Olfactory reformulation: a creative practice for timeless perfumes

Reformulation is an integral part of the profession of perfumer. The main reason for this is the need to adapt fragrances to the changing availability of raw materials. In addition to regulatory restrictions, especially in Europe, there are “shortages of natural and synthetic ingredients for climatic or geographical reasons, or because factories are closed, for example,” Explain Suzy Le Helleyperfumer at Symrise.

Trained in the technical reformulation center of the perfume composition company, she gradually learned to complete the reformulation work with bibliographical research and olfactory analyses. It is a demanding experience, especially with old perfumes,”whose fans know all the notes by heart.

This practice can be extremely complex with Lary Basics, some materials of which are now prohibited. For these associations that are very useful to perfumers, the olfactory rendering can be very difficult to reproduce. “My biggest challenge was to rework a “drawer formula” from the 1950s made up of several Bases De Laire, i.e. nearly 500 raw materials. This enormous work took me more than a year,“recalls the young woman.

However, recent perfumes, which also need to be brought up to IFRA standards, represent a challenge. “For example, the short and readable formulas created by Jean-Claude Ellena, Michel Almairac or Maurice Roucel, in which each ingredient has its place, require refined and very precise substitution work.“The evaporation phase on the skin, which is essential, also requires a lot of attention and creativity.

Revival of old brands

Reformulation of old fragrances without archives is yet another problem. The revival of old brands (Teo Cabanel, Jovoy, Houbigant, Lubin, Le Galion, or more recently Marcelle Dormoy, Maison Violet, Cherigan, Bienaimé) has accentuated this phenomenon, even if some of them have been able to keep their documentation.

Fifth Sense recently attempted to meet this challenge. “It was necessary to recompose a perfume from the 1930s from a sample that dated from the 1950s, without the original formula,” explains the perfumer Alice Dated. If chromatography is a valuable aid, it is not enough. “The sample was old, the top notes had evaporated,” she explains.

It’s a real balancing act to harmonize creative heart and base notes. This long-term work combines olfactory analyses, culture and strategy. For once, the IFRA guidelines were favorable to perfumers. “With IFRA 48, the dosage of coumarin would not have been viable, whereas IFRA 49 allowed the perfume to be positioned as a mixed perfume to take advantage of more flexible standards.

The most difficult thing with these old perfumes is to transcribe the nitro-musk effect with today’s ingredients, agree Alice Dattée and Suzy Le Helley. Indeed, another major issue is linked to the use of natural ingredients that have become very expensive: it may be a question of reducing the dose. “Then, you have to get as close as possible to the spirit of the original, while staying in tune with the times,” analyzes Alice Dattée.

It’s almost improvisation to reformulate old perfumes that have disappeared,» confirm Patrice Revillard, from the Maelstrom Laboratory. The perfumer won the competition organized by Panouge to recreate Jacques Fath’s L’Iris Gris (1947), a fragrance that has become legendary.

It was tricky to get as close as possible to the original version, because this perfume is known based on vintage versions that have changed and macerated over time,explains Patrice Revillard. Without the original formula, he works on the version kept by L’Osmothèque and enriches his olfactory analysis with well-preserved vintage perfumes.

The biggest problem was in the use of the eugenol note, which is very limited by European directives. “This is why our formula is a little less spicy, less ‘eyelet’ than the original,says Patrice Revillard. “Fortunately, the writing style of L’Iris Gris being quite modern, we did not have to replace notes such as nitro musks, liliales or oak moss.

This illusionist work consists of reinterpreting the perfume rather than technically reproducing the formula. “We were lucky to work with an unlimited budget, because the natural perfumes of that time became very expensive,adds Patrice Revillard, who will soon take up the challenge of working with a more limited budget, since Panouge aims to launch a more affordable version of L’Iris Gris.

Well, they say that constraints stimulate creativity…

Sarah C. Figueiredo