N is for Nose – The Fragrance A-Z

N is for Nose

Re-Branded Signature (Thomas) copy

“Thomas AKA The Candy Perfume Boy takes you on a journey around the fragrance world with ‘The Escentual A-Z of Fragrance’ a fun and fragrant ride that gives you all you need to know – the notes, the brands and the perfumers – to become a true fragrance addict/nerd” 


Noses, or perfumers as they are rightly called, are the backbone of the perfume industry.  They are the creators and artistic minds behind the fragrances that we wear on a daily basis.  Sure, the brands play an important part in bank rolling and providing ideas, but it’s the perfumers who possess the knowledge, skill and talent required to create olfactory art.

The process for creating a perfume tends to vary from brand to brand.  Typically, a perfume house or designer label will create a brief of what a fragrance should be like, often including the inspiration, artwork and name, and send this out to a number of perfume manufacturers (Givaudan, Firmenich and IFF etc) to tender.  Selected perfumers will then be challenged with making a perfume that best fits the criteria set by the brand with the best formula being chosen, developed and eventually released.

Despite this highly structured (and often creativity-stifling) process, perfumers are able to bring their own flair to the perfumes they create.  Their interpretations of these briefs are ultimately what we as consumers end up wearing and can often contain the nose’s signature or creative DNA.  The very best perfumers are the ones that can bring a little bit of themselves to each perfume that they create.

In this post I’d like to introduce you to five of my favourite perfumers and some of their most noteworthy creations.  This is by no means an exhaustive list of the best noses (there really are so many good ones out there) and other than the scents mentioned here, there are numerous examples of these nose’s work worth exploring.

Each of these five noses; Dominique Ropion, Annick Menardo, Francis Kurkdjian, Ralf Schweiger and YannVasnier, bring something entirely different to the table, whether it be a classic approach, gourmand sensibility or even a no-fuss attitude.  Between them they have created some of the greatest perfumes in the world and even when they’re not making game-changing scents, they are creating products that are found within the homes of millions of people.  They are simply awesome.

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Jean Paul Gaultier Le Male 3

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The Rebel: Francis Kurkdjian

Francis Kurkdjian is a refreshing voice in the perfume industry.  He doesn’t suffer fools gladly and his straight-talking approach to the business of making scents is a welcome change. In short, I appreciate his candour and think he makes wonderful, high quality perfumes that people want to wear.

It’s difficult to know where to start with Kurkdjian’s creations.  Like Dominique Ropion, his rap sheet reads like a greatest hits of modern perfumery, after all this is the man whose first commercial perfume was the ridiculously successful and now iconic Le Mâle by Jean Paul Gaultier.  How’s that for a home run on your first try?

Anyone who is interested in Kurkdjian’s work should check out his own line ‘Maison Francis Kurkdjian’, his Oud in particular.  For a noteworthy designer release I would recommend 2011’s Le Parfum for Elie Saab – a graceful take on orange blossom that is sunny, sticky and vibrant with its notes of honey, cedar and patchouli.  Le Parfum captures the essence of Elie Saab couture so aptly that it already seems iconic.  It’s also a good representation of Kurkdjian’s talent for creating light-bearing florals that glow incandescently.

My favourite mainstream Kurkdjian work however, is Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fleur du Mâle.  For this perfume Gaultier and Kurkdjian set out to create a floral based Fougère for men – a tall order when one considers the fact that anything with the word ‘fleur’ in the title was likely to send most men running for the hills.   The overdose of orange blossom (so alive that it gives the impression of thousands of bees) and barbershop vanilla turned out to be a risk worth taking and whilst Fleur du Mâle may not have turned out to be as popular as its brother, Le Mâle, it certainly was an impressive piece of work.

Other things to sniff: Narciso Rodriguez for Him (a supple grey Fougère) and Gaultier2 (edible amber and salty skin).

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The Master: Dominique Ropion

Reading Dominque Ropion’s back catalogue is like reviewing a list of my favourite fragrances.  His oeuvre contains the likes of Edition de Parfums Frederic Malle’s Carnal Flower (an orchestral tuberose), Portrait of a Lady (a skyscraper rose), Geranium Pour Monsieur (a beautiful and manly take on mint) and Vetiver Extraordinare (the sexiest vetiver on earth)– four of the greatest perfumes released within the last 15 years.

He’s done some incredibly underrated fragrances too, namely the long discontinued Anglomania by Vivienne Westwood (rose tea, Asian spices and PVC) and MyQueen by Alexander McQueen (a straight-up violet) – both of which were never appreciated as the beautiful scents that they were.  All in all, this makes him one of the greatest noses in the business today.

Perhaps the best example of his work for a mainstream house is Christian Dior’s Pure Poison.  Co-created with perfumers Carlos Benaïm and Olivier Polge, this most contemporary take on the Poison aesthetic stands out from the others as it evokes the image of a modern woman who is likely to slay her man with her cunning wit and intelligence rather than her feminine wiles.  Pure Poison achieves this with a brazen floral accord of orange blossom and jasmine that is lifted to magnificent heights by towering musks.  A scent perfect for those days when you need to knock ‘em dead and excellent example of Ropion’s symphonic style.

Other things to sniff: J Lo’s Live (a pretty decent fruity floral with a tropical twist) and Thierry Mugler’s Alien (an intergalactic jasmine).

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Etat Libre d'Orange Afternoon of a Faun

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The Dude: Ralf Schweiger

Ralf Schweiger is a dude – fact.  Not only did he create Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose – a perfume that does in fact smell like old-fashioned lipsticks – he’s also half of the brains behind Hermes’ intriguing ode to ambergris – Eau de Merveilles.  These two perfumes could not be more different if they tried and they are proof that Schweiger is one of the most versatile perfumers working today.

His recent outings for Etat Libre d’Orange (those filthy little olfactory renegades that we all love so dearly) further displayed his talent for versatility.  The first – Fils de Dieu du Riz et des Agrumes–is inspired by Thai cuisine and massage parlours (I told you that they were filthy), and pairs lime, coriander, coconut and rice with an animalic base of castoreum that is both delicious and cuddly.

Schweiger’s second piece of work for the house is ‘The Afternoon of a Faun’, a perfume that takes its inspiration from the Nijinsky ballet of the same name and its cues from old-school chypres.  The Afternoon of a Faun is a truly modern chypre that sees the mossy, vegetal accord of the classics in the genre melded with a huge spoon of curry powder to create a scent that evokes a dream of rolling around a mossy forest floor with that mischievous faun.You owe it to yourself to try both of these perfumes.

Other things to sniff: Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose (actual rosy lipsticks in a bottle), Atelier Cologne’s Cédrat Envirant (a very easy to drink mint/lime cocktail) and Hermes’ Eau de Merveilles (a scent that sends you bobbing along on the beautiful bring sea).


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The Gourmandise: Annick Menardo

Annick Menardo is a rare bird.  She approaches her perfumes with a distinct style, creating almond-soaked accords that verge on being utterly delicious but hold off on being edible by the skin of their teeth.  Her knack for creating this tension between the gourmand and the inedible has spawned some of the most uniquely iconic perfumes on the market.

Dior’s Hypnotic Poison is easily her crowning glory.  In this supreme piece of work, bitter almond milk is expertly blended with a sharp jasmine and vanilla to create an unconventional perfume that is as fascinating as it is narcotic.  Smelling Hypnotic Poison is a bewitching experience that leaves one hooked for life– thus is the power of Menardo’s talent.

Another perfume which showcases Menardo’s style, albeit in a more youthful and whimsical way is Lolita Lempicka Eau de Parfum.  This perfume displays liquorice and almond in a woodland setting, where the darkness of earthy patchouli and green leaves are used to temper the appetising quality of vanilla and anise.  The result is a fairy tale of a fragrance complete with beautiful princesses and wicked witches.  The masculine counterpart – Lolita Lempick au Masculin – is also pretty darn good

Other things to sniff: YSL’s Body Kouros (almond, menthol and vanilla) and DSquared2’s Potion (a warm, woody and resinous masculine).

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The New Kid on the Block: Yann Vasnier

Yann Vasnier is an emerging talent within the perfume industry.  He’s been making perfume since 2001 but over the last five years or so he’s really started to make a name for himself.  Working with some of the most prestigious fashion brands in the world, Vasnier has done some excellent work for Tom Ford’s Private Blend collection (namely the suntan-sandalwood of Santal Blush and the wonderfully desolate Oud Fleur) as well as some really promising history-inspired scents for up and coming niche house Arquiste.

One of my favourite of Vasnier’s works is Bang by Marc Jacobs.  Bang is an interesting perfume for two reasons; firstly it’s a truly lively and enjoyable masculine that uses metallic spices rather than ozonic notes to create a sense of freshness, and secondly because it is technically quite clever due to the fact that it succeeds in taking the note of pepper (a usually unstable ingredient) and making it both intense and long-lasting by using white musks, vetiver and patchouli.  Amongst a sea of generic masculines, Bang stands out as something entirely unique and fun to wear.

Bang isn’t Vasnier’s only work for Jacobs though, he’s also responsible for co-authoring the brand’s popular feminine scent ‘Lola’ with Calice Becker.  What I like about Lola, is that it takes the familiar structure of a bog standard fruity rose and zhuzzes it up with a surprisingly dark and inky patchouli note that makes for an really interesting ride.  Both fragrances prove that Vasnier is a name to watch.

Other things to sniff: Tom Ford’s Santal Blush & Oud Fleur and anything by Arquiste.


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Join the Discussion!

Who are your favourite perfumers?


Image credit: Perfume Organ, Grasse from Wikimedia Commons.

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