s

SmellyBlog

The Girl Who Smells Music


This Monday, on the very same day, I had two special people enter my home. One is an Iranian santur-maker, who also will install new carpets in my place after many years of begging my landlords to do something about it. I was so pleasantly surprised by his interest in the various random musical instruments scattered around the house, and his noble manners (unlike any other handyman that ever crossed my path) that I'm almost convinced that I should begin learning to play this elusive instrument. If only because they are handmade by him and can be carried around rather than be wheeled out by two bodybuilders whenever you need to move (or get your carpets changed).

The other was Dana El Masri, who you might have heard first about through her blog The Scentinel, through which she shared her adventures studying at GIP (Grasse Institute of Perfumery) and have just a little over a year ago launched her own indie brand, Jazmin Saraï, which is based out of Montreal.

What do perfumers do when they get together? Mostly smell each other's creations and more often than never also share the woes of the industry (packaging agonies, ingredients restrictions and prohibitive costs is what we tend to whine about). It was refreshing to have a lot less of the latter, and a lot more of smelling and marvelling at what came out of each of our ateliers. The whining was more about how people can NEVER pronounce our name properly (FYI: Dana's name is simply pronounced Da-na, now "Dayna" or any other Englishized distortion of these two straightforward syllables, just as we would call her in Israel). It was a fun sniffathon and I finally got to experience not only all four of Dana's creations, but also the fifth one that she's working on. They were all gorgeous, well-composed and original and I must admit that even though when I looked at the website a year ago I was a bit skeptic of the music and perfume connection, once I smelled the perfumes all my doubts have disappeared.

Otis & Me:
Smoky yet light and green. The most subtle, and the most natural-smelling of the bunch (by the way, all of Jazmin Saraï perfumes have a high proportion of naturals, which is very apparent). Unfortunately it did not fare well on my skin and with all the strong personalities next to it I was barely able to experience its evolution on the skin. This one deserves a proper sampling. But suffice is to say that it is based on coffee - a note that I feel is underappreciated in the perfume world. It is actually a lot more diverse and capable than just making appearances in gourmands.

Neon Grafitti:
Fruity yet green, floral and with an underlining musk (FYI: Dana only uses macrocyclic musks, and these are the ones that not only smell better but are also the kind that is naturally occurring in various plants and are more friendly to the environment). It smells cool and a bit metallic, but also very vibrant and colourful. It reminded me of a scentsthat I admire but can't get near anymore, unfortunately (due to negative conditioning) - l'Ombre Dans l'Eau. It also smelled like a more fleshed-out rendition of what I would have imagined Jardin Sur Le Nil should be like before actually smelling it. It has the mango - not quite ripe and overly sweet mango, but still little green, and there is a lot more body and an interesting evolution to it the Sur Le Nil (which I experience to be only an empty aura - sillage with no personality).

How You Love:
Begins very sweet with a well-rounded sweet honey note. Nothing funky there (which is always a challenge with honey). It envelopes you like a hug. It's how I would imagine the honey perfume that Alyssa Harad talks about in her book Coming To My Senses (I know she reveals eventually what it is - but I never smelled it, so I can keep imagining it as something else all I want). There is a nutty element that reveals itself as some point, a little like hazelnut, and the dry down, while still maligning a lot of the honey, also has a warm, slightly dirty musk beneath it all. Dana has graciously left a sample of this behind, so I will wear this again and write a proper "review" of this soon.

Led IV:
Olfactory portrayals of Rock n' Roll often involve patchouli. So this "translation" is not what makes Led IV original. What does is how the patchouli is played: the fermented, wine-like quality of this controversial note are amped up by boozy davana. An herb from the Artemisia family that walks a fine line between smelling like strawberry jam, to someone who puked their strawberry daiquiri... It might sound gross, but it's what makes this note both challenging and satisfying to work with. The more I let Led IV sit on the skin, the more it grew on me: the warm, spicy muskiness of patchouli mingled with this oddball of an accessory note, complementing it but also making it very clear that it's not a patchouli like all the other niche patchoulies that have saturated the market as of late.

No. 5 was the lovelies of them all. It does not have name yet, but it's based in castoereum, and both the leathery and amber qualities really stand out right from the start. These are beautifully complemented by the leathery floral notes of osmanthus absolute. It's dripping honeyed labdanum. It has a luscious, incense with smokey-honey character underlined with a subtle, slightly nutty musk. The drydown reminds me of Laurie Erickson's beautiful Incense Pure. I am pre-ordering a full bottle of this. I have forgotten to ask her what song was the inspiration for this scent. So we will all have wait patiently until its name is revealed...

While the connection between the Santur-making careptman and a synesthetic Egyptian princess may seem only apparent to me - the connection between music and perfume is more than random. Emotions, frequencies and the same area of the brain processing both is what make these two mediums so profoundly deep and ineffable. We remember our loved ones not only by their scent, but also the sound of their voice and the music we listen to while with them. That's why we'll often find ourselves hugging an unwashed sweater while listening to old records when our baby is gone for a little trip (and of course both will trigger the waterworks if we end up breaking up).

Osmanthus Conversation with Perfumer Lisa Fong

Lisa Fong - Artemisia Perfume

For the third (and perhaps not quite the last...) conversation about osmanthus I invited Lisa Fong of Artemisia Natural Perfume to discuss osmanthus from her unique experience of synesthesia of sounds, textures and colours and her creative process - starting from inspiration through raw material selections, to choosing the name.
Please note: this conversation took place before the 2nd Artisan Fragrance Salon in San Francisco.
 
Ayala Moriel/SmellyBlog: How would you describe the scent of osmanthus?

Lisa Fong/Artemisia Perfume: Osmanthus smells like cherry, sugar, honey, and roots.

AM: How fascinating to receive a completely different reaction from each perfumer in relation to the same scent. I've never heard anyone compare osmanthus to cherry or roots. Thank you for sharing!
Have you ever smelled the fresh flowers?


Lisa: No

Ayala: You should try to get in touch with Ineke (note to self: I should invite her to the Osmanthus Conversations!) and see if you can coordinate a visit to her lovely perfumed garden when the osmanthus is in bloom. That was the only time I smelled it in real life - there were only a couple of little clusters, but they smelled amazing! Quite different from the absolute - which I think is more smiler to the dry flowers.

Do you have any scent memories associated with osmanthus? Or memories that are triggered by this note?


Lisa: Cherry cough syrup from my childhood. I think it was called Chericol, and I loved it.

Ayala: What were the main challenges for you when incorporating this note into your perfumes?

Lisa: Osmanthus is a weak oil and gets drowned out easily. I had this problem so I used a lot of osmanthus and used some black current absolute in the base to bring out the fruity notes.

Ayala: That was my challenge with osmanthus as well - it feels as if the more you add, the less of it remains perceptible. I experience black currants as a top note though, with the characteristic sharp fruity edges wearing off very quickly.


Lisa: I thought black current bud was a basenote. I could be wrong, but I like it in this blend. It seems to help push the osmanthus.

Ayala: I think they are classified as such by Poucher - but find that even with volatility rates, the perfumer's perceptions vary - so I totally value your experience and perspective of it.  Have you noticed anything unusual about the behaviour of osmanthus in a blend?

Lisa: It is very complicated and it will tend to disappear.

Ayala: Your osmanthus perfume is themed around apricot, a fruit that often is used to describe the aroma of apricot. How much of the apricotiness is real, and how much is suggested by the name alone?

Lisa: For Saveur de l'Abricot, I used real, natural apricot essence. It was perfect with the osmanthus, which has a fruity quality, but also a sort of animalistic sense. I really like the fuzziness of the apricot and tried to bring that out by adding mango leaf essential oil.

Ayala: Was this an apricot extract, or an apricot specialty? (note to readers: specialty is a compounded accord that is designed to smell like notes that would be difficult to extract in other methods).

Lisa: I thought this was actually from the apricot,but after talking with Miriam of Robertet, I now think it is a blend of natural essences made to imitate apricot.

Ayala: While we're on the topic - what's in a name? What part does the naming play in your creative process?

Lisa: The name is the last and the hardest part for me. I never start with a concept, when I try it goes horribly wrong. I must stick to the scent itself and how I wish to develop it by adding other elements. When I finish, I try to write a description of the scent, and from that find a name that reflects what I think the scent is about. With Ondine, I felt the fragrance was watery and named it after the water nymph. Since then many people do not smell the water idea, but they like it anyway.

Ayala: To me Ondine is like warm water - like hot springs.
What an intricate process - it's almost as if you're going back and reflecting/assessing your creation in order to name it.
In your mind, what is the role of the name, then?


Lisa: I see the name as a way of summarizing the fragrance and what it is I tried to capture in formulating it. I find it is so hard to describe scent in words, it seems like an impossible task. The name is really important and I never know if I choose the right one.

Ayala: How does your background as a musician affect your style of composition?

Lisa: It has everything to do with my subconscious perception of the construction of the scent. Music is both intellectual and emotional. Since I have been a musician for most of my life, it is just a part of who I am. Order and logic are important, but I also like a bit of chaos and will toss in some strange ingredients to make the fragrance more interesting.

Ayala: Do you feel or refer to scents in terms of vibrational frequencies, such as sounds or colours?

Lisa: I always listen to music when I blend, and the music does influence the blend. I listened to Chopin when I made Eros. Now I'm listening to the Smiths, it will be interesting to see what I end up with. I've got some synesthesia and I associate scent with color and texture. For example, mango leaf smells green and fuzzy to me and frankincense seems sparkly with all the colors.

Ayala: What inspired you to create Saveur de l'Abricot? What's the story behind it?

Lisa: Well Ayala, remember when you and I visited Eden Botanicals in Petaluma, last July? They had the most gorgeous osmanthus I had ever smelled. We both bought some even though it was so expensive. I decided to make a perfume from it and when blended with the apricot essence, the idea was formulated.

Ayala: Of course I do! That's what got this whole osmanthus obsession started :-)
And since then I met a couple other perfumers and their osmanthus scents, which lead to a more elaborate series of conversations.
So - have you noticed a great deal of different between osmanthus essences from different sources? Do you have a favourite - and why?  


Lisa: Absolutely. I never cared for osmanthus because I had never smelled one I liked. The ones I had smelled like solvent, but the Eden Botanical osmanthus was a revelation.

Ayala: We're fortunate to have a quality osmanthus, and I hope it will be around for a while. It's so wonderful it feels like you just can't get enough… Almost addictive! And since then I've done a few osmanthus experimentations that worked much better than in the days when I was struggling to create Kinmokusei. Since I have the new absolute, I added carrot seed, tea rose and pomelo tincture, which greatly improved the fruity, effervescent quality of the flower.

Lisa: Your osmanthus blends sound fascinating, you always have such creative ideas. I would love to smell what you create.
Thanks for letting me discuss my fragrance. See you in a few weeks!

Ayala: More like a few days now! Looking forward to it. Thank you so much for sharing your insights on osmanthus and the creative process behind Saveur de l'Abricot!

Must Read: Blurring Boundaries

Read Sophie Maxwell's interesting article "Blurring Boundaries" about synesthesia in art and creative marketing where scent can be seen, flavours and liquors are inhaled for their delicious or intoxicating effect, and there's even a scratch 'n sniff cinema...

Which makes me wonder: Are we so underwhelmed by our sensory world now that we need to reach new levels of excitement or explore new "senses" to truly enjoy anything?

Shalimar Revisited

Disclaimer: Best viewed at the theatre. Use a high volume to get it...



Some revelations need time to pass before they can be shared. Sometime this depends on how long it takes for someone to upload something into Youtube...

About a year ago I experienced synesthesia quite dramatically when I was sitting at the theatre and watching the opening of Spike Lee's brilliant (yet popular) thriller Inside Man*. As the Bollywood music rolled on, having nearly no connection at all to the opening credits, I started smelling Shalimar... The male singers' voice pouring around like melted ghee, sweet like honey syrup with rosewater over halwa and orgasmic drum beats.

I finally got the Indian connection to Shalimar. Forget about the fountains in Mumtaz Mahal's garden, or any other story they are trying to sell you... The sensuality of Shalimar's vanilla, roses and bergamot can be summed up into an Indian sweet and a Bollywood voice and ripples of silk-scarf dancing.

If you want to just listen to mohttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifre of the music, again, take this (this is the Rap Joint version at the end of the film ):



Here is the translation of the song from Urdo to English according to BollyWHAT? (it has more to do with Shalimar than the plot of the film):

He whose head is in the shadow of love
will have heaven beneath his feet.
Whose head is in the shadow of love...
Walk in the shadow.
Walk in heaven, walk in the shadow.

There's a friend who is like a sweet fragrance,
whose words are like poetry (lit. Urdu, the language of poetry),
who is my evening, my night, my existence.
That friend is my beloved!

Sometimes (my beloved) flirts like a flower,
so fragrantly that you may see her scent.
Having made it into an charm, I will wear it.
She shall be obtained as a miracle is obtained.
She is my song, my declaration of faith

(My friend is like a priest to me.)
My song... my declaration of faith...
She moves like the dew.
She walks with the garden of heaven beneath her feet,
sometimes through the branches, sometimes amidst the leaves.
I shall search the wind for her trail!

I trade in her beauty.
Fickle, she flits shamelessly from sun to shade.
She changes her bright colors;
I negotiate that as well.



*The popularity of the movie, as well as some of the soundtrack, helped Spike Lee to make his piercingly (and depressingly) provocative When The Levees Broke.
Back to the top