Rubbing Noses with Perfumer Carlos Benaïm

Rubbing Noses With...
Rubbing Noses With…

“Rubbing Noses is a series, in which I, The Candy Perfume Boy, grill the most important members of the perfume industry – the perfumers. These are the brains and noses behind the perfumes we know and love, and their unrivalled insight into one of the world’s most ancient of arts is something to be treasured, enjoyed and shared.”

In celebration of the launch of Dunhill’s latest masculine fragrance, ICON I put some questions to the scent’s creator – legendary perfumer, Carlos Benaïm – the man behind such awesome scents as; Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle’s Eau de Magnolia, Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, Dior’s Pure Poison and Polo Ralph Lauren. He is a perfumer with a varied body of work, leading one to wonder what he will come up with next.

ICON (which I shall be reviewing this coming Friday) is a bold statement for Dunhill and the brand is pegging it as an important launch for men. In our interview Carlos and I chat about ICON, and how it was composed, as well as an array of perfumery topics, including  IFRA, his origins in perfumery and his scientific background. As far as perfumers go, he’s a interesting talent with intriguing things to say, as you will learn if you read on…

Carlos Benaïm
Carlos Benaïm

TCPB: First things, what made you decide to become a perfumer?  

CB: It was both accidental and serendipitous.  I grew up in Morocco surrounded by exotic smells. After studying science at a French university, I accepted a position at IFF.  It didn’t take me long to realize that I had arrived in a place where I could combine my scientific side with my love for fragrance and I began my perfumery journey, which I have been on now for more than 45 years.

TCPB: ICON is penned as a major launch for the Dunhill brand.  How did you approach translating the brief of a scent with an “integrally refined style” into the fragrance?

CB: Dunhill’s designer, John Ray, knows what he wants.  It is reflected in the brand.  And he wanted it to be reflected in this fragrance.  His favorite scents include notes of leather and lavender.  I decided to play in my own creative way taking this into account as well as the brand values.

TCPB: ICON very much feels like a modern masculine fragrance.  Was it important to ensure that the fragrance felt fresh and new?  How did you achieve this?

CB: We wanted to create a truly masculine scent with an accent on freshness.  I created a leather and vetiver note and injected a generous amount of neroli to brighten and freshen it.

TCPB: You’ve worked on some truly iconic fragrances over your career – scents such as Pure Poison, Polo Ralph Lauren and White Diamonds. What makes this latest launch from Dunhill an ‘ICON’?

CB: Perfumers always strive to create a scent that will have long lasting appeal but we never fully know in advance.   Someone has to love a fragrance and get reinforcement from people around him to buy the fragrance over and over again and to wear it over and over again.

TCPB: How was working with Dunhill in comparison to brands such as Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle.  How much freedom did you get with the composition?

CB: With Dunhill there was a general direction – leather, vetiver and neroli – and then it was left up to me to creative something new.  I had independence to reach the intended goal as I did my creative work.

TCPB: You’re quoted as saying that your “perception of perfumery is coloured by science”, how does a scientific background impact the way that you create perfume?  

CB: Knowing how all the ingredients will react with one another and how each affects the other as you are developing the formula is enormously helpful.  Knowing the characteristics of each ingredient is critical.  I studied diffusion and freshness on skin to determine its long lastingness and to create significant sillage.

TCPB: There appears to be growing concern amongst members of the perfume industry, that tightening EU legislation will further restrict the number of ingredients that perfumers and perfume houses will be able to use. What are your thoughts on these restrictions and have they impacted the way in which you create perfume?

CB: IFF is committed to using the best ingredients available and within the regulatory guidelines.  Perfumers  must be agile within the creative process and regularly regenerate themselves to find new solutions and new ways to create.

TCPB: Finally, how would you describe your ‘style’ as a perfumer in three words?

CB: Three words –   Exploratory –  Simple –  Elegant.

Image 1 via [edited]. Image 2 via [edited].