Secrets of a perfume wizard

NOSE FOR IT: Yves Dombrowsky in his newly opened perfume "bar",  which specialises in designing personalised scents for customers.
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NOSE FOR IT: Yves Dombrowsky in his newly opened perfume "bar", which specialises in designing personalised scents for customers.

Perfume has been around in some form since the birth of civilisation; because as long as people have stunk, we have had perfume to mask it.

Modern perfume, as we know it, was originally designed to impregnate leather gloves. The process of tanning leather was very smelly, and perfume not only masked the stink that was left over from the processing, it also made women's hands smell nice.

Fast forward a few hundred years and the perfume world is now ruled by a small fistful of main companies. Just six major multinational corporations are responsible for almost everything that we smell in our day-to-day lives.

These companies, with vast factories and thousands of staff, create scents for everything from toilet cleaners to luxury designer perfumes. Even so, there is a thriving perfume industry in New Zealand, which is powered by our growing natural cosmetic companies.

Somebody has to make these products smell good – and that's where nose, "olfactory artiste" and designer of scents Yves Dombrowsky comes in. The French-born, Auckland-based perfumer is one of very few professional perfumers working in this country.

Dombrowsky, who once created an America's Cup fragrance, makes scents for creams and cleansers by Antipodes, Trilogy and Health Basics, and the smells of washing powder and soaps by Ecostore.

Dombrowsky has created perfumes for Rodd & Gunn, Jonah Lomu, Stitch Ministry and Native for Men; and is also working with Trelise Cooper to create a new perfume for her range. He even creates smells to make people shop.

As the in-house perfumer for Ecomist, Dombrowsky creates subtle perfumes for shops such as Nike and Supre that make people feel at ease and want to visit the store again.

Dombrowsky's perfume bar houses 179 families of perfume, each with three variations of top, middle and base notes.

"Every perfume is numbered, and has a matching system to go with it," he explains.

"With this we have thousands of different formulas for creating a scent."

He also works with a laboratory in France to do his organic chemistry and mix formulas that require absolute precision.



Trelise Cooper's signature perfume was two years in the making.

She was after a perfume that captured not only her personality, but that of her brand.

The formula went back and forth many times between Dombrowsky, his lab in France and Cooper before it was finished.

"I knew exactly what I wanted to create," she says.

"I wanted to have a distinction about it, a fragrance that was unusual.

"So many perfumes these days all seem to mould into one and smell the same. They lack emotion.

"For me, fragrances are about feelings, emotions and your heart."

With top notes of lychee, red apple, grapefruit, peach, light raspberry, rose petals; the perfume has a lightness to it that is uplifting and positive.

The perfume contains both bergamot (the scent in Earl Grey tea) and orris root (a flavour in Bombay Sapphire gin), inspired by two of Cooper's favourite drinks.

The middle notes are floral, with geranium, iris, jasmine, star anise, lily of the valley and cassis; and the base notes deep and musky.


Native for Men was launched last year by designer James Ehau.

The Native brand, which also produces clothing, is based on the concept of identity, and Ehau wanted to create a high-end perfume that represented that idea.

"I came to Yves with this idea about exploring identity – our identity as New Zealanders, and the different aspects that make us who we are," he says.

"We ended up creating three different perfumes that illustrated three different parts of New Zealand culture, the Maori people, the Polynesian influence and the European and Asian migration to our shores."

Each fragrance contains specific extracts which represent the footprints of our journey.

The first perfume, One Dream, represents the Polynesian explorers travelling from Hawaiki.

This is a fresh, summer fragrance with strong tropical notes of frangipani and a freshness of ecklonia radiata seaweed.

One Desire is inspired by the story of the Maori arrival to bush-covered Aotearoa.

Unusually, this perfume contains the extracts of native kowhai and tatara.

Made to mimic the mood of our native bush, this is a strong and masculine scent, with green forest and earthy undertones.

The marine-based One Destiny is a fresh, modern scent, designed to illustrate our newfound identity as New Zealanders.

This perfume combines the fresh sea and seaweed scents of travellers arriving by boat, fruit and floral notes of feijoa, citrus and pohutakawa, and a base note reminiscent of fresh earth.

The Dominion Post