A sense of scent

Karyn Khoury shares her inspiration behind Coach’s latest fragrance and her thoughts as a perfumer.

KARYN Khoury’s eyes sparkled as she related why Pleasures was one of the most memorable perfumes she had ever created.

“At that time, I had just started dating my husband. I was wearing the trial scent of Pleasures when he gave me my very first compliment, saying that I smelled very nice wearing it,” reminisced Khoury with a shy, schoolgirl smile.

Ultimately, perfumers like Khoury, who is no stranger to the scent industry, aim to evoke warm feelings and positive emotions through their creations.

The senior vice president of corporate fragrance development worldwide for The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. has been with the beauty conglomerate for 30 years. Khoury oversees fragrance development for seven brands and is behind well-known scents like Beautiful, Pleasures and DKNY Be Delicious.

Her latest creation is Coach Poppy Flower, the luxury brand’s latest eau de parfum that was launched in Kuala Lumpur recently.

“Poppy Flower is a vibrantly romantic, feminine scent. Inspired by the Poppy aesthetic and lifestyle, it embodies a fresh and light-hearted spirit with a kaleidoscope of soft florals and sparkling fruity notes,” she explained during an interview just before the launch. The American brand Coach also carries a Poppy collection of handbags and accessories.

The perfume layers fruits and florals between fresh herbal notes and warm hints of musk and exotic woods. The base is a refreshing mix of wet ivy, citrus, lychee and cassis. Jasmine petals, water lily and rose add touches of femininity while musky peony lends depth to the scent. Ingredients like sugared raspberry, musk and soft sandalwood give the scent a youthful edge.

Khoury, in her 50s, relates her experience in developing Poppy Flower.

“We were very inspired by the Coach brand itself – its sense of quality, chic style, timelessness, sophistication and optimism. We spent many hours with Reed Krakoff (Coach’s executive creative director) and his team, listening to their vision of the brand and customer.

“Based on these meetings, we knew we needed a fragrance which was ultra feminine, yet modern and sophisticated, one which would have a sense of quality and tradition without being predictable, and most of all, a fragrance which could convey all of this with a sense of playfulness and energy.

“The result is a beautifully blended fragrance with great presence, signature and diffusion, which represents modern beauty, elegance and charm,” she shared.

The fruity floral perfume targets the fashionably chic woman with a vibrant personality.

“The Poppy girl is bright, bold and instantly memorable. It follows then that her fragrance is equally unique and unforgettable.”

Poppy Flower is the second fragrance under the Coach Poppy range, the first being Coach Poppy.

The New York-based Khoury was also behind Coach’s first fragrance, Signature.

“Signature was the introduction of Coach to the world of scent. It was developed to embody the core aspects of the total brand and is all about tradition with a touch of modernity.”

Before developing a new fragrance, Khoury first determines the message the product wants to convey and the emotion it evokes in a woman, be it happy, confident, sophisticated, youthful or sensual.

Then, the arduous and challenging task of finding the right types of ingredients and blending them begins.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get the right blend, other times it takes quite a number of trials. I had this experience once where a 1% difference in the proportion of one ingredient changed the entire smell,” said Khoury, of Syrian and Italian descent.

Through the years, the established perfumer has noticed that scents have evolved in terms of the composition of ingredients.

“Before, fragrances were created using a variety of ingredients. Now, scents feature more streamlined ingredients whereby people can get at the notes more quickly. There is wider use of wood ingredients like sandalwood and many more new ingredients developed.”

Being in the industry for over three decades now, Khoury shared a few observations, including common misconceptions about perfumers.

“People usually assume all perfumers are men and that they are all French!” she remarked half in jest.

“The other misconception is that people think creating a perfume is merely about choosing a few ingredients and just mixing them all together.”

She is of the opinion that a quality fragrance must last.

“A good perfume is one that a woman still gets a whiff of after two hours of wearing it because ultimately she should get that pleasure from using the fragrance,” she said.

So what makes an expert nose?

“Apart from technical skills and knowledge, a good perfumer should have a good imagination. You have to first imagine what the final fragrance will be like and who the woman wearing it is. Mrs Estée Lauder always had a vision of the woman using her products and I learnt that from her.”

It is also important to know current trends to grasp what consumers are thinking, she added.

“When I create a limited edition scent, I will most likely (formulate) one based on the current trend, so that it will be more widely received.

“However, if I am developing a totally new fragrance, I will produce something completely different and unique, and if it is popular, I will have created a new trend,” she concludes.

Prices range from RM90 to RM300. Poppy Flower is available at Coach Boutiques and fragrance counters. The collection includes a Body Lotion and Eau de Parfum dual rollerball.