Perfume making is an art stretching back thousands of years. We know the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Chinese used scent in many of their beauty and religious rituals, taking natural products from the earth to create fragrances.
Fast forward to the modern day, where perfume is a big business. It’s absolutely everywhere, with many of us owning at least a bottle or two of our favourite aromas. The big brands have their own methods of perfume making, but what exactly does the process involve? Do they stick to the age-old earthy techniques of our ancient ancestors, or does it all take place in labs and test tubes?
We’re exploring the secrets of luxury perfume brands, from the initial concept to the final product. How do they craft scents to tingle our senses, be it enticing romance or inducing memories of summer strolls through flower meadows?
When it comes to inspiration for perfume making, the big brands are one step ahead of most of us. The fragrance industry is a notoriously competitive one, making it tricky to break into. While creating perfumes is an art, it’s also one that’s deeply rooted in science.
Luxury perfume brands have a team of experts offering a wealth of science-backed knowledge and inspiration. Scent technicians will experiment with hundreds of smells to craft the perfect perfume, candle or diffuser.
According to Master Perfumer Anne Flipo, it takes a minimum of 9 months to create a fine perfume. The inspiration comes from all 5 senses, not just scent. So while you may have your own thoughts on creating a desirable blend, big brands must undertake a long journey to flourish from ideas to a real-life wearable perfume.
Launching a perfume requires some serious groundwork. Brands need to work out their pricing, strategy, sourcing ingredients and licensing a scent to name a few. For example, perfume making for a celebrity brand needs special licensing, which doesn’t come cheap.
Sourcing ingredients for scented perfume oils is another area requiring focus and attention. With certain ingredients, such as orris absolute, costing a rumoured $50,000 per kg, it’s easy to see how costs can quickly escalate.
Of course, the marketing campaigns for luxury perfumes are famously extravagant, adding an extra price tag to the finished product. These scents are meant to invigorate the senses, and brands compete to have the longest-lasting advertising campaign. Some famous ones have cost tens of millions of dollars, but they’re still remembered more than a decade later!
Luxury perfume brands will undoubtedly work closely with specialist financial consultants with a deep understanding of the luxury perfume world. It’s their knowledge that takes the brand’s visions and ideas and puts them into a realistic strategy. One where costs are calculated and smells are concocted into a world-famous fragrance while still making a tidy profit.
The Scent Selection
The main trick of perfume making is combing a selection of scents to create an overall fragrance with 3 layers:
- A top note
- A heart/central note
- Base notes
Budget perfumes are less complex and tend to have only one layer of scent. The quality of ingredients is also reduced in cheaper blends, so the fragrance doesn’t last as long.
Scented perfume oils are selected for their particular aromas and are then extracted from plants, fruits and woods. Where natural oils or scents don’t occur, we are now able to replicate these using synthetic chemicals. Most perfumes involve at least some synthetic component.
Unfortunately, the fragranced elements are often blended with other less desirable elements, such as alcohol, coal and petrochemicals. Animal byproducts, mainly musk from male deers and castor from beavers are also used. They provide stability to the liquid, allowing it to evaporate on your skin while leaving the scent behind.
The blending is where perfume making gets a little vague. Blending the chosen scents and ingredients together to create one flawless sprayable perfume is no mean feat.
Luxury perfume brands will almost certainly have a Master Perfumer (affectionately referred to as a “nose” thanks to their impeccable skill in scents) with their own signature recipe for each perfume. In fact, with only circa 600 Master Perfumers in the world, they’re a rare luxury saved for the finest perfume making.
Getting the exact ratios of ingredients, of which there may be hundreds, balanced to perfection takes time and skill. Along with the essential oils are other ingredients, mainly alcohol or oils, to dilute the perfume. The higher the ratio of essential oils, the stronger the scent and the more expensive the perfume is.
Eau de parfum is notoriously one of the most expensive options due to its high oil and low alcohol concentration. Eau de toilette, on the other hand, is far more diluted so it’s a cheaper option.
Let’s look at the concentration levels of 5 perfume types:
|Type||Oil Concentration (%)||How Long the Scent Lasts|
|Eau de Parfum||15-20||4-5 hours|
|Eau de Toilette||5-15||2-3 hours|
|Eau de Cologne||2-4||Up to 2 hours|
|Eau Fraiche (water-based)||1-3||Up to 2 hours|
The lower the alcohol content, the better it is for sensitive skin and the less you need to wear. As a water-based perfume, Eau Fraiche is another option for people with sensitive skin who don’t necessarily have the budget for expensive perfumes. Weaker types often come in larger bottles, allowing you to spray more to keep the scent alive for longer.
As with fine wines, ageing is a crucial step in the perfume-making process. It gives the fragrance time to mature, allowing the scents to bond with the alcohol. Keeping it in a cool, dark space and minimising contact with Oxygen helps to preserve ingredients and extend the lifespan of the perfume.
Ageing can take anywhere from a few months to a year. Once complete, an expert will test the scent to ensure the process has strengthened it before final tweaks are made to the blend.
The choice of bottle for a fragrance is as important as the liquid itself. A bottle says so much about the nectar within. It’s a chance to express the quality and personality of the fragrance.
Is it high quality? Dark and seductive, or light and fruity? Why waste months of creating a beautiful perfume to then pour it into a plastic bottle akin to the bottle of surface cleaner you use to wipe down the kitchen countertops each evening?
Luxury perfume brands spend a significant portion of their budgets creating unique and appealing product packaging. Of course, the bottle must also protect and preserve the perfume nestled within. It needs to be air-tight and, ideally, keep direct sunlight off the liquid.
Finally, we get to the crux of perfume making: the cost. Not surprisingly, the actual perfume liquid doesn’t make up a huge proportion of the overall cost. The retail price consists of
- The bottle and packaging
- Licensing fees
- Overheads for manufacturers and retailers
- Profits for manufacturers and retailers
- The actual perfume
The cost varies significantly from brand to brand, but the actual perfume can make up as little as 3% of the overall retail price.
Is it worth it? There’s no right or wrong answer. Perfume is subjective, and each of us has our own tastes. If your favourite perfume costs £100 but lasts a year and brings you daily happiness, I’d argue it’s worth every penny.