The skill of artisan perfumery is scarce at best and near extinction at worst. But it is where the perfume industry found its origins, among ancient chemists experimenting with natural extracts, and where it is perhaps moving to again.
More and more consumers are seeking individualised products, and custom perfume services are slowly making headway in global beauty hubs such as New York, US and London, UK.
The growing ‘customisation’ trend is a movement that SMEs and independent producers can capitalise on. ‘Consumers are increasingly looking for custom-made solutions that fit their specific needs, becoming more engaged in product creation. Many companies are expanding their product lines to better address consumer preferences,’ write analysts from the Bank of Canada in a recent report on a study of the latest consumer behaviour.
‘SMEs can leverage this to compete with large producers, increase their margins and minimise product development risks.’
Guides and training for artisan and independent perfumers are, however, not widely available, especially in South Africa, where only a handful of courses exist in this field.
For the self-taught perfumer a major issue is learning to preserve the fragrance of a product over time. This is particularly true for natural perfumes, where some aromatics, either in dry plant or animal product form, may have an acidic pH.
The web-based Natural Perfumers Guild is, albeit small, one of only a few organisations dedicated to supporting the art of independent perfumery. In the guild’s publication, Proper pH for Accords, Perfumes and Tinctures, authors Andrine Olson, Anya McCoy and Bruce Bolmes recognise the challenges that come with the preservation of scent and suggest that the pH balance of an artisan perfume is key to its preservation over time.
‘Perfumers realise the need to age their accords and perfumes, and they recognise that changes happen with aging. No perfumer wants to release a perfume that “goes bad”,’ explains the authors. The paper details a method for avoiding this by examining and explaining some detrimental chemical reactions that may occur. Its clear instructions, which outline techniques to stop and reverse changes in pH levels, should provide a starting point for independent perfumers looking to break into the niche fragrance market.
Proper pH for Accords, Perfumes and Tinctures is available for download here.