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Training My Nose

by Deborah Michel September 30, 2019

Training My Nose

While I’ve always loved fragrances and knew I had a good nose, I was never formally trained. It takes at least seven years to become a master perfumer, and when Michel Design Works began the transition from books to fragrances, I didn’t have the time to focus on such a lengthy endeavor while also transforming our business.

However, because I could smell individual fragrances very well, even sophisticated ones like an apricot skin, I wanted to improve the way I communicated my ideas. We work with a seventh generation master perfumer named François, and so I asked him for some basic training. What I got was an intense four-day crash course! I learned an incredible amount, but my biggest takeaway was that there is such thing as a nose headache. I had one every single day, and it was rough!

In the end, after a demanding and exhausting four days with François, the most important thing I learned was to get out of his way! While I may have an idea in mind, or a notion of what I’d like, he’s a master, and I’m not. I left that experience with a tremendous amount respect for his talent.

Practically, however, François did help me understand how to better clarify what I want. For example, if I decide to create a black cherry fragrance, I can now be very specific. I’ll tell him that I don’t want to smell the sweetness of the cherries, I only want the skin. The smell should be almost wine-like with a little bit of gravel. But, to round it out, I also need some of the blossoms and petals. While some of this may seem like nonsense words, it truly does help him understand and create a much closer match to what I envision.

We’ve perfected our process together. I give him an idea of what I’d like, show him the art we’ll use for the packaging, and let him do what he does best. When he’s done, he’ll send us several excellent options, and we’ll select the one that is closest to what I envisioned.

Over the years, François and I have built a library of fragrances that are closest to the ones I love. Christmas fragrances are a perfect example, such as the Christmas spruce scent. Now, no matter what we do, we’ll always integrate that fragrance because it’s comes closer to a fresh cut Christmas tree than any other fragrance I’ve ever smelled.

Don't Forget to Try:

Have you ever knowingly re-read a novel that you first read as a teen or young adult and thought, “I’ve never really read this before?” That’s because you’ve changed, and you now appreciate the story in a new way. I think fragrances are exactly the same. I believe that as you get older you create an entirely new set of memories that guide what smells good to you. My favorite fragrance changes all of the time. That’s why I recommend something different in each blog.

Recently, I’ve been in love with the natural fragrance of Oatmeal & Honey – it knocks me out! I think it’s amazing. 

P.S. Having a good nose can also be the bane of one’s existence. I can smell everything – the good and the bad. I’ll walk into my living room on a warm day and instantly become overwhelmed with the smell of people’s sweat and the dogs panting. I have to open windows immediately! Having this special gift has definitely benefited our business, but it’s not always pleasurable.

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