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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sometimes Perfumery Isn't As Glamorous As You May Think

We've seen all the glossy perfume ads in magazines and television.  A scantily clad 14 year old girl grasping a bottle of perfume declares lustily she wears "Insert perfume X, Y or X."  Never mind the perfume seems to be targeted toward a much older demographic.  Or that most 14 year old girls cannot afford such an expensive perfume.

While it's usually the marketing concept and the models that are glamorous perfumers are becoming recognized, dare I say even famous now, and rightfully so.  I devour articles and interviews with perfumers, noting the snapshots of their stark white laboratories or immense perfume organs.  I enjoy reading about their inspirations, the elaborate stories of connections to royalty or the rich and famous, the exotic premise behind the creation of million dollar perfumes.  I control my eye rolling as these articles often include the requisite quote from a starlet describing how "involved" she was with the creation of their new signature fragrance.  Ha!

There's obviously a large difference between creating commercial perfumes for say Chanel, and creating perfumes for your own small niche perfumery--no doubt.  But I have a sneaking suspicion, if we were to lift the curtain behind all the marketing madness and money some basic things remain the same.  The actual art of blending and creating a perfume.  Yes, commercial perfumes use synthetic chemicals and I do not, however the very basic art of creating a scent, blending, noting nuance, creating modifications remains somewhat the same.  What does not remain the same, is the number of hats worn.  The roles one must play.  Commercial large scale perfumers are the nose.  Small scale perfumers and business owners have a few more balls to juggle.

I am a perfumer, director of marketing, IT advisor, web designer, PR agent, publisher, shipping and packing coordinator, creative director, industrial designer, social media expert and occasional blogger.  Whew.  The only things I don't do are photography and graphic design.  I know where my weaknesses lie.  I leave that to my extraordinarily talented friend Daniel Gagnon.  I cannot recommend him highly enough.  He has designed my labels, and photographed my perfume which is no small job.  He even photographed me--which I hate more than anything in the world--and through his careful positioning made me look much better than I really do.  Here is a photographer that is used to working with the aforementioned 14 year old fashion models, that patiently took photo after photo while I wailed, "I'm so uncomfortable!  You're not putting my body in the pictures are you?" etc. ad naseum.  He also took beautiful photos of my perfumes and listened to me carefully when designing my logo and labels.  Muchas Gracias Dan!  If interested in Daniel's services, here is his website with contact info

These other hats we wear as small business owners are decidedly less glamorous.  Personally I find nothing glamorous about blending perfume, at best it could be science nerd chic, but others seem to disagree.  Publications coo over a photo of me in a low cut sweater and pearls (!) mock casually sniffing perfume strips.  Farcical!  In no way is the photo of me a realistic representation of how I work.  It is a (hopefully) glamorized version of my chosen profession.  No hippie oils here folks!  We have pearls.  Normally you'd find me in jeans, a scowl and bedhead.

Uncomfortable Me

Now my days are spent packing and shipping orders, negotiating with printers, patiently explaining it's simply not feasible for me to order 5,000 labels at a time, unjamming the fax machine, filling perfume bottles, corresponding with bloggers and editors, tracking orders, fielding emails, contacting my bottle supplier to inquire why every perfume bottle I use appears to be out of stock, filing sales tax forms and other assorted tasks.  Lately I've been so busy with the mundane day to day tasks I've had little time to actually blend perfume.  This bothers me greatly.  Make no mistake, I'm happy that my business is growing and I'm incredibly grateful to have orders to fill.  I've been working very hard.  BUT, creating perfumes is my passion and an art that needs to be practiced.  In my case, a lot.  Over and over.  Repeatedly.  Am I spending so much time trying to source bubble mailers at the best price that I have forgotten what rose smells like?  

And so it's back to the studio for me.  I need to make friends with sandalwood again.  Network with my tinctures.  Rub shoulders with the creme de la creme of the perfume set . . . the botanicals.  The glorious natural ingredients.  It's not glamorous.  It's work, and I love it.


Diana said...

Congratulations, honey for all your love and passion for natural perfumes ! :*

Tracy said...

I can COMPLETELY relate to this! Love it!

Shauna said...

Charna, I'll take every opportunity I can to tell you how much I love your writing. Your blog is a real pleasure to read -- it's engaging, honest, entertaining, and most of all, it's inspiring...

Charna said...

Hi Diana and Tracy,

Thanks for your kind words! Much appreciated!

Charna said...


You're too kind! What incredible compliments, I can literally feel my head getting bigger :) Thank you, your words mean a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

Honest, insightful, funny, real, beautiful! I'll read your blog with great interest in the future!

Thanks so much for being authentic in your writing, it's wonderful to read.

One day in the not too distant future I hope to try your creations :)

Laura Matheson xo

Brian said...

Charna, thank you for this insightful and quite humourous piece. I celebrate your efforts and success.And i have a bit of a quiz for you, but your answer ould surely mean a lot to me; the quiz is: when you started your perfumery, what was the biggest challenge you faced?

Charna said...

Hi Brian,
I would say my biggest hurdle when starting my business was twofold: first there was such a lack of materials available to hone my craft. I read every possible book, article, chat group comment I could find to learn as much as possible, but there wasn't much available. I see more classes and more people writing books on creating natural perfumes now which is exciting. The second obstacle I had (and have) is lack of funding. Perfumery is an expensive field, especially when you're flying solo. I knew I wouldn't be able to afford a fancy PR company, elaborate packaging etc. Knowing how much of the industry is based on appearance, I struggled financially to create an upscale product, that utilized fine botanicals, was well blended and "looked" high-end.
I guess the short answer could have been lack of money, lack of resources :)