THE FUTURE OF FRAGRANCE, Perfumery for the New Normal, Part 2

2020 . 12 . 18 | written by Karen Marin

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How will fragrance evolve in the wake of the pandemic? What importance do sustainability and new technology have on the creative process? How can we encourage customers back into stores? This article summarizes the final two days of the virtual event, Perfumery for the New Normal, hosted by the Perfumer & Flavorist, then reviews a few best practices to implement.

Day three of the virtual event brought together five perfumers and master perfumers for a workshop entitled Fragrance Creativity in Unprecedented Times. The attendees included Rodrigo Flores-Roux, Givaudan; Cecile Hua, Mane; Christina Christie, IFF; Carlos Viñals, Symrise; Frank Voelkl, Firmenich. When asked about how the pandemic had impacted their job, the overall feeling was that it gave them a moment to truly stop and smell the roses! Working from home allowed creativity to flourish without distractions. Most are back in the office part-time and they feel the new working system is an improvement over the old ways.

Now more than ever, perfumers are very aware of the ingredients they select. They have had to shift the way they create by favoring sustainable and natural ingredients in response to the demand for more eco-friendly products. This fresh approach offers a opportunity for brands to:
• Communicate a new storyline on ingredient selection and sourcing.
• Shine a light on the creative process to reveal the meeting of science and art.
Educate on the advantages and disadvantages of using natural vs synthetic ingredients.
• Make it known that natural is not always better nor is it always sustainable.

The group commented on the acceleration of new technologies creeping into the industry. Artificial intelligence and certain machines that have a wealth of data allow the perfumer to focus on the creative process while letting the machine check the details (which in the past, perfumers had to memorize!). Although it was joked about that machines would replace perfumers, the panelists agreed that AI takes away a lot of the grunt work and can assist in creating fragrances based on specific criteria, or pre-selected “success factors”.

In regard to the impact on consumers, there was general agreement that people have shifted usage from fine fragrance to products that promote well-being and that become fragrance rituals, from self-care to scenting the home. Fragrance is seen as a tool that can help the user deal with strong emotions including anxiety, uncertainty and loneliness. The group felt future fragrance projects may lean in the direction of using scent as a means of escape, or a way to take the wearer to another place and time – versus featuring fragrance as a tool of seduction.

On the final day of the virtual event the workshop discussion turned to Fragrance Associations on Navigating COVID-19 and the panelists included Farah K. Ahmed, Fragrance Creators Association; Vincent Kuczinski, American Society P; Martina Bianchini, IFRA; and Saskia Wilson-Brown, The Institute for Art and Olfaction.

With the onset of the pandemic, when new information was pouring in daily, rules and regulations were often contradictory, and scientific knowledge was constantly evolving, fragrance associations played an important role in keeping their members informed with up-to-date news, insight, best practices for worker safety and recommendations. The Fragrance Creators Association (FCA) was key in ensuring that fragrance was deemed an essential product allowing the industry to continue and avoid shutdown orders.

In an effort to bring more clarity to the consumer, the Fragrance Conservatory was launched by FCA at the end of 2019. The website has a wealth of information on the science and creativity of the fragrance industry while an alphabetical ingredient directory takes on the challenge of transparency and safety. Sections on well-being and the classics provide practical and historical contexts. The question is, does the consumer know the site exists?

On a very practical level, the group recognized the challenge of getting customers back into stores and needing to react to their ever-changing purchase behavior
. Shopping online will stick, so the language used to talk about fragrance must be ultra-descriptive, and strong visuals and videos will intrigue the consumer to learn more. Plenty of people will want to be back in store to have the emotional and social connection with product and sales staff but gone is the gauntlet of spritzers in department stores, and this is a good thing!

As we all know, one of the symptoms of COVID-19 is the temporary loss of the sense of smell. Strangely, this loss may be the fragrance industry’s gain. The group noted that a positive aspect of the crisis has been the uptick in consumer awareness and appreciation of fragrance. This observation is in line with the previous day’s discussion in which the perfumers talked about the increased use of fragrance to bring comfort and well-being into one’s personal sphere and home environment.

In closing the group reflected on diversity and inclusivity. As the world is made up of many cultures, many people and many backgrounds, diversity is a key to innovation and fresh ideas. Saskia Wilson Brown remarked that even with the concept of perfumery, now is a time to redefine what it is since it doesn’t have to be what it has been. Her organization is launching a program about scent and society to look at historical cultures in perfumery outside of the Euro-centric lands. There is also a new accelerator program to help perfumers who are creating projects dedicated to social change. Vincent Kuczinski so simply noted “(for us) diversity was never really an issue because we respected each other: we don’t see color, politics or religion – we only see creativity”.

As I reflect back on the entire event, I ask how much of this is new information as opposed to a rehash of what has been said for the past few months. Clearly the future of fragrance is an amalgamation of:
• The undeniable importance of sustainability,
• The leveraging of new technologies to revolutionize the creation process,
• The implementation of digital first thinking into all phases of the consumer experience,
• The shift to contact-free shopping, sampling and selling,
• The need to educate the general public.
The question now is, will the industry band together collectively to take on these challenges? What do you think? Share your viewpoint with me at In the meantime, here are a few best practices to carry you into 2021.

• Create online diagnostics, use strong visuals and descriptive vocabulary.
• Host virtual events and masterclasses.
• Discovery kits introduce the brand. Can be paired with an event for greater impact.
• Implementing contact-less shopping and enforced safety measures such as temperature checks and social-distancing may help, Curbside service is appreciated.
• Ensure an in-store experience and level of service which can’t be replicated in the digital universe.
• Make it easy from start to finish; from walking in the door, to being served to paying at the cash wrap.
• Offer customization and personalization in terms of products and services.

On-demand access to all four sessions of Perfumery for the New Normal is available until January 29, 2021. Additional information available at:
Virtual Events (