3 Talented Perfumers That Are Revolutionizing The Industry
A nose by any other name.
Noses To Know
Listing your favourite perfumes and when you first wore them? Easy. Naming the “nose” behind the scents of your life? Um, well, gee…. You’re not alone. Most of us don’t know the people behind our favourite fragrances – until now, that is.
Fragrance is one accessory that many of us insist on wearing every single day – we don’t feel dressed without it. Ironic, then, that these personal and intimate signatures we’ve come to claim as our own have long and storied backgrounds that we know so little about.
Who are the lucky few who decide which notes will play in the background of our daily lives?
Referred to as “noses,” they are a small, undoubtedly mysterious group who can relate smells to emotions and, in many cases, recall the scents of hundreds of natural and synthetic ingredients and accords. They pour over “juices,” often for years, to eventually create the perfumes that thousands of people experience as the backdrop to some of their most beloved moments. We’d like to introduce you to a few of our favourites.
Francis Kurkdjian, Luxe Renegade
His Hit List: Carven Le Parfum, Burberry My Burberry, Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male, Narciso Rodriguez For Her, Maison Francis Kurkdjian à la Rose
He famously recreated Marie Antoinette’s original signature scent for the Palace of Versailles and has won many prestigious awards for his work, including the Prix Francois Coty. He also had the honour of being named a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres in 2008 for his contribution to French culture.
While many people struggle with career direction straight out of high school or even university, Francis Kurkdjian, who was born to Armenian parents and grew up in Paris, says he knew his calling as a perfumer from the early age of 15. He credits early ballet and piano lessons for instilling the ideas of discipline and perseverance that he later needed to make it as a successful nose.
After graduating from the Institut Supérieur International du Parfum de la Cosmétique et de l’Aromatique Alimentaire in Versailles, he joined Quest International (now known as the fragrance house of Givaudan) and later relocated to New York to work in their US office. In 1993, Kurkdjian, who was only 24 at the time, created his first scent for Jean Paul Gaultier, Le Male, which still remains one of his most successful and well-known creations. “I was very young and I remember telling myself that it was my moment,” he says. “I knew that if I was capable of doing it, my life would change.”
Shortly after returning to Paris in 1999, he opened his own bespoke perfume studio and eventually co-founded Maison Francis Kurkdjian 10 years later. “I always thought creating perfume would be a kind of nest, where you would have all of the creative energies from everyone: the bottle designer, the designer itself, the brand,” he says. “Then I found out that everyone is working in a very separate way, and this is why I started my own bespoke atelier: to be in charge of everything. At the very beginning, it was harder for me to work for myself because when you work for someone else, you simply put your feet in their shoes and have to walk. But when you have no leash, where should you go? At the beginning, I was lost.”
While his private-label perfumes are known for their luxuriously classic yet modern approach – he isn’t one for chasing the latest fragrance fad – Kurkdjian says that he can understand why the industry and consumers have a penchant for today’s wildly popular fruity-floral scents.
“We’ve been stuck in this mindset for the past 10 years, in the same way your grandmother was stuck with powdery scents,” he says. “Perfume trends are trends that go on for decades. What you smell and what pleases you are totally related to what you want to eat. What we eat now is more sugary and fruity. Because of that, a new scent – a new flavour – is very hard to diffuse into the public’s mind. For me, I usually get my inspiration for fruity notes from the dairy industry in France. A few years ago, they had violette and lychee-flavoured yogurts. Ten years ago, lychee was new to us, and now it’s everywhere. If it gets to the dairy aisle, it starts to stay in people’s minds.”
What To Try Now: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Baccarat Rouge 540 Eau de Parfum, $375 for 70 mL
Annie Buzantian, Indie Master
Her Hit List: Estée Lauder Pleasures, Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Jacobs Dot, Marc Jacobs Decadence
She is a trained classical pianist and an accomplished cook, and she has developed more than 90 fragrances. After immigrating to the US from Romania in 1970 at the age of 20, Annie Buzantian got a lucky break when she scored a job as a lab assistant at the fragrance house Givaudan (known then as Universal Oil Products). After becoming a perfumer trainee, she was quickly recruited to the fragrance house of Firmenich a couple of years later. In 1988, she was named master perfumer of the house, where she continues to be the only woman to ever hold this title.
Having rose to prominence without ever attending a traditional perfumery school, she naturally has a unique approach to fragrance making. “I’m not driven by ingredients because I didn’t have classical training,” she says. “I’m driven by emotion. What do I want to create? It’s just like a painter who doesn’t really know where his colours come from – he just uses the colours he knows he likes.”
Since then, she has created many successful mainstream scents – some of which are considered American icons – but refuses to call out one as a personal favourite. “They all have special meaning,” she says. “Sometimes the clients you work with have great influence on you, but I still treasure the result. How could you not? It’s your creation. I have always had a very sentimental connection to my fragrances. I devote so much time to them, and I believe there’s a piece of me in every one.”
In 2003, she was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Society of Perfumers. “It was a great honour and very humbling,” she says. “As a child, I was very shy. I went to music school and I always came up with so many excuses because I was so afraid to go up on the stage for the recitals. When I was on stage for my achievement award, I thought, ‘Hell, I waited all this time. It’s quite nice.’ It felt great.”
Her latest creation, Marc Jacobs’ Divine Decadence, comes hot on the heels of its successful predecessor, Decadence, which was bottled in a handbag-inspired, emerald-coloured flaçon detailed with a gold and python skin. This juice is no less over the top, with luxurious notes of sparkling champagne (a blend of two fine cognac vintages, no less) and saffron, and follows a distinct trend in the industry for either heady, over-the-top scents or clean, bare-skin fragrances. So, why the great divide? “I think you will always have these extremes in fragrance,” she says. “Even for myself, sometimes I want something more sophisticated, more complex. I want a symphony rather than a quartet.”
What To Try Now: Marc Jacobs Divine Decadence Eau de Parfum, $140 for 100 mL
Ashlee Posner, Homegrown Original
Her Hit List: Aromachology Parfums and Home, Bath and Body range
You can order your own custom fragrance online at myaromachology.com and through The Perfume Bar, which creates experiential pop-up fragrance bars for special events. Wanting to appeal to all levels of fragrance fans – from novices to diehard collectors – Ashlee Posner and her partner, Kirsten Menkes, aimed to develop a new kind of perfume that would integrate the science of how smell affects our behaviour and personality. “I love the way people are surprised by how much scent and smell affect their lives,” says Posner.
“We spend so much time reacting to smell, but we never really think about it because we can’t see it.” Their collection, Aromachology, which they developed in Toronto, is divided into five different base scents that appeal to a wide range of personalities, including Clean & Fresh (which contains green tea, lemon balm and cardamom) and Exotic & Spicy (which includes notes of honeysuckle, nutmeg and sandalwood).
Once you’ve chosen the one that’s best suited to you based on their 10-question scent profile, you can further customize your juice with up to two more top notes from their collection of 15 different scents, which are also labelled to connect to your personality, including Spontaneous and Optimistic.
Posner, who has a background in chemical engineering, says that, in the world of overly commercialized fragrance, the idea of being able to personalize your own scent was simply a no-brainer. “Scent is the first thing people react to when they meet you,” she says. “I think if everyone knew they could have their own smell, they would. You can keep creating something new and it will always be unique and special.”
What To Try Now: Aromachology Sophisticated & Sensual Eau de Parfum, $70 for 50 ml