Life in Luxury | Carla Chabert, Perfumer at FRAGRANCES ESSENTIELLES
This week, as part of our Life in Luxury series, we spoke to Carla Chabert, Perfumer at FRAGRANCES ESSENTIELLES, who tells us all about the perfume making process, what inspires her and how she came to be a perfumer.
Tell us what you do?
I’m a perfumer. My job is to create fragrances that will meet the expectations of our clients, such as London’s leading fragrance experts, Molton Brown.
What does a typical working day look like for you?
I consider myself an artisan, a craftsman, and my craft consists of building smells. I work in a lab with an “orgue” of raw materials, composed of natural and synthetic ingredients which all have their distinct smell. I create formulas (which you could compare to recipes) on a computer, indicating each ingredient with a specific amount, which my assistant then weighs on a precise scale thanks to the orgue. We then smell together and try to have a critical eye on the paper blotter dipped in the fragrance we are sniffing. Is it what I had in mind? Is it well balanced? How can I improve it? Does it fit the concept? etc etc. And from there, I start a new formula with a little (or big) change. And so on and so forth for a stretch of time, depending if I have time ahead of me (or not), if I am happy with the result (or not), if I am inspired (or not)!
Our task is quite empirical: you have to compose and smell again and again before coming up with something of value, good enough to be shown to the brand we are working for. We are always trying to see through their eyes, come up with something that will fulfil their hopes. And then we have to incorporate with their feedback. So it’s a hand-in-hand process. I find it more conclusive to work on different projects/smells simultaneously. Otherwise you have a tendency to not smell what you are working on, even if it’s a very overwhelming fragrance!
What do you like most about your job?
The fact that it feels like being a child, playing. All day long I smell and redo what I’ve just done. It’s a never-ending process/game.
The process is even more fun when you are given freedom within a frame. For Coastal Cypress & Sea Fennel, Molton Brown had in mind a marine fragrance, in a beautiful turquoise blue bottle. As a briefing they had sent us a picture of the sea hitting red cliffs on which was standing an isolated cypress tree. Right away, lots of images pop up, smells associated to these images, and from there we can start building up a fragrance. Not being very fond of marines, I focused on the colour blue, its evocation of freshness and cold. Molton Brown embraced the idea, giving me the liberty to work on this aspect, and with time we did indeed add marine elements.
When things get too technical, example: a fragrance has been adopted by a client who wants a candle version. Sometimes the fragrance doesn’t come out well in wax. Changes need to be made for the candle version to stay true to the fragrance, but how frustrating when the result doesn’t live up to the expectations! And also all the legislation constraints: our palette is getting narrower every year.
What attracted you to the sector?
My initial aspiration was to become a film director! There are common aspects: both require creativity within technical constraints…
I am very attached to the idea of luxury in my work and as a person, knowing there is a real “savoir faire”, scrutiny brought to the final product thanks to the ingredients and the craftsmanship. Basically what touches me, beyond the result itself, is the time, attention and love brought to every detail in the finalisation of luxury goods or creative work.
What was your path to the role you have now?
It was a bumpy path, not what I had in mind to start off with, but I am happy to be where I am.
After having studied a bit of law, film studies and journalism, I decided, to study perfumery (at l’ISIPCA in Versailles) embracing my father’s profession!
My father was born in Grasse, and like many perfumers followed a career in Grasse, Paris and NY. At one point he wanted to go back home, close to Grasse, yet aspire to more freedom than what companies based in the south were willing to give him. It was a risky turn, but he decided to create his company. Soon after, he met Dale Daxon Bowers who was at the time in charge of Molton Brown, and they started collaborating on projects, with mutual trust and respect. I started as an evaluator (intermediate person between sales person and perfumer) in a larger company, had yet another job and finally decided to join Fragrances Essentielles created more than 25 years ago by my father.
To finish off, I’d say that the road is difficult because many people aspire to do this job and one must be persistent. But, growing older (and wiser) I believe that the detours and failures are part of the apprenticeship, in work and in life.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into the sector?
Be intuitive, determined, open-minded, hardworking and enthusiastic. And keep things in perspective.