Some perfumers build their own brands because they relish the creative freedom that comes with independence. But the vast majority of the world's perfumers—including some of the people who have created the most iconic perfumes in history—work for fragrance companies. They work with multiple clients on multiple projects that are as different as the resulting scents, and that variety—that endless stream of new challenges—is often considered one of the best parts of the job.
Perfumer Beverley Bayne, who created Eau Sans Pareil for Penhaligon's, is exactly this type of perfumer. Through her work in the U.K. at CPL Aromas, Bayne works with clients to help them translate their ideas and emotions into scent form. She shared with us how dramatically the perfume industry has changed since her start, how she went about creating and later updating Eau Sans Pareil, and the excitement of helping others develop their own sense of smell.
Olfactif: How did you get into perfumery?
Beverley Bayne: Completely by accident! I wanted to work in a laboratory and thought about a scientific laboratory. I also enjoyed art but I wasn’t good enough at traditional things like painting. So I applied for a job as an assistant at a perfume laboratory and I thought, “This is really interesting.” I was offered the chance to train as a perfumer, and I never looked back.
O: Did you have a scientific educational background?
BB: I had very basic chemistry knowledge, but I have learned. I’ve been at CPL nearly 12 years and have been in the industry for 35 years. I’ve learned on the job through mentors and continuing to smell, making things up, experimenting, and doing stability testing and performance testing to find out what works and what doesn’t.
O: What has changed the most since the time you first started working?
BB: The biggest thing has to be legislation. We have so many restrictions for all types of different products, and that can be quite challenging. It doesn’t seem to be stopping, either—it is continuing. That is the hardest thing because sometimes you create something and think, “That’s the smell I want!” But it doesn’t comply with a set of legislation or customer regulations. You have to be creative with raw materials in a different way, and that’s good—but sometimes you can’t achieve what you could achieve with the other material, and that’s very frustrating.
And the industry moves quite fast now—the pace of releases, the amount of work that perfumers have to get through now. Computers enabled us to create more quickly, but we don’t have the thinking time that we had 20 or 30 years ago.
O: That’s tough, because the thinking time is one of the most important parts of the creative process in any creative endeavor.
BB: Yes, it is. When we used to handwrite a formulation, subconsciously things are going on in your head the whole time. But now it’s all on the computer and you’re just pressing buttons and it happens so quickly that you don’t have the time to think about anything. Productivity has increased but creative time—thinking—has diminished. And I think you can smell that in fragrances today.
The rate of increase in perfumers has not gone up as quickly as the rate of increase in launches. When you smell the fragrances of the brands that don’t launch massive numbers of perfumes, the fragrances are usually well constructed, well balanced, and clever. Smell the latest celebrity scent and you know that it’s just been through the conveyer belt machine. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything very personal or passionate about it. They all say, “We have to have a fruity-floral-gourmand, and it has to be out in six months.”
O: How did you come to work on Eau Sans Pareil?
BB: Penhaligon’s has been a CPL client for a very, very long time. It’s a perfect English niche brand. Nathalie Vinciguerra, the head of fragrance at Penhaligon’s, liked the idea of Eau Sans Pareil, but when people smelled it blind, they felt it was too old-fashioned for today. She said, “What can we do to modernize it while keeping the essence of the original fragrance?” So that’s where it started.
The original fragrance was a very classical fougère fragrance with quite heavy aldehydic notes and it was quite animalic, too. I tried to simply modernize the formula, but that didn’t work. The finely balanced accord when altered didn’t ‘gel,’ and the fragrance lost its completeness. I had reduced the animal note, updated the fougère, and softened the aldehydes, but in doing this I upset the main accord or backbone of the fragrance. It fell to bits.
So I thought, “What are its attributes?” It’s the powdery aldehydes, it’s floral, and it’s a bit of fougère—concentrate on the aldehyde note. So I decided to use some orris for the powdery note and to support the aldehydes. I really played on the musk note in the background, and I modernized it by thinking about new accords that would fit the signature of the original Eau Sans Pareil.
O: I notice there is still oakmoss in the new formula, but I assume—because of regulations around natural oakmoss—that the oakmoss is toned down compared to the original?
BB: There is oakmoss in it, and I have used low-atranol oakmoss. The oakmoss goes through a special extraction to remove the atranol, which is the sensitizer in natural oakmoss, so it doesn’t quite smell the same. But I introduced a suedey-leather character to go with the oakmoss and give it that thickness and depth that it was missing from changing to a low-atranol oakmoss.
O: I have noticed in a few places online that Eau Sans Pareil is classified as a masculine scent but in others it’s classified as a feminine scent. To me, it smells at home on anyone. What was the intention?
BB: Very much unisex. Although it has aldehydic and floral notes, I hope that it appeals to both men and women, because the woody character is familiar to men. It also has the orris notes that I knew would be familiar to men as well as women.
O: A lot of people aren’t familiar with how a perfumer works at a laboratory for outside clients. Can you describe how your own creativity and passion come into play when you’re creating for someone else?
BB: I have sat down with clients and we’ve had stuff all over the boardroom table—bits of plant, colors, materials, all kinds of stuff—and you start feeding off each other to get ideas. For example, if someone says, “I like this red material with this velvet in it,” then I start to think "spicy red fruit." Then I might have them smell a raw material and say, “What do you think about this? Does this say ‘red’ to you?” We feed off each other, and that’s what I like. Then I can start to build a picture of what they want and what they’re passionate about, and hopefully I come up with something that meets their requirements.
We had a client recently who wanted a particular kind of note and she was finding it hard to explain. So I said, “Let’s start dipping.” So we got out 20 to 30 bottles until we found the idea that she had in her head. And that was really exciting. She was trying to explain what she wanted, but she couldn’t because she didn’t have the technical or perfume vocabulary. She was like a child in a sweet shop—in my sweet shop! People aren’t aware of their sense of smell as much as they could be, so if, during my working day, I can get someone to enjoy using their sense of smell, that’s a good day for me. Plus, we create quite a lot of niche fragrances, which is fun because you do have free reign and can be creative and it isn’t driven by market research.
O: The flip side of working on staff at a lab is that you’ve created a lot of scents that don’t have your name on them.
BB: Yes—quite often, the fragrance house or the perfumer is very much in the background. It’s the nature of the job. Most perfumers are quite shy people, and we’re quite introspective. We’re introverts. So I don’t seek the limelight. That’s not what it’s about for me.
My only issue is the growing trend of people giving themselves the title “perfumer” when they aren’t actually creating fragrance formulations at all. Perfumers train for many years to achieve the title of perfumer. It takes a lot of persistent hard work, whether you are working on your own or for a larger company. I find this frustrating, as do many genuine perfumers.
O: If you weren’t a perfumer, what would you be doing?
BB: I would probably have ended up doing something scientific, probably to do with agriculture or horticulture. I would like to have worked outside. But I do have a link with nature through my job, so that is great. We perfumers are very lucky because we get to go out and smell fields of lavender and go to rose gardens, things like that. In England we have chamomile and lavender and some brilliant rose gardens, and that is lovely—for example, to stand there in a field of chamomile. But really, as a perfumer, you never stop smelling, even when you’re just going for a walk in the countryside. Recently I had a client’s creative brief that called for “elder flower” and “hedgerow,” and I was walking to see what I could pick up in the air. There’s always something new to smell. Perfume should be fun. I’ve always enjoyed it, and I never stop learning. That’s what I really enjoy about working as a perfumer—there’s always something new. We’ve got such an amazing collection of raw materials that you can always twist or do something different, use a material in a different way.
O: What’s distinctive about English perfumery?
BB: I think English perfumery has been, and can be, quite quirky. I like that. I think English perfumery uses naturals very well. Brands like Penhaligon’s still use a lot of high-quality natural extracts, which is good. They add character and complexity and longevity.
O: Thanks for talking with us, and thanks for your talent and work! Our subscribers have loved Eau Sans Pareil.
BB: There’s a person at our company who loves it, too—she says it’s her favorite fragrance—and she’s in her mid-20s. That really pleased me because she is even younger than the demographic that I was aiming for, but she likes it because it’s different. I think there’s a backlash against the fragrances that smell similar out there, but people aren’t sure what to try. With the help of your company, hopefully they’ll have the confidence to try some of these new things they wouldn’t have tried before.
Learn more about Eau Sans Pareil by Penhaligon's.