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Making scents – the art & science of perfume

20 October 2021

Few areas combine art and science as well as perfumery, according to the University of Canterbury’s Head of the School of Product Design, Professor Conan Fee, who is giving a free public talk on making scents later this month.


In his upcoming talk which will also be livestreamed, Professor Fee, who is perfumer and director of Christchurch’s only artisanal perfumery, will describe how almost anyone can quickly grasp the various categories of aromachemicals – something that would normally take years to learn by classical training. The academic turned perfumer will discuss how he used his background in science and engineering to bring the art of perfume design to the people of Christchurch.

Professor Fee explains:

On one hand, perfumery is an art. There is a unique pleasure in learning by trawling through thousands of raw fragrance materials using our sense of smell; experiencing the nuances of 30 or more types of rose notes or 60 types of spice; the differences between cinnamon bark and cinnamon leaf oils; between habanolide and galaxolide musks. Classically trained perfumers spend years studying these before they are ready to create, and they never stop acquiring and reinforcing that knowledge.

A single drop of one component in 100, added or subtracted, can change the entire character of a perfume. The perfumer chases these elements, through endless iterations, to achieve the perfect balance to delight the senses and communicate their ideas. No amount of science can replace creativity and aesthetics in the art of perfumery.

However, on the other hand, a knowledge of chemical engineering and scientific principles has been invaluable to me in my perfumery journey. Concepts of relative volatility, the organic chemistry of alcohols, aldehydes and ketones, and analytical techniques such as gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy are all relevant to the art. Throw in a little 3D printing and an understanding of permeability and you have the kernel of an idea that has opened perfumery to anyone to design their own fragrances, rapidly and without training.

About the speaker:

Conan Fee and his partner opened Fragranzi Artisan Perfume Studio in the Christchurch Arts Centre in 2020 to allow people to learn about perfumes and make their own unique scent. A professor of chemical engineering with 30 years’ experience as an academic, including time in Canada, Sweden, England and United States, he learned fragrance design from perfumers based in New Zealand, Thailand and the United Kingdom. Professor Fee currently shares his skills with product design students studying Chemical Formulation Design, a degree course he created at the University of Canterbury.

UC Connect public lecture: Making scents – the art & science of perfumepresented by Professor Conan Fee, Head of the School of Product Design, University of Canterbury, from 7pm – 8pm, Wednesday 20 October 2021, in C1 lecture theatre in C-Block, Ilam campus, University of Canterbury.

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