What is perfume? Is it a science, an art, a business? Our conversation with Michael Edwards, an authority in the perfume world, gave us a new insight into the luxurious side of odour, what he describes as the ‘art of perfume.’ With over 50 years of experience Michael’s expertise have seen him develop an internationally renowned odour wheel which classifies perfumes into groups, from which you can identify like perfumes, match scents together and use as a tool in the creation of new fragrances. He is a pioneer in the perfume industry and proudly continues to be the only impartial perfume categoriser working with all the big-name brands in assisting them in the categorisation of new fragrances.
Our conversation with Michael took us back in time learning about the history of the first perfumes, to the current day and the creation of new, unique scents. Michael’s history in the perfume business began in the 1960s and up until the pandemic he was travelling regularly to Paris and New York still meeting with the best in the perfume business. His warm and inviting presence and excitement about perfume makes it easy to identify that he just loves what he does, and he loves sharing it. We were thrilled to be able to speak with him and learn about the art of perfume.
A full transcript is available below for those that didn’t catch all the brand names and french words that came up, and an embedded link to the podcast is available above.
Hello and welcome to the very first Air Environment Podcast. Today we’ll be looking at an area of odour science quite unfamiliar to us in our day-to-day practice, and that is perfume and fragrances. We’re here today joined by Michael Edwards, who is a Pioneer in the classification of perfumes, is the author of books such as Legends of Perfume One and Two and Fragrances of the World which is sometimes referred to as the perfume Bible and is now in its 34th edition and contains the classification of over 12,000 fragrances and scents.
Michael, the classification of scents and fragrances into a wheel, where did that kind of start for you?
By accident, I know it sounds strange. We have a problem in perfume, there’s no common language. There’s common language in music and art but not in perfume. You talk to me about a set that you like and the words you use, I hear them, but I don’t understand them because my interpretation is a little different. Add to that is the problem that the brands, the perfumers, all use different ways to describe the fragrances. The perfumers, these are the companies that create the perfumes for the great brands, they’ve evolved their own classification system. Society is a perfumery whether it’s England, whether it’s France, whether it’s America, they too have got their own system of classification. The brands have marketing classifications and so you’ve got this cacophony of confusion out there. Add to that is the avalanche of fragrances, last year, even with COVID there were just on 2600 new fragrances that have come along. This year, probably a few less about 1800, but we’re sitting on a database of some 47,000 fragrances, of which 32,000 have come in the last 15 years. Which means that perfume for most people, it’s fascinating, but frustrating, which ones am I going to like and then add to that the fact that flankers have come on out. So, you have, for example, Ralph and Ralph, often Ralph cool and Ralph this and Ralph that and people get totally confused by the whole thing.
Perfume has always been my passion. In my work I started in it in England back in the 1960s in fast moving consumer goods marketing shampoos and toiletries, stuff like that. I became intrigued at that stage because sometimes we would change the fragrance in a shampoo, nothing else and when we did research, we found that people actually said that the product was improved. Now there was no improvement except for the fragrance it’s got a placebo effect and that intrigued me, but I knew nothing about perfume.
So, did you take the odour wheels of those countries?
No, there was no such thing as an odour wheel, no, not at all. There were all these mixed-up classifications, I didn’t even know about the fragrance families. It wasn’t until ‘75 that I went on my first training program for a couple of days with one of the great oil houses in Geneva and there for the first time I became aware of the fragrance families whether it’s the florals or the Orientals, or the woody ones that she promotes.
They had a very technical guide. The Bouquet de la Parfumerie. I doubt if I understood more than 5% of it, but it classified fragrances into the various families of fragrance and then within each family it gave groupings of the fragrances, but again was technical. I remember that there was in one family that they called the floral aldehyde. There was a group that said this was the group of green Woody Animalic spicy floral aldehydes. Hadn’t got a clue what that meant, it turned out to be Chanel number 19, but the guide was great for me because I would take it into perfumeries, and I would smell and compare. I mean there weren’t that many fragrances on that and it taught me a lot.
By that stage I was working in Paris for Halston. Now you probably don’t know Halston, Halston was one of the great American designers, Tom Ford, for example, still recycles his work. He was probably the first American great designer to be treated as an equal by his customers, societies leading ladies there, he became famous for his hat for Jacqueline Kennedy and then for his clothes, well, he went into the fragrance business in ‘75 with Holston, it proved so successful, it was owned by Max Factor, that within two years Holston the fragrance was making more money than the whole of Max Factor in the United States, give you an idea of the size.
At that time, I was brought in to direct the rollout of Holston internationally, and I was working in Paris, and so as I visited the markets set up the offices, talked to the consultants. The more I talked, the more I became aware that because perfume is so frustrating to so many, there’s no common language. People were selling the perfumes that they liked, instinctively because you like to talk about something that you’ve got confidence in, and if you liked it then you covered in it but what you like I might not like it, it wasn’t working and that was when I started to use the experience I had built up in the middle 70s, with the training program of the different families, because I would work by encounters in talking to customers. I would ask the question, “What do you like?”. Initially, I didn’t realise what I was asking, I just thought it was a way to get them talking and it’s great, you know, people do talk if you can ask them for those and they talk and talk and talk and talk and that makes it a lot easier to develop a relationship. But what I noticed is that if I got three or four fragrances out of people, almost invariably, really Maddi, really Fin, almost invariably, at least two of them would fall into one family and the more I researched, the board became clear that the families are the key to selling and understanding fragrance.
Halston lost control of his licenses is in the early 80s he retired a very hurt and bruised man. I set up my own business as a consultant, I guess you could say, to department stores, fine perfumery’s, to show them a new way of selling perfume basically ask your customer what’s your favourite fragrance, to put it together instead of doing a presentation on the PowerPoint, there wasn’t such a thing then, I put together a fragrance workshop in which I invited people, the managers, the consultants, come join me for a couple of hours and we went through the different fragrances., we’d start with a citrus note, they’d smell it then a green note smell waters weren’t available then floral, soft floral that kind and of thing and of course people were fascinated, it was like wine tasting for your nose, but and I said, hey, we need this for the counter but there was no guide available. Then the French Society of perfumers had a guide, but it was private, but it was very limited only really French fragrances no German or Italian or English, no American and that was why in ‘84 I produced my first little guide. I took my basics from the French Society of Perfumers, their classifications are Floral, Oriental, and Woody, so that was my starting point. I added a fourth group called Fresh because the perfumers were not classifying citrus notes, to them they were eau de colognes, not serious perfumes, you know, like refreshing stuff, but for me eau de colognes have been transformed in 1966 by Deal Usova.
Edmund Rudnizka, the perfumer, had found a way of anchoring these very light refreshing notes of citrus, adding warped them and depth without sacrificing a hint of the freshness, so I added the citrus notes there, likewise, the green fragrances. The perfumers were classifying green fragrances as a subgroup of florals, which is right if I take something like Pleasures, for example, Pleasures is a floral with a green touch, imagine Maddi if you were a Floral, I dress you in a green Blouse that would be pleasures. That’s the idea behind it, which is great, but if you get a real green fragrance, it smells like fresh cut grass. And people who like florals delightful Fin, it’s really aggressive. So, I moved the real green fragrances back there.
Well, that was how I started and so I put together this little guide. There were 300 fragrances in there, was pretty tatty spiral bound, was only for the county, you know, but it worked.
Consultants would say what do you like? Maddi and in front of you would look up in the index and they’d ask you which fragrances and once I understood what you liked, they figured out this was the family you probably liked they turn to the page that listed all the fragrances are saying Maddi if you like that or that. Why did you try this? This with us? And it worked. Sales almost doubled, so I updated at 88 Nordstrom, the Great American Department Store founder copy. Don’t know they said we like it. Can you add more American fragrances? So, I did? 91 Nordstrom asked if I could add men fragrances. I’d only had woman’s until that point, and so I became the first match.
Woman’s and men’s fragrances. Now I know that doesn’t mean a damn thing to you, but but you see even then and now the brands talk differently about men’s fragrances and women for women. Many they talk about the sensuality they love. The romance is the emotion there for this when they talk about the macho things, strength all that kind of crap. To me it makes sense because fragrances are fragrances, perfumes, perfume I had to match not because I wanted to be different or to make a point because I had to. The fact is that then, as now, if you look at any department stores, David Jones Myers any perfumeries Mecca Sephora 8085%, sometimes 90% of their customers are women. And Maddie don’t hate us. But the fact is that women have very little faith in the fragrance judgment of the men. In their life.
So, you guys enter by for men what you like, and we get used to it and that is why I mashed women’s and Men’s so that it moves from for example, if somebody came up you’re the consultant woman comes up to buy here this fragrance because remember most of the customers where women You could say Oh wow, I’m so happy you like that. If you like that one next time you’re thinking of a gift. Perhaps for a partner, try these.
You give over samples and bonus sale is made and so that was harder.
Obviously when Nordstrom picked up the book.
You know I got nervous because you could have all the great brands from Chanel decided on going to the Nordstrom counter picking up this this guidebook looking through it, you know, saying what a load of crap, so I figured I’d better start checking it. I wish I could tell you that I persuaded them to pay for the privilege of being listed, dream on that didn’t work, so right from the beginning we made the decision that we’d make no charge for listing or classifying.
We wouldn’t accept advertising and sponsorship and to this day I remain, we remain the only totally independent impartial authority infrequent the upside is that I am able to work with every brand and every perfumer. We don’t accept consultancies from the brands happy to talk to them, but if they ask for our help in developing a fragrance, the answer politely is no. But on the other hand, we use the data A for the development of the database fragrances of the world for the books and the content to create all the fragrance finders and stuff that we use around the world, so that’s how it works.
Was it difficult talking to the brands? Well, not really. They could see the advantage of a universal classification, and because it came quite classically from the basics of the French Society of perfumers they were reassured because it was a very logical system that I developed I changed some of the names, for example, we have family called the aldehydes, the aldehydes or synthetic notes you get them in trace elements in Rose oil and citrus oil, or some smell like a snuffed-out candles, others smell fresh but very metallic. But they form the basis of a power family where the aldehydes make them so sparkly and so big, they make the flowers leap up, that you’ve almost got to push them down and soften them, and so we use notes like the powdery notes of iris or musk to do that and we create this family of aldehydes #5, Chanel #5 so.
Fin Casey: When did you add the aldehydes to the families or was that there from the start?
Michael Edwards: The first aldehyde started in 1903, yeah, but the perfumes were extremely cautious about their use because they smelled so weird. Coco Chanel, Chanel, was the first one to really explore, Ernest Bo had had been the perfumer behind it. He was Russian, but during the First World War he obviously enlisted in the French forces. There was a time at which he was assigned to El Masque, which is up in the Arctic Circle, and he was there during the summer and there he writes, the lakes became alive with these water plants, which had very fresh, sharp scents, the aldehydes, they were full of aldehydes like coriander is full of aldehydes and that was what made him intrigued by and he continued working on it when he returned to France after the First World War and he had created the formula for number 5 before he met Chanel in fact.
But he was really adventurous he used aldehydes at a level 10%, whereas other perfumers were maybe using with just a fraction of a fraction of a percent there in that state. Problem with an aldehyde though, is that you know if you say to you Maddi, Gee It’s a lovely aldehyde, You get that puzzled look in your face, so I feel I have to explain it and tell you stories and by the time I’ve finished you’re thoroughly bored and at the end of the day, all aldehydes smell soft and slightly powdery, and so I changed the name to soft floral. So, I made changes like that, and this made sense to people when I explained it and so today, I’ve created, I think that’s the only universal classification that is accepted by the oil houses accepted by the brands they use, my guide fragrance of the world database so logically they understand it. The brands we check with them and so they have the chance of telling us we explain to them what their fragrances mean in our terms, they would obviously prefer to use theirs but they’re very comfortable with ours now and so simply because it’s available in so many places, it’s now become the universal standard.
Fin Casey: So when do you classify them? What does that look like? Is that you know their process to start that certain number of times?
Michael Edwards: Sure, the typical thing is that for a great brand like Estee Lauder. Before COVID I would go to New York twice a year and I would meet with the people in Estee Lauder who work on the development of the fragrances these are the people in Estee Lauder who briefly perfumers receive their submissions that continue to smell, put the briefings back there and I would work with them. They would show me when we met fragrances that they are launching in the next 6 to 9 months and we would smell them together both fresh and on the dry down. What you first smell as a top note it’s there just to introduce the fragrance it’s got a freshness usually to it a softness to it it’s crucial because people tend to buy on the top note, but it’s that’s right, but it’s the base notes that hold in your memory, and those are the crucial ones, and we call that the dry down, it’s what you smell on these very pure blotting paper strips, after perhaps about an hour to two hours. And so, I classify on the dry down, not on the top. Because the dry down is what remains in your memory, and so in these things we would smell about the top note and the dry down now.
How do I classify instinctively I tell UG heaven has come in across to me as a floral amber note with a green touch to It. Now, I look at the pyramid, obviously that helps in that, but I do I know why I say that. No, I don’t. It’s just that you know after 40 years of evaluating instinctively, I come out with it. Am I always right? No, I’m not, but I’d sound right about 90% of the time, but if I’m talking to you and you are hell on the evaluator. I can see immediately from your eyes if you if you’re not agree with me, so I’ll re continue to do it. So, this is a simple way we do. Once we’ve got our agreements, I then would go meet with the perfumers who created the fragrance and double check those classifications and then I would write this in a note back to Estee Lauder to say dear Helen, these are my proposed classifications for these fragrances.
Are you comfortable with them now? In the meanwhile, that evening I would go back to the apartment. Or hotel room and I would leave those strips out on a table like this. Don’t even spend the next morning. So that’s probably about. 1218 hours afterwards I smell them again. By that time, all the bits and pieces that mix up your nose have gone. Yeah, and you’re getting the guts of what you’re smelling, yeah. Well, and that’s when I reconfirm my smell. Yeah, meanwhile, samples go back to my staff. They do a double check and that’s how we evaluate.
Fin: So, I guess you guys all the industry standards for how this is done?
Michael: I suppose so.
I don’t know if they’ll be evaluators at the house, do it as well?
Yeah, all the oil houses smell all the fragrances.
And what would happen is that you would get in a room like this, maybe 10-15 perfumers and evaluators. A perfumer creates and evaluator.
Has been trained almost as a perfumer.
Their job is to guide is to be the mix between the client and the perfumer. It’s very difficult to create and judge your work, and that’s where the evaluator comes in. The evaluator is meant to be far more commercially minded, far more sensitive to what the nuances of perfume are all about there. Now they would sit around a table like this, and the marketing people have come in and said well, these are the fragrances but we want you to have a look at and classify and they would show you the top note and then the dried out and all these wise people sit around, and they say, well, I think that this is a floral amber with a citrus woody inflection. Everybody nods and says yes, or this one says no I don’t go agree with that, and maybe there’s a 5-minute debate. The only advantage we’ve got is that we probably take more time and effort.
We’ve met with a brand, we’ve listened to the brand we’ve smelt, we drink onto a perfumer, check there we’ve done. I’ve then evaluated them the next day It’s gone to my staff.That’s really the only difference. And then we’ve usually gone back to the brand to check yet again.
Fin Casey: And did you ever kind of screening process through stuff? Because when we have odour panellists, they have to be calibrated. So, we have to filter out the people who are hypersensitive, smellers or console and then maybe teach them a little bit about different characters and smells so that when they smell anyone they’re doing. Does that happen to your staff as well?
Michael Edwards: Not really, because we hire evaluators to start because. Also, flexibility. We’ve already been trained by the. Who will really be trained by the oil patch? So, we can’t latch onto that expertise, so I hope that makes sense as to how we go about it yeah.
Fin Casey: Is there a consideration for? I guess the strength of the fragrance because we have olfactometers where you dilute the origins until you can’t smell them anymore and that kind of tells you how strong they were to begin.
Michael Edwards: With is that it’s not really. For us, because we evaluate at the strength of the of the fragrances commercially available. Yeah, if it’s eau de parfum for example available or 27% class classification strength, that’s what we evaluated. And so, do you think most of them have the same? But does that relate to how long they last as of greatness? Different fragrances last different times on the person. Two factors, hey, there’s the strength on an individual, yeah?
Everybody wants perfumes the last longer It’s unfair. It’s like eating breakfast and then expecting your breakfast to be able to taste it again at dinner. But that’s what that so yeah. You also have problems with skin because both of you very athletic. It could be that you find that your skin is acidic, and it throws off fragrance. I’ve noticed that people who very athletic run a lot. They tend to have diets with fruits that can often be acidic And fragrance just doesn’t seem to last on their skin we solve that by saying, OK, Maddi, if that’s the case with you I’d recommend ideally that when you get out of the shower, dry yourself and then perhaps rub some body lotion around the place that’s centered with that, and then spray any fragrance on top of that so that you put In a foundation. Or it’s a noisy 1 between the alcoholic fragrance handlers? But to explain the strength I have to go back a little bit.
Originally when perfumes created, I say perfume was created for us, Perfume goes back to 1709. The first alcoholic perfume. It was Jean Marie Farina in Cologne. Why wasn’t the first alcoholic? Because before then the spirit, the alcohol that the perfumers used smoked foul they It they took It from wine, spirit and the chemists were unable to distil it to a level of purity that eliminated the stench of stale line. It wasn’t until the 1680s, sixteen 90s. As for the first time.
Alcohol came about that was pure enough to be able to use fresh smelling ingredients. Before then you had heavy musks, heavy Amber notes, heavy oriental notes. Mostly they put them through into oils, so you had oil perfumes, but the first alcoholic perfume came about 1700. Nine in Kelowna, it was called admirable water oh admirably and was created by a Cologne perfume are called Johan. He used bergamot, which is a citrus fruit can’t eat it, but very sharp fresh notes and creative older Cologne.
Well, it wasn’t a perfume really. I spent some time in their Archives in Kano. They’re among the world’s finest. They date back to the 15th century, and they weren’t destroyed by the First World War. And there I came across during one search an invoice dated 1712 And it involves the sale of 1 bottle of own Admirable to the letter Bavaria, a principle of area for one rushed taller.
Now at that time that would have been the equivalent of what a merchant would have expected to earn in a week. Why would they prepare to pay such? Money, because at that time people were afraid of water they didn’t part. Can you imagine how the world smelt at that stage? They were afraid that if they let water in their skin, they would open up the pores. That miasmas would come on in. But imagine what would happen if I gave you this marvellous product that you could dab onto the. Clock and wipe yourself clean. Matching the feeling. That was why there was so many palaces. You see what would happen is that the Princess and the emperors and the kings. Obviously, they were dirty. I mean, Louis the 14th was renowned to be the smelliest emperor you’ve ever come across, even when he was renowned for this Foul smell everybody commented on it there. And of course, you know there were no. Cultural trees and stuff like this. So as soon as this palace became just. You couldn’t live there anymore. They did count to another colour, so they were cleans was a dirty time of that space. So that was our older colognes. Then came four 711 in 1789. Then came Jean Marie Farina and offspring of Johan Felina in France in 1800 and six and the quartet completed with odour, odour, Cologne admirable Imperial by Gillan. In South 1853.
And that was the history of odour colours.
But when you fast track the last century perfume grew up. What became available with all these new synthetic notes the chemists had been? Amazed as they started to pull apart nature by the doubts that they found Vanilla came on out there Comari from Tonka beans for example, each with their own smell. The aldehydes that they’d found in Rose oil, citrus, once of course they identified them.
Then they could clone them, synthesize them so the 19th century was the age of surveillance for us. The first fragrance that used synthetic notes was Fuji Royale 1864. It came as of so two years later of Fragrance 1889, the first modern fragrant Shiki Bike, your lab. It used a splash of synthetic notes, and when a making alarm was asked, why did you use them?
He said, because they give me an effect I couldn’t find in nature. And if you look at the evolution of modern perfumery. It is the evolution of synthetic notes. People think the synthetic notes are lousy, cheap, horrible, they’re not. They’re the core of modern perfumery. Because if you pull apart nature, you’ll find a chemical factory take Jasmine for example. There are over 800 different scents that have been identified, isolated in Jasmine. Each of them has got a different note, some you like. So, we want. Them, but their different notes that can be used out of this one. There, and I wrote a book, perfume legends. Which traced the evolution of iconic French perfumes. Every one of those was iconic because there were probably the first to use a new synthetic note. You see, at the end of the day, a great perfume is a body of fine naturals built on a skeleton of innovative something.
And so, if we go back to the early 19th century when all of these fragrance notes came available between 1900 to about 1950, it was really niche perfumery. It wasn’t mass perfumery up. These were perfumes, only perfumes, no older toilets, no odour. Birds created by very wealthy customers with great discerning tastes expensive in very limited quantities. But as fragrance opened up in the 1960s, nineteen 70s, so people started to want something which was not quite as expensive, something that was not quite as concentrated as their little bottles of perfume. And there was when we saw the development of eau de toilettes.
The original idea was that a lady would spray with a lightly perfumed eau de cologne in the morning, then she might add to that a touch of an eau de toilette when she went out in the evening, it was the concentrated perfume.
FIN: So, are there different perfumes for if you want to go out or stay home? Does the context determine the effect?
Michael: Well, yes and no. There was not a wardrobe at that time. Perfume was a signature for most people at that stage. One had the feeling that ladies in particular would discover a fragrance that they regard as their signature, and they would wear it in the lighter strength in the morning perhaps for lunch in an eau de toilette in the evening when they went to the opera in the concentrated form and the perfumers would adjust the strength and the and the ingredients accordingly. The eau de toilette top notes would smell fresher. The perfume, minimal top notes on that kind of thing.
FIN: Again, so top notes are what you smell straight away?
Michael: Away, that’s right, where they push that freshness coming through in the perfume.
Clearly, you’re looking to put just a little dab here, and so you’re looking to see the heart and the base notes come up, and so signature became the corn when I had the feeling the winner lady died, they probably threw the bottle of perfume in the coffin of them.
But then in America, two things happened Americans like number one. First thing is that Americans like fragrances that are strong. Americans like more money for their buck, they like the fragrance that lasts, and they weren’t too comfortable with some of these little ones. That weren’t lasting that long. You know, the nice little French ones. If you spray them on you can smell for an hour.
Estee Lauder came up in 1953 with Youth Dew. She was clever she didn’t put it in an alcoholic base she put it in a base Iso mistral which is not soluble in water, and she promoted it as a perfumed bath oil. She put an 88% concentration of perfume oil in this, so you put a few drops in your bath, not shower, your bath you about at night and it kind of spread over the surface of the bath you got in the bath and there’s a lovely smell, you got out of the bath it kind of seeped itself up your skin. That’s right, and you went out that evening and there were a marvellous scent there was a trail the next day and a hit the day after.
I mean can you match the impact in the world of pussycats of that kind of stuff? It was incredible and it became the basis of Estee Lauder’s financial success. Charlie came out ‘73 the model first modern fragrance had really persuaded women to buy perfume for themselves and they had a 22% concentration. I mean, we’re talking about perfumes or concentrations, and we’d never heard of before. Today there’s even more people are wanting more, more strength, men.
The biggest thing that’s happening is now we’re seeing eau de parfum and parfam for men, so there’s not much difference anymore between men and women. And that’s been the development of the niche perfumes soon enough along words. I hope I answered that question. Yes, things around that in some ways.
FIN: It seems very much that the history of perfume is the history of chemistry as well, yeah?
MICHAEL: Of course, absolutely absolutely.
FIN: So, am I right in saying that the creation of these perfumes is quite chemical, quite scientific as well?
MICAHEL: no no no no no.
There I can’t go along with you yeah Dicha and Kenneth and Chemistry have given us new notes to play with How you use them? Is what, it’s the difference between a great smell and a lousy smell. Is perfume and art or is it simply a commercial product in Applied science. Obviously, it’s going to be a commercial product, yes. But not necessarily. It started as an art. The niche perfumes of the 19 tens 1930s and 1940s. Yeah, they were created for commercial purposes, but the clients were men and women of extreme taste. You don’t have marketing people in Robert Ricci, who is the head of Nina Ricci. He briefed the perfumers. They submitted their creations to him. He had a great nose a great sense. The girl and family Yes, you had a girl and perfumers. They created fragrances that they thought interestingly then put them in a bottle of the shops. If their customers agreed, new perfume was born.
Can art exist without an audience? Is the audience just as much a part of the creation as the artist probably is? And so, what you had then was this unique mix. Great perfumers with great materials that we would lust our teeth for us to be able to get again.
We can’t now, because they’re not regarded as they’re too sensitizing. an audience had had marvelous taste. Today, you have mass market Fragrance became mass in the 70s, explosive in the 80s. The 90s it felt hostage to the Stock Exchange because most of the great perfume houses had been bought out by the Great Global multinationals. And they traded on the stock exchanges of the world. And if they don’t meet their quarterly sales target, their share price gets savaged so far. And so, what happened to keep ensuring they kept their sales up? They turned to discounting. But out of it has come new generation of what we call initials has started in the late 70s, now exploded.
Individuals, I mean, think of houses like byredo parfum. Luxury has returned now to perfumery. Taste has returned to perfumery. Tom Fords fragrances you can buy for what $440? This is the level that’s now in the industry.
FIN: Is that where you see it going in the future?
MICHAEL: Yes, absolutely. Perfume is now luxury again and out of all this explosion of creativity will be created a future. Most of those brands will fail and most of the great brands from the 1980s who are hanging on with their fingers to be aspirational.
I don’t think will be around for much longer.
Is perfume then and art, or is it a commerce? OK, it costs so much launch a perfume. That you have to be pretty sure that you’re going to make your money back. It was in the 80s that people started spending money to launch a perfume. Gillard spent $89 million to launch Sam Sarah. That was why the family decided to sell the house they couldn’t imagine that they could compete in a market like That in the future. And so yes, there’s enormous commercial need to make sure the fragrance is acceptable and the biggest problem we face is that the brands constantly want reassurance that this fragrance will appeal to a wide audience. The problem is that if you appeal to a wide audience, you’re going to inevitably create a generation, mostly of pretty, nice, forgettable fragrances.
It’s funny how similar it is the music industry.
Right exactly, no difference at all, but out of it every now and then something magic happens. Angel would have to be a classic. Thierry Mugler was, He didn’t know anything about perfume and when the perfumers asked him what the happiest smell of his life was what was he thinking? He spoke of his boyhood in Strasbourg. He was an only child, not good at sports, bad of education, few friends as far as I can gather but as a kid he would look out of his window at night, and he’d see the stars twinkling where was a fine night and, in his mind, they became his friends as his symbol is always a star. And he talks about going to the annual fair that came to Strasbourg each year and getting lost in this magic land of loud music and candy floss and vanilla and scent, sawdust!
The perfumers looked at him and said do you want to eat it, or do you want to smell it? One perfumer, a friend of mine, who had the idea sawdust. The dry scent of Patchouli, and that was the core and around the dry scent. They added to it almost a celestial fruit note candyfloss fruit note at the top of it and a rounded vanilla and caramel candied nuts there. Who created the first real Gourmand fragrance Angel 1992.
People are either addicted to Angel or horrified by it, there’s no in between but Veres Dubeau who was the Angel behind Angel, directed the launch wisely. She told her directors and then spent money and you’re not going to get any money back for four years. For four years she would not let it out of France. She toured each city of France with big training caravans, Beautiful caravans, in which the perfumers perfumeries that were allowed to stock it once that they had agreed in writing, that when Angel came in, this is where they would put it, this is the promotion that they would do, they would never do a gift with purchase and that before it was there they would have their people trained they were brought into these markets camps. And they were trained. 2 months later they were brought back again to be trained. She did that kind of thing.
Angel became number one fragrance in France. She proved that you can actually take a great fragrance, original and keep it there.
Coming back to your question, is it art? All chemistry does is give us new notes. It is very easy for people perfumers to Copy, I mean today you give me a fragrance I can immediately in 10 minutes, give you the lowdown of exactly what’s in it, pretty exactly. But artificial intelligence could tell us how to copy it.
But can they tell us how to put together something that will move you emotionally?
Yeah, the ten years on I passed you in the street and the memory comes back. What is it?
Is it any different in music? Is it any different in painting? Yes, we can be commercial no problem at all. Yes, we can come up with any crap. Yes, we can come up with great fragrance. But will it survive for long, I don’t know? That’s why I question at the end of the day there’s something magical that happens with a great perfumer.
How come that Edmund Roudnitzka was famous for his creation of femme in 1944 and with the money that left him there was the 1st post War success from Russia with the money that left him he set up in his laboratory outside of Grasse. He made relatively few fragrances in his life but four were masterpieces, eau Savage. What made him be able to change 200 years of eau du Cologne and come out with a fragrance that captured the freshness of eau de colognes but anchored it. What made him in 1974 come up with Diorella, the first fruity floral.
Fruits have been around, but nobody had managed to find a way of integrating them without making the fragrant smell of the kitchen. What made him come up with your Diorissima? It got to a point in the 1960s. He was horrified by the extent to which the perfumers were using chemical ingredients, smelled like the kitchen spices that came from the kitchen. He once said to me that perfumery was turning into a like a quasi-kitchen? Semi-cuisine he called it.
And he set out to eliminate every scent that had anything to do with food, kitchen, anything else like that, spices. To create pure perfume that was dealing similar Lily of the Valley, no, you can’t take scent from Lily of the valley. You could fill this room with the little flowers and you’ve managed to get a drop out and you couldn’t use it because it’s poisonous and so for the perfume is to capture the essence of those little flowers in the wood that’s the magic.
At the end of the day, my mentor great perfumer Guy Robert who did Madame Rochas, many of the early Gucci’s. I once said to him Guy, Monsieur, ‘What’s a good perfume?’ And I’ve never forgotten his answer. He didn’t talk to me about chemistry, about innovation, about appeal. He just said good perfume must smell good. I question how do you define good, your emotional good?
FIN: Well, I feel Like I already know what you’re going to Say to this, but in the industry ss there much use of digital odour classification techniques? I mean, it’s been tried in the odour science field, not very successfully, yes. Electronic Noses?
MICHAEL: Oh, it’s not oh it’s a lot yeah everybody is coming up with this classification system.
In England two years ago. there was a system which was highly touted that claimed to use artificial intelligence to tell you what you what perfume is again to last, and it won the award for two trade magazines and Boots, the Great pharmacy group put it into their site, I think in November. They took it off in January. We’re currently vetting 3 Sites that maintain their using artificial intelligence.
FIN: Do they use it to collect those samples as well, or is it mostly to classify?
MICHAEL: Well, at the end of the day, you see normally what they ask us for is can we have access to your database because we’re the only ones. That have got all the classifications.
Essentially what they need.
You know it can work if you take my classifications OK, assuming that we’re correct that people tend to like one or two of the families. Yep, I I’m not saying that you’re not going to like other families.
But even if you Maddi, even if you told if you are a real addict and you gave me 5 names and they belong to five different families, all that would tell me is that you must love perfume because how else could you have developed so broad a taste without trying a lot, yeah?
Now I guarantee if I ask you for more fragrances at the end of it, we’re going to discover that you tend to like, especially fragrances from this and this family. So, the families are the key, that’s their starting point. Now we in fairness you know we have the industry by the balls because we’re the only universal, everybody else is doesn’t match their fragrances as you see and so they will try to come to us and say, well, can we have your database please?
Now we want to add to this some emotional stuff that we do on this, and we look at that one there.
We worked with Google on that kind of thing, but they gave up in horror. It could be quite integrate that one. Amazon did something in India and that was bsolutely disastrous, because that just doesn’t work out there. No, we didn’t give them our database.
Look, everybody thinks that somewhere along there there’s magic and we’re intrigued by it too. You know if you ever want to talk to Pankash Patel, who since the last 30 years has developed all my digital stuff with pleasure. We think that there are clearly some opportunities for mood, but we’re not yet convinced that we’ve defined well enough mood and fragrance correlation, but we’re intrigued to see what that might be there.
I’m very intrigued by a new system called Rossi. It’s just been taken over by Shiva Dan. Who was the lady who did this when I went out to see you at the University of Nossi? Her perception is that people can’t define what they smell by images? She came from the food industry. Let me try to recall all the details.
She came from the food industry.
And she found a way of being able to show people images and at the same time get them to define what they think that image smells like. When she showed them a picture of let’s say a lemon tree in full bloom, in the heat of summer. And they were under MRI conditions. She found that there was no correlation between anything on the pictorial vision part of the cortex. Then she found a way of translating that picture into pixelated digital version. When she showed it to them, it lit up the cortex that when pixelated lit up the cortex where we have all the odour recognition now.
Now that fascinated me, I was going to start working with her, I’d sent her samples of a floral of an oriental of a woody notes that I was asked to gather images that she was going to turn into. This pixelated digital format and I was asking her please would you show this picture to somebody and see how they define that, and then afterwards spray them. Was there a correlation between what they smelled from the picture and the fragrance?
But she hasn’t come back to me yet.
That is what interests me most about her work, because that is a direct way that I can link from the odour to actual image there. That’s what’s interesting me at the moment. For the rest of it, I can’t but help feel that all this effort moves away from the magic of what real perfumery is, that it’s merely helping the brands come out with a new generation of. Smells like everything else fragrance. They probably kicked me for that.
MADDI: Like you said, you know perfume is. What people want to smell like it’s what they want with their signature and so.
MICHAEL: And I don’t think we need to, because with the growth of the niche fragrances, there’s a whole new generation of people who are so into perfumery. That’s what’s changed that suddenly perfume has become luxurious again.
FIN: Do you think it will say like that?
MICHAEL: I don’t think there’s much option. Luckily one of the logical things about a world that goes from niche into mass is that mass evolves into luxury. Luxury for me is part of the future, think of the development of Louis Vuitton, for example. The key, though, is that all the brands that we consider luxury today and probably be the also brands tomorrow.
FIN: But do you think perfume is hit the most amount of people that? Will use it.
MICHAEL: Oh no, wider adoption. Perfume you see has become endemic everywhere you go, this perfume. Look at floor cleaner, it’s perfume. Anise, Anise, Anise. Room sprays mean J-blade have now come up with very sophisticated systems whereby you can change. The scent in a room and they turn that into real perfume. There’s a new perfume being created that will allow you to actually change a perfume in a single bottle. You’ll be able to dial up 256 different scents we’re fielding. Working with two clients at the moment who are into aroma therapy for rooms. But this is with machines that you can create fragrances that are in tune with what you think the room should be, not in tune with what the manufacturer think should be in that room.
FIN: I mean, I think that’s all we really had to ask you.
MICHAEL: I hoped I’ve covered some of what you wanted to. At the beginning you asked me how do I introduce myself? How do I introduce myself? I’m an author. I’m passionate about perfume. I’ve had the luck to be considered an expert. Mainly because when you spend this long talking about the things that interest you it’ll be hard not to imagine that some things would rub off on you.
I hope that it’s rubbed off on you and that it’s excited you about some of the opportunities.
FIN: It has been, our odour Experiences are normally negative. So, it’s really great to see the opposite side of that. Michael Edwards, thank you very much for your time.
MICHAEL: Fin, it was pleasure, thank you.