Making Scents: How to Launch Your Own Fragrance Line

Anybody who has seen NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” knows that Aziz Ansari’s character, Tom Haverford, has big dreams. The only problem is that those dreams smell…”terrible.” In “Indianapolis,” he attempts to ride his homebrew scent, “Tommy Fresh,” to fame and fortune. What Ansari’s character does wrong serves as something of a cautionary tale for all aspiring fragrance artists.

At the launch party for the new fragrance “Allergic for Men” by Dennis Feinstein (“a real up and comer in the world of microbrewed perfumes and body sprays,” according to Haverford), Haverford approaches Dennis to give him a whiff of “Tommy Fresh,” and professes to use all his colognes—“sometimes two at once.” Dennis’ response is less than encouraging. The creator of scents such as “’Attack,’ ‘Yearning,’ ‘Thickening,’ ‘Itch Coma,’ and ‘Side Boob’” tells Haverford that “Tommy Fresh” smells like “spilled Chinese food in a birdcage.”

“It takes everything in my power to not wretch right now. Kid, you need to find another game,” says Feinstein. “Leave perfumery to the real men.”

So where did Haverford go wrong with “Tommy Fresh?” We tapped two fragrance artist entrepreneurs for advice on how to get your smell business off the ground. Accomplished perfumer Yosh Han, and Anne McClain, the creator of MCMC Fragrances. Here are their tips for aspiring fragrance moguls:

Sharpen your Sense of Smell

If you make a cologne that someone describes as a “teriyaki hairpiece, it’s safe to say you have no innate olfactory skill. But you can develop one. Han’s first piece of advice for sharpening your nose: “Cut back on the dairy and other allergens. I stopped adding milk to my coffee and cut back on the alcohol and my sense of smell is bionic now.” McClain adds: “Smell, smell, and smell again. At first, I couldn't smell musk on it's own. I smelled it every day for three months, and slowly the powdery soft smell of musk became clear to me.”

Go Back to School

Not all perfumers go to school. Some of the greatest scents come from big established fashion brands—John Varvatos for example. But Haverford could get a creative edge from taking a few workshops to “build his vocabulary of odors and understanding of fragrance,” says Han. Getting a full degree will help you understand the workings of a fragrance supply house and the science of perfume. Attending the Grasse Institute of Perfumery was crucial to McClain’s success. “I studied perfumery from books, aromatherapy classes, and online for a few years before applying to the training program in France. We basically covered everything that I had learned in three years in the first three days of school.”

Hone Your Elevator Pitch

“Get in a real elevator,” says Han. “See how long it takes to tell yourself, or an imaginary person your story. If you need more then 15 floors to deliver your punchline, exit and try again. Industry veterans have shorter attention spans than you realize.”

Don’t Take ‘No’ for an Answer

When Feinstein dismisses Tommy Fresh as “assaultive,” Haverford slinks away with his tail between his legs. But you can’t accept ‘no’ in the scent game. “To me, ‘No’ means ‘maybe, later,’” says Han. “Buyers, suppliers, vendors, and potential business partners have their own cycle of running their business. Depending on when you meet them, they might not have the bandwidth to work with you. Persistence and a strong stomach are key.”

Be Patient

“Every step in creating a fragrance takes time,” says McClain. I make dozens of trials of a fragrance before considering it final. I wear it on my skin for weeks and sometimes months. I let my friends wear it and give me feedback. I change the scent again slightly. It takes patience, dedication and perseverance.”

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