Sunday, August 06, 2006

Interview with the perfumer Andy Tauer

I'm very proud that the perfumer Andy Tauer did like to do an interview on this blog. We did this interview by mail and it was fun for both of us. Enjoy!

How did you become a perfumer, and did you always knew you would become one?

Let me first thank you for giving me the chance to talk about myself outside of my blog. It is a pleasure to discuss with you and to jointly think about perfumery; let's hope your readers will appreciate it, too!

In order to be honest: It took me a while to get acquainted with the idea of being a perfumer. As a matter of fact, the first time I used the title perfumer was at immigration to Egypt last year where I -for the very first time- put in perfumer as profession. Before, I always used chemist or manager or something similar.

Why is this? One reason is my respect from the title. I think a perfumer is some what of an artist. And I still am somewhat reluctant to call my self perfumer because of this. Am I an artist? I do not really know. Do I knowhow to make perfumes? Sometimes I find yes, sometimes I look into the mirror and know: Andy, you gonna have to go a long way, still.

Thus, how did I become someone who wants to create perfumes? I have studied chemistry, which helps. I have a sense for beauty, I guess, I love beautiful things and I like to be creative. When I discovered scents a few years ago, completely by chance, just out of the blue, it was like a revelation. I realized: This is exactly what I want to do. Create scents and sniff. Sniff and sniff. I started sniffing natural essences, ordered like crazy from all over the world and started to make simple, disgusting perfumes.

I learned to sniff and to memorize scents. At the beginning I had an excel table where I was writing down all my impressions and this technique helped me a lot. I learnt that I have to describe and think about scents in a very crude way: Smells like fish or smells like a wood close to the highway and I learnt to be patient, because in perfumery: Things need time! And I later met Vero, a friend by now , a dear friend indeed, and a perfumer. She learnt me how to use synthetics. And I started to make more complex fragrances.

Finally, after centuries of sniffing, of mixing and learning how scents develop and interact, I made the first perfume, that really was a something I could be proud on. I gave it my brother as a gift. And then, soon afterwards, I started thinking about le Maroc pour elle, which -after almost a year-finally ended up in a little shop in Zurich. The rest is history..

By the way, on wikipedia the perfume creator is described as follows:

"The job of composing perfumes that will sell is left up to an expert on perfume composition, more commonly known in the fragrance industry as the Nose. The nose is effectively an artist who is trained in depth on the concepts of fragrance aesthetics and who is capable of conveying abstract concepts and moods with their fragrance compositions. At the most rudimentary level, a nose must not only have a keen knowledge of a large variety of fragrance ingredients and their smells, and be able to distinguish each of the fragrance ingredients whether alone or in combination with other fragrances. As well, they must know how each ingredient reveals itself through time with other ingredients. "

Please tell us more about Le Maroc pour elle. We have learnt it was an idea on the side with friends. What's the story behind it and how did this fragrance develop?

The existence of Le Maroc pour elle resides in my wish to create a scent that is centered around three natural absolutes from Morocco: The rose absolute, the jasmine absolute and the essence of cedarwood. The idea was born quite fast, within a few minutes I had a deal settled with Pascal -the shop owner of Medieval art & vie in Zurich and a dear friend- and we agreed on me creating this perfume for his shop. We had an excellent wine that evening, did not think about the implications, and thus, I started composing a fragrance which should be centered around these three natural treasures.

It took me quite long (something like 9 months, I guess) to have it ready. I had absolute freedom because Pascal trusted me that what comes out will be fine. It was a somewhat painful experience because it was the first time that I agreed to create a scent based on a theme that was intended to be sold to clients in a shop. We had no client focus group, but Pascal would present the final perfume version to clients, asking for their opinion. And he got quite enthusiastic remarks, with a few exceptions and thus we started to sell it. One exception was (I posted once about this on my blog) a critique like:" Ohhh, no? that smells like fish?.no wrong! It s sheep, wet sheep!? "
Now, before this truly devastating statement (that was not hindering us to launch) were months of agony. I faced incredible difficulties to use the rose absolute without making a cheap, soapy smelling perfume. And the atlas cedarwood, with its intrinsic sweetness was a nightmare to blend. I have gone through dozens of trials, and I got troubled, because I could not bring it to the point I wanted it to be. I knew how it should be but it was not getting there.

It was one morning, Saturday or Sunday, in bed, when I was thinking about it and I imagined a formula of what I thought might work. Involving more patchouli, lots of sandalwood (the expensive Mysore quality) and so on. I got out of bed, because I was really convinced that this might be the solution to my troubles. You know, there is a point, where I get really uneasy and feel like I have fever. It is kind of passion manifesting itself.Thus, I got up and soon started to write down the formula in my excel file and later mix it. The formula that I wrote down back than is still the formula for Le Maroc pour elle, with one single change: I reduced the frankincense, because it turned out to be a little bit too dominant in the head note. And trust me; although built on the experiences gained before hand, it was quite different to what I have tried before. For me, this was like a culmination point reached, everything was ready and bang! It was there.

Now, what followed was equally interesting. I have finished the perfume and made a little batch and we started selling. Honestly: With little success. Something like a perfume a week. I started in July 2005 my blogging, because I thought it is cool too talk about perfumery I started blogging without having a clue what I was doing. But still?..?. This was probably the best idea I ever had.

Every year there are so many new fragrance coming out, isn't it difficult to let your fragrance to be noticed at all between all these new fragrances, and how do you promote your fragrances.

You are so right! And sometimes I wonder where perfumery is heading. I think there are two issues: First what is happening right now in terms of new fragrances release and second on how to stand out. What we see happening the last 10, 20 years is a development that is somewhat unhealthy. Let us call it a leveling effect, and I leave it up to you and your readers whether things level down or up. I look at it rather pragmatic. More wonderful starting materials are available for creating perfumes and more perfumes are launched daily then ever before. Yet, the numbers of truly remarkable perfumes that are launched these days is limited. Thus, my hopes reside in the quality of my perfumery work. I am confident that there is a market for my fragrances that will accept them; of course it is a niche market.

Now to the second issue: How to get noticed and how to promote my fragrances? This is much trickier. I do not have an enormous marketing budget. As a matter of fact, my marketing budget is close to zero. Thus, what I do not have in terms of money, I have to compensate in terms of creativity. I am constantly thinking of ways to enter markets, niche markets to be precise, by being present. Right now, my blog has the biggest impact there, and became a cornerstone of my businessmodel. Not that it ever was planned to fulfill this role, though. I realized that perfume lovers, potential customers, like to read it, to learn more about my perfumery work and also about myself. They get curious and order samples. And, because some of them are also active in boards, the message gets spread that there is a guy making perfumes. To some extend this is a rather passive mode of acquiring customers but so far we are very pleased, indeed.

The other routes we are following are events that we make in Switzerland, looking for synergies, like in September when we make a joint event with a fashion designer. So far I must admit, we haven't been very active in the press, and I am still reluctant to pay for an ad in beauty journals. It would-based on my experience with appearing in the beauty news of journals- not pay off. What helped a lot to get known, and here I really own Mr Turin a lot, are critics and columns, be it the press, be it on the internet. I once posted about it: I am convinced that we are witnessing a shift from the printmedia to the e-media. A shift of power, with the customers, people like you and me, becoming the true opinion makers.

It looks like you have to be creative not only in the craft of perfume making but the things around it as well, like the promoting of your perfumes. Did you create the labels of the fragrances by yourself as well? And how about the filling of the bottles and samples is that all being done by your own hands?

Everything is done and created by myself, starting with the scent formula to the bottled and packed perfume. I do the web programming (on a very simple level) and the design of labels etc. As a matter of fact I love to fiddle around with pictures and to make computer drawings. I consider it being a creative act, too. In light of increasing sales volume over the last 12 months, I am considering to outsource the actual production, soon; meaning that I will be able to focus more on the creative part again. Because, honestly spoken, the mixing and dilution and filtering is not a creative act per se. I also like to think about how to do the next steps towards marketing my perfumes, how to address clients, how to get into the media: This is all fun, exciting and in a sense rewarding, too.

All these aspects of perfumery, the creative endeavour, logistics, sales issues, and finally marketing issues, are part of an ensemble that fits neatly with my interest. Eventually, the logistics and sales part fit somewhat less, I am not such a well organized person if it comes to stockhandling and keeping an eye on my sales figures; but then... again an opportunity to learn and grow.

Andy can you tell us a bit more how you work on your perfumes? Where do you find your sources of inspiration and how do you start creating the perfume?

Let me start with the actual process of creation. When I start working on a theme I usually have a crystal clear idea of what the final product should look like. Not that the end result always turns out to be identical to my vision, but it for sure is nourished by it.There might be twists arising on the way towards the final perfume; discoveries that I make that ultimately influence the final picture, and that I gladly incorporate.

But back to the question: How is it done? I sit at my desk and think about how to combine what in which amounts to reach the scent that I want. I usually start with some sort of a scent sketch, a minimal structure, the bones if you want.This sketch covers all notes (head notes, heart notes, body notes), but looks frightening like a skeleton. It is not a fragrance, yet but already then I can see whether a particular idea works.There is a lot of abstraction needed. Maybe I realize that a particular note is good in the sense that it brings about the effect that I want but that it is too present and hence needs adjustments in the next run. Or I realize that a particular note does not work yet, because an other note is missing. Like taking a rose in the middle and then realizing that it needs to be moderated by some orris aspects. Thus, I sit at the bench and think about it (or in the train or while shopping my groceries) and later I find myself in front of the bottles and mix things together. Mostly, I write things down in Excel beforehand and then modify on the go. With the skeleton mentioned above I then move on, adding a little bit of flesh here and a little bit of hair there and then, after months and months, eventually, I am getting close to where I want to be.

Am I happy with my creations? Sometimes, yes... but a doubt always remains. A perfume like the Lonestar Memories took me uncounted trials (18 documented basic versions, many angrily thrown away versions that I deleted again in Excel) and many fine tuning versions based on scent skeleton 18.

The inspiration is an interesting issue and hard to say. It is just there and it is not always clear where it came from. Nature's scents (the good and the ugly ones) are for sure an inspiration. Nature is full of scents that are truly remarkable and very inspiring. But then, the scents that we all encounter are inspiring, too. The scent of a man passing by wearing an unknown perfume, the disturbing scent of a bedroom in the morning, the kitchen of a friend,.....Interesting to me is the way the brain works there.You encounter a scent and later, in the lab, you have this idea that nourishes from the scent that you have encountered yesterday, and then you suddenly know what you have to do. By the way: An almost unlimited source of inspiration are also the classic perfumes where we all can learn so much.

What perfume do you still wish to create?

Oh. there are so many themes to play with. I once worked on an orange flower perfume, but never really got to the point. I did not manage to get it there where I wanted it. I wanted it to be vibrant and sexy, sensual and dark, luscious and erotic, but still elegant and not too overwhelming, with the orange flower scent circling forth and back. I failed so far and for the time being I stopped working on it..but I will sooner or later continue thinking about it again. Then there is the vetiver perfume that I never dared to think of but it would be an interesting challenge. Then I sometimes dream of a Linden blossom perfume, of a watery perfume with lots of metallic aspects, a robot perfume so to say, and and and.

You know; this is one of the most fascinating aspects of perfumery. It is never ending. I can think of hundreds of perfumes that need to be made and there is so much to learn on the way there. You get to know new accords that you try to memorize and recall hopefully when the time has come to integrate them into a new theme. With every new theme for a scent you start with an empty piece of paper and the combinations, even with a limited set of compounds, are unlimited. There is not enough time in this universe to live all these perfumer dreams..

What kind of perfume are you working on right now?

Right now, a perfume with lavender as one initial dominant note is keeping me busy. It runs under the working title Provencal Summer, given by Prince Barry, a perfume lover and frequent commenter on my blog. He was, by the way, also the one who came up with the ideal name for my leather perfume, Lonestar Memories; I wanted to name it Texas memories. Back to the lavender. It is rather a tricky thing to use lavender as dominant head note, bring it out (at least for a while) without the whole composition breaking apart, becoming soapy or trivial. I comment from time to time about the developments there on my blog, too. This, by the way, has become a most interesting aspect of my blog: I post about developments or ideas and get feedback and recommendations by customers and perfume lovers, not for the actual composition, but for other aspects. In light of the inputI got for the Lonestar Memoires, like the naming and the packaging, I will open up even more there. But this idea is not really thought all the way through...

Besides the lavender theme I have other ideas that I sporadically play around, like the omnipresent idea to create an orange flower soliflor perfume. Another theme I address from time to time is a wood perfume that is only built around woody notes, without any flowers, eventually on an ambergris base. And then I want to create a true classical chypre, with lots of roses and bergamot and cistus, but there, I haven't started yet.

Your new fragrance is Lonestar Memories a leather based fragrance, can you tell us about the story behind it and was it difficult to create?

It was very difficult for me and there were a few moments where I was close to giving up. I fulfilled a dream of mine to create a fragrance that is built around a scent that I love: Birchtar!

When I started I had no idea how long it would take me. From time to time I posted about the development on the blog and I made funny stories out of my failures. Behind these funny stories was quite an agony. Vero, my dear perfumer friend was so helpful in these days. She gave me comfort by telling me first that leathers are difficult and she also gave me some advice. Finally, I came across a birchtar, geranium, iso-amylsalicylate chord that fitted nicely with my ideas and complemented the base with its woods. Together with a rose-bergamot note in the head this chord helped me to come around the troubles of birchtar being so aggressive. Looking back I do not really remember how many trials I made, they were dozens.

When I had the impression that the composition was finished I looked back at the way I had gone and was amazed how long it took me. Looking at the formula I was also amazed because it turned out very, very complicated and some trials to shorten it were not successful. Thus, I gave up and figured out that I leave it like it is. And now... now the baby is out in the world and we see how it will do. For me this is always a thrilling, exciting moment: When finally, after months of work I can present it to perfumelovers all over the world and see their reaction. The goal: Shock them and prove that good perfumes can be made... without getting multimillion dollar companies involved.

Here is the smokey donkey post, that I published in September, out lining my desperation:

"Ok, it's time for some honesty now. My original idea fora leather scent, posted earlier, is not working. I met Vero yesterday, dear Vero, my mentor, friend and perfumer. We were smelling the core structure of this supposed to be leather scent and ...ah.... it is not there, not at all.At least, I have already started a new core structure, which is far from being finished and luckily enough, this one seems to come better.But the previously described fragrance might best be described following this recipe:Take a horse (if you do not have a real horse, a donkey might work too, but needs longer smoking). Let it run for two hourse until it is thoroughly dampand sweaty. Give it an oxygen mask and let it stand for 5 hours in the smoking lounge of Zurich airport (which I think is sponsored by the Camel brand, isn't this ironical?...). Before this smoking process, rub in lots ofthe perfume stuff from the duty free store which is on sales. Do not forget to thoroughly cover the back. Dip (oxygen mask still on) the outmost tip of its tail in fresh Kerosene (carefully making sure not the get any stuff on its skin) and let the animal stand for two hours in the First Class lounge.Give it lots of carrots and tender loving care, as this environment might come as a surprise for little horse/donkey. After the two hours, take a deep breath within the lounge and you will come close to my little experiments on leathers. (Finally, bring the nice, patient animal out in the open field, wash it thoroughly, dry it and let it stroll around in the open air for a while."

Now I will give you some short questions and ask you to answer the questions shortly. Okay here we go....

Favorite fragrance family.


Favorite fragrance ingredients to work with.

Cistus. Although it is difficult. And Bergamot/Jasmine. because it is so easy!

Fragrance notes that intrigue you.

There are many single notes that fascinate me, like birch tar or cistus essential oil. What I like about them: They are complex, like a multi-facetted mirror reflecting a variety of pictures and with sensuality, an erotic touch that can turn skin into a garden full of delicious fruits. In perfumes, I look for the same thing (not the individual notes). I look for sensual notes or lines, that are complex, that reflect the body light of its wearers , that cover the skin with an invisible blanket of ambrosia. And I look for a hidden message, for twists and breaks in the composition that make it more interesting.

What fragrance are you wearing right now?

Right now: None. I usually do not perfume myself if I want to work/sniff later the day. So far, I was wearing this week: Lonestar Memories, L'air du d├ęsert marocain, Caron pour un home.

What scent triggers your childhood memories?

Vanillin for instance brings back (not always) pictures of yellow pudding with lots of rosines in it, made by mom. Oakmoss brings me back to playing as boy in the woods, doing things that mom and dad shouldn't know about like smoking cigarets
And more..

What book are you reading right now?

Still trying to finish Luca Turin's latest book.

Favourite fragrances (male/female) that you didn't create yourself.

Many: Guerlains like Jicky, L'heure bleu, Caron pour un home, love Cuiron by Helmut Lang, too
You know: I have to admit. I do not own too many fragrances and I am less knowledgeable than many of your perfume loving readers.

Favourite place to visit in terms of its olfactory image.

The woods around Zurich, smelling differently with the seasons changing, the sea like the Atlantic, animals in the zoo (I love the way lions smell. ouhhh that's erotic, powerful, frightening, bringing back a set of reflexes from our ancestors, souks with this unbelievable richness of scents: People, spices, food, trash, dead things, old walls and the cool scent from inside the houses, of fresh prepared food, drying laundry, ...

Most frustrating of the craft of perfume making.

When you finished a composition, that smells wonderful right after the mixing of the trial version, and turns into something dull, boring, disgusting after a few days of maturation.

Most satisfing of the craft of perfume making.

When you get a mail from someone you do not know, telling you that the scent you created, did something with the wearer, brought back memories, made her smile, made him feel beautiful. These lines that I get from time to time from clients, are my key motivation to move on.

I want to thank you Andy for taking the time to do this interview. I hope you enjoyed it the way I did. I have a final question for you:
Where do you see your self in the mid-term future and of course we would like to know where we can buy you lovely fragrances.

Thank you too, Jenny, it was a real pleasure. Mid-term I have a clear vision: Continue creating perfumes, learning to do it better, building my business in a way that allows me to live from it, and all this without loosing the passion and joy of doing it. Where one can get my scents:

World wide:


Michael Storer said...

Great interview, Andy and Jenny. This is your best yet, Andy. Great questions.

Jenny said...

Hi Michael, thank you I'm glad you like it, it was fun doing it.

Prince Barry said...

Great interview and it was good to see my name mentioned in it too! I won't be able to get my head through the door...LOL!

Jenny said...

Hi Prince Barry, thank you, that must be funny to see your name mentioned in this interview. You have a great feeling for naming a fragrance.

Victoria said...

Great interview! Still hoping for Orchids and amber. You know I had to throw that in there! :O)

Jenny said...

Hi Vic, Thank you, and yes I know you are an amber lover. I'm still working on the freesia and hyacinth fragrance I added the amber in it like you said. I didn't know you like orchid, I once made a fragrance based on the smell of the rainforrest. I added orchidee, gingerblossom and the green smell of the rainforrest with notes of the wet soil of it.
I'm using it for bath salt, when I take a bath in it it's like I'm bathing in the rainforrest. I always like to give it as a gift to my friends.

Anonymous said...

Check these maybe...
Essence Of Perfume