SCENTREE: Exploring the many branches of fragrance ingredients

2020 . 07 . 17 | written by Karen Marin

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ScenTree is a recently launched interactive raw material online database designed to answer all questions anyone could have about perfume ingredients. Founders and ISIPCA grads Thomas Espinasse and Maxime Baud were inspired by Lifemap, an interactive tool that allows the user to explore the tree of life. Using the visual of a phylogenetic tree, ScenTree classifies over 535 natural and synthetic ingredients. Starting with 16 olfactive families, the user clicks the branch of choice and can zoom down to obtain a wealth of information on any raw material ranging from 4 levels of descriptors to origin, technical terms, regulatory notes and usage in perfumery. Alternatively, a user can enter any raw material into the search bar which redirects to the ingredient concerned. The ScenTree team collaborated with perfumers, perfume professionals, evaluators and raw materials experts to validate the information while using a perfume vocabulary that, although subjective, is common to industry professionals.
ScenTree also takes on an educational role by sharing several articles on the perfume industry on their site and by hosting live streaming events with perfumers which may be viewed on their IGTV channel.
In an email interview with Maxime Baud, I had the opportunity to climb up the tree, virtually, to get a greater perspective on the project.

I understand you and Thomas are former students of ISIPCA. Is this where you met? What originally were your career objectives?
Yes, we both completed a master’s degree at ISIPCA. We met there because we followed the same course (MSc Manager des process de création et développement des produits parfum). We both went to ISIPCA to reach the goal of becoming perfumers. Nowadays, Thomas still has this dream but I want to work in the field of ingredient sourcing.

How did the idea for your website come about?
The idea came step by step. At the beginning the idea came from me. I was trying to classify ingredients according to their odor because classifying them helped me to learn and remember them. Olfaction is a question of memory and long-time learning. ScenTree began with the idea of facilitating the method of learning olfaction. The next step appeared when Thomas joined the project. He added his point of view and his knowledge about ingredients. Later on, we discovered LifeMap, a website which inspired us, and with the agreement of its author, we set up the IT classification technology. It was the starting point for the development of the project.

Did you have to collaborate with many sources to obtain the data and to verify the accuracy of the information provided?
Yes of course, we mixed data sourced from many different sources such as technical MSDS, our classes in ISIPCA, bibliography, and of course discussions with perfumers and evaluators!

How long did it take you to gather the information, design the site and launch?
The project started 2 years ago, so it took 2 years to gather all the information in the database and more than 1 year to create the IT and administrative part. We launched ScenTree in September 2019 in French and then the English version was made available 2 months later in November.

Who will be the main user and what kind of information will be most searched for?
Main user profiles are perfumers, evaluators, chemists, students but also people who work in marketing. Each profile is interested in different parts of our website. For example, perfumers are looking for uses and regulatory, whereas marketing people look for the history and the olfactory profile of the ingredient.

Are the classification systems standard for ingredients? Compared to say, how fragrance families and classifications vary between the Fragrance Foundation, Fragrances of the World, la Société Françaises des Parfumeurs and how brands talk about their products?
Olfaction is a very subjective field. This means that all classifications are the result of the feeling of their authors. However, people who smell fragrances express their feelings through a lexicon common to the whole industry. It is this lexicon that is used in ScenTree and other classifications.
In addition, classifications use a different lexicon when they are related to fragrances and not ingredients. For example, we don't talk about Chypre facet for an ingredient.

You mention that olfaction is subjective and that the classification results from the feeling of the author. When I interviewed Michael Edwards, he also commented that the classification of fragrance was very subjective and that this leads to confusion for the consumer who doesn't understand the language. Do you agree? Do you think there will be a standardization at some point which will ultimately help the consumer (end user)?
I totally agree with him. Olfaction is very much linked to our emotions, to our memories. So it creates different perceptions, some may love an ingredient, while others may hate it for example. This difference in perception can be linked to a happy memory or to the absence of memory for one person while another will have experienced a difficult situation with this smell. That's why it is very complicated to harmonise perceptions and to have an opinion that corresponds to the opinion of the majority. That's why at ScenTree we organize meetings with professionals. This allows us to study the smell with several people and thus, to multiply the opinions in order to build a more general opinion.

You have published several articles about perfume ingredients, about the perfume creation process. Will you continue to publish educational information of this nature?
Yes, we are thinking of doing more, however this is not the priority at the moment. Some topics have already been chosen but it’s still too early to talk about them.

I know you are doing some live streaming/video conferencing. Is this something you only did due to the COVID-19 confinement, or will you continue it, and if so, what subjects will you feature?
It's true that the live events have been very well received by everyone. ScenTree has an educational vocation, that's why they will continue. However, the preparation requires a lot of work beforehand. With the resumption of the olfactory meetings and the addition of new ingredients, it will be a question of continuing to produce quality content. To do this, we are studying the possibility of reducing the frequency and/or duration of the lives but we will certainly not stop them. We have always preferred to do less, but with good quality rather than a lot of hasty work. For the subjects, we will continue to talk about the different families, there are many things to do, such as green notes, spicy notes, fruity notes etc etc.

Other sites providing raw material databases currently exist. What point of difference do you offer?
Our major point of difference is that we offer an olfactive comparison between ingredients. We also have information others don't have such as botanic, extraction processes, chemistry, and vice versa: blenders, cosmetics and aroma usage.

What is your business model? How do you generate ROI?
We plan to work with ingredients suppliers in order to promote them in each of the ingredient data cards. For example, in the Bergamot data card we are able to display the logo of every supplier who commercializes bergamot. This logo will be interactive and will open a window with a description and a promotion of the suppliers. We will also promote suppliers on our social networks and in the semi-monthly newsletter.

What are your short term and long-term objectives for the site and for yourselves? How will this project development in one year/two years/five years?
In the short term, we want to grow the worldwide notoriety of the project. This will allow us to increase our audience and become a space for sharing and learning about fragrance ingredients. Our dream: To become the Wikipedia of fragrance ingredients!
At the same time, we want to become an advertising agency for companies who commercialize the ingredients on ScenTree. We are now able to work with sponsors and communicate to our highly qualified audience. This communication will be done in the concerned ingredient data cards as well as on our social networks and our newsletter.
Sponsors are extremely important for us because they help us to finance the operating costs of the website.

I understand that over the past few weeks Thomas has decided to leave in order to pursue his goal in becoming a perfumer full time. We wish him the best of luck! How are you going to manage on your own?
It’s true. Thomas left the project at the beginning of June. Best of luck for him! I knew about his well in advance so I have been able to prepare and will manage alone for the time being. Obviously I can’t completely replace the work he has been doing. That is why some parts of the project have been put on standby for the moment, until I find a new colleague. I can’t thank Thomas enough because he did a great job for ScenTree. Now it’s my job to lead ScenTree on a new dynamic.

Watch ScenTree’s video for a quick demonstration on how to navigate the site.