Come To Your Senses: A Journey Into the World of Fragrance

Fragrances are one of my guilty pleasures in this world. From the therapeutic benefits of essential oils to the intoxicating aroma of a fine Chanel fragrance. It has been said that fragrances create, capture and evoke memories. Surely you have caught the slight aroma of something wonderful and were instantly transported back to a fond or maybe not so fond moment. The scent of Tresor by Lancome always reminds me of my grandmother.

When I spritz Une Fleur by Chanel on my wrist, I instantly remember walking down the aisle with my dad on my wedding day. The smell of Bath and Body Works Sun-Ripened Raspberry quickly transports me back to high school- 5th period of my Sophomore year to be exact. So who is in charge of capturing and creating these wonderful aromas? Meet Ann Gottlieb, fragrance developer. Ann has had a hand in creating some of the most well-known fragrances in the world. cK One, cK Obsession, Marc Jacobs Lola and many Bath and Body Works fragrances are just a few. In this interview (sourced from osmoz.com) Ann talks about how she describes what she does, what fragrance means to her and what she sees for the future of fragrance.

Of the many fragrances you have created over the years, of which are you most proud ?

There are many fragrances that I have worked on that I am very proud of. I really feel that each of the fragrances that I work on become “my children…” and it’s difficult for me, as it would be for a mother, to pick a favorite! There are many that I really love, but for different reasons… some because they have become iconic, and others because I just love them, and enjoy wearing them personally. But of those that will be “on my tombstone” : certainly cK one is one of which I am very proud ; Daisy and Lola from Marc Jacobs are certainly also important to me… J’Adore from Christian Dior, Euphoria from Calvin Klein, 212 from Carolina Herrera – both for women and men – all of these are special fragrances which launched well and continue to do quite nicely. And then, I would have to include the Axe Body Spray portfolio. That is a product form that has done quite well, and I feel quite responsible for the Axe fragrance portfolio. I do chuckle to myself every time I think that, really, it’s a grandma who is developing these fragrances for teenage boys, and really succeeding !

Well, that’s a credit to your ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes… So, how would you define your occupation ? What do you feel it is that you do ? Or, when you are at a cocktail party and someone asks you “What do you do ?” … what do you say ?
In answer to “what I do”, certainly I would say that I develop fragrances… But I would rather have it said that what I do is translate images into scent – because development and creation are never done in a vacuum. I smell very strategically and I must have an image in my mind of what this fragrance is for throughout the process of development. So, I don’t think that I am just “a nose” as such, I think that I am much more… Or, if I am a nose, I am a very strategic one !

What would you say is the most thrilling aspect of your job ?
There are a number of different parts of my job that are exciting. One of the most basic is when I am walking down the street and I can smell one of my fragrances (on someone). This always gives me a little thrill and delights me. It is very much a “high”… and really quite exciting. And hearing the manifestations of my work – especially hearing how much people might enjoy a fragrance I helped to develop – and just knowing that I bring pleasure to people. That’s really such a wonderful part of my job.

What led you to this occupation, and where and how did you start?
I owe where my career is today to a series of “lucky breaks” – combined with some sort of subliminal vision that I had. I was heading toward something, but the way it evolved was something that just happened! I was an accounting major in college, and I started work as an accountant and that was something that I really did not like – at all ! So I went on an interview and was fortunate enough to get an entry level job at Estee Lauder. The product development team was one of the areas where they needed someone, so off I went into that department. It was life-changing because I had two mentors there – and I think mentors are so important in one’s career. One of them was Estee Lauder herself, and the other was the woman who was my direct boss, Annette Golden. They both saw in me a talent which I didn’t know that I had – that I had a good nose. So I was given a lot of opportunity with Mrs. Lauder, to smell with her and to develop fragrances with her. And I guess I must have answered her questions in the right way because the work that I did with her grew and grew, and we ended up developing together the fragrances that were done during my tenure there : Private Collection and Alliage. After that I had a serious of corporate jobs – at Revlon and at Elizabeth Arden – and quite by accident 25 years ago I went out on my own, having no idea that I was heading toward anything in particular, really, and it turned out to be the luckiest “break” of my professional life. The first fragrance I did in my new business as a fragrance consultant became Obsession for Women from Calvin Klein (launched in 1985).

Well, that was a pretty good way to begin ! So, can you tell us one of the best memories you have of your career, a particular moment of your career which carried with it tremendous portent or a wonderful memory for you ?
There is not even a “maybe” as to what that was…It was receiving the Circle of Champions award. It’s an award given to one person each year by the Fragrance Foundation, and the Fragrance Foundation Board (in New York) selects its recipient. So it is an award that was given to me by my peers, literally. And it was such a touching acknowledgement of my career, and one that I will never forget. It was just the most meaningful and special professional moment of my life.

On an entirely different subject, what are your favorite raw materials ?
My favorite raw material is probably vanilla. I also adore fruity notes. I think that I had a lot to do with the trend when fruity notes became really important in the ‘90’s. One of the reasons that occurred is because of a company called Bath & Body Works… and I was fortunate enough to be the first “nose” for that line. For the first four years I was responsible for all of the fragrances that their stores, and that those of their sister company, Victoria’s Secret, launched.

I knew that you had worked with BBW, but I didn’t know that it was to that extent.
Oh, there is no question in my mind that the caliber and the types of fragrances that they launched were very much the result of my work for them. In fact it was, interestingly enough, one of those professional “mistakes”… Well, not really mistakes. I had been used to smelling only fine fragrance, and when I was hired to do their line of toiletry products, I knew nothing other than to apply what I knew from fine fragrance to this work. And so, in doing that, it really elevated fragrances for body care to a different level. And the preponderance of fruits in those lines had a strong influence on fine fragrance. It was really a wonderful example of “trickle up” !

Interesting… So the things that you developed for BBW then had an impact on fine fragrance ?
Exactly, and BBW stores were everywhere (in the U.S.) and people kept on smelling fruits, like strawberry. Things that, up until then, women had found almost nauseating. These fruity notes then came into the public domain much more, and people started loving those notes.

And are there those raw materials with which you don’t like to work?
There are a number of ingredients that, if I smell them in a fragrance, I cannot get past that particular note or odor. It’s as if on those bottles they have one of those circles – with the line through it! So perfumers know that if that note is within a particular creation and it can be obviously smelled, it is not for me. One of those notes is honey, one of them is black currant (or cassis). Also, within that world, interestingly enough, there are grapefruit and peach notes that have that same sulphuric note that, for me, is redolent of body odor.

Are there some notes or accords that, for you, equal the idea of seduction more than others ?
Certainly. I am a great believer that “What goes in your mouth and what goes in your nose are greatly related”. And that accords and odors that are tasty and succulent and addictive in a fragrance make you love it and find it succulent and seductive.

Ann, on an entirely different topic, how do you see the future of fragrances? What are your hopes for the future, and what are your concerns?
We are at a point in our industry when we are in serious need of – I wouldn’t say re-invention – but evolution. We know that our business is not so healthy, and it has been this way for a while, and that the economy isn’t helping us at all… and we also know that some consumers are no longer buying fragrances and that we really want to bring them back to our world. For me, fragrance is magic. It makes me feel good when I’m down, it makes me happy, and I know that it is capable of generating that kind of response in people who could really use it. We have to find a way of bringing that feeling back again – because we used to have it – we just lost it.

So what do you think would be a first step toward a positive future for fragrance ?
I think that we have to find better ways of understanding consumers, and of understanding why we’re not giving them what they want. We have to learn what they are buying instead (that gives them that thrill or enjoyment). And to understand what it is that the industry is doing or not doing well. And the only way that we can know that is to go and talk to the people that we want to attract.

Do you have any crazy idea of how to communicate fragrance to people – something that you would love to see happen ?
Yes. The crazy idea is that companies will be less concerned just with the bottom line and more concerned with delivering a magical product. So that consumers would feel that they are getting something magical. And if we do that, we will ultimately sell more fragrance!

And to conclude, what fragrance or fragrances do you usually wear ?
Well, first of all, I am most often wearing fragrances that I am working on currently – because I am always evaluating ! And it is extremely important to evaluate the fragrances on the skin, as opposed to just on the (paper) blotter. We wear fragrances on our skin, and our skin is another important element in how the fragrance smells ! So, I rarely wear something that is already on the market unless it is something that I have done. On the other hand, part of the value I bring to my clients is that I have a pretty good olfactive memory so, in addition to wearing things that I have done or that I am currently working on, I do like to keep up with important new launches in the marketplace to understand what is “going on” olfactively (in the market). If it is really “down time” – when I am really relaxing – I may well wear something by Guerlain ; something that is has been around for a long time that I used to love wearing and that I rarely have the opportunity to wear now…

Like what?
Like Chamade. And I love some of the Chanel fragrances. Like Beige – which is really a vintage fragrance that they just reintroduced. And I find, frankly, that the fragrances that I adore wearing are those that smell really high-quality to me. Creating fragrances is an art, and our perfumers are amazing artists who can offer very, very beautiful works of art if they are given the chance to use the wonderful – and often expensive! – materials available to them.

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