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  • Interview with Frédéric Walter, Givaudan.

    Interview with Frédéric Walter, Givaudan.

    Interview with Frédéric Walter, Givaudan.

    Interview with Frédéric Walter, Givaudan.

    An odyssey into scent.

    Interview with Frédéric Walter, Givaudan.
    Angel, J’Adore, 1 Million — everyone has smelled or heard of these international bestsellers. But few know the perfumers behind the commercial successes, who are usually working for one of the big players in fragrance development, namely Givaudan, Firmenich, or IFF. Givaudan, the industry’s number 1, will be celebrating its 250th anniversary in 2018. A formidable and comprehensive book, An Odyssey of Flavours and Fragrances marks this occasion. It’s a showcase through many perspectives — philosophical, historical, scientific, and literary. Frédéric Walter, Givaudan’s Creative Marketing Director, coordinated the impressive production, and sat down with Dr. Bodo Kubartz to speak about the book, Givaudan, and the perfume business at large.

    Interview conducted by Dr. Bodo Kubartz.
    Bodo Kubartz is a well-established figure in the German perfume industry. His firm Passion and Consulting offers a range of expertise, communication, and consulting: Bodo Kubartz organizes perfume events for clients, offers public relations and communication, and conveys his multifaceted knowledge through various publications. Already his doctoral dissertation was devoted to the topic of perfume; it investigates “geographies of knowledge” in relation to the creative process of perfume development. Bodo Kubartz is a co-author of Das große Buch vom Parfum (The Big Book of Perfume).

  • An odyssey into scent.

    Dr. Bodo Kubartz: What is your current role at Givaudan, and what was your role in developing this book?

    Frédéric Walter: My official title is Creative Marketing Director. I’m in charge of different projects to link our perfumers based in Paris with outside creative people — it could be a designer, an architect, a stylist, or a museum. I organize programs showcasing the creativity of our perfumers for an exhibition, for a special project, for a festival — any event that allows our perfumers to express their creativity in a context different from a commercial brief.

    BK: How long did it take from development to publication of this book?

    FW: It took about 2 ½ years from the first ideas until completion. The idea from the beginning was not to create something only about Givaudan, but to create a book for a wider public that is interested in fragrances and flavors — not only people working in the industry. So we decided to highlight many perspectives; each angle opens up a new facet of the industry. We outlined a historical section, a sociological, philosophical section, and a more scientific section. We started to look for authors, well known and acknowledged by their peers, to write the content for the various parts.

    Frédéric Walter, Givaudan’s Creative Marketing Director. Photo: Givaudan.
    Frédéric Walter, Givaudan’s Creative Marketing Director.
    Photo: Givaudan.

    A journey through space and time.

    BK: The book is called An Odyssey of Flavours and Fragrances. Why “an odyssey”?

    FW: An odyssey is a big adventure with many different episodes. It illustrates the very long process of building Givaudan. The company as it is today is the result of many mergers and acquisitions with interwoven stories of various entrepreneurial personalities; in a way, each entrepreneur had his own odyssey, with some more positive and some negative moments. But all of this together makes the rich history of Givaudan. Looking at it another way, an odyssey is a journey through different countries, different continents — and Givaudan is really like that. From the end of the 18th century on, people like Antoine Chiris, one of the founders of Givaudan, was operating on five continents. Today Givaudan is still operating globally. So, this is the idea of an odyssey in space and time.

    BK: The relevance of the Givaudan, the Roure, and the Chiris families is quite striking. What is different today after Givaudan went public and is no longer a family-run company?

    FW: The families are the reason for the rich heritage of the company. Those families were real entrepreneurs and they had a vision for creating and growing this industry. The two Givaudan brothers had the idea to only focus on chemical products. Chiris had the idea for a wide network of suppliers to source ingredients from all over the planet. And Roure had the idea of adding an additional business to create a final fragrance — not only sourcing ingredients but also combining those ingredients to create a perfume. And to connect with fashion houses that might be interested in creating their own perfume. So, each of them had their vision and these visions were the foundation for today’s Givaudan. Now that the company is public, the importance of the families has decreased, but there are still some members of the Chiris and the Roure families in our universe.

    Innovation is the key.

    BK: In the book, you refer to Albert Einstein’s quote, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” What roles do imagination and creativity play for Givaudan when it comes to innovation in a highly technical environment like perfumery?

    FW: Innovation is really a key part in our industry. Innovation has always helped to stimulate and emulate the creativity of the perfumer and of the flavorist. This means giving them new molecules, finding a new system of extraction of ingredients, or giving them a new system of encapsulation. So all of this innovation is really important to help them build on their knowledge and go deeper creatively. It’s always important to imagine and invent new ways of creating — whether with new ingredients or with new defaults in place when deciding on the release of a fragrance or to incorporate a flavor in a final plate.

    BK: How do you train the perfumers that work for Givaudan?

    FW: All of our perfumers — the young ones at least — have to be trained at the Givaudan perfumery school. Even if they already have a degree in chemistry or a degree from ISIPCA outside of Versailles [Institut supérieur international du parfum, de la cosmétique et de l’aromatique alimentaire — a school for post-graduate studies in perfume, cosmetics products, and food flavor formulation, founded in 1970 by Jean-Jacques Guerlain] they are asked to enroll in this four-year training at our perfumery schools in Argenteuil or Singapore. And during these four years they are following a pedagogic system called the Jean Carles method. Jean Carles was a perfumer who created Roure’s Perfumery School in the 40s in Grasse, where he taught students how to memorize ingredients, and how to differentiate one ingredient from another — to differentiate, for example, a rose coming from Bulgaria from a rose coming from Morocco.

    Historical formula for a “chypre soap”. Photo: Givaudan.
    Historical formula for a “chypre soap”.
    Photo: Givaudan.

    BK: Today, 130 perfumers work for Givaudan. How is this amount split between functional and fine fragrance?

    FW: We have about 35 fine fragrance perfumers based in Paris, New York, São Paolo, Singapore, and Dubai; the others are functional and are located in Argenteuil, Mumbai, Shanghai, Dubai, São Paolo, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur.

    BK: Is the knowledge that the fine fragrance perfumers have or have gained shared among them?

    FW: Yes, they have regular meetings on different topics. One of the main topics is ingredients. So they share the ways they are working with them. There is also a system of mentoring — each of them mentors a young student from the perfumery school. And they also collaborate on projects from time to time — sharing formulas and exchanging information. We also do some cross-briefings, where a perfumer based in Paris could work with a perfumer in New York or São Paolo.

    BK: Research & development today plays a pivotal role, especially for the development of captives — novel scent molecules that stay proprietary for several years. How are these captives developed and used?

    FW: Captives help to differentiate Givaudan perfumes from the competition when it comes to creativity and performance. Also, captives protect against copying because these captives are not available to any other companies. So they are very important. Something like 2,000 new molecules are being synthesized by our laboratory every year. But only one, two, or maximum three are launched because those molecules must bring something new to the palette. Our perfumers work with the researchers to identify the molecules for a launch. They must be totally safe and biodegradable, and conform to all regulations. They must have a very strong odor value, and they must be highly decodable. And they must have a specific interest for the perfumer. From the very beginning, there is a perfumer involved in this creative process.

    The luxury perfume market is bi-polarized.

    BK: It seems that over time and due to industrialization and democratization of perfume, perfumed goods have changed their status from luxury products to fast-moving consumer goods. What is luxury nowadays?

    FW: I think that today the so-called luxury perfume market is bi-polarized — we have on one end of the spectrum what we call the “international brands.” Those are already present on all continents, targeting a very wide audience including China or those in South America who are just discovering perfume. And for those new clients, those international brands must have a very appealing product, an instantaneously pleasant fragrance that must be supported with a very strong advertising campaign.

    On the other end of the spectrum we have the niche brands, or alternative perfumery, which target a customer who does not want to have the same fragrance as everybody else; who doesn’t want to shop in a big perfume shop but prefers tiny hidden perfume boutiques; and who wants to have the pleasure of discovering a new type of fragrance, wants to have an experience when buying this product. Here, you have brands like Serge Lutens, by Kilian, Le Labo, Editions Parfums Frederic Malle — each of them has a specific concept. Most of the time it is the voice of the founder, a vision of perfumery that doesn’t follow the big trends, doesn’t do any marketing tests to create the fragrance, and proposes something different that is for real connoisseurs. Also, in terms of packaging, the fragrances are more luxurious, and the prices are between 20, 30, 40, sometimes 100 percent higher than the average in the market.

    Givaudan print ad, circa 1920s. Photo: Givaudan.
    Givaudan print ad, circa 1920s.
    Photo: Givaudan.

    BK: Givaudan works for some of these niche brands, although their sales numbers are very small compared to the international brands. Why?

    FW: First, it is a fast-growing market. They are small today but their share is growing, growing, growing. So how is it going to end in 5 or 10 or 15 years? And, second, we are monitoring this shift of type of consumer: leaving international brands, going to niche brands. So it is really important for us to be able to supply all the brands, even the smallest ones. And some of our big clients such as Puig or Estee Lauder have invested niche brands. And because we are a global company, we must be able to answer all the varied requests of our clients — and serve them. And, the last reason: it is really important for us to be able to answer to different, crazy ideas, because it is important for our creativity to give perfumers opportunity and access to those different, alternative, sometimes daringly audacious ways of creating and marketing fragrance.

    BK: You once quoted Kandinsky by saying, “Art is an indefinable yet determined spiritual process.” Do you consider perfumery an art? Is there a difference between fine and functional fragrance?

    FW: Whether perfume is an art or not is an open debate. It depends on the perfumer. As Givaudan, we don’t really consider perfumery to be an art, because we are always serving a client. An artist is free and he doesn’t really follow advice. So, the perfumer is more like a modern artisan than an artist. The constraints in fine fragrance are different from the constraints in the functional product. But the work is about the same. Elaborating with constraints, finding solutions to complex problems, stimulates creativity and obliges our creative teams to go further.

    Beauty is where you find it. Photo: Givaudan.
    Beauty is where you find it.
    Photo: Givaudan.

    Endless sources of inspiration.

    BK: What impact does the personality of the individual perfumer have on the creation of a fragrance?

    FW: Each perfumer has their own way of creating. Some are more interested in architecture, some in music, for example, and they draw parallels between architecture, or between music, or sometimes with food. Each perfumer has their own personal creative process depending on their past and skills and training. It just goes to show that creativity has endless sources of inspiration.

    BK: At some point in the book, the question is asked: “What is a good perfume?” I’d like to ask you now: What is a good perfume?

    FW: A good perfume is a perfume that the client likes, first. Personally, I think that a good perfume must have a hedonic quality, so it must be nice to smell. And it must have some technical qualities — it must be long-lasting, it must have some projection, and it must be stable. But above all, a good perfume must bring emotion and joy to the final consumer. It must bring moments of pleasure and must enhance his or her life each time he or she smells it. A good perfume makes your life more intense.

    BK: Thank you!

  • 1 Million / Paco Rabanne, Angel / Thierry Mugler, Bodo Kubartz, By Kilian, Christian Dior, Consultant, Creative Marketing Director, Dusseldorf, Firmenich, Frédéric Malle, Frédéric Walter, Givaudan, IFF, ISIPCA, J’adore / Christian Dior, Kuala Lumpur, Le Labo, New York, Paco Rabanne, Paris, Rose, São Paolo, Serge Lutens, Singapore, Sissel Tolaas, Thierry Mugler