Scent for success

What Joy perfume teaches about creating a classic brand formula

Jacqui Griffiths
17 May 2015

3 min read

Thomas Fontaine is the in-house perfumer for French brand Jean Patou and guardian of the classic perfume Joy – a favorite since it was launched in 1930. Compass asked him about the secrets to creating a classic brand formula.

 COMPASS:  Joy has been successful for more than 80 years. What do you attribute this to ?

THOMAS FONTAINE: Joy is successful because it is a work of art. It has enjoyed huge loyalty for 80 years, and the secret is in the choice of quality raw materials. Joy is at once the simplest fragrance and the richest fragrance in the world. It has two main ingredients – rose and jasmine – but those are of the very highest quality.

What is the secret behind a long-time successful formula ?

TF: In any market, it is easy to say a formula is a work of art after it has been created, but at the beginning of the process you don’t know. When I’m creating a new fragrance, I don’t worry about what is on the market. A classic formula does not follow fashion. Some mainstream brands do a lot of consumer tests during their development process, and the result is a fragrance that is similar to those already available. It might sell a lot of units, but its life on the market will rarely exceed two or three years. In contrast, when we launch a fragrance, we’re launching a product that tells a real story, not a marketing concept.

PROFILE Thomas Fontaine is the in-house perfumer for Jean Patou. He is known for his expertise in reviving and updating historical scents as well as creating new ones. Fontaine grew up with a keen interest in the scents around him, but originally studied chemistry before decidingto become a professional perfumer. He won a place at the ISIPCA perfumery school in Versailles, France, where he studied under Jean Kerléo, who was then the perfumer at Jean Patou. 

What story does Joy tell ?

TF: Joy tells a story of pure luxury. It was created in 1930 during the Great Depression and was presented as “the world’s most expensive perfume.” Jean Patou was initially told that he couldn’t launch the perfume because it cost too much – so he gave it away as a gift.

How have you made sure the ingredients in today’s Joy are loyal to those in the 1930 original ?

TF: Joy’s two main ingredients are specific types of rose and jasmine from the city of Grasse in the south of France, where the quality of the soil gives these raw materials a unique fragrance. These ingredients are rare so we have our own fields around Grasse where the flowers are raised, and this enables us to preserve our sourcing.

How does technology help you to manage the formula of your perfumes ?

TF: We use chemistry technologies, such as gas chromatography analysis and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, to analyze and control the quality of the raw materials and the finished product. We analyze the natural ingredients to find chemicals that we may want to extract or synthesize and use in a pure form.



Our computer system helps us to check the price of raw materials for the formula or calculate the cost of the finished product. We also use it to check that the formula conforms to industry regulations and to identify any modifications we need to make, such as adjusting the natural raw materials orextracting a chemical from them to meet toxicology requirements.

Technology helps us in many ways, but only an experienced perfumer can tell whether the formula has the right balance because odor depends on people’s perceptions. The terms we use to discuss it – such as “sharp notes” or “green notes” – refer to sensations, not physical facts.

How important are elements like the color of the fragrance and its bottle and packaging ?

TF: Every aspect is important. The fragrance is the most important thing you are buying, but its name, packaging and everything around it needs to communicate with consumers. If those elements don’t reflect the product’s story, then you will never be successful on the market.

Joy is still on the market because communication has helped it to remain there. Its iconic bottle, created by Art Deco designer Louis Süe in the 1930s, is part of its story, and so is its crystal Baccarat flacon. These bottles exude a sense of luxury that is part of the dream. ◆

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