For us, fragrance isn't just something you spray. It’s a source of confidence, a comforting nostalgia, a bottled memory, an extension of oneself, a life’s work. Behind the scenes, there’s a long chain of people involved in the creation of your fragrance.
We want you to meet them.
In this series, we’re collaborating with experts in the fragrance industry. You’ll hear from the Makers of your favorite Commodity fragrances, tastemakers from our partner perfume houses and representatives from well-known retailers. They’ll share advice and expertise to simplify your fragrance experience, or shed light on their topics of specialty.
This is a space for you to get more out of your fragrance journey, to become well versed in the world of fragrance.
This is a unique platform for discovery.
This is Featured Perspectives.
If you’ve been captivated by Milk’s notes of sweet gourmands balanced by deep woods, you can thank Christelle Laprade.
She’s a perfumer at Symrise, a partner perfume house of Commodity, as well as the Maker of the Milk Scent Space trilogy.
Christelle calls her signature style “trash-glam”: a duality between sophistication and crudeness, masculinity and femininity. She applied this concept to Milk, creating opposition in the unisex fragrance by evoking soft, cozy textures against tough, charred textures.
Ahead, Christelle takes you into the laboratory for a private lesson in fragrance creation. Discover all you need to know about fragrance notes, ingredients and accords, plus some stories from her time as a professional perfumer.
What is a fragrance?
A fragrance is a combination of ingredients (aroma molecules) that produce an odor—one that presumably smells good to the wearer in order to convey a certain emotion or feeling (e.g. fresh, confident, sensual, clean, etc.).
What is the process for creating a fragrance?
Creating a fragrance is like creating a recipe with aromas.
Each perfumer has their own signature style and personal relationship with their materials. Some perfumers have particular ingredients they like to use in their formulations, and some are more experimental, mixing and playing with different notes and ingredients in varying proportions.
Fragrance can be very powerful (emotively) and be highly personal. It can communicate or capture a landscape, an experience, a moment in time, an emotion and/or even a texture. With that said, fragrance creation is highly subjective, and each perfumer creates with their own sensibility and inspiration.
How long does this creation process typically take?
Anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, depending on the scope of the project.
Can you describe the difference between “fragrance notes” and “fragrance ingredients”?
A “fragrance note” is a more generic, broad term. Notes provide an idea of what the scent is supposed to smell like, either by describing the fragrance family or type of scent (citrus, floral, woody), or by keying into a specific ingredient like peach.
A “fragrance ingredient,” on the other hand, is more literal and refers to a specific aroma molecule or material in a fragrance like Mandarin oil or Ambrocenide (a woody, ambery scent molecule).
Can you describe Top, Heart and Base Notes? (Or First, Then and Finally Notes as we call them.) What are popular notes you’ll find in each?
A typical fragrance construction uses an olfactory pyramid to help us understand the fragrance structure, which is based on volatility, or evaporation rate. It also shows the fragrance evolution over time.
The First Note is the first impression, or “the hook,” that lasts anywhere up to 15 minutes from initial spray. It typically consists of citrus, fruity, green, aldehydes, aqueous, spicy or aromatic notes that are more volatile in nature, which means that they tend to “flash off” quickly and do not linger on skin very long.
Then, or the middle of a fragrance, usually includes florals, fruity, spices, and/or woods and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to 6 hours.
Finally, the dry down will typically have woods, ambers, musks, powdery, leathery, and/or gourmand notes that last anywhere from 6 to 24 hours or more, depending on the ingredient’s quality and concentration which will impact its staying power on skin. These Finally notes are typically larger in molecular structure and therefore more stable, and don’t “flash off” as quickly as First notes. These Finally notes are what grounds a fragrance, or forms the foundation of a scent.
What is a fragrance accord? What is it used for?
A fragrance accord is used to describe something in its entirety. It can be a scentscape, an emotion, or an imaginary or “fantasy” ingredient as we like to call it.
An accord is a cocktail or recipe of ingredients/notes that are blended to create a unit. For example, you can have a mojito accord, an apple pie accord, or a salty ocean spray accord—the idea is that you are capturing the scent or something holistically.
How do you ensure the ingredients all work together? For example, can certain ingredients not be mixed together because it would cause a chemical reaction?
Believe it or not, perfumery is all about experience and trial and error! As I mentioned, each perfumer has their own signature way of creating scents. With whom or where a perfumer trains can all influence a perfumer’s signature style.
To ensure that certain ingredients do not cause an unstable or adverse chemical reaction, perfumers collaborate with other chemical experts to make sure their formulations are safe and remain shelf stable for consumer use.
Do you have a favorite note to work with? Why?
I go through phases; it depends on what I’m working on or what catches my interest. It can be an ingredient from the palette that I rediscover because I’m looking to capture a specific effect in a fragrance, and then I start playing with it and discover other aspects that pique my interest.
Or, it can be a new captive molecule fresh out of our research lab that catches my nose because it’s different and innovative, which makes me want to explore all its dimensions.
In general, I tend to gravitate towards ingredients that give depth and texture to a fragrance, like woods and balsams, because fragrances with a bit of complexity are more interesting and mysterious—and a conversation starter!
Can a fragrance have too many notes? Too little?
It depends on who you ask! My lab assistant would advocate for shorter formulas, for obvious reasons!
It depends on what the objective is because I think a long and short formula both have merit.
Short formulas for me send a strong unmistakable message: they are bold and easy to read; each ingredient plays an important role. It’s like being limited to writing an article with only so many words— you eliminate the storytelling and cut to the chase. Or, like painting and giving a movement or expression using the least number of strokes.
When I work on longer formulas, on the other hand, I feel like I’m doing embroidery. Each note is finessed like a delicate lace, you build layers of complexity. In this scenario, I hone into the olfactive landscape that I’m trying to bring to life in a much more detailed way. I think about a flower for example, in all its elements from the morning dew drops on its calyx to the feeling of the air surrounding it, the texture of its petals, its color, which season it blooms, etc.
I like to tell stories with my creations. It makes them more memorable that way.
For more information on Symrise and Christelle, follow them along on Instagram here and here.
Have a topic that you’d like to hear more about? We probably have the perfect person. Tell us what Featured Perspective you’d like to hear next in the comments!