FOLLOW YOUR NOSE: EDUCATION & CAREER PATHING IN PERFUMERY SCHOOLS, PART 1
2021 . 03 . 05 |
Not that long ago, in the late 20th century, few people in the world knew that being a perfumer was actually a profession, probably because it was a craft taught by the master to the apprentice. It all changed in 1946 with the creation of the first fragrance school, and ever since, more institutions have cropped up teaching not only perfume creation but everything that supports it, from sourcing to evaluation to quality control. Researching the schools and learning about the breadth of job options became a ”who knew that existed” moment. This two-part series takes a deep dive into internal fragrance schools associated with oil houses where future perfumers are trained, as well as accredited institutes where broader offerings prepare students for multiple career paths.
The Perfumery School at Givaudan stands out for several reasons, as explained to me by the Program Manager, Eugénie Briot. It is the oldest fragrance school, founded in Grasse in 1946 by Jean Carles, who at the time was a perfumer at Roure (merged with Givaudan as of 1991), the nose behind many fragrances including Shocking de Schiaparelli and Miss Dior. It was just after the end of WWII and he saw that there was a need for more perfumers due to the demand from fashion houses who, not having a perfumer on staff, wanted to create fragrances, plus there was a need for the clients to understand the basics of perfume creation. Up until that time, a formal system did not exist, so it was a craft taught by master to apprentice. Consequently, the student was dependent on the mentor and his willingness to share and impart his knowledge. Carles wanted to create a school as well as a method of learning about natural and synthetic perfumery materials, a structured process in which the students would be very independent.
Givaudan’s 4-year course of study begins outside of Paris in Argenteuil where students start by memorizing over 500 ingredients through a training program still partly based on the Jean Carles method, updated by Calice Becker, perfumer, creator of J’adore by Dior, and current director of the Perfumery School. An onsite garden, recently inaugurated, allows students to have direct contact with ingredients that change seasonally. Mme Briot explained, “ Ingredients have emotional ties to people based on their culture, and what they grew up with. When the students work together on ingredients they share their personal experiences with the others so it is a way of learning from each other.”
The first two years of the program focus on learning the raw materials, the accords, and theory. The third and fourth years include internships to learn analysis, technical perfumery, and “… to work at our research center in England on neuroscience, to work with our chemists in Switzerland, and in the last year they are in apprenticeship with a senior perfumer with whom they will work closely on every category including fine fragrance, homecare, personal care or laundry care” Mme Briot pointed out “There is also a campus located in Singapore where all students spend six months, and those destined for the Asia-India market will train there for one year. It’s important to spend time here to really understand the specificities of the market, to smell in this climate where the air is different and it’s humid and hot.”
The Perfumery School is internal and only trains people who have been hired to become perfumers at Givaudan, recruited based on specific worldwide need. As Mme Briot explained, “ We may need to replace someone who is retiring, to add staff due to workload, to support growing markets in which case we recruit someone specifically for that market, who speaks the language and knows the culture very well.” As such, recruitment and training is only done in line with internal need: on average, 2 students per year are recruited but it can vary. Bear in mind, there can be as many as 2500 candidates and most come from outside the company. Givaudan does not require a background in chemistry, but of course, this is a huge part of the profession. Candidates should be curious about many things (not just fragrance), they must be good listeners, have an open spirit, be empathetic, independent and resilient while also being competitive, creative and a team player. Mme Briot elaborated, “They have to be able to work over and over on the same project, the same note without getting discouraged. They have to be confident but humble to receive criticism. These are contradictory skills that are not always easy to find in one person.” At this time, the group is quite diverse with students coming from Italy, Singapore, the USA, Brazil, India, France and South Africa, and women comprise two-thirds of the total. Most range in age from 24 – 28 because they have already had a secondary education. Since they are hired, they don’t pay for the school, in fact they are paid during the training because learning is their job.
As we closed our conversation, Mme Briot made an interesting observation. “Our graduates become perfumers and typically remain in this position up until the end of their career. Some may make a change, but for most, it is a metier in which knowledge and savoir-faire will evolve but the position itself does not change.”
ECOLE SUPERIEURE DE PARFUM (ESP)
ESP is a very young school that opened in Paris in 2011, founded by l’Ecole de Condé, now called AD Education, with the support of numerous prestigious businesses as well as Maurice Alhadève, former director of ISIPCA, and Chantal Artignan, Director of the School. After meeting with fragrance industry leaders to find out what their needs were, a gap was identified between the creation and marketing processes. Initially a 5-year program for Creation & Management was developed to give students a complete A-to-Z exposure from raw materials to the commercial launch of a product. In 2018, an opportunity came up to create a second school in Grasse, the cradle of fragrance savoir-faire, recognized by UNESCO. A special program was created for this location to focus on raw materials, the valorization and commercialization of plants, fragrances and flavors. This course of study focuses on the scientific side of the industry.
ESP has evolved like a start-up company, ensuring the on-going renewal of the programs to ensure that they correspond to the needs of the industry and to educate their students on a vast range of subjects spanning luxury perfume to functional fragrance, as well as flavors and cosmetics. Aside from the more technical subjects, ESP takes on a creative approach including subjects in philosophy, the arts, management, English and the history of fragrance. This provides students with a total vision of the industry as opposed to being targeted to become a nose and allows the students to acquire transferable skills. Furthermore, as one of the schools within the AD Education group, ESP is part of a network of international institutes specialized in luxury, design and animation, giving students the opportunity to work on special projects in collaboration with other schools. Program Director Chantal Artignan explained to me,“Our students are in the process of doing a project on packaging with l’ESEPAC to imagine how to distribute and test fragrance in a world since COVID. Here we have a real-life situation, a true business need where the students are involved in trying to find a solution. The contest is going on now and the winner will be announced in June.” She continued, “ESP is very open-minded. We work in partnership with other schools on all kinds of projects including design, marketing, and practical matters that prepare the students for business thought.”
Patrice Revillard is a former student and now a professor at ESP teaching perfume creation. As he explained to me, “We study the important classics. We may study the architecture of a scent to recreate it, or a fragrance that had an important commercial success, such a YSL Paris. Students need to understand why the perfumer may have selected certain ingredients, how the perfumer structured the scent, they calculate the cost of a formula, they learn how to do something that costs less, how to work in the constraints of IFRA, and how to recreate a fragrance when the ingredients are no longer available.”
ESP is an accredited school and many students begin after earning their BAC, so they may be as young as 18 years old. In regard to the student body, Mme Artignan explained, “Since most classes are taught in French, and this is truly a French craft and métier, it turns out that most of our students are French. The international students do speak French, and they become ambassadors of the school back home. Our mix of students is about 20/25% men and 80/75% women.” In 2011, there were just 21 students in the first class and now the total number of active students has soared to over 350. In terms of profile, ESP looks for motivated, passionate students attracted by art, by scent, by odors. Mme Artignan continued, “We also look at very different backgrounds such as literature and art, because we feel they are complementary. Our students are very much accompanied, but the program is quite demanding and ambitious. We look to build respect and solidarity amongst our students.”
Upon graduation, students can pursue careers in numerous directions such as scent creation, evaluation, marketing, sales, product development, sourcing and the regulatory and quality control arena. Many students do become junior perfumers and some decide to start their own business. In fact, Mr Revillard created his own independent perfume laboratory, Maelstrom, where he develops bespoke fragrances. Several other students who met at ESP have revived the brand Maison Violet that dates back to 1827. As Mme Artigan explained, “They are rebuilding a Sleeping Beauty brand. You’ll move mountains when you’re motivated!”
MANE created their School of Perfumery in 1996, with the objective to impart the knowledge and know-how of this craft in an accompanied environment, in line with the historic values of the company. Students begin as apprentices on a 26-month course of study focused on raw materials, extraction, formulation and creation, production processes, innovation, regulatory issues, consumer preferences, research and communication. The programme has been revised and perfected over the years to bring out the unique creative talent of each future nose, whether destined for Fine Fragrance or Consumer Goods. As Junior Perfumes, they are mentored by a Senior Perfumer to complete the final portion of their training on the job working on actual projects. To date, just over half of the group’s perfumers have come from the MANE School of Perfumery.
Candidates must have a Masters 1 or 2 in Fragrance & Flavours or come from a specialised school such as ISIPCA or ESP. MANE is also interested in students who have a BAC+3 (Bachelor’s degree) in a technical sector related to fragrance and flavours. In addition, personal characteristics sought out include creativity, spontaneity, and passion. The screening process includes a video interview with the director of the school, a skills assessment, and finally an evaluation by regional directors who look to recruit based on overall global need. As with other in-house schools, the number of students recruited varies annually depending on the needs of the Group, and the student body represents diverse geographic regions of the world. Upon completion of the programme, graduates usually join one of the subsidiaries for a Perfumer position.
When asked to describe the most challenging part of the training, former students gave a variety of answers. As Benjamin Foatelli stated, “…the most difficult period was the beginning of the program, namely the memorization of raw material.” It’s a rigorous process involving several hundred ingredients in a short period of time. Tamara Mannina explained, “Upon arrival the training is very intense….because memorizing raw materials without putting them into a context is not easy for anyone.” Cecile Muller pointed out that “…there needs to be a certain amount of organization…You have to know how to manage your day and set your goals, and unfailing motivation is necessary.” For Lisa Montes, “Being a perfume student means first confronting a multitude of segments (Fine Fragrance, Personal Care, Fabric Care, etc) with many bases to cover. It is not only a question of recognizing raw materials, but also of controlling their use and impact in various bases.” Yohan Lievre chimed in on this point, “This phase is actually perpetual in the life of the perfumer which makes it an exciting job.”
In closing, I asked the students if they would follow the same path, it they had it to do all over again. The overwhelming response of “yes, without any hesitation” came from Yohan, Benjamin, Cecile, Maxime Exler and Valentin Pennacino, though he would seek to even further his olfactory knowledge. Cécile added, “This is a comprehensive training that teaches us all aspects of the perfume business while working in close collaboration with the other trades present in the field.” And as MANE considers its graduates to be olfactory artists, Lisa summed it up well by saying “The MANE School of Perfumery allowed me to complete my goal of becoming a perfumer, and to give me the keys to create perfumes on my own, in this creative environment full of freedom.”
In Part II next week I visit ISPICA and speak with IFF.
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