November 12, 2013

Temporary silence and new headquarters

Dear Sense of Scent reader, due to general career and life re-design I have been rather silent lately. But a new life phase is now set up and Sense of Scent is moving to a new platform so please join me at www.senseofscent.nu for more adventures in the olfactive perspective on life!

Stay scented,
S.

September 27, 2013

Raw materials: honey from Zambia

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about honey, you will find it here.  In the post you will find some historical facts about bees and honey history as well as examples of perfumes that use honey as a note. Today I got some really nice news from Lush about the honey they use so I want to re-adress this sweet theme to add some information.

A team from Lush went to Zambia to visit some beekeepers that work with traditional methods making fair trade honey that is used in the honey shampoo from Lush. The honey is made in the forest around Kabompo River and provides an important source of income for the communities in the area. The honey made here is free from pesticides and herbicides.

Photo from Lush.

Kabompo is in the northwest of Zambia and at the centre of Zambia's remaining teak forests. Beekeeping has been a tradition in the area for a long time and skills as well as hives of grass, bark and hollow tree trunks are handed down from one generation to the other. Beekeeping has turned into a thriving industry with about 3,000 traditional bark hive beekeepers in Zambia.

I like the way Lush communicate about the products, especially raw materials. Here is a film from the team's trip to Zambia. Would be very nice to see more companies highlight their raw material sources more like this, I think.


September 21, 2013

Fate.



The Alchemist, P. Coelho.

Weekend in Grasse IV: Gaglewski

Hey, sorry… I had temporary writer’s block due to some over-powering heart drama. But I am back now, and I want to share with you the story of my last evening in Grasse. (How I miss this place and how I felt being in that experience…)

There is a narrow winding long cobbled street in Grasse, Rue de L’Oratoire. Somehow wherever I would go I would find myself in Rue de L’Oratoire. In this labyrinth of Grassesque marvels there is a place I knew I would visit sooner or later. 


Before going to Grasse Institute of Perfumery I had read about Clayton’s adventures there and about his visit to perfumer Didier Gaglewski (in Rue de L’Oratoire 12). It seems many visitors to Grasse feel the need to buy perfume as a souvenir and the local shops cater to that idea in different ways. For me the real treat of being in Grasse was the access to the backstage area of the perfume industry. The fields, the insider information, the lab, the raw materials – but above all – the conversations with people who work with perfume in various ways. If I had an experience like that – and could buy something that would preserve the moment for me – then great, but perfume per se was not the main thing. But then of course a place like Grasse provides gems like Beauty Success where you can find Coriandre and Caron’s Pour un Homme! But back to Gaglewski. This encounter was really a quintessential part of this adventure.

First time I met Didier Gaglewski was when going to dinner with my Spanish friend (and I am sure future perfumer) Inma, Daniela from Fragonard and the lady that they were staying with in Grasse. The lady knew Didier so we introduced ourselves briefly when passing by his shop and said we would come back. After a few days, you see, Inma and I had embarked on an inspiring inner journey analyzing various ways to pursue olfactory paths in our future careers. And monsieur Gaglewski seemed like a very good person to turn to for some advise since he himself started to work with perfumes after pursuing a different career for some time. So a few days later we returned. 


The shop. Photo from Gaglewski.com

Didier generously shared his story with us and we spent a long time discovering his creations, from the ultra-masculine conceptual Cambouis, a humoristic flirt with the idea of a man working on his car and the smells of this, to the soft romantic Aria, a seductive classic über-feminine dream of tuberose and vanilla. I had a different instant crush though… first for the name and then for the smell, the woody Journaliste. No surprise that it includes some of my favorite notes – petit grain, mandarin, ginger, cardamom and tonka bean. The Journaliste is now here in Stockholm with me. It reminds me of the alliance between brain and heart, plans and dreams and of this very special place in Grasse. 



So, on my last day I went back to Rue de L’Oratoire, 12 to say goodbye to Didier and to show him my three own creations from school for some professional feedback. A very rewarding visit since I also had the luck to talk to the customers that came to the shop. I was struck by the great conversations that happened. So far from some of the empty quick exchanges of clichés in department stores. People ask Didier a lot about his background and profession and creations and he answers every person’s questions very genuinely and generously. A young man entered out of curiosity, not really ready for a purchase, but full of questions. It was such a nice conversation to listen to and a moment that captured some of that special thing about Grasse so well – it is a place that loves perfumes and that loves to take the time to talk about perfume with anyone who has a desire to know more. There is so much knowledge in those hills… and so little of the excluding elitism that you find between perfume shelves around the world. 

Scent strips made of ribbons at Gaglewski.


Thank you Didier for sharing your story, time and thoughts. D
ziękuję.


"Vous êtes brune, de peau mate.Vous êtes gaie et un peu capricieuse. 
Vous croquez la vie.
Votre rire cristallin ne connaît pas de frontière. 
Vous êtes si près de l'enfance que l'on se demande parfois si vous n'en sortez 
que pour paraître sérieuse, mais l'on sait bien que cela ne durera 
que le temps d'un clin d'oeil."

(From description of Aria on Gaglewski.com)

September 2, 2013

Once upon a time...

In some moments Grasse can really feel a bit like Fragonard Town. A fairly large part of the old town is dominated by Fragonard's museum and various shops offering not only fragrance but also clothes and linen. My impression is that their business seems to be going quite well.

Of course. And it rhymes.


It is unquestionable that the Fragonard family do take their role as providers of knowledge about the perfume making history very seriously. I decided to save the Fragonard museum for my last Saturday in Grasse and took not one but two tours - one in Italian and one in English. As a former tourist guide and more recently communications and marketing professional I was very interested to see how the guides of Fragonard tell the story, what tools they use and how they incorporate sales into then tour. I also had the privilege of getting some VIP guidance through the range from my friend Daniela who works there.




 
Enfleurage Süskind-style.

The Fragonard factory tour is really well-designed. There are only guided tours, no walking around on your own, so anyone who visits is more or less guaranteed to leave with more knowledge. During the tour the guides use pedagogic graphics, scents, interactive moments and go through rooms that really give the visitors the feeling of getting a backstage perspective. Very well-organised all this. The tour ends with an olfactive test where everyone guesses what notes can be found in some of the fragrances offered in the gift shop. Very clever.

Enormous raw material bottles to smell during the tour - fun!

Étoile - a nice fresh fragrance that I ended up buying.
At entry level there is the obligatory history of perfume exhibition. In comparison to the one at the International Perfume Museum next door this one is lighter and more focused on objects. I like them both, as I wrote in an earlier post I found the International Museum very informative and ambitious. In both places there are some truly exquisite objects to admire. After these two collections I am now rather obsessed with antique perfume flaçons... Especially 19th century. I leave you with some favorites of mine from the Fragonard collection.





If you see something like this at an auction do please let me know?

August 31, 2013

M: "A truly beautiful Perfume will, sooner or later, find the way to your heart...."

Synaesthetes will get this immediately – smells are like different instruments. Vetiver is a guitar, or cello if it has that hard to get coarseness. Vanilla is a soft drum. When it comes to perfumes, M for Puredistance, to me is one single clear sound. A bit surprising, even to me, as it is obviously a complex composition. This is haute parfumerie. You embrace the effect of the fragrance it is hard to grasp what kind of chemistry, poetry and magic led to this particular full-bodied gathered sensation. You can read about the notes, yes, but this is a bit like when professional communication people talk about how planning is just not the same thing as research or insight or business intelligence. Planning is connecting the dots and not only drawing a new map, but in fact creating a new destination. M is like this to me. It is Perfume with capital P and I almost feel like it does not want to be dissected. It is what it is.

During this last week at Grasse Institute Perfumery we could bring perfumes from the market to class and I chose to bring this one. It is a perfume I like, admire and wear and I enjoy the enigmatic feeling it gives me. I have read about the thoughts behind the creation but I am not quite able to connect with the leather and Aston Martin that is described. So I thought it would be fun and interesting to hear the thoughts of my classmates and our teacher.


M makes me think about this: what is luxury? What is “luxury” in a global and globalized market, in 2013, in an age of brands and concepts, in a business where profound artistry and hungry prestige keeping mixing their choreographies… In an age where the chase for what can be bought sometimes goes all bulimic only to give birth to businesses that offer what cannot be bought, such as the feeling of holding time for a moment – what is luxury? Is there any objective luxury? What exactly is it that discretely communicates it when you can’t see material or feel texture? How do you get to the feeling that what you are smelling is something that did not give up, yield or lean back but kept refining itself until it was really special.




I avoided reading about M or Puredistance before trying it. Did not check reviews, not prices, not noses or notes. I was not at all prepared for the sensation that awaited me.

I am quite fascinated and intrigued by what it is that makes this perfume feel so very refined. When I wear it I feel like it is jewellery. It is the kind of accessory that frames everything in a kind of unquestionable elegance. There are things, they can be bracelets or shoes. Maybe a bag, but I prefer an example that has skin contact. Items that accentuate something sublime in the character of a person, and make them belong anywhere you want to. Not like a mask but like an aesthetic firmness that I believe has to be carried by something inside you but accentuated by something on the outside. It is not about price (have we not seen to many of those misconceptions walking around the various catwalks of life), to me it has much to do with clarity. Like a good handshake that does not try or want to disguise anything. Sashimi. A perfect white t-shirt. But in this case - olfactory art.

Puredistance is about to launch a new perfume soon, Puredistance BLACK, I am very curious about it. From what I know it will be very close to the skin and I think there will be some interesting raw material choices though it seems these in line with the concept for the perfume will be kept secret. The nose is French perfumer Antoine Lie.

If you want to read more about the nose behind M, it is master perfumer Roja Dove. Recently he wrote a diary for FT How To Spend It that it is very nice and entertaining reading.

For more on perfume and luxury I also recommend this excellent interview on perfume blog Eyeliner on a Cat with natural raw materials master Mandy Aftel. Mandy's eloquence is as striking as her creations. In the interview Carrie captures the Aftelier way perfectly: "Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes is known for having the soul of an alchemist that deftly guides her hand in the creation of her perfumes. Her aesthetic is mesmerizing and her taste uncompromising; Aftelier final products typify of artisan luxury, from concept to execution." For some of my reflections around Mandy's work I invite you to read this post.


All images and quote in title from Puredistance

August 28, 2013

"Gentleman’s Fougère" – the scent of that man

So, this one will be entertaining for some of my friends at Grasse Institute of Perfumery I think, as they have been part of the process and we have had some real laughs while I describe ideas and blush regularly… One of our projects during the course has been to develop a fougère. Fougère means “like fern” and is a fragrance family, the name comes from the perfume Fougère Royale by Houbigant. A fougère has an aromatic top note accord with lavender and a base with oakmoss and coumarine. An aromatic fougère also has additional herbs, spice and wood. Our fougère base that we worked with in class had a lot of vetiver and bergamot. We all made the same base and then added notes individually so we ended up with eleven very different fougères in the end. We have then reworked and developed our creations during the course of the next days to find the exact right proportions.

Fougères are normally fragrances for men and I took this opportunity to experiment with a note that I have been thinking about for many months after I smelled it in a shop in Stockholm last year – fennel. Fennel has a certain kind of spicy, green, somewhat affirmative, freshness that I find very elegant. So I was very happy to see that we did indeed have fennel in the lab and that after an initial short analysis, with the help of scent strips, it did feel right. I decided to create a brief for myself that was to create a fougère that would be the olfactory reflection of a man that I would like to get to know. In order for this brief to be of help I needed to define this man and some characteristics a bit more, so that I could find the corresponding notes and olfactory details and effects that would be a correct portrait.

So, this is how I described this man. He is a man with a past, but with a young mind. Classic look with a twist. A liberal mind that likes to explore. He likes to read, both lines and space between them. For this fragrance I picture him on a Sunday afternoon in a big city like London or New York (he could be from anywhere though) reading the newspaper supplements. He has done some sort of sports activity before so he has just showered and changed his clothes which means he is fresh but with an increased pulse and blood flow. It is an intelligent person, intellectual, a home-brewed mix of books and life experience. Sometimes maybe just a little bit irritating when he gets into an encyclopedic mood (I have a weakness for men who know a lot about a lot). It is a men that knows social rules and how to use them to navigate through different contexts, polite and with poise, extrovert but not desperate for attention. He has high-quality leather or suede shoes that are not new (important detail) and he will sigh out a heavy burden in a moment and then, just as naturally, burst out in childish laughter the next. This man's rainbow has many colors and you will never entirely know him but he is good company for all sorts of challenges and adventures. There are many other aspects and details of course but these are a few examples just to give you an idea.

Now the translation to notes. The raw materials I first used apart from the fougère base were: nutmeg, clove, fennel – and then a tobacco, vanilla, vanillin accord. The fougère base gave the freshness of the body and mind of this man, but also the classic aspect. The tobacco represented his experience and the casualness of an old leather reading chair. The perfect tux with a cigar. The spices were to give a freshness that is a bit coarse and with integrity. The vanilla gave the kind of softness that symbolizes the relaxed intimate feeling of a Sunday when there is no professional pressure, but also a warm heart with genuine intentions. It was important for me to use natural vanilla as this raw material has that combination of softness and unruly dynamic. Soft but not sweet. Smooth but not really trying to please. Sensual in an innate unpolished way, like an equatorial night sky surrounded by sounds of nature kind of way.

When my first formula had gone through maceration and the raw materials found their place I felt that the feeling of the fragrance was a bit too soft and light. It was too babyface. I needed more hairy chest kind of thing, maybe also some closeness to nature, a primitive (primordial?) aspect. So I increased the vetiver, the tobacco and added a difficult one – birch tar. Tiny tiny drops, one drop too much and the formula would be destroyed. It would go completely wood chopper groin sweat and lose the pocket square. Then I left the fragrance to go through maceration again and smelled it after a few hours. Perfect. I really like it myself which is an essential aspect for this particular idea of course. Now I just want to find the gentleman that is the real life reflection of this fragrance. If you have an idea of who it might be, do let me know.




August 27, 2013

Grasse weekend part II: Musée International de la Parfumerie

The Fragonard museum(s) offer much insight and value but it is only natural that a town like Grasse should have a really good museum about perfume and perfumery that is not linked specifically to one company. In this case, it is the Musée International de la Parfumerie (just next to Fragonard). It is an impressive must-go-to that takes you through the history of perfume from the Egyptian masters to contemporary niche and mass-market brands including descriptions of work processes, production and noses.

A perfumer's "desk" with raw materials and scales. 
The path through the museum is designed in a very pedagogic way that starts with some basic scientific facts about our sense of smell, some raw materials and other facts.

Raw materials: encens.

Vanilla.
As you proceed through different rooms you can learn about the masters of religious scents in ancient Egypt and how our use of scents and perfumes can be traced back to their processes and rituals. Scent has been used as a way to connect to higher powers, as medicine and remedy and as seduction throughout the course of history. 

In the museum you also see all the accessories and tools that have been used for scented rituals and habits.

There is an extensive space dedicated to information and installations about the production of raw materials and fragrances, This of course given as this industry has been the spine of the history and development of Grasse. 

Chanel use flowers from Grasse in their perfumes. 
Musée International de la Parfumerie is a destination really worth the time. It covers many aspects of the world of perfume and it is obvious that there is a genuine ambition to cater to the needs of many different kinds of visitors so the exhibitions feature both objects, graphics, interactive elements and informative texts. 


Interactive smell machines.
There is a big space dedicated to perfume packaging with bottles from all eras and styles you can imagine. This part is very inspiring and impressive and rewarding for anyone interested in either perfume or design generally. I leave you with some of my favorites. 

Perfume jewellery, ring and container.

Beautiful work on perfume container.

Elsa Schiaparelli. Sensational!

Poison packaging. The bracelet!!

Amazing muguet glass work.

Why do we never get this anymore?

Epic cologne.



August 26, 2013

Weekend in Grasse part I: success at Beauty Success

This weekend we had an opportunity to enjoy the treasures of Grasse more than during the weekdays since we are in school at Grasse Institute of Perfumery from morning to around 5 pm.

After a week of smelling you would think we would be tired of olfactory sensations but that is just not the case. So when our initial plan of going to the coast got cancelled because no buses were driving due to a procession celebrating the liberation of Grasse we quickly adjusted a plan to local adventures.

One week of smelling in paper strips. The luxury!

Our first stop was the perfumerie Beauty Success. Maybe you can imagine that in Grasse a perfumery with top-sellers is actually quite unusual. It is much easier to find essential oils and local perfumers and their perfumes. From the outside and at first glance Beauty Success looks like just another perfumery really but when you enter you see that they offer an impressive range considering the store is not that big. And - most importantly you can also find some true treasures. I found three.

The first I noticed on my first visit a few days ago, Coriandre by Jean Couturier from 1973. Two gift boxes. The reason they attracted my attention is that I have a friend in Stockholm whose mother wore it when she was a child. This is not a bottle you will se very often in stores, I have not seen it ever (!) so obviously I had to buy it to bring home with me for my friend so that she and her mother could do some sensory time-travelling. 


1973.

The second treasure was the epic Pour un Homme by Caron, originally launched in 1934. It has a very minimalistic composition with just lavender, vanilla and musk. A treasure and a kind of male fragrance that we just don't find anymore. If it were launched today I am quite sure it would be unisex.


My third purchase was a less rare one, but a favorite of mine – Voyage for Hermès by Jean-Claude Ellena. I wear this fragrance a lot and have given it to several persons dear to me. I have the eau de toilette and deodorant but at Beauty Success they had a really nice gently scented “baume hydratant” which I have never either seen or noticed. Perfect. 

One of the best things about Beauty Success is the lady who owns it. After I paid for my purchase she asked me if I wanted her “to perfume me”. I was not quite sure what exactly she meant and I have actually never received this question like that before, so I got curious and asked her. My reward for my curiosity was the most brilliant explanation about how a person that sells perfume should – on a very concrete level – perfume the customer (if the customer says yes). Most things sounded very obvious when she said them but I am painfully aware that many many many individuals who work in retail do not think about these things. Short version with the main ones: 

  • Do not spray the front and especially never the décolletage but rather sides and back 
  • Be careful with glasses (that means do not spray on them)
  • Be careful with jewelry (that means do not spray on it)
  • Do not spray on the clothes of a customer wearing delicate fabrics such as silk
  • Spray lightly 

I know – it sounds self-explanatory. But tell me you have never seen or experienced mistakes with these details?

Something about Grasse... My guess is that if you are a reader of a perfume blog the name sounds familiar. Grasse is known as the world's capital of perfume but the local perfume industry started with leather tanning in the Middle Ages. Galimard, a tanner in Grasse started to scent leather gloves which smelled badly and after he offered a pair to Catherina de Medici the city's olfactory destiny was sealed. The perfume industry soon became the main activity as the local leather industry decreased while the demand for scents made from local flowers such as lavender, rose, jasmine and mimosa increased rapidly. 


Jasmine.

Grasse is a town in Provence, the part of Provence called Alpes-Maritimes and just about 53,000 persons live here. Many of the world's noses come from this region or have been trained here and most of France's natural aromas come from fields around Grasse. An example is jasmine, a key ingredient in fine perfumery. The roses used in the extract version of Chanel no 5 also come from Grasse. The main perfume destinations for visitors to Grasse are:

• Galimard Perfumery, established in 1747 by Jean de Galimard who provided the royal court with perfumes.

• Molinard, established in 1849 and famous for perfume bottles made of Baccarat crystal and Lalique glass.

• The Fragonard Perfumery, established in 1926 in one of the oldest factories in the city.

• Musée International de la Parfumerie - International Perfume Museum. The museum has exhibitions that show the evolution of techniques during the 5,000 year history of perfumery.

And just outside the city centre, you will also find Grasse Institute of Perfumery where I spend my happy days right now smelling paper strip after paper strip of marvel and experimenting in the lab with own creations.


Sometimes it feels like we are in a movie.