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November 1, 2007

"Dreamjob" By Luca Turin

"Dreamjob" By Luca Turin

Last week I visited two US universities, MIT and Georgetown, to give talks and meet graduate students on their way to molecular biology and chemistry PhDs. On both occasions, I was approached by students (one from Lausanne, one from Beirut) who, very shyly and tentatively, explained to me that their dream was to become perfumers. I was surprised that people who had worked so hard to belong to a scientific elite should actually wish to do something completely different. Nevertheless, they wanted advice, and I gave them some: I tried to talk them out of it. In my opinion, they would be wasted on Britney Spears Incurious Red.

Scientists are not always the most cheerful of people, but as a group I find them less cynical than perfumers, which suggests that they are getting more fun from their profession. Also, I don’t think perfumery is a level playing field, and what the students said confirmed this. They wrote left and right and got no answers. They had both eventually figured out that there is only one proper, open perfumery school on earth, the Isipca in Versailles, but that most of the teaching there is done in French. Other than that, the big five firms have internal schools, but none of their websites has a link that says, “Want to become a perfumer?” Those who train in the internal schools seem to do so in addition to whatever their normal job is, marketing, evaluation, compounding, and learn it as a craft rather than an art or a science.

Imagine if physics were only taught at General Electric, and only after hours. Imagine learning cuisine if there were only five good restaurants on earth. Small wonder so many of the young perfumers are sons and daughters of people in the same profession. That is the surest sign that some talent is being wasted. I asked the great perfumer Fran├žoise Caron once how she had got into it. She explained to me that when she grew up in Grasse, the choice for an adolescent was either to steal motorcycles or to go into perfumery, and she didn’t like bikes. What the world needs is an international school of perfumery where the whole complicated shebang, from art history to chemistry via composition, is taught in English to those who can pay the fees or are sent there on scholarships from perfumery firms. All I ask is to be a member of the jury that awards the prize for Best First Fragrance.

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