Have you ever wondered what it’s like to work as a perfumer? We’ve got the answers for you!
Welcome to our Behind the Scenes series, where we sit down with some of the industry’s top perfumers to give you a glimpse into what life is like in this fascinating profession.
Recently, we caught up with Steven Claisse, Vice President and Senior Perfumer at Takasago, to learn more about his journey in the perfume industry and even what it was like to create our irresistibly comforting CLEAN RESERVE Warm Cotton.
CBC: When did you know you wanted to become a perfumer?
SC: Growing up, I never even heard about perfumers, quite honestly. My goal in life was to be an architect because I was always creative. I painted, I drew, I sculpted, I wrote; I always did well with my hands.
I bounced around after doing a year of college and got a job as a lab technician for the chief perfumer. At some point, it clicked that I liked this. Everything was done on paper at the time and was almost similar to architecture because there was a blueprint for creating a fragrance.
The thing that was really my turning point in realizing I wanted to be a perfumer was winning a scholarship from the American Society of Perfumers where I went to Grasse, France, to visit a lot of the old perfumery schools there. I finagled my way into meeting the great master perfumer Edmund Roudnitska. He was generous with his time and shared with me his ways of creating. It was like being in the presence of Mick Jagger or Tchaikovsky—I was in the presence of real greatness, the guy was a rockstar!
CBC: In addition to working as a lab technician, how else did you hone your craft?
SC: I spent an enormous amount of time reading everything I could get my hands on and smelling everything I could possibly smell. I also took a course to learn from a master perfumer.
I had a true apprenticeship; it was a matter of smelling, taking copious notes, comparing materials and seeing how they behaved, and then playing around to make my first fragrances—which usually stunk out the entire place but you learn a lot from your mistakes!
CBC: How do you start a typical workday?
SC: I usually start with a couple of cups of espresso and definitely music. I have to create with music on—it’s something about the energy it emits. What I listen to depends on my mood and the project I’m working on. If I’m creating a vibrant fragrance I could be listening to electric disco, and if it’s something more calming I’ll listen to The Four Tenors. There’s never a day that I don’t create with inspiration on hand, whether that’s music or a mood board from Clean Beauty Collective.
CBC: What does your creative process look like?
SC: It’s a 24/7 process; I’m always thinking about perfumery. I work closely with my evaluator and the client, and it’s almost like making a movie together—I’m the actor, my evaluator is the director, and the client is the producer. Anyone can read lines but it’s about how you do it with an inflection that best connects with the client’s voice. I call my evaluator my muse and my master because she knows how to extract beauty in my fragrances and helps me when I have perfumer’s block. We’re like Scorcese and DeNiro! However, my team goes beyond my evaluator to my lab staff to the people in my technical department. It’s definitely not a one-man show.
CBC: What memories stand out from your time creating CLEAN RESERVE Warm Cotton.
SC: The CLEAN RESERVE line helped take Clean Beauty Collective to a new audience with an even greater focus on sustainability so we had to think about creating this scent a little differently. One thing that was very important to me was capturing the DNA of Clean Beauty Collective, that fresh, musky, and slightly aldehydic scent that represents “clean”. But with CLEAN RESERVE Warm Cotton, we had an opportunity to create more nuance and texture. I worked closely with my previous evaluator and with the creative team at Clean Beauty Collective to achieve this.
CBC: What advice would you give to someone who dreams of working in the perfume industry?
SC: It’s all about commitment. It takes a lot of sheer determination and you just can’t give up. There’s no guarantee that you’ll find a job after putting in all the work but it really is a calling. For me, it’s something I live and breathe. I wouldn’t know not to smell. Even walking off a subway and getting the smell from the subway grate I think, “I can make something out of that!”