Monday 21 March 2016


Many people teach perfumery but very few are able claim the industry experience that Karen Gilbert can. She worked as a fragrance evaluator for many years before starting her own teaching and consultancy business, and her courses are always inspirational. A regular at perfumery events, what secrets would she reveal during "Stephan's Six"?

What is the first smell that you can remember?
I had to really think about this one, and I know this is a bit greedy, but I have to choose two. First I remember an empty mirrored powder compact my great grandma gave me to play with. I remember the smell seeming very exotic and mysterious. That slightly dusty, vintage cosmetic smell makes me feel very nostalgic as you don't really get it anymore. The second is the smell of my grandad's shed. He was a surveyor by day but carpentry was his hobby. In his spare time he would hide out in the shed making amazing things - it smelled of wood shavings from his lathe and was always really warm and cosy. I think my love of woody notes probably stems from this!

What perfume do you remember your mum or dad wearing?
The first perfume I remember my mum wearing was Opium, she used to spritz it on before going out and I thought it seemed very glamorous. She also wore Coco by Chanel but I was absolutely horrified in the eighties when she switched to Giorgio Beverly Hills.

What was the perfume of your twenties?
I didn't really wear perfume in my twenties (I know shock horror!) as I was working at IFF as an evaluator for most of them. Actually I probably mostly wore whatever we were working on at the time! When I was at the London College of Fashion, before IFF, I did a body painting project based on Mugler's Motorcycle Bodice. Through my research I discovered Angel and loved it, so that was probably what I wore most.

What was your biggest perfume mistake?
I'm not sure how old I was but my first real perfume was Chanel No5, and I had asked for it as a Christmas or birthday present. I don't think I'd even smelled it but thought if I was going to wear perfume it needed to be No5, and it had to be the pure perfume in the stopper bottle. It was probably the least appropriate fragrance for a very young teen, but at the time I thought it was far more sophisticated than Body Shop White Musk.

You can only choose one perfume, what would it be?
I would choose the original 1998 formulation of Hypnotic Poison. I have a bottle that I am rationing because the new formulation is a shadow of its former self. In 1997 I got two little black kittens and I loved the smell of their fur so much. When I first smelled Hypnotic Poison it reminded me of them - a soft fluffy kitten fur note that feels so cosy. It's still there a bit in the current formula but not a patch on the original.

What perfume should I try?
As you have probably already tried most things I would recommend you come to a class and make your own.

For more details on Karen's courses, classes, lectures and books please visit her website at

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