Ditch the coffee beans – why the popular perfume sales meme is wrong

Coffee beansOne of the most persistent myths in fragrance sales is the ‘coffee bean’ one – you’ll have seen pots of coffee beans on perfume counters to ‘cleanse your palate’ between trying out different scents. Turns out, sniffing coffee is just ‘another smell’. You’re better off popping out for a bit of fresh air, or sniffing your own, unscented sleeve (or skin).

There was even a study to check whether sniffing a) coffee beans, b) lemon, or c) air improved odour identification afterwards:

Fragrance sellers often provide coffee beans to their customers as a “nasal palate cleanser,” to reduce the effects of olfactory adaptation and habituation. To test this idea, college students smelled three fragrances multiple times, rating odors each time. After completing nine trials, participants sniffed coffee beans, lemon slices, or plain air. Participants then indicated which of four presented fragrances had not been previously smelled. Coffee beans did not yield better performance than lemon slices or air.

Avery Gilbert wrote about the coffee bean meme in his book, What the Nose Knows:

…the two founders of DigiScents, Inc. Joel and Dexster had come up with a small unit that could release innumerable combinations of scent when activated by a digital signal from a personal computer. Stanford graduates, with degrees in bioscience and engineering, respectively, they had previously started a successfull genomics company. Neither of them knew beans about smell. That’s why I had been hired a few months earlier – to bring a working knowledge of sensory science and the fragrance industry to the new venture. I thought their coffee stunt was silly. I’d seen beans at a trade show, but had never heard of a perfumer using them. Still, Joel and Dexster had an unnerring sense of publicity – a useful talent for founders of a Silicon Valley startup. So I sat back and watched with inward eye-rolling as the meme of a “reset button for your nose” was launched into digital culture.

The bean meme is now a fixture in perfume retailing. I toured the Mall at Short Hills, New Jersey, recently and marveled at how thoroughly it has taken root. At the Angel counter in Nordstrom a glass cone full of coffee beans was held aloft on a brushed metal stand. In Bloomingdale’s the beans were in a cocktail glass. The Jo Malone display in Saks had them in an apothecary jar with a metal lid. It’s all good fun and marketing, but there is not a jot of science behind it.

Read more in What the Nose Knows, and Avery’s excellent blog.

Have you ever noticed how you don’t smell what your home smells of until you come back from holiday? Have you ever wondered how people can work in smelly jobs – hauling refuse; at a fishmonger; in a fragrance factory…? Our brains are wired to mainly detect differences in our environment. So when you smell a particular smell for long enough, our brains decide that it’s safe and can now be ignored. In that sense, the idea of sniffing something other than perfume is actually not a bad punt for ‘cleansing the palate’ between trying out perfumes.

If you want to smell more than a couple of scents in one go, you could try to alternate between the types of scent you’re smelling to avoid encountering similar notes. So switch between citrus scents and oriental scents, or fougeres and fruity florals.

Drinking a glass of water and going for a bit of fresh air are probably your best bet.

Perfumers use ‘nose-blindness’ as a technique to decipher the structure of a fragrance they are trying to analyse. This can be done in a number of ways – one of which is taking a material you know to be in the scent, smelling it until you go ‘nose blind’ and sniffing the fragrance immediately afterwards – that note will appear ‘deleted’ from the scent. Another way is to sniff scents during different points in their evaporation curve.

When shopping for scent, go in with enough time to dip in and out of sniffing, and don’t let yourself be pressured into making an instant decision.

(Photo via MorgueFile).

Wondaroma – a new podcast about the world of fragrance

Kermit and Jim HensonChristine Daley from Perfumer Supply House has created a new podcast all about the fragrance and flavour industry. She plans to interview a variety of people – perfumers, indie perfumers, flavourists and fragrance experts.

She asked me some questions over Skype a few weeks ago, and we ended up talking about how I came to be a perfumer, about the creation of HQ fragrance for Lush, and about IFRA and fragrance allergies. I also talked about my minor Jim Henson’s Creature Workshop obsession (back in the London College of Fashion days). Actually, I just generally wanted to work in special effects but only got as far as A & B blood, squibs and latex creations until I realised that the guys who had been baking horror masks in the oven since they were twelve were wayyy ahead, and I didn’t quite cut it.

Listen to Episode 2 of Wondaroma here!

 

Horse’s Neck Candle Review – Illumens Candles

Horses neck candle review There’s a thing about living in a small country village; at first the surrounding fields are idyllic, but at certain times of the year one finds them a little pungent. I’ve been living in the middle of prime Northamptonshire countryside for the last six months, and some mornings it’s better not to open the window. Manure is good for the crops, but doesn’t go with one’s morning porridge.

(Okay, I’ll admit, I’m putting on airs and graces for comedy value. In actual fact, I spent all my childhood summers on the Finnish countryside, and much of that time at a farmhouse near our summer cottage, making hay, mucking out stables, learning how to milk a cow, and collecting eggs from what would now be called ‘free range’ chickens. Country smells don’t bother me in the least, and, in fact, I’ve recently developed quite an interest in animalic fragrance materials, much to the horror of my colleagues who find my reaction to sniffing ‘barnyard smells’, as they call them, a source of endless mirth).

When Illumens Candles sent me this intriguingly-named candle to review, I was very curious. Would it smell of a stable, manure and all? Would it smell of skin rather than leather?

I was partly right – my first impression was not so much of a horse’s neck as a ‘stable with leather saddles and tar on the walls’. The cade (tar; leather) note is quite strong (perhaps even a tad overpowering), so I would suggest this is a good one to burn in a large room.

The leather and tar hide many softer aspects of the scent which unfold as you burn the candle.

Stable with saddlesFirst impressions…

Tar on the wallsOur horse grazed free that day, and found its way to a nice, mucky patch to roll around in…

Horse rolling aroundThen he romped through a hedge and the farmhouse herb garden…

Horse close-up…and the scent we’re left with is a tarry, leathery, warm, barnyard-y concoction with hints of tarragon.

I absolutely adore it. I know many other people who would.

It would make a great present for equestrian friends; a corporate gift from eventing companies, and create an interesting ambience in, say, a large barn which had been converted to selling equestrian equipment and clothing.

The hardest thing about unusual room fragrances is that even if we like a slightly off-the-wall scent, thinking of situations in which we’d want our home to smell like that can be a little bit tricky. I know just the setting for this. Once we’ve moved to our bigger place at the end of the month, we will have a study/library – this scent belongs there.

My only complaint comes from the Inner Pedant (I tried to shut her up for this review, but couldn’t).

Correcting the apostropheCorrected apostropheCorrected apostropheThe lack of an apostrophe in Horse’s Neck was causing me distress, so I fixed it.

Horse’s Neck is part of Illumens Candles ‘Times and Places’ collection which includes other intriguing scents such as Gentleman’s Shed and Poodle Coiffure. I could totally see these at a quirky perfumery, or a design-led interiors shop.

Horse’s Neck costs £20 and is available directly from the Illumens shop.

 

Horse’s Neck product shot via Illumens. Product shots on table; blogger’s own. Other photos via MorgueFile.

Breaking News: Paperback to launch in the UK – review

Paperback from Library of Fragrance or DemeterDo you like the dramatic headline? I couldn’t resist. The Library of Fragrance is, of course, Demeter Fragrance Library by another name, and they have recently launched a capsule re-branded range at Boots. Thomas from the Candy Perfume Boy already covered the launch, but what I’ve discovered is that Paperback, a scent which ought to be right up my street (or should that be nose?) is about to be launched in the UK, too. In a couple of months, apparently.

House of Blend (representatives of this brand in the UK) were kind enough to send me a bottle to try, and I have been wearing it in an accidentally harmonious setting; while packing my books (we are about to move house). Between my husband and I, we have well over 2000 books, most of which are stored away at the mother-in-law’s garage. We will fetch them after we move. There are textbooks, comic books, professional journals, novels, biographies, reference books, popular science books, classics, crime novels, science fiction novels, fantasy novels… or, to put it more succinctly, we are literary omnivores, and I am always studying or researching something. I’ve now started purchasing most new popular science, nonfiction and business books as e-books. As convenient as an e-reader is (I love being able to take several books with me on trips; to read in bed when the other person has turned the lights off; to never get that ‘oh, I have to spend two hours at an airport with nothing to do’-feeling)…I still have a bit of a fetish about books as objects. The feel, the weight, the ability to admire your collection in full view; the sense of making progress as you turn the pages – and the smell.

I’ve been sniffing books all my life. Not just books – magazines, newspapers, glossy magazines, brochures… and I’m not alone. For many people, sniffing books is part of the reading experience.

So, what does Paperback smell like? The first impression is of vanilla and amber. A milky, woody aspect presents itself soon after. The scent could easily be marketed as vanilla something-or-other, but what’s clever about it, is that as paper decays, it produces a vanilla scent (vanillin can be produced from many sources, one of which is lignin). Paperback is that yellowed page inside a Jane Austen novel you found at a forgotten second hand book shop. You’ve buried your face right in it; and get a nose full of the sweet, slightly woody, slightly cardboard-y decay.

Paperback never slips into gourmand territory for me, and this is a good thing in its context. However, it is lacking the dust, the ink; the glue from the spine – and the vanilla note is perhaps a tad too strong.

This is a really easy fragrance to wear, and it has managed to create a pleasant book-ish association, enough to hold my suspension of disbelief that this is a ‘book smell’. It’s very straight-forward, functional, even, but also fun. That’s all it’s aiming to do, and there is no pretentious marketing or painful price point. The Library of Fragrance also encourages layering, and since each 30ml bottle is only £15, it’s actually a viable concept for everyone.

The Library of Fragrance is a whimsical, carefree range, encouraging people to play with smells, and is delightfully free of snobbery. The scents certainly aren’t the perfume equivalent of fine art (more like panels in a comic book), but people don’t always want to wear demanding Grand Perfumes (in fact, the whole success of monetising celebrities and brands to produce easy-to-wear mass-market scents is at least partly based on this, but what the Library of Fragrance lacks is any particular brand or celebrity status – again, not actually a bad thing for a change).

Just as I like reading comic books from my childhood one day and a dense classic novel the next – I am happy to wear a playful, inexpensive scent one day, and a complex classic the next. I’ll wear Paperback as a nonchalant scent, and will most likely purchase many others from the range. These would also make fantastic first perfumes for tweens; and I am sure some of the sweeter concoctions like Cotton Candy and Marshmallow will go down extremely well with that age group. Although the core collection is available at Boots, there are several more scents available online.

According to Basenotes:

The Demeter Fragrance Library was set up in 1993 by Christopher Brosius and Christopher Gable. The pair created true-to-life scents, which evoked the scent of its title. For example, Dirt smelt like dirt, and Gin and Tonic smelt like a gin and tonic. Demeter was sold to Freedom Marketing Group in 2002.

And, according to the Library of Fragrance UK website:

Scents are now created by Demeter’s CEO, Mark Crames, who has been running fragrance companies since 1986. His creations include the top-selling Baby Powder, Pure Soap and Clean Skin and he continues to travel the world looking for inspiration for great, new Demeter experiences.

They have a Pinterest page with many more product shots, and some behind-the-scenes photos, too.

Mark Crames of Demeter Library of Fragrance

Mark Crames of Demeter Library of Fragrance.

Perfume filling machine Demeter Library of Fragrance

Perfume filling machine at Demeter Library of Fragrance.

Paperback might become my favourite on days when I’m carrying the e-reader instead of books. It could make a witty present to buy with one.

BSP One Day Symposium 2014

I was at the 32nd BSP One Day Symposium last week, and it was a day packed with interesting materials and interesting conversations. When perfume raw material manufacturers show off their latest creations, it’s not too unlike a fashion show. The models (example products) are fitted out with the new outfits (new materials), and the audience (perfumers, buyers, evaluators, competitors…) gathers to admire, and learn more. And, like with haute couture, not everyone is in the position to buy the new creations straight away, and must wait until they filter down to the High Street (run out of patent and are made in bulk by others). The metaphor is somewhat wobbly, but it’s the best way I can explain the frustration of being shown a wonderful new material by a big company, only to know that the minimum pack size is 25kg (or 180kg!), and that our use of it would probably not justify such a purchase. Alas! All is not lost, because many of the presentations were also of materials entirely within reach. I orderd a few samples for our lab, and look forward to trying them out in development formulas.

What tends to happen, particularly with potent aroma chemicals (not usually with naturals), is that the perfume ingredient manufacturers create “demo formulas” – fragrance formulas representative of the scents one would find in the product category intended for the raw material. The demo formulas are then embellished with the new material(s), sometimes at different dosages, to show what effect the material has on the fragrance. There is a ‘blank’ demo formula, with none of the (new) material in it, and one or more examples which contain the (new) material(s). We were shown examples of fabric conditioners, shampoos, soaps and lotions with both Symrise and PFW.

Both presentations were engaging, and Symrise always goes out of their way to represent their ‘haute couture’ in a highly polished way (I may be able to show you their videos at a later date if I get hold of them, so more on that to follow). PFW, on the other hand, played a trick on us, and it was such a clever way of showing off a material that I won’t say more about it, should they wish to repeat the performance elsewhere (so no spoilers). PFW was also celebrating its 100th anniversary and we all had some cake during the coffee break. PFW’s own mascot, Pierre the Perfumer was there, too, of course (unfortunately I did not get a photo).

Natural raw materials tend to be shown au naturelle (pardon the pun), though the people from Axxence had set their natural aromas in coloured gel suspension, which was a safe and pleasant way to show them off. Their natural methyl anthranilate and natural indole were my particular favourites; so smooth. As an aside, sniffing and admiring the indole led to a conversation around our table, of how at one point or another, we’d all stopped thinking of indole as a ‘bad’ smell. Once you’ve been working with it for a while, your brain constructs the flower around it when you smell it in isolation. Whether you’ve been working with orange blossom, jasmine or any white flower accords, indole will have become a close ally. The synthetic version has more of a harsh mothball nuance, whereas the natural (which I smelled for the first time at this event) was much softer. I suppose it’s a fun marketing tactic to tell a sort of horror story of “ooh, aah, guess what, the jasmine you love so much contains a chemical that is also found in faeces” and watch the audience cringe; I’ll admit to having done that, too. Nevertheless, it’s nowhere near the worst material in the perfumer’s palette (never mind what the flavourists have to work with – some of the flavour raw materials are absolutely horrific; various meat, fish and cheese flavours are made up using indescribably obnoxious chemicals).

We also saw some beautiful naturals from Floral Concept, and Omega Ingredients. I was charmed by the rather animalic orange blossom absolute from Floral Concept (and I’ll admit, I seem to have developed a thing for animalic notes), and the cascarilla bark from Omega was so fascinating, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it ever since.

Penny Williams from Orchadia/The International Perfume Acedemy was also there. I am currently 1/3 of the way through her IFRA course. She provides a unique blend of consultancy and set training courses, some of which can be done via distance-study.

I didn’t stay for the dinner, but perhaps next year I ought to; it always feels like there is not enough time to finish all the conversations which start in-between presentations. The next big event in the fragrance industry calendar is IFEAT, Rome (and a lucky colleague is attending that one!).

The BSP will be at House of Fraser’s AW 2014 Beauty Confidential event

house of fraser beauty confidential AW2014House of Fraser is running its bi-annual beauty extravaganza, Beauty Confidential, again this September, and this year, the British Society of Perfumers is also involved. I will be at House of Fraser, Oxford Street, on Tuesday the 23rd of September for the evening (5pm to 9pm), to help out. Virginie Daniau of Parfum Parfait (a consultant to the fragrance industry), and John Bailey (perfumer, an ex-president of the BSP, and its current – and first – Ambassador) will also be there on the 23rd.

The other BSP evenings are:

Friday 12th of September (with guests Matthew Williams of IFF, Helen Hill from Azelis, and Karen Gilbert, a natural beauty and fragrance expert).

Thursday 18th (with guests Helen Hill of Azelis, Peter Whipps, current president of the BSP, and Virginie Daniau, of Parfum Parfait).

We will be talking about BSP’s book, British Perfumery, a Fragrant History, and there will be presentations about a new fragrance brand, Jamal, and lots of interesting fragrance ingredients to sniff (natural materials such as orris, orange flower, sandalwood and patchouli, and many popular aromachemicals such as cyclemax, a lily-of-the-valley material, delta damascone, a popular ingredient in fabric conditioners, and many more).

Special offer

British perfumery a fragrant history

During the event, copies of the BSP book are also on sale, and can be purchased for half the usual retail price of £45, for only £22.50, with a £60 spend on any fragrance on the night.

I hope to see you there, and I’ll quite probably do a bit of sneaky make-up shopping before the presentations (great opportunity…).