The Sweet Smell of Success

A building in Teaneck, New Jersey is the source of some of the world’s most popular fragrances. Meet Givaudan Roure’s perfumers, the ‘ghostwriters’ behind your favorite scents.

A single 1.7-ounce bottle of Bijan’s Michael Jordan cologne retails for $23. From October 1996, when the fragrance was launched, until Christmas of that year, Bijan sold 1.5 million units. In its first seven weeks, the cologne rang up $40 million in sales; by June 1997, sales had reached the $75 million mark, making Michael Jordan cologne 1996’s best-selling new fragrance. The Fragrance Foundation awarded the cologne two FiFi Awards – the industry’s version of the Oscars: Men’s Fragrance Star of the Year and Men’s National Advertising Campaign of the Year.


That’s a Michael Jordan-like achievement for Bijan – and for the perfumers of Givaudan Roure, the flavor and fragrance arm of Roche Holdings Ltd., a $14 billion Swiss conglomerate. Givaudan Roure fashions new scents on behalf of the world’s leading designer names and consumer products – fine fragrances, such as perfumes and colognes, as well as commercial fragrances for shampoos and deodorants. They’re the ghostwriters behind Calvin Klein’s Obsession, Christian Dior’s Poison, Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium, Cartier’s So Pretty, Armani’s Aqua di Gio, and Hugo Boss’s Hugo. In fact, more than 30% of the world’s fine perfumes for women can be traced to Givaudan Roure – and to an inconspicuous brick building set back from the street in suburban Teaneck, New Jersey.

Inside the building, designed by Der Scutt (architect of the Trump Tower) and constructed in 1972, is an environment that fosters creativity. “We’re in an unusual industry, and we’re a creative company,” says Givaudan Roure CEO Geoffrey Webster. “We have artists whose input is critical to our winning new business. The design of the building is very important for creativity, communication, and interaction.”

Over the years, Webster has worked with Scutt to update the building, to make it a more comfortable and inspiring work space. An immaculately raked Zen garden occupies a central courtyard. A spiral staircase connects the perfumers on the first floor with those on the second. The building’s circular layout – flowing from the reception area, to the offices of the creative fragrance managers, to the perfumer’s circle, to the laboratory – matches the circular, iterative process that Givaudan Roure uses to develop a fragrance.

Coming up with new fragrances for clients is a highly competitive business. To increase its chances of savoring the sweet smell of success, Givaudan Roure has invested in three key facets of fragrance development: well-educated noses, a smart sniffing machine, and total sensory inspiration.

The Education of the Nose

Senior Perfumer James Bell, a 41-year company veteran, was trained at Givaudan Roure’s perfume school in the town of Grasse in southern France – the oldest such school in the world. “It was a wonderful place to live and study,” says Bell. “You had to learn to identify about 2,800 synthetic materials and about 140 natural materials. The only way I could do it was by association: One smell would make me think of a color, another would remind me of an experience, a third would represent a simple flavor, such as a raw peanut.”


The Whiff of Technology

Ken purzycki, givaudan roure’s director of fragrance science, calls it “12 human noses with a memory chip”: the ScentTrek machine. Employing state-of-the-art technology, the portable ScentTrek goes deep into nature to capture a scent. The machine’s clear plastic globe surrounds a flower for 24 hours, and the device takes measurements every 2 hours, using 12 filters – without touching the plant.

With so many new fragrances coming onto the market, ScentTrek offers Givaudan Roure an important competitive weapon: a technology that can reproduce previously undetected smells. Givaudan Roure used ScentTrek to help create the compounds of scents – called “notes” – that define Michael Jordan cologne: “Fairway” came from using ScentTrek on Jordan’s favorite golf course; “Home Run” captured the smell of a leather baseball glove; “Rare Air” was gathered by ScentTrek on a Costa Rican beach; “Cool” drew upon alpine scents, mountain air, and a hint of Jordan’s native North Carolina; and “Sensual” was derived from clean, musky smells.

The Taste of Inspiration

because taste and smell are so closely linked, Givaudan Roure employees participate in tasting sessions, where they sample unusual combinations of foods and spices prepared by Jeff Cousminer, the corporate chef. At one tasting, edible floral sorbets, such as rose, lavender, and geranium, were featured. Another time, a brewmaster introduced perfumers to the ingredients that go into beer, and the session ended with the creation of individual microbrews.

But for James Bell, the most powerful sources of inspiration are personal. A long-time saxophonist, he puts on recordings by his favorite jazz artists, listening for musical notes that he can replay as fragrance notes. “Inspiration is everywhere,” Bell says, “if you’re willing to recognize it and let it move you.”


Lisa Chadderdon is a member of the Fast Company editorial staff.You can find Givaudan Roure on the Web at