Imagine designing something as ephemeral and intangible as a smell.
Thanks to modern technology and advances in chemistry, the perfume industry is booming. More and more new scents are designed every year, but that doesn’t mean that designing a perfume is easy. Far from it.
Here’s what goes into making that beautiful bottle of perfume that’s sitting pretty on your vanity.
First, perfumers get a brief from a brand, which is usually nothing more than a verbal description of the kind of feeling they want the perfume to evoke.
(Interestingly, did you know that perfumers from a single perfume house can create fragrances for different brands? Certain big companies like Guerlain have their own in-house perfumers and scent designers, but you would be surprised how many perfumes across brands share the same designer.)
With that brief, the perfumers then get to work on designing the perfume from scratch. This process involves determining what fragrance elements go into it: the top, heart, and base notes that make up its scent profile and unfold in turn like a piece of music. To create each note, perfumers must extract or synthesise precious aromatic compounds and essential oils, which are then blended together and suspended in a solvent like alcohol or oil. Each note influences and affects the other notes, so great care is given to the development of a perfume recipe.
The entire process, from design and mixing to production and bottling and marketing, can take up to 2 years.
Perfumery is truly an artform that skillfully blends science and creativity, which is probably why I am so drawn to it. To my joy, I had a chance to taste life as a perfumer at the launch of Avon’s new Viva La Vita fragrance! Remember that verbal brief we talked about earlier? For this fragrance, the perfumers were told to design a scent inspired by strong confident women who take control and throw caution to the wind, living and loving life. As such, Viva La Vita should be a scent that radiates vitality, joy, and freedom of expression.
At the event, our job was to try to mix a perfume as close to Viva La Vita as possible, with top, heart, and base notes already premixed for us according to the composition of Viva La Vita. This perfume was designed by master perfumer Harry Fremont and Elise Benat of the renowned Firmenich perfumery, so it was never going to be an easy task!
Here’s the fragrance breakdown:
Top: Generous, pulpy, and tangy with notes of crisp pink apple, sparkling pink grapefruit, mandarin citrus
Heart: A floral bouquet of opulent mimosa, pink magnolia, and rose petals
Base: Warm and enveloping with creamy sandalwood, vanilla bean, and cozy cashmeran
But being the scent fiend that I am, I decided to try my hand at making something totally different!
It’s generally not advised to mix a fragrance without any one of the notes. Perfume is built upon this scent pyramid for a reason! While top notes are a perfume’s first impressions, and heavy base notes anchor it to your skin, it’s the well-rounded heart notes of the fragrance that form most of its main body.
Ignoring this advice, I mixed only the rich, subtly-sweet, woody basenotes (which are basically my favourite smells ever) and the bright, citrusy top notes of apple and grapefruit. It didn’t smell like Viva La Vita at all, and was admittedly rather unbalanced. Imagine a movie, with its entire middle climax cut out. It’s just incomplete!
Lesson learnt: a perfume needs heart. So I went home and made my own heart of French Lavender and Bergamot essential oils. Without the light, floral mimosa and magnolia notes of Viva La Vita, it’s certainly something different.
Next to each other, I can definitely see the difference between a master perfumer’s nuanced work and my own gung-ho haphazard blending! Well, I suppose that’s why I’m not a perfumer! Where Viva La Vita’s rich floral notes immediately evoke a beautifully feminine, sophisticated halo, my concoction is light and doesn’t announce itself very much. It lies much closer to my skin, thanks to my generous addition of base notes, so I’d have to let you very close to me before you’d smell it. It’s also slightly more masculine because of the lavender (a common component of fougère, a traditional sort of men’s cologne), and the sharp bergamot (the same oil that gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive scent) tamps down the sweetness of the fruity top notes. So it’s private, quiet, not 100% feminine, and sweet with an edge– a perfume that’s a very much like me!
While it’s no work of art, I’m proud of my perfume. It’s different and not as refined, but it’s uniquely mine!
Or you could just purchase Avon’s new Viva La Vita fragrance, so you can experience masterful blending without my humbling lesson. The perfume goes on sale online and at Avon counters in October 2017 at RM95 (West Malaysia) and RM109.30 (East Malaysia). Thanks for the experience, Avon!