How Aroma Ingredients Build a Scent (guest post)

The following is a guest post by Zanos.

Aroma ingredients come in lots of different forms – from natural essential oils to synthetic aroma chemicals, not to mention combinations of the two.

They range from bases that hold fragrances together for longer, to individual odour notes, to more complex accords that blend multiple notes into a unified aroma, and pyramid notes that are perceived differently over a period of time.

While manufacturers might make a big deal of using only natural aroma ingredients, the fact is that synthetic aroma chemicals are by far the larger proportion of the market, and with good reason.

Synthetic aroma chemicals offer benefits including:

  • Lower cost and consistent budgeting for commercially driven projects.
  • Consistent quality and less variation due to climate or location of source.
  • Large volume production means reliable supply even of large quantities.

Natural aroma ingredients have their benefits too – and the higher cost and scarcity of some is even seen as beneficial in markets like top-end fragrances, where it is helpful for products to be thought of as exclusive.

But for some applications, synthetic aroma chemicals are the only option, including developing new molecules that don’t occur in nature at all, and these massively expand the range of options open to the perfumer.

What are the key markets for synthetic aroma chemicals?

Synthetic aroma chemicals can be found in several key markets:

  • Household toiletries and cosmetics with high-volume production.
  • Markets transitioning from natural fragrance ingredients to synthetic aroma chemicals.
  • Rising use of artificial menthol reduces need for natural crops.
  • Vanilla substitutes tackle supply problems due to weather events.
  • Chemical processing can also transform natural raw materials.

This last point is an important one because the line between natural fragrance ingredients and synthetic aroma chemicals is increasingly blurred by the methods used by perfume chemists to process natural ingredients.

Perfume ingredients like Ambroxan are a fine example of this, helping to reduce the use of controversial natural aroma ingredients like ambergris, while still providing the kind of musky, complex scent that great perfumes are built on.

It also highlights how intricately connected perfumery and chemistry are – whether blending aroma ingredients to produce a unique perfume, or applying chemical processes to create something more than the sum of its parts.

Because of this, the expertise of modern aroma chemists and experienced perfumers means that synthetic aroma chemicals are found in every market, both alongside and often instead of their natural counterparts.

This post is in collaboration with Zanos which specialises in sourcing and supplying high-quality natural essential oils and aroma chemicals for the UK and European flavour and fragrance industry. Founded in 2000 and based on over 25 years’ experience in the chemical and allied industries, Zanos has extensive contacts and performs as a distributor, supplier and sourcing agent.


Conversation with Dana El Masri


Dana El Masri is an indie perfumer for Jazmin Sarai perfumes based in Montreal.  Back in February we had a lovely chat with lots of laughs, which unfortunately just can’t be transcribed, a real shame as I think you would have appreciated Dana’s bubbly, inquisitive nature as much as I did.  I hope that some of it does come through though in the transcription:

Her Two Scents: How did you get started as a perfumer and do you have any formal training?

Dana El Masri: I had an epiphany about six years ago and I had just graduated with a degree in communication studies and for the longest time I wanted to sing and go into sound production. Once graduated the economic crisis hit and there were no jobs in my field and so I started doing a lot of reading and my friend gave me a book called “Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins and I had this insatiable need to find out about all the ingredients in the book, like this “magnificent jasmine” and bee pollen which I had never heard of before. This book helped me realize that I have very strong scent memories – I remember what I wore to my prom, what I wore when I graduated from high school. Having grown up in the Middle East I was surrounded by the scent of jasmine and incense and our rituals have a lot of scent components, culturally speaking, the way you smell is really important, even when you have guests in the home. I’m also a perfume super fan, I have a lot of perfumes.

So in the beginning I thought of going back to school to learn chemistry so I could get into ISIPCA, that route would have taken too long but I was lucky enough to find the Grasse Institute of Perfumery and I ended up doing the whole one year intensive. I was interviewed for the school in New York by Clement Gavarry, Senior Perfumer at IFF, and as it turns out Clement’s father (Max Gavarry) ended up becoming my professor. So, yes, I am classically trained in the Jean Carles method and it was one of the most incredible years of my life.

H2S: Are you mainly into naturals or do you use synthetics as well?

Dana El Masri: As far as ingredients are concerned, I would consider myself a mixed media perfumer. We were taught that naturals and synthetics go hand in hand; that naturals are the flesh and synthetics the skeleton of a perfume. I don’t like to isolate ingredients when I create, I’m more interested in how they work together. I have a lot of naturals but I feel that synthetics push my artistic capabilities further. I also find that achieving transparency using only naturals is difficult – they’re expensive and hard to work with and you have to be very capable to work with them – being very dense a lot of them can end up smelling very similar. At the end of the day this is an art and you need to always be learning and using new techniques, new tools.

H2S: Nowadays everybody wants everything yesterday. I see a lot of newbies on some of the perfume forums wanting to be perfumers in a matter of months. From the perspective of a perfumer that’s already out there doing their thing, in your opinion, what are some of the realistic expectations with regard to what can be done in the first three years, for someone just stepping into this art?

Dana El Masri: For one, if you can get training in any shape or form, do it because it’s really important. Not to take anything away from self-taught perfumers, there are a lot of immensely talented self-taught perfumers out there. But perfumery is such an isolated art already it’s vital to be able to talk to others, get real-time feedback and constructive criticism about your creations. One of the things I learned during my year of training is that the title ‘perfumer’ is a title to be earned. One year is not enough. Before I started selling enough perfumes to call my self a perfumer I always used the title “perfumer-in-training”. It’s only been two years that I’ve been calling myself a perfumer and even then I feel like I need 10 years to feel like one. As a perfumer you never stop learning so it’s important to stay humble. You need to have a strong palette, access to as many ingredients as you can get your hands on and the willingness to invest the time to learn them by heart. I also did a residency at The Institute of Art and Olfaction where I created perfumes inspired by music Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, the Mamas and the Papas. The thing about the IAO is that they have a ton of ingredients that you can experiment and expand your scent memory with and that’s a wonderful opportunity for any perfumer in training.

H2S: Share with us some of the strategies that you have used to create visibility for yourself as a perfumer? How did you take your first steps in sales.

Dana El Masri: That’s a good question because I’m still learning! (She laughs.) I launched my business a year ago and I think that when I came back from Grasse I started a blog, like you. I didn’t start out with the intent to sell but to just get my name out there and be recognized for sharing information on scent. But I’ve always been clear about my approach, which is music and scent, equating sounds to smells. So my way is to really try to push perfumery as an art form. At first I wanted to sell only online not realizing that you need the live person, real touch component, and I do try to attend as many tradeshows as possible like Elements and I write for the magazine ODOU, as well I found a few stores willing to stock my perfumes. Mine is a five year plan, I’m taking the long view.

H2S: Since you formulate around music, how do you go about that, what’s your unique process for composing look like? Do you use the classic Top, Middle, Base approach?

Dana El Masri: I would say that I will use the classic approach when creating a bespoke perfume as a way to structure the process and help the client “scentually” visualize the area I want them to focus on. But for myself, when I’m composing my own perfumes I will listen to a song that I’m using as the muse and note the pitch, the rhythm, and beat and I’ll write down my impressions, feelings and similarities of tone and then I translate that all into olfactory form. For example if I listen to song and find that it’s very heavy and dense then I don’t see where a top note would have any bearing on the translation of that song to scent. It really depends on the perfume and what calls to me.

H2S: What are some of the raw materials you always come back to and why?

Dana El Masri: For me I think it always changes. During school we had access to all kinds of materials, if it wasn’t available they ordered it, it was then I realized I had an obsession with Sandalwood, incense, and Cassis Base. I also have a very strong connection to Jasmine, I find it very versatile. Osmanthus too, is beautiful but hard to work with. What I found is that when you become aware of what you like you have to consciously practice restraint to not keep using it. And also personal tastes do change over time. I remember at first I didn’t know what to do with Amber and I didn’t like Civet but practice, smell and play is what keeps changing things up for me.

H2S: What three scents would you use to describe your city, Montreal, to someone who’s never been there before?

Dana El Masri: I had a really hard time with this question. I would have to say it depends on the season because Montreal smells completely different every season! If I had to give it a general smell I’d say a light fractionated Patchouli, which is slightly humid but not too heavy with a scent of bagels and Birch trees. But in the Spring, Montreal really comes alive, the lilacs are coming out, so a little bit of C14, Cassis base (of course!), linalol, hints of honey…all the snow is melting so you’re definitely getting the slight fermented ‘waste’ smell coming at you, too, and that’s strongly mixed with the fresh grass shoots and vegetation. Also a lot of brick and cool pine.

H2S: Any advice for aspiring perfumers?

Dana El Masri:

  1. Experiment as much and as often as your budget will allow.
  2. Keep all your formulas even the ones you can’t stand right now.
  3. Keep informed about the industry, things are always changing , new materials are always becoming available.
  4. Listen to feedback but stay true to your vision.
  5. Write everything down and label everything!
  6. This is a long journey and you’re going to make a lot of crappy smelling stuff so be patient with yourself.

I think all six points are important but the last one, being patient with ourselves as we learn, to me rings the loudest. Thank you, Dana, for taking the time to share your journey with us and I hope you all enjoyed the read!

Happy Wednesday!



Conversation with Andy Brunning


Last month I had an email chat with Andy Brunning, owner of the site Compound Interest, a blog about “…creating graphics looking at the chemistry and chemical reactions we come across on a day-to-day basis.” Andy is also teacher* of chemistry in the UK.

I fell in love with his infographic The Chemistry of the Smell of Decomposition explaining the chemistry behind the odour of decaying things because I was thrilled to have scientific confirmation of something I’ve been coming across again and again in my perfumery education: that the molecule Indole, found in decaying matter, is also present in many alluring, sexy, provocative white flowers like “… jasmine, gardenia, tuberose and orange blossom to a lesser degree; but also in honeysuckle and lilac, technically not white flowers at all) doesn’t really smell of poop in isolation. On the contrary if I were to give it a common reference I’d compare it to the stale yet curiously “fresh” (as in sharp, penetrating, energizing instead of pacifying) scent of mothballs.” (Fragrantica)



And check out the Scents of Christmas graphic that to date has received close to 3,000 shares on FaceBook:


Being that I approach perfume formulating from a chemistry point of view — it just seemed to be the most natural, instinctive way that is evolving for me — I try to find harmonies between similar and juxtaposed chemical components in my compositions, Compound Interest has been a total trip for me and I had to find out more. I had to find out why a teacher would be interested in breaking down chemistry into understandable bits for some of the more chemically-challenged among us, which led to this conversation.

If you’re a perfumer who is at all interested in the molecular aspect of perfume making then you’ll probably enjoy this conversation with Andy:

Her Two Scents: I love your info graphics as a tool for simplifying chemistry! How did you come upon this idea, how did Compound Interest start?

Andy Brunning: The infographics actually came out of me just making a set of classroom posters on the different groups of elements. I’d wanted to make a selection of them to brighten up my classroom, and also to have something on the walls that wasn’t just there to take up the space, but was instead crammed with interesting information. Some of my friends who are also teachers then asked me to share them with them, and I figured that putting them online and making them available for free was the easiest way to do that, so the Compound Interest site was born!

Most of the graphics I make now are primarily intended for the website – I really enjoy taking a subject, then distilling it down into a page of information that gives a succinct but detailed overview on that particular aspect of chemistry. I still use them occasionally in the classroom too, and it’s gotten to the stage where my older pupils will quite often ask me in more detail about some of them, so I like to hope I’m making it easier for them to find out more about aspects of chemistry they maybe don’t study as part of their course.

H2S: There are two very passionate camps in perfumery, those that embrace composing strictly with naturals and those that see nothing wrong with aroma chemicals and include them in greater or lesser degrees in their creations. How would you put the use of synthetic compounds into perspective from an educational point of view?

Andy: Generally speaking, when it comes to natural vs. synthetic, there still seems to be a lot of misunderstanding out there. I’ve had discussions with followers of the site who’ve not realised that a synthetic version of a compound is identical chemically to the natural version. Of course, in perfumery, it’s maybe a little more complicated than that; synthetic imitations of a particular essential oil will probably focus on the main character-impact compounds that give a good imitation of that scent, whereas the essential oil will contain a more complex mix of compounds. A good example is that of jasmine; jasmone and methyl jasmonate are the primary character-impact molecules of the essential oil, and it’s these that a synthetic imitation will focus on. So, there is a difference between the essential oil and the synthetic version, but only in that the synthetic version is focusing on the key compounds that give the essential oil its aroma.

H2S: Regarding those aroma chemicals that can have a disruptive effect on the body, like some nitromusks, how should the perfumer approach the use or not of these materials?

Andy: I’ll admit to not knowing a great deal about the regulatory system in the perfumery industry, aside from recalling that it has its own regulatory body, so I don’t know what safeguards and recommendations are in place for families of chemicals like the nitromusks. However, I do know that they’ve been mostly superseded by other alternative compounds, such as the polycyclic musks. That shows the importance of the role of chemists in the process, being able to supply alternatives to chemicals used in personal care products and perfumery that can have undesirable effects. I suppose it’s then down to the perfumer to have a good knowledge of these alternatives.

H2S: Hydrocarbons, alcohols, esters and ketones! It can be quite confusing for the self taught perfumer with no previous experience in chemistry. Could you suggest a systematic approach to understanding these elements better to help with their compounding? What approach do you teach your students?

Andy: Our students have to know a number of different types of organic compounds for their course, so I’ve put together something of a ‘cheat sheet’ for them to help them memorise the different ones. Being able to recognise these groups in a molecule is a very important factor in organic chemistry, because it determines a multitude of different information, such as the name of the compound, as well as its properties.

When our students are first introduced to organic chemistry, we’ll start out drawing and naming the simplest of these, and gradually work towards more complex molecules as they progress. I always like to throw in contextual uses of the compounds they’re drawing as well to try and help them remember!

H2S: In your opinion as an educator, what is the benefit to a perfumer in understanding organic chemistry and therefore the chemistry of essential oils and aroma chemicals?

Andy: Whilst as a perfumer it might not be necessary to be able to interpret the chemical structure of a particular molecule, being able to recognise functional groups in a molecule can sometimes tell you a little about the type of aroma it possesses. Functional groups are basically specific arrangements of atoms within an organic molecule that give it its reactivity, and can also influence its aroma. For instance, molecules containing an solely an ester functional group can often have quite pleasant, fruity smells, whilst compounds with an aldehyde functional group can also be very fragrant. It’s not always that simple – there are some horrible smelling esters! – but I could certainly see how having that knowledge could be beneficial for a perfumer.

H2S: Why do you think so many people are afraid of chemistry?

Andy: I think it could partly be down to a lack of context when they’ve studied chemistry in the past? A lot of the content in textbooks is largely removed from context, or provided with a few limited contextual examples. Whilst it’s not necessary to understand the content, I think it does help in appreciation of the wider applicability and relevance of chemistry when you’re actually able to link it to your daily life. Pupils learn about methods for extracting metals and crude oil, which are obviously important parts of modern society, but aren’t really something they can directly relate to.

The plethora of ‘chemical free’ sloganeering in marketing doesn’t help the reputation of chemistry either. ‘Chemical’ has become something of a tarnished word, with sinister and unpleasant implications. Whilst I think the majority of people probably do have an appreciation that everything is made up of chemicals, for some the use of the word ‘chemical’ still instantly brings to mind those negative connotations. That’s something I hope that the Compound Interest site is making progress with, but it’s only a small corner of the internet, so I think there’s still a long way to go to escape the ‘chemicals = bad’ association!

H2S: Are you working on anything to help the self-taught perfumer better comprehend chemistry?

Andy: I’ve actually been working on a graphic looking at the key components in essential oils for a little while now – the trouble is trying to fit all the compounds on in a way that they’re still visible without a ridiculous amount of zooming in! At this stage I think I’m probably going to have to consider splitting it up into a series of graphics – but I’m hoping it’ll provide a bit of insight into the chemical structures behind a variety of fragrances.

H2S: Freaking finally!!! I can’t wait!

I would like to thank Andy for making chemistry something fun for me, for breaking down molecular concepts and turning them into a visual that I can use as a mental map during olfactory training, categorising and combining that form the heart of this never ending process of learning perfumery.

If you aren’t yet familiar with Andy’s really cool graphics and want to know where to start to get your feet wet, I would recommend checking out the infographics describing the Scent of the Sea, the Aroma of Chrismas Trees and the Aroma of Fresh Cut Grass.

Have a wonderful week!


* An earlier version of this post stated incorrectly that Andy is a professor.


Conversation with: Saskia Wilson-Brown


Back in December I sat down over Skype and a cup of tea with Saskia Wilson-Brown, founder of the Institute for Art and Olfaction. In 2014 they launched the Art and Olfaction Awards, which I’ve followed keenly from the very beginning, a yearly awards designed to help celebrate excellence in independent and artisan perfumery. This year, apart from the two original categories INDEPENDENT AWARD and the ARTISAN AWARD they’ve now included the SADAKICHI AWARD FOR EXPERIMENTAL SCENT aimed at honoring the work of those who engage with scent outside of the realm of commercial perfumery. The following is a transcript of our talk, which touches upon the benefits to the perfumer of submitting their work in the awards, what the judges look for in a winning composition to the future of the Art and Olfaction Awards.

H2S: I read in your manifesto that the purpose of the IAO is to build public education programs around the olfactory arts; building cross-genre collaborations with experts and the public (love this!); and also (and I contemplated on this quite a bit) that having the IAO in LA provides the motivation to look westward to Asia, southward to Latin America inward to ourselves and upwards to outer space, all important requirements I think for a well-rounded perfumer.  But WHY? What was your personal impulse for starting this journey, what made you think, yeah, LA needs an olfactory school like the IAO?

Saskia Wilson-Brown: Very simple answers with some complicated implications: LA because I live here, and it’s an interesting place. The perception that people have of LA is Beverly Hills, Hollywood… That’s not the LA I know. Los Angeles is really best understood as a Latin American city. It’s extremely sprawling, not exactly pretty, and the extremes are sometimes apparent, the rich are so much flashier and the poor people so much more destitute. But, on the flip side, everyone still has to co-exist in this teeming mass of humanity, this city that’s slightly falling apart. Even though LA has an elite, there is an egalitarian feeling. We’re all on the same freeways, in the same traffic, eating food at the same run-down strip malls. It’s fascinating. For me, LA was an interesting place for this enterprise because it makes even the fanciest people feel slightly disheveled. I see it as somehow contrary to how the perfume world likes to be perceived: The exclusivity, the luxury, the industry secrets, the intransigent divide between the people who make, and the people who buy.

Also, California is a place people come to in order to do something: This creates an openness to ideas, to experimentation, that for various reasons feels strongest on the West Coast of the US. This is an interesting context for the institute. I chose to start he IAO because I wanted to learn, and I couldn’t find a context within which to learn that wouldn’t be wildly interruptive to my life. Selfishly, I wanted to create a structure in which people like me could learn in a way that was more accessible, more relaxed and easy going. My main interest was (and still is) to allow artists and ‘outsiders’ access to the medium, as an arts practice – not as an industry track.

H2S: What do the judges look for in a winning composition?

Saskia Wilson-Brown: The judges have very specific judging parameters, which each judge perforce ends up interpreting in their own way. We try to keep it as specific as possible, however, because we want to make sure it’s fair. The four parameters are:

– FIRST IMPRESSIONS: How do you judge the scent in your first instance of experiencing it? Is it positive? Is it disruptive? Do you like it?

– THE WEAR DOWN: How do you feel about the scent as it evolves?

– THE INTENTIONALITY: This is one that is really important, that demonstrates mastery. If you set an intention to create a scent — for example, Paris in the rain — but you create a scent that has really nothing to do with rain or Paris, well then it shows that you’re not really completely in control of your materials, in a way. Of course, we allow for some degree of interpretiveness, but intentionality is a big one.

– X FACTOR: There’s always going to be a scent that’s, you know, technically not all that great but somehow it grabs you! It has something that’s special even though you can’t quite figure out what it is. This is the point where the judges get to advocate for something they really enjoy.

H2S: Saskia, I’m in my second year of perfume training right now and let me tell you that following a brief has got to be the hardest part of making a perfume!

Saskia Wilson-Brown: Isn’t it, though?! It think that’s a very fair statement. Because you have to know your materials in order to convey the specific idea. And there’s so much interpretation in perfumery – and also on the part of those who are smelling it, people will get what they get out of it. So yeah, it’s extremely hard.

H2S: What are the three biggest benefits for an up-and-coming perfumer to submit their creation and enter the awards? I followed your first year intensely, saw Yosh win and have no idea how her career changed after winning because I thought she was pretty well known even before the Awards.

Saskia Wilson-Brown: To be honest I can’t really answer that, I mean, I have my own philosophical issues with competition, so there’s this part of me that’s like… jeez… Why are we doing this? Why are we putting more competitiveness in a field that’s already so competitive! We decided to do the awards nonetheless, because we thought it would create a space in which to advocate for people who are really unknown, whose work is excellent but weren’t getting seen because maybe their packaging isn’t that great, or maybe they had no budget for marketing, or maybe they are just underground. A person who comes to mind in the first year of the Awards is Amber Jobin, with John Frum (the perfume). Amber is the perfumer for Aether Arts Perfume, a perfumer from Boulder Colorado, and I would say she’s an artisan perfumer to the extreme. Her marketing is low on the gloss factor, she does her own thing, marches to the beat of her own drummer, and I suspect does it mostly for her own pleasure. And, with that, the judges felt that her composition was hands down one of the best. Would she have gotten that much attention without a little push from a panel of people judging the scent completely anonymously, completely divorced from packaging and marketing? I don’t know. She probably would have, eventually: Talent does have a way of rising. But I thought… Well, here’s an example of the awards succeeding at what they were set up for. Bring smaller artisan and independent labels to some sort of prominence, at least within our community. As we gain more reach with time, the impact will also be bigger.

H2S: I see the Art and Olfaction Awards teaming up with Esxence Milan — which is great news for us here in Europe — so, what’s behind the decision?  Why bring the imprint overseas?

Saskia Wilson-Brown: Well, I was raised internationally, and you know, one of the dangers of doing anything in California is that you risk becoming a little provincial. I think that the independent/artisan perfume scene in California and the US is really strong, but I also think it’s important to have a global competition. It think without it you’re not getting a fair assessment of what’s out there, you’re not competing *for real*. So, Dr. Claus Noppeney who’s a professor in Bern, Switzerland actually suggested and initiated the partnership on our behalf. To me it will ensure that the competition does have a global reach and does represent the world of independent perfumery. So it’s strategic in that sense. Also, the team at Esxence is just wonderful. We’re honored that they would consider working with us.

H2S: What do you see as changing in the world of perfumery? (or) What do you see as one of the biggest influencers of change for the perfumer of the future?

Saskia Wilson-Brown: Frankly, the internet! For one you get more access to people in the community, you get access to more and more materials on a smaller scale, you get access to knowledge-sharing environments. But the materials are key: We now have companies selling small amounts of aroma molecules, I don’t imagine this was happening to such a large degree in the past! I mean seriously, can you imagine calling up a multi-national supplier and asking for .5 oz of Ethyl 2 Methyl Butyrate? Like, seriously that would never have happened back in ’92! It’s like what you’re doing with Her Two Scents, you’re sharing information about materials on a very technical level, your impressions, and being open about learning. You wouldn’t have been able to get access to that before.

H2S: Los Angeles!  We all think we know it so well because of T.V. And movies, but to know a city viscerally is to know it by nose, by the smell.  How would you describe the smell of your city to someone completely foreign to it; what 3 notes best represent LA and why?  

Saskia Wilson-Brown: It’s a hard question! Because, well, there are the literal smells of LA which are dry, yet oceanic, there’s a lot of Salvia here, and mainly it’s a dusty, dry city. So in that regard something like Norlimbanol. But the thing about LA that always stuck with me, and this has nothing to do with smell directly but it relates, for example to the feeling you get when you land at LAX that you’ve landed in a 3rd World airport. It’s a mess! Then you get outside the terminal and there’s this dryness in the air, but then you also get buffeted with the smell of the ocean (which is not far from the airport at all). And the first thing you see leaving the airport are all these huge light sculptures in super bright colors. They have all these beautiful lights, outside the terminals, and suddenly … you’re in LA. So to me the smell of LA is the smell of bright colored neons, and this smell is Rhubafuran, to me: A high octane, rhubarb smell. That’s the smell that reminds me of the glamor of LA.

H2S: I thought for sure you were going to pull out a list of naturals, but I was NOT expecting you to give me aroma chemicals!

Saskia Wilson-Brown: Are you kidding me, LA is all about aroma chemicals! If I had to give you naturals only I’d say salvia or cedarwood, cause cedar smells dry to me, but to me it’s all about Norlimbanol, Rhubafuran, Calone… Or any of those intense aroma chemicals.

H2S: Where do you see the Art and Olfaction Awards in 10 years time?

Saskia Wilson- Brown: This year was only our second year [she laughs] but over the course of time I hope these awards will come to mean something. The thing I’m really aiming for is that as we grow our impact and while retaining our sense of humour and relaxed approach. I have zero interest in creating a snobby, exclusionary, red carpet, sort of affair, that’s not what I’m about. So, I’m hoping to keep the sense of community, to take it down a notch and relax.

H2S: You said you started out wanting to learn perfumery. What education element do you find missing for the perfumer wanting to take the leap from hobbyist to professional?

Saskia Wilson-Brown: Wow! So much. Especially here in Los Angeles. I would never consider myself a perfumer because there’s so much technical knowledge that you find a hard time finding access to, and I’m largely self-taught (and still learning!) Again, the internet here is key, but I think that that technical knowledge — you know, regulations – are hard to process. For a lot of perfumers who are starting small and then hoping to expand, there is a sort of leap at some point in terms of your production. I mean, you could make 500 bottles at home, but at some point, you’re going to have to team up with a perfume house. And that leap is one that has not been bridged yet – or at least not in a way that’s helpful or accessible for independent perfumers. But I understand it from the perfume house point of view as well: I’ve had many conversations with Sherri Sebastian and Mike Zarkades at Fragrance West- who are extremely sympathetic to independent perfumers. Sherri, in fact, has her own line (Sebastian Signs) in addition to working with Fragrance West. There are minimums, cost considerations, formulation issues, health and safety issues… A lot could be resolved if perfumers had better understanding of the regulations.

So that’s the biggest challenge I see for small pefumers. I guess surpassing that challenge would represent crossing the bridge from the hobbyist to what the industry perceives as a professional perfumer.

What I’m getting at here is that what’s missing is a systematic structure for sharing international perfume regulations. It could even be a publicly accessible software – a place artisan perfumers could plug in their formulas and red flags pop up: Too much coumarin in your formula. That oak moss will be a problem in Europe. Etc.

In any case, I don’t know if the IAO will be the organization to provide that structure—I barely understand it myself, even with gentle teaching from Sherri Sebastian, Mike Zarkades, Mandy Aftel, Sarah Horowitz-Thran, Brent Leonesio, Josh Meyer, Ashley Eden Kessler and the many other perfumers we’ve worked with. But I do know that if we could help pry open the door to even a fraction of the knowledge base, the only huge challenge that would remain for small perfumers would be in exceeding themselves at the art of making interesting smells (and maybe – in some instances – recognizing how much further they still have to go!) I do know that you need to know the rules, if you want to go big, and you need to know the rules before you can change them.

Heart felt thanks from Her Two Scents to Saskia Wilson-Brown for generously sharing her time and insights for this interview and for giving us indie and artisan perfumers something to aim for in our future.