the dirt with karyn khouryBy Pat Law • Oct 17th, 2011 • Category: The Dirt
She might not be a household name, but Karyn Khoury is without a doubt one of the most famous perfumers in the world.
With over 35 years of experience in the fragrance industry, Karyn has worked with three generations of the Estée Lauder family and is today, the Senior Vice President of Corporate Fragrance Development Worldwide for The Estée Lauder Companies. She is the “nose” (I secretly love that term) behind the brand’s fragrances, including the much-loved DKNY Be Delicious, the classic Coach Signature and the sexy Unforgivable Men and Unforgivable Women for Sean John, to name a few.
Most women, myself included, dab on their perfume without giving much thought to the process and the effort that goes into that little bottle of fragrance. Many times, we associate perfumes with brand names but not the creator behind it (unless of course, the scent is named after its creator). It was thus most fascinating, and definitely an honor to have caught up with Karyn – to find out more about her new fragrance, Coach Poppy Flower, and just what it takes to being a successful “nose”.
You’ve been in the fragrance industry for over 35 years. Have you always known that this is the industry you want to be in?
No. 35 years ago, people didn’t know there was this industry behind the perfumes. Journalists weren’t writing about fragrance the way you do now, and I didn’t know there could be a career in this. I was very lucky because I went for a job interview at a fragrance house and there, I worked for this incredible woman who became my mentor, who did what I do now, and I started as her assistant and she trained me while I was working for her. She taught me to smell, and the classics of the language and that’s how I started. After 5 years, there was an opportunity to join the Estée Lauder companies and that’s how my career with the company began.
Do you have to take any special care for your nose?
As soon as I get up in the morning, I apply anywhere from 2 to 6 fragrances on my arms so I can study them and work on them and give direction when I go into the office. I need my skin to be as neutral as possible, so I don’t eat garlic during the week. I don’t wear body lotion until I finish my evaluations and I do my best to avoid colds because that affects your sense of smell.
What does it take to be a successful nose?
I think every perfumer you ask will give a different answer but to me, one of the biggest requirements is to have imagination. You have to be able to think and see in your mind something that doesn’t exist and won’t exist for a period of time. You have to be able to smell the fragrance in your mind before it goes into the bottle. You also have to technically know ingredients and materials – how they go together and how they mix. You have to understand how different combinations will age so you have to predict how it’s going to smell as time passes. You also have to be able to put aside your own personal preferences so that you can develop what is right for a brand or a certain market.
What are some of your personal favorite notes?
I love peony, I love the smell of ocean air and rich, dark woods like sandalwood and cider. I also love spices like pepper, chili and I like using spice notes in women’s fragrances because it’s unusual.
Describe the Coach Poppy girl.
The way we interpret Poppy is that it is for the Coach customer who is young at heart, and we do not define that customer by an age range. We approach it as an emotional segment that is energetic, whimsical, young at heart, playful and romantic.
What makes Poppy Flower different from the other floral scents in the market?
Number 1, the quality of the materials we use, and we have maintained this in every fragrance we have produced; the best of floral notes, the most expensive of citrus notes and the smoothest of woody notes so that they are not harsh. Number 2, our expertise. You can develop fragrances within the same category but the difference lies in the expertise in blending the materials, in creating a fragrance structure that has signature and that has personality.
Tell us more about the packaging for Poppy Flower.
The packaging was designed by Reed and his team. The color was designed to be fun – it makes you smile. The graffiti that you see in the graphics is at once modern but playful; it’s not a formal kind of graphic. The shape of the bottle is round, which makes it easy to hold and pick up.