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Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent

Perfume: The Alchemy of Scent

by Jean-Claude Ellena


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• A micro-encyclopedia for those who want to know the perfumer's work and learn about the perfume industry from the inside, but have no guide on where to start.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781628726961
Publisher: Arcade
Publication date: 10/18/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 128
Sales rank: 493,654
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.30(d)

About the Author

Jean-Claude Ellena was made Hermès' first “perfumeur exclusive” at Hermès in 2004. He lives and works in the hills in Grasse in France, and designs his scents at his studio in Cabris.

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Modern perfumery came into being at the end of the nineteenth century. Previously aristocratic and craft-based, perfumery was liberated by technological progress, the old methods supplanted by a victorious industry under the control of the bourgeoisie.

The perfumers of the time were Arys, Agnel, Bichara, Caron, Clamy, Coudray, Coty, Delettrez, Emilia, Felix Potin, Gabilla, Gravier, Grenouille, Guerlain, Gellé frères, Houbigant, Lenthéric, Lubin, Millot, Mury, Molinard, d'Orsay, Pinaud, Pivert, Rigaud, Rosine, Roger & Gallet, Violet, and Volnay. These names were often those of the business owners — chairman, financial director, production manager, and, of course, perfumer.

Whereas the standard products — dilutions, infusions, absolutes — continued to come from the factories of Grasse, these perfumers quickly grasped the benefits of chemical products, the molecules of scientific progress, that were made in France in the usines du Rhône and particularly in Germany by the firms schimmel, Haarmann und Reimer. They had no hesitation in using them in their creations.

The perfumes were created, prepared, and packaged in factories around Paris. Most of the stores were on rue Royale, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, avenue de l'Opéra, and place Vendôme, or in the centers of big cities like Lyon, Lille, Bordeaux, and Marseille, they had outlets in the world's great capitals — Moscow, New York City, London, Rome, or Madrid.

At the root of this modern perfume industry was chemistry. By trial and error and by studying the components of essential oils, chemists created the first synthetic molecules. For example, in 1900, eight of the components of rose had been identified, twenty in the 1950s, fifty in the 1960s, and by the end of the twentieth century, more than four hundred, the standard synthetic products used today, such as aldehydes, ionones, phenylethyl alcohol, geraniol, citronellol, benzyl acetate, coumarin, and vanillin date from the first decade of the twentieth century, as do certain synthetic substances that do not exist in nature, such as hydroxycitronellal and the first musks.

For those early twentieth-century perfumers, synthetic products lacked the complexity of the natural products they were accustomed to. Although interesting, they were perceived as harsh, sometimes unpleasant. In response, the manufacturers of these substances created their own harmonious mixtures of natural and synthetic products, the early foundations of contemporary perfumery.

While the chemists sought primarily to understand nature, the perfumers experienced the use of synthetic products as a release from the compulsory reference to "nature," opening up new creative possibilities. Thus perfumer's amber, which is a dried-down component, has nothing to do with yellow amber, the fossilized resin, nor ambergris, the intestinal secretion of the sperm whale. It was the first fragrance to emerge from the invention of vanillin at the end of the nineteenth century. A simple combination of vanillin, a synthetic product, and labdanum absolute, a natural product, became an olfactory standard underlying a fantastic number of perfumes.

Sometimes favoring figurative, sometimes narrative creations, these early twentieth-century fragrances were simply named after flowers — Rose, Pois de senteur, Violette, Héliotrope, Cyclamen — or evocative names like Ambre Antique (antique amber), Faisons un Rêve (let us dream), Quelques Fleurs (a few flowers), Cœur de Jeannette (Jeanette's heart), Chypre, N'aimez que Moi (love only me), Après l'Ondée (after the rain), and so on. It was this creative uncertainty generated by scientific molecules — "artificial perfumes," as they were called at the time — that gave birth to twentieth-century archetypes.

In this artistic industry where France excelled, two men were particularly influential.

The first was François Coty. For this ambitious composer, perfume was primarily an object to be looked at. He met René Lalique, master glassmaker and jeweller who, like him, had a shop on place Vendôme. Their first collaboration was on L'Effleurt (1907), presented in the first bottle specially designed for a perfume. François Coty overturned tradition by showcasing a single perfume in his shop, innovated further with a catalog containing only twenty scents and summed up his beliefs in these few lines: "Give a woman the best product you can create, presented in a perfect bottle, of fine simplicity but impeccable taste, charge a reasonable price and you will witness the birth of a business such as the world has never seen."

The second, Paul Poiret, was a famous fashion designer of aristocratic temperament. Aesthete, rebel, fantasist, demanding in his work, but a great party lover, he embodied the Dandy of the "Belle Époque," full of joie de vivre and insouciance. Yet he understood the importance of branding his products. He would be the first fashion designer to establish licences on his products.

Under the Les Parfums de Rosine brand, he was the first fashion creator to engage a perfumer, a chemist by training, Maurice Shaller. Between 1910 and 1925, Maurice Shaller, and then Henri Almeiras, composed up to fifty original perfumes. The packaging came from Paul Poiret's School of Art — l'Atelier de Martine — named after one of his daughters. Most of the bottles were drawn by Paul Poiret himself.

This was the time when the links between fashion design, brand, and perfume were forged, never to be broken. In the early 1920s, the arrival of fashion designers such as the Callot Sisters, Gabrielle Chanel, Jeanne Lanvin, Jeanne Paquin, Jean Patou, Lucien Lelong, and Madeleine Vionnet threw the guild of perfumers into a ferment.

In the journal L'Excelsior, the fashionable writer Colette analyzed this alliance: "The fashion designer is better placed than anyone to know what women need, what will suit them ... between their hands, perfume becomes a fashion accessory, an imponderable and indispensable flourish, the most essential of inessentials ... perfume should represent the melodic theme, the clear, direct expression of the trends and tastes of our time."

In their fashion design business, the Callot Sisters offered their best customers several perfumes that were available exclusively in their stores. They answered to names like Mariage D'amour, La Fille du Roi de Chine, or Bel Oiseau Bleu. Gabrielle Chanel, whom Paul Poiret described as representing high-class miserabilism, approached the firm Rallet to supply a perfume she could offer her customers. Located at La Bocca near Cannes, this maker of raw materials for the perfume trade was the first to create fragrances on commission. In this firm she met her future perfumer, Ernest Beaux, and engaged Pierre Wertheimer, owner of Bourjois perfumes, to create her perfume. Chanel had already become famous for her taste for the plain, for simplicity. She expresses this belief in just a few words about her perfume and its container: "If I were a perfumer, I would put everything into the perfume, and nothing into the presentation ... and to make it inimitable, I would want it to be extremely expensive." Chanel No 5 was created in 1921.

Jeanne Lanvin acquired the services of the perfumer, André Fraysse, son of the perfumer from the French firm La Marquise de Luzy. He created Arpège in 1927 then Scandale in 1932. Another popular fashion designer, Jean Patou, engaged the perfumer Henri Almeiras, who had just left Les Parfums de Rosine and created for him perfumes that often bore American names like Cocktail, Colony, and Joy.

The most "productive" of the fashion designers/perfumers remains Lucien Lelong. His innovation was to showcase arrangements of perfume bottles, launching up to forty perfumes between 1925 and 1950. Finally, there was Madeleine Vionnet, the most innovative of the fashion designers, who created her designs directly on her clients. She branded her perfumes with the names of cities, repeated — Paris, Paris; New York, New York; Milan, Milan.

In 1925, at the International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts, perfumers and fashion designers sought to outdo each other in imagination. The dominant perfumers were Guerlain, who created Shalimar for the event; Lubin, who presented the eternal Eau de Lubin; Pivert, who offered the widest variety of products, Les Parfums de Rosine, from the great fashion designer Paul Poiret; and Coty.

In the 1930s, François Coty was king of the perfumers, but his extreme political beliefs and megalomania led him into debt. With his business tottering, he died at the end of the decade. The Coty brand would survive in the United States, where it is today the best known of the mass-market fragrance brands. In Paris, under the influence of the American Elizabeth Arden and the Italian fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli, bottles became figurative, sometimes bizarre, teasing or mocking. Out of friendship for Elsa Schiaparelli, the surrealist painter Salvador Dali designed Roy Soleil: the case is a golden shell that cleverly enfolds a bottle with a marine design. The stopper is shaped like the sun, with one of its rays dipping into the bottle for use as an applicator.

In 1931, the world economic crisis hit France. The arrival of the Front Populaire in 1936 revived old dreams. This was the time of the emergence of the first mass-market products: shampoos, suntan oils, and detergent powders, all imbued with odors that would remain in our memories.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, perfumes remained the province of the bourgeoisie. The big names were Coty's Chypre; Houbigant's Quelques Fleurs; Guerlain's Mitsouko, L'Heure Bleue, Shalimar, and Vol de Nuit; Caron's Tabac Blond; Chanel's No 5; Lanvin's Arpège; and Dana's Tabu. The new creations were Femme, launched through subscription by Marcel Rochas at the Liberation, a perfume created by the independent perfume composer Edmond Roudnistka; Piguet's Bandit created by Germaine Cellier; and Miss Dior by Jean Carles, both of them perfumers for the materials manufacturer Roure-Bertrand, which created perfumes for all the new fashion designers. Paris once again became the mecca of fashion. Perfumery followedhaute couture.

In the 1950s, the dominant olfactory theme was lily of the valley, with Pierre Balmain's Vent Vert, Caron's Muguet du Bonheur, Premier Muguet by Bourjois, and Dior's enchanting Diorissimo. For men, strict, elegant fragrances were based on roots and wood with a Vétiver at Carven, Givenchy, and Guerlain.

Riding the wave of 1960s consumerism, the U.S. firm International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) and the Swiss firms Firmenich and Givaudan engaged talented perfumers to develop their fragrance design centers, and created perfumery schools to train their future composers.

Research intensified, and the application of new analytical techniques, such as gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, made it quicker to identify components in flower extracts. These analytical tools were also used to study the competition and to decipher existing perfumes on the market. Designed by these methods, new, more synthetic perfumes, in turn, became the archetypes of future mass-market products.

In 1966, Christian Dior launched Eau Sauvage, garnering immediate international success. In its simplicity and rigor, this eau de toilette renewed the fragrance industry and gave rise to innumerable variants. Around the word "eau" there emerged a profusion of masculine, feminine, and androgynous aromas. Forty years after its creation, Eau Sauvage has lost none of its popularity.

The 1970s heralded the appearance of a new actor on the perfume stage: jewellers. Van Cleef & Arpels launched First in 1976 and Cartier brought out Must in 1981.

The luxury perfume market moved from an intuition-based approach — characterized by the choice of a dominant category of population on the basis of their lifestyle, the cult of the brand and the object, and restricted production — to "demand-based" marketing. This marketing approach analyzes the competition, the market, and the cultural, economic, and social environment. The strategy is to embody intoxications, fantasies, and passions through signs and symbols, and to create an object of desire. With the launch of Yves saint Laurent's Opium in 1976, perfume broke the taboos of escapism and sensual delight. the perfume presents itself as mysterious and sacred, an embodiment of the eternal feminine. Inspired by Estée Lauder's Youth-Dew and launched with a big advertising budget, Opium was the French answer to the press campaign for Revlon's Charlie, launched three years earlier in the United States and the first perfume to seek to sell a lifestyle. In launching Anaïs Anaïs in 1978, the Cacharel brand expressed a different lifestyle, by commissioning the photographer Sarah Moon to evoke the duality of innocence and sensuality suggested by the perfume's name.

From this point on, the American model came to dominate the launch of many fragrances, with a focus on large advertising budgets offset by a 50 percent cut in expenditure on perfume concentrates. In order to meet the needs of the marketing gurus, manufacturers published the first perfume classifications and conducted market tests based on the analysis of customer profiles (see p. 80).

To meet production needs, extensive research went into the synthesis of natural products. New technologies, such as head-space analysis, were encouraged. Powerful substances such as the musks, originally developed for cleaning products, were increasingly used. Like "nouvelle cuisine," and as a consequence of greater use of synthetic products, the new perfumes improved in performance and stability. They also lost the thick, rich, and mellow character of earlier perfumes.

In the 1980s, "product" was everything: culture, literature, music, fashion, and, of course, perfumes. The dominant players were Giorgio Beverly Hills (1981), perfume of the stars, and Christian Dior's Poison (1985), with its theme of love and death. At the same time, after decades of use in detergents and fabric softeners, the odors of the molecules used in those products to convey a message of cleanliness became completely acceptable in fragrances. The prototypes of this simple, linear, recognizable, and identifiable olfactory message, largely aimed at men, was Guy Laroche's Drakkar Noir (1982) and Davidoff 's Cool Water (1988) in Europe, and Calvin Klein's Eternity (1989) in the United States.

In the 1990s, ever responsive to trends, the marketeers adopted New Age, the spiritual movement born in California and Scotland, with its doctrine of mysticism as a source of personal well-being, a return to nature, and rejection of progress. With Estée Lauder's New West in 1988, then Calvin Klein's Escape (1991) and Kenzo pour Homme (1991), perfumers translated certain symbols of the spiritual movement — such as the sea and the ocean — into aromas. The market was overrun by a tide of marine scents.

In those years, because men and women felt lost in a world of confusion, there was an emphasis on identity in all spheres: religion, music, and clothes. It was expressed in layers of adornment, marks designed to signal one's membership of the same tribe. Calvin Klein took up and interpreted these signs in the advertisement for the unisex eau de toilette ck One, but by contrast with the 1960s, when unisex eau de toilette was experienced as an expression of community — for you and me — in 1994 the combination is perceived separately: for me or for you. With a pharmacy-style bottle, a message of nonpleasure to take the guilt out of the act of buying, and one's children "clean and equal," the focus had shifted to hygiene.

The consequence of political correctness was the emergence of a new conformity. Estée Lauder expresses the rebirth of tradition in the advertising strategy for his perfume Beautiful (1986) as does Elizabeth Arden with True Love (1994).

In response to these puritan values, France plunged into a sensual and greedy torrent of candy floss, chocolate, tea, figs, plums, praline, licorice, and so forth. The first perfume in this new trend was Angel, launched by Thierry Mugler in 1992.

Two cultures were locked in combat on planet perfume, the Latins versus the Anglo-Saxons.

Under the American influence, the research focus was the quest for the truth, and new techniques and tools — such as solid-phase microextraction (SPME) or CO extraction — were developed to capture "nature."

Now, in the early years of the twenty-first century, France and the United States share the world's perfume market. Ten corporations hold 60 percent of the market. Certain perfumes dominate, forms have become similar, and the unique is rare. New products are launched all the time, product lifecycles have become shorter, packaging often more gimmicky, and advertising fundamental. Taste has become global, uniform.


Excerpted from "Perfume"
by .
Copyright © 2011 Jean-Claude Ellena.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

CHAPTER I: Birth of Modern Perfumery,
CHAPTER II: The Nose and Odor,
CHAPTER III: Materials and Substances,
CHAPTER IV: Learning the Trade,
CHAPTER V: The Trade,
CHAPTER VI: Perfume,
CHAPTER VIII: Marketing,
CHAPTER IX: Bringing the Product to the Market,
CHAPTER X: The Players on the World Market,
CHAPTER XI: Protection of Perfumes,
Perfumes and Their Creators,
Suggested Reading,

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