2021 . 03 . 12 | written by Karen Marin

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Esxence 2022

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The craft of being a perfumer is surrounded by mystery, glamor and idealized thoughts of a master artisan creating alchemy in his laboratory. In last week’s article it became evident that there is a lot of chemistry, science and repetitive work that is demanded of a nose in this highly specialized field. It takes years to memorize ingredients, to understand how they interact, and to consider supply chain, regulatory and production constraints when creating beautiful fragrances. This week’s article includes a visit to the world renown school, ISIPCA (Institut supérieur international du parfum) and in-depth conversation with IFF about the professional path a perfumer can take.

Founded in 1970 by Jean-Jacques Guerlain, ISIPCA is an accredited institution supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Paris/Ile de France, a recognized leader for vocational training, imparting the French “savoir-faire” of the artisan professions related to perfume. Initially created with the feedback of industry leaders seeking graduates with expert knowledge in scientific, commercial and marketing fields, the school offers an impressive variety of programs specialized in all aspects of the perfumery, cosmetics and flavors sectors, and for all levels from Baccalaureate to Master’s to Continuing Education programs. Most students begin around the ages of 18 – 21, after completing their BAC. Currently, there are between 500-600 active students (exclusive of the continuing education classes) representing 40 nationalities, coming from all continents. Women outnumber men roughly 4 to 1.
Valérie Arnoux, ISIPCA Communication Director, graciously invited me to tour the school, visit the laboratories and even speak to a few students. The campus is located in an elegant residential district of Versailles, a short 30-minute train ride from Paris. I was warmly received by Ms Arnoux along with Marie-France Zumofen, Director of ISIPCA, and Lydie Guméry, Education Director. As they explained to me, the profession of perfumer attracts students at first, but then they start to see that the direction they can take forks down many paths. This statement came to life when we visited a few of the classrooms and laboratories where I was able to see what was happening.
On the first stop on our tour, we popped into a lab where the focus was on functional product creation: students were working on multiple trials to recreate the scent of a well-known laundry detergent, an odor associated with cleanliness in France. About 20 students were at laboratory workstations, testing formulas to recreate not only the scent, but the efficacy, the texture and the result of the laundry product. The students told me the challenge was multi-fold : the composition must be right, the scent must remain stable, the formula must effectively launder clothes and the consistency and texture must mimic the original. The instructor holds individual evaluation sessions with each student to provide feedback on their work. A student I spoke with had already made about a dozen trials and the instructor was analyzing his latest proposal, which still needed work. Here was a clear example of how perfumers cannot get discouraged when their work is critiqued, and, when even after multiple attempts, they must continue to work on a note, an ingredient, or a composition to hit the mark. Indeed, this student was not deterred, he remained focused and determined, ready to try again.
The next laboratory was set up for cosmetic creation, and a group of students were working on producing lipsticks. Indeed there is fragrance in lipsticks and women are very opinionated about what they do and don’t want on their lips. As the students explained to me, there is a lot to consider when creating a lipstick formula: the texture, the color payoff, the shade range, the sheerness or opacity of the product, and the stability, on top of the scent. Pigments are milled and mixed into a wax base, then molded and baked. It is a lengthy process, and on this day, the students were trialing new formulas. One student told me she had first studied to become a pharmacist before broadening her scope at ISIPCA. Now, she wants to pursue a path in R&D linked to cosmetic creation.
Next, we visited a flavors laboratory where the sense of taste joins the sense of smell. Students work on formulas that must smell and taste like the desired flavor, so not only must they sniff their work, but they must also taste it to be sure it is spot on before evaluation. Ms Guméry told me that it is more difficult to create a flavor because, in trying to capture the true scent and taste of a fruit like strawberry for example, results vary depending on the type of alimentary product it is intended for such as dairy, baked goods or candies. We ended our tour in an amazing super high-tech lab where state of the art equipment allows the user to make very sophisticated sensorial, chemical and formulation analyses. Companies needing to do highly specialized research may collaborate with ISIPCA to utilize the labs under agreement. In fact there is also an R&D team that companies may engage for ad hoc projects.
As my visit drew to a close my hosts gave me a pouch which held a collection of products made by the students: two fragrances, a body oil and a tin of flavored tablets to use in sparkling wine. What a generous memento of my day spent on campus, seeing classrooms in action, speaking with students and learning more about this prestigious institute.
ISIPCA in fact has collaborated on a unique program with IFF, the final chapter in this exploration of perfumery schools.

At IFF, there are two possible paths for those who want to pursue the profession of perfumer: an internal school open to company employees or an external route based on a partnership with ISIPCA. Barbara Gydé, Scent Design & Creation School Director based in New York, explained to me in a Zoom interview, that in either case, the recruitment process is “very selective, and based on global needs while keeping an eye on where talent bubbles up.” Given her direct involvement in the programs, she shared background on both options, course details and possible career pathing for graduates.
The internal program is also known as the (Ernest) Shiftan program, named after one of the early IFF perfumers who was a mentor to many. This 36-month course of study is based on a rigorous, traditional olfactive foundation where the perfumer apprentices acquire deep knowledge of 600-800 ingredients, learning accords, working on short formulas and fine fragrance schemas while also studying functional fragrance used in home care, fabric care, and body care. According to Ms. Gydé, “Each apprentice has a Senior VP perfumer as a mentor for every stage in the program, so they are accompanied and they will always get feedback.” Apprentices spend time in various locations and specialized creative centers, including Paris where they work on special projects under the aegis of in-house master perfumers. The program concludes when they make a final presentation to the team of master perfumers and the creative center, after which they graduate as junior perfumers, while continuing to be mentored by a senior perfumer. Applicants to the Shiftan program must either be employed by IFF for at least two years or be graduates of the ISIPCA Masters in Scent Design & Creation. Currently there are 15 students in different phases of this program.
IFF and ISIPCA have collaborated on a Masters in Scent Design and Creation, a 3-year accredited program which started in 2016 and is the first and only to be sponsored by a fragrance industry company. For the screening process, the IFF team reviews candidates and a jury determines which students will be accepted. It is preferred that candidates have a science or chemistry background. IFF works with the teachers to be sure the curriculum mirrors the Shiftan program, providing a solid base in olfaction, although students could also follow other career paths. Ms. Gydé noted, “Many people want to be niche perfumers but we tell them you still need to understand stability, supply chain, materials, interaction with consumers, regulatory issues, the cost of formulas and so on’, opening the possibilities to other professional pursuits. Students also spend 5-months at IFF on an internship which provides a real-world experience. Although there is no guarantee that students will be hired upon graduation, IFF looks at this group as a source of talent, and certainly the internship serves as a trial to assess an individual’s dedication, work ethic and their “fit” within the organization. Selected graduates are hired annually as perfumers while others are continually hired for other roles in IFF, especially that of the Scent Design Manager.
A key point of difference between the two paths is that in the Shiftan program, apprentices are IFF employees where learning is their job. At ISIPCA, tuition averages roughly 10k€ per year.
In discussing career paths post-graduation, Ms. Gydé noted that this is a rich field with many opportunities. “In the career options for a perfumer, you could become a creative perfumer in fine fragrance or consumer fragrance. Or there is a technical perfumer who is more analytical, who knows how to reformulate fragrance due to ingredient availability or customer requests. There are R&D perfumers who liaise with the R&D teams, seeing the possibility of certain molecules or incorporating new technologies, such as AI, into perfume creation.” And that doesn’t even scratch the surface of positions such as Scent Design Managers or Evaluators who bridge the gap between market needs and the creative process, plus other roles in marketing, sales and related fields. How encouraging to hear about so much opportunity in an industry!

For more information visit:

ISIPCA entry
The many ingredients for trials
Students working on lipstick formulas
Students working on functional fragrance
Sensorial analysis laboratory
Flavor Laboratory
IFF group smelling at the source in Grasse
IFF Group in Grasse
IFF group discovering raw materials in Grasse