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How to Judge a Good Perfume From a Bad Perfume
Christophe Laudamiel is a fine-fragrance perfumer. He has created scents for Abercrombie & Fitch, Frederic Fekkai, Cath Kidston, The Estee Lauder Companies, Ralph Lauren Fragrances, Harvey Nichols, Slatkin & Co. He is co-author of Polo Blue for Men, Ralph Lauren 2002, which received in New York City the 2003 FIFI Award for Fragrance Star of the Year as well as the Perfumers’ Choice Award. Laudamiel received his Perfumer-Creator Degree from Procter & Gamble in 1997, and was later promoted to Senior Perfumer. He holds an M.A. in chemistry, and served as a teaching assistant at Harvard University and a teaching fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a unique inventor on several patents citing new molecules and new fragrance diffusion techniques. He is also member of the American Society of Perfumers, the French Perfumers’ Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the World Wildlife Fund and the French League for Bird Protection.
Question: How do you judge the quality of a fragrance?
Christophe Laudamiel: So, by smelling, of course, we see how a fragrance has been built. And a lot of fragrances, whether it's for skin or for your shampoo or for an atmosphere, a fragrance has been designed. And you can see a structure in the fragrance, especially if you're used to smelling things in that category. Some structures are very interesting; some structures repeat over and over again.
So for me it is a quality criteria when someone all of a sudden invents a new structure that becomes something very interesting. When I smell something and I say: "Oh, but this, I've seen that so many times." I say, "Okay, there's really nothing special about it." Sometimes I see something very direct like a rose or like a banana or whatever, but it's nicely made and pleasant. And that's always very interesting. Or all of a sudden I can see also something very complex.
And, then this is another quality criteria, when you see different facets dancing together like a puzzle or like in a building where you would have first the structure, the foundation of the building and then the building is dressed up with different materials, different shapes or different surfaces. Or all of a sudden the roof is something very unusual. Or maybe just the entrance or maybe the top note of the fragrance is very unusual. So these are things that make us tick. Some... if you know a little bit of ingredients you can see how in some fragrances an ingredient was played out of very good quality and in other fragrances you can smell that the quality of ingredients that were chosen were very cheap and that shows very often when something smells very "diluted" we would say or when you miss a certain freshness or certain sharpness. These also important quality criteria.
Then there is the know-how of the perfumer to make something hold on its leg and so for skin for instance is a fragrance that would last long enough. And there are a lot of fragrances... they collapse between one and two hours after you've applied them. That's a typical, I would say, threshold when that makes a difference between a very good fragrance and one that is less good.
Now to see all this, whether it's the originality of a structure, whether it's the quality of the ingredient, of course you have to have a certain background even as a consumer to know what exists already and to know... to be able to make a difference. For example, make a difference between different coffees, different wines, or different... other kind of foods. And so you have to compare a lot and you will start seeing how all of a sudden things smell very boring, repetitive, certain things smell very diluted, and some things smell very, I would say, interesting.
Judging a fine fragrance is like watching the pieces of a puzzle fit together, or examining the many facets of a building, Christophe Laudamiel.
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