What does autumn smell like? What about tweed or cashmere? What fragrance evokes a “daybreak rave”? Or the color purple? Does pride have a scent? Does gay pride?
Taylor Perlis, Cosmetics and Fragrance Marketing ’18, puzzles over these kinds of questions. As a fragrance evaluator for Newell Brands, she works with perfumers to bring her ideas for new scents into the world.
“Candles are my life,” she says. “I burn them all year long for different moods.”
This year alone she has introduced a Pride fragrance for Yankee Candle (fruity with a musky vanilla base), launched a Gen Z–targeted candle brand called Friday Collective (including the citrusy “Sunset Disco” and the sagey “Star Lust”), and generated a slew of other scents for Newell’s more sophisticated line, WoodWick.
“I launch probably over 100 fragrances a year,” Perlis says, with breezy nonchalance, as if churning out new smells were as easy as breathing.
She finds inspiration everywhere—on a hike near her home in South Deerfield, Massachusetts, breathing the crisp air; or at a farmers market, noshing on a doughnut. “That’s the fun part about my job,” she says. “There are so many different types of people out there looking for different types of fragrances. So I really try to create something for everybody.”
Perlis initially went to nursing school, but a retail job at Bath & Body Works changed her plan. She recalls standing on the sales floor thinking: “There’s gotta be people who design these fragrances, people who design the displays and the marketing—that’d be such a cool job.”
When she gets an idea for a scent—whether something specific like “sakura blossom festival” or a vague feeling like “pride”—she sends a brief to the perfume houses that work with Newell. These memos include logistics like price, type of wax blend, the project (whether WoodWick’s new fall line or Yankee’s “scent of the year”), as well as inspirations and market research data. Then, after some back and forth with the perfumers, she gets a sample that she then tests in Newell’s state-of-the-art R&D facility.
“We have these fragrance booths, all glass, and we can play with the airflow inside to mimic different environments,” she says. “So we’ll put candles and room sprays and wax melts in the big booths, and depending on what airflow we choose, we can mimic a living room or a kitchen to see how our products will work once they get into the house.”
Even after the perfumers have concocted the perfect candle fragrance, they need to create a separate formula for the corresponding room spray or car plug-in. “When I first started working here, I thought we could just dump the candle formulation into any form, but that doesn’t work,” she admits. “It’s not easy.”
Yet Perlis says all the testing, the failing, and the tweaking is worth it when she receives the flint jar with the finished candle inside. “Seeing this fragrance come to life is the most magical moment.”