Interview with Lourenço Lucena

By Cláudia Pinto

The fusion of aromas is almost mysterious. We found Lourenço Lucena in a designer perfumery. He is the only Portuguese in the French society of perfumers and he dedicates his life to the creation of new aromas. But, what exactly does a perfumer smell like?

“It can smell of nothing and of your daily perfume. This is because the scent of a perfume on a person’s body can influence the creation of a new scent. When I’m creating I do not wear perfumes. When I’m not working I use one of my many perfumes. I have a cupboard full of bottles that I choose according to the day I’m going to have.”

Smell is as old as man. It was used primitively as a means of protection. Later the use of perfumes symbolised the sacred and divine protection. “Many centuries ago, smell was the human sense we used most and valued most. However, the evolution of the species has meant that smell is little worked today. Smell is the first human sense we activate at birth. We have just come into the world from inside our mothers and the nurses put us on top of our mothers to smell her. The truth is that if we start to smell everything around us, our life gains another brightness. Everything smells, and if we have our ‘olfactory lens’ active it is easier to create new bonds with life around us. Working on aroma and smell makes our lives more fun.”

Lourenço Lucena launched Blug in 2001, a marketing agency that has always sought to stand out from the competition by exploring the five senses in the creation of brand identity. Lourenço, without the ideal know-how to move forward, discovered Cinquième Sens, a school in Paris specialised in the multisensory area. Lourenço’s training culminated with him joining the well-known Société Française de Parfumeurs.

“I would say that perfumes are a magical thing and help us represent ourselves in society. Just as every day I think about what I’m going to wear depending on where I’m going and who I’m going to be with, perfumes should also be chosen on a daily basis. It’s another layer we have of our self. Today I may be happy, but not tomorrow. It may be sunny or raining, and all this can influence the clothes I wear, right? So it should be the same thing with perfumes.”

Since training in Paris, the professional universe of the perfumer has transported him from marketing to L’Parfumeur, where he creates personalised perfumes for brands and people. But, what makes a person want a personalised perfume? “It is essentially the exclusivity and the opportunity to have a perfume that was created just for you. It ends up being the pinnacle of luxury and exclusivity. People need access to something that would not normally happen.”

“The inspiration for an aroma can start from a love story, a memory of a journey or even an emotion, which will serve as a hook for me to start creating and choosing the best raw materials to tell this story. When it is for someone, it is best to get to know this person well and the story they want to tell. This requires in-depth knowledge about the person: what perfumes have they used? What music do they listen to? What car do they drive? What are their favourite colours? What do they eat? Who do they get on with? This helps to create a profile; a sensory portrait that serves as my base. The raw materials are the characters and it’s my job to make them interact, just like in a Hollywood movie, in order to get a happy ending. The big challenge is the starting point in order to get to the raw materials.”

Shelves filled with hundreds of small bottles with aromas. From water to spices, from flowers to earth, the smell is inebriating. The secret of a good perfumer is to adapt the raw materials to the characteristics of the person and the company. And, of course, have a good olfactory memory. There are no rules or guidelines for an aromatic composition. An average perfume can have 25-30 raw materials. But there are more complex perfumes that can have up to 70.

“After the mental briefing about the person or the company, I set out to choose the raw materials. Then I begin the formulation: what amounts will I use of each one? What is the result of the aroma when they are all mixed together? And then I start adjusting. It takes dozens … or even hundreds of attempts until I say: that’s it! It is a process that can take days, weeks or even months. It is just like a painter painting a canvas, he only ends the job when he feels it is completed”.

Currently, the perfume industry is greater than the entire film industry. Hundreds of scents come out every month, but what’s the secret of the bestsellers that remain at the top of sales tables for years and years? “There is a set of dynamics created around the perfume. Often the reason for success is the start system that was created over dozens of years and that had striking moments that helped create this magical idea about the perfume. If the perfume is bad, it will not sell more. That’s a certainty. But communication is very important: who were the public figures that lent their face to the perfume? What type of launch was done? This is very important for the activation of the perfume. On the day that Marilyn Monroe said she could be naked but could not be without Chanel No. 5, for example, was the moment when Chanel was definitely the talk of the world. There are perfumes that are truly timeless and that remain at the top for dozens of years. J’Adore, for example, is a special perfume with a very consistent aura and one that women identify with.”

Nowadays, in addition to personalised creations, Lourenço also organises scented dinners. This is an innovative concept where, together with a chef, a dinner is prepared combining aromas and flavours underlying a specific theme, with the objective of stimulating smell and taste.