Contrast and Cohesion

Geza Schoen reflects on the art of arranging classic perfumer ingredients in new shapes.

Carla Seipp

Contrast and Cohesion

Like many things in life, striking a balance in fragrance composition can be a challenging pursuit but one undoubtedly worth the effort, trial and error. The M+ series, launched in 2021, saw Geza Schoen experimenting with his most beloved raw materials: Molecule 01 (Iso E Super), pairing it with naturals and following a simplistic formula of 1+1. This resulted in three olfactory offspring: M01 + Mandarin, M01 + Iris, and M01+ Patchouli. In the following paragraphs, the founder and nose of Escentric Molecules reflects on lightning strikes of inspiration, failed experiments, and finding equilibrium in the process.



"What makes a good fragrance composition? First, an idea of how to do things differently: putting certain ingredients together in a new manner will give a fresh spirit to the creative process. It's the same as art; ideally, you know the history and legacy which enables you to modernise things. You can also look at the ingredients purely on their own and find a combination of four, five, or six elements that can bring out something new. Or you go completely mad on a singular aroma-molecule, contrive a total overdose [of it], and wrap it into a new shell.

Most chypre fragrances have the classic combination of rose with patchouli. Those two ingredients smell completely different, but at some stage, somebody saw that adding patchouli to rose gives it the earthiness, warmth, and woodiness that rose fails to offer on its own. Certain combinations of two or three ingredients together are classical themes; they have placed themselves in the legacy of perfumery. In terms of contrasts, let's take tar, and then you put something as noncorresponding as coconut next to it, lots of new interesting impressions can come out of it.



The maestro of contrast to me is Bertrand Duchaufour. I remember working as a junior perfumer in the UK, and we received samples of his fragrances for briefing; they blew my socks off. There were so many contrasting combinations that I could barely cope with these suggestions. Some perfumers play around, putting funny ingredients next to each other, ingredients so non-concurring that others would never dare put them next to each other. I know what I'm good at and what my handwriting is. Ultimately, my goal in perfumery is: that it needs to smell damn good. If it doesn't, I'm just creating something that sits next to fragrances I despise — commercial bullshit fragrances. Everything depends on the brief. The masstige is after commercial success, which you can only have quickly if you use something the world has already seen. New fragrances appear very rarely. Honestly, in any creative industry, most things have been seen and done. I don't expect that we need to be fed new things constantly, [but] technology can often provide new solutions.



Finding the right balance has nothing to do with intuition; that's purely about manufacturing, logic and experience. Every so often, late at night, I have wacky ideas and think: 'Oh God, that could be amazing,' and I would say nine out of ten ideas are complete rubbish. Ideally, you can cut down every fragrance to five or six ingredients. That's the real knighting: if you create the idea with only a few ingredients.



[In terms of balance or contrast], if you combine the linearities you get with the aroma-chemicals, and the voluptuousness and complexity you get via the naturals, you get the best out of both of them. The best instance is probably the molecules of iris and Iso E Super. By putting these two together, you reach ultimate modernity. The M+ range was conceived when my partner Sophie suggested making an iris fragrance. Different things initiate different ideas and provide multiple starting points; the most laborious process is when you must come up with something and have a carte blanche in front of you. That doesn't work. There must always be a starting point; ideally, it doesn't come from yourself but from the outside views that challenge and inspire you.



For Molecule 01 + Iris, the beauty sits in the iris absolute pallida. I added two other traditional iris chemicals and then realised that only something ultra-transparent would work next to it; otherwise, I would override the beautiful smell of the iris. There's nothing more transparent than hedione and Iso E Super. It triggered the question: what could be a cool combination of classic perfumer ingredients in a new shape? That led to patchouli. I was lucky enough to have access to fractionated patchouli oil, which, combined with hedione and Iso E Super, created a magic, airy yet perfumistic sillage.



A similar thing happened with mandarin: this fantastic, sexy boost of aromatic freshness. Contrast, as the word suggests, if you look into it etymologically, is something where two things collide. And well, maybe we can make them work together. I am not a guru, and I don't tell people what they should or shouldn't be doing because we're all so different. I think it's always good to know the past and then tweak things in a manner that results in something beautiful, modern, yet unalienating. That's what I am after."


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