Perfumer Profile: Shyamala Maisondieu
Givaudan perfumer Shyamala Maisondieu is a rare talent that can compose fragrances that appeal to a diverse global audience, each telling a story through carefully selected ingredients.
“When I was little I wanted to be an astronomer because I was always looking at the stars,” she says in a Youtube video by Sarah Colton. “But in Malaysia there were no astronomers. That led me to chemical engineering. And that led me to perfumery which was a real balance between science and art.”
“I knew ever since I was very little I wanted to create. And working in an environment with highly creative people is very motivating. I know I’m very lucky.”
Upon graduating high school in Malaysia, she moved to London to pursue her studies in chemical engineering, knowledge that would be invaluable in her future career. But it was in Hong Kong where she discovered a rare talent for blending fragrances. She discovered a passion for perfume creation. She quickly researched perfumery schools and applied to the prestigious Givaudan Perfumery School in Grasse, a school that only accepts a handful of applicants each year. She earned a spot in the school and in a moment of fate met her future husband, fellow perfumer Antoine Maisondieu.
“I’m from Malaysia but I’m from a mixed culture. My father was Indian, my mother is Malay. Even though I grew up in Malaysia, I’ve stayed in different countries makes me curious to know about all different types of cultures – makes me perhaps more open.”
“I think travelling helps you understand people from different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds. And as perfumers creating for these people, it is important for us to understand the diversity of human beings,” she says.
Shyamala says people are more in tune with themselves these days and they need things that reflect that. “You can’t make one type of perfume for so many different people. I think we need both niche and selective fragrances.”
This approach led to work with brands such as Lanvin, Tom Ford, Coach and Etat Libre d’Orange. She helped compose Coach Dreams, Coach Floral Eau de Parfum and Lanvin Me L’Eau – all commercially successful scents around the world.
“In niche fragrances, you need it to be more direct or raw with spikes. With more mass fragrances you need it to be more round,” she adds motioning with her hands. Her goal is always to create beautiful fragrances and bring the perfume up to its very best. She’s drawn to spices, particularly tonka bean, a type of balsamic resin with a sweet vanilla facet.
“To not only be able to create, but to create for others as well as myself? It’s hard to put into words, but it satisfies one’s soul,” she told Tatler Asia. “It’s also a very competitive job; there are many preliminary stages for us to go through and more often than not, four or more perfumers will work on a perfume. And sometimes one project will take us four and a half years to produce. I remember taking on a project that took 10 years to do. It’s a lot of refining and tweaking, and not a lot of people realise that to distil there raw materials, it takes a lot of time.”
With more than 30 year’s experience and 80 fragrances to her credit, Shyamala is at the peak of her career and creativity. It is her endless curiosity that drives her passion for each new project.