an interview by David Ševčík
Théo Belmas, born and based in France, became the new creator behind Pigmentarium fragrances in January 2023. Despite his high level of expertise, including a bachelor's degree in molecular chemistry, a master's degree in perfumery, and an apprenticeship at Grasse, followed by work at Concept Aromatique and currently as a perfumer at Symrise, his involvement in the Pigmentarium is primarily due to his deep alignment with the brand values and an undeniable personal connection with the Prague team gradually built over the past year. Théo, who lives and works in Paris, will present his first creation for Pigmentarium later this year.
What did you study?
I studied chemistry after my Science baccalaureat in the South of France, and at the same time, I trained myself in Music (drums & jazz music were my thing!).
After a Molecular Chemistry Bachelor’s degree in Toulouse, I moved to Montpellier for a specific perfumery Master’s Degree called ICAP: Engineering of Cosmetics, Flavours and Fragrances. Here I learnt botanic, fragrance and flavour formulation as well as chemistry. Concurrently, I studied Contemporary Dance at the Conservatoire of Montpellier and have gained knowledge of Functional Analysis of Dance Movement, Contemporary technique and Dance History.
I started then my career in Grasse as a Junior Perfumer.
What’s your professional background?
I started to approach the world of fragrances by doing internships in the Grasse perfumery industry at companies like Gallimard. Then, I officially started my career in a company called Concept Aromatique in Montauroux, in the middle of rose and jasmine fields. During this period, I had the chance to work a lot for Latin America, Europe and Middle-East markets, which opened my eyes (and my mind) to different olfactive cultures.
After four years and a half as a Junior Perfumer there, I joined Symrise in their headquarters in 2019 in Lower Saxony, Germany. I worked there as a technical perfumer specializing in natural raw materials and Fine Fragrance reformulations. My daily job focused on supporting R&D on the new natural ingredients expansion and reworking fragrance formulations for regulatory compliance and availability issues on natural and synthetic ingredients. That lead me to Symrise’s creative center in Paris, where I arrived in December 2022, and where I work together with the Fine Fragrance team as of today!
How do you train your skills?
The training as a trainee/junior perfumer is very long. We need to learn a huge palette of materials (today, I work with around 1000 materials daily) that you get to know and appropriate in the first years of your career. I learned them in a very specific way: firstly by families (ex: Family citrus – orange oil, lemon oil, grapefruit oil… / Family rose: Rose oil Turkey, Rose oil Bulgary, Geranium oil Egypt, Palmarosa…), and then by differentiation (orange oil, Rose oil turkey, cedarwood…). Each raw material smelled at different times of evolution, and this process starts over and over again until you remember them.
Today, it is an endless (and that’s the fun of it!!) and daily training. Smelling raw materials to not forget them and rediscover them. One reason for this is that you can smell the same ingredient very differently depending on the environment you are in, the temperature, the time of the day… But also because you, as a person, evolve and grow with different perspectives of the world. And by the world, I also mean smells.
We are also smelling everyday fragrances and ingredients in the office. That allows me to have constant “contact” with my palette of ingredients, to classical schemas or new olfactive territories. But one point which is very important to me in this training is also not to forget to keep inspirations outside of the perfume world: Art, Nature, Traveling, and Food. Every sense is linked to smell, so training these senses also trains your nose.
Who perfumers are an inspiration for you?
Sophia Grojsman, Dominique Ropion and Maurice Roucel are definitely my biggest inspirations. These three created iconic accords and fragrances, which, for me, call for elegance, sensuality and power.
Sophia Grojsman for her love of rose and powdery notes. I always admired the tenderness and softness exuding from her creations: Paris by Yves Saint-Laurent, Trésor by Lancôme, … Dominique Ropion for his mastering of white flower accords: Alien by Thierry Mugler, Amarige by Givenchy, Pure Poison by Dior, … Maurice Roucel for his authenticity and for his extreme subtlety when subliming raw materials: Musc Ravageur by Frédéric Malle, Insolence from Guerlain, DKNY Be Delicious by Donna Karan, … I had to the chance to work with Maurice as part of the Symrise family several times. One thing which I always admired is his love for sharing, very inspiring!
What is significant for your work as a perfumer?
There are three things which I find very significant in my job.
The encounters: you are always working with different people of different backgrounds and cultures. The richness of this job resides mainly in there for me.
The symbiosis between intimate and universal: I always create with my personal background and emotions, but the aim is to touch the most people and understand the brand you are creating for. I like this symbiosis which fascinates me.
The link between primitive and luxurious: olfaction calls for primitivism. It is one of the direct senses linked to our animality. Creating a perfume is about creating a luxury product, something special which touches emotions. I like the link between these two sides, which can appear as far as there are close actually.
Any specific ingredients? Fragrance composition?
I would say I have some favourite materials that I work with very often. Cardamom is one of them, which I love to use in its two extracted forms: essential oil and absolute. This spice is very fresh and cooling but also brings warmth and a powdery effect on fragrance dryouts. In the same dimension, I love olibanum essential oil I find extremely addictive.
I also like woody notes very much, like the Sandalwood album and Atlas cedarwood, which bring strength and sillage to olfactive structures. One ingredient that is as well coming back very often in my creations is our Vanilla Absolute from Symrise Madagascar, which displays animalic and sweet caramelly notes. A dream!
I do not think I have a specific type of fragrance composition I like to work with. All the fun for a perfumer is actually exploring infinite olfactive fields by combining materials, constructing and reconstructing accords. Again and again. This infinity is actually very stimulating, and I think as an artist I need to keep this open-mindedness as much as I can.
What’s your style?
From a creative standpoint, I would say that I am very inclined to create amber and oriental structures because of their sillage and signature. I do not think I have a specific style though. But I like to imagine and tend to powerful and strong notes.
What is the process of developing new essences, and how are you involved?
There are different processes to develop new essences. First, depending on the type of extracts you want to get: essential oils are produced by hydro- or steam-distillation. Absolutes are produced by solvent extraction. CO2 extracts are produced with CO2 supercritical extraction. The second point concerns the sourcing aspect.
In Symrise, we have a full R&D team that works hand in hand with different regions of the world. Madagascar is one of them, where we have a full platform with distillation factories and partnerships with farmers to plant, grow and develop new natural ingredients. As part of my job, I am dedicated to evaluating new natural ingredients developed by our R&D team and see if they can be good candidates to integrate our perfumers' palette. This takes into account their olfactive profile, their performance in fragrances and the olfactive territories they can open to us in creation.
Which ingredients did you develop yourself?
I participated in the development of the Symrise Geranium Madagascar, which is very good quality with rosy petal and litchi facets. Sandalwood albums from Australia and Boya from Vietnam are two other ingredients where I supported the development and studied olfactive/hedonic aspects.
What’s your opinion on the “green movement” in perfumery?
It is important to clarify the meaning of "green movement" which englobes a large bunch of wordings: renewability, biodegradability, upcycling, zero-waste… Symrise's commitments in terms of sustainability are considerable. I definitely see this evolution as very good for our industry. As a perfumer, I am part of this change and want to participate actively in it by using traceable, safe and ethically sourced materials. The movement is on its way already, and that is very positive!
Symrise is mobilising to face the challenges of the environment and sustainable development under 4 priority areas: Climate Protection and adaptation (including Corporate targets to reduce emissions, 100% Renewable electricity, Measuring Product Carbon Footprints and assessing options to reduce at a fragrance creation level), Raw Materials & Circular Economy (including Innovation programme focused on the circular economy, renewable, upcycling and Green Chemistry), Procurement Practices and Sustainable Sourcing (including Field level programmes for a positive environmental and social impact in Madagascar), and Environmental Protection and Biodiversity.
Natural or synthetic?
Both, without hesitation! Synthetics appeared in the middle of the 19th century and allowed perfumers and brands to unlock new olfactive territories. I like to work with both types of ingredients, first of all, because of the infinite possibilities that go with it, but also because of the stability and nuanced aspects.
Creating a 100% natural fragrance is very challenging from a stability and allergens standpoint. Creating a fragrance with both natural and synthetics allows me to nuance the proposal, the profile and the overall performance and structure of what I want to create. It is just like in Fashion, you need different techniques and fabrics to apply to get new silhouettes or enhance colour, an effect. I exactly see the same in perfumery.
What is your opinion on niche perfumery today?
Niche perfumery is a synonym for freedom to me: freedom to explore luxury ingredients, to work with texture and forms that go a bit out of the box and which leads the public to focus more on olfaction in itself, on what is the essence of smell. It is a free space to create and explore hand in hand with the creative directors with fewer borders.