The good bits of 2016 – and my favourite perfume launches

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Yes, 2016 has been quite stressful in many ways (I’ve been in Britain for long enough to master the art of the understatement), but this post isn’t about any of the awful stuff this year. All I’ll say about 2016 in that regard is that I hope it has made many millions more politically aware and active; I hope it has encouraged people to donate to charity and volunteer; I hope it has made the people previously sitting on the fence realise that inaction and turning the blind eye are the real enablers of terrible things in this world.

It has been an ‘interesting’ year for me. Interesting, because in-between the stress, it has also been one of the best years of my entire life, and certainly one of the most memorable.

The Juice - Perfumer & Flavorist

My column in Perfumer & Flavorist magazine kicked off and has  been running every month since this May – and due to it, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to meet really interesting and colourful people with so many stories to tell that this alone would have made 2016 one of the most fulfilling yet. It’s been a privilege to be able to peek behind the scenes at companies like Givaudan and Firmenich; to meet Luca Turin and spend time talking to indie perfumers, evaluators and chemists; educators and marketers.

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It was also the year of our biggest perfume tour yet and our group of perfume friends spent a wonderful day out visiting London perfumeries and enjoying an afternoon tea with a champagne twist.

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In May, Nick Gilbert, a long-term fragrance friend and I got together to start a playful YouTube channel, Love to Smell. The first few episodes were a little wobbly on the production values (it took us a few tries to learn how to look at the camera and put on captions…), and our channel has been gaining a steady following of a few hundred people over the last six months. It absolutely makes my day when someone tells us they’ve watched and laughed along with us, so thank you to all of our viewers – and hope to see you in 2017!

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My favourite moments from the shoots are too many to count, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as much as when we were filming the Halloween episode – and being able to invite other perfume pals in as guests for our Christmas special was a special treat that we’re sure to repeat. Of course we were also asked to appear on a bonkers new game show on ITV, so we got to be on real telly as well.  We may or may not have given the world one its derpiest TV moments as a result.

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We film the videos in my dining room. Some of the latest episodes were filmed using our new lights – we’ve also invested in a new video camera for 2017. Woohoo!

Nick and I had been talking about starting a business together anyway – we thought maybe in a year or two, but as life often has a way of doing, events unfolded in such a way that we had to grab the opportunities as they presented themselves and adapt. So while we’d already been working on a few projects together as freelancers, we also found that we were being approached by some of the same clients, and eventually it just made sense to start Olfiction. We’ve had a busy diary ever since and as a result of the kinds of clients and projects we’ve been working on, I am now spending the majority of my working time as a perfumer – something that I didn’t expect to happen so soon with our own business. Nick being an evaluator on top of his skills as a trainer and marketer makes our partnership extra special for me; I am very grateful to know him and to have an ‘extension to my nose’. I trust his opinion on fragrance like nobody else’s.

We have primarily been developing home fragrances this year, many of which will launch in the first few months of 2017 – and there are more projects in the pipeline for other clients, including some fine fragrance development and more, so it looks like we’ll be very busy on the creative front in the coming year, too. I am over the moon about that. 2016 was my 11-year anniversary of moving from fragrance sales and marketing to pursuing perfumery and all I’ll say to anyone starting on a similar path – be it with learning to play an instrument, writing novels or anything that takes a lot of practice and time – it’s worth it. Believe in yourself. Never give up.

Olfiction

In-between all of the above, I’ve been a big admirer of what the Perfume Society has been doing – the first real club for perfume enthusiasts – and have again had the chance to contribute to some of the issues of their magazine The Scented Letter. It’s a no-brainer subscription for people who’d normally flick through glossy mags in search of the parts about perfume or might be mourning the untimely shelving of ODOU.

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Speaking of perfumes – it’s been such a fabulously fragrant year with both behind-the-scenes access, discovering new launches, talking to people about their favourite smells and working on my own formulas that I don’t think any previous year can quite compete.

I don’t want to do a ‘Best of 2016’ for perfumes; just the ones from this year I immediately wanted to add to my own collection and start wearing. I’m still switching hats between a perfumista and a perfumer – roles which are not as immediately compatible as one would think – and on the days I get to wear perfume and enjoy it as a fan, I have found the following fragrances the most enjoyable of this year’s crop:

eau-noble

Le Galion Eau Noble (with a special honorary mention to Sortilège). Eau Noble is a crisp, unisex, eau de cologne-type scent with hints of leather and chypre tones. I wore it from a sample on a trip, not thinking anything much of it upon application, other than “oh, that’s nice”, but as the day progressed, I found myself doing that wrist-sniffing thing a lot of us nosenerds do: what’s that wonderful smell?  This might now be my holy grail hot weather scent. As for Sortilège, I have not smelled the original, so this is not an opinion on whether the modern re-telling of the tale is as good or not. Just that I adored the hints in it towards the old fashioned face cream smell of Dior’s Icone; Frederic Malle’s Lipstick Rose; the Nivea fragrance – and Sortilège is like a silent movie starlet with old world sex appeal, brought to present day and dressed in modern clothing.

The main image (above) contains my real superstar fragrance of the year. No, it probably won’t be on anyone else’s list; no, it isn’t revolutionary in any way, but did it feel like someone had sat down and designed a fragrance just for me? Yes. Did I almost skip around the room in joy when I discovered it? Yes. The fragrance I am talking about is Jardin d’Ombre by Ormonde Jayne.

Its combination of iris, which is usually austere, and of solar notes and sandalwood, which are usually soft skin scents, manages something rarely achieved in perfume: a sensual iris.

It positively glows, yet the iris grounds it. It is sensual without being banal. It is a serious fragrance without being standoffish and cool. I am a particular fan of iris notes, and of sandalwood, so these facts must be taken into account in my praise, but do try for yourselves if you can.

The other happy discoveries of this year include two from Atelier Cologne: Mimosa Indigo (dried mimosa twigs inside an expensive leather handbag) and Camélia intrépide (metallic tea; tart, fruity rose and leather), and Cierge de Lune from Aedes de Venustas (antique leather-bound books, fresh vanilla pipe tobacco leaves, one handsome owner of an opulent library).

You may have spotted that every one of my favourites either hints at or prominently features suede or leather notes. My name is Pia and I’m a leather addict.

What were your favourite perfume launches or discoveries from this year?

I wish you all a happy and prosperous 2017 and for anyone dealing with stress and difficulties, the strength to carry on and breaks of pure joy in-between. Even though my work is very important to me, let’s face it – perfume is no big deal in today’s world – it’s a frivolous luxury, and what I do for a living is of no huge importance in the bigger picture. I’m not saving lives here. But I hope in some small way I’ll at least be able to provide a welcome distraction in the form of enjoyable scents and funny videos. See you on the other side!

Perfume Tour, or Love to Smell Live, 2016 Edition

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Penguin burlesque at Bloom Perfumery (representing the ‘daring’ fragrance cabinet, according to the store).

Ever since 2009 there has been a bit of a tradition of a ‘Smelly, Cakey Perfume Meet’ (as it unofficially became known) – the first one was a Basenotes meetup which I helped co-hosted with Grant and Dani and it was such fun that I started arranging tours (almost) every year since. I actually met Nick at the first one, and he has helped co-host the last couple because they’ve been steadily getting bigger. They’re no grand affairs. There’s no ticket price, no formal invites; we all know each other and the theme is very much “we all love fragrance” and that’s a great equaliser – every year the group is a fantastic mix of people.

Since Nick and I have been running our YouTube channel for a few months now, we called this year’s tour “Love to Smell Live” and took some video footage of the day (which you can check out below, though expect a very ‘found footage’ style video rather than high production values).

You’ll find links to blogs written by others about the day in the video description.


I’ve gathered some photos of the day here for your enjoyment and would like to thank everyone who came to have fun with us – I’ve said it many times before and will say it again here – one of my favourite parts about fragrance is smelling things with other people and comparing notes. Smelling through other people’s noses is a fab way to learn more and a great source of entertainment, too.

We visited Fenwick of Bond St, Lalique, By Kilian, Miller Harris, Bloom and B Bakery. Thank you to everyone who hosted us (officially and unofficially).
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Ruth took us through her fragrances and had brought along two raw materials to smell, too.

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Some people couldn’t smell Javanol.

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Fenwick of Bond St were kind to let a group of over 20 people spend a morning occupying their perfumery department.
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The cheeky cherub at Zadig & Voltaire. We’ll be reviewing these scents soon at Love to Smell.
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Chanel wasn’t part of our official route, but we had some free browsing time at Burlington Arcade, so some of us popped in to shop.
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The brand new (2 days old at the time of our visit) Lalique boutique were very welcoming and took us through their brand history. It was the highlight of the tour for many.
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Just one of the enormous flower displays at Lalique.
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Lalique is more famous for its glass and crystal than for its perfumes, but the fragrances deserve a bit of attention.
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Everyone adored Frederick.
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We smelled the new fragrance L’Insoumis which had not officially launched yet. A very interesting herbal accord.
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We stopped at By Kilian, too, and were shown several fragrances, plus their scented jewellery and candles.
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Davina looked after us very well.
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This perfume smells of liquorice…
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It’s still a Cakey meet as well… so we had afternoon tea at B Bakery, Covent Garden.
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Here are some photos from two of the members of our group this year:

Phoebe’s gallery:

Laurin’s gallery:

 

Fragrant Roots and Neroli Macaroons

essential oil macaroonsThe British Society of Perfumers Annual One Day Symposium was held at Whittlebury Hall in Towcester again this May and had an accidental theme of fragrant roots – with two of the presentations focusing on a different kind of scented root accord unbeknownst to one another. One of the suppliers, Albert Vieille, also went beyond scent and served us delicious macaroons flavoured with essential oils of neroli, rose and mandarin which were perfectly accompanied by the Arabica Coffee Salvador alcoholic extract we smelled alongside them.

There is a perceived danger to hosting any kind of raw material-focused conference on a World Perfumery Congress year because suppliers will inevitably want to save their new launches for that (who wouldn’t?), but this did not cause any difficulties for the BSP ODS as every session managed to find ways to showcase existing materials, new production methods, or to introduce new variants to the UK market. One of the best things about going to these is the group smelling – sitting at a table (or walking around interactive demo sessions) with seasoned perfumers and sharing observations is like gold dust; you learn so much and find all kinds of inspiration and insight.

Wolfgang from BASF showed us a very well-known material, DL-menthol, which he nevertheless felt was unfairly neglected in perfume creations, and called it “the under-estimated baby of the industry.” His quips and style had the room guffawing away and every time I hear him give a presentation I feel a little bit wistful that he didn’t become a chemistry teacher because he would have inspired generations. On the other hand, I’m glad he didn’t because now I get to listen to his presentations at BSP events instead. We also smelled dihydrorosan in demo formulas – it really boosted fruity notes in unexpected ways.

Symrise took us through an interactive presentation where tables were laden with demo formulas showing off Jacinthaflor – an interesting white floral-type material which can bring indolic aspects to fragrances without the discolouration issues, Nerolione – as the name suggests, a high-impact ingredient for orange blossom creations and Irisnitrile – a diffusive iris note booster. I have come to accept that I adore iris scents of all kinds (am yet to encounter one that I don’t love) and the accords we experienced here had interesting cucumber and fresh facets and bloom which can sometimes lack from iris-type notes. It seems clever use of Irisnitrile can really add extra dimension to these accords.

If you think you know what cedarwood should smell like, I wish I could send you some of the Firmenich cedarwood oil Alaska through the screen because it took many of us by surprise – a sparkling grapefruit top with lots of smoky and aromatic nuances and no ‘pencil shavings’ feel. I’d love to create a masculine scent just around this material and expand every aspect. We were also shown Pepper Sichuan supercritical fluid extraction, Lilyflore, Ambrox Super and a Honey Signature base which is a blend of natural materials and synthetic captives. The honey note was so realistic that some visitors were overheard asking for a slice of toast to go with it.

And, to the next fragrant root – vetiver. Emerald Kalama Chemical showed us Azuril, Osyrol and Vetimoss (there is a clue in the molecule names to which one went into the vetiver accord) and we smelled demo formulas including blackwood and fantasy citrus. Vetiver is another one of my absolute favourite smells and I’d love to get a chance to experiment with vetimoss – there were many nuances besides straight-up vetiver that came out at me from the demo.

Pierre rolling out the red carpet

I caught Pierre personally rolling out the red carpet for the winner just before the gala dinner

If any of you follow Pierre the Perfumer on Twitter, you won’t be surprised to hear that he would be up to mischief at an entirely serious event such as the annual Perfumery Excellence Awards, and, indeed, this year he launched a whole new award: “Pierre the Perfumer Award for Most Daring Fragrance (in any category)”. The idea being that at least one of the awards should be for risk-taking in fragrance creation; putting products on the market with scents that have the potential to be divisive (many legends have been born from love-or-hate fragrances; even entire fragrance families). We asked our members to nominate and vote for all the awards in advance of the symposium which meant the awards could be engraved in time for the gala dinner. Want to know who won? Check out the winners at P&F online.

 

Pia’s (almost) annual perfume meet, tube strike edition

Valerie, Thomas and Freddie at Penhaligon's

Once upon a time I co-arranged the first UK Basenotes meet with Grant Osborne and a whole bunch of people came – many of whom became good friends. It’s the friends from that day and a few new ones each year who amble around London perfumeries with me. We also tend to indulge in nice things to eat – cake, afternoon tea, or exotic snacks (or lunch, ice cream, gin and chips like yesterday).

This year we changed the date from a Saturday in May to a Thursday in July because Valerie Cookie Queen Sperrer was going to be in London and we all wanted to meet her. To add to the serendipity, Odysseusm from Basenotes was in the UK all the way from Canada and I was so happy to have him join us.

Then the tube strike was announced. Irrespective of solidarity, the general reaction was very sweary. Of ALL days, it had to be the one that had been in the calendar for months AND could not be changed because we had more than one person from overseas! However, everyone shrugged it off. Ok, so there’s a strike – so.what.

We made our way in groups and alone to our first stop in Covent Garden by various means (mostly on foot) and actually, tube strike London was gloriously empty and quiet.

Covent Garden on tube strike dayWe also lucked out on the weather – warm, sunny; not too hot.

Nick Gilbert from Penhaligon’s had kindly agreed to host us in their basement and we spent the morning trashing it, more or less. Perfume bottles… perfume bottles everywhere…

Penhaligon's basementWe headed to Bloom afterwards and had a great time sniffing our way through scents and chatting. Had I known in advance that Antonio Gardoni from Bogue Profumo was going to be there at 4pm, we’d have arranged our visits another way, but our group was very good about going with the flow, so we just went to Bloom twice in one day. As you do.

Bloom Covent Garden

After our (first) Bloom visit, we had lunch at Bill’s in Covent Garden and I can’t recommend them highly enough after our seamlessly organised and tasty experience. They accomodated our large group very well and the food and service were both excellent. Will definitely be going there again!

Bills Covent GardenWe walked over to Fortnum & Mason because I wanted to take everyone to check out the revamped perfumery.

Our perfume meet group

Nick, Valerie, Freddie, Hannah, Grant, Pia, Thomas, Penny, Suzie, Steven, Samantha, Tara, Danny, Lisa, Andrew

Ice cream was also purchased (to go) from the Parlour (I had a blood orange sorbet which was perfect) and we walked back to Bloom to meet Antonio.

Ice cream at Fortnum's

Antonio is such a charismatic man that I think we all swooned a little bit… he let us smell various blends and components he uses for his perfumes which was an interesting insight into his process.

Antonio Gardoni

Some of us felt thirsty, so we headed to Nook and spent a couple of hours taking advantage of their two-for-one cocktail offer (I only had mocktails, by the way – the same can’t be said for the others…).

Strawberry mocktail

It was an absolutely fantastic day and I can’t wait to do it again next year (we’re also hoping to make some other trips in the future; tad more ambitious, but when there’s a will, there’s a way…)

Thank you to everyone who came!