From Elizabeth Taylor’s White Diamonds, to Clinique’s Happy – and dozens more in between – Raymond Matts has been the scent designer behind some of the most celebrated releases in the world of fragrances for nearly 3 decades. Combining creativity with an intuitive sense of industry trends, Raymond has been instrumental in Prolitec’s scent success with many of their Fortune 500 clientele, as well as The Dreams Collection of home fragrances for the Aera smart home fragrance system.
We sat down with Raymond to talk about his journey, common misconceptions, and the perfect scent palate cleanser.
How does one become a designer of scents?
I’m a fragrance designer trained as a fragrance evaluator. I’m the consumer nose with an understanding of perfume structure, balance and notes. I was trained at Firmenich - one of the leading fragrance houses. I spent several years at IFF before switching to brand side of the business with Elizabeth Arden and Estée Lauder, where I continued to hone my craft.
Is fragrance design something you always wanted to be involved in? Did you attend a specific school for this?
I had no idea of this profession and completely fell into the position when Firmenich was looking to bring in three “fragrance evaluator trainees". I’ve several degrees - one in criminal justice with an emphasis in economic and organized crime. I’ve also a degree in marketing with an emphasis in cosmetics, toiletries and fragrance from the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC.
What steps does the team go through in designing a fragrance?
We explore trends for the home, travel, and food and look for sources of inspiration and what would be appealing to our target audience. I write a brief to be given to a fragrance house and this is the inspiration that is shared with the perfumer. We define a feeling we want to create.
The perfumer then will work for several days coming up with a skeleton of what our direction may be. Submissions are sent and I diffuse the scents in the air, studying the character, balance and olfactive story. I’m smelling the character and looking for what is missing, what notes may be out of balance, is there a signature defined and if not where do we need to go. The perfumer and I will discuss and make more modifications. This process takes place over days, weeks or months until we achieve the desired fragrance.
Then, I spend some time living with the fragrance, studying its performance and strength. Do I enjoy having it around me? Is it too strong? Too weak? I’m always striving to bring a totally new signature, something one has never smelled before. We at Aera want to create new memories where your home is enjoyed and remembered from the scent experience.
Take us through a typical day – if such even exists.
My days are never typical. I have days where I only smell usually in the morning when I’m wide-awake and my sense of smell at its best. On these days I smell modifications of new fragrances I’m designing. I’m looking for balance, character, what is missing, and the overall feeling. I’m constantly looking for new directions that can be used as ideas for a scent through my surroundings, what I see in photos based on textures and designs in other mediums. I use life as my source of inspiration and anything I come in contact with. I’d rather define new trends than follow them.
Does DNA partly determine who is qualified to design fragrances?
I don’t think so… I believe it is all in one’s ability to dream and see the beauty of sensation, emotions and experiences through our sense of smell. Balance is key to me. I'm always working towards designing a fragrance that one has never experienced before.
What are your favorite scents?
I love the smell of linden trees in the spring, the wet sensation of flowers in a flower shop, cocoa, and black licorice tea. Honestly, I just love interesting scents that create a lasting memory and something I can never get enough of. I only wear my Tulile from my collection of fragrances; it is a fresh crisp citrus with addictive soft woods in the background.
Are there similarities between you and a sommelier?
Probably, as I’m trained to recognize notes and the families they belong to along with their place within a structure and how the notes contribute to a structure. A sommelier I’m sure does the same based on notes and then pairs to the type of meal one will enjoy. I’m thinking about the feeling one will experience and situations in which they would wear or experience a particular fragrance.
Is there a palate cleaner for the nose?
Yes, there is – and it is not coffee beans! It is my shirtsleeve. We smell with our brain so the act of smelling my shirtsleeve clears the brain when needed from smelling too much. By changing subjects the brain has to refocus and this clears our smell sensors.
How would you describe the difference between Aera fragrances and everything else in the home fragrance market?
In the world of fragrance you get what you pay for. The Aera is a game changer because we focused on two things when designing our scents for the home. We created them using higher quality, raw materials or notes that we knew our competition could not afford to use. This allowed us to be creative designing scents that have their own unique signature. We don’t follow trends in fragrance, but instead look at trends in design and use this as a way to bring something new to our customers.
Are you hyper aware of the scent of a space when you enter a new place?
I do notice my surroundings and what I smell. I’m a dreamer and like the unexpected so I get frustrated walking into hotels using scents inspired by old themes or fine fragrances that are meant for the body. This is like nails on the chalkboard to me.
Scenting is amazing when it’s done right and it’s not overpowering, heavy or choking. It should float and one should sense an awareness of scent but not become over saturated. A beautiful scent is a memorable experience defining a moment, something we will always remember.