Interview with Perfumer Egon Oelkers - Biehl Parfumkunstwerke {Passion for Perfume - Portrait}



In this informative in-house interview conducted by biehl. parfumkunstwerke, we learn about the process of creation of the house's perfumes in the words of Egon Oelkers. He is also a senior perfumer at Symrise and head of their new perfumery training program (cf. Perfumer & Flavorist). He composed eo01, eo02, and eo03 for the brand.

“Every perfumer dreams of a chance like this.”
Egon Oelkers about his cooperation with Thorsten Biehl and his own Parfumkunstwerke.

How did the cooperation with Thorsten Biehl come about?

That’s an old connection. I know Thorsten Biehl from his time with the fragrance producer Symrise, where he was working in marketing and sales. I also worked closely for a long time with his father, perfumer Henning Biehl. When roughly a year ago Thorsten Biehl launched biehl. parfumkunstwerke, he asked me if I would like to develop three personal fragrances for him – and naturally I assented.

How did your fragrances eo01, eo02 and eo03 emerge?

The only instruction I had from Thorsten Biehl ran: “You are completely free, be creative – and compose a fragrance that is very quality, far surpassing mass taste.” I was truly given no conditions at all on either theme or price. Thorsten Biehl’s sole wish was that I should create a voluminous, heavy fragrance, i.e. not one with light, fresh summer notes, but rather one in an Oriental direction. This free, independent work corresponded very well with my ideas of perfumery. I prefer to work with such natural products as woods, spices and blossoms. It is hard to create these fragrance notes with synthetic substances, and so they are usually very costly. For my creations for Thorsten Biehl, I was able to use a high proportion of such natural products and thus create very spicy, woody fragrances. For me it is important that fragrances should not become too overpowering or narcotic, as can easily be the case with animal components. For all their abundance and richness, they should nevertheless remain transparent.......

How do biehl. parfumkunstwerke differ from ordinary perfumes?

Since I had been set no limits on costs, I was able to use a larger volume of valuable substances and move in the price ranges in which perfumes were composed 70 to 80 years ago. The number of components used is also about twice as high as with normal, market fragrances. For reasons of logistics alone, recipes for industrially produced perfumes have to be made leaner and simpler. They consist of approximately 40 different components. The biehl. parfumkunstwerke that I have developed are of far more complex construction, composed of around 80 to 90 separate components. If you bear in mind that some of these themselves consist of several substances, e.g. a rose base that combines numerous natural and synthetic scents, you rapidly arrive at several hundred components in one single perfume. As far as the price of the substances contained goes, one naturally sets oneself a limit, since for all its exclusiveness, the perfume still has to be sold.

Does this freedom make it harder or simpler to compose a fragrance?

Naturally every perfumer dreams of a chance like this. Yet it is not just a dream assignment but at the same time a great challenge. Normally perfumers receive a detailed briefing on how a fragrance should smell, which target groups are to be approached, and what it can cost. I was permitted to compose my fragrances for Thorsten Biehl solely on the basis of my own ideas, which is distinctly harder. I myself needed to set the standards that the client would normally have laid down for me, above all on discipline and also on quality.

How does it function at all, the composition of a perfume?

A perfumer never really starts at zero. Even as I reach for the first essence I have a concept before my eyes – or rather, in the nose. The creation of a fragrance occurs in three stages. As the first I consider which direction the perfume should go, with the three fragrances there are oriental and chypre accents. I call that the “basic skeleton” of the perfume. As a second step, I determine the means by which I shall interpret this theme. This is the stage which I find to be most fun. In working for Thorsten Biehl, I can really let rip here. Für eo01, for example, I primarily used “heavy” substances to impart fragrance: spices such as cardamom and nutmeg, woods like cedar and sandalwood, and blossoms such as orchids and lily of the valley. Finally I set highlights, adding “colorful touches” to the perfume, e.g. a fruit aspect or a note of green.

How long did it take you to create your biehl. parfumkunstwerke?

Within two months I developed ten different fragrances.
Thorsten Biehl opted for three creations, which I then altered slightly to meet his suggestions and wishes. Development work took six months altogether.

How did cooperation with other perfumers look?

Naturally I know my men and women colleagues but in developing biehl. parfumkunstwerke, each of us worked alone and you find that reflected in the absolutely individual, personal fragrances. What biehl. parfumkunstwerke primarily have in common is the fact that they are all truly outstanding.

Is being a perfumer your dream job?

I have now been working as a perfumer for more than 40 years, yet as a child I was not even aware that such a career even existed. I was discovered for it, so to speak. While I was training at a pharmaceutical academy, the fragrance company then known as Haarmann & Reimer (today’s Symrise) was looking for new talents. I was recommended to the firm. Perhaps my teachers had noticed how often I was polishing the perfume flacons even though they were not dirty: I simply enjoyed the scent of them. One of the wonderful things about my calling is that every day I can bring my love of nature to bear, for I am a real nature freak.

(via biehl. parfumkunstwerke press release)

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3 Comments | Leave a comment

  1. Very nice, and great taste. One should go for a fragrance that is very high quality, far surpassing mass taste. It's very important to look for good quality which smells good and does not create any problem in the public.

    David Williams
  2. 10 fragrances in two months? This man works fast.

  3. I think that you could consider them more like "mods" than full-fledged compositions. He did add that it took him 4 more months to bring the 3 selected fragrances to completion.


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