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WWD Beauty Forum: Benaim Deconstructs Fragrance Creation

Carlos Benaim, vice president and senior perfumer at International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., discusses perfume development.

It all begins with a daydream.

Add a dash of sensuality and science and one has the major parts of the formula for the creation of a fragrance.

According to Carlos Benaim, vice president and senior perfumer at International Flavors & Fragrances Inc., fragrances aren’t only the stuff of daydreams, but daydreaming plays a big part in inspiring perfumers to innovate.

“In our field,” said Benaim, “innovation starts with a creative idea but it doesn’t stop there. In perfumery, innovation is also the process by which a creative idea is converted into a commercial product.

“The perfumer seeks novel solutions to age-old problems and this is not a simple process,” said Benaim. “Inspiration begins as a gut feeling, a process that emerges from the realm of daydream and fantasy. However, these raw materials of fantasy and daydream have to be filtered through logical thinking in order to become a formula.”

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Perhaps the biggest challenge, Benaim indicated, is finding new solutions for new problems — rather than retreating to old solutions — at a time when pressure from clients can be great to rapidly get a fragrance to market. He contended that creation “lies not so much in developing new ideas but in escaping old ones.

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“At a challenging economic moment such as this,” said Benaim, “it’s time to take a fresh look at how fragrances are created and ask ourselves, ‘What can we do to spark the creative work that we need for real life artistry and innovation in our field?’ Today’s consumer is still hungry for newness, creativity and art. And that is why we work.”

The most prolific source of inspiration, according to Benaim is “the continual dialogue between nature and the perfumer’s mind. What we smell at a given moment is inextricably linked to a lifetime of thoughts, feelings and memories.”

He gave as an example his own experience of growing up in Tangiers, Morocco.

“The scent of orange flower [infused] my childhood. I remember walking through the orange flower groves. I remember when the [celebrants] used to sprinkle me with orange flower water in joyous celebration in the street. I remember tasting the candied orange flower petals.

“And that was the smell that I would forever associate with thoughts and feelings — and it was really an olfactory invocation of an atmosphere. This unique marriage of immediate sensory information and all that it evokes is the perfumer’s palette.

“For example, the orange flower I mentioned became the inspiration for Armani Code for women. And that is not an isolated case. In fact, it is a regular occurrence.”

But because a fragrance can’t live on flowers alone, another aspect of inspiration comes from attraction and sensuality. “The reality is that flowers alone cannot convey the full range of emotions and desires that we want to express,” said Benaim. “And that’s why we perfumers turn to other notes such as ambers and musks.”

Also, science plays a role in the creative process, Benaim noted. He explained that one of the latest Bulgari fragrances came to be after he visited IFF’s high-tech greenhouse. There was a variety of gardenia there that “really struck my imagination. The headspace of it became the inspiration for something that eventually is now very successful.

“Our chemists are constantly working for new aromatic ingredients, which in turn trigger novel responses in the perfumer.” Still, “as complex as science becomes, simplicity is very important in the final product. In perfumery it helps to be concise. Simpler is always more memorable and the more memorable a fragrance is, the more powerful its effects are going to be.”

Also in perfumery, the end result is more than the just the sum of its parts.

“It’s the constant interplay of scent, memory, personality, intuition and scientific advantage — together with the work with our clients — that results in transforming a creative fragrance into an innovative product.”