Monthly Archives: January 2012

Scents affect us in many ways. One is that they give us pleasure. (Or the opposite if we are unlucky). Another is that they connect directly with our memory and imagination. Who would we be without our memory and imagination?

This post will be without pictures, deliberately. You will get your own pictures in your head when reading it and it is important that it is just like that.

When I moved to Amsterdam to study communication I had the fortune to make many Italian friends in the student house where I stayed. After I had introduced myself to one of them he started to recite a poem. (If you are Italian, or from a Latin culture or maybe just from anywhere south of the Baltic Sea this might sound normal to you. To me, raised in Sweden, this was magic). The poem was ’A Silvia’ by Giacomo Leopardi. Naturally I became Leopardi’s biggest fan that very second and bought a book with his poems within a week. For years I had an inner image of this poet as a tall charismatic sensual passionate Man of Art & Words. And then one day I started researching and found out that this ardent heart belonged to a man who had a very short, very isolated and very non-carnal life due to illness. He was not attractive, and in lifelong physical and emotional pain. He was also alone. Much of the time physically, most of the time emotionally it seems. Not only in a romantic sense, also in his family and in an existential sense.

Yet this man created the most tender, sublime, dynamic and powerful poems that you can imagine. About life and what being human is about, yes. But also about women, desire, the dance of heart and the reflection of one soul in another. What is reality? The inside or the outside?

In an earlier post I wrote about Polge comparing poetry and perfume, that perfume is like a kind of language. It is something that communicates. Naturally, the creation of perfume is much like the creation of poetry. But I would like to highlight one particular power that they share – poetry and perfume both have this almost undefinable ability to create The Other. The feeling, experience, world or phenomenon that does not yet exist or that is not here. A creation for the senses that they do not yet know about, or cannot anticipate. I think what I am trying to say, put in a very simple way – the power of sensual experience to take us on journeys… somewhere. And this somewhere can be back, future or away. The somewhere can be known or unknown until we get there. Art can do this, also music. Take you somewhere.

Proust referred to involuntary memory. That does not mean necessarily “unwanted” but rather that it is not deliberately created by your intellect. The term is described here, but you will probably experience it the best if you read Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ where you will find the episode with the madeleines. You can find an excerpt with this part of the book if you google, for example here.

We should not undermine the power of scents. Not only as an aesthetic, as an attribute, but as something that affects our brain. Scents have a fascinating capacity to activate memories and feelings and can be used in therapy to activate the brain. Scents can give you real physical pain when you find a sweater that still bears the smell of a lost person. Scents can create collision between the past and the present. Scents can awaken desire to have something or someone that is not at all in that zone of your life yet. Scents can make you feel more comfortable in one country than in another. Scents help us choose our partners and teach our children that we are theirs and they ours. (Speaking of which, I have been reading about pheromones lately and there is so much that I want to tell you that I just do not know where to start.)

Try to activate the scents of your life and relationships. The lilies at your wedding. The summer clothes drying in the sun. The first snow. Swimming in the sea at night. Hair damp from summer rain. Freshly baked bread. Airports. A new piece of writing on a sheet warm from the printer. Your favorite ingredient. Your friends home. Coffee. The way your city smells when you take your first step outside in the morning. Think about what smells there are in different places and situations that are significant to you. See if there is some way for you to make them concrete and possible to re-create. Add olfactory memories to your relationship – maybe there is a particular fragranced candle or flower or spice that you can return to on anniversarys and important days just to evoke that special feeling. Give your child fragrance memories because he or she will remember them forever. Buy spices on your travels or find the plants that grow in the destination your fantasies like to return to. Also it is not unusual that perfume houses have fragrances inspired by specific places, just look at Byredo and Chanel. But it is of course not sure that their memories are the same as yours.

The attentive returning reader of this blog might now be thinking that I am contradicting myself. Because I have said many times that we should search for the fragrances that reflect who we are and avoid trying to create something else with superimposed olfactory characteristics. True. But I am not saying that you should wear a fragrance that smells of Buenos Aires, Cape Town or Tokyo but not of you. You want a scent of a geographical place that probably reminded you of a place in yourself. This  is precious, and personal. Your memories are parts of your inner you. Some memories, and some parts of ourselves, we prefer to let rest un-activated, but some we want closer. Scents can help you with that.

I just returned from a voyage to Aruba. An eclectic world with eclectic minds and souls, eclectic tastes, eclectic landscapes and eclectic scents.

There is the soft breeze, like a caress. Balsamic but salty. There is the sand and the beach that smells of sun and sea shells and sun screen. There are aloe plants that smell like chicken soup when you hold the leaf or branch in your hand, but like a kiss when you put it on your skin. There is passion fruit that smells like peach and cashew cake. There is a spice on the blackened fish that smells of voyages and Caribbean heat. And the taxis…they are fragranced with something that smells like softest vanilla – mixed with the typical new-car-smell. They are driven by men and women dressed up as if they are on the way to Sunday church and there is either Luther Vandross (or -ish) or Michel Telò on the radio.

After a few days in Aruba your sweat smells like spices and vanilla and salt. Your skin smells like a hot stone.

I wore no perfume on Aruba. In the cosmetics shops they sold a perfume that was supposed to capture the scents of this island. It was in bottles that seemed to be designed for kids with opaque sea shells in glass. The fragrances were light, flat and banale. Quite the opposite of the real life olfactory impressions.

The only time I actually applied a fragrance was an accident. I bought Aruba rum at the airport and by accident dropped the bottle. In the process of picking up glass pieces and putting all the things in a new dry plastic bag I got rum on my hands and arms. Didn’t think about it until a while later when I lifted my hand and felt this amazing soft balsamic scent on my skin. No alcohol odor, just a sort of solid balsamic vanilla-esque smooth veil. Completely beautiful. My instant thought was that maybe I don’t feel it but in fact smell like happy hour… But no. It was the perfect summer heat scent. So I thought, ok, I will bring the rum home and wear it like a fragrance! Weird but hey… what feels so good cannot be bad. Anyway… the customs in Amsterdam took my Aruba fragrance which apparently was not sealed well enough. So I have it only in my memory. For the moment.

Fresh Aruba Aloe, however, I am privileged to have brought with me back to the very Northern hemisphere as I was given my very own little plant from a special person. I hope it will like its new home as much as I liked my temporary home in Aruba, Bucuti, a sanctuary of beauty and kindness.

We take photos when we travel. We buy souvenirs, clothes, spices. But how to preserve the scents in the air and the feelings that they create?

I miss Aruba.

I LOVE this idea.

The Perfumed Court offers samples of more perfumes than you can imagine. Well-known ones, vintage, rare editions… Perfume is taken carefully from the original bottle and put in a smaller sterile glass bottle that you can order. This way you can discover all the notes and fragrances you were curious about without spending a fortune – or making choices before you actually made them.

Love it.

The more you learn about perfume, and yourself, the braver you get and the more curious. This magnificent development can become quite an expensive one though… And I think we all have a couple of bottles of almost-perfect standing somewhere.

There is a great solution. A really smart service offered by three perfumistas called The Perfume Court. I am completely in love with their idea.

The Perfume Court offers perfume samples and perfume decants of a long list of perfumes – some of them vintage and rare limited editions. The samples are done by hand by carefully taking perfume from its original large bottle and repackaging it in a smaller (sterile glass) bottle.

First time I heard about this I thought it sounded too good to be true or like a given trap. But it’s not. So now I am just simply in love with this. 

Maybe you read about notes and/or perfumes on this blog that you are curious about but hesitant to buy? I have a long list of potential new favorites, and perfumes that I just want to get to know because they sound interesting. I don’t mind investing in an expensive special fragrance but I hate wasting money and things that just stand there. So for me… this is a great solution. Generally I think samples are the solution to braver perfume users but not all perfume houses offer them generously and not everyone feels comfortable asking for them. Therefore a more accessible sample market is great and even if you have to pay because usually the prices are quite moderate in relation to what you get.
Have fun!

Vetiver in a perfume signals a woody note, although it is not a wood type at all but grass. Vetiver grows in India, Thailand, China, Java, Haiti and the island of Réunion (a small island outside of Madagascar – the main things I remember from a trip there 15 years ago was that there was a lot vanilla everywhere, an active vulcano and amazing fruit). The oil is brown and thick and the odor is sweet, amberesque and balsamic but also woody, smoky and earthy. The oil distilled in Haiti and Réunion has a more floral quality and is considered of higher quality. Haitian vetiver is appreciated but after the earthquakes in 2010 supply has changed drastically (affecting prices). If you look at the information about the notes in a perfume with vetiver you should be able to see where the vetiver in it comes from. For example Creed’s vetiver is haitian.

Vetiver can smell in different ways, more or less sweet, earthy, smoky etc. From sweet moss to dry hay. This depends on where the grass grew but also on how the oil is processed. (The oil often goes through several chemical processes before parts of it are used in perfumes, among other things to soften the scent). You will often hear vetiver-fans discussing their particular favorite vetiver-kind. Which means – that if you are curious about vetiver and want to discover if it could be your thing – then try several ones. Try fragrances with a couple of different kinds of vetiver rather than finding one and letting it decide whether you ”like vetiver” or not. Vetiver is more common as a prominent note in perfumes for men, and often considered a classic male note. But readers of this blog know how I feel about these things… If you want to go on a vetiver-safari here are some suggestions for destinations.
And then of course monsieur Ford.

Also, I have to recommend this article by Clayton of What Men Should Smell Like about the Guerlain Vetiver Pour Elle because it is so very beautifully written.
Good night, sleep well.

Two films about what I consider to be one of the most important books ever written… Journal d’un parfumeur. Jean-Claude Ellena. I will spend the rest of my evening speaking with a French accent. Try it. It really makes life better. Bonne soirée à vous tous et à la prochaine.

Opoponax, also known as sweet myrrh, grows in particular in Iran, Italy, Greece, Turkey and in Somalia. The herb grows one-third meter to one meter in height. A resin is extracted from the stem by making an incision. The resin is drinkable in liquid but has a bitter taste, and the odor of the fresh resin is supposedly also quite unpleasant. The resin hardens when exposed to air and creates little dried pieces, which is how it is most commonly sold. And here is where the story starts getting more olfactory interesting and pleasant: the dried resin is inflammable and if burned as incense it gives a woody balsamic smell that has been a part of spiritual ceremonies for many, many, many years.  The name opoponax, sometimes spelled opopanax, has its origin in the Ancient Greek word for vegetable juice and healing. 

The opoponax resin and oil also have an interesting role in medical history. The oil/resin are muscle relaxant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory and stimulate circulation. They can be used for antiseptic and anti-parasitic purposes, and have been used throughout history as treatment for various medical conditions such as spasms, asthma, bronchitis, chronic visceral infections, painful menstruation, arthritis (mainly Chinese medicine), hysteria and hypochondria (!). In Somalia specifically, opoponax resin is used in folk medicine to treat stomach problems and for wound healing.

It is not difficult to find sweet myrrh essential oil for private medical use, a google search will lead you to several web stores that offer it. Its primary use is by topical application, for example mixed with coconut oil you can use it for sore muscles and joints. Only use it externally. Opoponax is often used as incense in spiritual, religious and other ceremonies. Therefore you can also find it in web shops such as St John’s Bookstore that belongs to the St John Monastery in California. They sell dried resin pieces that they import themselves from Somalia. In their product description the scent is described as a “complex scent reminiscent of brown sugar, butter, and lavender, with hints of rosemary”.

When used in perfume making opoponax is often combined with frankincense, vanilla, rose, cinnamon, patchouli, sandalwood, lavender and citrus oils. It has a spicy-sweet herbal scent that is also popular at spas. 

So now you might be thinking… what perfumes are there that smell of this liturgical remedy? 
Not too far-fetched an example is Opoponax from Officina Profumo-Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella in Florence, one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. 

A magic place that you should go to if have not yet. It was founded by Dominican friars shortly after their arrival in Florence in 1221. The pharmacy used medicinal herbs grown in the monastic gardens to make medications, balms and pomades for the monks’ infirmary. In 1612 it opened to the public and still today we can go to Via della Scala to find elixirs, creams, waters, soaps, teas, fragrances and a million other things in beautiful bottles and boxes that all smell of ancient insight. I love the face tonics and hair products… If you are interested in reading more about Officinina Profumo-Farmaceutica di SMN, I suggest for example this article
Another overt tribute to opoponax is Imperial Opoponax from Les Néréides. A fragrance that combines opoponax with benzoin, sandalwood, amber and vanilla. I have seen this fragrance appear in many places in the online perfume world, and the reviews strike me as very heterogenous and puzzling. 
You will also find opoponax in the one and only Shalimar as well as in Opium from YSL, L’Eau Ambree from Prada and Pomegranate Noir from Jo Malone to give a few examples. Chanel perfumes often include opoponax, you will feel it in Coco Mademoiselle, Coco, Pour monsieur and Bois des Iles. In the case of Coco, an oriental spicy from 1984, Polge used opoponax with coriander, pomegranate blossom, mandarin orange, peach, jasmine and bulgarian rose as top notes, middle notes: mimose, cloves, orange blossom, clover and rose, and the opoponax comes as a base note with labdanum, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, civet and vanilla.

In Opium from 1977 opoponax is bart of a woody base with among others (!) sandalwood, cedarwood, labdanum, benzoin, amber, musk, patchouli, vetiver and castoreum. Opium is a striking oriental-spicy  with quite a large number of ingredients… Top and middle include for example (!) mandarin, plum, clove, coriander, bay leaf, carnation, cinnamon, jasmines, roses and lily of the valley in the floral middle. Opium was quite controversial when it was launched as it was accused of glorifying drug use. In retrospect it seems that the controversy contributed to impressive sales numbers, the perfume was a huge success.

In 2000, Opium caused a new stir when ads with a quasi-naked Sophie Dahl in ectasy appeared. The photo taken by Steven Meisel was hugely admired in some countries and created massive protests in others (for example UK).  
The Opium provocations are far from over. Quite recently this film directed by Romain Gavras was banned, accused of glorifying drug addiction.
Opoponax has quite an interesting range of experiences don’t you think?

I opened a new bottle of perfume today. Not my usual kind of fragrance but an inevitable excursion.

While waiting for my train, I fix my hair and make a movement that creates a thin veil of fragrance that makes a whispering dance around me. It is unlikely anyone else feels it, but I do, because it is close and because my nose reacts to a different scent that I usually have.

And then it strikes me, with a force that completely stops my heartbeat for a second.
What I am wearing must, MUST, be the perfume that my grandmother had when I grew up. Because suddenly it is as if she was standing next to me, as if I had just opened her handbag like I used to do as a child to look for hidden treasures (there were always some), it is as if I wrapped one of her silk scarves around my neck (like I used to, it made my 11-year old self feel very glamorous). And I never knew, I never even thought about it. My grandmother died when I was 16 and I was in shock over this for years. It never occured to me that it could happen, not to her, because she was eternal and she was like an extension of me, and explanation to me. At 16 I had not started to think about perfumes or fragrances, I was interested in dancing, painting and older boys who looked good when they danced and not much else.

I grew up with my grandmother practically constantly present. There are many scents that I have associated with her but they have been associated with her garden and her kitchen. I never knew what fragrance she wore, although my mother later said it was Chanel 5.  In fact, I do remember the bottle in her home, but I felt no obvious connection when smelling it.

Not like today. My grandmother was the essence of femininity and creativity, playful, curious, had a fantastic sense of humor and a complete lack of understanding to boring rules. I have missed her tremendously.

This moment today swirled and crushed my heart at the same time.

This is the power of scents.

A new year of ventures and aspirations deserves to be inaugurated with the right fragrance. My choice was Voyage d’Hermès for my first day at work in 2012. 

Voyage d’Hermès is a recent creation (2010) from Jean-Claude Ellena. Voyages are a re-occuring theme at Hermès. If you look at the ambitious catalogues and films that Hermès create, as well as their website, you will see that there is often a feeling of expedition in the story. The logo itself with the calèche evokes the feeling of travelling and the saddles are also a part of ventures.

Voyage is unisex, or as Hermès say ”shared”. Ellena belongs to the perfumers who call gender labels for perfumes a commercial construction. If you have read my post on pour homme and pour femme you already know how I feel about the matter.

Voyage is a woody fragrance with musk and carries a kind of undefined feeling. When you apply it, the first impression is very fresh but dry, vital, the citrus is strong but has a slight coarsness. It definitely awakens you, like a kiss in the neck from a freshly shaved man. But after a moment it softens and the woody stability appears as well as the cardamom.

Some Ellena-experts say that this is a typical Ellena perfume. I agree. It has that rare combination of depth and simplicity that Ellena creates.

The bottle is designed by Philippe Mouquet, an in-house designer at Hermès, and inspired by a magnifying glass.

The launch of Voyage was accompanied by ambitious films, according to Hermès tradition. You find  this one on Hermès web site and then there was a beautiful commercial. This is the long version.