How to become a perfumer?
Above all, we are not born perfumer, we become one !
Is it a gift ? I do not think so. It is mostly about work, sometimes redundant but done with pleasure out of passion.
Some people will have a penchant for smells and fragrances from a young age – not even that of Grenouille, the main character of Patrick Süskind’s novel, Perfume – and will more easily be able to distinguish them for one another. It does not mean that they will become perfumers in the future, even if this appetite may be favorable to them.
Becoming a perfumer can be learned through specialized studies, training, practice and memorization work. Being a perfumer is not only having a sensitive nose, it is all about being creative to imagine the perfume from a customer brief, it is also knowing how to use the thousands of natural and synthetic ingredients on the organ to harmonise them, it is finally to understand their chemical interactions for a stable scent over time ; not much people like to smell vinegar. 😉
It is important to realise that all pathways are different and if you really want, if you are really motivated, even if your profile does not fit in the boxes, you do have to try. It might not work but you won’t have any regrets.
What studies are needed to become a perfumer ?
The perfumer, by creating its perfumes, mixes molecules with each other. Of course there are the synthetic ingredients, mainly composed of a single molecule and then there are the natural ingredients. These are made up of hundreds of molecules.
So the perfume is alive because all of these compounds will react with each other. Sometimes, this will cause a coloration of the perfume, yellow, brown or red. In other circumstances an unpleasant vinegar smell will develop in a few months. There is also the case where the perfume is inserted into a cosmetic base or detergent (shampoo, cream, laundry, household products…). In this case, we may get inappropriate textures or colors.
For all these reasons, the profession of perfumer is certainly creative and artistic but above all we must not forget the technical and scientific dimension.
You will understand, to become a perfumer it is imperative to study sciences, and in particular, chemistry. Generally, the final level of study is a Master’s degree.
Thus, it is recommended after the high school diploma to focus on the following courses :
- technology chemical degree and chemical HND ;
- Chemistry or biochemistry bachelor degree ;
- Professional degree at International Higher Institute of Perfume, Cosmetics and Food Aromatics (ISIPCA) in Versailles
Once your bachelor degree is in your pockets, you can continue to one of these Master’s degree possibilities :
- ISIPCA at Versailles ;
- Higher school of perfume at Paris ;
- Professional Master Cosmetic, Aroma and Fragrance Engineering (ICAP) in Montpellier ;
- Master Aroma, fragrances et cosmetics (ARPAC) in Le Havre.
What is internal school ?
Then, joining an internal school can be an interesting step. You become an employee of a perfumery company which ends up training you as a perfumer. A small number of companies currently offer this opportunity, the number of places varies according to the need of the company and the profile is often chosen according to the country where they will be sent following their training :
This last step is not essential, you can be accompanied by a mentor in many other companies or even start as a perfumer analyst, a very formative experience for the future.
During these years of study, the apprentice perfumer will learn the art of olfaction, the science of formulation, all natural and synthetic raw materials that will compose its palette. It will learn to put into words on what it smells and what it feels.
Also, it will understand the challenges of such a profession ; the personal and professional qualities necessary for the good practice of this niche profession, where excellence is required.
What are the personal and professional qualities needed to become a perfumer ?
Each profession has its own specificities. Throughout its whole career, a perfumer learns about new ingredients, new techniques, new products to perfume.
Let’s start with personal qualities.
Perfumers are sometimes described as pretentious, haughty, even unpleasant. As you can imagine, I cannot agree with that.
However, there are characters traits present in many of us :
- Patience (not always)
- Sense of observation and listening
If you hate to lose, this profession can be difficult. A brand proposed its brief to several houses. These companies and their perfumers are in constant competition. It also happens, within a company, that several perfumers work on the same project. In this case, you are competing against your own colleagues. This situation happens regularly and can be difficult to manage, even uncomfortable.
Yes, a perfumer spends more time losing than winning. It spends more time imagining perfumes that will never see the light of day than celebrating new launches with the team.
From a professional point of view, your assets will be :
- Chemistry knowledges
- Appreciate teamwork
- Respect of working deadlines
- To be able to adapt
- Control of the formulation with evolving regulation
- Memorisation of raw materials
How did I become a perfume ?
As a child, I never had the feeling of being sensitive to scents. Around 10 years old, in a park in my city, a party was organized. There were stands to make bouquets, to observe tarantulas, taste honey… And then there was a stand to create a perfume.
It was a magical moment. Every year, I had hoped to see this stand again but not. At that moment, it was just a good memory. I had not realized the door that I had open.
I have always had a scientific profile, yet I was attracted to law for a long time, then medicine, physics and I finally joined a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry at the University of Orsay with œnology and a perfume options. As far as I know, this was the only year where these options have existed…
My professional future was still very uncertain because chemistry was not a universe that attracted me much. But these options which mean fun and curiosity for me ; what wonderful discoveries.
Here I am in this world of smell and emotions. I joined ISIPCA in 2010, worked in creative houses (Mane, Symrise, Sozio) and in a brand, L’Artisan Parfumeur.
Then comes the time of independence. Becoming an independent perfumer allows me to create with more freedom, to imagine bespoke perfumes that make sense for the one who wears it and to be authentic in my creations and with my customers. I also trained in Aromachology to understand the actoin of smell on our behavior and to feel better. It also allowed me to share my passion through workshops or more technical training. A balance between moments of solitude for creation and moments of conviviality to share.
This job is fantastic. This sweet mix of art and science is extraordinary for me.
If you have any questions, leave a comment, I would be happy to answer them.