Making scents: A perfume speaks a thousand words
How does an idea begin? I believe we find inspiration from our uniqueness and from our urges to be curious, expressive and creative. Fragrances have found inspiration in art, music, fashion and science – and often blur these predefined lines. The process is often simple: inception, brief, then bottle.
In commercial perfume houses, the perfumer relies on a brief from the brand manager or marketer, where the fragrance is formulated to work alongside tangibles like visuals or text.
A fragrance director or in-house evaluator guides the perfumer’s notes towards the client’s vision – an important role, because the evaluator is aware of market trends.
As an independent scent maker, my process is far more visceral – an ongoing struggle to trust my intuition. I try to expect the unexpected, to trust ideas that come from within and to work to present them to the world. Often, the frameworks of my projects are collaborators who are moving their craft in one another’s direction.
I am currently creating a scent that is to be housed in a container of black porcelain and the process of working with the porcelain-artisan will inform and develop my scent notes as I learn about this new material. For the porcelain artisan, she is pushing the technical limits of her medium, coaxing it to house a perfume.
Together, we create something that before was never done. Just by working together we are crafting originals. We make choices in life, but sometimes they make us!
One of the most striking modern perfume concepts was Calvin Klein’s Obsession. In 1985, the campaign –striking for its sheer simplicity – hit print and TV and became a reference for the era – featuring Kate Moss naked, looking haunting and evocative. The perfect canvas for a fragrance that has not dated with its fresh, green, citrus gust.
Lady Gaga translated her fame into the first ever black liquid perfume. It enticed the world to seek it out, just to discover and interact with this black nectar. Here, though, the scent itself seemed to be a disappointment by not being avant-garde enough to match her image.
In 1956, Christian Dior was inspired by what he called his “fortune” flower, lily of the valley, to create Diorissimo. His J’Adore fragrance came about because he would often praise dresses by exclaiming “J’Adore!”. He found inspiration in all things around him and named the Miss Dior Le Parfum after his sister.
Then there is Brad Pitt’s monologue that served as the “reboot” for Chanel No. 5 in 2012. Here was a man promoting a woman’s perfume, with a strange esoteric message. Viewers were confused, and the ad seemed conceptually misplaced. Still, the sensationalism of endorsement from a man served to keep the brand front-of-mind.
Intrinsic stories can also inspire and promote a perfume. A single ounce of Jean Patou’s Joy, which was released at the height of the Great Depression, was said to contain 10 600 jasmine flowers and 336 roses. Patou played on the theme of abundance at a time when scarcity was rife.
A fragrance is a framed story, and sometimes how that story is told is as important as the juice itself.