Aside from his talent as an odour authority and mix-master, M. Hermlin, as factory manager, knows intimately every stage of perfume manufacturing. Walking through his laboratories and refineries, he will tell you that one pound of this attar of roses is derived from the processing of 5000 pounds of rose blossoms. Or that it costs 90,000 francs to manufacture one pound of jasmine oil, a popular perfume base.FLORA — AND FAUNA
The secrets of the perfume industry are among the most closely guarded in the world. The exclusive formulae developed by the factory in a century of operations are kept in a big cast-iron safe. It is impossible to determine the contents of a perfume formula by chemical analysis*, although a top flight perfumer, working by nose, might be able to approximate the recipe. M. Hermlin, who likes to call himself 'The Nose Man,' says that the best perfumes contain an animal scent as well as the fragrance of flowers. Products used to impart an animal tang include ambergris from whales and extracts from the glands of beavers, musk deer, civet cats, and — hold tight — skunks. Commenting on this, the technician waxes philosophical:
'A woman may buy a perfume made purely of flowers once,' M. Hermlin says, "but she will never come back for another bottle. There is something in a woman, perhaps she is not conscious of it, but there is something in her that wants an animal odor.** It is just another part of that mystery that is a woman."
— from November Vogue, 1945, "They Call Him 'The Nose" written by Sgt. George Dorsey, A.E.F.
* The invention of gas chromatography in the mid '50s, about ten years after this interview with M. Hermlin was published, made it possible for perfumers to analyze scents and break them down into their component parts. Gas chromatography, says olfactory psychologist and author Avery Gilbert in What the Nose Knows, "revolutionized the science of smell."
** For the record, although there is something in this woman that wants an animal odor (check out my review of a fragrance that gives us a whiff of the human animal through the Costus root note), I doubt M. Hermlin's claim holds water for all women throughout eternity. In fact, since most animalics are out of fashion, and clean and fruity scents are popular in the mainstream, time proves that the "something" that wanted an animal odor in the '40s woman was her desire for what she was familiar and which was pervasive in the '40s: animalic scents!
Image: René Gruau's 1949 ad for Christian Dior's Miss Dior. Courtesy: renegruau.com