Catherine Haley Epstein‘s new book Nose Dive: A Book for the Curious Seeking Potential Through their Noses is a compelling jumping-off point for anyone curious about how to use their nose in creative work—whether you’re trying to create scent art (not the same thing as perfume) or simply adding something new to your creative practice.
It was especially interesting to read a survey of scent art projects, which Epstein breaks down into 4 general categories: conceptual (scent is suggested but not literally present), material (scent is present as an enhancer or counterpoint to the primary medium/piece), actual juice (love this phrase; it means that the actual scent is the primary medium), and observation (collecting and cataloging smells).
“The study of smell requires one to exit the realm of the beautiful to descend into what German philosophers used to call the Sublime, and come face to face with the enduring strangeness of raw sensation.” —Luca Turin, The Secret of Scent
Last year I took a natural perfume blending intensive class with Jessica Hannah at The Institute for Art and Olfaction. At the end of the introductory night, we made our own formula. I told Jessica, “I’m so into these 5 materials, but I don’t think they’ll ~go together~” and she said, “Let’s do it! Go for it, mix ‘em and see how it goes!” The result was this surprisingly lovely mix of benzoin and vetiver, lavender absolute and jasmine grandiflorum, and pink grapefruit.
I’ve learned a lot about blending perfumes since then and I have a lifetime of learning ahead of me, but I still put this on every once in a while as a kind of perfume “palate cleanser” and as a reminder to go for it, to mix things up and see how it goes!
Lavender is a polarizing scent, surprisingly to me! It’s one of my first scent loves, but when I ask people about the smells they like or dislike, a lot of people declare that they hate lavender. In perfumery, lavender comes in two distinctive forms: essential oil (steam distilled), which is a top note that has a more medicinal, herby aroma. This is what most people think of when they think of lavender. Then there’s lavender absolute (long story short: dissolved), which is a middle note with a softer floral aroma. It smells more like the actual flower—which is all over the place here in the PNW. 💜
Have you ever tried to sit with a smell when you don’t know what it is, and describe it without first trying to find out what it is or how someone else describes it? It almost feels like you have your hands tied behind your back, and you just can’t “reach” it. It makes you realize how limited our language for scent is! But if you let yourself stay in that space for a few minutes to observe the scent, observe your response, and observe the thoughts the smell evokes, you can arrive at some interesting ideas you otherwise wouldn’t have.