Arts and Culture

Making Scents: Giving life to the scent

Tammy Violet Frazer

Perfumers should seize the essence of the notes to construct a story that will be pushed through every available marketing and advertising channel.

Jeannie in a Bottle by TV presenter Jeannie D. (Supplied)

Across the world, a bottle of perfume is sold every second. It is not just a world of scent and composition, but also of marketing messages and the seduction of aspirational dreams. As part of her fragrance (Jeannie in a Bottle) marketing campaign, TV presenter Jeannie D travelled the country doing personal appearances at Clicks stores, tramping the hard yards to make a marketing dent.

Perfume marketing used to involve a little more than superimposing an attractive model on the fragrance, nudging the consumer to imagine the model wearing the perfume and invoking an aspirational world. Think back to the time when model Kate Moss first caught the world’s attention. It was in the 1993 Calvin Klein’s Obsession fragrance campaign when a 19-year-old Kate appeared topless. In campaigns like that of the Obsession fragrance, a woman is presented as both the muse of the fragrance and an aspiration for the wearer. She becomes the ambassador at large, a living, breathing human extension giving life to the scent. 

But many contemporary consumers want to know more about the product they are buying. For example, to give the consumers a bit of information on the new Hermes fragrance, Jour d’Hermes, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena explained the inspiration behind the fragrance. According to Ellena, the fragrance is about “focusing on woman and light” with “hundreds of flowers and balms” to create “radiance, femininity and optimism”. 

There are also some tricks of the trade. Perfume marketers know that many consumers try before they buy, and that purchase decisions are made within minutes of sniffing the blend. Back in their labs, clever hands concentrate on maximising the scent’s volatiles, creating a big bang expressed in these first crucial moments.  

Advice: rather daub the scent on your own skin and walk away — to experience how the product changes during its dry-down over some hours. Then decide whether you like the longer-lasting notes as much as the initial attack. 

Modern fragrance development should start with an authentic creative inspiration, a seed of integrity at the heart of the story that must be taken through to merchandising and sales. Otherwise there is a danger that the fragrance will fall flat and the consumer will feel the hollow promise of off-pat words like “floral”.  

Perfumers should seize the essence of the notes to construct a story that will be pushed through every available marketing and advertising channel we have at our disposal. And when it reaches you, the consumer, the backstory should make sense, be effortless and make you want it. So, how do we artfully introduce a fragrance?  

Like the coming out of a debutante: Coco Chanel invited the society elite to dine on the French Riviera and then sprayed them with the now iconic No 5.  

Thierry Mugler launched the fragrance Angel with in-store refilling services and today his fragrances enjoy sales of $280-million annually.  

Indie perfumer Francis Kurkdjian, composed a laundry detergent to show his versatility as a “nose” — and to pique the whimsy of journalists. Sometimes, marketing takes a while. When Guerlain launched Jicky in 1889 it was thought far too modern, partly because the name did not refer to an actual smell. Only in 1912 did women’s magazines start singing its praises and it is now the oldest fragrance in continuous production — a noble scent that has been in demand for 125 years.


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