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Exposing the Perfumer

Posted: April 3, 2007

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Krell Kydd: A genuine perfumer attends perfumery school and is further trained by an established perfumer who serves as a mentor. The total process takes up to 10 years. In addition, a genuine perfumer must also learn up to 3,000 raw materials, even though he or she may not utilize the whole olfactive palette in their career. Certain ingredients fall in and out of favor, so the study of raw materials never really ends.

A key fact that deserves emphasis is that a perfumer working in the industry makes fragrances to please a client. Though all perfumers put a little of themselves into whatever they create, they must objectively deliver a finished product that fulfills the needs of a fragrance brief. Modification upon modification must be made until the desired creation is actualized. This is the unromantic truth of perfumery, and thus the responsibilities of a perfumer are not to be taken lightly. A genuine perfumer is a strong person with vision and conviction, one who knows when it’s time to take the established path and when it’s time to go forward into unknown territory. 

P&Fnow: What are the roots of the fragrance industry’s secrecy?

Krell Kydd: There are legal documents called non-disclosure agreements and these bind two parties to a particular code of conduct regarding what is and isn’t public. This legally-bound confidentiality is completely understandable. The competitive “fragrance brief” system, which pits various flavor and fragrance houses against each other, encourages secrecy. Then there is a kind of dysfunction in terms of process, which I like to refer to as the “imposter syndrome.” There are certain acceptable practices in our industry regarding fragrance creation, practices no one likes to admit to. Running a GC mass spec on existing fragrances and using the olfactive findings to build fragrances that smell like top sellers is a truth most people would like to sweep under the rug.

There are right reasons and wrong reasons for dissecting fragrances. Deconstruction may yield new truths about ingredient combinations or behavior—this is valuable. Blues guitarists know a lot about this kind of deconstruction. When two greats like B.B. King and Eric Clapton get on stage and trade riffs, they play an interesting game. Each one takes turns running their fingers across the fret board, picking up pieces of the other’s work and developing it with their own signature style. With bravado, they challenge each other to take the music to a higher level. That is not what happens when you copy a fragrance, add a few new ingredients and give it a fresh name. There is nothing to be gained in terms of the art of perfumery and frankly, this process contaminates everyone in the equation with contempt for the industry. This is where the “imposter syndrome” takes its toll. Risk aversion in the business of fine fragrance creation simply stinks.