Interviews Chemistry in Perfumes: An Interview with Fragrance Chemist Philip Kraft

Chemistry in Perfumes: An Interview with Fragrance Chemist Philip Kraft

02/07/13 17:16:05 (15 comments)

by: Serguey Borisov

 

Philip Kraft is a fragrance chemist. I'm sure you've never heard of him before. You probably don't know his inventions by their chemical names. But you have definitely smelled some perfumes that were based on his scented molecules. Marc Jacobs Men was made by Ralf Schwieger with Super Muguet molecule (invented by Mr. Kraft). The adrenaline effect of Etat Libre d'Orange Sécrétions Magnifiques (perfumer Antoine Lie) was based on the potent marine odorant Azurone. Another example is the vibrant musk Serenolide, which Daniela Andrier so skillfully juxtaposed to galbanum in Maison Martin Margiela’s untitled
 

1 Million Paco Rabanne with its dried-fruit effect at the start from Pomarose molecule. Top-note musk Sylkolide (for example, in great perfume Oh, Lola! Marc Jacobs by Calice Becker and Yann Vasnier). All of them—and now the list includes 27 patents—were invented by Prof. Philip Kraft.

So no wonder that he's one of the authors of a brilliant book Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors. And his co-authors are legendary fragrance chemists Günther Ohloff and Wilhelm Pickenhagen. This book is real treasure for those who want to look inside perfumes more deeply and to know more about perfume constituents. I found the book through my friends on Facebook timeline, was charmed by the heaps of information and bought it next day. I do still read it from time to time—especially when trying to figure out what's the smell in a perfume. I had the fortune not only to buy the book, but also to know Mr. Kraft personally because he answers all the comments on the Scent and Chemistry FB page. So I asked Mr. Kraft to find some time in his very busy schedule and he kindly agreed to answer some questions for Fragrantica.

 

 

Serguey Borisov: It's a great honor for me to interview you. Could we begin with your fantastic story from childhood? The story you told me about your perfume cellar at your grandmother's house? Also your education and mentors, your scientific work, achievements and discoveries, the book and other publications, etc.

 

Philip Kraft: My fascination with perfumery indeed started via chemistry, and in a quite surprising way. At some point in my early teens, I was curious about hormones and hormone action, and bought a University Biochemistry book to find some answers. However, I had not yet had chemistry in school back then, and thus did not understand much of anything, which generated a strong desire to learn it. So on every birthday and Christmas occasion, I visited the same University bookstore in Hamburg, and bought, with the money I got as presents, some more chemistry textbooks in order to teach myself. As I was really an unusually young client in that University bookstore, this caught the attention of the sales girl of the Chemistry department, and she finally awarded me a test subscription to "Liebigs Annalen der Chemie," a pretty advanced Organic Chemistry journal that should have probably been given to chemistry student instead. But anyway, I felt honored and tried to read and understand it, and then there was this article of Professor Weyerstahl in it, who reported on rose oxide analogues, and how he modified and designed new odors and odorants. That was even more exciting and fascinating to me than hormones, as it was not just one action in response to a stimulus, but a whole new language of sorts, a way of communication really.

The samples of Professor Weyerstahl from Berlin were evaluated by Haarmann & Reimer in Holzminden, as was written in the acknowledgement section, and so I wrote to them. They had this four-volume H&R book set on perfumery with Glöss Verlag, and I got one for free, made a project out of that for a project week in my school, about which I wrote a little summary to them. I was invited to Holzminden, got to know perfumers, and was finally even given perfumery raw materials, so I could install a little perfumery lab in my grandma's cellar and teach myself perfumery composition. That was at age 17, and since then it was clear that I either wanted to become a perfumer or fragrance chemist. As I was lucky to get a scholarship from the Studienstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, I decided to study Chemistry, but I always kept the link to perfumery, and always did a bit of fragrance compounding. In my Chemistry studies I was always seeking the connection to fragrances as well, and then did my diploma and PhD in that domain with Professor Tochtermann in Kiel, with H&R evaluating the odorants we synthesized.
 
I was awarded my PhD in 1996, and then was hired by Givaudan as a lab head for new molecules, the job of my dreams since that paper in Liebigs Annalen. Today, I am group leader for New Molecules in Givaudan’s Fragrance Research center in Dübendorf near Zurich, and author or co-author of about 80 publications, including the recent book Scent and Chemistry: The Molecular World of Odors, the new, completely revised edition of the Ohloff Fragrance Chemistry Bible, the first German edition of which was my dear companion in the molecular world of odors. Besides, I read courses on Fragrance Chemistry at the University of Bern and Zurich, and at the ETH Zurich, and also try to keep the fascinating subject of Fragrance Chemistry visible to a wider audience by co-organizing the "Flavors and Fragrances" conference with Johannes Panten of Symrise, the next one of which will take place in Leipzig, this year, September 11-13.


Serguey Borisov: What's your opinion about perfume and chemistry? Should they be separated, as in  natural/organic perfumery or they could coexist happily in one bottle?
 

Philip Kraft: Both essential oils and synthetic perfumery materials contain odorant molecules, and very often even exactly the same. And the whole Chapter 7 of Scent and Chemistry really is dedicated to natural perfumery materials and the chemistry of their constituents. 

People are mistaken if they believe no chemistry takes place when one distills an essential oil from a plant material. Strawberry marmalade does not have the same aroma as freshly picked strawberries; the cooking changes the aroma composition, of course. And the same is true for natural perfume oils. 
 
But I do like the linguistic analogy Celine Ellena presented at our last "Flavors and Fragrances" conference in London, where she said that she is thinking of synthetic perfumery raw materials as single "smell words," while working with natural oils is more like opening a door to an enormous "chat room," a big mess of impressions, where certain themes have to be highlighted and underlined to create a story. So yes, they absolutely belong together. One can of course build a fragrance just on natural or just on synthetic ingredients, but a perfumer limits his/her artistic expression that way. And perfumery as an art form was just made possible by using synthetic odorants. The start here really is 1894 with coumarin and Paul Parquet in his Fougère Royal. Before that, perfumers could not go much beyond imitating natural smells, and that is not enough to make an artistic expression. 

 

Serguey Borisov: Synthetics are a cheap substitute and natural jasmine costs its weight in gold. Can you argue with that usual belief?
 

Philip Kraft: Synthetic odorants can be extremely expensive as is the case for the Ambrox/Ambrofix and macrocyclic musks that prevented the Tibetan musk deer from extinction by slaughtering for its musk pods. Natural essential oils, on the other hand, can be extremely cheap as is true for a lot of citrus oils, which are a by-product of the lemonade industry, and frequently used to perfume dishwashing liquids. But it is the creativity of the perfumer that creates the value of a perfume, not the price of the raw materials. People often forget that. Because certain functional products do not have the price margin to afford expensive perfumery raw materials, certain notes, however, became associated with cheap and non-prestigious functional products. Still these notes might play a completely different key role in an otherwise very expensive composition. Materials should be judged on the freedom of expression they give to a perfumer, not on their price of production. Of course a brief with a generous price target allows the perfumer a bigger palette to choose from and thus, greater creative freedom. 

 

Serguey Borisov: Doesn't art in perfumery begin from the chemistry of some synthetics? Could chemistry be a special "Mysterious Art," like Alchemy?

 

Philip Kraft: Yes, as mentioned before, art in perfumery to me begins with the use of coumarin in Fougère Royal by Paul Parquet in 1894. The first chapter of Scent and Chemistry gives many more examples. When I smell an odor, I very often see in my mind certain geometrical features, design elements on a molecular level. To me the conceptualization of a new odorant is a design process as well. It is artistic as well, but it  is not a mystery at all. You have an idea for a smell, and you want to materialize it in the form an odorant. And to do so, as in every art, you need to master a certain degree of technical perfection to get there, in this case, in chemical synthesis. No mystery, no alchemy.


Serguey Borisov: What are the molecules that determine the face of modern perfumery—those molecules or accords that make customers perceive a perfume as modern or vintage?
 

Philip Kraft: This really changes with fashion, and certain notes like patchouli can seem old-fashioned in a certain context, and very modern in another one. Fruitchoulies are certainly a major modern trend now, while the way patchouli is used in Aromatics Elixir is probably not considered very modern. Generally however, there is a tendency toward more transparency, although the sweet trendy gourmands are anything but transparent. The transparent notes of Lilial, Hedione, Iso E Super or Galaxolide certainly had a big influence on modern perfumery, and also the damascones with Poison. However so did maltol since Angel, in a non-transparent way.

 
Serguey Borisov: What are chemists exploring most actively nowadays—vetiver molecules, musk molecules, amber molecules?
 

Philip Kraft: You have to cover all areas really, and constantly try to challenge and revolutionize every important odor family, as every family has its place in perfumery creation. In the big domains of perfumery one needs to be active all the time, and these certainly include ambery materials, woody odorants, and musks, but of course also florals.

 

Serguey Borisov: What is the "ambergris" note for sales assistants and some aficionados? For you that could be Ambrocenide, Ambroxan, Belambre, Dihydro Ambrate, Amberwood Forte, Cedramber, etc., and I'm sure that for musk notes you'll find even more special names. Is it necessary to make so many chemicals to mimic only one natural note? 

 

Philip Kraft: Ambergris is a complex odor sensation, which we described in Scent and Chemistry as an “exotic woody odor with incense-like, earthy, camphoraceous, tobacco and musk-like facets surrounded by smells of the ocean.” In the natural ambergris tincture, ambroxan or ambrox are mostly responsible for this odor sensation, but not solely. The different ambergris synthetics play on these different tonalities and facets of the natural ambergris impression. It is however not the idea to only reproduce this ambergris odor, but rather to accentuate certain olfactory attributes. In Fig. 2.8 of Scent and Chemistry, Wilhelm Pickenhagen, the co-inventor of Ambrocenide, and I even drew a whole ambergris spectrum. 

Such amber accords become characteristic trendy elements, recognizable as such; their function is not to imitate the smell of natural Tonquin musk or ambergris tincture. This would also leave no room for artistic creations. 

 


Serguey Borisov: There's belief that modern chemistry could make an analysis of everything. Like, any perfume could be deciphered with GCMS [gas chromatography-mass spectometry] and every natural oil could be reconstituted with hundreds of molecules in the right proportion. Is it possible to make rose absolute/vetiver oil/whatever in a lab?
 

Philip Kraft: For rose absolutes or vetiver oils we even distinguish their geographical origin, and different companies have different suppliers, and then there are different harvests, so a 100% copy seems impossible, or at least extremely difficult. But if the differences should be just not be "customer-noticeable" that is much easier, and many famous brands change the compositions of their perfumes over the years without people noticing, or at least without them complaining. It is somewhat a question on how much effort one wants to invest. To imitate a rose or vetiver oil, you would just need the odor-active components, the odorless ones that may impact diffusion or substantivity could be replaced by other odorless ones of similar vapor pressure, and commercially unavailable ones can be replaced by other odorants of similar smell. Roman Kaiser has done an incredible job on headspace reconstitutions from single flowers, where even no essential oil can be produced because they might be endangered species. I did smell some of the original flowers, for instance on our trip to the Massoala peninsula in Madagascar, and I could not tell any difference with the natural flower smell. Headspace reconstitution has reached an amazing level of perfection. So a good rose absolute, yes, you should be able to do that rather well. A good vetiver oil, I have still some doubts. 


Serguey Borisov: Knowing so many molecules, how do you evaluate perfumes? By their pure beauty only, or taking into consideration their special molecules/naturals compounds?
 

Philip Kraft: At first I try to evaluate technically only: Is the composition harmonious?  Which materials stick out? Is that on purpose because they were to be overdosed, or is it a compositional flaw? What is the main theme, what are the main accords? How are the central harmonies working together? Is there continuity from top to dry down, or are there any unexpected cliffs or holes in the unfolding of the scent? What was the concept behind the fragrance? How does the perfumer meet the storyline he is supposed to tell?  And how novel is the idea after all? Which related fragrances exist on the market? 

But soon other, more personal, contextual aspects follow: Does the perfume live and breathe? Does it "speak" to me? What does the perfumer want to say with it? Do I get the message? Is the perfume appealing? When you are in front of a painting in a museum, sometimes you feel transposed into the composition, and well... sometimes you don’t. That is the feeling you want also to experience when wearing a perfume. The job of any artist is to communicate with the spectator through his artwork. If that does not work out, the perfume is no artwork, and in perfumery, you even become part of this artwork. But of course you may still wear a perfume even if it means nothing else to you other than a status symbol or whatever, that’s totally fine. There is no need to care for the artistic value of a perfume if you don’t want to. The job of the perfumer is foremost to win a brief, and the brand wants to generate money, but if the perfumer is good, he also manages an artistic quality despite all the commercial aspects.

 

Serguey Borisov: What are the current topics of perfume molecules research? 

 

Philip Kraft: Find out at the next "Flavors and Fragrances" 2013 conference in Leipzig, September 11th–13th.

 

Serguey Borisov: Thank you so much for you time, Mr. Kraft! Good luck in chasing some new beautiful odorants! 
 

Philip Kraft: Thank you for your interest and enthusiasm!

 
 

 

Serguey Borisov

Serguey Borisov has been known in the Internet world of perfume under the nickname moon_fish for more than 10 years. Now he writes about perfumes for GQ.ru and Vogue.ru, and contributes on the subject for glossy magazines.

 

 

 

 



Previous Interviews Next


moonfish67
moonfish67

Можно приобрести через Amazon.com - я именно там и купил. Доставка в Сибирь прошла успешно.

Feb
12
2013
sweetiepea161616
sweetiepea161616

Thank you, moonfish67! This is very exciting. I think I must have this book (when I can afford it!) :)

Feb
10
2013
Perfuwoman
Perfuwoman

Спасибо, интересно! Давно мечтаю об этой книге. В России ее не продают?

Feb
10
2013
moonfish67
moonfish67

2 sweetiepea16161

Both chemists and laypersons will find their info in the book.
From molecule visuals, names and chem. reactions - to abstract things about where this or that molecule been used first time in perfumery.
Also good source for exploration of perfume chemicals by oneself - to build some synth collection.

And Philip Kraft is specialised on musk molecules.

Feb
09
2013
NicoleET88
NicoleET88

I went directly to Amazon to purchase the book but realized even a used copy would cost me more than my next bottle of perfume...so I decided to pass. And I'm no chemist anyway. Just a person interested in every sort of thing. The book would likely go way over my head.

Feb
09
2013
sweetiepea161616
sweetiepea161616

As a scientist myself, I was completely fascinated by this article! I have been looking for a good chemistry book on perfumery and now I think this will definitely be my next purchase!!

Serguey, do you know how technical this book is? I am looking for a perfumery book that is more targeted towards a chemist rather than a layperson. It would be really cool to dive into the actual chemical mechanisms (although I'm sure much of it is proprietary). Thanks!

Feb
09
2013
chayaruchama
chayaruchama

Simply wonderful, Sergey ! Thank you !!!

Feb
08
2013
edooardo
edooardo

I Really enjoyed reading this post. Very interesting subject. Wonderful interview. ´Scent and Chemistry' will be my next purchase.
Thank you for your effort!

Feb
08
2013
zahra
zahra

Very impressive - a real science behind the art!

Feb
08
2013
johngreenink
johngreenink

Fascinating interview - I learned a LOT from reading it, thank you.

Feb
08
2013
miss misty
miss misty

That was great! Thanks so much, very informative and fascinating to read. 'Scent and Chemistry' is now on my wish list.

Feb
08
2013
auroramaria
auroramaria

Really enjoyed reading this!!!!

Feb
07
2013
Kingpharroh
Kingpharroh

Fascinating review!

Feb
07
2013
RosaMilena
RosaMilena

Wonderful interview. Thank you!

Feb
07
2013
outofocus
outofocus

Very intresting subject, thanks for the post!!

Feb
07
2013

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