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The Innovations Transforming Fragrance

The art of making perfume has changed thanks to a number of new technologies from lab-grown ingredients to artificial intelligence.
A number of technologies are driving change in fragrance.
A number of technologies are driving change in fragrance. (PlainSight Studio)
  • Emily Jensen

In 2022, the niche perfume brand L’Artisan Parfumeur launched an array of scents containing some of the latest innovations in fragrance technology: aromas derived from real fruits and vegetables.

Tonka Blanc, part of a new collection of vegetable-based scents called Le Potager, contains a cauliflower note made with upcycled vegetable extracts developed by Symrise, a fragrance and flavour giant. Other SymTrap-formulated aromas include blackcurrant, apple, banana and strawberry.

The scents are on trend — upcycling is increasingly popular among sustainability-minded consumers, who see repurposing old clothes (or in this case, vegetables) into new products as a way to cut down on waste.

The naturally derived aromas have other benefits, though.

“The smell of blackcurrant [contains] much more licorice, less green cat pee,” said Symrise perfumer Suzy Le Helley. (Blackcurrant buds contain a compound that reminds many of cat urine; the fruit, used in Symrise’s upcycled ingredients, typically doesn’t have the same properties).

Fragrance brands are deploying all sorts of new technologies and production methods to ensure their latest releases stand out. They include artificial intelligence, new research on the intersection of emotions and scent and advanced manufacturing processes that can turn discarded cauliflower or bananas into the perfect note.

“We are much more intentional when we create a fragrance depending on what we want to achieve in the end from the response of the customers,” said Gabriela Chelariu, senior perfumer with Firmenich, one of the biggest fragrance and flavour companies.

Fragrance With Function

Givaudan, a competitor of Firmenich and Symrise, launched MoodScentz+, a collection of fragrance combinations, in November 2022. The company promises benefits like relaxation and happiness.

Scents marketed for their supposed emotional benefits have existed for years. The Nue Co’s Functional Fragrance, a “calming” scent, was released in 2019. Heretic’s line of aromatherapy-influenced perfumes launched in 2016.

The concept mainly lived on the fringes of the industry, but the long-lasting mental health effects of the pandemic turned it into a major trend.

“What’s changed all that is Covid obviously,” said Julia Brooks, sensory science business support scientist at Givaudan.

Last year, Vyrao released The Sixth, which promises to reduce stress. In 2021, CBD brand Brown Girl Jane launched scents that claim to boost happiness and relaxation while The Nue Co’s scent Water Therapy, also released last year, claims to mimic the sensory benefits of being in water.

In 2022, Firmenich launched Focus by Emoticode, an artificial intelligence program that assists in creating perfumes that claim to increase concentration. The AI program allows perfumers to analyse 1.9 million consumer responses to more than 34,000 fragrances to create scents that trigger emotions associated with enhanced focus.

“The knowledge about the brain is still quite at the beginning,” said Chelariu, who explained researchers can more precisely identify which smells trigger particular emotions by studying brain waves. Firmenich plans to expand Emoticode to other benefits.

Accurately communicating a wellness function is crucial as consumers demand more from their beauty products, said Carol Han Pyle, founder of candle brand Nette, which expanded to perfume last week with scents made with International Flavors & Fragrances’ Science of Wellness program, which uses consumer data and neuroscientific research to formulate scents with emotional benefits.

“I think the more modern consumer wears fragrance for themselves and for their own joy, so it makes sense that they want their fragrances to work double time and have these benefits,” said Han Pyle.

Back to Nature

D.S. & Durga’s Bistro Waters perfume of 2022 centres on a scent familiar to most kitchens but out of place on perfume counters: green bell pepper.

“I couldn’t have made that fragrance without this cool modern material that was invented like a year ago,” said D.S. & Durga co-founder and perfumer David Moltz of the scent’s central ingredient, a natural green bell pepper extract launched within Firmenich’s Firgood line from 2021.

Symrise’s SymTrap, Firgood, and Givaudan’s Orpur line of upcycled natural ingredients speak to the demand for more sustainable perfume production.

As an emphasis on natural, environmentally-friendly ingredients is growing, Symrise launched the Maison Lautier 1795 imprint in July 2022 to focus on sustainably-produced natural materials, using traditional methods like distillation alongside new technologies such as SymTrap.

Designer brands are also leaning on sustainability pledges.

But as Jacquelyn Wenskus, fragrance category analyst at Circana noted, they typically do so with flankers of popular scents, letting them experiment with new trends while leaning on an established name. In 2022, Dior launched J’adore Parfum D’eau, made with water in lieu of alcohol; Armani released Acqua di Gio Eau de Parfum, marketed as carbon neutral with sustainable materials.

Digital Transformation

As fragrance remains difficult to experience online, companies are establishing more digital pathways. Puig launched the digital platform Wikiparfums in 2018 in part to bridge that gap. The Spanish company, which owns perfume brands like Comme des Garçons and acquired a majority stake in Byredo last year, lets consumers and retailers search across thousands of fragrances based on descriptors like notes, colours and emotions.

“Many people don’t buy [perfume] because it’s overwhelming,” said Camila Tomas Verdaguer, Puig’s vice president of global innovation and new technologies. “We saw an opportunity in creating a new … visual language that describes things in a really simple manner.”

In February, Puig partnered with China’s Tmall to create a Scent Visualizer tool powered by Wikiparfums, which shows shoppers on the e-commerce platform images of each perfume’s notes. “It’s a very [digitised] market, and that’s where [Tmall] explored solutions and realized, ‘Okay, the one that is most effective and most liked by Chinese consumers is the visualization of ingredients,’” she said.

In November 2022, Givaudan announced the acquisition of Myrissi, which uses AI to understand aroma’s impact on emotions through the medium of colour. According to Muriel Jacquot, founder of Myrissi and F&B sensory science neuroscience development manager at Givaudan, the AI draws from a database of more than 25,000 consumer responses, using colour to ascertain what a fragrance makes them feel.

But AI has instigated debate across industries regarding ethical concerns and job security; fragrance is no exception. Independent perfumer Christophe Laudamiel’s perfume code of ethics argues that AI is not a perfumer and “the title of a person modifying an AI formula remains to be defined.”

Brooks notes that, like other technologies, AI still requires human intervention.

“Our nose is still the most sensitive instrument,” she said. “With the digital world, there’s still no substitute for smelling something, so it might be fine on paper, but when you smell it, it’s still not right.”

Further Reading

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