Thirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.
Today is the third of five, weekly instalments in Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts. Today’s interview features Andy Tauer of Tauer Perfumes. Andy is an independent perfumer based in Zürich, Switzerland. He has a PhD in chemistry and worked as a molecular biologist before launching Tauer perfumes ten years ago. Andy’s perfumes have a cult following amongst perfume lovers and are renowned for containing high-quality ingredients. Andy is a talented painter as well as a perfumer, and prints of his works (currently on silk scarves) are sold at his Tauerville website, which serves as a creative space – separate to the Tauer Perfumes label – for Andy to sell perfumes and other artistic wares. Andy says: “Tauerville is a playground for innovative ideas presented in a down to earth approach” (quoted from Tauerville website).
The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, let me introduce you to…
Andy Tauer of Tauer Perfumes
Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.
Well, I get this question a lot. To be honest: I have little memories, olfactory memories, from my childhood. A safe guess would be the smell of my mother: I can remember it, but this memory is so deeply imprinted that I cannot say to which age it goes back. I guess it is just part of what formed my earliest olfactive memories. Another olfactive memory going back to the days when I was a boy: The pigs, outside in the fields of our neighborhood farmer. Nice!
What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?
I never decided to become a perfumer. I just started playing with scents about 14 years ago, kick-started by the idea of using all naturals to create something that goes beyond the sum of its ingredients. Actually, it all started with Mandy Aftel‘s book “Essence and Alchemy“. Mandy has such a wonderful way of describing scents and scented matters. It was a blessing to have bought this book. I think it is about 5 or 6 years from now that I first used the occupation “perfumer”, on an Egyptian immigration form. I learned a lesson back then: It can help to call oneself a “perfumer”. The immigration officer was all happy to finally meet a perfumer and basically just waved me through customs. You know: I think it is a good question to ask what a perfumer really is. These days, there is a lot of confusion and many brand owners who never trained their nose (which is perfectly ok) are called perfumers (which is not ok). Becoming a perfumer is not really a binary thing. You are not a perfumer from one day to the other. Is playing with scents for a year enough to call oneself a perfumer? I do not know. What I know is: I am still learning. Every day. And these days I tend to say: I am a creator of perfumes, playing with scented matter.
Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?
I never attended any kind of formal training. I am therefore, in the best and worst sense of the term, “self-trained”. In the best sense: I never had to go through the funnel of a school where everybody learns the same. In the worst sense: I had to possibly fall into every trap there is and make all the mistakes that one can make. But I am convinced that by failing we learn the most. I am often asked by people who want to become perfumers how to start. I always answer by saying that I will not give any advice or support: You have to find your way yourself. If you search for help you have already lost.
Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?
I have a couple of houses and brands that I follow and that I admire. Vero Profumo, founded by Vero Kern, a Swiss perfumer, a dear friend who does wonders with scents. Her style is unique, classy and I can identify her perfumes as her creations immediately. Her “handwriting” is one of a kind, and trust me: In the perfume industry, be it niche be it industry, this is rare. Very rare. I admire the old classical Guerlain perfumes, and I follow Patricia de Nicolai, who’s “more Guerlain” these days than Guerlain, in my opinion. And then there are many “niche” brands, like Yosh, Ineke, Kerosene and others that I follow.
Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.
Thank you for this question. It is an easy one and a difficult one at the same time. I guess you have to smell my creations to get an idea what I do, why and how, and what is important. In a nutshell: I am operating in total freedom. My money is in the brand, no investor’s or bank’s money. I am a one man show, mostly, and have no marketing department, no design department nor a communication department telling me what to do. Thus, freedom in creating is key to my work. No compromises when it comes to perfumes. I want to offer perfumes to the market that are worth every penny.
Another aspect: No fuss, no marketing blur, no fancy rings and pearls and gold and other stuff that might help sell but have nothing to do what I care about: The perfume.
And maybe: I want – as good as it gets – to remain approachable. I talk to perfume lovers and have an open ear.
To be honest: I have never written down any company philosophy or charter of what is important for Tauer perfumes. It simply is the way it is. Smell it and you’ll get it!
How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?
Again: Good question! I was travelling a while ago in Russia, with my Russian distributor, meeting a lot of press and I always got the same question: “What is your inspiration?” It really seems to interest the press. Myself and a perfume friend who I was travelling with got tired of answering this question again and again and in the end, we offered the answer: “The pink elephant that sits on our shoulder. The pink elephant gives us ideas of what to create and is our inspiration source.” Of course, this answer was not appreciated…
But there is a grain of truth there: Sometimes, it is hard to say how the creative process works. I always call it a fluid process where you have to let go and go with the stream wherever it might bring you. Sometimes, it is a spark, a precious moment in time, while jogging, while taking a bath, while waking up when the mind is not fully under control, that you see an idea. What follows next is: Giving yourself to the fluidity of the creative process, trying to stick to the inspiration, the idea (that might also come from sniffing a new raw material), but never stick too hard, making sure that the flow can always carry you on.
Sometimes, an idea is a scented picture, too. A scene, a moment in life of somebody (me?) that I try to paint in scents. You know, in the end it all boils down to: Never try too hard to find out where your ideas come from. Once you find the source, it may dry up.
What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?
When I talk about perfume creation on my blog, I learned that quite often readers are fascinated by raw materials, like rose absolute. This is something we can all connect to. Rose absolute, one of the natural extracts of roses, paints pictures of rose fields in our minds, rose petals, and it carries with it a romantic idea of perfumery. But the reality is often: Sweat, pain, frustration, failure, again and again.
I think perfume lovers would be amazed how difficult it is to create a fragrance that is more than just a nice smelling something that lasts for a while.
What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?
When I started offering my creations 10 years ago, it was a completely different world in “niche” (or low volume, high-end perfumery, artisanal perfumery): These days we live in an era of perfume exuberance. There is too much of everything and the market is flooded with new brands, and new perfumes. Lucky us: There are a couple of exciting new artisanal brands out there, too. It is utterly fascinating to see these new faces and scented stories appear on the US West coast (becoming a real hotspot for exciting artisanal niche). But most of the new offerings are actually less exciting, produced by some companies in France, inspired by some memories of brand owners, and totally exchangeable. My Italian distributor often talks about fragrances that are not necessary. And I think that fits perfectly. These days, provided you’ve got some cash, it has become a commodity to launch your perfume brand and everybody seems to do so. I do not mind competition but I see that clients are getting totally confused and reject new offerings. How does this affect me? It is basically my motivation to do better and proof that you can still bring perfumes to the market that are necessary. It helps me, in the end, as I am different and produce different scents. But in a sense, it complicates the communication about fragrances. These days, in order to be heard, you have to be louder and more out there, compared to 10 years ago. Another factor that gets harder and harder: Regulations, especially EU regulations. But this is an endless story and I want to spare you with details…
How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?
Here’s the irony: I got really more sensitive and more tired of the intense, and omnipresent pollution of our daily life by scent. I am not talking about fragrances here: I am thinking of stores being scented, consumer products being scented. Some fabric softeners impregnate clothes to a level that is hard to believe, especially in the US. But maybe this is conditioning, too. Maybe I am simply not conditioned enough to the US fabric softeners 🙂
And, another irony: By working daily with scents I do not like to perfume myself, during the day. Mostly, I only use perfume in the evening.
Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?
Immediate answer: Orange blossom. And you can actually use it in your cuisine! It is wonderful in crème brulée. A side note: There are tons of perfumes out there that contain “edible” notes. And let’s not forget the fruity florals. I guess one reason why they are so immensely popular is the fact that we all can connect to these notes. They are part of a very deeply rooted olfactive fabric, going back to earliest childhood days, or even embryo days. When it comes to perfumes, our memories, the way we are conditioned to scents, plays a big role. Whether I like it or not: My olfactive fabric goes back to the sixties. I was conditioned back then. It was a different world and part of what I like and dislike goes back there, completely out of my control, hard to overcome as it all happens subconsciously.
If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?
The 1920s-30s was an exciting time for perfumery. But let’s face it: Back then a guy like me would have faced serious troubles in establishing a perfume brand out of nothing. Actually, I think our times are exciting, too. With lots of opportunities. There is no reason for me to want to go back in time.
If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?
Sometimes, I wish it was equally easy to sell and buy perfume like you sell and buy digital music these days. I often listen to lounge-radio.com. If I like a piece, I click on iTunes and buy it. Within seconds. Imagine, if the same was possible for perfume! But technology is not there yet, and we all still have to go for samples or visit a perfumery. And, in a certain sense, this is good.
What is the purpose of perfume?
Perfume is here to bring us joy, fleeting moments of deep and rich sensual experiences.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s interview with Andy Tauer. I would like to thank Andy for taking the time out of his very busy schedule to answer these questions and to share some of his thoughts with us on making perfume. Andy has been incredibly friendly, approachable and a real gentleman, and it’s an absolute pleasure to feature him on Perfume Polytechnic.
To find out more about Andy and his perfumes (and to purchase them), visit Tauer Perfumes and Tauerville. Andy also writes a fabulous blog about his creative work and life in general, and you can keep up-to-date with that here. Andy has also created a series of perfumes in collaboration with filmmaker Brian Pera, under the Tableau de Parfums label. You can read more about the collaboration and the fragrances here.
Previous & Future Instalments of Thirteen Thoughts
Last week JoAnne Bassett of JoAnne Bassett Perfumes answered the thirteen questions. You can read her interview here.
In week one of this second series of Thirteen Thoughts, Mandy Aftel was interviewed. You can read her answers to the thirteen questions here.
Coming guests in Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts include Shelley Waddington and Ellen Covey.
You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here.
Visit Perfume Polytechnic next week to find out how the very lovely and talented Shelley Waddington of En Voyage Perfumes answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Sign up to follow this blog so you don’t miss an episode of this series with fabulous perfumers from around the globe.
All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer. All interviews remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic and the perfumers. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.