Perfume Insights from Raw Materials

Sometimes smelling a raw material feels like discovering a Rosetta Stone—it unlocks a perfume that until then I couldn’t quite decipher.

flouve1Recently I had this flash of recognition with flouve absolute (see description below), which was entirely new to me, but upon smelling it I suddenly understood what’s going on in Oriza L. Legrand’s Chypre Mousse. Similarly, when I smelled a gorgeous fir absolute, it felt like I could more deeply understand Slumberhouse’s Norne and its dense, sweet, “jammy” forest character. I don’t know if this material is in the perfume, but when I smelled hydrocarboresine (made from the gummy resin of labdanum) my mind instantly went to Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma, and the chewy quality of its smoky leather made more sense, like I could see the through-line from incense to chocolate.

Have you had this experience with any raw materials and perfumes?

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From Steffen Arctander’s Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin. 

Perfume: Nuit de Bakelite

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Alluring, unsettling, assertive galbanum leather. The nose (perfumer) behind it, Isabelle Doyen, calls this scent an “insomniac tuberose… a sleepless flower stripped of its solar finery. I had this image of a flayed, wounded tuberose in my mind, seeping its perfume like sap.” The idea of insomnia is a perfect fit. Nuit de Bakélite has the wakefulness of a green perfume but none of its well-rested freshness. This is also, it turns out, a tuberose, which I find difficult to reconcile. Nez magazine reviewed the perfume in issue 4: “A rooty galbanum with intonations of pea, carrot and green pepper spits out a scent of crisp, aqueous, almost poisonous sap like that exhaled in exotic hothouses. [Doyen] colours this with a buttery iris and verdant violet, tracing the broad but defined contours of a vintage green chypre. The tuberose’s spices are then layered over a smoky tobacco, submerged in hot resins, distressed leather and milky musks. Secreted behind its eccentric opening are the perfectly executed seams of Nuit de Bakélite. Like a brazen dancer dressed in a loud green veil, twirling like the visionary Loie Fuller. After a slow striptease, she reveals her houndstooth suit; fitted jacket and pencil skirt, classic and well-tailored. Suddenly chastened, she blows clouds of smoke in your face, drawn from her cigarette holder… made of bakelite, of course.”

Gourmand Perfumes for Fall

 

Or du Sérail by Naomi Goodsir smells like sexy Thanksgiving—a cornucopia of fruits dripping with honey, soaked in rum, edged with tobacco. It’s the smell of the color gold. Warm, voluptuous, its texture balances somewhere between velvet and silk. A delicious and seductive scent for autumn.

Salt Caramel by Shay & Blue is a lighthearted gourmand: salty, creamy, caramel popcorn that is simply delectable. In my mind I was “saving this one for fall” while in reality I wore it throughout the summer too. Summons Halloween treats or a seaside carnival, whichever you’re in the mood for.

Jeux de Peau by Serge Lutens smells like comfort: warm milk, freshly baked baguettes, crusty and toasted on the outside with soft, warm, pillowy centers. Licorice notes are nestled underneath, complicating things. This is a gourmand perfume, but not in the usual sweet way. In fact, someone recently suggested to me that milk is an animalic note, and I think Jeux de Peau may be a point in their favor. Milk notes in perfumery (lactones) live on a continuum with apricots, coconut, and even osmanthus, and hints of those notes live in Jeux de Peau, softening the milk and blending its edges into the buttery woods. This is the scent of the idea of a hearth: warm, a blanket wrapped around you while homemade bread bakes in the kitchen the next room over. A cat dozes in your lap, purring.

Mushroom Smells

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Ever since I ate that matsutake mushroom dish a few weeks ago, I’ve been curious about the smells of different types of mushrooms. So last weekend I went to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Annual Wild Mushroom Show and got to see, smell, touch, and taste a lot of mushrooms! My new favorite aromatic mushroom is the candy cap, which smells like maple syrup with hints of curry when dried. It’s used in all kinds of sweet desserts. I was talking to @wurstillustrations and she mentioned that as she’s become more experienced identifying mushrooms, she relies on smell more than sight.

After the show, of course I rummaged through my library (**hoarder’s stockpile) of perfumes to find some mushroomy scents. 🍄

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Chypre Mousse by Oriza L. Legrand is so weird and I love it. Frothy, mossy, loamy, with an odd green and aromatic sourness, no hard edges whatsoever, and a whisper of mint.

After the Flood by Apoteker Tepe also has a fresh, “forest floor after the rain” mood to it, but it focuses more on aquatic notes. This one has edges and contrast—like seeing the light and shadows of sunlight filtering through pine trees.

Cepes and Tuberose by Aftelier Perfumes departs from the “fresh” forest floor theme and goes full-on dirty sexy floral. It’s rich, earthy, and sweet with bitter orange and a hint of spice. Gorgeous.

Zoologist Perfumes for Halloween

bat2Happy Halloween! Today is the perfect day for Bat by Zoologist Perfumes. 🦇 This cavernous beauty was created by local Seattle-based perfumer Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids Perfume. It’s the scent of a dank cave, humid nighttime soil, bananas and soft fruits beginning to rot. It’s a little bit leathery, a little bit earthy, a little bit sweet. This formulation was recently discontinued, which is its own kind of horror. 👻

Last weekend I dressed up as Velma Dinkley from Scooby Doo, and I also happened to choose a Zoologist fragrance for the costume. Since Velma is always snooping around haunted places, I went with Moth. It’s a dusty indoor floral that becomes more and more musty in the dry down—it often makes me think of Miss Havisham.

Scented Screening: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

Last night I hosted my first “scented screening,” and it was so interesting and fun! We watched The Blair Witch Project (1999). Light spoilers ahead.

This movie was a fun one to scent because while the setting is basically consistent throughout—they’re in a forest—I could use smells to play up emotional undertones. The pacing was crucial as well: it was slow enough that adding another sense to the mix doesn’t compromise the viewers’ attention. The action is also somewhat ambiguous, leaving room for scent to play with our interpretations of what’s happening onscreen.

How it worked was simple: I dipped paper strips and passed them out at key moments; generally one scent every 10 minutes or so. Some were raw materials or a mix of raw materials, and some were perfumes.

I used Nuit de Bakélite by Naomi Goodsir to set the tone: green, insomniac, unsettling, with plasticky notes evoking camera equipment. 

Chris Rusak’s lo, with its incense and woods, signaled that we’re in the midst of something ritualistic.

I used Hiram Green’s Hyde for warmth and subtle sweet undertones, inspired by the way the characters try to cope and get comfort from each other in a terrifying situation.

Secretions Magnifiques by Etat Libre d’Orange: a notorious scent for a notorious scene. I wasn’t sure how my audience would take this scent. It’s like a brick wall of stale sweat to me, but I hoped it would smell like BO, snot, and raw fear. To my surprise, the audience actually found the scent quite pleasant! They said it smelled fresh, or like cotton. I wonder how much they influenced each other on that one, or how much I’ve been influenced by descriptions of the perfume.

Finally came Moth by Zoologist, a musty haunted mansion. One audience member disagreed with this scent choice—he said it was too pleasant for what was happening onscreen. I liked that reaction, because then we could talk about what kind of scent expectations we had and how we all thought the setting should smell.

Overall it was a fun way to further engage with a classic movie. What scents would you choose for The Blair Witch Project?

Perfume Material: Frankincense

I’ve been having fun burning frankincense and other resins as incense lately. Frankincense specifically is one of the more light, “clean”-smelling resins with notes of lemon and pine.

Trees of the genus Boswellia ooze the resin “tears” from “wounds” that harvesters cut into the bark.

My favorite frankincense perfumes are Avignon by Comme des Garcons which perfectly evokes that high church blend of frankincense and myrrh that Catholics will remember from their childhood; Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur, which showcases the cleaner side of frankincense, somewhere between freshly showered and cool & cavernous; and Camel by Zoologist, rich and warm with incense and sweet dried fruits. Do you have a favorite incense or incense perfume?