Updated: 2012-04-13 07:42
By Lu Chang, Li Yingqing and Guo Anfei (China Daily)
Master blender Yin Kaiyun says mixing fragrances is like painting an image, but it is an "invisible" art. Provided to China Daily
Fragrance market poised for takeoff in China, master blender says
It is surprising that perfumes are not so popular in China. With no cultural roots to back its case, or purchase numbers to boast of, the industry has for long been dominated by Western perfume brands like Dior, Chanel and Lancome.
But Yin Kaiyun, founder of the first private perfume museum in China and a master blender, says domestic demand for perfumes is steadily growing and the market is ripe for perfumes that are exclusive to Chinese consumers.
According to a report published by Horizon Research Consultancy Group in 2010, Chinese consumers bought only 1 percent of the fragrances in the world. However, the fragrance market in China has clocked annual growth rates of 15 to 25 percent from 2008 onwards.
Chanel, Dior and Davidoff are the current market leaders in China, and their dominance is a clear reflection of the edge enjoyed by European companies, particularly from France.
That dominance has, to some extent, also been aided by the presence of several perfumery schools in Europe and the European habits of using perfume on a daily basis.
"Chinese consumers prefer light, flowery and refreshing fragrances that reflect their emotional reserve. In contrast, the Westerners prefer strong perfumes as it helps mask body odor arising from dietary habits. It is an opportune time now for Chinese companies to test the perfume markets with special designs," Yin says.
Developing a new fragrance is not that easy, as it involves the collation of right perfumes, essence oils and other fragrance products. Yin has already teamed up with French cosmetics company Estelle SA to launch a new range of aromatic products next year.
"Money is no longer the key motivator for me. I've been lucky to have creative excitement every day when I go to work. For me what is more important is the lifetime spent on making perfumes."
It has indeed been a long journey for a person who literally had to sniff his way to the top. What Yin is mostly worried these days is about catching a cold, as the 39-year old professional has to rely on his sniffing prowess to distinguish the various fragrances that go into the making of a perfume. Yin says he can distinguish more than 1,000 different fragrances and that ability also helped him create top-selling formulas for several companies.
Yin says a successful perfume is also the result of hard work and does not come from just having a "good nose".
"Like any other art it involves a certain amount of passion, curiosity and talent. Hard work, the ability to identify raw materials and key ingredients, and above all a keen sense of smell are the essential ingredients for success," Yin says.
"In this business, the nose needs a workout all the time," he says.
Yunnan-based cosmetics majors like Borilay and Yuncaotang have already taken advantage of Yin's prowess for smell and fragrance making, while several others are expected to do so soon.
Ellepoeme, a perfume brand developed by Yin, which means "her poem" in French, has already got good response from consumers.
Yin's feats are not restricted to developing fragrances. He is also the founder of the Deluxking Museum, considered the first private museum on perfumes and fragrances in China.
"It is also an olfactory evaluation workshop for visitors and industry insiders," he says.
"It is surprising that in China the demand for fragrances is still low considering that other Western luxury products like bags, clothing and footwear are in high demand. The perfume museum is not only an outlet for consumers to purchase fragrances, but also a place where they can learn about making perfumes, scented soaps and essence oils."
Yin says the inspiration for the museum came from the legendary perfume workshops in Grasse, France. At these workshops, professionals often make delicate fragrances from local flowers and herbs.
"Each perfume is identified only by the artist and the year of manufacture so that visitors can appreciate them as independent works."
At Yin's 200-square-meter perfume museum in Kunming, the facilities include a laboratory and a display of fragrance bottles, branded perfumes, graphic designs and packaging facilities.
Yin also has hundreds of bottles of fragrance components that are essential for making new perfumes.
But the blending master says his entry into the fragrance world was not exactly a planned one. Yin used to be a tobacco flavorist at the Yunnan Reascend Tobacco Technology (Group) Co Ltd for some 15 years, after getting a degree in chemistry from Yunnan University in 1996. But the romance and the magical world of perfumes soon had him under its spell.
"A tobacco flavorist and perfumer have lots of similarities especially in terms of the basic knowledge of fragrances and blending skills. However, the process of perfume making is far more interesting and complicated."
Yin says he has also spent time on perfume making while creating flavors of tobacco. The first five years were a slog. Not only did he teach himself to memorize and recognize thousands of natural and synthetic raw materials but he also had to produce imitations.
"In the earlier days when I start creating scents, I'd make something more than 50 times before having anything remotely good," he says. "I just imitated the old masters to see how it was done and then did my own little perfume creations, often to develop my own style.
"Still you have to be very patient, because some perfumes may take years to develop and a certain blend requires at least a year or two of aging."
Yin says he encouraged himself to explore new and exciting scents by sniffing around - flowers and leaves, spices in the kitchen and the wood of the chair that he sat upon - all with the idea of developing his olfactory senses.
"Mixing fragrances together is just like painting an image. Each ingredient works like a color, distinct but malleable when combined with other elements. It's not visual art. It's invisible," says Yin, who keeps his laboratory cheerful with paintings as he dislikes the typical lab look.
Like many artists and writers, Yin gets his "nose blocks" occasionally.
"If I have nasal difficulties, I will take some time off and step back a little bit and find new inspiration," he says.
Sometimes he gets ideas from modern art paintings, such as Sunflowers by Vincent van Gogh and cutting-edge restaurants that incorporate smells in the food presentation.
Yin says it is not unusual to detect unusual flowers in the countryside, while some other ideas may come out of conversations with other perfumers.
In 2010, perfumery became a niche market in China and Yin gave up his job in the tobacco company and became an independent perfumer.
"The sales revenue of the monopolized tobacco industry reached 600 billion yuan ($95 billion, 73 billion euros) last year, leaving limited growth prospects. But the potential for growth is still very high in the perfumery market, since it has just started to take off in China," he says.
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