Patchouli Days

Someone turned up the heat in Vancouver, and must have also switched the "patchouli" button in me because I'm still craving this musky, pungent and unusual note for over a week.

While taking advantage of whatever little is left of Film Noir sugar scrubs on my bath tab shelf, I dab a tad of Film Noir parfum on to complete the patchouli theme - resinous, thick and rather ancient patchoulis paired with chocolate and benzoin.

But the more "experimental" thing to try in this unusual weather was a spray on each armpit with "Refresh" by Yuko Fukami (Parfum Phyto). She made this special blend as a deodorant, and although don't know everything that's in it, I can tell you that it smells like a lovely melange of lavender, ylang ylang and pathcouli - and thankfully none is particularly strong (I'm not a fan of strongly scented deodorants); yet the patchouli lingers on nicely and beautifully masks the musky eau de armpits. At least it did in the last two days, which were the hottest of the year so far! And that's very impressive for an all-natural deodorant (which can be usually deemed useless).

Listening to Incense

Koh-Doh Ceremony with Yuko Fukami of Perfume Phyto
And as if walking all around the botanical gardens wasn't amazing enough for one day - there were more to come as the evening unfolded. Yuko Fukami (Parfum Phyto) has invited Lisa Fong (Artemisia Perfume) and me to her home. She has just come back from Japan and wanted to share with us some of the rare woods she brought with her.

It was my first time ever experiencing incense-burning the Koh-Doh style. In this technique, the woods are not burnt, but rather warmed up on a paper-thin mica plate. The plate is placed on top of a heap of ash that is carefully decorated like raked sand in a Zen garden; and conceals a burning ember - a natural coal that was placed in there before hand.

Koh-Doh Ceremony with Yuko Fukami of Perfume Phyto

Lisa had no idea what was awaiting us, as she's never heard of Koh-Doh (the way of incense) and so everything was completely new to her. As for me - even though I have some of the basic koh-doh tolls (the ash bowl, ash and neat square bamboo coals) - nothing in the world could have prepared us to the experience we were about to have.

Yuko spend most of her life in the USA, so there was non of the strict code of silence you'll have to obey in Japan. She explained to us every step and what she's experienced in Kyoto in a traditional incense ritual.

Once the charcoal was warm, and the pattern was formed on top of the rice ash, Yuko began opening each one of the little packets which were placed on the rainbow-shaped wooden tray. Everything in Koh-Doh is wrapped in beautiful handmade Japanese paper (including the tools you see next to the bowl).

There is a single purpose for everything in Japanese ceremonies. Yuko and I were particularly excited about the feather - a new tool in her collection, which I knew of but had no idea what it's used for. It's sold purpose is to brush the sides of the bowl in order to clear it of any excess ash, after the pattern has formed. This way the bowl looks neat and tidy.

each of the six packets were carefully labeled in Japanese calligraphy. Using tiny tongs, Yuko placed each peace of agarwood shaving (as thin as a mosquito's leg!) over top the warm mica plate. She demonstrated the cupping technique, in which the hands protect the precious smell from escaping and allows it to penetrate one's nostrils and entire being. The cup is passed in a a specific way so the pattern is always facing outwards. It might seem from the outside as if each participant is inhaling the steam of a very fine tea, and savouring it (we will get into the aroma later).

Everything is done in silence and each person in this unique commune would write their impressions later on a piece of paper, or if prompted to discuss it, the ceremony's recorder would write it on a rice paper scroll (which Yuko got to keep from the ceremony she attended in Japan). Each woods is passed several times until its aroma is too faint.

Now that I explained the process, you're probably dying to hear what the smell was like. We smelled only one type of wood: agarwood, or kyara (prounouced "Ka-Rah", with a rolling Japanese "R", of course). Each had its own specific characteristic and country of origin. However, although they were all agarwood, they did not smell the same at all. Some were sweet and flowery, while others more spicy and warm. Others were smoky and animalic. The interesting thing was that there was no real smoke involved - only gentle heating of the wood to release its rare aroma, to redeem its soul and unite with it for a few precious moments. The experience was like no other - neither incense burning, nor experiencing pure agarwood oils; and believe me, I've burnt some amazing incense in my life already, and smelled enough agarwoods to be able to tell that they can be strikingly different from one another...

It felt as if we were not burning incense, but communing with ghosts. There was a real presence and personality to each wood, and although the experience is very different from that of perfume - there seemed to be phases similar to the top/heart/base in Western perfumery, that are innate to the wood itself. As the aroma dissipated different facets revealed itself - what at first smelled minty, would have ended smelling more woody-clean.

Agarwood is such an incredibly powerful plant, that it might feel as if you're completely intoxicated when inhaling its deep aroma. It's very difficult to describe the scents, and even more difficult to recall it over a week later. At some point in our conversation, I realized that describing the different woods is defeating the purpose of Koh-Doh: savouring the aroma, diving into it and allowing it to possess you, and sharing this precious moment it with the other participants. But I could be wrong - as categorizing and describing is a huge part of classic Koh-Doh.

Only one thing was for certain: each wood had its own personality, and we were having way too much fun. The hours just went by and it wasn't till about midnight that we left, not completely sure that our state of mind was safe enough to drive.

Feng Shui for the Soul - Visiting Yosh + GIVEAWAY

There is a strange thing in the perfumers’ world: we don’t need any ice breakers. For those of us already familiar with each other’s work, it’s not uncommon for our first meeting to feel like reuniting with a long lost friend. Independent perfumers work in such isolated environment, that we seek each other’s companionship virtually and it is more often than never that before meeting one another, we have corresponded via email and exchanged samples of our work or raw materials in the mail.

Yosh's path and mine crossed when we discovered our mutual interest in spies. We both have perfumes that are inspired by this mysterious world – Yosh with her Ginger Ciao perfume (and fictional character…), and me with Espionage, both of which just so happen to be our best-sellers too! This was a few years ago, and I was thrilled when the opportunity finally struck to visit in San Francisco and that Yosh was not only available to meet me, but also graciously invited me to stay at her home AND throw a perfumers’ party especially for my spontaneous visit!

As soon as I arrived in San Francisco, I headed to Barneys to meet up with Yosh. I had very little time to spend with her, unfortunately, as the trip from SFO to downtown took longer than we anticipated, and also, I had a previous engagement with Mandy Aftel, of which I have just finished blogging about moments ago, so I was in a bit of a rush... We got briefly acquainted, and I got to see her lovely display at Barneys and meet the sweet people who work at the cosmetic and fragrance department there, not to return there until the next day to thoroughly explore what they have to offer in the word of scent.

I didn’t get to see Yosh again till a few hours later, at her home in a beautiful, old San Francisco building. Yosh must be a gifted feng-shui master (knowingly or not – I haven’t asked her), because the moment you enter her home, you feel welcome and comfortable. Just like the lady who inhabits it, it’s bubbling with life and so hospitable and at the same time very peaceful and serene.

When I arrived with Laurie Stern of Velvet & Sweetpea Purrfumery (who picked me up from Berkeley), Yosh’s home was full of perfumers and scent artists, gathered in her studio space around a table with many delicious treats that everybody brought and made, including beautiful salads that Yosh made, pretty red Velvet cupcakes, wine cheese, and Laurie brought an incredibly delicious plum & almond tart, and also gave me this beautiful honey she harvested from her own bees – I swear to you, it tastes a little rosy, they probably feed off geranium flowers!

Oh, and I almost forgot about the amazing homemade limoncello that Laurie brought - she made it from those HUGE variety of lemons that have very little pulp and very fragrant peel, and it tasted as if there was vanilla in it (but there was none - just lemon zest). Needless to say, it was the best limoncello I've ever had.

Among the guests were no other than Jeanne Rose - seasoned aromatherapist and herbalist, pioneer natural perfumer and world renown educator, and fellow Canadian independent perfumer Ineke Rühland and there was also a teacher from San Francisco . It was a fun surprise to meet in person Yuko Fukami from Parfum Phyto, who is who participated with me in the Midsummer’s Night Dream Scent Event, and I got to smell her creation Dreams – a delicate perfume with sweet osmanthus and an overall subtle powdery fruitiness. She also makes Neriko (Japanese kneaded incense, which is similar to kyphi), so our interests are not limited to perfume alone and I’m hoping to see her this week when she’s visiting in Vancouver! Another surprise was meeting artist Bruno Fazzolari
and finding out that he teaches a full term perfume course at the California College of Art.

Ineke brought out no less than four (!) new perfumes that she's working on to show us, and we all marveled at the beautiful packaging design and tried them on. They were all floral and pretty and inspired greatly by her beautiful garden, and quite different in concept than her abecedary collection. And I shared my last few scented chocolate bars and showed my little traveling perfume wardrobe of recent and upcoming creations such as Smiling Country, New Orleans and Oras, and a couple of other scents that won’t be released till 2012. It was a true perfume party, and there were even more perfumers in the room than there were in the party I was at in Grasse in 2009. San Francisco seems to be buzzing with creative independent perfumers that collect scents like bees do with pollen…

And despite the fact that we are all technically speaking “competitors” there was no sense of that word in the air, but the opposite – a sense of community, and one that is very supportive, inspiring and encouraging. We ran ideas about anything to do with raw materials, packaging, marketing and creative process and enjoyed every moment of it. The last of us partied till the wee hours of the night, which seemed almost effortless, despite the fact that I woke up before 3am that day to catch my early morning flight…

The next morning we woke up early enough to get some things done, but late enough to not feel exhausted; Yosh fixed up the most delicious breakfast of granola, yogurt and fresh ripe peach; and than showed me some of her perfumes.

I was instantly smitten with Yosh’s newest perfume (launched at the end of 2010), Sombre Negra – a dark, woody and spicy-warm dusky vetiver, accented with patchouli, tobacco, choya loban opoponax oakmoss, davana, pink pepper and mushroom. Experiencing this very “serious” perfume was of course contrasted with Yosh’s sense of humour as she sprayed it on a “moustache” – her funny invention of scent “strip” that makes you look as if you’ve just grown a Groucho Marx moustache every time you smell something…

Than I set off to Barneys by Union Square (the photograph you see is of her beautiful display there, of both her parfum oils in the flacons, and the new EDP spray bottles, which have invisible spray tubes – ever so elegant!), before I headed to my ultimate destination – Sonoma County.

Last but not least - what is your favourite Yosh perfume, or any perfume from the San Francisco perfumers mentioned in this article, and enter to win Ineke's Vol. 2 deluxe sample collection (of her first 5 perfumes).

* Photos courtesy and copyright of Yosh Han, unless stated otherwise.

P.s. All these events took place June 29-30, and recounted after I got safely back to my home in Vancouver :-)

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