The good bits of 2016 – and my favourite perfume launches

my-favourite-perfume-launches-of-2016

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.

pia-long-luca-turin
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.

afternoon-tea-at-b-bakery-covent-garden-during-love-to-smell-live-2016
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!

love-to-smell-with-nick

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.

love-to-smell-behind-the-scenes

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.

featured-in-the-scented-letter

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!

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Gri Gri from Anaïs Biguine – fragrance for tattooed skin

Gri Gri fragrances

“Do you think perfume smells different on tattooed skin?” I ask Anaïs Biguine when we meet at Aubaine in Selfridges. Our table is tucked around the corner from the main gallery, in a section whose bleak air conditioning-vent covered ceiling has been cleverly transformed to an abundant hanging wisteria garden. Faux pale purple blossoms dangle from every available surface.

“Of course not!” she replies, and this doesn’t have to be translated – Sharon from Aspects Beauty PR is there with us because Anaïs speaks French and my French is remedial at best (I understand more than I can speak, but I would have missed most of the conversation without help).

“You don’t suppose the way in which bottles, packaging, colours… context affects our perception of scents could affect the perception of perfume sniffed from tattooed skin?” I ask, almost winking – I’m being a little bit playful because Anaïs has called her new Gri Gri (“good luck charm”) perfume range “perfume for tattooed skin” and I want to find out why.

She considers and nods: “Yes, a psychological effect, absolutely, there could be one. Maybe it would push your imagination a bit further. I see that the more daring people – people who have tattoos – will probably be more attracted to these perfumes.”

I see that the more daring people – people who have tattoos – will probably be more attracted to these perfumes.

Anaïs tells me about her creative process: “My creativity has a kind of incubation period and one day I will embark on a project for reasons that may not be clear at the time – but eventually it will start to make sense. And because I am very organised in my working life, everyone thinks that’s what I’m like, but I’m not like that at all outside work. I write, I think; I circle around different concepts and disciplines.”

Yoga meditationFor this range, there was one very specific spark of inspiration, however.

Professeur de Yoga

“I practice Kundalini yoga, which works on muscle groups and parts of your body that you didn’t even necessarily even know were there”, says Anaïs, “and a fragrance should allow you to discover parts of you that were unknown to you as well.”

“Quite often, what you think of as smelling good to you or smelling bad to you is related to your own olfactory recollections,” she explains, “and if it takes you to a good place which unlocks good emotions, that’s going to give you a great experience. So, when creating a fragrance, if you know something is going to smell good, that’s fine, but a good fragrance should also take you someplace – transport you. And it is possible that it will take you somewhere that’s not good, and that’s fine. It’s a risk you have to take to do something completely new.”

It is possible that [a fragrance] will take you somewhere that’s not good, and that’s fine. It’s a risk you have to take to do something completely new.

Anaïs describes herself as a deep thinker and tells me of her daily meditation – we all have eyes to look into the world and meditation gives you the third eye to look inside. And because through meditation she effectively has a meeting with herself every day, it helps with her intuitive creativity.

It was her yoga teacher who sparked off a burning curiosity about tattoos and eventually led to the creation of Gri Gri – perfume for tattooed skin.

“He has a lot of tattoos – and I realised I knew absolutely nothing about tattoos,” says Anaïs about her yoga teacher, “I realised that a lot of very spiritual people have them. I had the same prejudices that many people have about tattoos – that it’s only rebellious people who have them. I realised that tattoo was a universal language, but one I didn’t know anything about.”

“I’ve always been very curious about things and it was natural I should start exploring tattoos next – initially I didn’t think about perfumes at all; just felt bad that I had really misunderstood tattoos and felt remorse for misjudging tattoeed people.”

In some ways, Gri Gri became an artistic apology of sorts. Anaïs felt she had to be thorough, and so studied tattoo history, attended every exhibition she could find, read lots of books – and found a whole world she hadn’t known anything about before.

She quickly realised that there were parallels between perfume which she really understood and tattooing, which she really didn’t.

“A tattoo is a message that goes into your skin and perfume is a message that rests on your skin,” says Anaïs.

Both are costumes that we display to the outer world – messages we send out about ourselves.

Gri Gri

“I am a specialist in narrative fragrances,” says Anaïs, “very caught up in history and stories.” Indeed, her first range Jardins d’Ecrivains was about authors and their gardens – a blend of perfume and literature, two of her great loves and sources of inspiration.

She cites 19th century, baroque and the beat generation as landscapes she likes to travel over and over again and explore in different ways. For Gri Gri, each fragrance is its own story, with the tattoo and its subject as the starting point, which meant that Anaïs was keen to create fragrances based around smells native to that region and unusual raw materials – some of them artist’s impressions made up of naturals and synthetics, some locally-sourced materials.

Anaïs feels synthetics are an important part of fragrance creation: “Synthetics enhance your palette immensely and allow the perfumer to express things one can’t with naturals alone,” she explains. She works with a Japanese technician in a Grasse laboratory to refine each scent. “She’s really good at balance, so we spend a lot of time working together. Every note has to sing,” says Anaïs.

Every note has to sing.

“I had lots of completely crazy materials sent to me from all over the world so I could explore the scent profiles and be inspired,” she explains.
Moko Maori from Gri Gri

Moko Maori

Anaïs started with the facial tattoos of the Maoris of New Zealand. “Every tattoo tells of a stage in their lives,” says Anaïs, “the symbolic fern-curls found in these shapes led to an obvious theme – fougere. It also happens to be a place where they have the greatest variety of ferns in the world. You’ve got to imagine a forest in New Zealand when you smell Moko Maori.”

Moko Maori opens with a manuka honey accord so realistic I would expect bees to be attracted to the wearer of this scent – it’s not a sugary honey impression, but hay-like and very polleny. The fougere character becomes immediately apparent and the impression is of an ode to the perfumer’s fern, decorated with heavy New Zealand fantasy. The hay and pollen turn out to provide a counterpoint to the fougere-on-steroids accord; a kind of dampener which allows it to be overloaded. When I wore the scent for a few days I got a mental impression of a giant fern totem carved out of soap; of a hyper-lush alien forest full of exotic birds and insects; of a well-to-do body-conscious American juicer-type wearing it after a session with her personal yoga guru. Moko Maori is a genuinely new combination of olfactory impressions, yet achingly on-trend because it could really be described as a feminine fougere (and that’s all the rage right now, boys and girls).

If Anaïs is on trend, she doesn’t attribute it to any kind of planning or market research on her part; just following her gut. She tells me that her methods are intuitive, she composes the scents for herself, and that she loathes the idea of thinking of a ‘target market’ or even a specific person when composing a fragrance.

“Lots of fragrances are born for the wrong reasons,” says Anaïs.

I found this was the one scent out of the whole collection that I couldn’t get out of my mind and felt a real craving to re-visit again and again. It felt like discovering a novel that stays in your dreams after reading it.

Moko Maori official notes list
Top notes: Tussock Grass, New Zealand Flax
Middle notes: Fern, Kowhai, Manuka
Base notes: Lichen, Kanuka

Tara Mantra from Gri Gri

Tara Mantra from Gri Gri

Tara Mantra

According to Anaïs, Tara Mantra is based on Buddhist Sanskrit language which inspires wisdom and introspection. Most of the influence comes from India and Nepal.

Anaïs has chosen a herbal theme for this scent – it opens with a soft saffron accord, much more reminiscent of saffron in food than in perfumery and the fantasy “hing” accord, based on an Asian cooking herb follows. In fact, the whole fragrance has a quasi-edible quality and on wearing it, I found a slightly unsettling fatty animal note lurking underneath, which made the experience like wearing some kind of mystic broth instead of perfume. However, as with all of the Gri Gri scents, I strongly encourage trying them on your skin for a while and seeing what happens. This scent may take you to a place where you want to be.

Many fragrances (and indie fragrances especially) smell better on skin than on scent strips and what could be more appropriate for a range designed for ‘tattooed skin’ than perfumes which require your skin as the last ingredient.

Tara Mantra official notes list
Top notes: Saffron, Cardamom, Hing
Middle notes: Patchouli, Ajowan
Base notes: Lotus, Jasmine, Agarwood

Ukiyo-e from Gri Gri

Ukiyo-e

“I learned that the Japanese tattoo tradition was wrapped up in criminal activity, but that it has been largely reclaimed from that in recent years and become a really wonderful artform,” explains Anaïs.

She wanted to make this a very theatrical scent; the most unusual of the three, and based it around a genmaicha tea accord. Genmaicha is blend of green tea and brown rice, and so the fragrance opens with a cereal-type accord which my nose interprets as hazelnut (though I was assured by my partner-in-scent Nick Gilbert that there was a recognisable genmaicha impression in this scent; he studies Japanese and his tutor has treated him to this beverage on occasion).

However, whether a fan of hazelnut or genmaicha – this perfume is a really fun exploration and also (accidentally) rather trendy – there have been praline and nutty accords popping up in scents lately. This isn’t a fashion fragrance, so the nutty-cereal accord is dominant rather than a cautious hint. It’s a scent I really recommend experiencing for yourself, just for the ride. And I have to add this cheeky thought – far from the artistic inspiration of this scent, but one I want to share nevertheless –  if you happen to be a fan of the Dove Deep Care Nourishing Lotion with Pistachio and Magnolia, I cannot think of a better perfume for you to layer it with.

Ukiyo-e official notes list
Top notes: Genmaicha, Yuzu, Aralia
Middle notes: Daphné, Green tea
Base notes: Sakura, Ashibi

1920s tattooed woman

A new scent from Gri Gri, due out next spring

I was let in on a little secret – Anaïs is putting finishing touches on a new perfume for the Gri Gri range which she hopes to launch next spring.

“I was really inspired by the tattooed women of the 1920s and 1930s,” she says, “in some ways they represent real forerunners of female independence to me. But there are also stories of how tattoos were still viewed as something freakish, and tattooed people would sometimes be more at home in sideshows among the bearded ladies.”

Anaïs wanted to play with the idea of turning the shock value up; of creating a scent that would be as bizarre as a head-to-toe tattooed woman in the 1920s, and so, Sideshow was born.

It is a completely bonkers perfume of bubble gum, candy floss, leather and circus animal bedding – almost two scents in one – the pink ballerina tutu twirling into the ring first. It takes a moment for you to realise it’s been worn by a dancing bear.

I wore Sideshow for a night and kept giggling at it, which is usually a good sign – I am not sure if I could get away with wearing this seriously, but on the other hand, I am a huge fan of wearing scents un-seriously.

The art of tattoos

Tattoos have moved on, diversified, developed and become their own art form – above are a few wonderful examples of wearing art on your skin.

Check out these examples:

Tattoo art by Bicem Sinik

41 inspirational examples of tattoo art

Flora and fauna tattoos by Tenderfoot Studios

Double exposure tattoos by Andrey Lukovnikov

“Having a tattoo is a strong statement for someone to make. A tattoo can make you feel stronger,” says Anaïs.

It’s an excellent point. Many people choose tattoos as a way to mark their body after something else has marked it; or as a self-defining act.

On the other hand, with so many styles and inspirations to choose from, tattoos have become just another way for people to decorate themselves and it’s no longer shocking to be tattooed. If Dame Judi Dench has one, I’m pretty sure anyone can.

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.

 

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.

Givaudan_laundry_care_evaluation_photo_Volatile_fiction

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.
IMG_4200.JPG

I spent some time with the Givaudan perfumery school director and students – and will be writing about that soon – will let you know where.

Givaudan_Perfume_School_photo_Volatile_Fiction

Givaudan perfumery school

Salt and cherry air

ODOU4We’re in love with stories. Our brains prefer a narrative structure to information. Communicating about smell is hard. Perfumers, evaluators, marketers, sales people and perfume bloggers have to do it all the time and our ability to do so is limited by language.

In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been doing a lot of smelling in the lab.

“Why am I getting a marzipan note?”

“Oh yes – but it’s not marzipan – it’s the air above a jar of maraschino cherries.”

Or:

“It’s very white.”

Or:

“I need a salty smell.”

Or:

“It’s got a coriander note, or more specifically, the dry heat sensation of coriander.”

Die Grenzen meiner Sprache bedeuten die Grenzen meiner Welt.
The limits of my language mean the limits of my world
Ludwig Wittgenstein

My article in ODOU Issue 4 talks about the reductionism of perfume to its ingredients. On one hand ingredients are, of course, of great interest to perfumers at the point of creation (odour, cost, impact, regulatory issues, stability). A perfumer may get deep into discussion with another about a new aroma chemical and its use levels in different applications or about a natural material which they have found exciting in recent work. Whole conferences are dedicated to showing off new raw materials to perfumers.

Sometimes the spark of inspiration for a new perfume is a single raw material. In some cases a particular note may strongly influence how the finished scent smells. Some brave brands have even started mentioning aroma chemicals in their marketing. Still, these are technical discussions. They are useful to perfumers and to product creators, but won’t convey how the complete perfume smells. One can’t even say “I know blue suits me, ergo, this new blue dress will suit me” because perfumes aren’t made up of blocks of smells, nestling side-by-side. When you add smell 1 + smell 2 you don’t get 3. You get a completely new smell. Perfumers are illusionists. Listing fragrance notes in a pyramid or on press releases is never going to be as good as smelling the thing itself.

And since we do love a good story, romantic stories of ingredients (where they came from, what they smell like, who discovered them, where they’ve been used before…) can help sell a fragrance. Sure. It’s all part of the theatre and it works.

However. Should we insist that the value of perfume is entirely about the value of its ingredients? Do we want consumers to start calculating how much the juice in the bottle costs and thinking “hold on a minute, I’m being ripped off here.” Of course not. Should books or paintings be reduced to their raw materials? Is that what they’re worth? Did the author or the artist not have something to do with the value of the end product?

Read ODOU and let me know your thoughts.

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.