Creating scents that work on the senses

Dipti Nair
We all all have our favourites when it comes to perfumes but how many of us think about what goes into the making of the potion that makes us feel confident, positive and stylish, all at once. For the average user, the fragrance-creation process is shrouded in mystery. Like a melodic symphony or a beautiful painting, a good fragrance not just appeals to your olfactory sense but also to your emotions. Fragrance creators, the perfumers, are both artists and scientists who extract the essence from natural raw materials and combine them with synthetic aromas to create a memorable and lasting perfume.
Dominique Ropion is one of the most skillful perfumers in the industry. With a career spanning over 30 years, his sensitive nose is responsible for some of the most popular fragrances of our time including Viktor & Rolf's Flowerbomb, Calvin Klein's Euphoria, Givenchy's Amarige, Fr`d`ric Malle's Carnal Flower and Roger&Gallet's Bois d'Orange, among many others.
The French perfumer was recently at the official opening of the first Roger&Gallet flagship boutique in the Middle East. Roger&Gallet, a venerable name, with a heritage that stretches back to over 150 years, now gives patrons in Doha an opportunity to discover its sensory experience in a unique and welcoming setting at Lagoona Mall. This wasn't Ropion's first trip to the region though. He has been to Qatar and the UAE before, and is very familiar with the scents of the region.
Ropion, who feels that life itself is the biggest inspiration, says that perfumes should be regarded as an art form and the perfumer an artist."To be a perfumer, you have to first be very sensitive to odours, and second, you have to like artistic work. You have to have a combination of both because making perfumes is an art," he said.
"So, if you want to make perfumes, you have to first distinguish and love every kind of odour. You must also have a love for aesthetic things and also understand the aesthetics of odour. You need to know how to combine ingredients together to create an entirely new scent. So, you must basically know what goes with what and to what effect."
Perfumery, like any other art form, can be learned professionally. Ropion studied the art of perfumery at the Roure Perfumery School and then went to on train with Roure Bertrand Dupont in Grasse and then in Paris before joining Jean-Louis Sieuzac, one of the greatest technicians in perfumery.
"I think everybody can learn how to make perfumes, just like how everybody can learn to play music. But not everybody can make something new either in music or perfumes," he said.
But despite there being professional institutes to learn the craft, there are not many craftsmen in the industry. In fact, there are just about 600 perfumers in the world for every kind of perfumery, including those for soap, detergent and fine fragrance. And Ropion is one of the elite few sought-after perfumers who seems to turn everything he touches into gold.
"I don't know why really. There is no magic formula. But I know that I love what I do and smell. I love odours and I believe I have an artistic sense. I enjoy playing with different materials and building things, making something new. And of course, if it works, it works and if it doesn't, then too bad. I'm lucky that so far, it has worked."
One of the first perfumes that he came out with was Ysatis by Givenchy.
"It was a long time ago, in 1984, I believe. That was the first one and a big success at the time. It is still sold, one of few perfumes that are sold so many years after its inception."
This perfume which is a gorgeous and sensual floral, took 18 months to make because Ropion wanted to perfectly balance the floral, woods and spice to create a well-balanced and multifaceted perfume with an oriental note in it.
And even after the perfect scent is created, it can still take over two years for it to be available in the market.
"There are a lot of technical tests that need to be done before it can go on the market. It needs to be tested for skin sensitivity, to see that the colour and odour stay the same. It's a long process. Mine is usually the first step of creating a fragrance, everything then, goes from there."
Highly trained perfumers like Ropion, take years to memorise thousands of olfactory profiles, first understanding individual materials in isolation and then their reactivity with other materials. And like everybody else, he has his favourites. Some of his preferred smells being jasmine, rose, violet, orange flower, cassia flower, sandalwood and oud.
"Vanilla is nice and citrus too. The thing with these scents is that they are easy to extract and use and no one can really hate lemon or vanilla, its impossible. But you know, in perfumery, you cannot just rely on easy ingredients. You sometimes need to add some ingredients that are difficult to extract and work with as well. An example is cedar wood, which is not very easy to smell in isolation and can at best be a base note. Also you cannot use cedar wood oil in the absolute form. It's the same with jasmine; the absolute scents are too strong. So, they have to be blended with something else to create something new and delightful."
Winner of the Cosmetic Valley's International Fragrance award in 2008, Ropion made a turn towards a different kind of art with a limited edition publication of his first book Aphorismes d'un Parfumeur. The book is an 84-page master-class in fragrance history and technique, as well as personal observations and lively anecdotes about perfume icons.
"The book was just to explain what the work of a perfumer is but in a very simple way. It is just to show what is in the mind of a perfumer when he creates, the way to do it and how life is a source of inspiration. The book was published last December with just a 100 copies to start with, but we are now in talks with publishers to have a much bigger launch."
Despite working on and with some of the biggest names in the world of perfumes, Ropion prefers simple Eau de Cologne for personal use.
"I don't like to choose my own perfume. I don't want my personal choices to mix with my work. There are so many fragrances out there a lot of great perfumes and a lot of not very great ones. After I create a scent, I don't know who likes it or who uses it. I have had many people come to me and say that they have noticed a certain personality in my perfume that I am not aware about. People wearing a perfume have the freedom to form associations with the different facets of the perfume.
"When it comes to perfumes, it's all about how it makes you feel. It depends on the personality of a person. The main thing is to wear it, take your time and see what comments you get on it. I think what other people think and their comments are very valuable when selecting a fragrance for yourself. So, the only advice I can give to select the right perfume is just to wear it and see what happens."