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Meet the French perfumer who likes to experiment with water used for cleaning food

Symrise's Philippine Courtiere on her professional journey and how the perfume market is evolving

Philippine Courtiere, the senior perfumer at Symrise

By Team Lounge

LAST PUBLISHED 14.02.2023  |  12:05 PM IST

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This world has more astronauts than "noses", people who decide what a  perfume should smell like. There are about 500-600 noses, the industry-speak for perfumers, depending on whom you ask and which online link you open.  

We met one of the noses late last year for dinner at Delhi's Sheraton hotel. Philippine Courtiere, who's completed masters in French and Spanish law from the prestigious Nanterre University in Paris, is the senior perfumer at one of the world's major producers of fragrances, Symrise. The German company has just released the first three lines of their naturals brand, Maison Lautier 1795.

Parisian Courtiere, who's based in Dubai, was visiting the country to understand how the Indian market is evolving, with the entry of more young homegrown players who want to put India on the global map.  

In 2020, the Indian perfume industry, largely unorganised, was valued at $500 million ( 3,750 crore), a small part of the $24 billion global industry. The local market is growing by 15-20% year-on-year. Globally, the perfumes market is expected to grow by 8.4%, with an estimated value of $69.9 billion by 2025, shows data from the Research and Markets platform.

Also read: Meet the entrepreneurs taking Indian fragrance to the world

A nose's job is not as easy as it seems, Courtiere says. You have to consider what the trending global mood is (for instance, after the ease of lockdowns people were in a more celebratory mood, so many brands like Jo Malone introduced products that made the wearer “feel" happy and positive), and the requirement of the brand looking for introducing a product. Somewhere while addressing these needs you do your own little experimentation with different ingredients to create a pleasing smell, she says. “And then just hope that everyone likes it," laughs Courtiere, who's the granddaughter of Jacques Rouët, one of Christian Dior’s founding business partners.

In an interview, Courtiere shares her professional journey, how she got attracted to the world of perfumery and how the market is evolving. Edited excerpts: 

How did you go from law to perfumes?


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If you are born into a family of perfumers or are interested in becoming a perfumer, you most probably study science and chemistry. I was never interested in the field. While my parents were part of the industry from the brand side and had some fair idea of how perfumes were made and what all went into it creating them, it never intrigued me. I didn't like science, so I decided to do law. Just like that. 

While doing an internship at a law firm, I realised it was not for me. I was completely bored. So one summer I started working at a perfumery with the help of my parents and, trust me, they were very worried. 

Why worried?

Worried because they first thought I wouldn't like it and also because it's very competitive. But as I continued working, I started enjoying the process.

The first stage was to memorise names of the raw materials… around 2,000 natural and synthetic ingredients. I was working with perfumers who were decades older than me. They explained to me the process of becoming a perfumer. How to work on briefs given by clients, how many ingredients to use, how much should be the quantity of each ingredient, in what temperature they should be mixed. During that first one week, when I saw the formula of a perfume getting printed, I knew I wanted to be a perfumer. When I told my parents, they were shocked. It was like I was telling them I wanted to be a singer (laughs). 

You mentioned being a 'nose' can be competitive. Can you elaborate?

When you present a client with your creation, they might come back, saying it needs to be more feminine, stronger or more different. Or they will say, can you reduce the price. So you are constantly challenging your creativity, experimenting with different smells and price points. And even then, after months of working on the smell, the client decides to pick some other brand. It can be very tough, both emotionally and mentally. 

What's your take on the Indian perfume market?

The Indian consumer is quite conservative, frankly. They like to stick to their old, established perfumes, unlike people, say, in Europe who like experimenting with new smells. Having said that, a slow change is coming in the Indian market because of post-millennials. These youngsters have the money, the desire to spend and like to experiment. The change will come from this generation. So, we are trying to slowly bring more modern smells but very slowly.

What are some of the ingredients you are experimenting with right now?

Water used in restaurants to clean food. With the help of technology, we are able to source water used to clean, say, strawberries or orange and distil it to use in perfume-making. It's a sustainable process and the smell you get is very close to the natural smell, so helps in experimenting more.

Is there any product that has been hit hard because of global warming?

Cedarwood, which used to come from Virginia. It's one of the more important ingredients in any perfumes but because of global warming its quality has deteriorated. Quality of many flowers has also been badly affected.

Also read: The perfumer who needs one whiff to mimic luxury brands