The good bits of 2016 – and my favourite perfume launches

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Yes, 2016 has been quite stressful in many ways (I’ve been in Britain for long enough to master the art of the understatement), but this post isn’t about any of the awful stuff this year. All I’ll say about 2016 in that regard is that I hope it has made many millions more politically aware and active; I hope it has encouraged people to donate to charity and volunteer; I hope it has made the people previously sitting on the fence realise that inaction and turning the blind eye are the real enablers of terrible things in this world.

It has been an ‘interesting’ year for me. Interesting, because in-between the stress, it has also been one of the best years of my entire life, and certainly one of the most memorable.

The Juice - Perfumer & Flavorist

My column in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine kicked off and has  been running every month since this May – and due to it, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet really interesting and colourful people with so many stories to tell that this alone would have made 2016 one of the most fulfilling yet. It’s been a privilege to be able to peek behind the scenes at companies like Givaudan and Firmenich; to meet Luca Turin and spend time talking to indie perfumers, evaluators and chemists; educators and marketers.

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It was also the year of our biggest perfume tour yet and our group of perfume friends spent a wonderful day out visiting London perfumeries and enjoying an afternoon tea with a champagne twist.

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In May, Nick Gilbert, a long-term fragrance friend and I got together to start a playful YouTube channel, Love to Smell. The first few episodes were a little wobbly on the production values (it took us a few tries to learn how to look at the camera and put on captions…), and our channel has been gaining a steady following of a few hundred people over the last six months. It absolutely makes my day when someone tells us they’ve watched and laughed along with us, so thank you to all of our viewers – and hope to see you in 2017!

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My favourite moments from the shoots are too many to count, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as when we were filming the Halloween episode – and being able to invite other perfume pals in as guests for our Christmas special was a special treat that we’re sure to repeat. Of course we were also asked to appear on a bonkers new game show on ITV, so we got to be on real telly as well.  We may or may not have given the world one its derpiest TV moments as a result.

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We film the videos in my dining room. Some of the latest episodes were filmed using our new lights – we’ve also invested in a new video camera for 2017. Woohoo!

Nick and I had been talking about starting a business together anyway – we thought maybe in a year or two, but as life often has a way of doing, events unfolded in such a way that we had to grab the opportunities as they presented themselves and adapt. So while we’d already been working on a few projects together as freelancers, we also found that we were being approached by some of the same clients, and eventually it just made sense to start Olfiction. We’ve had a busy diary ever since and as a result of the kinds of clients and projects we’ve been working on, I am now spending the majority of my working time as a perfumer – something that I didn’t expect to happen so soon with our own business. Nick being an evaluator on top of his skills as a trainer and marketer makes our partnership extra special for me; I am very grateful to know him and to have an ‘extension to my nose’. I trust his opinion on fragrance like nobody else’s.

We have primarily been developing home fragrances this year, many of which will launch in the first few months of 2017 – and there are more projects in the pipeline for other clients, including some fine fragrance development and more, so it looks like we’ll be very busy on the creative front in the coming year, too. I am over the moon about that. 2016 was my 11-year anniversary of moving from fragrance sales and marketing to pursuing perfumery and all I’ll say to anyone starting on a similar path – be it with learning to play an instrument, writing novels or anything that takes a lot of practice and time – it’s worth it. Believe in yourself. Never give up.

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In-between all of the above, I’ve been a big admirer of what the Perfume Society has been doing – the first real club for perfume enthusiasts – and have again had the chance to contribute to some of the issues of their magazine The Scented Letter. It’s a no-brainer subscription for people who’d normally flick through glossy mags in search of the parts about perfume or might be mourning the untimely shelving of ODOU.

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Speaking of perfumes – it’s been such a fabulously fragrant year with both behind-the-scenes access, discovering new launches, talking to people about their favourite smells and working on my own formulas that I don’t think any previous year can quite compete.

I don’t want to do a ‘Best of 2016’ for perfumes; just the ones from this year I immediately wanted to add to my own collection and start wearing. I’m still switching hats between a perfumista and a perfumer – roles which are not as immediately compatible as one would think – and on the days I get to wear perfume and enjoy it as a fan, I have found the following fragrances the most enjoyable of this year’s crop:

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Le Galion Eau Noble (with a special honorary mention to Sortilège). Eau Noble is a crisp, unisex, eau de cologne-type scent with hints of leather and chypre tones. I wore it from a sample on a trip, not thinking anything much of it upon application, other than “oh, that’s nice”, but as the day progressed, I found myself doing that wrist-sniffing thing a lot of us nosenerds do: what’s that wonderful smell?  This might now be my holy grail hot weather scent. As for Sortilège, I have not smelled the original, so this is not an opinion on whether the modern re-telling of the tale is as good or not. Just that I adored the hints in it towards the old fashioned face cream smell of Dior’s Icone; Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose; the Nivea fragrance – and Sortilège is like a silent movie starlet with old world sex appeal, brought to present day and dressed in modern clothing.

The main image (above) contains my real superstar fragrance of the year. No, it probably won’t be on anyone else’s list; no, it isn’t revolutionary in any way, but did it feel like someone had sat down and designed a fragrance just for me? Yes. Did I almost skip around the room in joy when I discovered it? Yes. The fragrance I am talking about is Jardin d’Ombre by Ormonde Jayne.

Its combination of iris, which is usually austere, and of solar notes and sandalwood, which are usually soft skin scents, manages something rarely achieved in perfume: a sensual iris.

It positively glows, yet the iris grounds it. It is sensual without being banal. It is a serious fragrance without being standoffish and cool. I am a particular fan of iris notes, and of sandalwood, so these facts must be taken into account in my praise, but do try for yourselves if you can.

The other happy discoveries of this year include two from Atelier Cologne: Mimosa Indigo (dried mimosa twigs inside an expensive leather handbag) and Camélia intrépide (metallic tea; tart, fruity rose and leather), and Cierge de Lune from Aedes de Venustas (antique leather-bound books, fresh vanilla pipe tobacco leaves, one handsome owner of an opulent library).

You may have spotted that every one of my favourites either hints at or prominently features suede or leather notes. My name is Pia and I’m a leather addict.

What were your favourite perfume launches or discoveries from this year?

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2017 and for anyone dealing with stress and difficulties, the strength to carry on and breaks of pure joy in-between. Even though my work is very important to me, let’s face it – perfume is no big deal in today’s world – it’s a frivolous luxury, and what I do for a living is of no huge importance in the bigger picture. I’m not saving lives here. But I hope in some small way I’ll at least be able to provide a welcome distraction in the form of enjoyable scents and funny videos. See you on the other side!

Fragrant Roots and Neroli Macaroons

essential oil macaroonsThe British Society of Perfumers Annual One Day Symposium was held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester again this May and had an accidental theme of fragrant roots – with two of the presentations focusing on a different kind of scented root accord unbeknownst to one another. One of the suppliers, Albert Vieille, also went beyond scent and served us delicious macaroons flavoured with essential oils of neroli, rose and mandarin which were perfectly accompanied by the Arabica Coffee Salvador alcoholic extract we smelled alongside them.

There is a perceived danger to hosting any kind of raw material-focused conference on a World Perfumery Congress year because suppliers will inevitably want to save their new launches for that (who wouldn’t?), but this did not cause any difficulties for the BSP ODS as every session managed to find ways to showcase existing materials, new production methods, or to introduce new variants to the UK market. One of the best things about going to these is the group smelling – sitting at a table (or walking around interactive demo sessions) with seasoned perfumers and sharing observations is like gold dust; you learn so much and find all kinds of inspiration and insight.

Wolfgang from BASF showed us a very well-known material, DL-menthol, which he nevertheless felt was unfairly neglected in perfume creations, and called it “the under-estimated baby of the industry.” His quips and style had the room guffawing away and every time I hear him give a presentation I feel a little bit wistful that he didn’t become a chemistry teacher because he would have inspired generations. On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t because now I get to listen to his presentations at BSP events instead. We also smelled dihydrorosan in demo formulas – it really boosted fruity notes in unexpected ways.

Symrise took us through an interactive presentation where tables were laden with demo formulas showing off Jacinthaflor – an interesting white floral-type material which can bring indolic aspects to fragrances without the discolouration issues, Nerolione – as the name suggests, a high-impact ingredient for orange blossom creations and Irisnitrile – a diffusive iris note booster. I have come to accept that I adore iris scents of all kinds (am yet to encounter one that I don’t love) and the accords we experienced here had interesting cucumber and fresh facets and bloom which can sometimes lack from iris-type notes. It seems clever use of Irisnitrile can really add extra dimension to these accords.

If you think you know what cedarwood should smell like, I wish I could send you some of the Firmenich cedarwood oil Alaska through the screen because it took many of us by surprise – a sparkling grapefruit top with lots of smoky and aromatic nuances and no ‘pencil shavings’ feel. I’d love to create a masculine scent just around this material and expand every aspect. We were also shown Pepper Sichuan supercritical fluid extraction, Lilyflore, Ambrox Super and a Honey Signature base which is a blend of natural materials and synthetic captives. The honey note was so realistic that some visitors were overheard asking for a slice of toast to go with it.

And, to the next fragrant root – vetiver. Emerald Kalama Chemical showed us Azuril, Osyrol and Vetimoss (there is a clue in the molecule names to which one went into the vetiver accord) and we smelled demo formulas including blackwood and fantasy citrus. Vetiver is another one of my absolute favourite smells and I’d love to get a chance to experiment with vetimoss – there were many nuances besides straight-up vetiver that came out at me from the demo.

Pierre rolling out the red carpet

I caught Pierre personally rolling out the red carpet for the winner just before the gala dinner

If any of you follow Pierre the Perfumer on Twitter, you won’t be surprised to hear that he would be up to mischief at an entirely serious event such as the annual Perfumery Excellence Awards, and, indeed, this year he launched a whole new award: “Pierre the Perfumer Award for Most Daring Fragrance (in any category)”. The idea being that at least one of the awards should be for risk-taking in fragrance creation; putting products on the market with scents that have the potential to be divisive (many legends have been born from love-or-hate fragrances; even entire fragrance families). We asked our members to nominate and vote for all the awards in advance of the symposium which meant the awards could be engraved in time for the gala dinner. Want to know who won? Check out the winners at P&F online.

 

Inside Fragrance

Laundry evaluation

Evaluating laundry care?

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

Givaudan

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.

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Laundry care evaluation is a little bit more serious at Givaudan.

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.
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I spent some time with the Givaudan perfumery school director and students – and will be writing about that soon – will let you know where.

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Givaudan perfumery school

Soap Stars: Kate and Rebecca at Seven Scent

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Top left: Rebecca, Kate.

Kate Williams (perfumer) and Rebecca Mulcahy (evaluator) work for Seven Scent in the UK.

“My mum always says ‘you could have a proper job – like a vet or a doctor!’ with the years I’ve spent training,” says Rebecca Mulcahy, fragrance evaluator at Seven Scent.

“And every day you still come across things that are new,” echoes Kate Williams, perfumer at Seven, and the current president of the British Society of Perfumers.

I met with Kate and Rebecca to talk about their work and careers.

“When I first came for my interview, I didn’t know there were people born into this; practically training from birth – that’s what I was up against,” Kate reminisces.

She had a series of interviews and smell tests at PZ Cussons, the parent company for Seven Scent – this was after Kate had completed a masters in evolutionary psychology. Kate’s special area of interest was the role of smell in mate choice and whether males could detect female fertility levels. This led to the obvious question – why do we use fragrance? Is it to mask body odour or to advertise it?

“I sort of stumbled on the fragrance industry through that,” says Kate.

Turns out, the answer to that burning question was that we seem to choose fragrances based on advertising our natural body odour; not masking it. When we choose a fragrance – be it a deodorant or a fine fragrance – based on our genuine preferences (rather than pure advertising or marketing), we are amplifying our natural, unique body odour fingerprint. This also leads to increased confidence, positive body language, and enhanced sexual attractiveness.

When Kate arrived to her smell test, she was faced with endless rows of smelling strips set out on a shiny mahogany table at the old PZ Cussons office. “We were told to sit one chair apart and write down our answers and suddenly I thought- what am I doing here?” says Kate and laughs.

“I suppose in a way it was good that I didn’t know what I could or couldn’t do – and how much time it takes until you are allowed to create something,” says Kate.

Rebecca studied forensic science at university and her industry placement was at Unilever. This gave her a glimpse to what it’s like to formulate deodorants and antiperspirants and opened the door to an interview for an evaluator role at Seven.

Evaluators have become increasingly important in modern fragrance supply houses due to the vast number of fragrances to keep track of and to select from, and due to the hectic schedule and other pressures perfumers have to work under.

In many fragrance houses evaluators are project leaders, assign
fragrance briefs to perfumers, as well as manage the company fragrance
library and sit down with perfumers to evaluate fragrance modifications. Read more at Perfumer & Flavorist about what the role of an evaluator involves; what makes a good evaluator & routes to the job – and how Rebecca and others work. This is the launch of my new monthly column “The Juice”  and the first column has two parts; online and in print. The May print issue  features insights from independent fragrance evaluators in the article “Fragrance Evaluation for Niche Brands – Passion Above All”.

“If you are working on a laundry detergent fragrance for the African market, you have to test the fragrance in its base in water because you hand-wash so much over there. In the UK, you’d smell the scent on the clothes as they came out of the washing machine,” says Rebecca.

AFRICA_ELEPHANTKate and Rebecca have travelled all over the world to test their fragrances in real-world conditions and to conduct market research. There are many issues to consider – right from the creative language and clarity in communication to better understanding of the actual ways in which the finished products get used by consumers.

“Our biggest customer is Nigeria,” says Kate, “and they have the most wonderful concepts. They asked for a smell that was like an angel descending from Heaven. On a shoestring! I want that, too!”

“It is a great feeling when you’ve managed to achieve that level of creativity with all those cost and other constraints,” says Rebecca.

Kate nods: “More constraints can in fact make you more creative.”

We talked about the difference between producing something beautiful, practical, best-selling and commercially viable for a detergent product versus creating a fine fragrance.

“I suppose there is some artistic quality in plucking a fragrance from your mind,” says Kate, “it’s amazing when you think about it. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn into the fragrance industry – I love words – I love describing things and I think that’s been absolutely key for me. It’s an industry where you talk a lot,” Kate says and bursts out laughing.

“All that describing and different ways of saying things to make people understand… I had a stage where I couldn’t smell the individual materials in a perfume, just the whole perfume – and eventually I got to this point, like Magic Eyes, where I could switch between smelling the individual raw materials and the full perfume. That, to me was an amazing step. I could go oh, it’s a peach, but I can also pick out that lactone – it was a massive step,” says Kate.

Understanding fragrance descriptors and what clients actually expect is not a one-size-fits-all skill and working with international markets means constantly having to be on your toes about what your customers really mean. Market research is an important part of the process at Seven Scent.

“We were doing competitor analysis for another brand in Nigeria and the slogan was ‘wrap yourself in passion’ and we thought – who wouldn’t want a fragrance with that sort of a theme? What a demand from a talcum powder fragrance! I think fine fragrance terminology is coming down to all levels and people expect a lot more from their fragrance in every other product, too – their shower gel and body lotion and fabric conditioner. They expect the fragrance to support how nourishing it is for the skin, or how suitable for sensitive skin it is, or how high-quality the brand is, so there is a lot riding on it,” says Kate.

It is a well-known fact in the cosmetics and fragrance industry that the type of fragrance chosen for a product can and does alter consumer perception of the product’s effectiveness. If a shampoo marketed as ‘deep-cleansing’ has the correct type of fragrance, consumers will perceive the deep-cleansing effect to be stronger. If a ‘nourishing’ body lotion has been matched with just the right sort of soothing scent, its users will feel their skin is smoother.

“We even have differences in each geology on how these claims translate, but we test for that,” says Kate.

“There is also a difference in the language on descriptors – if the team in Nigeria ask for ‘fruity’ they don’t mean what we mean,” says Rebecca.

AFRICA_WATERFALL“Citrus vanilla! Fresh spicy” laughs Kate, “But what’s fresh to them? When we think of fresh, we think of watery, green… I once took a presentation to Lagos for them to give me colours of freshness. They didn’t understand the green, lush freshness that we were trying to do. We’d been giving them all these green grass top notes and they just didn’t get them. They also had only a very vague concept of what we would think of as watery, marine freshness, but fruity freshness – yes! So we went with that.”

“Images really helped, so we took along an image of a waterfall,” says Rebecca.

Indonesia

INDONESIA_childrenKate travelled to Indonesia to investigate how consumers were actually using products in the baby ranges.

“It was such an eye-opener what they do with those products – I don’t know how they get their kids to stay still!” says Kate, “They do this twice a day: a full body wash, shampoo, body cream, face cream, nappy cream, oil on the chest. They use a separate detergent and fabric conditioner on their clothes. They use oil on their hair. Then sunscreen and anti-mosquito. That’s the minimum products for a child under the age of seven. I can’t get mine to have a wash! Teeth – they use gum wipes if the children haven’t got any teeth yet. So the product usage is enormous. This has implications on fragrance development. If you’re going to use all of your fragrance budget into the body wash, it’s going to be drowned out ten minutes later. And they don’t layer the fragrances; they choose different fragrances. So understanding stuff like that is absolutely great.”

Lagos

AFRICA_VILLAGEKate and Rebecca also experienced how consumers in Lagos use their detergent products.

“I melted… I had to just go ahead and do the washing on the hot roof to see what actually happens in situ with the fragrance,” says Kate, “and it was tough, really tough. The water smells. So I had to make sure I understood the smell of the water. Understood that this water was then used for different functions in the house, with my fragrance in it. So, fine, we might be providing a fragrance used in a detergent powder, but after it’s been used to wash the laundry in smelly water, it’s then going to be used to wash the floor, then it’s going to be used to wash the kids, and then it’s going to be used to clean the toilet. And it has to perform all the way and leave a nice fragrance on the floor as well. So that’s your challenge – and you suddenly understand why your client has been rejecting your previous fragrances,” explains Kate.

“It makes such a difference getting there, seeing how people actually use the product,” says Rebecca. “You can take something that you think smells great here in the UK, but once you’re there and open the sample, the humidity can just crush it and you can’t smell a thing. We also went around different locations in Lagos and smelled the environments in which people were living in and saw some people washing their laundry in buckets by the busy roadside with car fumes mingling in – and you realise you’ll have to try to counter that somehow as well.”

On arriving to Lagos, Kate and Rebecca got stuck at customs. “We were flying Air Nigeria which in itself was the maddest experience, ever,” says Kate, “we weren’t sure whether we’d make it or boil to death. And the customs were grilling us, too: ‘why are you here?’ – ‘fragrance’ – ‘what sort of fragrance?’ – ‘Zip detergent powder…’ – ‘That’s your fragrance? Well, why didn’t you say so! Come on through, ladies!’ and they treated us like stars.”

Zip detergent powder is a big brand in Nigeria; as well-known as Persil in the UK and people have possibly even a closer relationship with the fragrance there than with any kind of detergent fragrance in the UK.

“That fragrance has a massive following – and how many people is it on? These people are wearing it and relying on it. It’s a crazy climate, so it’s an important part of their lives,” says Kate.

“You are genuinely making a difference to people’s lives – I know that sounds a little bit cheesy, but it’s true,” says Rebecca and smiles.

In futile search of the Bad Guys

EU regulations foot by Grant OsborneYou know what would be easy? If we could all join forces to fight the Dark Lord of Anti-Perfume and drown him in a special potion of oakmoss and alpha damascone.

Alas.

The reality is that the regulations squeezing the juice out of fragrances are complex, inconsistent, overlapping, hard to understand even for professionals and not black-and-white. They all stem from good intentions.

Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions. T. S. Eliot

Are fragrance regulations evil? They certainly seem to be if you’re a perfumer, struggling to reformulate a classic scent to fit IFRA or a perfume fan whose favourite fragrance has been discontinued because it could not be changed without destroying it.

It’s very easy to cast IFRA in the role of the Bad Guy, but it really is not that simple. It’s complicated and nuanced. Understanding what is really going on with the EU fragrance regulations is tough.

I’ve written a long piece for Basenotes about the topic. It came out of sheer frustration – as some Basenoters of old will remember, I’ve had a long journey from a perfume enthusiast to perfumer, much of which has been documented here and in various blogs and articles over the years. In the sorts of jobs I do now, I have to understand what is really going on behind the scenes and therefore attend training courses and symposiums and whatnot.

I went to an IFRA day a while back now (must have been 2013!), hoping I’d come out of there a little wiser. Well, I suppose I did, but I also came out of there with pages and pages of notes and more questions than I went in with. It was obvious that many of the industry representatives in the room were frustrated about all the restrictions; didn’t feel that the EU’s actions – while well-meaning – were really protecting consumers as intended and just causing lots of extra pressure… and nobody seemed to be able to present a comprehensive overview of how all these parallel regulatory requirements fit together. So I decided to have a go at gaining a better understanding.

What became obvious was that there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” and that there were lots of inconsistencies, even loopholes, and the whole thing seemed in parts to be over-protective but in others, curiously obscure. I needed to learn more for my work anyway, so read through everything I could, asked subject matter experts to help spot errors in my facts (hence the fabulous Penny – who since has offered me a job; nothing to do with this piece, just the fact we’ve had a growing friendship and mutual respect over time and I happen to have skills which she can use).

I held back from finishing the article until I’d attended lots of extra training and spoken to many people who know more than I do.

And yet, any failings (such as the sad way in which this piece seems to have come across as scaremongering or propaganda to some of the Basenotes readers – or most confusingly, as a piece advocating the use of synthetics over naturals… that’s certainly not the message)… any failings are mine alone, and it’s been an interesting education to see just how tough it is to communicate complex topics like this from an informed position. The irony is that in order to understand something like this, one has to get knowledgeable enough that to many people one can appear like an industry shill. That I am not. My desire is to understand and I certainly don’t speak for the industry.

I hope this piece will generate healthy debate and discussion. I’m not the slightest bit offended by some of the more frustrated comments on the article; it is to be expected and I understand.

What I’d love to hear is your take on the final question I pose. “So now what?”

What do you all think would be a reasonable and realistic way to protect perfumes from over-regulation while protecting the consumers? Is it a totally naive idea to reason with the giant bureaucracy monster? Who do you think would be in the best position to protect the industry’s interests AND reassure consumers that their products are safe?

 

Armpit sweat and Fragrancestein (or the 33rd BSP annual symposium)

BSP symposium PFW brains

Move over, scent strips! The new way to experience potent aroma chemicals in their pure state is…BRAIIIIIIINS!

The 33rd One Day Symposium by the British Society of Perfumers was unusually stinky this year: armpit sweat and skatole overdoses, oh my! It’s an important date in the UK perfume calendar and this year’s event was once again held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester, to a full audience of perfumers, evaluators, sales and marketing people. I was lucky to be put in the same group as Karen Gilbert with whom we had only just sniffed some gorgeous Osmotheque recreations, so the day offered us plenty of opportunities to compare notes.

The first item on the agenda was a talk by a bright, young PhD candidate Caroline Allen, who, with the help of Kate Williams (who was elected as the new BSP president during the AGM that followed), has been researching the effect of artificial fragrances on our ability to advertise and judge body odour. A few years ago another talk at the BSP explained the human major histocompatibility complex and its role in mate selection, so Caroline’s research is a perfect follow-up. Since it’s been shown that we prefer the scent of potential mates with an MHC type that is different to our own, how does using, say, underarm deodorant affect this?

What seems to be happening is that when people are left to choose their own fragrance, they pick a scent which enhances (advertises) their natural body odour in a good way, meaning that potential mates will not be thrown off scent. If a scent is randomly allocated (you wear something your gran bought you for Christmas even though you don’t like it, for instance), our own odour fingerprint still comes through, but not as well.

Caroline roped us into helping her by making us smell cotton pads soaked in armpit sweat. By recording our impressions using descriptive words (musky, sweet, floral… or in the case of one of the samples, onion, cumin…), we were able to contribute to the odour mapping work that Kate and her team have been doing at Seven Scent.

BSP symposium Caroline AllenIncidentally, sample 32 (I think) smelled of sweet musk and fruit to me, and I felt very happy sniffing it – whereas others who sniffed it didn’t have the same reaction. Everyone’s impressions of each sample varied greatly, which in itself was fascinating.

These days follow a similar format – fragrance raw material suppliers present a selection of new materials or existing materials used in new ways. Presentations include demonstration formulae in various bases (candles, body creams, shampoos, detergents, fine fragrance and so on) and some go to great lengths to be creative with the way in which they show their materials off.

None more so than PFW who always seem to come up with an off-the-wall presentation. This year, their mascot Master Perfumer, Pierre the Perfumer was the star of a truly frightening film-slash-demo formula, FRAGRANCESTEIN.

BSP symposium PFW Fragrancestein
Keen-eyed readers will note the massive skatole overdose, and keen-nosed ones will know that it truly smells of excrement. Where indole has a mothball quality and flip-flops between poop and mothballs (and where with indole, once you’ve worked on enough floral accords containing it, your brain starts to construct a flower around it, so it no longer smells bad after a while)… with skatole, I am yet to arrive at such a happy state (and wonder if it’ll ever happen). It really does smell bad. So the challenge was – how to hide the ‘monster’ and create an accord that would not only be acceptable but pleasant and desirable to consumers.

Bit by bit, we followed Pierre on the silver screen as he tried to tame the monster. Body parts were replaced, the formula tweaked, and we could smell the transformation. Perhaps a little too influenced by the initial horror, many in the room did struggle to find the final accord pleasant, but that’s where being a trained nose can sometimes trip you up; if you smell the construction rather than the naive overall effect, you can sometimes miss an interesting piece of work.

BSP symposium PFW footBSP day PFW heartBSP symposium PFW hulk hand

BSP symposium PFW the man with two brains

I’d like to put in a request to PFW: could we see Pierre the Perfumer in “The Man With Two Brains”, please?

I missed out on a PFW goodiebag (what was in there? Dare I ask?) because there wasn’t one on my chair, but did come home with lots of goodies. BSP has its own tote bag now, too!

BSP symposium BSP tote
It wasn’t the only tote of the day; DRT, a company producing impressive volumes of a variety of chemicals all from trees gave us this lovely forest-themed tote:BSP symposium DRT toteBSP symposium DRT goodiesTwo materials which really stuck in my mind from the Nactis/Synarome presentation were Oudharome and Agarome (the former having a lovely orris-type character more so than oudh, really); both made me want to rush into the lab and use them in something.

BSP symposium goodiesIFF‘s presentation of Amber Xtreme was another highlight of the day for me – they’d gone to real effort to make the session interactive and demonstrate the material in use. We experienced a floor cleaning application, laundry care, hair care and fine fragrance – all at different concentrations; all very effective. I was a ‘volunteer’ (read: everyone else suddenly found the ceiling really interesting). My job was to cover a large floor tile with suds.

BSP symposium IFF volunteer

BSP symposium IFF buckets

At least it didn’t turn out to be an ice bucket challenge!

BSP symposium IFF laundryBSP symposium IFF hairThis material is POTENT. I see where the Xtreme comes in, really – a trace in fine fragrance still somewhat dominated the blend, and very small amounts had noticeable effects in other applications. I also love the jaunty whale illustration. It almost has a Japanese quality to it. “Here I am, sending my magic poop into the ocean!”

BSP symposium IFF hairWe were also given generous goodiebags with a new perfumer’s fragrance ingredients compendium, demo bottles of Amber Xtreme and a pen.

BSP symposium IFF goodiesBSP symposium IFF compendium

The day went by fast and I am already looking forward to next year’s symposium. There will be other BSP events before then, of course, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for additions to the calendar – even if you are not a member but happen to be interested in this crazy, poop and sweat-scented world!

The Osmotheque comes to London

Osmotheque in LondonWhen an email with the above header popped into my inbox, I booked a ticket immediately. How could I not? Somehow I’d missed several opportunities to visit the Osmotheque – I wasn’t about to miss this one!

The event was held in Brasserie Zedel for 50 lucky guests, including a bit of a familiar cast of UK perfume-lovers whose company made the day all the more wonderful. We started off with a glass of sparkling wine, sandwiches and little cakes. For some reason the table I was sitting at was immediately branded “the naughty corner” by Odette and Jo. I’m sure we proved them wrong by our impeccable behaviour throughout. The whole day whooshed past – it was absolutely worth every penny – and my only regret is not having taken a proper camera. Of course the most important souvenir from yesterday is the pile of carefully wrapped up scent strips, doused in antique perfumes which we were allowed to keep. I’ll take them out and sniff them on special occasions.

Perfumer and Osmocurator Stephanie Bakouche gave a thoroughly enjoyable presentation, briefly covering perfume history and then each of the houses we were to experience perfumes from. Guerlain, Bourjois, Coty and Poiret were on the cards (figuratively and literally).

My favourite scent above all from the selection was the outrageous tuberose-laden original Parfum des Champs Élysées – heady, sweet, animalic, sensual; dripping with nectar. Guerlain’s Chypre de Paris was also glorious, and not how we think of a chypre today; it smelled very much like Imperial Leather soap, actually. For some reason Coty always gets credit for ‘the first chypre’ (even though it wasn’t), and we were lucky enough to smell that, too. It took me by surprise – a banana note (amyl salicylate?) over animalic, mossy base. Not at all what I expected.

Osmotheque in London

The most educational perfume of the night for me was from the bonus round (not listed): original Eau Sauvage. Educational because as soon as I smelled it, I realised Ô de Lancôme and Eau Dynamisante owe their character to it, and that it really represents a trend in its own right.

La Jardin de Mon Curé was a big, animalic rose, the Muguet was not at all like the way we think of lily-of-the-valley accords nowadays (I got a strong citral note, indole, vanillin, and we thought hydroxycitronellal, too), Cuir de Russie recalled Finnish tervapastilli (birch tar sweets), Soir de  Paris was a powdery, animalic clove, Kobako had a glorious, dry, almost 70s feel, Jasmin de Corse was very indolic, yet balanced, L’Aimant was floral carnation and not as powdery as the modern version, Le Muguet des Bois was beautifully described by Karen Gilbert as “the end of an orange lolly when you get to the stick” and I immediately got what she meant (whereas the others at our table didn’t – Karen and I must have been eating the same orange lollies!). It was more recognisable as ‘lily of the valley’ than the earlier Guerlain Muguet, too. From Poiret, the scents seemed to divide opinion – I was fascinated by Le Fruit Défendu, which made me think of marzipan fruits and I couldn’t get that impression out of my head after the thought popped in there.

Before the official talk, our table also had a little sneak peek preview of a special scent created by 4160Tuesdays for Louise Woollam (whose parosmia has made scent appreciation a difficult task. Violets were among the few acceptable fragrance notes at the time, so a violet perfume was born. It’s a gorgeous blend of ionones and violet leaf which will be launched soon, I hear).

Odette Toilette and The Perfume Society are running this event again on the 27th of June – book as soon as you can because it’s likely to sell out fast.