It’s been quite a week here at Volatile Fiction land (what a fun land would that be? I have a mental image of a fragrant theme park x Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory now. And, as it happens, there may be a reason those images were so readily available to my imagination).
I’ve been working behind-the-scenes for almost a year and a half to get to say: this week sees the launch of my new column, The Juice: Inside Fragrance at Perfumer & Flavorist. The May column is a two-parter with online and a print articles – and the June issue will feature a profile of a British perfumer whose career is truly unique and fascinating. The Juice will run in Perfumer & Flavorist monthly and, as with this week’s column, there will occasionally be online articles popping up, too.
The first (set of) Juice column(s) is about fragrance evaluation. It’s a bit of a hidden career in the fragrance industry and is a fascinating blend of fragrance expertise, project management, communication and many other skills.
What does a fragrance evaluator do?
Evaluators work with perfumers, sales, marketing and laboratory teams to make sure that the right fragrances are selected and created for customers. The job involves keeping up-to-date with fragrance trends and being able to effectively communicate about smells. Sometimes evaluators also conduct consumer panels and focus groups. They usually manage the internal fragrance library and may be assigned to a specific product category or to just one customer.
Smelling with perfumers and being able to offer useful, objective feedback about the technical aspects and overall impression of the fragrance are at the heart of the job. Good evaluators form strong teams with the perfumers they work with and perfumers appreciate the objectivity and organisation that evaluators bring to fragrance creation.
In leading fragrance houses, evaluators choose the perfumers for each fragrance brief, task the perfumers and project manage the project’s course.
It is possible to work your way up from other roles in the company to a trainee or a junior evaluator, or enter into the role directly with some relevant external qualifications or experience. Initial training takes one to two years, depending on previous experience and the fragrance company in question.
Skills and qualities of a good evaluator:
• Passionate about fragrance
• Excellent interpersonal skills
• Confident communicator
• Balanced judgement
• Diligence; attention to detail
• Project management
• Ability to make sense of vast amounts of data and interpret it for others
• Highly organised (evaluators are in charge of the company fragrance library)
• Experience of the consumer fragrance market; knowledge of trends and product categories
Expertise is relative and everyone has their own areas of excellence. I seem to have a knack for hoovering up lots of information and communicating it to others. I’m also interested in fragrance and everything about it (ok, obsessed). It is inevitable I have learned a lot along the way. A great deal of the learning has been quite deliberate and hard-earned by study and practical experience. I still don’t consider myself an expert (daily access to the true experts of the industry – research chemists, senior perfumers with decades of experience and many more walking perfume encyclopaedias besides is a great constant reminder of just how little I really know).
But I know more than the ‘earlier me’ 10, 15 years ago. And that’s who I’m writing these blogs and ODOU articles and Basenotes features for. The trade writing blossomed out of that almost by accident – but the real driving force was always to somehow get more information and insight out there to people who don’t know about the careers available in fragrance but would thrive in them if only they did.
I also like to myth-bust a little bit. Not to the detriment of storytelling and marketing (I like to be taken along on an evocative ride, too, and part of the pleasure of buying an everyday product with a hint of luxury like a fabric conditioner with an exotic scent – or an actual luxury product like fine fragrance – is that you want the whole experience – the courting, the dating, the flowers; the lot).
I like to myth-bust the chemophobia and the utter nonsense out there. And to illuminate who makes these fragrances and how. I like to show how passionate these people are about the tiniest details, what lengths they go to for that perfect scent, how much thought is put into something that could end up in a hand wash. I think that’s brilliant. Never mind all the wonderful fine fragrance perfumery – all the artistry, poetry and creativity and bloody hard work that goes into it. As much as I like to get taken along for the ride and seduced by marketing as the next consumer, I do occasionally wish perfume marketing wasn’t so quick to rely on the old tropes of tits and ass. I guess it’s an important aspect of what makes perfume appealing and why people wear it but sometimes it feels like marketers and brands forget it’s not the only one.
The stories on the large corporate and tiniest artisan side to be told are in their thousands and really fascinating. I am going to be able to tell you at least a few of them over the coming months. But I also love it that there are so many great people quietly squirreling away, making your homes smell like a tropical forest and people whose whole life is devoted to making sure that the towels come out of your specific brand of washing machine smelling just right.
I don’t like to make things easy for myself, so I’ve based the majority of my fragrance articles on primary research. What this means is that I’ve interviewed people face-to-face – mostly in person (sometimes over Skype). Email interviews do happen but I don’t like them. This has resulted in a lot of travel and interviews conducted in the offices and meeting rooms of fragrance houses, posh London hotels, coffee shops, people’s homes and many more locations besides. This week I travelled to France to tour Givaudan’s Paris sites and interview several people in one, intense day. I was also happy to finally meet a long-time reader of this blog there and receive a great gift for a bookworm-perfume nerd: Givaudan’s new perfume book which weaves their story with global perfume history and some philosophical musings about perfumery and flavour.
I spent some time with the Givaudan perfumery school director and students – and will be writing about that soon – will let you know where.