The science behind perfumes


One of the main aspects of Fashion Communication & Promotion is learning about brands and, particularly, how to create and develop brands. For my current uni project we are creating a completely new perfume brand, totally from scratch, all the way from initial concept development and big idea, to creative concept and execution. One of the reasons why we're focusing on fragrance is that it is one of those sectors where branding makes up pretty much all of its costs: the actual bottled perfume, or "juice" as they call it in the industry, makes up maybe 10% of the retail price. It's all about the narrative, the story behind the fragrance, the aspirations it connects to, and the power of the brand itself.

Whilst our focus lies primarily in the actual branding and connecting to our target consumer, it doesn't hurt to learn more about the actual perfume-making, or art of perfumery, behind it. I've already talked about the BBC Perfume documentary which first introduced me to the fragrance industry, but what better way to learn about the skills and techniques than to hear it directly from a well known industry figure, teacher of perfumery classes and author of two books, Karen Gilbert?

Karen was kind enough to come and host a guest lecture on perfume branding as well as letting us take part in her perfume-making workshop. I never really knew much about perfumes and what goes into making them, so, as the incredibly curious and nosy person I am, I quite enjoyed learning about the science and the history behind those little coloured bottles of liquid pleasure.

A fragrance:
  • is a way of communicating without words;
  • can make us feel, think or react and we can't explain why;
  • can trigger memories, memories create emotions, emotions cause reactions.
It is therefore of vital importance to think about how you want your consumer to feel when creating a fragrance. The story comes first; then comes the product through which that story is delivered; and, finally, comes the actual scent. You can then proceed to put this story or feeling into a bottle by mixing the ingredients, keeping in mind the layers of perfume:
  • top notes: the first impression of the fragrance, the "selling point", however they wear off the fastest;
  • middle notes: the heart or character of the fragrance;
  • base notes: they give body and longevity to the fragrance, they are the ones that can linger on even after a whole day.
Finally, we got to put all this theory to the test by creating our own fragrance!

My team and I decided to create a fragrance for a rugged young male, very active, probably into surfing and snowboarding, quite masculine and confident and who doesn't take himself or his beauty products too seriously: he is young-at-heart and really just wants to have fun.

We then proceeded to smell and categorise a whole lot of concentrated scents (they were so many I honestly got a headache and had to get out of the room to get some air in the middle of it) and picked a few key notes that would go towards our final product.

Overall it was an enjoyable experience and it was fun to make pretend and be "experienced perfumers" for a day. It also helped me understand how scents can and should change depending on the narrative one wants to convey and the personality and lifestyle of the target consumer.

Check out Karen Gilbert's website to find out more about her and her workshops!

Over and out,
B. x

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