The perfumer behind Polo Red Intense shares his best tricks of the trad
When you spray on your favorite fragrance, you might think about how it smells and how others might perceive you, but you probably don’t think of the years of work and thousands of man-hours it took to develop.
The truth is that each fragrance you see goes through countless iterations at the hands of skilled alchemists, called “noses.” These highly trained perfumers—of which there are only roughly 600 in the world—will labor over each scent using industry tricks to deliver the right blend for their clients.
We sat down with Olivier Guillotin, the nose for Ralph Lauren Polo Red Intense, to find out what goes into formulating a best-selling fragrance and how the techniques he uses can help to enhance your fragrance game.
A Sense of Scents Takes Time
You think picking a scent is hard? Try crafting one.
Before prospective perfumers get the opportunity, they have to attend perfumery school for several years, depending on the program.
Givaudan, the fragrance house Guillotin works for, is the oldest, and it accepts only one percent of applicants. After school, graduates need a 6-year apprenticeship before earning the official title of “perfumer.”
But it’s this grueling process that makes modern perfumers so good—the same goes for choosing a fragrance.
The Takeaway: Don’t judge a scent by first sniff, says Guillotin. The first thing you smell, the top notes, are only meant to hook you.
“They’re simply the cherry on top,” he says. “What you’ll smell longest are the base notes, which won’t appear for several hours.”
Spray on the fragrance and experience it all day and get to know the full scent before making a purchase.
Narrow It Down
Before a fragrance concept is formed, noses are given a set of descriptors of how the fragrance should smell and the types of feelings it should evoke. But if you’re picturing someone mixing these freehand, you’re way off.
When Guillotin formulated Polo Red Intense, which includes lemon, saffron, ginger, red cedar, and leather, he selected a few essential oils from the thousands at his disposal, and a computer precisely blended each batch.
Too much of one ingredient could throw off the fragrance’s smell. And the same is true when shopping for one.
The Takeaway: When testing fragrances, you can only smell four to five scents before you get olfactory overload, a condition where your nose can’t process new aromas due to oversaturation.
Many fragrance counters have coffee beans to counteract this effect, but Guillotin says to avoid them at all costs.
“Coffee contains furfuryl mercaptan, an extremely odorous molecule related to the odor a skunk would emit,” he says. “It’s definitely not a good way to reset your olfactory senses.”
Instead, he recommends smelling a clean piece of clothing or skin in between fragrances to fully appreciate each one.
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Make It Last
By the time you hear about a final product, the manufacturers have already labored over it. For how long can vary greatly, depending on the fragrance and the client.
Some scents finish in just three months. Polo Red Intense took a full year to produce, which is about average.
Guillotin’s longest? “More than six years.” But just like a fine wine that can take a long time to produce, the liquid fragrance (“juice” as industry pros call it) can go bad if it’s not used and stored properly.
The Takeaway: Guillotin recommends spraying your fragrance all over right after you shower and then reapply on the neck in the evening because the skin’s warmth helps diffuse the scent.
Increase your bottle’s shelf life by keeping it in in a cool, dark place to ensure it lasts many years.
“If it’s in a hot place with direct sunlight, it will only last two years—maximum,” he says.