Geza Schoen

molecular perfumeur


Revolutionary and rebel of the fragrance world - not only in his native Germany, but worldwide! Ignoring market and industry constraints, Geza Schoen's radical, unconventional creations have profoundly changed the perception and composition of perfumes alike. His innovation 'Molecule 01' contains only one aroma molecule: Iso E Super.

Geza Schoen

molecular perfumeur


Geza Schön
Geza Schön | © Sandra Ludewig

What sounds like a fuel brand is a purely synthetic fragrance. It was patented in 1973 and is contained together with various other additives in many perfumes (such as Lancôme's "Trésor" and Dior's "Fahrenheit"), deodorants, soaps, shampoos. Schön, however, isolated it, which meant that the chemical components of this mono-scent can only really show what they are made of. Its olfactory characteristics: subtle-decent, velvety-soft, slightly sweet and cedar-like, extremely attractive and long-lasting. The odeur unfolds differently on each person (through the warmth of the skin), making it multi-faceted and versatile. Nevertheless, it offers a high recognition value, great radiance and underlines a person's natural fragrance signature without resembling a perfume. In high doses, the miracle product quickly caused a sensation and became the focus of attention for celebrities: Naomi Campbell, Madonna, Kate Moss are among the international clientele who order boxes of these modern-luxurious flacons with the eye-catching binary code design element, which were designed by the award-winning London agency "MeCompany".

Geza Schoen (*2 March 1969) was already enthusiastic about fragrances as a child and was able to blindly identify hundreds of them by name in his teens. After an internship, the son of an art teacher and a kindergarten teacher began training as a perfumer in January 1992 at "Haarmann & Reimer" (also known as "H & R", merged into "Symrise AG" in 2003). Schoen worked for the fragrance and aroma supplier for a total of twelve years. Then the native of Kassel quit. The reason: he was disillusioned with the increasing commercialisation of this industry and felt limited in his creativity.

Although Geza Schoen belongs to the group of around 500 perfumers worldwide, he has a special status there. Only a handful of them, like him, work as freelancers. Thus, the admirer of Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter and Jeff Wall can accept commissions as a 'Consultant Perfumer' on the one hand, but on the other hand he can also get involved in interesting art projects and realise unconventional ideas. An example of this is Schoen's cooperation with Wolfgang Georgsdorf. The Austrian director, draughtsman, painter, sculptor, musician and author created an electronic olfactory organ called 'Smeller', to which the German fragrance designer contributed 64 olfactory sequences. In 2004, Schoen worked with Sissel Tolaas, a Norwegian conceptual artist and olfactory researcher/archivist, on the occasion of the '3rd Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art'. The two translated the scents of four districts of the German capital into a perfume installation under the title "Without Borders - Nosoeawe". In 2009, his "The Beautiful Mind Series" was launched. It was created in collaboration with people who are passionate about things that anyone (!) can learn. They include Christiane Stenger, junior world champion in memory sports and the youngest 'Grandmaster Of Memory', or the Russian prima ballerina Polina Semionova ("American Ballet Theatre"). On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of actor Klaus Kinski's death, a decadent, extravagant, masculine fragrance homage to the eccentric actor known for his emotional outbursts ("Aguirre, the Wrath of God", "Nosferatu", "Woyzeck", "Fitzcarraldo") was created. This was followed in 2012 by "Paper Passion". Inspired by the magazine "Wallpaper" and the Göttingen publisher Gerhard Steidl, 'Perfume For Booklovers' smells of freshly printed books and lies as a sculptural concept in a punched-out book block (design: Karl Lagerfeld). Geza Schoen's creation in 2014 is also unique: for the exhibition of Odilon Redon's works, the well-travelled (Argentina, Asia, France, Great Britain, USA) once again composed very special fragrance samples: 'Dark' olfactorily reflects the early, dark phase of the French graphic artist and painter of Symbolism known as 'Noirs'.

Schoen works as an independent perfumer with the fragrance manufacturer "IFF - International Flavors & Fragrances" (inventor/patent holder of Iso E Super), which belongs to the top group in the industry internationally. As early as 2006, he founded the label "Escentric Molecules", whose slogan is 'Radical. Purist. Unique. Escentric Molecules celebrates the creation of perfume as an art form of chemistry'. Since then, the creations of the "fragrance designer on a molecular mission" have appeared under this name. Of the approximately 800 fragrance essences in his laboratory, he mainly uses a set of 120 to 150 again and again as a base. However, his creations are not designed for the mass market, but for people with a (olfactory) sense and a demand for something special and individual.

Geza Schoen lives and works in Berlin/Germany.

Interview April 2016

Radical renegade: from electronic olfactory organ to 'Perfume For Booklovers' and the molecular fragrance, a celebrity’s favourite

"Triggers for ideas or sources of inspiration can be very different in my line of work - for example, a natural product. In one of my perfume projects, it was a Peruvian pepper tree (Schinus Molle) that I had at home because I really like the scent. In the development phase, I went there again and again, smelled it, crushed the leaves and let myself be captured by the unique peppery-green scent. By then, the fragrance idea was already very concrete and I had a clear idea of the resulting perfume in my head.

Classic fragrance chords can also trigger creativity - by reinterpreting and modernising an established fragrance such as "Shalimar" by Guerlain - just as fashion, film or art basically do.

Another source of inspiration for me personally is travel. I love to go to a new, foreign environment and experience a different sensuality there. Places whose culture, climate, textures, people, nature or food are different from ours are full of new, exciting smells. My creation "GS01" for "biehl. parfumkunstwerke"/Berlin is the result of my collected scent memories of Asia: I backpacked through Indonesia and Thailand in the 1990s. This strangely relaxing combination of cumin (cumin), lime, chilli and the omnipresent scent of basmati rice is still totally present in my mind today.

An artist friend once said that a happy artist cannot be a good artist. I see it quite differently. The mood has to be positive. If I am burdened in any way, I cannot be creative. Who wants to smell the 'expression of sadness' in my perfumes? A painter or a composer may be allowed to express their mental state in their works - but no one wants a depressive scent.

Undisturbed, in peace and quiet, preferably alone, I create the far better fragrances. Sometimes, however, the pressure of deadlines helps to come to a conclusion with a creation, to have to decide and commit.

When there is a deadline but no inspiration, we perfumers have it good compared to other artists: when it's missing, we can fall back on the tried and tested. There is the so-called "library", the library in which all fragrance creations created at some point are archived. Most of the time, smelling the 'finished' fragrances brings back the inspiration for the new creation...

The profession of a perfumer requires a very special creative talent - if you don't have that, it's better to leave it alone. But of course, precision craftsmanship and experience help here, too.

Basically, no one can really help me with the creation of a fragrance. In the course of development, however, I like to get feedback and suggestions from people whose judgement I trust. It's quite easy to find out how to separate the wheat from the chaff in the end in a perfumery: You simply let other people, such as colleagues or customers, smell the fragrance beforehand and find out relatively quickly whether the idea is a hit. The conversations with experts like the evaluators and the professional exchange with esteemed colleagues are very valuable for my work.

I believe that there is hardly any other creative discipline that offers such good opportunities to be creative and to dare to do something. We perfumers simply know our sense of smell so much better than the "normal" person. We can all see and hear equally well, so everyone can make a judgement. We perfumers have the privilege of a particularly heightened sense of smell. That's why we can be visionary or revolutionary. My fragrance "Molecule 01" is a good example of this. In 1990, when I created it, the rule was: a perfume must be complex, i.e. composed of as many individual components as possible. Without further ado, I turned this rule on its head by using only one synthetic fragrance. I had the vision that this could be the spirit of the times. I also unintentionally supplied the practical test: A friend wore a laboratory sample of the fragrance in a bar in the evening - and was directly asked by a woman what perfume he was wearing, she had never smelled anything so wonderful before...

Ideas with substance, at least in my opinion, do not have to be recorded immediately. You don't forget a good idea. If you forget it, it simply wasn't good enough.

You can feel whether an idea has the substance to become something great. It is the mixture of intuition and experience that allows you to develop a sure feeling. When I get pregnant with an idea, it can take from zero seconds to forever until it has matured to the point where I can go about its creative realisation. Sometimes I have to sit down and start composing at the same moment the idea comes up. Sometimes, however, it can take years until the time for a creation has come.

"Everything begins with yearning". I agree with this saying by Nobel Prize winner Nelly Sachs. Creative people are driven by the longing to want to create something. The longing for something new, something different.

Being creative involves magic and pain. During the creative process there is this tension, the magic, without which I could not work and which inspires me. If I didn't want tension, I would be at the post office. Pain sets in when the result is not good enough, does not meet one's expectations and demands.

While some creatives report that they experience the creative process as if in a trance, I don't know such a state. I am always fully present, literally "in my senses". 

Optimal for creativity is the right mixture: idleness plus structure, based on experience. In this context, it is worth mentioning whether age and life experience would be preferable to the fresh creativity of youth or whether it is the other way round. Well, youth brings with it the clumsiness to just try something, to dare to use one's own creativity in a playful way. But with age, experience always makes up for the lack of unsophistication.

The fact that ideas that were initially rejected turn out to be good in retrospect is often the case in my line of work. In fragrance development, it often happens that fragrances initially discarded for a commissioning process may well be suitable and right for a completely different project at a later date.

There are fragrances that I developed on paper and never even smelled myself, but they were still successful. And others I worked on for five years, but they were still not taken. So there is no universal formula for success here, anything is possible.

For me personally, creative work is inconceivable without sincerity and authenticity. Self-doubt is too strong a word for me. I don't think artists have to go that far. But to critically question oneself again and again, I think that's important for personal development.

Creativity, at least for me, sometimes means sweat. Never tears. It is definitely fun! And its real satisfaction only comes from the combination of self-realisation, artistic recognition and commercial success. My personal drive, by the way, is the joy of creating something new.

I definitely don't agree with the statement that an overly perfect work is soulless. I like perfection! At the beginning of a fragrance creation, it naturally does not play a role, as a new type of basic chord is first developed. But later, when the fragrance is being developed further, it is very much about perfection - about the perfect coordination and dosage of the ingredients, about a perfect whole.

Routine influences creativity sometimes more, sometimes less. It varies depending on the task. On bad days you can get by with routine, on good days it is almost disturbing, because for really sensational creations you have to break out of your own routines and leave familiar paths.  Experience and professionalism can only temporarily hide a lack of creativity. But that only works until someone notices. But this is no way to stand up to yourself!

There is the well-known aphorism "Art comes from ability". In my opinion, talent is like fertile soil on which something grows - if someone sows the right seeds. If a person grows up in a creative environment, if someone guides him, if he is given the necessary freedom to try things out and the right materials, then all the prerequisites for creativity are in place.

If I hadn't grown up with my father, I probably wouldn't be a perfumer today....

Craftsmanship is very important in perfumery. When working creatively, it can and should take a back seat and be subordinated to intuition. But solid craftsmanship is essential for a successful overall creation. A composition of raw materials that I think up on paper, but which smells awful when I mix it together, makes no sense. It's like cooking: You can use the most insane, exotic ingredients and go in completely creative new directions - at the end of the day, however, it's all about the craft, so that everything fits together and a dish emerges that people like.

To remain artistically true to oneself, but to innovate without denying one's style and yet reinvent oneself - that is indeed the great art. We perfumers perform precisely this balancing act every day. Each of us has his or her very own signature. Nevertheless, we are always expected to come up with something new, something special, something unprecedented. As with many other things in life, it helps to remain open, curious and self-critical. Not to stand still, either personally or professionally. Not to rest on one's laurels, but to bring out the best in oneself again and again with each work. To remain hungry. If you are full, you don't move anything!

Being ahead of one's time, conceptually and intellectually, is worth striving for. However, the goal must always be to reach the people for whom you create a product. Perfumery is not art for art's sake. It should touch people, enrich their everyday lives, please - without merely being pleasing. That is the challenge. Incidentally, I am convinced that a good idea can always wait until its time has come.

The point at which the creative process is complete and the product can be released is decided by myself as a perfumer. Despite all the joy of intensive creative work: at some point it has to end! Finishing a creative work is almost harder than starting it!

For some, recycling something tried and tested for success may be relevant, but for me personally it is not a temptation. On the contrary, it bores me. But in commissioned work, sometimes that's exactly what's required.

In perfumery, coincidence plays no role in the broad appeal, because there are no coincidences when it comes to smelling. Fragrances usually polarise: either you like a fragrance or you don't. There is hardly any grey area in between. There are hardly any shades of grey in between. Success comes to those who are olfactorily convincing.

When you create things for people, you have to know and understand them. Trends, lifestyles, moods and zeitgeist play a big role in perfumes. The art of perfumery is not an end in itself. A sentence that the Russian composer Mussorgsky is said to have said fits this: "Art is a means for talking to people". 

How one manages to remain open to criticism despite success - I can't answer that. I remain so.

Have I already delivered mediocre work, been dissatisfied with it myself - and still been successful? Without further ado: yes!

I don't know any fear of failure or of the series of successes breaking and crashing. It would be a bad advisor for an artist because it paralyses and blocks.

My advice on how to deal with failure and whether it is a priority not to get discouraged because success may come later: By all means, hang in there! Stay relaxed! Free yourself from this typical German thinking that whoever fails is a failure. Failures are an important prerequisite for personal development.

Those who have now created the work in which everything has been said and ennobled with mega-success need not believe that the climax is immediately the end. It certainly goes on. Always.

It may be considered highly desirable to create something that is considered the ultimate. But who actually decides what an "ultimate work" is? I want to create the best with every creation. After all, the goal is never mediocrity!"

My Favorite Work:

"If you want to reduce my work to a common denominator, it is probably that of reduction. My fragrance 'Molecule 01' is to perfume as Bauhaus is to Baroque!"

Molecule 01
My favorite work: Molecule 01

You like(d) what’s offered here? Please show your appreciation by donating to one of the recommended charities.

Donate now