Just as a musician needs a good ear, a perfumer needs a good nose. Their olfactory organ must be better trained and more highly aware for their profession. They must also be imaginative and have a good understanding of chemestry. Creators of fragrance, who are known as “Noses,” are held in the highest esteem in the perfume industry and theirs is the final say as to whether or not a fragrance is acceptable.
Perfumers are chosen in various ways, each company having a different procedure. Generally, the candidates remain apprentices for a minimum of 6 years and may never make the grade at all but, if they do, they become full-fledged perfumers and then can move up the ranks, depending on the success of their creations.
The primary requisite for becoming a Nose is a keen olfactory sense. Perfumers must not only be able to distinguish blindfolded between the fragrance of a rose and a tulip, but their sense of smell must be so acute that they can detect in a mixture of 100 or more ingredients the precise amount of the various substances that have contributed to the formula.
They must not only be able to recognize various raw materials but must have the capacity and artistry to blend them harmoniously. They must be able to tell the difference between oils of the same species of plant cultivated in different countries, and which type will achieve a particular result. Lavender oil, for example, can have a topnote that is floral, balsamic, sharp, sweet, green or nut-like. The Nose has his or her counterpart in the wine industry, where the skilled expert can tell in an instant the region, type of grape, and vintage of the wine he or she is sampling.
A truly great perfume is not created in a hurry. Mass-produced fragrances may be blended from a standard formula in a short time, but the original creation of a beautiful perfume may take years to accomplish. If the artist has a picture in mind that he or she wishes to translate into scent many weeks and months will be spent over it. Surrounded by myriads of bottles, vials, jars, each filled with precious essential oils and other materials, the perfumer goes to work.
During the blending they dip long, slender bits of blotters, called mouillettes (pronounced moo-yets) into the solution and put them aside to dry. At intervals these strips are sniffed, to determine what should be added to perfect the composition and to round out the fragrance.
Just as a painter spreads paint over canvas and then steps back to view it critically checking up on whether more light is needed in an area, or a bit more blue needs to be added to the purple, so does the perfume artist make tests. Perhaps a minute quantity of jasmine to give smoothness, or a slightly heavier note to add more character to an otherwise too light scent, is what the perfumer decides.
Throughout the building of the perfume it is tested frequently, and under varying conditions. Is it the same in the early morning as it is in the dusk of the evening? Is the scent altered by weather conditions? These and many other checks are made before the perfume is considered a finished product.