Inside Fragrance

Laundry evaluation

Evaluating laundry care?

It’s been quite a week here at Volatile Fiction land (what a fun land would that be? I have a mental image of a fragrant theme park x Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory now. And, as it happens, there may be a reason those images were so readily available to my imagination).

I’ve been working behind-the-scenes for almost a year and a half to get to say: this week sees the launch of my new column, The Juice: Inside Fragrance at Perfumer & Flavorist. The May column is a two-parter with online and a print articles – and the June issue will feature a profile of a British perfumer whose career is truly unique and fascinating. The Juice will run in Perfumer & Flavorist monthly and, as with this week’s column, there will occasionally be online articles popping up, too.

The first (set of) Juice column(s) is about fragrance evaluation. It’s a bit of a hidden career in the fragrance industry and is a fascinating blend of fragrance expertise, project management, communication and many other skills.

What does a fragrance evaluator do?

Evaluators work with perfumers, sales, marketing and laboratory teams to make sure that the right fragrances are selected and created for customers. The job involves keeping up-to-date with fragrance trends and being able to effectively communicate about smells. Sometimes evaluators also conduct consumer panels and focus groups. They usually manage the internal fragrance library and may be assigned to a specific product category or to just one customer.

Smelling with perfumers and being able to offer useful, objective feedback about the technical aspects and overall impression of the fragrance are at the heart of the job. Good evaluators form strong teams with the perfumers they work with and perfumers appreciate the objectivity and organisation that evaluators bring to fragrance creation.

In leading fragrance houses, evaluators choose the perfumers for each fragrance brief, task the perfumers and project manage the project’s course.

It is possible to work your way up from other roles in the company to a trainee or a junior evaluator, or enter into the role directly with some relevant external qualifications or experience. Initial training takes one to two years, depending on previous experience and the fragrance company in question.

Skills and qualities of a good evaluator:
• Passionate about fragrance
• Excellent interpersonal skills
• Confident communicator
• Balanced judgement
• Diligence; attention to detail
• Project management
• Ability to make sense of vast amounts of data and interpret it for others
• Highly organised (evaluators are in charge of the company fragrance library)
• Experience of the consumer fragrance market; knowledge of trends and product categories

Givaudan

Expertise is relative and everyone has their own areas of excellence. I seem to have a knack for hoovering up lots of information and communicating it to others. I’m also interested in fragrance and everything about it (ok, obsessed). It is inevitable I have learned a lot along the way. A great deal of the learning has been quite deliberate and hard-earned by study and practical experience. I still don’t consider myself an expert (daily access to the true experts of the industry – research chemists, senior perfumers with decades of experience and many more walking perfume encyclopaedias besides is a great constant reminder of just how little I really know).

But I know more than the ‘earlier me’ 10, 15 years ago. And that’s who I’m writing these blogs and ODOU articles and Basenotes features for. The trade writing blossomed out of that almost by accident – but the real driving force was always to somehow get more information and insight out there to people who don’t know about the careers available in fragrance but would thrive in them if only they did.

I also like to myth-bust a little bit. Not to the detriment of storytelling and marketing (I like to be taken along on an evocative ride, too, and part of the pleasure of buying an everyday product with a hint of luxury like a fabric conditioner with an exotic scent – or an actual luxury product like fine fragrance – is that you want the whole experience – the courting, the dating, the flowers; the lot).

I like to myth-bust the chemophobia and the utter nonsense out there. And to illuminate who makes these fragrances and how. I like to show how passionate these people are about the tiniest details, what lengths they go to for that perfect scent, how much thought is put into something that could end up in a hand wash. I think that’s brilliant. Never mind all the wonderful fine fragrance perfumery – all the artistry, poetry and creativity and bloody hard work that goes into it. As much as I like to get taken along for the ride and seduced by marketing as the next consumer, I do occasionally wish perfume marketing wasn’t so quick to rely on the old tropes of tits and ass. I guess it’s an important aspect of what makes perfume appealing and why people wear it but sometimes it feels like marketers and brands forget it’s not the only one.

The stories on the large corporate and tiniest artisan side to be told are in their thousands and really fascinating. I am going to be able to tell you at least a few of them over the coming months. But I also love it that there are so many great people quietly squirreling away, making your homes smell like a tropical forest and people whose whole life is devoted to making sure that the towels come out of your specific brand of washing machine smelling just right.

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Laundry care evaluation is a little bit more serious at Givaudan.

I don’t like to make things easy for myself, so I’ve based the majority of my fragrance articles on primary research. What this means is that I’ve interviewed people face-to-face – mostly in person (sometimes over Skype). Email interviews do happen but I don’t like them. This has resulted in a lot of travel and interviews conducted in the offices and meeting rooms of fragrance houses, posh London hotels, coffee shops, people’s homes and many more locations besides. This week I travelled to France to tour Givaudan’s Paris sites and interview several people in one, intense day. I was also happy to finally meet a long-time reader of this blog there and receive a great gift for a bookworm-perfume nerd: Givaudan’s new perfume book which weaves their story with global perfume history and some philosophical musings about perfumery and flavour.
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I spent some time with the Givaudan perfumery school director and students – and will be writing about that soon – will let you know where.

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Givaudan perfumery school

Soap Stars: Kate and Rebecca at Seven Scent

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Top left: Rebecca, Kate.

Kate Williams (perfumer) and Rebecca Mulcahy (evaluator) work for Seven Scent in the UK.

“My mum always says ‘you could have a proper job – like a vet or a doctor!’ with the years I’ve spent training,” says Rebecca Mulcahy, fragrance evaluator at Seven Scent.

“And every day you still come across things that are new,” echoes Kate Williams, perfumer at Seven, and the current president of the British Society of Perfumers.

I met with Kate and Rebecca to talk about their work and careers.

“When I first came for my interview, I didn’t know there were people born into this; practically training from birth – that’s what I was up against,” Kate reminisces.

She had a series of interviews and smell tests at PZ Cussons, the parent company for Seven Scent – this was after Kate had completed a masters in evolutionary psychology. Kate’s special area of interest was the role of smell in mate choice and whether males could detect female fertility levels. This led to the obvious question – why do we use fragrance? Is it to mask body odour or to advertise it?

“I sort of stumbled on the fragrance industry through that,” says Kate.

Turns out, the answer to that burning question was that we seem to choose fragrances based on advertising our natural body odour; not masking it. When we choose a fragrance – be it a deodorant or a fine fragrance – based on our genuine preferences (rather than pure advertising or marketing), we are amplifying our natural, unique body odour fingerprint. This also leads to increased confidence, positive body language, and enhanced sexual attractiveness.

When Kate arrived to her smell test, she was faced with endless rows of smelling strips set out on a shiny mahogany table at the old PZ Cussons office. “We were told to sit one chair apart and write down our answers and suddenly I thought- what am I doing here?” says Kate and laughs.

“I suppose in a way it was good that I didn’t know what I could or couldn’t do – and how much time it takes until you are allowed to create something,” says Kate.

Rebecca studied forensic science at university and her industry placement was at Unilever. This gave her a glimpse to what it’s like to formulate deodorants and antiperspirants and opened the door to an interview for an evaluator role at Seven.

Evaluators have become increasingly important in modern fragrance supply houses due to the vast number of fragrances to keep track of and to select from, and due to the hectic schedule and other pressures perfumers have to work under.

In many fragrance houses evaluators are project leaders, assign
fragrance briefs to perfumers, as well as manage the company fragrance
library and sit down with perfumers to evaluate fragrance modifications. Read more at Perfumer & Flavorist about what the role of an evaluator involves; what makes a good evaluator & routes to the job – and how Rebecca and others work. This is the launch of my new monthly column “The Juice”  and the first column has two parts; online and in print. The May print issue  features insights from independent fragrance evaluators in the article “Fragrance Evaluation for Niche Brands – Passion Above All”.

“If you are working on a laundry detergent fragrance for the African market, you have to test the fragrance in its base in water because you hand-wash so much over there. In the UK, you’d smell the scent on the clothes as they came out of the washing machine,” says Rebecca.

AFRICA_ELEPHANTKate and Rebecca have travelled all over the world to test their fragrances in real-world conditions and to conduct market research. There are many issues to consider – right from the creative language and clarity in communication to better understanding of the actual ways in which the finished products get used by consumers.

“Our biggest customer is Nigeria,” says Kate, “and they have the most wonderful concepts. They asked for a smell that was like an angel descending from Heaven. On a shoestring! I want that, too!”

“It is a great feeling when you’ve managed to achieve that level of creativity with all those cost and other constraints,” says Rebecca.

Kate nods: “More constraints can in fact make you more creative.”

We talked about the difference between producing something beautiful, practical, best-selling and commercially viable for a detergent product versus creating a fine fragrance.

“I suppose there is some artistic quality in plucking a fragrance from your mind,” says Kate, “it’s amazing when you think about it. It’s one of the reasons I was drawn into the fragrance industry – I love words – I love describing things and I think that’s been absolutely key for me. It’s an industry where you talk a lot,” Kate says and bursts out laughing.

“All that describing and different ways of saying things to make people understand… I had a stage where I couldn’t smell the individual materials in a perfume, just the whole perfume – and eventually I got to this point, like Magic Eyes, where I could switch between smelling the individual raw materials and the full perfume. That, to me was an amazing step. I could go oh, it’s a peach, but I can also pick out that lactone – it was a massive step,” says Kate.

Understanding fragrance descriptors and what clients actually expect is not a one-size-fits-all skill and working with international markets means constantly having to be on your toes about what your customers really mean. Market research is an important part of the process at Seven Scent.

“We were doing competitor analysis for another brand in Nigeria and the slogan was ‘wrap yourself in passion’ and we thought – who wouldn’t want a fragrance with that sort of a theme? What a demand from a talcum powder fragrance! I think fine fragrance terminology is coming down to all levels and people expect a lot more from their fragrance in every other product, too – their shower gel and body lotion and fabric conditioner. They expect the fragrance to support how nourishing it is for the skin, or how suitable for sensitive skin it is, or how high-quality the brand is, so there is a lot riding on it,” says Kate.

It is a well-known fact in the cosmetics and fragrance industry that the type of fragrance chosen for a product can and does alter consumer perception of the product’s effectiveness. If a shampoo marketed as ‘deep-cleansing’ has the correct type of fragrance, consumers will perceive the deep-cleansing effect to be stronger. If a ‘nourishing’ body lotion has been matched with just the right sort of soothing scent, its users will feel their skin is smoother.

“We even have differences in each geology on how these claims translate, but we test for that,” says Kate.

“There is also a difference in the language on descriptors – if the team in Nigeria ask for ‘fruity’ they don’t mean what we mean,” says Rebecca.

AFRICA_WATERFALL“Citrus vanilla! Fresh spicy” laughs Kate, “But what’s fresh to them? When we think of fresh, we think of watery, green… I once took a presentation to Lagos for them to give me colours of freshness. They didn’t understand the green, lush freshness that we were trying to do. We’d been giving them all these green grass top notes and they just didn’t get them. They also had only a very vague concept of what we would think of as watery, marine freshness, but fruity freshness – yes! So we went with that.”

“Images really helped, so we took along an image of a waterfall,” says Rebecca.

Indonesia

INDONESIA_childrenKate travelled to Indonesia to investigate how consumers were actually using products in the baby ranges.

“It was such an eye-opener what they do with those products – I don’t know how they get their kids to stay still!” says Kate, “They do this twice a day: a full body wash, shampoo, body cream, face cream, nappy cream, oil on the chest. They use a separate detergent and fabric conditioner on their clothes. They use oil on their hair. Then sunscreen and anti-mosquito. That’s the minimum products for a child under the age of seven. I can’t get mine to have a wash! Teeth – they use gum wipes if the children haven’t got any teeth yet. So the product usage is enormous. This has implications on fragrance development. If you’re going to use all of your fragrance budget into the body wash, it’s going to be drowned out ten minutes later. And they don’t layer the fragrances; they choose different fragrances. So understanding stuff like that is absolutely great.”

Lagos

AFRICA_VILLAGEKate and Rebecca also experienced how consumers in Lagos use their detergent products.

“I melted… I had to just go ahead and do the washing on the hot roof to see what actually happens in situ with the fragrance,” says Kate, “and it was tough, really tough. The water smells. So I had to make sure I understood the smell of the water. Understood that this water was then used for different functions in the house, with my fragrance in it. So, fine, we might be providing a fragrance used in a detergent powder, but after it’s been used to wash the laundry in smelly water, it’s then going to be used to wash the floor, then it’s going to be used to wash the kids, and then it’s going to be used to clean the toilet. And it has to perform all the way and leave a nice fragrance on the floor as well. So that’s your challenge – and you suddenly understand why your client has been rejecting your previous fragrances,” explains Kate.

“It makes such a difference getting there, seeing how people actually use the product,” says Rebecca. “You can take something that you think smells great here in the UK, but once you’re there and open the sample, the humidity can just crush it and you can’t smell a thing. We also went around different locations in Lagos and smelled the environments in which people were living in and saw some people washing their laundry in buckets by the busy roadside with car fumes mingling in – and you realise you’ll have to try to counter that somehow as well.”

On arriving to Lagos, Kate and Rebecca got stuck at customs. “We were flying Air Nigeria which in itself was the maddest experience, ever,” says Kate, “we weren’t sure whether we’d make it or boil to death. And the customs were grilling us, too: ‘why are you here?’ – ‘fragrance’ – ‘what sort of fragrance?’ – ‘Zip detergent powder…’ – ‘That’s your fragrance? Well, why didn’t you say so! Come on through, ladies!’ and they treated us like stars.”

Zip detergent powder is a big brand in Nigeria; as well-known as Persil in the UK and people have possibly even a closer relationship with the fragrance there than with any kind of detergent fragrance in the UK.

“That fragrance has a massive following – and how many people is it on? These people are wearing it and relying on it. It’s a crazy climate, so it’s an important part of their lives,” says Kate.

“You are genuinely making a difference to people’s lives – I know that sounds a little bit cheesy, but it’s true,” says Rebecca and smiles.

Oud to Joy

AgarwoodThere are several kinds of agarwood which, when infected with the parasitic mould (Phaeoacremonium parasitica), can produce one of those perfumery perversions – something heavenly out of something unfortunate (see, also: whale vomit, natural musk).

Alas. You can already see this ingredient isn’t going to be easy to mass-produce, no matter how much we’d like to. Trees take a long time to grow. Infected heartwood from a specific subset of trees  – which then has to be cut down to be processed into oil (so no more tree; no repeat harvest like with oranges or roses) – it doesn’t bode well for price and availability. Oud oil is one of the most Milli Vanilliexpensive perfumery raw materials still in use today. Which is why the majority of oud scents on the market are interpretations of the theme with a little bit of real oud in them or no oud in them at all. Sometimes another material called nagarmotha or cypriol (Cyperus scariosus) is used in oud accords. All kinds of other naturals can help tremendously – a bit of patchouli; other woods. Often oud accords are made with the help of synthetic materials – various animalic, amber and woody notes, and the results can be beautiful. And, as with all perfumery – these fragrances range from the tragic to the sublime. We get everything from the Milli Vanilli of oud to actual oud.

Real oud oil comes in a few varieties, too. There are at least a couple which have strong animalic notes and at least one which has a strong whiff of camel undercarriage dipped in gorgonzola. That oud variety is very difficult to mimic in the lab without the real thing. I’ve tried. It also doesn’t usually appeal to Western noses.

Oud as a word has been a big marketing hit for a while now. I’ve spoken to several indie perfumers who claim to have started the trend. You know something is truly popular when everyone claims credit. And you know a trend is meant to be over when it has trickled down to deodorants and fabric conditioner. We’ve had absolutely everyone and their mum jumping on the bandwagon. Let’s not pretend otherwise. I’ve smelled a fragrance which was a cringeworthy combination of a Barbie-pink fruity-floral with a bit of fake oud thrown in, pushed to me on a scent strip at a posh London department store by a sales assistant whose demeanour was a cry for help: “I don’t like it either!” I’ve smelled an impressively authentic cheesy-animalic oud scent in an equally posh London department store. The fragrance felt serious, expensive, well-made and completely unwearable, bar to a highly niche group of connoisseurs.

As a consumer I don’t really care if an oud fragrance has real oud in it, but I do want the fragrance to hang together. I don’t like the idea of bandwagon-jumping, so the transparent attempts at throwing oud in just to be ‘on trend’ make me sigh. As do the scents which feature oud in the name and haven’t really managed to create an oud impression at all. On the other hand, I don’t find the ultra-authentic oud scents my cup of tea either (even though I like the smell experience itself – as an experience – just not on my skin. But I also like to smell new glossy magazines and the tar of old railway tracks and I don’t want those as a perfume either).

Something has happened to the way Western noses are calibrated towards the oud accord, though. The other day I spoke to my hairdresser about the kinds of perfumes she buys and was completely shocked to find that she buys Arabian Oud. I had her down as a happy-go-lucky celeb fragrance wearer (nothing wrong with that, by the way). My jaw dropped. What did I like to smell of when I was 21 years old? Coco Chanel. Not of camels. But here we are.

So when I was invited to meet the people behind a new brand Amouroud, I was a little concerned. Uh-oh. Aren’t they a little… late to this trend? Is this going to be a really cynical attempt to cash in? Are those glossy-looking black bottles going to cost £250? Are they going to have even a hint of oud in them?

Perfumer’s Workshop

Custom blending conceptPerfumer’s Workshop International was founded in States in the early 70s and has been creating highly commercial and successful fragrance concepts ever since. They were the first to think of bringing custom fragrance blending to department stores (long before Aveda and others had a go) and they were talking to Arabs about oud fragrances at their Selfridges perfume counter back in the 80s when virtually no other fragrance marketer in the West had heard of it.

I met the co-founder Donald G. Bauchner along with his team William Skinner and Denis Roubinet in London last week to talk about Amouroud. It’s always interesting to talk with real industry veterans and I was open to be convinced.

Trying my best to ignore all the official marketing and focus just on their own words and the scents themselves, piece-by-piece, note-by-note, the concept opened up to me. These guys have watched the oud trend be handled by others in the variety of inconsistent ways we’ve seen – and spotted an opportunity to do something better.

Has it worked?

Amouroud packaging conceptThe concept is this – use oud as an amplifier to add intrigue to other fragrance themes. Blend the notes in such a way that oud is not what jumps out, but it does something to all the other materials in the scent; something good, hopefully.

One could say that where Jo Malone scents are for people who want an elegant fragrance but find typical perfumes too heavy, the Amouroud range is for people who wish their designer perfumes had a bit more depth and interest. Amouroud is also attempting to sew together everything that is good about the oud trend and make it accessible. Those glossy black 100ml bottles? £140. For a luxury niche brand, that’s a jaw-droppingly good price. Consider that the current UK best-seller Paco Rabanne 1 Million Eau de Toilette for men retails at the equivalent of £69 for 100ml and we’re talking about a mass-market EdT strength designer fragrance. For that price point alone; that lack of cynical cashing in on ‘niche pricing’ this brand deserves some attention. They have done everything with care – worked with some fine perfumers (Cecile Hua, Patricia Choux, John Mastracola, Claude Dir and Irina Burlakova), packaged everything in beautiful bottles and cartons and have not rushed to be the first on the oud train but watched and learned from other people’s mistakes and chosen to do things their own way. I suppose in this they’re not the innovators, but the potential success story – not the Myspace and LiveJournal, but maybe the Twitter and Facebook. Remains to be seen.

Their sales technique is designed to show off the drydown – a good approach when you’ve invested money in your base notes and the main theme of your collection rests there. You are given a scent strip which was sprayed yesterday and has been kept sealed in a glass jar. So you skip to the end where the oud accord is on full display, but remnants of the main theme are still lingering. I enjoyed testing the scents I had samples of fresh, too – the comparison gave a full picture. I do think the top note and heart are an important part of the experience as well.

The packaging is perfect for the concept. The boxes are heavy card with a metal label affixed to the front (great attention to detail) and the bottles are heavy black glass with a metal label. When you purchase a 100ml bottle, you are given a travel spray of your second most favourite fragrance as a gift. How very cheeky of them to marry you to one scent and immediately enable a love affair with another.

So what about the scents?

TobacconistSay Harrison Ford was playing an incredibly wealthy Russian businessman walking past the Harrods tobacconist eating pear drops while wearing a classic woody masculine fragrance – that scene would smell of Safran Rare. This scent is old-fashioned in the best possible way. It’s a little bit showy but not trashy. It absolutely does have that luxe Harrods oud fragrance signature that one would assume from the look of this brand – perhaps more than any other in the line. But it still manages to have lightness, space and a degree of playfulness that is not what one would expect. Every one of these scents has an American twinkle in the eye.

Oud du Jour – a modern raspberry-apple fruity-floral meets oud – and is done well. What could be a mismatch is actually a seductive tango. It’s like watching a film where an older actor is paired with an actress 20 years younger and you fear they won’t be plausible as a romantic couple but instead the chemistry sizzles on screen and later you find out they had a real off-screen romance. I can’t decide if the name is meant to feel a little playful in your mouth when you say it out loud, but it does. This fragrance is full of genuine fun and contrast. I have nicknamed it Oud to Joy.

Midnight Rose opens with a popular rose – lychee theme which sings in crystal-clear tones from the top for a good while and swells to a classic green-tinged rose melody at the heart until the oud accord joins in – and doesn’t break the tune. It just provides a thrum of bass line; an amplifier. It’s like listening to a fully orchestrated cover version of a pop song. It’s beautiful. Do not be fooled by the name and expect a typical Middle Eastern rose + oud combination. This might be the most accessible of the line-up for the oud-curious.

Candy in FinlandDark Orchid – well, I am just going to have to be honest here and say my immediate impression was Tom Ford Black Orchid x Covonia cough syrup x Finnish dark liquorice … and I ADORED it from the first sniff. Adored it. There is something unsettling about Black Orchid to me, whereas Amouroud Dark Orchid is just right. This fragrance amps up all the dark, medicinal, ambery notes and that flips the scent from an apologetic attempt at a Halloween costume to a full-on drag queen out and proud, head held up high and killing it. If you’re going to dress up, go to town or go home. The more Dark Orchid blooms, the less it looks like its wallflower of a
cousin and the more it takes on its own, fabulous personality.

You’ve got to make a choice about how to lift a sandalwood – do you
stick with a woody theme (oh goodness, that was an accidental pun,
wasn’t it?) or do you build a bouquet which reveals a sandalwood
drydown? The perfumer for Santal des Indes has chosen the former
strategy and leads us to the idea of sandalwood through a woody theme –
we get that almost fizzy cola aspect of a cedarwood and incense accord,
which develops over time to a sensation of heat – the scent feels
like hot spice and the colour orange. If there is a fatty sandalwood
note, I can’t quite detect it, but then sandalwood does tend to take the
first opportunity it can to sneak backstage and let others hog the
limelight.

Nancy PorterMiel Sauvage made me giggle with delight when I first smelled it (I have witnesses) and this is a good sign (and the last time a fragrance did that to me I bought it immediately). I also love it when the name of a scent is completely at odds with what pops into my head when I smell it (as regular readers will know). The image Miel sauvage conjured for me was that of a saucy pinup lolloping about in an abundantly overflowing bubble bath, coyly managing to keep the bubble cover just a smidgen too low around her cleavage. This scent makes me think of Camay soap ads from the 50s; of glamorous film stars on just the wrong side of saucy and fruity goings-on in a chiffon dressing gown and fluffy slippers. It’s fantastic; every time I smell it on my skin, I find myself smiling and feel the champagne bubbles of laughter beginning to form in my chest. I’m calling this Pinup and it may become one of my treasured signature scents. I love it that much. Oh – and the honey note? It’s not the urinous kind. It’s the waxy, soapy kind. Just in case my florid description didn’t make that clear.

Oud to Joy

Amouroud has nailed it. At least for people like me who were sitting on the fence about oud and were thinking it wasn’t for them. And there must be millions of us left. If you’re one such person and any of the above made you think “hmm…” run, don’t walk to a store where you can smell these scents and have a play. I think they’re worth the money and I think these guys deserve to do well.

Amouroud will be available at Harrods in the UK first. You can already explore the range in Sweden (this might have something to do with the fact that Donald’s wife Gun is Swedish. They got first dibs).

Just one more thing

I’m wondering something about oud. I’m wondering whether what we’ve got here isn’t a trend at all, but the birth of a whole new fragrance family. That would explain a lot.

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Agarwood, Milli Vanilli and  Nancy Porter images via WikiMedia Commons

Travel samples and one full bottle of fragrance provided for review purposes by Amouroud. My policy is not to review at all unless I like the fragrance(s) in question and freebies do not influence this decision in any way.

Easter Sundae Interlude

You’ll forgive me for the pun once I share the recipe for this Easter-themed chocolate sundae with you. It combines the tart juicyness of pears with chocolate liqueur and malted chocolate.

Green & Blacks chocolate ice cream has a slightly malted flavour and goes particularly well here. My favourite chocolate liqueur is the Mozart one but I had an unopened bottle of Bailey’s limited edition chocolate liqueur here instead, so that’s what I used (and can report that it was very tasty in this context indeed).

You need pear quarters in fruit juice (or halves, then cut them to smaller pieces yourself), chocolate ice cream, chocolate liqueur (chocolate sauce if making for kids or alcohol-free friends), good-quality whipped cream, something crunchy on top (I used edible golden flakes to evoke the colours of white daffodils) and some kind of chocolate wafer (mine was a Malteaster Bunny because Easter Sunday).

1. Pick out four pear quarters from the juice, drain, place in a fanned shape at the bottom of the sundae glass.
2. Pour chocolate liqueur or sauce on top until the pears are covered
3. Add two scoops of chocolate ice cream
4. Add whipped cream
5. Add gold flakes and bunny

Regular readers know that I have a bit of a thing about ice cream (we do go to Fortnum’s on the perfume tours a lot and I enjoy making sundaes for visitors). Here’s a lemon meringue recipe if you’re looking for more.

Happy Easter!

Yardley Hermina & London 1770

There almost couldn’t have been a better lure* to get me out to a press launch than combining an evening at a stationery boutique (squee!) talking about perfume (yay!) whilst learning calligraphy (wow!) – so the Yardley PRs didn’t really have to try hard to get me to come on over. I was also very curious to see what the classic British perfume house of Yardley would be up to these days because my last impression of it was that of a reliable but rather too safe a brand (though something I remember fondly from my make-up artist days when I’d always have a bottle of Yardley English Lavender cologne in my kit).
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The evening was held at Quill London and our modern calligraphy workshop was taught by the sickeningly talented Imogen Owen. We were shown how just the right amount of pressure is required to create artistic, modern calligraphy with real flair. Settling down to the exercises, I quickly realised I had no natural talent in this art whatsoever and all my early attempts looked like a daddy long legs had fallen into a large jug of Pimms No1 Cup and drunkenly swayed back and forth on a page after an accidental encounter with an ink well.

A few pages of exercises (and much diplomatic and kind encouragement from Imogen) later, I was quite happy with an ampersand. Yes. I can now draw a satisfactory calligraphy ampersand. Happily, Quill London and Yardley equipped us with a goodiebag that included everything we needed to continue practicing at home. Thank goodness.
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Yardley has been having a quiet make-over. Heritage brands can end up trapped by the very thing that made them famous in the first place. What happens when your original products are now thought of as old-fashioned and the newer generations think of them as something that just isn’t for them? Quality, reliability and brand recognition are all very nice things to have, but when we choose a perfume for ourselves, don’t we want it to be a little bit more… exciting?

Back in the 70s and 80s, you’d get a few major fragrance launches a year and the kinds of affordable mass-market fragrances that were available didn’t exactly compete with fine fragrance – they were more distinct from the fine fragrance offering.

Fast-forward to today: thousands of new fragrances each year across every price point and every conceivable market segment. We’ve got ultra-niche all-natural artisanal microperfumeries and super mass-market commercial blockbusters – and everything in-between. Consumers have more choice than ever, but this doesn’t necessarily make choosing easier. It can actually make choosing harder. And more choice doesn’t mean better quality.

It’s hard for brands to stand out and to carve a unique niche. Who needs another perfume? Why now? What’s so unique about yours?

Yardley is turning to its heritage but they seem to be up to something that could be the Holy Grail of heritage brand revival if it works – apply a modern twist to its classic knowhow and remind people that yes, we know what we’re doing and have been around for hundreds of years, but we’re also up on modern trends and what people want from their fragrance today.

One of the frustrating things about just wanting to smell good is that with all the thousands of fragrances out there, surprisingly few brands actually fulfil this apparently simple brief: an elegant fragrance that smells good and doesn’t cost more than a typical celebrity perfume.

Of course we know that a huge amount of fragrance cost comes from advertising, packaging and other elements associated with creating those big, commercial blockbusters. But that doesn’t guarantee success – it just means consumers have to pay more (and may not end up getting a better perfume as a result because perhaps the perfumer or fragrance house wasn’t given an adequate budget in the first place).

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We were shown Hermina, which Yardley describes as hitting the androgynous trend of featuring masculine notes in feminine scents (and yes, this cross-referencing is a trend that’s happening both ways at the moment). Hermina is a crisp, elegant floral-woody chypre with a tart, fig and fruit aspect and a subtle, woody drydown. It could easily pass as a launch from a leading cosmetic brand; something you’d imagine a well-dressed professional woman or a glowing English country wife wearing (as she’s preparing that giant jug of Pimms No1 Cup, blissfully unaware of its hazards to passing daddy longlegs with calligraphy aspirations).

Hermina was named after a real Yardley historical figure, the wife of William Cleaver and whose father (also William) was the first Yardley to officially own the business since the original founder. The fragrance was created by Nelly Hachem-Ruiz at IFF and retails at £19.99 for 50ml.
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We were also shown a new masculine fragrance, London 1770, and I thought I recognised the Robertet signature in it, and I was right – it was created by Jean Charles Mignon and Amandine Galliano from Robertet UK. It’s a warm, spicy, ambery fragrance that has a fruity twist and just enough patchouli and moss to give you a real feel of modern and classic in one fragrance. It smells very good, very wearable and for £19.99 for 50ml, I hope many, many men will practically bathe in it.

Having checked what other new fragrances Yardley has been launching recently, I noticed there is one called Ink – an award-winner, no less – and thought it was a bit of a missed opportunity not to at least bring a bottle of it for us to smell to a calligraphy evening. Alas!
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Oh, the notebooks! I couldn’t resist a little bit of sneaky shopping on the side. My name is Pia and I am a stationery hoarder. Aren’t these just stunning? The one on the right came in our goodiebag and I bought the other two for important freelance journo purposes. You’ll see one of them at a perfume event soon.
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I’m going to be watching what happens with Yardley with interest. Based on what I learned earlier this month at the press launch, I think they deserve to do well, and I hope their new fragrances get noticed by the right people. Modern classics in the making? We shall see.

 

* Stationery + artistic penmanship + perfume = a pretty perfect event for me, let’s face it. Now add something Moomin, Ghibli, Muppet or science fiction-related and I’d be first in the queue. That’s pretty unlikely to happen, though.

Scenting Star Wars – What Would Chewbacca Smell Like?

What would Chewbacca smell like?We can watch films in IMAX 3D, but smellovision has never been perfected and let’s face it, current attempts to improve it just make it into a torture device – something that Kylo Ren might enjoy using in his special chamber. Maybe one day we’ll go to see a Star Wars film and have the option of tapping into the extra dimension of smell. In the meantime, I got together with a fellow nose nerd Nick Gilbert to imagine what some of the characters in Star Wars: The Force Awakens would smell like. This was, of course, exactly what the world needed. You can thank us later. We also interpreted our highly scientific observations to fragrances you can actually buy and wear (because you probably don’t want to smell like engine lubricant or matted fur).

And what better way to illustrate this mashup than the mashup art of Brian Kesinger (used here with permission; check out his Etsy store and Instagram for more).

Brian Kesinger PoePoe Dameron

Portrayed in the film by Oscar Isaac

Pia: There’s got to be a bit of a sweaty note because, come on, being in an X-Wing cockpit for hours, squeezed into those uniforms… I imagine a kind of plastic-y smell, too – though maybe their dashboards are a little bit more sophisticated. He is also a bit of a hero type and has definite sex appeal.

Nick: I see Poe as smelling of a bizarre mixture of ‘handsome-man-smell’ and the grease and metal of an X-Wing hangar. And a bit of sweat.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
Rien Rien by Etat Libre d’Orange, an intensely sexual pleather or…
Synthetic Series Garage by Comme des Garçons – smell of the hangar where he spends time fixing his X-Wing before flying off and being heroic and gorgeous.

 

 

 

 

 

Brian Kesinger Rey and BB8BB-8

Pia: This droid rolls on screen during a very distressing battle scene with smoke and singed bodies and chaos, so I think at first BB-8 will be covered in the smell of battle; fire, laser guns and death. The turning point of meeting with Rey also means leaving behind those horrors and BB-8 would smell metallic but quite playful.

Nick: BB-8 is THE cutest, sassiest droid, ever. Sorry Artoo but this little spherical feat of genius gives me all my life. But he’s still a droid. So he must smell of metal. And he’s very fluid.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
Mercury Nu BeNu_Be Mercury. A fluid, metallic scent that rolls all over the place.

Rey

Portrayed in the film by Daisy Ridley

Pia: Salty, sweaty skin and sand – nothing floral at all about this self-reliant, determined heroine. She doesn’t need rescuing and she’s not a stereotypical Disney princess. I love everything about Rey and the scene where she completely kicks arse while Finn looks on is just perfect.

Nick: Rey is second best thing about the Episode VII (after BB-8, obviously) – and as we first meet her on Jakku, wrapped in some very dry looking rags, the expanse of desert air takes me in a very specific direction of amber, spice, and woods.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

MarocainL’Air du Desert Marocain. Hot air, hot sand, dry and austere, with an incomparable strength.

Finn

Brian Kesinger FinnPortrayed in the film by John Boyega

Pia: At first, Finn would definitely smell of blood and fear but we’re all rooting for him to switch sides and get away from the First Order as fast as he can. Even though he can’t shake that instinct to run away when things aren’t going well, he turns out to be a bit of a hero in the making. He’s not macho but he’s sexy and has character. He just needs something to fight for and for people to believe in him.

Nick: A sensitive warrior, Finn isn’t afraid to show his feelings and looks Really Quite Good holding a blue lightsabre.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

LeMaleLe Male because it’s sensitive, has character and comes in a blue bottle like the lightsabre we now associate with Finn.

Kylo Ren

Brian Kesinger Kylo RenPortrayed in the film by Adam Driver

Pia: An emo teenager with terrible power over others; what could go wrong? Kylo loves to feel strong but at the same time of course feels deeply insecure. I got it into my head that Kylo would smell of Aventus because of the sorts of comments that fragrance seems to generate.

Nick: A young man desperate for approval, with an explosive temper and an urge for power? He would absolutely smell like a banker. Aventus x1000 times. And, also, he’d smell of a very nice shampoo because how the hell does he not have helmet hair?

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

AventusAventus by Creed. If Kylo were on the fragrance forums, he’d be paying very close attention to all those ‘panty dropper’ threads with the bros looking for the most POWERFUL scent. He’d be keen to have something that is thought to be the best scent in the world because it gets so many compliments.

 

Luke Skywalker

Portrayed in the film by Mark Hamill

Pia: The Luke we meet in this film is a recluse on an island; he’s marked by tragedy and loss, and not the same Luke we knew. Yet there was always a mix of innocence and something a little bit darker lurking underneath about Luke. The island itself leaves a scent impression, too; the smell of the sea, ambergris… the vegetation…his sweaty robes…

Nick: Don’t forget the robot hand.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
JangalaJangala by Parfumerie Generale. Lush vegetation and aquatic; suggestive of a metallic edge or Amazingreen by Comme des Garçons: gunpowder-vegetation.

Princess Leia

Brian Kesinger Han and LeiaPortrayed in the film by Carrie Fisher

Pia: From a princess to a general, Leia is not a helpless wallflower, waiting to be plucked and never was. On the other hand, she has always been beautiful and feminine in her own way. Leia doesn’t follow, Leia leads.

Nick: Regal and authoritative, Leia’s leadership style seems to have grown more understated over the years.

 

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
JourJour d’Hermes. A stunning abstract floral, feminine, luminous and mysterious.

Han Solo

Portrayed in the film by Harrison Ford

Pia: The cool action hero, a little cynical and battle-worn by the time we meet him in this film (but, then, having fathered Kylo Ren, who can blame him?) – Han Solo is the original space cowboy. I don’t think he would smell of anything overly ornamental or fussy.

Nick: Han spends all of his time with a wookie, so not only would he smell like a classic silver fox, but I think he’d be very conscious of smelling animalic and would be hyper-clean at the same time.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away
Eau sauvageHan would smell of Eau Sauvage. A deceptively simple sexy silver fox scent with a hint of wookie.

C-3PO

Portrayed in the film by Anthony Daniels

Pia: Ambrettolide has exactly the sort of wet pennies-warm keys metallic aspect that I imagine would emanate from C-3PO’s shiny noggin, but it’s also a little bit fruity. My impression of C-3PO has been influenced by how the protocol droids are portrayed in the computer game Star Wars, The Old Republic, so a hint of cleaning product and starch lingers there, too…

Nick: C-3PO wouldn’t be just clean and shiny. He’s got a hint of the fabulous about him.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

888Comme des Garçons 8 88 – the scent of shiny gold, absolutely, but at the same time somewhat serious and rigid.

R2 D2

Portrayed in the film by Kenny Baker

Pia: Poor R2 D2, dusty and inactive, something still whirring in there, deep down, but a far cry from the lively droid we know and love. Of course he does get to wake up in the end, and I imagine that smell from warming electrical wiring and dust burning off might have a bit of a waxy, snuffed-out candle note. So I can’t stop thinking about Comme Des Garçons 2 Man (and the name of it might have something to do with this, too).

Nick: Hahaha! That’s perfect.

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

Man2Comme Des Garçons 2 Man.

Chewbacca

Brian Kesinger ChewbaccaPortrayed in the film by Peter Mayhew and Joonas Suotamo

Pia: I think Chewie would smell mostly of costus; that hairy, goaty, dirty hairbrush note – and also of hyraceum absolute, bit of civet and a hint of isobutyl quinoline (the leather note of his outfit).

Nick: Oh absolutely, Chewie is all matted fur and leather. He might rip your arms off.

 

 

Perfume from a galaxy not so far away

ComplexChewbacca smells like Complex by Boadicea the Victorious. An imposing leather and fur perfume, not for the faint of heart.

Bonus

There’s a brilliant Undercover Boss x The Force Awakens mashup you YouTube and just in case you’ve been living under a rock, check out Emo Kylo Ren and Very Lonely Luke on Twitter.

Over to you – did we get this right? Let us know in the comments what you think these characters (and the ones we haven’t mentioned) should smell of?

Aino’s Swede Casserole

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I was asked to rummage through my Christmas smell memories for the Scented Letter this month and in doing so, also rummaged through every old photo album I have here with me in the UK.

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Although I did find a few Christmas photos that weren’t completely humiliating, what I actually ended up spending more time on, were pictures of my maternal grandmother Aino, and of us together.

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Aino grew vegetables, berries and flowers at our summer cottage and she adored flowers in particular.

We had dog rose, jasmine, pansies, lilies, geraniums and many more in abundance in every available spot. It’s no wonder that my first word was “kukka” (Finnish for “flower”, reportedly uttered as I went for Aino’s pansy border).

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As soon as could manage it, Aino took me along for her walks to gather wild flowers and that became a kind of tradition over the years.
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The teenage me would kill me for posting this.

Aino was a Karelian refugee who came over to Finland at the age of 2 and lived at a time when one had to know how to do everything from scratch. Sometimes we don’t realise how spoiled we are.

She taught me how to make Karelian pasties, sourdough rye bread and many basic Finnish dishes. Many of these lessons took place at the summer cottage where we did not have electricity and the cooking was done on a wood-fired range and the bread was baked in the wood-heated oven at the sauna dressing room. I learned how to light the fires and brush out the coals and how dry birch bark makes the best kindling.

Aino’s cooking and baking wasn’t highly decorative but it was incredibly tasty. The post-war mentality of adding sugar, butter and cream to most things helped quite a bit there.

I still sometimes make the traditional Finnish Christmas dish lanttulaatikko (swede casserole), which used to be one of Aino’s masterpieces. My mother attempted to extract the recipe from her but Aino was not one for writing down instructions so the only way to save the recipe was to follow her and pay attention. Alas, my mother was not a detail person and the recipe she produced as a result of this exercise ended up somewhat chaotic and scribbled (main image). The various annotations in different colour pens are clarifications and dire warnings (“NOT TOO MUCH WATER!”) after years of attempts to get it right.

If you would like to have a go at making Aino’s lanttulaatikko, you’ll need a deep casserole dish and a large saucepan.

Aino’s lanttulaatikko

  • 2 medium swedes
  • A generous tablespoonful of wheat flour (or dried breadcrumbs)
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 100ml of syrup (the one we used is Dan Sukker golden syrup which is available here from Ocado)
  • 1/2 tsp of allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 100ml of cream
  • 1 tbsp of butter

Chop the swedes and boil until cooked in little water. Add the salt to the cooking water. Mash the swedes in their water (careful not to have too much water). Add the flour and mix well. Then add the syrup and mix well – leave to sweeten for at least two hours (you can get the dish this far the night before and add the remaining ingredients and bake the following day).

Heat the oven to 150°C.

Add the remaining ingredients just before baking. Bake for approximately two hours.

Goes extremely well with baked ham, roast chicken, sprouts and lingonberry jam.

 

Read this month’s Scented Letter for more: IMG_3094.PNG