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NEW YORK — International Flavors & Fragrances is taking the phrase “test case” to a whole new level.
The company has partnered with an upscale Manhattan salon company, Anderson French, to install a full-service, seven-chair salon at IFF’s corporate headquarters on West 57th Street. Unlike many test facilities, this one is actually a working salon that just happens to test fragrances designed for hair products for IFF three hours a day, said Gail Anderson, who cofounded Anderson French with Stuart Anderson 3 1/2 years ago. The duo also operates a salon on East 53rd Street between Madison and Fifth.
While it’s not unusual for consumer product brands to have testing centers, IFF’s is a regular salon, which tests scents in hair products on consumers who patronize the facility. The salon had a soft opening in March and is officially celebrating its opening with a gala reception Wednesday night.
Nicolas Mirzayantz, vice president of global business development for IFF, noted that when the company redesigned its offices and brought its fine fragrances and toiletries divisions under the same roof two years ago, the idea to install a salon was born. And while the new salon is still very new, it’s already paying off, said Mirzayantz.
“We were spending a lot of time visiting outside salons to do this type of research, so it was only natural to put one in here,” he said. “We chose to partner with Gail because she was already running a very successful salon elsewhere and we knew she could work well with our team — and she recognizes that we’re a bit unusual in our needs. This salon offers us the perfect opportunity to test fragrances in real-life situations, which makes it incredibly valuable in our work.”
While many oil houses test their hair perfumery with their consumer goods divisions, IFF’s are done with its fine fragrance division, noted Jonathan Morley, global business development manager, toiletries for IFF. He added that the salon has already sharply increased the learning curve for the testing of the company’s new creations. “In the past, if we tested the fragrances on live people rather than on mannequin heads, we were only able to do one person at a time in our offices,” he said. “With Anderson French, we are testing fragrances on about 18 people weekly, with the capability of doing as many as 4,000 yearly. It makes a big difference in developing effective scents for our partners.”
Mirzayantz noted that the company’s perfumers — housed on the same floor, around the corner from the salon — often pop in to smell how a fragrance wears in real-life situations. The company has 98 perfumers worldwide, with 20 based in the 57th Street offices; IFF also has a number of students training in its programs around the globe. In fact, Mirzayantz noted, the headquarters salon is a model concept that the company is hoping to export to satellite offices.
To get the full effect, the hair of test subjects is first washed to remove all of its natural fragrances, explained Jayne Rodgers, IFF’s global fragrance development manager for hair care. Perfumers then sniff the scalp to get its natural odor in order to distinguish it from anything that will be added to the hair later. Then, half-head tests are conducted, and the perfumers working on any given creation evaluate first how it smells on wet hair, then after hair is dried.
“Word gets out, and all of a sudden, you’ll have eight perfumers gathered around a chair, sniffing hair,” said Morley, with a laugh. And they aren’t the only ones who enjoy it. “Our customers and staff really get into it —?it makes them feel like they have a hand in product development,” said Anderson. Anderson and Rodgers also are working to compile a database of client hair types, so that if a perfumer is hoping to test his or her creation on, say, an Asian client with dry hair, the salon will be able to supply the client.
There’s also an airlocked, glass-walled room where hair colors are tested. “Although in regular salons, hair color is done out on the floor, we can’t do that here because our perfumers have such delicate noses and it would affect what they’re smelling for other products,” said Rodgers. The room also features lighting that can be changed to a number of settings — to mimic such things as, say, intense ultraviolet light to daylight — with the flick of a switch. “Hair color is the hardest product to scent, which made it critical to have a room in which to test the scents,” said Morley.
And never let it be said that IFF doesn’t test its scents in every conceivable way — across the hall from the salon, two shower stalls have been installed to test fragrances and usage among willing clients (wearing swimsuits while they lather up, of course), and abroad, things sometimes get even more, well, specific.
“If we have a client in India who is washing her hair with the vegetable water that is left over from her family’s dinner, we need to test how the scent in the shampoo holds up,” said Mirzayantz. “So we have a team that does. We don’t leave anything to chance.”