Interview with a perfumer

Smithsonian interviews Celiné Ellena, a third-generation perfumer at esteemed perfume house Charabot in Grasse, France. From the interview:

Did you have formal training?

Today, young perfumers must study chemistry. I've been creating fragrances for about 14 years. I have a diploma in psychology. It's helpful. Fragrances are very sensuous, sensual. When you talk about fragrance, you talk about the intimate. It's very deep, very personal.

What's an average day?

I think of different fragrances for different customers. When I think of a fragrance, it is like an image that I have in my mind. I have the image of the smell of the fragrance. And then writing the formula is like drawing the image. It's like I'm trying to build a puzzle. In the same day, I could imagine a flower fragrance, a woody, masculine fragrance, something very feminine, while also thinking about scents for shampoos and cosmetics.

Some are easy. An apple shower gel: a few drops of apple. Sometimes I have to take my time, close my door and think about it. I write my formula on the computer, and my assistant mixes it for me in the lab. The smell of the lab is too strong for me to work there.


If you're intrigued by the science of perfumery, check out the excellent book The Emperor of Scent. And for a wonderfully creepy novel, read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer.

UPDATE: A slew of BB readers ask that when it comes to scent-related fiction, we not forget Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume.