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Inside Modern Perfume Labs

Updated on February 20, 2012

Making perfumes is no longer a romantic process of boiling herbs, steeping rare materials and distilling essential oils. The process of making perfumes is dominated today by technology and methodical processes.

Headspace Technology

Headspace technology, also known as aromascope, records and analyzes the molecular makeup of smells. Making perfumes is no longer a solitary endeavor. The multi-billion dollar fragrance industry drives companies to seek out and collect rare plants that exude compelling smells. Headspace technology, then, helps perfumers extract these unique odors. A glass bulb covering the odiferous plant logs the chemical compound, making it reproducible by chemists.

Certain plants are so rare that it is too costly to harvest these plants to capture their smell in perfumes. Also, when odorous compounds are extracted through a distillation process, the resulting smell is distinctly different from the naturally occurring smell. Headspace technology finds a way around this financial complication and technical difference. Headspace technology, like a “smell camera”, records a copy of the odiferous compound, allowing the chemist to study and recreate it.

Synthetic Aromas

There is a common misconception that natural perfumes are safer and much more superior to synthetic aromas. However, synthetic chemicals have been used in perfumery for almost a century without the consumers being able to detect differences. In fact, synthetic chemicals are often less volatile than natural chemicals, which alter in smell over time. And often, a synthetic copy of a scent can be far less complex than the natural occurring chemical compound. For this reason, perfumers favor developing synthetic compounds that mimic natural scents.

Library of Scents

Once the smell is created, fragrance industries house them in a scent library. Perfumers then incoporate these scents into their perfume creations. However the perfume making process doesn’t resemble a mad professor’s invention process in a laboratory. In most cases, perfumers have undergone years of training, during which they have arduously memorized the smells, characteristics and properties of a million chemicals. With the training behind them, perfumers create perfumes on paper, scribbling in scientific terms. Chemists will then pull the requested amount of chemicals from the prescribed order so that the perfumes can play with the tiniest amount of elixirs to make his perfume.

Despite all this technological distance, perfumers are still creative experts, they are the fuel behind the fragrance’s story. The creative process, the craft, and the skill of a trained perfumer is astounding even in this modern era of perfumery.

(Above: Perfumers discuss the perfume creation process for YSL Elle in the lab.)


Other articles in this series

Part II: How Perfumers Are Trained

Part III: How Modern Perfumes Are Made


For fine fragrances check out online discount perfume retailers.

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