Tailor-made perfume: Fantasy or reality?

What if you could create your own perfume? Let us explain what is possible (or impossible) to do in 2020.

Published on
September 10th 2020

Samuel Fillon

Steve Jonhson @ Unsplash

The ultimate in luxury, ‘made to measure’ is the guarantee that you won’t wear the
same scent as anyone else. Do you have a soft spot for the smell of tonka bean
and caramel? Maybe it’s time to put them in a bottle!

Tailor-made craftmanship 

In the 18th and 19th centuries, famous perfumers created both lines of perfumes (nothing like today’s volumes, however) and perfumes for the Greats of the European Courts. Think of the Creed family, the Guerlain family or Jean Marie Farina (inventor of Eau de Cologne). After a few interviews aimed at identifying the personality and olfactory preferences of the person in question, the perfumer could give free rein to his imagination and create an original and 100% personalised perfume. 

Nowadays, some businesses still provide this kind of service, such as Patou or Guerlain and their ‘nose’, Thierry Wasser – a contemporary perfumer who remains attentive to a wealthy clientele who are in search of extreme personalisation. The creation is not painless for the wallet however, you will have to spend around 30 000 € for a creation of this type: it is the price of exclusivity (or snobbery, depending on your beliefs!). Let’s hope you can keep the formula at that price! 

Nowadays, algorithms and artificial intelligence are taking over and performing tasks once reserved for high-level craftsmen. Can you imagine a tailor-made perfume created by a computer? 

The artistic touch: not all scent combinations are equal 

The first challenge is to curb your creativity. Even if you only swear by bergamot, cotton candy and heliotrope, nothing says that combining these smells will result in something pleasant... If we were to let an algorithm create the perfume of our dreams, the simplest thing would probably be to let it optimize the formula based on a note or accord of your choice. For example, if your thing is roses, certain pairings that are more or less classic, could enhance the flower: rose and violet, rose and oud or rose and musk guarantee a certain harmony. 

The problem: these combinations will either be filled in manually by perfumers ("rose and oud work well"), or learned automatically from historical perfume launches ("35 fragrances released in 2019 whose main notes are rose and oud have received very good reviews, so the association is valid"). In the first case, there is a risk of going round in circles without reinventing oneself and in the second, of locking creation into sterile trends. 

The process of creating a perfume: no miracle, it is long

The second difficulty is linked to the stages of perfume creation. We saw it in our post on the different participants of perfume. After the brand has sent its brief to the perfume composition company, the latter creates a formula and provides the pure raw material mixture, called perfume concentrate. This mixture, packaged in barrels, is left to mature for 1 to 2 weeks. 

After the maturation phase, the concentrate is diluted in alcohol at different levels, whether you want a perfume extract, an eau de parfum or an eau de toilette. This alcoholic mixture is left to rest for 1 to 4 weeks: this is called maceration. 

Finally, the result of the maceration is cooled to 0°C to precipitate the impurities in the perfume: this is called glazing. It is then filtered in order to remove the impurities in question, this is called filtration. 

We understand that if we want to create an original composition, we will have to be patient: this means a minimum of 1 month in creation, without considering the transport and bottling time. 

Tailor-made: a luxury only for rich (and patient) people? 

The concepts of "tailor-made" perfumes are nevertheless developing, despite the pitfalls described above. So, what do these brands that promise 100% customisation actually do? 

Nowadays, there are two ways of doing “semi-measurement”: 

  • The brand creates a variety of "scented bases" corresponding to accords, e.g. "White Flowers" or "Vanilla, Tonka Bean and Musk". These bases have been created by perfumers who have validated their olfactory quality. The perfume is then created by mixing in proportions that are set by the customer. For example, if you love "White Flowers", you can overdose this base to the detriment of the "Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Musk" base. Some concept stores offer to create a perfume of this type directly in the shop. Let's think, for example, of The Alchemist Atelier, an experiment resulting from a partnership between Puig and Bosch, or the Saudi start-up Nota Nota, which sells a machine that allows you to make your own blends at home and share them as you wish. 
  • Another possibility is to have perfumers create several dozen formulas and to guide the consumer through the choice of perfumes already created, for example by filtering by raw materials used. If it is not "tailor-made" because the perfume was already created even before you arrived in the shop or on the site (some brands use the term without blushing), this approach still has the merit of modernising the perfume buying experience. 

Perfume: not just what’s in the bottle. 

It’s impossible to talk about perfume without evoking the bottle or the story behind the scent. We don't necessarily talk about muses in their millions or about a bottle in the shape of a golden ingot: if the fragrant matter is of course essential for us to adopt a new perfume, what the perfume represents and the fantasies that go with it are just as important. An orchard in the Mediterranean, the story of a Greek goddess, a refined and unique bottle, that is also a perfume and no artificial intelligence can (yet) create a universe in tune with the smells contained in the bottle. 

This is why, at Sommelier du Parfum, we prefer to let you discover scents that correspond to you, that are top-of-the-range and original. To let your senses and also your imagination travel, rather than creating a perfume that would suit you, in theory, more than any other person.   

Le parfum idéal est à votre portée.