Some artistic souls with amazing noses stumble into the career, but that's rare. Many start their careers working in perfume stores or as lab technicians for perfume manufacturers [sources: Bradley, College for TN]. Others are chemists who discover a love of scent and follow their noses [sources: Bradley, Givaudan].
A degree in chemistry is required, as are years of additional, specialized training in cosmetic science and the specifics of perfumery [source: Academic Invest]. Lots of colleges, universities and private organizations offer perfumery courses, and some offer certificates in the art, but specialized degrees are harder to come by and often require studying at a dedicated perfume school. Those are relatively few, and the most prestigious ones are highly selective: The Givaudan Perfumery School in Paris accepts about 2 percent of its applicants [source: Hume]. For comparison, Harvard University accepts about 6 percent [source: U.S. News & World Report].
Perfume schools offer courses in topics like scent formulation, applications of natural vs. synthetic essential oils, olfactory evaluation and physical-chemical analysis. Trainees learn the scents and qualities of hundreds of natural and synthetic chemicals, developing their olfactory memories [sources: College for TN, ISIPCA]. They spend years as apprentices to master perfumers [source: College for TN].
Students typically also study marketing and business subjects, because perfumery isn't all test strips [source: ISIPCA]. It requires an understanding of consumers, the retail industry, quality control and business management: what people want in a perfume, how to analyze industry trends, how to tell the techs who prepared test batch 3 they messed up the formula [source: Academic Invest].
A formula that took 491 trials to perfect. But that's par for the course. Perfumers are a patient folk.
Right now, in a lab somewhere, someone is adjusting the ratio of musk to vanilla to orange for the 61st time, remembering a decades-old citrus grove, wondering what an oakmoss note might do for the accord ...
Author's Note: How Perfumers Work
Explaining how a perfumer arrives at "subtly dark and sensual" is kind of like explaining how van Gogh achieved "turbulent and lonely" – you don't. Creative processes seldom translate. So I settled here for the concrete: ingredients, ratios, training. Perfumers are artists, and each has his or her unique approach to the work. To get a real feel for the art of perfumery, you probably need to get a set of essential oils and some scent strips and have at it.
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