Almost every morning for seventy years, a handful of students in a school outside Paris have started the day with a rigorous assessment. The eight dedicated students at Givaudan’s Perfumery School all attempt the Jean Carles test each day: to sniff a whiff of a single ingredient and train their nose to distinguish from a palette of some 500 raw ingredients.
Having opened in 1946 by founder Jean Carles, the school still only accepts a tiny amount of students a year. But once through the door, dedication pays off, as the group will go on to join the ranks of the world’s top perfumers.
Perfumers: part artist, part scientist
The Perfumery School is now celebrating its 70th anniversary and over the years, the role of a perfumer has radically changed.
Today a ‘nose’ is required not only to create beautiful scents but to have the broader skills of the arts, marketing, branding, consumers and trends. They must be able to detect and distil ‘l’air du temps’… and not just the Nina Ricci version, which was created by an early pupil, Francis Fabron.
Students are taught to tune into the trends that spark a cultural shift and which swing our fragrance allegiances from yesterday’s sweet gourmands to today’s moody ouds.
Out of the lab and into the world
Director Alain points to ways that help students stay connected to changing times: “Students are regularly sent out of the lab and into the world to be inspired by all types of raw fragrance ingredients. They travel to citrus groves in Sicily or cistus plantations in Andalucía to immerse themselves in raw natural beauty. Another source of inspiration is pretty close to home, and that’s Paris! With the world’s cultural capital on their doorstep students regularly make ‘field trips’ here, immersing themselves in everything that the city has to offer. They can explore what inspires them personally, which could be anything from fine art to modern architecture.”
Alain also prepares students for their future role:
“From the start, students interact with other divisions in Givaudan, such as the business world of sales or the supply chain challenges of sustainability. And, although it doesn’t sound like a hardship, they must also be prepared to travel the world and sometimes become an icon themselves, as many fragrances now like to put a name behind the scent! The job of a perfumer is still profoundly poetic, but we add a dose of pragmatism, too.”
Establishing the future of perfumery
In 2015, this pragmatism spurred the School to open a new hub in Singapore to support customers in South Asia make the most of the region’s growing market. From this new campus – the only one outside France – the first intake of just three students will travel to nearby China, Vietnam and Indonesia to meet customer challenges head-on, learning consumer understanding and insights to create superior fragrances for tomorrow’s winning brands. These are equally exciting times for their peers in Argenteuil, as the first-year Singapore students have just arrived in France to begin their international year abroad.
As part of the School’s 70-year celebrations and in a spirit of continuous learning, all students will attend a panel from Givaudan’s Young Perfumers Forum to hear how current perfumers deal with daily business challenges. As Alain explains:
“Our Young Perfumers have been in the business for a few years and they bridge the gap between business and the School. We will listen to their needs and link these back into the next design of the school programme.”
Just as a fragrance must always smell fresh and inspiring, at seventy years old, Givaudan’s Perfumery School remains resolutely with the times.