Nearly every home in Winnipeg is surely already familiar with scents from the nose of Tom Jansen who started Coal & Canary with Amanda Buhse back in 2014.
Now, having just spent a year in Grasse, France attending a perfumer training program at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery, he's back in the city hoping current customers will further their olfactory obsessions by putting his products literally on their bodies.
Denatured Perfume Lab opened in the Exchange in October 2020. The open-access perfume lab and workshop space aims to lift the veil from the perfume industry, allowing customers to mix their own custom scents and learn about perfumery.
Tom answers a few of our questions below, including how he develops scents, his intense training experience in France and the biggest perfume myth most people still believe.
Many people know you as a co-founder of Coal and Canary. How did that experience help prepare you for a career as a perfumer and in creating Denatured?
I like to consider Coal and Canary the ultimate intensive training in entrepreneurship. Growing Coal and Canary from a kitchen-based hobby to a thriving business that has worked with international players like Hudson's Bay and Sephora allowed me to learn about entrepreneurship through a lot of different lenses.
Hiring staff when you are first starting out is often not possible, so as an entrepreneur you have to wear many hats. I developed a strong foundation of knowledge and became confident in my ability to grow a business from the ground up. There are still so many moments of "faking it until you make it" and endless Google searches, but I think that's the case no matter how many businesses you have started.
[Coal and Canary] taught me patience, resiliency and how to roll with the punches. Perfumery is slow, arduous and deeply personal. You can spend months developing hundreds of trials of a fragrance to get it ready for market, only to have it be immediately dismissed by a consumer within seconds.
You were selected as one of twelve people (!) across the world to study in an intensive perfumer training degree in Grasse, France. Tell us about your training experience.
The training was incredibly intense and immersive—there is so much more to perfumery than meets the eye!
Students are selected for the school based on aptitude, experience, passion and vision, so I was honoured to be selected to study alongside such incredible and passionate people from across the world. The program started with months of in-depth study of perfumery ingredients, both natural and synthetic. There are over 2000 ingredients available to perfumers, and they must know them inside and out before they can create anything.
We also studied organic chemistry, evaluation (an in-depth look at past and current fragrances on the market), and how to formulate for different applications (bodycare, fine fragrance, home fragrance etc).
How do you go about developing scents?
I like to say that perfumery is an art that is guided by science. Every perfume must start with a creative idea and a strong inspiration. You have to be driven by the desire to create something meaningful.
I always spend a lot of time laying down the creative groundwork for a fragrance before I start to blend. This is usually a mood board with images, stories, colours, and anything that really speaks to me and the direction I want the fragrance to go. From there, I begin my ingredient selection and pick the materials that can best bring my inspiration to life and I start writing a formula.
Formulation is where science really comes into play. You have to have a strong understanding of how different materials interact and how your formula will evolve over time. Perfumers are bound by a lot of regulations, legislations, and price limitations, so we must formulate within those boundaries in order to bring a fragrance to market. Sometimes these regulations can ultimately change your creative direction, so you have to keep this in mind as you work.
Denatured is an open-access perfume lab and workshop space. What can we expect once you're able to open to the public?
The goal of Denatured is to better connect people with their sense of smell and open their eyes to the amazing world of perfumery. As consumers, we interact with so many products every day that have been created by perfumers, yet most people know nothing about the profession as the industry is kept rather secretive.
We'll be offering a variety of perfume workshops to help people interact with and get inspired by fragrance—both one-on-one sessions with me to create a custom fragrance, and larger group workshops where participants will get an in-depth look at different perfumery ingredients and professional techniques.
We will also be hosting open-studio sessions where people can book by the hour and access over 400 perfumery ingredients, getting hands-on experience in creating and blending fragrances. The whole idea is to make fragrance fun, social and accessible to everyone.
Denatured will also operate as a lifestyle boutique carrying a variety of products including fragranced goods, homewares, stationery, coffee and cocktail supplies and independent magazines.
Are there any perfume myths you’d like to dispel?
How much time do we have? There are so many myths about fragrance and I think they really come from our lack of knowledge about the perfume industry as consumers.
The most common myth is that perfume is for women and cologne is for men. The only difference between perfume and cologne is the percentage of fragrance in alcohol. Perfume (or Eau de Parfum) contains roughly 15 to 20 per cent fragrance in alcohol, whereas cologne (Eau de Cologne) contains around 3 to 5 per cent fragrance. Historically, colognes were used as a splash that would be reapplied throughout the day and contained ingredients that were fresher and lighter, like citrus and herbal notes.
Long story short, perfume is unisex and at Denatured we encourage people to wear whatever fragrance speaks to them and not what we are told we should like by the marketing departments of major brands.
Very serious question: Have you read Jitterbug Perfume and do you listen to Perfume Genius?
A definite yes to both! I guess I am so passionate about perfumery that I seek out anything related to perfume, whether it's relevant to the industry or not. As soon as I see the word perfume, I know I will be interested.
I am so excited to open to the public and I can't wait to spread some fragrance love!