Delphine Thierry - Parfumeuse

Delphine Thierry: “To formulate 100% natural perfumes, I set aside almost everything I’ve learned so far”

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After graduating from ISIPCA, Delphine Thierry spent 12 years at IFF then Mane before becoming an independent perfumer in 2007. Her natural compositions include Le Feu, L’Eau, La Terre, Le Ciel for Floratropia, Tentation 1 – Contre lui for Eve et Daphnée and 32°N 08°W Morocco – Nana Mint for Richard Lüscher Britos. She has also created the fragrances used in the various Mademoiselle Bio cosmetics ranges. Her creations in the world of conventional perfumery include Dolce Acqua for Masque Milano, and Akkad, Eva and Anna for Lubin.

How did you become interested in natural perfumery?

I didn’t wait for natural to be in vogue to become interested in it: it’s the way I imagine, live and conceive perfume. I have a real love for natural raw materials, and my creative approach has always led me to develop my creations based on beautiful ingredients, whether in conventional or natural perfumery. In 2011, I was asked by the Beyond Beauty trade show to demonstrate that natural perfumery could offer something other than what it is often accused of: unsophisticated creations, too often mono-scented and not very glamorous. I responded by creating around ten 100% natural perfumes with varied olfactory universes. They received some excellent feedback and resulted in several contracts.

Do you feel that natural perfumes have a special sort of beauty?

Unlike synthetics, natural raw materials are themselves made up of a large number of molecules. I’ve always found that natural ingredients add a particular vibration, a unique resonance to a composition, whether in a conventional perfume with a good proportion of natural ingredients or a fragrance entirely composed of natural ingredients. Natural perfumery is often complex, sometimes considered imperfect, and that’s what’s interesting: every now and then you get aspects that are a little earthy, a little camphorated, with a patchouli, for example. When I formulate natural fragrances, I aim to let the character, personality and identity of the ingredients express themselves fully without trying to tame them. I like their raw, primal, wild side. In this sense, you have to take a position, take risks with natural perfumes, and they’re often more difficult to understand and appropriate.

How do you feel about the fact that natural perfume is defined in a myriad of ways?

It’s true that it’s very confusing for consumers and opens the door to a lot of opportunism and pseudo-natural perfumery. You get anything and everything on this market, from products that are only natural because of the presence of a few essential oils in barely detectible quantities, to brands like Floratropia, which have taken the bold option of trusting 100% in nature, giving perfumers carte blanche to exploit the field of creative possibilities. This is a very courageous move by these brands, both economically and in terms of fragrance performance, since standards in perfumery, as in many fields, have become more demanding, requiring higher levels of intensity and persistence.

How many raw materials are available to you when formulating natural perfumes?

The natural palette covers around 150 to 200 raw materials according to the ISO 9235 standard [which authorises essential oils, absolutes, resinoids, CO2 extracts, isolates from essential oils such as geraniol, and phenyl ethyl alcohol], whereas conventional perfumery offers about 2,500. When I started working with naturals, I went through my organ and only kept the authorised raw materials, and there wasn’t much left. But over the last few years, the ingredient research teams have worked hard to develop new natural isolates. And even though the palette is narrower, I continue to make regular discoveries, like my recent encounter with hedychium, a flower that grows in Réunion and whose rhizome has slightly green and spicy floral notes. However, brands have to agree to put money into the concentrate, otherwise the perfumer is forced to work only with the least expensive essences such as orange, cedar or lavandin, for example. To obtain complex, refined, elegant natural creations with beautiful scents, you need the means to do so!

How does this reduced palette impact your creativity?

Imagine that a composer is forbidden to use certain notes, a painter to use certain colours or a poet to use certain words. It’s the same for a perfumer: it constrains creativity at first, then increases it hugely. But the challenge is as technical as it is artistic.

How is a natural perfume formulated?

Natural perfumery has to be invented, or rather, explored anew, because until the end of the 19th century, perfumery was natural. Thinking that 25 years spent mastering conventional perfumery creation makes it easy to find the keys to all-natural fragrances is an illusion. To formulate 100% natural perfumes, I set aside almost everything I’ve learned so far. Of course I draw on my knowledge of natural raw materials. But I ignore the rules and diktats like: “raw material x is not used at a higher dose than y.” I’ve spent a lot of time getting a feel for all the materials so I can determine the scope of their facets. I test, I explore, I try to overdose, I look for synergies, a resonance between the materials. That’s the real magic of composition: some materials clash when combined, others embellish each other, produce amplified or unexpected effects. It’s a constant learning process, punctuated by lovely surprises!

Some synthetic molecules play a big part in conventional perfumery, how do you manage without them?

It seems to me that rather than trying to reconstruct in natural form what already exists in conventional perfumery, you should take it in a different direction. I’m happy to do without the so-called must-haves (Hedione, Iso E super, polycyclic musks, and so on) that are everywhere and that tend to smooth and format everything, to round off the edges, because what I’m trying to do is let the roughness of the material express itself. But it’s true that, for the moment, a 100% natural fig is difficult to make, for example, because we can’t use Stemone. And I do sometimes feel the lack of certain synthetic raw materials, especially when it comes to boosting the tenacity of a natural creation. From this standpoint, an alternative and rational approach consisting of formulating with 80-90% natural raw materials and coupling them with a few well-chosen synthetics, in limited numbers and quantities, makes it possible to hone creations on the technical level, particularly in terms of sillage.

Natural perfumery is booming right now. How do you see its future?

I think it will remain marginal for one simple reason: nature cannot produce the industrial quantities a universal market requires. Natural raw materials remain scarce and we mustn’t overexploit resources, at the risk of depleting them. And we mustn’t forget that the democratisation of perfumery was made possible by chemistry, which also offered unlimited creative possibilities and produced so many beautiful creations. We shouldn’t pitch natural and conventional perfumery against each other, they need to coexist. What I hope is that this appetite for naturalness will lead to new research exploring the richness of biodiversity. I’m a big fan of cistus, for example. Only one species is used in perfumery, to my knowledge, whereas other varieties are just as interesting from an olfactory point of view and could enrich our palette!


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