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Interview with Viktória Minya, perfumer

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Tuesday 02 May 2023

Picture Interview with Viktória Minya, perfumer Picture

„It is challenging for a woman to succeed in this male-dominated profession, but it is even harder as a Hungarian woman”

The first Hungarian female perfumer, Viktória Minya, studied in Grasse, Provence: her award-winning fragrance Hedonist is a cult favourite in the world of niche perfumes. Viktoria Minya currently lives and works in Paris but she frequently travels to Hungary. We discussed her years in Grasse and the peculiar world of perfume.

Even though the term «perfumer» is often used, many people are unsure of what it implies.

A perfumer is a person who creates perfume compositions. In France, they are typically employed by perfume companies. The haute couture labels that you see in the many large drugstores typically hire a perfume creator company to develop a fragrance for them. In a technical sense, this is what we refer to as juice. Everything else, including bottle filling, distribution, packaging, and promotion are not the responsibility of the perfumers. The only thing we are in charge of is the scent. It is crucial that the formula is always our own intellectual property. As long as the product is on the shelves, the concentrate is purchased from us.

Perfumery has been a male-dominated industry since the beginning, and currently, you are the only female perfumer in Hungary. How challenging do you believe it is for a woman to be successful in this field?

A few years ago, I got an invitation to a perfume exhibition in Shanghai, and I was the star guest. Three middle-aged French men attended the event besides me. I think that says it all about the make-up of the profession. I always believed that as a woman, I had to contribute far more to every company I worked for. That is still the case today. And in France, I have to work much harder to succeed because I am Hungarian. But it is obviously difficult to compete with those whose families have been in the business for decades.

That being said, in addition to working with various businesses, you also have your own brand that has conquered the world.

It is very rare for perfumers to have their own brand. I currently have eight fragrances in my collection. However, I also teach perfumery classes to students from all over the world at several locations.

How should we imagine such a course? How is the curriculum structured?

My four-day course is very intensive, with a central role for the smell. We investigate natural materials on the first day and synthetic raw materials on the second. Then we create mini-chords, where we try to combine a few components harmoniously. On the fourth day, we get to the stage of creating a perfume, usually composed of 30 to 40 ingredients.

Speaking of studying, you studied in Grasse in Provence, where admission requires passing a rather challenging entrance exam. How should we imagine such a conversation?

It is no exaggeration to say that I have been preparing for this training for years. Lucky for me, the office of the company where I worked in the HR sector was on the Champs-Élysées. There is one of the largest Sephoras in Europe, which I used to visit every day for years to smell perfumes. I spent almost all my free time there. I always had a good sense of smell, but my «hobby» added a lot to my knowledge of the products available in the shops. Candidate knowledge of raw materials was not required at the time in Grasse, but rather the ability to talk about them. How we could discuss a raw material without knowing what it was, was significant to them. I pulled the cedar tree, which I did not know by name at the time, but described it to the committee as smelling like sharpening a pencil. As it turned out, this is a typical description. There are a few more stages to the application process, but the final decision is made based on a personal interview.

How is the curriculum structured in Grasse?

The focus was basically on smells, but we also had a chemistry lesson, among other things. We smelled all the raw materials we could – about 1500 samples – so we finished almost just before the end of the school year. We also went through the various laws, took a chords class, and learned about the history of scent. We also had a functional perfume class, where we learned how to scent different cosmetic products, candles, and other items. For these, we make a completely different fragrance than for perfumes. Regarding candles, this is especially interesting because some raw materials, like citrus fruits, instantly evaporate when added to warm wax.

Where do you draw inspiration from when creating a fragrance?

Nature still inspires me a lot, but I am really thinking in moods now. I have occasionally found inspiration while listening to music, but there were times I found inspiration in a book’s sentence.

In recent years, everyone wants to be unique, so they aim to choose products that stand out. In the perfume sector, too, consumers prefer to choose more special fragrances now. How do you suggest they find one that suits them?

Nowadays, there are so many options that it can be tough to narrow down, but I suggest trying as many diff erent perfumes as you can. I usually say that a perfume is worth paying attention to if you sniff it with your eyes closed on a piece of paper and have a positive reaction within 3-5 seconds. If you can fi nd 4-5 of those scents, it is worth trying them on your skin. If there is one that you like on paper and our skin, you have found the right scent. It is worth keeping an «open» nose and smelling scents that you might not think would resonate with you at all. 

Your first fragrance was called Hedonist, which I suppose was not by chance. How much of a hedonist life do you live?

The question made me realise that now it is not true at all. When I was at school - 12 years ago - everyone had a nickname, and I got hedonist because I was said to be enjoying life. Of course, you do not have to think about extreme things, but I have much less time to do anything of those because I have a daughter, a company, and I have started university again. So being a hedonist is a bit more challenging now than when I was only in school.


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