Endless possibilities in delivering fresh scents
What is possible with space scenting as compared to other types of scenting?
Say you have a certain smell, like a nice citrus grove or orchard. Citrus smells evaporate very quickly on the skin, so we must add other ingredients that do not belong in the citrus groves. When that happens, it doesn’t smell as natural.
And in candles, citrus notes are hard because they burn very fast. So that’s an example of a smell that people love that are hard to project and use in other areas.
Let me explain through the example of fabric. There are certain fabrics you might use to decorate a room that you would not use to make a dress. You can have a very loud fabric to decorate a room, like banana prints, but you don’t want to wear a fragrance that smells like bananas.
Some scents are more “fun” or have more depth. And others might be a bit “dirty” even, though dirty might not be the right word. In either case, it’s a bit like fabrics.
Another example is wood. Say you have a very nice cedar wood, playing in the air. But it’s too direct, too dry, to wear on the skin. You don’t carry a piece of wood on you. But for the air, there are some very nice wooden notes.
The beauty of the scent players is that they respect the freshness and fragility of all of the fragrance ingredients. Which is very rare.
Candles burn up the ingredients, so fragrances must be made stronger. A fine fragrance is lovely, but it evaporates after five minutes. So fresh, dewy notes like citrus evaporate very fast. Which means you’re limited by what stays on the skin.
These machines diffuse fresh scents into the air, which allows us to use a lot of nice ingredients. Many ingredients are gone after one hour, but it’s wonderful what these machines can do to maintain the scents.
Are there many perfumers who specialize in space scenting?
I’m surprised there are not more fine fragrance perfumers working in space scenting. I find it very interesting to have a space that is scented, and see a lot of potential for high-quality perfumery designed for the air.
There are maybe six hundred perfumers in the whole world. Of those, there may be thirty to fifty perfumers that work in fine fragrances and have created for large global projects. Six hundred is a very small number compared to the number of architects or musicians in the world.
Many perfumers that have created fine fragrances for large brands spend very little time on ambient scenting. It may be because they don’t possess knowledge of the technologies.
And creating for the scent players is very different from bottled fine fragrances, which are diluted with alcohol. The volumes are very small. Creating fine fragrances for Estee Lauder or Ralph Lauren would require about ten tons of fragrance. But creating a scent for Tokyo Tower, you’d need ten liters in three years.
To become a perfumer, does a person need to have a good nose or other special ability?
This is also similar to music. Musicians are usually said to have “a good ear”, but that doesn’t mean they can hear five kilometers away. I don’t believe my nose is necessarily better than other people’s noses. But I detect things better. I notice things.
Just like a musician notices when something doesn’t work, and they have ideas on how to improve what they hear, I know how to improve what I smell. This is the difference. It takes a lot of practice, and just like music or painting, some people are naturally better than others.
A painter does not have better eyes than you have. They don’t see farther than the rest of us. But when they see something, they know how to explain it. They notice things we don’t notice, things that make us think, “Oh, how did I miss that?”
During tea ceremony, for example, I will smell something and say “Oh yes! I see.” It’s not that I smell “better” because I have a dog nose. I think I just notice things.
I don’t have a better nose, and I don’t have a better eye. In English we say “I have an eye for it” or “I have a nose for things”. But I don’t have a better nose. I can find explanations and notice if there’s too much of this or too much of that. It’s a world of subtlety.
Why did you decide to become a perfumer? Did you always enjoy scents?
For me, it was a coincidence. I began studying chemistry, and interned in chemistry with a Japanese manufacturer. That was 1990. Then in 1993, I did an internship at another company in flavor chemistry. That’s when I saw that aromas were very interesting. I spoke with many perfumers, and met my mentor through my company.
I didn’t realize this when I was a child, but I was being trained to enjoy high-quality food. At home, we cooked using only natural ingredients. My parents often took us to the forest, where we did a lot of foraging. So I was exposed to a lot of smells and different foods. My family lived for four years in New Caledonia. So I was very much trained, by coincidence, to high-quality food and exotic plants.
Later in life, I would see my colleagues going to fast-food restaurants, but I could never join them.
When I learned about the work of a perfumer, I believe it clicked with the criteria and sensibilities I developed during childhood.