Thomas Espinasse, perfumer at Iberchem: "Simple formulations help you to be more efficient and give each ingredient a unique value"

Published: 18-Dec-2023

[Advertorial] Simple formulas, or more complex ones with many different ingredients? Which is the best technique to create a good perfume? Today we interview Thomas Espinasse, perfumer at Iberchem, about the creative process and his favourite technique

Thomas Espinasse joined Iberchem more than two years ago. He recently relocated to Indonesia, where he specialises in creating fragrances for the South Asian market. As a perfumer, he has always stood out for his ambition and perseverance. His vocation was clear from an early age.

After graduating from ISIPCA and working for several years as a freelance perfumer in Grasse, he gained prominence in the fragrance industry by co-creating the digital tool ScenTree. He later joined the team at Iberchem.

Why use simple formulas?

Some of the greatest perfumers in the history of perfumery have chosen to use simple formulas, with fewer ingredients. Throughout his career, François Coty, known as the creator of Le Chypre, argued that a perfumer should keep his formulas as simple as possible, without throwing too many ideas into the same perfume.

The same theory was endorsed by perfumer Edmond Roudnitska, creator of Eau Sauvage for Dior, and considered by many to be the best perfumer in history. Edmond compared perfume to a painting in which each colour represents an olfactory note. He explained that if we mix two colours together, we can still tell them apart. However, when we mix more and more colours, it gets harder and harder to distinguish the individual colours. According to Edmond Roudnitska, the same thing happens when we mix raw materials in fragrances.

What does it mean to create a simple formula?

In the everyday life of a perfumer, creating a formula with fewer ingredients makes it simpler. Not simplistic, but simple. It means expressing the ideas that will be experienced in a perfume using as few ingredients as possible. In other words, making sure that each raw material brings its own unique olfactory characteristics and beauty to the perfume.

This simplicity in the formula honours the importance of each ingredient, but at the same time it brings the challenge of finding the exact concentration required for each ingredient in order for it to be properly represented. In short, this technique actually complicates the creation process even though it may seem simple.

What is the best technique to create a good perfume?

The idea of creating simple formulas means that you avoid overloading a perfume and, at the same time, the perfumer's own creative process. This technique forces the perfumer to use only the truly necessary raw materials to express the ideas they have in mind. In short, no more than five raw materials are needed to create an olfactory note.

In practical terms, this means deciding to represent, for example, a jasmine flower with only two raw materials, a fig with three raw materials, or a tuberose with four, making as many attempts as you need in order to find the exact amount of each raw material to help you achieve the note you are looking for. A maximum of five or six olfactory notes, and an average of thirty raw materials, is quite enough to make a good perfume.

The simple formula technique allows you to optimise the use of time and resources. It’s also possible to choose a fragrance with more sustainable raw materials that make up a higher percentage in the final formula.

What advice would you give to a perfumer or perfumery student?

My advice is to take your time to select all the ingredients you would like to use in your perfume before you start any tests or trials. Make a list of the raw materials and limit yourself to a maximum of thirty in the final composition.

Many of the greatest success stories in fine perfumery contain more than eighty or even a hundred ingredients, whereas others contain no more than ten. For that reason, there’s no general consensus. However, in my opinion, the most original, sustainable, and harmonious perfumes are created by using few raw materials.

A perfume containing dozens of ingredients will smell the same as when you enter a perfume shop with the scent of a whole host of different perfumes hanging in the air. It’s like a painting where you can’t identify the individual colours, and all you get is a heterogeneous conglomeration of colours. I believe that raw materials, like colours, deserve to be appreciated for their uniqueness.

Could you name some of your favourite perfumes with a simple formula and why you like them?

While it’s true that a perfume’s formula is always kept secret by its creator, many perfumes have the reputation of having been made with simple formulas i.e. with few ingredients.

The first one I always think of is Bois Farine, created by Jean-Claude Ellena for L'Artisan Parfumeur, which he revealed to contain no more than eleven raw materials. When you smell it, you feel harmony and originality. Jean-Claude Ellena is undoubtedly one of the contemporary perfumers to have changed the most the philosophy of perfumery by promoting simple formulas.

Another example is Baccarat Rouge 540 by Maison Francis Kurkdjian. Of all the perfumes that have revolutionised perfumery, this is the most recent one that comes to mind. Its overall power, the impact of its top notes, and its blend of a very dry amber note combined with moss and caramel have never been seen before. Using only fifteen raw materials, Francis Kurkdjian has revolutionised oriental perfumery with this creation.

What is your goal at this point in your career?

Currently, I have been offered the opportunity to play a key role developing fragrances with our local team in Indonesia, a market where Iberchem aims to become a reference for fragrance creation.

The perfumer, responsible for creating the formulas, plays a fundamental role to achieve this goal. In my time here, we will be optimising the fragrance creation process, thus paving the way to developing the most personalised products for our South Asian customers. In this way, we will keep moving forward and show our customers our creative talent, scientific expertise, and our ability to create ever more effective fragrances. One of the keys to this is undoubtedly to optimise formulas and reduce our usage of raw materials.

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