“Why do people always ask about women perfumers? Who cares? To me, it’s a non-issue.” –Frederic Malle, Persolaise, 2014
This post will address two questions posed by the above quote. First, “non-issue”; second, “who cares?”
To determine whether the longtime underrepresentation of female perfumers is now a non-issue, I created a spreadsheet with demographic information on every single perfumer I could find by cross-referencing Now Smell This, Luckyscent, Basenotes, and Fragrantica. (Please see the end of the post for methodology.)
Out of the 354 perfumers included, 38.1% are female. That 38.1% figure is relatively skewed by the inclusion of independent perfumers, 71.9% of which are female. Many independent perfumers are independent in the first place because the traditional perfume industry is not accessible to them, so they should not be used to give a falsely rosy image of the perfume industry’s demographics. When independent perfumers are factored out, 38.1% becomes 34.5%– barely one third.
34.5% is certainly progress, and there have been many encouraging steps for women in the perfume industry in the past few years (prestigious perfumery school ISIPCA now has more female students than male). But 34.5% is not equal representation, and it’s hardly “a non-issue” just yet.
(This might be a good time to mention that the perfume industry’s numbers are even worse when it comes to any other kind of diversity. Of the 288 perfumers for which I was able to find ethnic information, 92.7% are white.)
But who cares? As Roja Dove is fond of saying, there are more astronauts than perfumers. (Thankfully, the astronauts take diversity a little more seriously.) Why should a lack of diversity matter to anyone else outside of a tiny industry?
It matters to everyone who wears and loves perfume. Diversity goes far beyond physical characteristics; it means diversity of perspective, new and different ways of thinking. Anyone who’s visited a perfume counter lately knows that new perspectives and new ideas are desperately needed in the perfume industry. When it’s the same white French guys making our perfumes, we get the same perfumes over and over. And I don’t know about you, but I just can’t smell another Flowerbomb clone.
Methodology: For the purposes of this spreadsheet, I defined “perfumer” as “a living person who could be confirmed to have created fragrances”. I excluded brand figureheads who could not be confirmed to have created their fragrances. If I have incorrectly excluded anyone, I sincerely apologize. I also sincerely invite you to create your own spreadsheet, because this one took three days.
I defined “independent perfumer” as “a perfumer who has never been employed by a fragrance firm”. This definition was trickier, but it made more sense to me than “a perfumer who is not employed by a fragrance firm”, as that definition would group perfumers such as Bertrand Duchafour or Francis Kurkdjian with smaller indie perfumers.