Interview with AbdesSalaam Attar on His Return to Teaching


AbdesSalaam Attar has been one of the leading lights of natural perfumery. For many years he taught other aspiring perfumers as he shared his knowledge and philosophy behind natural perfume making. Six years ago he stopped teaching and focused on making perfume for his La Via del Profumo line. A couple of weeks ago I learned he was thinking of teaching again followed up a few days ago by a press release announcing his return to the classroom. A six-day course is being offered from June 10-15, 2015 in Rimini, Italy. For anyone wanting to learn more about natural perfumery it is an opportunity to learn from one of the very best in the field. I wanted a little more detail than the press release delivered and through a series of e-mails AbdesSalaam Attar and I had a discussion about the course.

Mark Behnke: Why are you returning to teaching after a six-year break?

AbdesSalaam Attar: The number of requests that I kept receiving made me change my mind about not wanting to teach again.  I decided for a new formula that would take all the stress of the intense knowledge transfer away from me and from the students. Enough time to do everything and relax. 


Rimini, Italy (via press release)

MB: The class is being taught in Rimini during June. Is there a reason you chose that place and time?

AbdesSalaam Attar: May and June are the best months in Italy. The weather, the vegetation, the mood of the people, everything is propitious to “la dolce vita” in this period.
The location of the seminar is only 10 minutes away from my own place, it is on the top of the hills and you can see from afar the whole area of the Adriatic Coast. It is secluded from the hectic atmosphere of the summer “Riviera”.  It also has all the comforts for a peaceful retreat, including tennis, a swimming pool and bicycles.  The place is ideal for our program which is to work with tranquility and serenity.

MB: You say it is a crucial issue for a perfumer to be able to understand and evaluate raw materials, why? How will this course explore that?

AbdesSalaam Attar: Natural essences are widely adulterated, suppliers battle with each other on the price by lowering the quality. Essential oils, unlike single molecule ingredients are to be explored and understood like wines.
Also for a diamond dealer, being able to evaluate the raw stones is of crucial importance in his trade.
The quality and beauty of natural perfumes depends directly on the quality and beauty of their ingredients. 

MB: Can you give me an example of one of these ingredients and explain a little further?

AbdesSalaam Attar: There is no natural essence immune from adulteration, because the cheapest of them is still more expensive that it’s chemical surrogate, and exists in a much more limited quantity.

Bergamot, for example, grows only in a small patch of territory of Calabria. The production is very limited, and every year it is more so; because growers of the fruits make no living with their harvest, since a single person in nearby Sicily controls the market for his own interest. So every year more trees are pulled down.
Nevertheless the world is full of bergamot essence, every wholesaler and retailer has it and it goes by tons in Earl Grey teas and in other products. How is it possible?
Most of these essences are not pure or are not Bergamot at all.
Bergamot essences smell different in their various qualities, which depends on the maturity of the fruits, and accordingly on the month of production. I prefer the more mature December essence. Before that it is more green and citrusy.
Unless you know how the essences of Bergamot should smell and unless you know personally the producer, you will not get your nose near the best Bergamot essence.   

MB: What rare essences are you considering exposing the class to?

AbdesSalaam Attar: Some scents can be smelled only with me, such as an antique infusion of Kashmiri Muskdeer in Mysore Sandalwood, an infusion of Italian Saffron in Mysore Sandalwood and a tincture of Baltic amber. Among the rare ones Karo Karoundé, sustainable wild civet musk picked up from the ground, the real Mysore Sandalwood, Iris absolute, Hay, seaweed and more.
Discovering new smells is like learning new words, they add to your knowledge.

MB: Ethical sourcing is a big issue for many of the most sought after raw materials will that be a part of the course?
AbdesSalaam Attar: Certainly. In Italy we have invented the Ethical Complete List of Ingredients in Perfumes. The ECLIP list.   Ethics and philosophy must be the first things to be taught when learning any craft. Ethics and philosophy of perfumery are the foundation of my teaching. There is must be an overall ethic in sourcing, in producing and in selling perfumes.

il germano reale

Il Germano Reale-Site for the Course (via press release)

MB: What other areas will the course touch upon?

AbdesSalaam Attar: The course is all about blending perfumes. The nose is not even necessary for blending, it is at best of secondary importance.
Natural smells are a language that is imprinted in our genes, in our cultures and in our personal life experience. In order to make perfumes with a meaning you have to learn this archetypal language which is the foundation of olfactory psychology. I will teach the students its principles and how they can learn it by making perfumes for people.
Pheromones are a mysterious part of olfactory psychology, many botanical essences mimic human pheromones and have a similar effect on us.
All the knowledge of the different fields that I shall offer to the students is necessary but not sufficient for making good perfumes. I want to teach them a mental attitude. Some of them will find out they have it innately, some others will have to acquire it and I shall show them a way to do it.

MB: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions about the course. If you are interested in attending the course e-mail for further information.

Mark Behnke

3 thoughts on “Interview with AbdesSalaam Attar on His Return to Teaching

  1. How interesting that you say you received the press release "a couple of weeks ago." I actually helped to draft it with AbdesSalaam *last week.* He approached me about the matter, and asked for my thoughts on publicizing the course. I was happy to work with him on all the details.

    That was last week. In fact, *I* was the one who found the photo used in that release and shown in your column. I found and sourced it from As thanks for my help in crafting the press release, AbdesSalaam Attar kindly let me have the document first for posting on my site *BEFORE* sending it out to any others. 

    • Thanks Kafka, you are correct I only received the formal press release on Feb 4, a few days ago. I was contacted on January 30 which was in my parlance ” a couple weeks”. I have edited the sentence to more closely reflect the accurate timeline.

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