking up her surroundings not with her eyes, but her nose. “When I travel, scent is the main sense for me, it’s the first thing I notice,” she says. She recalls visiting an island off the west coast of France with “a lot of fig trees and the smell of the ocean and smoke from chimneys. It brings so much emotion, so I want to recreate this fragrance. I have a small book when I travel and note all my olfactory ideas.”
Other ideas start with a story in the mind. Like Proctor & Gamble perfumer Claire Yerant from Cincinnati, who imagined navigating botanicals in the bushland as a honey possum to inspire her creation for the Quintis competition. She says, “I’m super into animals, so for this competition with Quintis, I was reading about native animals.
I thought it would be really cool to imagine what a honey possum would see and eat.”
Talking to Customers
While briefs may provide customer demographics, Celia Orozco Cirimbilli from GRC Parfum in Milan likes to delve deeper–communicating directly with customers to discover their motivations and desires.
She says, “I want to know what they want to feel when they smell the perfume, what the driving force behind it is.” She adds, “[I] write down my thoughts in the order they come. It can be a feeling (happy, sad, energized), a color, a texture, or anything and everything in between.”
Aiden Spencer, a third-generation perfumer for Flairoma, based in New Zealand talks to growing up immersed in the world of perfumery: “I hope the fragrance industry continues to have that human touch and input.”
Travel is an eternal source of inspiration for artists, from literary heroes to fashion designers and, yes, perfumers.
Drinking in Raw Materials
London perfumer and philosopher Harry Sherwood of Artifiscent takes quite a different approach. “A lot of perfumers will say the thing that inspires them is the emotion,” he says. “But for me, a lot of motivation comes from the molecules themselves and the sheer variety of raw materials and the personalities they have. There are 17 billion odorous molecules, and so far, every single one we’ve tested has a different smell. I’m a bit of a nerd in that sense.”
Adeline adds, “My creative process is really all about raw materials. When I have an idea and I want to create something, the raw materials are the beginning of my creation process. I love to explore all facets of a raw material. The possibilities are endless.”
Experiencing Other Artforms
Years ago, as an apprentice at Givaudan in Paris, junior perfumer Una Chen Han-Ho–now based in Singapore–recalls visiting art exhibitions, museums, and dance performances, with artists from other fields often coming to talk about their own experi- ences. “They don’t want perfumery training to stay in the lab,” she says. “We are exposed to so many different art forms to influence our creativity.”
Embracing the Chaos
“Chaos is a big part of the way I work,” claims Sherwood. He often will choose three strips of materials at random, put them together, and see what comes out. It may be risky, but he says fortune favours the bold. “If you decide from the beginning what formula is going to be, you’ll often do a less adventurous idea,” he says. “But if you can walk into the canyon of risk, you can add things that will either make it amazing or destroy it–it’s that weird dichot- omy that I quite like. There are so many examples
in the history of perfumery where risks taken can be very profitable.”
Putting it Down on Paper
While major perfume houses move toward computers, taking pen to paper is still the preferred choice of many perfumers. Sherwood, for example, jots his formula down as he goes, in case his next addition proves “horribly wrong.” He says, “It’s like ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,’ where they bank money at certain levels,” he says with a laugh. “It’s like pressing control S.”
At Givaudan, Chen Han-Ho recalls an older mentor, who–unlike her other colleagues–would write his formulas down on paper, his office heaving with notebooks and files. She says, “I got curious and asked him, ‘Why do you always write it down? It’s a waste of time.’” His answer shifted her approach to perfumery: “He told me you need to take time in perfumery–that we’re speeding too fast, writing formulas in five minutes. When you write on paper, you can really think about what each raw material is bringing you. It’s a way of seeing perfumery, a way of life.” Now, even when deadlines loom, she says, “I think about what he says and take a breath.”