“Talent means nothing, while experience, acquired in humility and with hard work, means everything.” (iii) This quote, taken from Patrick Süskind’s classic novel, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer aptly describes what it is to be a great perfumer; they are skilful artists, the hard work is in memorising over 1200 ingredients and the ability to distinguish the 500 components that form the scent of a rose. (ii) Jean Guichard the nose behind 1987’s best selling perfume Lou Lou by Cacharel, describes the expertise behind the art of perfumery, “You create perfume mentally, not with your nose… even old perfumers who cannot smell anymore can still create very well. People who play music can understand this, as with Beethoven. You can smell mentally, like you can see mentally. If I say yellow, you can see yellow… If you say eugenol, I will get the smell of cloves.” (ii)
An intrinsic part of the fashion industry, perfume is fashion and art as one. Fragrance sales continue to flourish in an economic downturn and determinedly remain as one of the few luxury items in continual demand. However, as smelling good is good business, the market is inundated with celebrity branding, flogging the perception that luxury and class is purchasable in a 50ml bottle. Ironically, only 3% of the cost of making a perfume is the liquid scent itself, the other 97% is marketing, advertising and packaging (i). This scent, produced in large qualities is now more likely to be made of synthetic chemical components that evaporate after a few hours and have a ‘cheap’ smell; the fragrance fast-fashion equivalent of buying a dress for just a season and throwing it out (i).
However, this practice has dwindled recently, as less of these hastily made scents are released in what the perfume industry realised to be an over-saturated market (ii). Science is also used for good and serves sustainable practice in the light of dwindling resources (which seems to make more scents. Sorry). Using a biotechnical innovation known as headspacing, scientists travel all over the world visiting jungles and swamps, on what the famous perfume house, Givaudan has called ScentTreks. To avoid plucking a rare orchid to transport it to a lab to extract it’s essential oil, the headspacing device captures the truest impression of it’s smell. The orchid is left completely intact and free to grow in it’s natural environment (ii).
(i) Pearson, A 2008 Perfumes on trial: the truth about our scent industry Daily Mail Australia, viewed 23 September 2014
(ii) Hume, M 2009, Fashion’s New Attitude: Making Scents of It. TIME magazine, viewed 23 September 2014
(iii) Süskind, P 1986, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. United States: Random House