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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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“We take ownership of the fragrances we develop,” says Buzantian, “but in reality, we are only the co-authors of the fragrances [along] with our clients. We have few instances where we are the true creators of the fragrance; that is why Harry calls it a craft instead of an art. It’s a business. Let’s never forget that.”

This bit of pragmatism on Buzantian’s part stands in stark contrast to the unusual origins of her first designer fragrance win, the original Gianfranco Ferré scent, launched in 1984. “It is every perfumer’s dream to go from the collection into the bottle,” she says. “It happened without any modifications. It was a wonderful experience, but on the other hand, it was quite deceptive because it distorts the image of how difficult the creative process [typically] is.” The fragrance resulted from a modification of a jasmine musk she’d worked on at the very beginning of her career. Buzantian modernized the scent, adding new ingredients. This finished fragrance had the serendipitous fortune of meeting the client’s brief, which called for matching the scent of the flowers at his mountain villa. “It was more simplistic in its creation and put together more like a body care fragrance—having that stylized concept. The fragrance contains the sum of all the notes I love—white flowers, musk and all those things.”

Perseverance With a Smile: On Being a Perfumer

“Everything you do is a reflection of yourself,” says Buzantian, “even when you’re answering a brief that has to suit a certain client or requirement—you do it in your own style.” Everything filters through the individual’s collected experiences, knowledge and emotions—even as one meets the needs of the client. Buzantian explains that her eclectic training allowed her to define her own style. Frémont notes that he had a similar experience, recreating fragrances without a direct mentor to explain how a formula was supposed to look or be crafted. “It allows you to develop a style instead of inheriting someone else’s style,” Buzantian adds.

As master perfumers, both she and Frémont continue to help develop the next generation of perfumers, as well as fostering a continuing sense of teamwork and family within their company. Frémont explains that master perfumers bring a holistic vision of the fragrance business beyond creation. This vision is increasingly important, Buzantian notes, as today’s junior perfumers face increasing time constraints—the leisurely learning pace of past decades in which one might have had the time to explore numerous product categories and discover new insights is no more. And, she says, the less experience one has, the longer it takes to solve problems in a formulation, adding to the pressure on younger perfumers. Frémont notes that young perfumers will find that in the course of developing a fragrance one moves quickly past the aesthetic stage to the problem-solving stage. There, experience counts.

Meanwhile, Buzantian says, one must ensure that junior perfumers do not get too discouraged too early in their careers so that they give themselves a chance to “fall in love with it.” Certainly, a thick skin is required to get anywhere in the industry. Buzantian notes that the key lesson she has learned as a perfumer is “perseverance, with a smile.”