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From the Note a Symphony is Born

By: Jeb Gleason-Allured
Posted: February 2, 2010, from the February 2010 issue of GCI Magazine.

Firmenich perfumers Annie Buzantian and Harry Frémont.

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Helvetolide are among these few raw materials that have made it onto Firmenich’s palette. The captive musk was discovered and commercialized in the 1990s,* and the somewhat ubiquitous material is markedly refined, making it generally more suitable for women’s fragrances than men’s scents. “It’s luxurious, elegant, classic, it smells expensive,” says Buzantian. “It’s like a cloud. It lends itself to floral notes, woody notes. I’ve used it in a woody complex, and people think it’s woody instead of musky. It has its own personality, but it lends itself to whatever else you want to work with. It’s very malleable. It’s like a chameleon.”

“It does wonders in a fragrance, from top note all the way to dry down, which is very important in a musk,” says Buzantian. Frémont notes: “Because some musks are very bottom-heavy, they flatten out fragrances. This one doesn’t.”

Finding Balance

Green notes are among Buzantian’s favorites, she says. Even used in small percentages, the ingredient packs a punch. Buzantian recently used this material in a fragrance at just a trace, and even then it was still too strong. “It’s very powerful, terribly potent,” she says. “It’s very strong on the blotter for a few days—one of those instances where you get great value for your money.” Buzantian finds the material useful in both men’s and women’s fragrances. “There’s almost a pineapple note, so it’s kind of fruity,” she says. “It makes for a beautiful signature. It gives you another edge, a new green nuance.” While its tenacity makes it useful in toiletry applications as well as fine fragrance, Buzantian explains that it requires balance. “Developing a fragrance is like composing a piece of music,” she says. “It’s all about harmony and balance.”

On Romance

“There is a point in your career where you feel more confident in what you do and you manage your challenges much better,” says Frémont. For him, Ralph Lauren Romance (1998) is that point—formulated 16 years into his career. “That’s when I felt my craft had arrived,” he says. “Also, I felt confident to talk about it and communicate. The hardest thing in this business is to take a fresh approach. At the time, I still had this naïve approach to [creation],” a state of mind he finds challenging to replicate at this stage of his career. Romance, he says, “is very multifaceted, but it has character at the same time. I discovered [in the ensuing] years that people were wearing the fragrance and describing it in different ways. To some people, it’s a fruity fragrance. [To others], it’s a chypre, and [for others], it’s a floral.” People talk about different parts of the fragrance when they talk about Romance.”

“It’s quite complex, visually,” says Frémont. “When we do a fragrance, we try to be very streamlined. With this one, there are a lot of layers that are all working together. When I did it, I didn’t see all those [facets].” At one point, Frémont explains, the fragrance was more extreme, aspects of which were refined throughout the process. He laughs, “When it all came together and became a success, it was an amazing experience.”

Craft Versus Art