About 10 years ago, Ann Gottlieb tried to insure her nose. But after approaching insurance firms in the U.S. and in London, she learned her sense of smell was uninsurable. "Ultimately I couldn't get insurance because there's no objective way of measuring that I can't smell," she said.
Ms. Gottlieb, 67, is the professional "nose" behind fine fragrances like Calvin Klein's Obsession, CK One and Christian Dior's J'adore, acting as an intermediary between the designers and the fragrance houses that concoct the scents. Ms. Gottlieb, who started her firm in 1983, also helps craft fragrances for personal care products like lotions at Bath & Body Works and Axe body spray.
"I can smell 100 things in a row and still be confident that I can smell accurately," she said.
Digging into a fine-fragrance project typically begins with getting to know the sensibility of the designer or celebrity involved. To prepare for her first collaboration with Marc Jacobs's 2007 Daisy fragrance, Ms. Gottlieb visited the designer's stores to touch the clothes, soak in their colors and scrutinize their shapes.
Packaging colors are almost always chosen first. In the case of Lola, which launched in 2009, Mr. Jacobs determined that the packaging would include red and purple flowers.
"People smell with their brains and eyes before they smell with their nose," said Ms. Gottlieb, who felt that the deep purple and red combination called for a warm, floral scent. The scent could have a hint of rose, but not too much lest it smell too old. Sandalwood, vanilla and amber added warmth to the floral notes.
Once the colors are chosen, Ms. Gottlieb writes a "brief," the short paragraph given to perfumers that describes what notes and mood the fragrance should embody. In the case of Lola, Ms. Gottlieb envisioned a floral scent with a hint of lightheartedness and "sparkle," she said. "Sparkle usually comes with various fruity notes, but Marc doesn't like fruity notes, so it all had to be done in a way that accomplishes the goal without disappointing him."