An illustration interlude

Feeniks illustration by Pia Long

Hymy illustration by Pia Long

I have a whimsical hobby. I draw, paint and create photo manipulations for fun. I’m no professional artist, but have always been doodling and did originally consider some kind of art career (with hindsight, I wish I’d known about textile design when I was a teen. On the other hand, I am very glad to be working with perfumes now, and with sites like Society6 even amateurs can have a go at popping designs onto various products).

The way the templates are set up is a little bit limiting (for example using the same template for both laptop and iPad skins). My favourite template on the site is the all-over print t-shirt – I had a lot of fun designing those.

Editing t-shirt

Feeniks all over print by Pia LongEka all over t-shirt by Pia LongLento all over t-shirt by Pia LongHymy all over t-shirt by Pia LongI use Copic Ciao markers on paper and tidy any smudges from the scan in Corel Painter. That’s it for these – so the illustration quality is definitely hand-drawn and not defined and solid. I think it works for these images.

Copic markersPop over and take a look at the available products – I’ll be adding new designs from time to time (I doodle in the evenings and weekends when I want to do something creative and useful. It’s a bit like my version of knitting).

I’d really appreciate any tweets and Facebook posts to spread the word!

In futile search of the Bad Guys

EU regulations foot by Grant OsborneYou know what would be easy? If we could all join forces to fight the Dark Lord of Anti-Perfume and drown him in a special potion of oakmoss and alpha damascone.

Alas.

The reality is that the regulations squeezing the juice out of fragrances are complex, inconsistent, overlapping, hard to understand even for professionals and not black-and-white. They all stem from good intentions.

Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions. T. S. Eliot

Are fragrance regulations evil? They certainly seem to be if you’re a perfumer, struggling to reformulate a classic scent to fit IFRA or a perfume fan whose favourite fragrance has been discontinued because it could not be changed without destroying it.

It’s very easy to cast IFRA in the role of the Bad Guy, but it really is not that simple. It’s complicated and nuanced. Understanding what is really going on with the EU fragrance regulations is tough.

I’ve written a long piece for Basenotes about the topic. It came out of sheer frustration – as some Basenoters of old will remember, I’ve had a long journey from a perfume enthusiast to perfumer, much of which has been documented here and in various blogs and articles over the years. In the sorts of jobs I do now, I have to understand what is really going on behind the scenes and therefore attend training courses and symposiums and whatnot.

I went to an IFRA day a while back now (must have been 2013!), hoping I’d come out of there a little wiser. Well, I suppose I did, but I also came out of there with pages and pages of notes and more questions than I went in with. It was obvious that many of the industry representatives in the room were frustrated about all the restrictions; didn’t feel that the EU’s actions – while well-meaning – were really protecting consumers as intended and just causing lots of extra pressure… and nobody seemed to be able to present a comprehensive overview of how all these parallel regulatory requirements fit together. So I decided to have a go at gaining a better understanding.

What became obvious was that there are no “good guys” and “bad guys” and that there were lots of inconsistencies, even loopholes, and the whole thing seemed in parts to be over-protective but in others, curiously obscure. I needed to learn more for my work anyway, so read through everything I could, asked subject matter experts to help spot errors in my facts (hence the fabulous Penny – who since has offered me a job; nothing to do with this piece, just the fact we’ve had a growing friendship and mutual respect over time and I happen to have skills which she can use).

I held back from finishing the article until I’d attended lots of extra training and spoken to many people who know more than I do.

And yet, any failings (such as the sad way in which this piece seems to have come across as scaremongering or propaganda to some of the Basenotes readers – or most confusingly, as a piece advocating the use of synthetics over naturals… that’s certainly not the message)… any failings are mine alone, and it’s been an interesting education to see just how tough it is to communicate complex topics like this from an informed position. The irony is that in order to understand something like this, one has to get knowledgeable enough that to many people one can appear like an industry shill. That I am not. My desire is to understand and I certainly don’t speak for the industry.

I hope this piece will generate healthy debate and discussion. I’m not the slightest bit offended by some of the more frustrated comments on the article; it is to be expected and I understand.

What I’d love to hear is your take on the final question I pose. “So now what?”

What do you all think would be a reasonable and realistic way to protect perfumes from over-regulation while protecting the consumers? Is it a totally naive idea to reason with the giant bureaucracy monster? Who do you think would be in the best position to protect the industry’s interests AND reassure consumers that their products are safe?

 

I’m joining Penny at Orchadia

Orchadia SolutionsA small interlude if you’ll allow – I have such exciting news that I have to tell you all right now! Penny Williams has been a friend and a mentor for some years now. She is an experienced perfumer and a respected consultant. I’ve watched her business blossom (pun intended…sorry; I couldn’t help myself) over the years and I’m delighted that she has asked me to work for her at Orchadia Solutions.

Orchadia is based at Colworth Science Park – it’s a great place to work with a pristine perfume lab, office space and conference facilities set in beautiful parkland.

Colworth Science Park

Penny also runs The International Perfume Academy which provides workshops and distance education.

I’ve set up a team Twitter account for us (which will be shepherded by Penny, Richie and myself) – would you do me a favour and add @OrchadiaS on Twitter to help us get started? Since we’re all obsessed by the science of smell and perfumery there will be a steady stream of geekery and behind-the-scenes stuff.

In other, related news, I was surprised and honoured to be invited by Kate Williams, current BSP president, to join the council at the British Society of Perfumers. I’ve got my tea making skills ready. @BSP50 is also on Twitter so while you’re following perfumery-related things…

So it’s been a bit of a crazy month! I don’t think any of this has sunk in yet.

Armpit sweat and Fragrancestein (or the 33rd BSP annual symposium)

BSP symposium PFW brains

Move over, scent strips! The new way to experience potent aroma chemicals in their pure state is…BRAIIIIIIINS!

The 33rd One Day Symposium by the British Society of Perfumers was unusually stinky this year: armpit sweat and skatole overdoses, oh my! It’s an important date in the UK perfume calendar and this year’s event was once again held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester, to a full audience of perfumers, evaluators, sales and marketing people. I was lucky to be put in the same group as Karen Gilbert with whom we had only just sniffed some gorgeous Osmotheque recreations, so the day offered us plenty of opportunities to compare notes.

The first item on the agenda was a talk by a bright, young PhD candidate Caroline Allen, who, with the help of Kate Williams (who was elected as the new BSP president during the AGM that followed), has been researching the effect of artificial fragrances on our ability to advertise and judge body odour. A few years ago another talk at the BSP explained the human major histocompatibility complex and its role in mate selection, so Caroline’s research is a perfect follow-up. Since it’s been shown that we prefer the scent of potential mates with an MHC type that is different to our own, how does using, say, underarm deodorant affect this?

What seems to be happening is that when people are left to choose their own fragrance, they pick a scent which enhances (advertises) their natural body odour in a good way, meaning that potential mates will not be thrown off scent. If a scent is randomly allocated (you wear something your gran bought you for Christmas even though you don’t like it, for instance), our own odour fingerprint still comes through, but not as well.

Caroline roped us into helping her by making us smell cotton pads soaked in armpit sweat. By recording our impressions using descriptive words (musky, sweet, floral… or in the case of one of the samples, onion, cumin…), we were able to contribute to the odour mapping work that Kate and her team have been doing at Seven Scent.

BSP symposium Caroline AllenIncidentally, sample 32 (I think) smelled of sweet musk and fruit to me, and I felt very happy sniffing it – whereas others who sniffed it didn’t have the same reaction. Everyone’s impressions of each sample varied greatly, which in itself was fascinating.

These days follow a similar format – fragrance raw material suppliers present a selection of new materials or existing materials used in new ways. Presentations include demonstration formulae in various bases (candles, body creams, shampoos, detergents, fine fragrance and so on) and some go to great lengths to be creative with the way in which they show their materials off.

None more so than PFW who always seem to come up with an off-the-wall presentation. This year, their mascot Master Perfumer, Pierre the Perfumer was the star of a truly frightening film-slash-demo formula, FRAGRANCESTEIN.

BSP symposium PFW Fragrancestein
Keen-eyed readers will note the massive skatole overdose, and keen-nosed ones will know that it truly smells of excrement. Where indole has a mothball quality and flip-flops between poop and mothballs (and where with indole, once you’ve worked on enough floral accords containing it, your brain starts to construct a flower around it, so it no longer smells bad after a while)… with skatole, I am yet to arrive at such a happy state (and wonder if it’ll ever happen). It really does smell bad. So the challenge was – how to hide the ‘monster’ and create an accord that would not only be acceptable but pleasant and desirable to consumers.

Bit by bit, we followed Pierre on the silver screen as he tried to tame the monster. Body parts were replaced, the formula tweaked, and we could smell the transformation. Perhaps a little too influenced by the initial horror, many in the room did struggle to find the final accord pleasant, but that’s where being a trained nose can sometimes trip you up; if you smell the construction rather than the naive overall effect, you can sometimes miss an interesting piece of work.

BSP symposium PFW footBSP day PFW heartBSP symposium PFW hulk hand

BSP symposium PFW the man with two brains

I’d like to put in a request to PFW: could we see Pierre the Perfumer in “The Man With Two Brains”, please?

I missed out on a PFW goodiebag (what was in there? Dare I ask?) because there wasn’t one on my chair, but did come home with lots of goodies. BSP has its own tote bag now, too!

BSP symposium BSP tote
It wasn’t the only tote of the day; DRT, a company producing impressive volumes of a variety of chemicals all from trees gave us this lovely forest-themed tote:BSP symposium DRT toteBSP symposium DRT goodiesTwo materials which really stuck in my mind from the Nactis/Synarome presentation were Oudharome and Agarome (the former having a lovely orris-type character more so than oudh, really); both made me want to rush into the lab and use them in something.

BSP symposium goodiesIFF‘s presentation of Amber Xtreme was another highlight of the day for me – they’d gone to real effort to make the session interactive and demonstrate the material in use. We experienced a floor cleaning application, laundry care, hair care and fine fragrance – all at different concentrations; all very effective. I was a ‘volunteer’ (read: everyone else suddenly found the ceiling really interesting). My job was to cover a large floor tile with suds.

BSP symposium IFF volunteer

BSP symposium IFF buckets

At least it didn’t turn out to be an ice bucket challenge!

BSP symposium IFF laundryBSP symposium IFF hairThis material is POTENT. I see where the Xtreme comes in, really – a trace in fine fragrance still somewhat dominated the blend, and very small amounts had noticeable effects in other applications. I also love the jaunty whale illustration. It almost has a Japanese quality to it. “Here I am, sending my magic poop into the ocean!”

BSP symposium IFF hairWe were also given generous goodiebags with a new perfumer’s fragrance ingredients compendium, demo bottles of Amber Xtreme and a pen.

BSP symposium IFF goodiesBSP symposium IFF compendium

The day went by fast and I am already looking forward to next year’s symposium. There will be other BSP events before then, of course, and it’s worth keeping an eye out for additions to the calendar – even if you are not a member but happen to be interested in this crazy, poop and sweat-scented world!

The Osmotheque comes to London

Osmotheque in LondonWhen an email with the above header popped into my inbox, I booked a ticket immediately. How could I not? Somehow I’d missed several opportunities to visit the Osmotheque – I wasn’t about to miss this one!

The event was held in Brasserie Zedel for 50 lucky guests, including a bit of a familiar cast of UK perfume-lovers whose company made the day all the more wonderful. We started off with a glass of sparkling wine, sandwiches and little cakes. For some reason the table I was sitting at was immediately branded “the naughty corner” by Odette and Jo. I’m sure we proved them wrong by our impeccable behaviour throughout. The whole day whooshed past – it was absolutely worth every penny – and my only regret is not having taken a proper camera. Of course the most important souvenir from yesterday is the pile of carefully wrapped up scent strips, doused in antique perfumes which we were allowed to keep. I’ll take them out and sniff them on special occasions.

Perfumer and Osmocurator Stephanie Bakouche gave a thoroughly enjoyable presentation, briefly covering perfume history and then each of the houses we were to experience perfumes from. Guerlain, Bourjois, Coty and Poiret were on the cards (figuratively and literally).

My favourite scent above all from the selection was the outrageous tuberose-laden original Parfum des Champs Élysées – heady, sweet, animalic, sensual; dripping with nectar. Guerlain’s Chypre de Paris was also glorious, and not how we think of a chypre today; it smelled very much like Imperial Leather soap, actually. For some reason Coty always gets credit for ‘the first chypre’ (even though it wasn’t), and we were lucky enough to smell that, too. It took me by surprise – a banana note (amyl salicylate?) over animalic, mossy base. Not at all what I expected.

Osmotheque in London

The most educational perfume of the night for me was from the bonus round (not listed): original Eau Sauvage. Educational because as soon as I smelled it, I realised Ô de Lancôme and Eau Dynamisante owe their character to it, and that it really represents a trend in its own right.

La Jardin de Mon Curé was a big, animalic rose, the Muguet was not at all like the way we think of lily-of-the-valley accords nowadays (I got a strong citral note, indole, vanillin, and we thought hydroxycitronellal, too), Cuir de Russie recalled Finnish tervapastilli (birch tar sweets), Soir de  Paris was a powdery, animalic clove, Kobako had a glorious, dry, almost 70s feel, Jasmin de Corse was very indolic, yet balanced, L’Aimant was floral carnation and not as powdery as the modern version, Le Muguet des Bois was beautifully described by Karen Gilbert as “the end of an orange lolly when you get to the stick” and I immediately got what she meant (whereas the others at our table didn’t – Karen and I must have been eating the same orange lollies!). It was more recognisable as ‘lily of the valley’ than the earlier Guerlain Muguet, too. From Poiret, the scents seemed to divide opinion – I was fascinated by Le Fruit Défendu, which made me think of marzipan fruits and I couldn’t get that impression out of my head after the thought popped in there.

Before the official talk, our table also had a little sneak peek preview of a special scent created by 4160Tuesdays for Louise Woollam (whose parosmia has made scent appreciation a difficult task. Violets were among the few acceptable fragrance notes at the time, so a violet perfume was born. It’s a gorgeous blend of ionones and violet leaf which will be launched soon, I hear).

Odette Toilette and The Perfume Society are running this event again on the 27th of June – book as soon as you can because it’s likely to sell out fast.

 

Revamped Fortnum and Mason perfumery – review

New perfumery at Fortnum & Mason
I’ve spent years in various perfumeries and cosmetic halls; working in them, training people who work in them and shopping in them. The re-vamped cosmetic department at Fortnum & Mason is a uniquely serene and beautiful shopping environment which I urge you to visit for yourself.

The styling is more like that of a luxury hotel lounge, and that’s a compliment as well as the only criticism – it feels like the decor and placing of products has been done to make it a luxurious and attractive setting without enough thought to practicality. There are no scent strips near fragrance testers; stock from the same company can appear in more than once place, it’s not clear whether some ranges have been split into femine and masculine or that’s ‘it’ – and the placing of products is needlessly sparse (I spotted a Guerlain I am running low on but it was the only bottle on the shelf and I did the typical “nobody buys the last bottle” thing that consumers do).

Now, on to the positives. If you have the money to spend on luxury cosmetics and perfumes but do not want to fight for room with a thousand other people pushing past you; if you are desperate for some good advice about make-up and skin care and would like amazing customer service (more like personal shopping), go to the Fortnum’s perfumery. They had me spending money, too, even though I am usually extremely picky about what I buy.

They also stock one of my favourite make-up brands of all time, Cosmetics a la Carte (it became a favourite when they cleverly partnered with London College of Fashion in the 90s and supplied products for the student kits).

I do hope this perfumery thrives (just enough so they can maintain that level of customer service) and that they will carry on buying in great indie perfumes, luxury brands and professional quality cosmetics. The skincare side could do with a little bit of expanding, but I suppose they will need to see what their customers are going for. Many gorgeous luxury toiletries and accessories are also on offer.

The Caron urns – a favourite attraction from the old perfumery – remain, thankfully, and have been joined by some other set pieces worthy of attention. Don’t take my poor phone snapshots as representative; pop in and see for yourself.

Is it time we sniffed out the real human pheromones?

IrresistibleWould you like to spray on a potion that will make you instantly irresistible? Would you like everyone who gets a whiff of you to quiver with lust? Would you like to have an unfair advantage on the pull? Help is here! There are pheromone sprays which will do just that – fragrances and body sprays which will send people wild around you. Everyone knows that androstenone, androstenol, androstadienone, and estratetraenol are human pheromones and adding them to products produces very special effects.

Except, of course, all of the above is probably rubbish.

There are many products on the market which claim to contain human pheromones. More than that – there are research papers, books and scholarly articles talking about putative human pheromones as though they had been identified.

Amazingly, every one of these products, articles, books, papers and claims is based on dodgy science.

There are no real ‘putative human pheromones’, as they are currently presented. However, since we’re mammals, it’s highly likely we do have them.

Very early on in human pheromone studies, something peculiar happened to thwart the research, and we may have been chasing the wrong leads ever since.

Doctor Tristram Wyatt from Department of Zoology, University of Oxford thinks that we should start again. I recently attended his excellent talk at the Royal Society of Chemistry (a version of which you can watch on TED and was written up as a recent Proceedings of the Royal Society B paper) in which he systematically demonstrated that a) it’s likely that we do have pheromones; b) no solid evidence exists for what they might be; c) the research into this area is under-funded and based on dodgy science; d) it would be great if we could start again, as though human beings were a newly discovered species.

Why should we forget everything we think we know and start from scratch?

Because we’re animals, we give off hundreds of odours just by being. Other animals have pheromones and it’s likely that we have them, too. While we don’t have a functioning vomeronasal organ (it does develop in-utero but regresses) this is not a problem as we now know that pheromones are detected by the main olfactory system in many mammals such as sheep. However, smells play a very big role in our lives and especially in sexual selection. The mechanisms for this are still quite fuzzy and hotly contested. We simply don’t understand just how much of human sexual behaviour is influenced by smell and what the pathways and biological processes are. We know that we’re highly influenced by our experiences, emotions and context, and while there have been some studies on the so-called ‘putative human pheromones’ which seem to demonstrate pheromone-like effects, no clear evidence exists to show how they are supposed to work in humans.

It’s clear that human beings give off, and react to odours – but it’s important to realise that not all odours are pheromones, and that we don’t know much about human pheromones at this stage.

Our personal body odour fingerprint has been found to influence mate selection. We seem to prefer the smell of partners whose immune system gene expression differs from our own (with the biological benefit being that if offspring are produced, their immune systems will express genes from both partners and therefore be stronger). Immunotypes from both partners would be incorporated into the offspring. It’s also been shown that women on the oral contraceptive pill can prefer the odour of partners whose immune genes are similar to their own (and subsequently experience a loss of sexual attraction to the partner they chose whilst on the pill when they come off the pill to try to conceive!). I attended a fascinating talk by Professor Craig Roberts about this topic a few years ago and it’s very interesting to think about how our natural body odour affects our fragrance selection – we’re better off wearing scents which we are instinctively drawn to because they are most likely to be the ones which enhance our natural body odour.

According to Dr. Wyatt, “We do seem to be obsessed by body odour – billions of dollars are spent on removing it and putting it back on again.”

There are so-called ‘pheromone parties’ which should really be re-named to major histocompatability complex parties, but that wouldn’t sound nearly as sexy. Participants wear a t-shirt for a while before the party, place it inside a plastic bag, and the bags are given numbers. The t-shirts are sniffed by other partygoers and if they like the smell, a photo of them is taken with the bag and displayed on a screen during the party.

Of course human pheromones could also be at play here, but we genuinely have no clue yet what those might be.

What are pheromones?

Bombyx Mori

  • Pheromones are a chemical signal between members of the same species.
  • They are same across the same species (e.g. all males of the same species, but possibly appearing in different amounts).
  • They are usually a combination of molecules and can be short-range.

The first pheromone was identified in the Bombyx mori silk moth in 1959 by Adolf Butenandt & team. It was named Bombykol after the moth. In Dr. Wyatt’s opinion, the way in which this research was conducted represents a gold standard for pheromone identification and should be followed in other similar studies.

The criteria for identifying a real pheromone should be:

  • To isolate a specific compound or a mixture of compounds (all compounds in the mixture should be necessary)
  • There should be a clearly identifiable response to the pheromone(s) (in the Bombyx mori, scientists observed increased wing fluttering of the male moth in the presence of bombykol)
  • Synthetic compounds should elicit the same response as real pheromones
  • Realistic concentrations must be used in experiments
  • There must be a credible pathway for evolution

We should expect humans to have pheromones because other animals do, too. Pigs, mice; rabbits all have them.

Humans can distinguish between a trillion different smells and though we might not rely on our sense of smell quite as much as some other animals, it’s wrong to think of our sense of smell as insignificant.

So what’s wrong with ‘putative human pheromones’?

There is simply no evidence for them.

The history of putative human pheromones can be traced back to the discovery of ‘copulins’ in monkeys (1970), and the idea of ‘menstrual synchronicity’ which was put forward in 1971 (the menstrual synchronicity thing is not proven, though – and looks like it might not be real). Androsterone and androstenal was discovered and researched in pigs around 1970-1980.

In 1991, a symposium sponsored by the Erox Corporation was held in Paris and many leading scientists were invited to attend. Slotted into the procedings was a paper about ‘putative human pheromones’ which also claimed that humans have a functioning vomeronasal organ: “Effect of putative pheromones on the electrical activity of the human vomeronasal organ and olfactory epithelium”. Erox Corporation had supplied the ‘putative human pheromones’ androstadienone (AND) and estratetraenol (EST) for the study, and had a clear interest in patenting them.

However, the study has no details of how these molecules were extracted, indentified, bioassayed and supposedly shown to be human pheromones.

In 2000, Jacob and McClintock published a paper “Psychological state and mood effects of steroidal chemosignals in women and men” and used the same ‘putative human pheromones’ in their experiments. This gave the putative human pheromone myth credibility.

Since 2000, there have been more than 40 studies (about 4-5 a year) using androstadienone and/or estratetraenol and these studies have been cited hundreds of times.

How is this possible? Aren’t we supposed to be evidence-based? One of the toughest things about researching human pheromones is the identification and extraction of them. So since it’s easy to purchase AND and EST, researchers seem to default to these. The literature has become self-referential which creates a closed loop of evidence. It’s easy to confuse the volume of work with quality, and in this case there is no lack of literature – just a lack of original evidence. In fact, it is now a commonly held assumption that there really are ‘putative human pheromones’, but nobody seems to have looked at the 1991 source critically.

All fields in science also suffer from positive publication bias (where only positive studies are published and negative ones are not). The worst area for this is psychology, at about 90% of the published work being positive. Since the research into human pheromones falls into this field, and since there have been no Bombykol ‘gold standard’ studies, everything we have on the ‘putative human pheromones’ seems to ultimately rest upon the original rather questionable study.

Now what?

According to Dr. Wyatt, we should approach human pheromone study as though we were a newly discovered species. We should look for ways in which to identify and bioassay pheromones – and he thinks that there might be something in how human babies seem to recognise the odour of their mothers. More importantly, when the scent produced by special glands on the areolas of lactating mothers has been collected and presented to babies, they react to the smell by starting to suck even if the scent was not from their own mother. There could be a mammary pheromone at play. Other things we could do is to compare people pre- and post puberty, but the main problem with all of this is how much more complex human research is, and the desperate lack of funding for olfactory research.

It seems that olfactory research has not been thought of as important even though research for our other senses is. Although we are really looking at fields of biology and psychology, this area is under-funded and could do with a boost. Perhaps it isn’t thought of as vital because people with olfactory disorders can still work and survive in society – or perhaps is seen as too frivolous and unnecessary. It doesn’t bode well for stronger studies in this area and Erox corporation will probably carry on doing quite well out of AND and EST.

Further on the topics discussed:

The Smelly Mystery of Human Pheromones TED talk

The search for human pheromones: the lost decades and the necessity of returning to first principles

MHC-correlated odour preferences in humans and the use of oral contraceptives

The Scent of a Man: to attract a woman by wearing scent, a man must first attract himself

Sexing up the human pheromone story: how a corporation started a scientific myth

Pheromones and Animal Behavior

How animals communicate via pheromones

Pheromone parties

Bombykol

Disclaimer & credits

Any mistakes in this text are mine. Getty Images pictures used under their free embed scheme. Sorry about the ads you might see below (this blog is hosted on the free WordPress servers). This post is based on Dr. Tristram Wyatt’s talk at the Royal Society of Chemistry, arranged jointly by the British Society of Perfumers and Society of Cosmetic Scientists.