We Speak To One Of The Most Elusive Figures In The Beauty Industry
Perfumers are notoriously hard to get a hold of…
The role of a perfumer is not unlike that of a composer; they are tasked with the delicate job of creating a fragrance from scratch. What follows is an oh-so precise process of balancing lightness (just a touch more jasmine…) with heavier notes (hold the sandalwood) until the olfactory composition is complete.
Perfumers – often affectionately referred to as a “nose” – are the enigmas of the beauty world. Occasionally, you will meet a high profile “nose” (case in point: Christine Nagel, the in-house perfumer at Hermès) but for the most part, the artistic geniuses behind our most-loved perfumes fly under the radar.
So you can understand our excitement when Sophie Labbé, the perfumer behind Versace’s recently-released Dylan Turquoise EDT agreed to speak to Gritty Pretty. Here, she shares the process of creating a fragrance for the House of Versace from start to finish.
Hi Sophie! Nice to meet you. My first question for you is: how did you become a perfumer?
It was a profession that I didn’t know existed! I grew up in the west of France where my father grew grapes for Cognac. However, I was always very interested in the power of scent.
Later, when I was studying biology and chemistry at a university in Paris, I read an article on the school ISIPCA in Versailles where they trained people to become a perfumer.
I thought it was a super idea but first, I wanted to meet with a perfumer. I was a little bit naive so I started to call all of the brands that created perfumes – Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and other houses.
Finally, I called Jean Patou and at that time, Jean Kerleo was the in-house perfumer. I was lucky enough to organise an appointment to meet with him. I stayed all afternoon and he explained to me all the different facets of his profession – from the way to select ingredients to how he describes smells and the best raw ingredients.
After that, I was so happy and knew it was what I wanted to do. When I called Givenchy, they told me they didn’t have an in-house creator. [Looking back on it] it’s so funny because years ago I created Givenchy Organza and it was my first big perfume.
What does an average day look like for a perfumer like yourself?
When I leave the office in the evening, I always dip my blotters in the different fragrances that I’m developing. So first thing in the morning, I smell the dried down blotters. This gives me the ideas I need to continue working on my fragrances; I can then evaluate which modifications I need to make.
I write all of my formulas on the computer and then send them directly to my lab technician for compounding and trials. Then, I can smell the [lab created] works and decide if I like them or not.
We also have evaluators who also help guide us, they give us comments to improve the fragrances before we prepare some meetings with customers.
During COVID, it has been hard because we usually enlist our colleagues so we could smell the perfume on their skin but we couldn’t do that anymore.
When I leave the office in the evening, I put some dots on my arm so I can evaluate all of my different perfumes during the evening.
During the weekend, I’ll choose one specific fragrance that I’m creating and take it home; I want to feel like a consumer so I wear it like a consumer. That’s very important for me. It’s interesting because sometimes you’ll get comments from people. For instance, last weekend, I went to an exhibition of Christian Louboutin and I had three comments from people asking me, ‘what are you wearing?’ I love this. When this kind of thing happens, you know that you have created something important.
When you are creating a fragrance, how do you know that it’s finished?
That’s an interesting question. I’m always working in partnership with a marketing team or brand. [When the fragrance is finished], it’s a decision that we all take together. The creation of a fragrance is also done by the whole team including the marketing team and PR team.