When I smell a perfume, I am also smelling who the perfumer really is. The type of fragrance which a perfumer does best and the sorts of ingredients they choose to use tell the tale. For instance, Bandit (the astounding chypre) by Germaine Cellier from the early 1950s in Paris…I always thought it was very masculine in a feminine way, the perfume of a very strong and untouchable woman who was smarter than the average by far. Turns out that was exactly who Ms. Cellier was, she was one of the first female perfume chemists anywhere and she was also a lesbian who was famous for her romantic and dramatic exploits among her set. This comes through loud and clear in Bandit, it could not have been made by anyone else of any orientation, there is too much leather and no sweetness at all but plenty of light.
As for modern day indy perfumers, once I smelled a perfume of considerable beauty, but it was also very pedestrian and a bit sloppy! It was fetching though, like a friend who was a great friend and a real slob at the same time. I found out who made it and ended up having a conversation with her. She was just like the perfume. Wow. I bought a bottle and really enjoyed it. She told me that she had made the perfume by combining a lot of notes she hated but kept track of how much of each she added so she could make it again. I thought it was brilliant for its unorthodox approach.
Then there are the pleasant surprises. One of my favorite perfumes is The Vert by Bulgari. I have often thought that the person who made it had to be well organizes, wry, highly sophisticated but with a dignified romantic bent and good refined sense of humor. The genius who concocted The Vert is Elena who wrote a book and revealed himself to be exactly the way I thought he would be, thoroughly delightful.
I have smelled perfumes which come from enormous anger pent up inside the creator, and it rolls out in their fragrances. sometimes anger does wonders for art, and sometimes it just burns it up into ash. Usually, the latter occurs. There are not a lot of highly successful pissed-off perfumers.
I have smelled the perfumes of people who are really too timid to be good perfumers, or not assertive enough to really make a good passable fragrance. Sometimes the problem is that they don’t have the nerve to overdo an ingredient or two and push a perfume into its outer limit (as Chanel did with Chanel No. 5). Sometimes it’s not being able to make up their minds and the resulting mix has no character. It’s a shame, and I hope that the meek really do inherit the earth. You need a certain amount of courage to be a good perfumer.
I have to say that I have never met anyone who was too well bred or too well educated to be a good perfumer. You can’t really have too much of either one of those characteristics. I have smelled some exceptionally esoteric perfumes (Les Dix was a great example).
Some of the saddest of all perfumes are those made by people who want to make a buck and have no idea of how to blend something beautiful. One house in particular was stunningly successful in the early 2000s but I don’t hear much from them now. They were all about marketing instead of being all about the product. There is also the “perfumer” who relies on strength of their blends alone, never mind if it’s good or bad, as long as it’s loud that is what they are trying to accomplish. To me, that is air freshener, not perfume; more grist for the reed defusser than the back of my wrist.