Thursday 22 February 2018

Everything But The Kitchen Sink

It’s a common enough expression and one that seems to be particularly apt in the current perfume market when applied to sales assistants, “everything but the kitchen sink.” In a drive to arm employees with all of the necessary information to sell their latest blockbuster, companies have increasingly passed on information in a “quantity” approach as opposed to “quality”. The details of fragrance ingredients used to be a closely guarded secret but the arrival of the internet and social media blew that wide open. So, in an ever-competitive market, and with “transparency” still the key word, what information actually helps your perfume choices?

I encourage anything that can help a customer to buy fragrance but recently the edges of fact and fiction have become increasingly blurred. Fragrance pyramids were originally designed to illustrate, in an easy to use form, the ingredients that were found inside your favourite scent. They are split into top, middle and base notes, based on volatility of the ingredient, and were always more of a reference that a selling tool. The problem arises when you get a merging of “ingredient pyramids” with “olfactory pyramids”. The latter deals more with what is perceived in a scent rather than what is actually in it.

Some of the notes that are listed in an “olfactory pyramid” are actually the result of ingredients combining or even effects that are added by inventive synthetics. The continuing misinformation by some companies regarding the safety of synthetics shows no signs of stopping and is completely unfounded. Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays succinctly stated, “using synthetics in perfumery (which has been happening since the 1880s) is like putting baking soda in your fairy cakes so they rise.” Guerlain famously championed synthetics with the huge dose of vanillin in Shalimar, but many people still choose to gloss over that fact.

One man that has really embraced the art of the fragrance pyramid though is Guerlain’s Frédéric Sacone. Along with Thierry Wasser, he embarked on the mammoth challenge of recreating fifty of Guerlain’s classic, and now discontinued, scents. However, rather than just provide a standard ingredient pyramid he constructed an “olfactory journey” through each perfume’s development using the classic Bee motif. He took the decision to list ingredients in the order that they presented themselves in the fragrance’s journey, and this really helps to understand these classics. His work is available to view, and smell, during the curated sessions at Guerlain’s Champs-Élysées boutique.

So, back to the original question, “what information actually helps your choices?” With the majority of customers not familiar with the difference between ingredients and notes, that is real versus perceived, it is important to talk about what can actually be smelled. Of course the creation of a leather accord or details on the headspace analysis of a bluebell is interesting to fragrance fans but does someone who just wants a summer spritzer really care? We absolutely need to educate our consultants but we also need to adapt to the person stood in front of the counter. Pass on your passion but make it understandable.


  1. Replies
    1. Hello, thanks for taking the time to comment and I'm glad you enjoyed reading it. Best, Stephan

  2. A wonderful and valuable article, Stephan.

    1. Hello, thank you for the comment and I'm really glad you enjoyed the article. Best, Stephan