Making sense of scents

Choosing perfume is a very personal experience. They evoke memories, go with our moods, make us feel sexy, girly, fresh, powerful or alluring. But how do you choose a new scent and what goes into making them?

We grabbed the chance to talk to fragrance expert Geraldine Biles from Symrise to find out more about what goes into smelling great.

So just how did you get into perfume making?

“I have a Msc in Organic Chemistry from the Universite Toulouse Paul Sabatier; then I did a two year European fragrance and Cosmetic masters course in Versailles (at the ISIPCA school  Institut Superieur International de la Parfumerie, de la cosmetique et de l’arome alimentaire) and finally I did two years of an Msc Business & Management at Plymouth University.”

Wow, that is a lot of qualifications for a fragrance ‘nose’ why did you want to get into it?

“As far back as I can remember I have always wanted to work in this industry. I was fascinated by the shapes of the bottles, the association of the colours with the smells… perhaps it was the scented duck shaped soap I fell in love with in Grasse when I was two years old that set me on this path?”

Has it lived up to your expectations?

“Yes. What is great about this industry is that we are trying to make life nicer – smelling at least! I like the fact that we keep an eye on trends and keep up-to-date with new ideas, there is no routine. I love suggesting ideas and concepts linking colours/scents/shapes to customers: to see a product in a holistic way!”

So I have heard of the perfume houses but who are Symrise?

“Symrise is a global supplier of fragrances and flavourings while also manufacturing raw materials and active ingredients for the perfume, cosmetics and food industries. They are used by manufacturers of perfumes, cosmetics and foods.”

Tell us about the different fragrance families?

“Different fragrance houses have different olfactive classifications. At Symrise we pioneered a classification system in 1974 for fine fragrances we call the genealogy. It generally goes as follows:

1) Family – the dominant character of the fragrance, like a surname

2) Sub family – the second most important character like a first name

3) Specifier – the main facet, like a middle name.”

“The Families, which  may sound familiar to you, are citrus (eg: 4711 or Escale a Portofino), green (eg: Truth CK or Daisy Marc Jacobs), floral (eg: Chanel No 5 or Be Delicious, a floral fruity), fruity (Escada or Ed Hardy) and woody (eg: Terre d’Hermes for men or Black XS for women).”

“Subfamilies are Chypre (eg: Coco Mademoiselle) Floriental (eg: Hypnose/ Armani Code) oriental (eg: Angel Thierry Mugler) and Fougere (eg: Cool Water).”

“Specifiers can include any of the family or subfamily groups as well as any of the following list: Aldehydic, Spicy, Watery, Ozonic, Salicylic, Marine, Orange Flower, Aromatic Lavender, White Flower, Rose, Powdery, Milky, Balsamic, Ambery, Animalic, Leathery, Musky, Vanilla, Edible, Sweet.”

Wow that is a lot of fragrances, what about notes?

“Culturally people are not used to describing fragrances or smells, that is why they “borrow” vocabulary from other arts like music or painting to describe a smell instead of using the families that we use in the industry.

Some people are more visual, some auditive so you can have a pointy or sharp perfume or a loud perfume.”

So how long does the scent last?

“The top note only lasts about 15 minutes. The heart note is then smelt for the next six hours and it is the base note that you smell after about six hours for up to 24 hours after application.”

Why are they so costly?

“To get the yield of flowers needed to produce the amount of oils necessary as well as the manpower involved increases the cost. Jasmine and rose are expensive for this reason. And Iris absolute takes around four years to be processed from the root, so for this reason 1kg costs approximately €45,000!”

How is a new perfume formulated?

“There is no set rule. A common way is that the brand manager has spotted a gap in their portfolio and comes up with mood boards, then they will brief the fragrance house and then we develop the fragrance.”

What advice do you have for choosing a signature scent?

“When going to a perfume store, do not smell more than three fragrance at once. Getting a first impression on paper is ok but try them on your skin before you commit to buying.”

“Go through your olfactive memory and remember what sort of perfume you liked before and then use websites like Michael Edwards Fragrances of the World fragrance finder to find your next scent.”

Why does the same perfume smell different on different people?

“It is down to the chemistry of skin! Different skin is more or less acidic. Some people’s skin soaks up the perfume more than others, that is why it is recommended to apply at the nape of the neck, hair is a really good perfume transporter, and on clothes rather than skin. This also protects you from sun sensitization in the summer.”

Is it true you should keep your perfume in the fridge?

It is always better to keep a bottle away from direct sunlight and air, it depends how long one wants to keep it for!”

What are the trends in perfume for 2010?

“It seems that indulgent and glamorous fragrances are making a come back since the credit crunch! I guess it is a way of still having some luxury.”

Do men and women prefer different scents for women?

“Traditionally men tend to prefer fresh scents, like eau de cologne since traditionally it was an after shave, but nowadays the boundary is getting blurred.”

“Most of the time the gender of a perfume is more marketing than anything! Initially Chypre fragrances (like Narciso or SJP) were created for men and women adopted this style with the garconne look.”

What’s your favourite celebrity scent and why?

“I am not so keen on the celebrity endorsement, but J.Lo Glow and Britney Spears Curious are amongst the best sellers in the market. I love the look of Harajuku by Gwen Stefani.”

What do you wear?

“My spring/summer fragrance is Osmanthus by The Different Company while my winter fragrance is Infusion d’Iris by Prada.”

By Belinda Wanis
[picture credits: Nathan Branch; Lisa Koivu; Swamibu/Bu; Bill Martin]
Miss B

Miss B

Miss B is a Belle About Town who likes to bring a little bit of style into every aspect of her life. An experienced journalist with over a decade in the industry she turned to the web to fill a gap for tech-savvy stylish women who want the best life has to offer at their fingertips. She loves a decadent cocktail bar, a beautifully cut dress, the perfect pair of heels, quality over quantity and is partial to Asian-fusion food, enjoys holidaying in the sun and shopping breaks to New York. But her first love is of course London!


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