Flowers and Perfumery

(© Article by Lightyears, Inc.)

I love the aromas from the flowers, bushes, and trees in our yard and gardens and I love perfume. But the scents of flowers, bushes and trees aren't perfumes. Not for me. Beautiful as they may be, they are simply scents. Why, you might ask, don't I consider these natural fragrances to be perfumes? Let's talk about it. Let's talk about what a perfume IS and what a perfume IS NOT.

In a recent issue of Perfumer & Flavorist my friend Steve Dowthwaite wrote of perfume being a specific COMMUNICATION, a human created composition designed to convey a SPECIFIC message to the buyer and others. IF you are trying to make your living creating (or marketing) perfume, this is a very useful and important definition and one that forces us to work considerably harder at creating and marketing a new perfume.

So, for the flowers, shrubs, and trees, their scents ARE perfume in respect to the birds and bees. Each has a scent that -- to the birds and bees -- says "hurry, come pollinate me." But the flowers, shrubs, and trees are not, through their scents, sending a message to men and women saying, "come and enjoy my scents" or "take me, process me, and turn me into an essential oil." Lavender is not calling out to us saying, "I'm so beautiful, why don't you cut me down, heat me over a fire and make me into lavender oil." If the lavender knew what was in store for it perhaps it would give off an entirely different scent -- one less appealing to humans.

But, with respect to humans, if we look at perfume as a vehicle that communicates a message we put a greater and more useful burden both on the perfumer and the marketer of perfume. The goal is no longer just to slap together a few aroma materials that produce a nice smell. The perfume itself is now called upon to DO SOMETHING. The perfumer and marketer are now called upon -- TO THINK.

There is one (grand) niche in the perfume industry where both perfumers and marketers have recognized that their perfumes must communicate a specific message -- the field of knock offs. The job, very simple but absolutely essential, is that each new fragrance must communicate the message that it carries the aroma of a famous scent. The more effective this communication is -- i.e., "if you love Estee Lauder's 'Beyond Paradise' you'll love our 'Heavenly Behind' -- the more of the knock off the marketer is likely to sell.

If you are not creating a knock off the task is much more difficult. Certainly the major marketers, in their 'perfume briefs' to the fragrance creators go into great detail as to the message their new fragrance should communicate.

(Presumably!) much thought goes into the process of giving shape and personalty to the perfume before the project is handed over to the perfumer. This makes perfect sense.

Creating perfume effectively requires discipline. We can just ramble around mixing this and that with no clear goal in mind. Having a goal -- creating a compound that will communicate the specific message we have chosen to communicate -- forces us to work harder and work better.

True, along the way to this goal we may make unexpected discoveries and find combinations of aroma materials that are surprisingly pleasant although not on target to help us achieve our goal. These, however beautiful and exciting they may be, must be set aside for another day, another project -- perhaps one in which THEIR message is the focus of a new perfume -- but we have to learn to set them aside for now and stay focused on the CURRENT message we are attempting to communicate.

To sum it up, the art of creating perfume is a highly disciplined art, not a helter skelter "mix a little of this with that" affair. As amateurs we may START out with an "I'll just mix a little of this with that" attitude but as we gain in love and appreciation of perfume we discover that we have to bring a lot more to the party. We have to develop our thinking skills to "design" the idea of a new fragrance, we have to develop our technological skills -- our knowledge of raw materials and the likely result of their various combinations -- and we have to develop the discipline to set a goal and stick to it.