It’s no coincidence that the main character of German writer Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume, travels to the French capital to learn the secrets of creating intoxicating fragrances to satisfy his obsession of having a scent of his own. It was in Paris that a watershed moment in the development of the perfume industry occurred in the 13th century, when King Philip II regulated the activity, placing restrictions on the sites where perfume could be sold and acknowledging the profession and its contribution to society. The measures were extended and supported by subsequent monarchs, including John II, Henry III and finally Louis XIV, earning France its reputation as the cradle of perfume.
Indeed, Paris is the birthplace of mythical fragrances like Chanel No. 5, Shalimar de Guerlain, Géranium d’Espagne and Amour-Amour. The noses behind these scents include names like Ernest Beaux, Jacques Guerlain and Jean Patou, often from wealthy families or direct descendants of an illustrious line of perfume makers who had dedicated their lives to studying the art. To this day, if you want to try your hand at imitating these masters and creating your own fragrance, Paris is still the place to go. What’s more, you don’t have to burn the midnight oil studying.
One of the most accessible courses is L’Abc du Parfum, run by Marina Jung Allégret, who also works as a consultant for brands such as Jacques Zolty, Givenchy, Christian Dior Perfumes, L’Oréal and Frédéric Malle. “The idea is to provide an introduction to the world of blending perfumes, guiding participants with an entertaining and artistic course,” she explains in a friendly email. “We have developed a highly intuitive method for children and adults.”
With a perfumer organ of over 50 compositions, including roses, fruits and amber, the course teaches the basics of scent composition. It covers key concepts like notes and accords, and why perfume changes with the passing of time. “Guided by the perfume maker, participants will create their essence based on their inspiration, with the organ in front of them, following or varying the formula I suggest,” continues Marina Jung Allégret. “Finally, they’ll get to take home their own essence in a velvet bag.”
“The intuitive nature of our approach makes the process simple. We base everything on the perception of the smell of various raw materials,” she explains. “I ask participants questions, such as how they imagine their essence, which allows me to help them choose the oils and the raw materials to be included in their creation and guide them when it comes to proportions. We then test the result to see if it needs modified.”
And if you’re in need of inspiration, look no further than the Musée du Parfum, a stone’s throw from Palais Garnier, opened in 1983 by the Fragonnard dynasty of perfumers in the former residence of Maria Callas. The exhibition offers a trip through millennia of fragrance history, from the Egyptian pharaohs through to our globalised 21st century.
A note of caution, however, when it comes to creating essences. At the end of the novel Perfume, after having committed terrible atrocities, the main character finally comes up with the perfect fragrance, able to attract even those who have been hurt by his deeds. Worn down by his life and by being unable to love, he returns to the foul-smelling Parisian market where he was born. There he sprays the contents of the small bottle over his head. Mistaking him for an angel, the rapturous crowd tears him apart to possess the smallest morsel of his flesh. There are limits when it comes to the art of seduction.
Cover: Savvapanf Photo – Shutterstock