Exploring scent as
a creative way of life

Perfumery: Approaching the field

Perfumery is today a global business of 30bn USD situated in the luxury consumer culture. Hence, the release of a new fragrance into the market requires large marketing budgets. Professionally trained perfumers analyze, describe and formulate scents in industrial laboratories along a rationalized process. New releases often imitate scents with a proven record of market success: Yet, as perfume blogger, Denyse Beaulieu has remarked on many mainstream perfumes: «They smell of fear. The fear of being a flop».

This commercialization and industrialization of perfumery sharply contrasts with the traditions of craft and artistry. It was not until the 1970s that the manual, often intuitive work of perfumers – «noses» as they are called in the field – was replaced by quantitative calculus based on systematic consumer research. Since ancient times, proprietary formulae have been considered to be the most valuable assets in perfumery. Being «jealously guarded secrets of perfumers who had spent a lifetime acquiring them» (Calkin & Jellinek 1994) these recipes account for a deeply ingrained culture of confidentiality in perfumery. However, advancements in analytical chemistry (e.g. gas chromatography, mass spectrometry) undermined the traditional mindset of secrecy.

Today even complex formulae can legally be acquired by anyone with access to a well equipped laboratory. In the 1980s, different forms of formula piracy - imitations, twists or copycats - became big business. Hence, perfumers execute precise and data driven briefs including the final production price that amounts only to a tiny fraction of what it was a few decades ago. What matters is the packaging, the marketing and the branding – not the perfume, the former essence of the product. The perfumers disappear mostly anonymously behind the scene.

Recently, this megatrend has been shaken. Perfumers went back to their craftsman traditions. In retrospect, it is the foundation of the label «L'artisan Parfumeur» by Jean-François Laporte and the launch of the scent «Mûre et Musc» in 1978 that marked the beginning of what has grown today into the flourishing field of niche, artisan or artistic perfumery – a change agent increasingly transforming perfumery at large.