Sabine de Tscharner

Women often pursue their career goals under the myth that they need to be super women. “They’ve been led to believe they can ‘cruise through everything’ and do it all without help from anyone,” says Sabine de Tscharner, perfumer at Princeton-based Firmenich, a fragrance and flavor company.

De Tscharner will speak on Thursday, October 10, at “Redefining Success,” an event sponsored by Ellevate, a community of professional women. The event runs from 6 to 8 p.m. at a Princeton-area venue to be announced. Cost: $25, $10 for members. Register online at www.ellevatenetwork.com.

A professional focused on training a new generation of skilled women in industry, de Tscharner will share her journey and lead an informal conversation about managing a career with personal life and raising children

“I enjoy helping younger women. I try not to sugar coat things,” she says. “When I started there were not as many mentors as there are today. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve learned some things along the way.

“When I did my internship at age 16, creative jobs were held by men, and I was told the job of a perfumer was not for women,” she says. She remembers telling herself, “Let’s see about that,” and decided she would prove that person wrong. Thinking about that conversation today, de Tscharner says he was probably trying to be helpful, forewarning her of obstacles she would face.

Times have changed since de Tscharner’s first internship. She belongs to the generation of women who rose in their careers as those changes were taking shape. Today, she says, there are plenty of women who are perfumers or hold other creative positions.

De Tscharner has found that you need to be realistic when deciding whether to accept extra projects at home, at work, or at your children’s school. As a mother of two daughters and four stepchildren, she says it is important to have a partner who supports you in word and in deed, who shares child rearing and household responsibilities. At work it is important for managers to be flexible at times.

Teachers and children need to understand that you can’t always go on field trips or participate in other school activities, she says. She is an advocate of “Bring Your Child To Work Day” because kids “get it” when they see that you have responsibilities and roles there.

As an established leader of the Princeton perfumery team at Firmenich, de Tscharner understands consumer trends and how fragrance preferences connect with societal changes and individual emotions.

In the 1980s, she says, fragrances were strong and opulent, reflecting the spirit of that time. In the 1990s fragrances became more simple and transparent.

Today people want natural and clean scents. They look for products that are good for them and the planet. People are attracted to lavender, mint, woods, and essential oils. They also like creamy fragrances that feel comfortable, like coconut.

Because we are living in difficult times, people want products that impart a sense of safety. In some cases, people experience an inner need to feel safe, and in other cases, people pick up on what’s in the air.

Fragrances help tell a story and contribute to the efficacy of the product. For instance, if a shampoo label claims that it is moisturizing, it should smell moisturizing to the consumer. De Tscharner sees perfumery as a creative language. A fragrance is a mixture of different types molecules and can be defined in families, like citrus, floral, or woody notes, she explains.

Perfumes are made by mixing natural and synthetic ingredients to create a pleasant smell, either by mimicking nature or creating fantasy odors. Natural ingredients are extracted from flowers, fruits, leaves, or woods. Once the plant material is collected, their scented oils are extracted through different processes, such as distillation, solvent extraction, expression (pressing citrus peels), or CO2 extraction.

Top notes of a fragrance are the ones you smell immediately and that evaporate quickly after applying. Middle or “heart” notes remain over a few hours, and bottom notes remain up to four or even six hours.

Fragrances are developed for different purposes and products, like candles, body care, or laundry detergent. Although perfumers tend to specialize in certain areas, de Tscharner develops fragrances in several categories.

In addition to doing work that she loves, de Tscharner feels fortunate to work for a company that engages in programs that align with her values. “We want to be known as an environmental leader,” she says. “We have partnerships with small farmers who are dedicated to humane practices and sustainability.”

De Tscharner traces her love for the art and science of making fragrance back to her childhood. Born in Belgium, she attended elementary school in London and middle and high school in Switzerland. As a young child she could not smell anything because of chronic sinus infections. When she was 13 she underwent corrective surgery, which cured her condition. She vividly remembers her first scent memories: her father’s rosebushes and her mother’s roasting chicken. Those early encounters created a desire to learn more about the world of fragrances.

Her father, who was a Swiss diplomat, contributed to her fascination. Her biography says it best: “Upon returning from long trips to Russia, China, India, or the Middle East, his suitcase would fall open to gifts and souvenirs from these exotic places; she got a whiff saturated with the scents of these far-flung worlds and was transported.” Inspired by these experiences, de Tscharner committed to living her life in the world of fragrance creation.

True to her resolve, de Tscharner completed her first perfumery internship when she was a teen and by 23 she had graduated as the valedictorian of her class at ISIPCA, a fragrance and cosmetics school in Versailles. After additional internships she began her career as a trainee perfumer at Firmenich in Geneva and eventually transferred to Firmenich’s Creative Centers in Princeton and Manhattan.

“Fragrances bring another layer to life,” she says. “They enhance every day’s experience.”

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