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How Modern Perfumes Are Made

Updated on February 18, 2012

Givaudan, IFF, and Coty. Do these corporations sound familiar to you? Though chances are you’ve never heard of them, they are sprawling fragrance companies that have created globally recognized perfumes.

Perfumes made by Givaudan, IFF and Coty line your highways with its billboards and infiltrate your magazines with ads. You’ve seen their perfumes in stores, you’ve smelled them when walking down the street. No longer are genius perfumers, toiling away in a quaint countryside distillation set-up, behind perfumes. Giant conglomerations, naturally fueled on by the multi-billion dollar perfume industry, have changed the way perfumes are made, created, and distributed.

Giorgio Armani Code, Estee Lauder White Linen, and Calvin Klein CK One. These are a few of the top-selling, instantly recognizable fragrances created by these companies.

Fragrance Institute in Versailles, France
Fragrance Institute in Versailles, France
Baldini's perfume lab in the movie Perfume.
Baldini's perfume lab in the movie Perfume.
Inside Givaudan Labs in Zurich, Switzerland
Inside Givaudan Labs in Zurich, Switzerland

Inspiration

Sad to say, the birth of a perfume isn’t ignited by an artist’s creative inspiration. Fragrance companies watch trends to see what types of perfumes are selling best. Fragrance companies also screen focus groups to find out what kind of fragrances are popular. Using this harvested data, the fragrance companies create a directive for the perfumer. And often the prescribed perfumes are directed to fit top market trends. Sometimes fragrance companies create directives that are intensely specific. For example: New perfume should smell like current top-selling perfume, but this time marketed towards an older age group, females aged 25-35. Sometimes fragrance companies create directives that are extremely vague. Often a perfumer can get a single word or idea as a launch off point for a fragrance. Otherwise a perfumer can get a very long-winded abstract description of events, atmosphere, feelings and so forth. From there, perfumers take the perfume making process into their hands. But not for long…

Teamwork

With a dash of artistic talent and a framework of chemical knowledge, the perfume creates perfume samples according to the directive. The perfume isn’t then immediately embraced, prototyped, and mass-produced. The perfume, instead, is pushed past a creative team which comprises of marketers, advertisers, creative directors, CEOs and often the celebrity that will market the scent. The team each perfume sample smells and smells again, talks about each sample, and decides which sample is most on point with the company’s goals.

Fragonard Perfume Lab
Fragonard Perfume Lab

Selection

Sometimes perfumers must bid for the fragrance commission. When one wins the bid and a perfume sample is selected, the perfumer is sent back to his lab with notes. Specific descriptions provided by the fragrance company’s creative team will guide the perfumer on how to tweak the formula. Once he reformulates the juice, it is reintroduced to the creative team. If the final product is satisfactory, the team moves on to a variety of marketing decisions: the color of the juice, the bottle design, the visual campaign and so forth.

Though the modern perfume making process doesn’t sound as romantic and inspired as a perfumer working away independently in his own lab, these proliferative fragrance companies have provided consumers with a wide variety of accessible, wearable, and affordable luxury perfumes.

Other articles in this series

Part I: Inside Modern Perfume Labs

Part II: How Perfumers Are Trained

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For fine fragrances check out online discount perfume retailers.

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