What's it like to work as a perfumer?

Perfume makers can train their noses to pick up scents in the same way sommeliers learn to taste, says Ericka Duffy

Ericka Duffy is not your average maker of perfumes. She has yet to meet anyone working in scent who has the same job as her, which, in addition to creating fragrances, includes making special “immersive” scents for film festivals, developing alcoholic drinks that take people back in time and putting on scent-inspired cocktail parties.

The 36-year-old trained herself to pick up different aromas after working on the perfume floors of department stores. She has been developing her own fragrances for seven years and has worked for Lush and Gorilla Perfumes.

“You train your nose in the way that sommeliers train their taste buds, by getting to learn an ingredient and then working with it, investigating it and researching it,” she says. “If you have the ability to smell, you could train yourself with commonplace things like your spice rack.”

Duffy most enjoys trying to evoke different time periods with scents and flavour, and recently helped to create a Courvoisier gift set inspired by Paris's “Golden Age”, alongside fellow perfumer Euan McCall. As well as making a romantic aroma, she tried to conjure up fragrances from the time, such as “coffee, leather luggage and steam from trains”.

It may sound difficult to recreate the smell of leather, but Duffy does so by drawing on her knowledge of thousands of natural and synthetic aroma chemicals to make the desired scent, matching tiny amounts at different percentage levels until the smell is just right.

And she doesn't always stay in the past. When developing cocktails, she prefers to go futuristic and will use dehydrators to dry powders to give the impression of space food.

Although her work involves a lot of “geeky” scientific knowledge, Duffy's approach to perfumery is also artistic.

“I enjoy that everything I work on is ephemeral,” she says. “Whether it is a cocktail or a candle, it disappears. It's awesome - there's no legacy.”

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