The next wave of fragrance formulations may come from a computer.
On Tuesday, IBM and Symrise unveiled their latest project, an artificial intelligence system called Philyra.
In milliseconds, Philyra can pull together a huge quantity of fragrance combinations, and then rank them based on differentiation from current scents in the marketplace and their commercial appeal. From there, the perfumer can then tweak the formula to his or her desire.
“[The] idea here is to explore the boundaries of something so artisanal and crafty as perfumes and fragrances and combine it, marry it, merge it with aspects of modern technology,” said Achim Daub, president of scent and care at Symrise.
The first fragrances Philyra has helped to created are for Brazilian brand O Boticário and are expected to hit the market in 2019.
Artificial intelligence has found solid footing in the beauty industry, where — in the past few years — it has begun to play an increasingly crucial role behind the scenes, especially in terms of personalization. Until recently, it was talked about more in makeup and skin care, but Symrise is not the only fragrance company looking to harness the technology. In August, fragrance house Firmenich said it would launch a Digital Lab to tap artificial intelligence for innovation across fragrance and flavors.
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“This is not a short-term project, it’s more like a learning opportunity,” Daub said.
Behind the scenes, Symrise and IBM have worked over the past two years to input data on Symrise’s 1.7 million fragrance formulas into a system that can track things like how well clients liked them, how well they sold and how well they did in consumer tests, said Richard Goodwin, principal research scientist at IBM.
The project is an evolution of one that IBM worked on in the flavor segment, where it used flavor-pairing models and psychological models of olfactory pleasantness for recipes that would taste and smell good.
With Philyra, the system is meant to work alongside the perfumer.
“The system learned like a human apprentice,” Goodwin said. “It can look at the 1.7 million formulas and look for patterns. A human has the advantage where they can actually smell the fragrance.”
Philyra can also tell the difference between fine fragrances and fragrances that were created for things like shampoo or laundry detergent, Goodwin said, and suggest ingredients that naturally compliment each other from a functional perspective.
There’s the commercial element to it, as well. “Given two fragrances we can indicate which fragrance is more likely to be a success, and then can suggest the better fragrance formula to the perfumer,” Goodwin said.
That theory will be put to the test with O Boticário’s two 2019 launches, which were specifically tailored to the tastes of Millennials in Brazil. Symrise perfumer David Apel took formulas suggested by Philyra and tweaked them to come up with the final results. One contains notes of fenugreek seeds, green cardamom pods and carrot seed, and the other has notes of osmanthus, lychee, neroli and patchouli with toffee.
The concept launches into a fragrance market that has taken strides over the past few years to balance broad consumer appeal and artistry, which are often seen to be at odds.
“It will never replace the perfumer,” Daub said of the AI technology.
Right now, Apel is one of a few perfumers at Symrise using the technology but over time it is expected to become more broadly available, especially at the academic level, where Achim expects it to be taught to the next generation of master perfumers.
But the two don’t see it as something that sucks the artistry out of the perfuming process.
“One of the things we have is a creativity dial,” Goodwin said. “If you’re going after a particular target like Millennials in Brazil and you turn it way down, it will find as best it can novel fragrances that are more commercial or mainstream.
“If you turn it way up to a 10, then it explores a much wider area and tends to create fragrances that are more unique or edgy,” Goodwin added. “It’s up to the perfumer if they want to go with something more edgy or more mainstream or commercial.”