Master Perfumer Rajiv Sheth Talks About His Journey, His Favourite Perfume and the Future of Perfumery.

1. What is your earliest memory of a scent or fragrance?

One of my earliest memories is of smelling the night-blooming jasmine (“Raat ki rani” or queen of the night) at my maternal grandparent's house. In fact, as a child, I used to look forward to visiting them with my mom so I could smell that fragrance at night. The smell of that jasmine flower is almost an association now with that place.

Similarly, my grandfather used to eat crushed tobacco the fragrance of which I used to associate with patchouli. Both jasmine and patchouli are used often in my creations.

2. What prompted you to become a perfumer? How did you choose an offbeat, unconventional, and cool career such as this?

My grandfather had started a business of exporting essentials oils from India to Africa & Europe. In Africa, these oils were specially blended for henna application, sandalwood fragrances, and other local rituals. In Europe, it was mostly essentials oils. I used to spend a lot of time in my school days, especially during my holidays sniffing various raw materials with my granddad for hours. This was the triggering element that inspired me to learn more about modern perfumery and about the job profile of a perfumer. From then on, it was very clear that I wanted to become a perfumer.

3. What route did you take to become a perfumer? Did you study and/or do an apprenticeship?

During my early college days in Mumbai, I spend hours trying to find an institute where I could formally learn the art of perfumery. After 2 years of searching, I got to know about a school in France, called ISIPCA, an exclusive school, which was founded in 1970 by Jean Jacques Guerlain, teaching perfumery, cosmetics, and food flavoring. However, the entire course was taught in French and I had to learn French & give a phone interview in French before getting accepted into this school. I was the first Indian to attend this school for post-graduation. Thus, I discovered and learned the very secretive prestige perfumery, recognized the world over, not only for the beautiful perfume bottles and it’s fragrances, but also for their in-depth knowledge about its raw materials, extraction processes, manufacturing techniques, packaging designs & their savoir-faire.

At ISIPCA the approach was very hands-on with the industry. The program was structured with alternating 2 months between a company & school. What we learned in school, we got a chance to practice in a professional environment too. The cosmetics, perfumes & flavors industry is very strongly connected with ISIPCA & hence I got the opportunity to learn, work & meet with some of the most talented and experienced people in this industry from different corners of the world.

4. Who has most inspired your career?

While my grandfather inspired me to pursue perfumery, it was the master perfumer, Maurice Maurin in Paris who was the real source of inspiration for me. I was fortunate to work under him and got trained in the traditional french perfumery.

5. What is your favorite part of being a perfumer?

My favorite parts are the olfactive study of the vast palette of ingredients available to a perfumer to make the composition & limitless imagination. There is constant progress in techniques of processing raw materials for perfumery. This allows the same ingredient to smell differently. E.g. the same raw material, which is distilled with steam, extracted with petroleum or extracted with CO2, will smell so different. Manipulating these materials with personal or inspired creativity adds a lot of imagination and life to me. So many stories are created.

Having founded my own brand All Good Scents three years ago, now I am more of an entrepreneur perfumer and unfortunately, I do not get as much time to smell, evaluate, and create!

6. What is your favorite fragrance of all time? What is your favorite fragrance that you designed? Can you tell us a little about it?

One of my favorite fragrant notes is Patchouli oil. Patchouli is a bushy herb belonging to the mint family. It is distilled from dried leaves in Indonesia, China, India & few other tropical regions in Asia. The oil has an amazing warm, humid, earthy, woody smell with spicy & leathery under notes. Another fragrance I like a lot is Vetiver of Guerlain.

Blossom 2000, the fragrance I created for a competition in Paris & it won me the 2nd title of the ‘Best international young perfumer award’ organized by the French Perfumer’s society in Paris is a favorite I designed. The theme was 2000 flowers for the millennium. I had used Oud for this creation, long before it became such a popular & fashionable ingredient. These days you find Oud in most of the creations!

7. What advice can you give to people aspiring to be perfumers?
One needs to be very patient and persistent. It’s a trial and error method to become a perfumer. Very long journey to get gratification, if at all! At the same time, I feel one needs to be open to constantly learn new things and apply to ones work wherever possible. This profession requires a self-motivated personality trait, as there will be quite a few setbacks on the field.
Hence to sum it up, believe in yourself. Give your best. Don’t let setbacks or failures affect you. These are part of life and the best is to learn from the mistakes and keep going on. Most important of all, love the work you do.

8. How do you see the future of perfumery? How about perfumery in Asia?

There are too many new launches in a year! With companies searching for incremental growth & line extensions, a lot of products are seen in the market. Hence there is confusion amongst consumers and a kind of ‘standardization’ of perfumes. On the other hand, we see a rise in niche perfumery brands, which are like earlier times, pure fragrance houses, and dare to be different & creative. And then off-course the Internet and e-commerce have changed a lot the habits of consumer buying. I see a lot of consolidation in the future amongst the prestige and niche brands & will see a lot more of polarized fragrance launches.
The ‘Asian consumer’ encompasses the whole spectrum of wealth, sophistication, lifestyles, and expectations. Brands from the region are better placed to understand and dissect these nuances than that outside. Will probably see new brands launching into perfumery in Asia in the next few years with local spirit and global appeal.

Published In: The Interview Portal