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Synaesthetes will get this immediately – smells are like different instruments. Vetiver is a guitar, or cello if it has that hard to get coarseness. Vanilla is a soft drum. When it comes to perfumes, M for Puredistance, to me is one single clear sound. A bit surprising, even to me, as it is obviously a complex composition. This is haute parfumerie. You embrace the effect of the fragrance it is hard to grasp what kind of chemistry, poetry and magic led to this particular full-bodied gathered sensation. You can read about the notes, yes, but this is a bit like when professional communication people talk about how planning is just not the same thing as research or insight or business intelligence. Planning is connecting the dots and not only drawing a new map, but in fact creating a new destination. M is like this to me. It is Perfume with capital P and I almost feel like it does not want to be dissected. It is what it is.

During this last week at Grasse Institute Perfumery we could bring perfumes from the market to class and I chose to bring this one. It is a perfume I like, admire and wear and I enjoy the enigmatic feeling it gives me. I have read about the thoughts behind the creation but I am not quite able to connect with the leather and Aston Martin that is described. So I thought it would be fun and interesting to hear the thoughts of my classmates and our teacher.


M makes me think about this: what is luxury? What is “luxury” in a global and globalized market, in 2013, in an age of brands and concepts, in a business where profound artistry and hungry prestige keeping mixing their choreographies… In an age where the chase for what can be bought sometimes goes all bulimic only to give birth to businesses that offer what cannot be bought, such as the feeling of holding time for a moment – what is luxury? Is there any objective luxury? What exactly is it that discretely communicates it when you can’t see material or feel texture? How do you get to the feeling that what you are smelling is something that did not give up, yield or lean back but kept refining itself until it was really special.


I avoided reading about M or Puredistance before trying it. Did not check reviews, not prices, not noses or notes. I was not at all prepared for the sensation that awaited me.

I am quite fascinated and intrigued by what it is that makes this perfume feel so very refined. When I wear it I feel like it is jewellery. It is the kind of accessory that frames everything in a kind of unquestionable elegance. There are things, they can be bracelets or shoes. Maybe a bag, but I prefer an example that has skin contact. Items that accentuate something sublime in the character of a person, and make them belong anywhere you want to. Not like a mask but like an aesthetic firmness that I believe has to be carried by something inside you but accentuated by something on the outside. It is not about price (have we not seen to many of those misconceptions walking around the various catwalks of life), to me it has much to do with clarity. Like a good handshake that does not try or want to disguise anything. Sashimi. A perfect white t-shirt. But in this case – olfactory art.

Puredistance is about to launch a new perfume soon, Puredistance BLACK, I am very curious about it. From what I know it will be very close to the skin and I think there will be some interesting raw material choices though it seems these in line with the concept for the perfume will be kept secret. The nose is French perfumer Antoine Lie.

If you want to read more about the nose behind M, it is master perfumer Roja Dove. Recently he wrote a diary for FT How To Spend It that it is very nice and entertaining reading.

For more on perfume and luxury I also recommend this excellent interview on perfume blog Eyeliner on a Cat with natural raw materials master Mandy Aftel. Mandy’s eloquence is as striking as her creations. In the interview Carrie captures the Aftelier way perfectly: “Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes is known for having the soul of an alchemist that deftly guides her hand in the creation of her perfumes. Her aesthetic is mesmerizing and her taste uncompromising; Aftelier final products typify of artisan luxury, from concept to execution.” For some of my reflections around Mandy’s work I invite you to read this post.

All images and quote in title from Puredistance
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So, this one will be entertaining for some of my friends at Grasse Institute of Perfumery I think, as they have been part of the process and we have had some real laughs while I describe ideas and blush regularly… One of our projects during the course has been to develop a fougère. Fougère means “like fern” and is a fragrance family, the name comes from the perfume Fougère Royale by Houbigant. A fougère has an aromatic top note accord with lavender and a base with oakmoss and coumarine. An aromatic fougère also has additional herbs, spice and wood. Our fougère base that we worked with in class had a lot of vetiver and bergamot. We all made the same base and then added notes individually so we ended up with eleven very different fougères in the end. We have then reworked and developed our creations during the course of the next days to find the exact right proportions.

Fougères are normally fragrances for men and I took this opportunity to experiment with a note that I have been thinking about for many months after I smelled it in a shop in Stockholm last year – fennel. Fennel has a certain kind of spicy, green, somewhat affirmative, freshness that I find very elegant. So I was very happy to see that we did indeed have fennel in the lab and that after an initial short analysis, with the help of scent strips, it did feel right. I decided to create a brief for myself that was to create a fougère that would be the olfactory reflection of a man that I would like to get to know. In order for this brief to be of help I needed to define this man and some characteristics a bit more, so that I could find the corresponding notes and olfactory details and effects that would be a correct portrait.

So, this is how I described this man. He is a man with a past, but with a young mind. Classic look with a twist. A liberal mind that likes to explore. He likes to read, both lines and space between them. For this fragrance I picture him on a Sunday afternoon in a big city like London or New York (he could be from anywhere though) reading the newspaper supplements. He has done some sort of sports activity before so he has just showered and changed his clothes which means he is fresh but with an increased pulse and blood flow. It is an intelligent person, intellectual, a home-brewed mix of books and life experience. Sometimes maybe just a little bit irritating when he gets into an encyclopedic mood (I have a weakness for men who know a lot about a lot). It is a men that knows social rules and how to use them to navigate through different contexts, polite and with poise, extrovert but not desperate for attention. He has high-quality leather or suede shoes that are not new (important detail) and he will sigh out a heavy burden in a moment and then, just as naturally, burst out in childish laughter the next. This man’s rainbow has many colors and you will never entirely know him but he is good company for all sorts of challenges and adventures. There are many other aspects and details of course but these are a few examples just to give you an idea.

Now the translation to notes. The raw materials I first used apart from the fougère base were: nutmeg, clove, fennel – and then a tobacco, vanilla, vanillin accord. The fougère base gave the freshness of the body and mind of this man, but also the classic aspect. The tobacco represented his experience and the casualness of an old leather reading chair. The perfect tux with a cigar. The spices were to give a freshness that is a bit coarse and with integrity. The vanilla gave the kind of softness that symbolizes the relaxed intimate feeling of a Sunday when there is no professional pressure, but also a warm heart with genuine intentions. It was important for me to use natural vanilla as this raw material has that combination of softness and unruly dynamic. Soft but not sweet. Smooth but not really trying to please. Sensual in an innate unpolished way, like an equatorial night sky surrounded by sounds of nature kind of way.

When my first formula had gone through maceration and the raw materials found their place I felt that the feeling of the fragrance was a bit too soft and light. It was too babyface. I needed more hairy chest kind of thing, maybe also some closeness to nature, a primitive (primordial?) aspect. So I increased the vetiver, the tobacco and added a difficult one – birch tar. Tiny tiny drops, one drop too much and the formula would be destroyed. It would go completely wood chopper groin sweat and lose the pocket square. Then I left the fragrance to go through maceration again and smelled it after a few hours. Perfect. I really like it myself which is an essential aspect for this particular idea of course. Now I just want to find the gentleman that is the real life reflection of this fragrance. If you have an idea of who it might be, do let me know.

The Fragonard museum(s) offer much insight and value but it is only natural that a town like Grasse should have a really good museum about perfume and perfumery that is not linked specifically to one company. In this case, it is the Musée International de la Parfumerie (just next to Fragonard). It is an impressive must-go-to that takes you through the history of perfume from the Egyptian masters to contemporary niche and mass-market brands including descriptions of work processes, production and noses.

A perfumer’s “desk” with raw materials and scales. 
The path through the museum is designed in a very pedagogic way that starts with some basic scientific facts about our sense of smell, some raw materials and other facts.
Raw materials: encens.
Vanilla.
As you proceed through different rooms you can learn about the masters of religious scents in ancient Egypt and how our use of scents and perfumes can be traced back to their processes and rituals. Scent has been used as a way to connect to higher powers, as medicine and remedy and as seduction throughout the course of history. 
In the museum you also see all the accessories and tools that have been used for scented rituals and habits.

There is an extensive space dedicated to information and installations about the production of raw materials and fragrances, This of course given as this industry has been the spine of the history and development of Grasse. 

Chanel use flowers from Grasse in their perfumes. 
Musée International de la Parfumerie is a destination really worth the time. It covers many aspects of the world of perfume and it is obvious that there is a genuine ambition to cater to the needs of many different kinds of visitors so the exhibitions feature both objects, graphics, interactive elements and informative texts. 
Interactive smell machines.
There is a big space dedicated to perfume packaging with bottles from all eras and styles you can imagine. This part is very inspiring and impressive and rewarding for anyone interested in either perfume or design generally. I leave you with some of my favorites. 
Perfume jewellery, ring and container.
Beautiful work on perfume container.
Elsa Schiaparelli. Sensational!
Poison packaging. The bracelet!!
Amazing muguet glass work.
Why do we never get this anymore?
Epic cologne.

This weekend we had an opportunity to enjoy the treasures of Grasse more than during the weekdays since we are in school at Grasse Institute of Perfumery from morning to around 5 pm.

After a week of smelling you would think we would be tired of olfactory sensations but that is just not the case. So when our initial plan of going to the coast got cancelled because no buses were driving due to a procession celebrating the liberation of Grasse we quickly adjusted a plan to local adventures.

One week of smelling in paper strips. The luxury!

Our first stop was the perfumerie Beauty Success. Maybe you can imagine that in Grasse a perfumery with top-sellers is actually quite unusual. It is much easier to find essential oils and local perfumers and their perfumes. From the outside and at first glance Beauty Success looks like just another perfumery really but when you enter you see that they offer an impressive range considering the store is not that big. And – most importantly you can also find some true treasures. I found three.

The first I noticed on my first visit a few days ago, Coriandre by Jean Couturier from 1973. Two gift boxes. The reason they attracted my attention is that I have a friend in Stockholm whose mother wore it when she was a child. This is not a bottle you will se very often in stores, I have not seen it ever (!) so obviously I had to buy it to bring home with me for my friend so that she and her mother could do some sensory time-travelling. 
1973.

The second treasure was the epic Pour un Homme by Caron, originally launched in 1934. It has a very minimalistic composition with just lavender, vanilla and musk. A treasure and a kind of male fragrance that we just don’t find anymore. If it were launched today I am quite sure it would be unisex.
My third purchase was a less rare one, but a favorite of mine – Voyage for Hermès by Jean-Claude Ellena. I wear this fragrance a lot and have given it to several persons dear to me. I have the eau de toilette and deodorant but at Beauty Success they had a really nice gently scented “baume hydratant” which I have never either seen or noticed. Perfect. 

One of the best things about Beauty Success is the lady who owns it. After I paid for my purchase she asked me if I wanted her “to perfume me”. I was not quite sure what exactly she meant and I have actually never received this question like that before, so I got curious and asked her. My reward for my curiosity was the most brilliant explanation about how a person that sells perfume should – on a very concrete level – perfume the customer (if the customer says yes). Most things sounded very obvious when she said them but I am painfully aware that many many many individuals who work in retail do not think about these things. Short version with the main ones: 

  • Do not spray the front and especially never the décolletage but rather sides and back 
  • Be careful with glasses (that means do not spray on them)
  • Be careful with jewelry (that means do not spray on it)
  • Do not spray on the clothes of a customer wearing delicate fabrics such as silk
  • Spray lightly 

I know – it sounds self-explanatory. But tell me you have never seen or experienced mistakes with these details?

Something about Grasse… My guess is that if you are a reader of a perfume blog the name sounds familiar. Grasse is known as the world’s capital of perfume but the local perfume industry started with leather tanning in the Middle Ages. Galimard, a tanner in Grasse started to scent leather gloves which smelled badly and after he offered a pair to Catherina de Medici the city’s olfactory destiny was sealed. The perfume industry soon became the main activity as the local leather industry decreased while the demand for scents made from local flowers such as lavender, rose, jasmine and mimosa increased rapidly. 
Jasmine.
Grasse is a town in Provence, the part of Provence called Alpes-Maritimes and just about 53,000 persons live here. Many of the world’s noses come from this region or have been trained here and most of France’s natural aromas come from fields around Grasse. An example is jasmine, a key ingredient in fine perfumery. The roses used in the extract version of Chanel no 5 also come from Grasse. The main perfume destinations for visitors to Grasse are:

• Galimard Perfumery, established in 1747 by Jean de Galimard who provided the royal court with perfumes.

• Molinard, established in 1849 and famous for perfume bottles made of Baccarat crystal and Lalique glass.

• The Fragonard Perfumery, established in 1926 in one of the oldest factories in the city.

• Musée International de la Parfumerie – International Perfume Museum. The museum has exhibitions that show the evolution of techniques during the 5,000 year history of perfumery.

And just outside the city centre, you will also find Grasse Institute of Perfumery where I spend my happy days right now smelling paper strip after paper strip of marvel and experimenting in the lab with own creations.
Sometimes it feels like we are in a movie.

We always have the same teacher, Laurence Fauvel, so you can imagine how much she influences our experience. Laurence is great. Apart from her expertise, she is also funny, kind, generous and seems to always find the right balance between guidance and freedom to create. During these days we get access to so many parts of the perfume world, it’s not only the never-ending raw materials but also practical details about the working process for a professional perfumer or evaluator and about the business.


An example of a day at school (for new readers: I am talking about the summer course at Grasse Institute of Perfumery) is that we start with a test. This means that Laurence gives us ten raw materials (can be both natural and synthetic) on paper strips and we have to conclude which ones they are. We have our noses of course, but at our stage it is also essential to have good notes for example to remember how to separate the natural lavender from the synthetic lavandine or the various citrus fruits. It is still quite often that we mix some specific ones up when they come on a separate strip – but when you get two strips with one on each it usually seems obvious which one is which. This is an example why the notes are important – there is always some difference and there might be a tiny detail that is a personal reflection and this will help you remember.

I love the tests, they are a moment to really go deep into detailed perception and cherish the nuances of things. And you know how I feel, perfume is like life, life is like perfume. During the test I also think we stimulate our curiosity through new discoveries while at the same time discovering some personal preferences. It is very interesting how previous experiences and memory affect the initial reaction to a new smell – for example we had seaweed in a test. For me it reminded me of a bath room on a beach, for someone else a pleasant walk on a beach and for another person it was a smell related to food. When we exchange associations in class we can approach the materials from new perspectives and rediscover them. I read a book by Rachel Herz before Grasse about olfactory psychology where there are many interesting things about this – I will write a separate post on this when I come home.

Some notes instantly feel so inspiring every time they appear under the nose. Vetiver makes me want to go straight to the lab and experiment. I love cedarwood and petitgrain and ambroxan (I still have not smelled real ambergris, this is becoming a life mission!). I have less spontaneous affection for many florals and more for spices and woods. Also I often feel a preference for most naturals even though understand and appreciate the possibilities that synthetics offer. But for example vanilla and vanillin… you do get a very rewarding instant softness with vanillin, but real vanilla has so much more integrity and nuances and is unruly. The naturals always feel a bit unruly and I love that. Again, perfume and life.

After the test we smell more, for example we compare naturals to corresponding synthetics or notes that we find it more difficult to separate. We have also analyzed popular perfumes that are on the market which is great fun under the guidance of Laurence.

We have spent two afternoons on creation during the last week and this has been just amazing really. Some in the group have made formulas before but for me the entire situation was new – from pipettes to counting grams. The idea part however felt very natural, I have been walking around with note combinations in my head for a long time but never had the opportunity to physically sit down and create them. Even on our very very basic level it is an extra-ordinary experience to have an idea in your head, smell the raw materials in our bottles and then get to actually make a formula trying out the right proportions (very small quantities make a very big difference) and make it. This week our two creations were an eau de cologne and a fougère. Laurence gave us a base and then we could add raw materials with her guidance regarding amounts. To find the exact proportions is really a challenge and it is an intricate adventure to predict how the formula will evolve. At this point it astounds me how a perfumer can orchestrate the notes with the precision that some masters do and control the transitions over time. I will tell you more about on of my creations in a separate post.
At the end of this day we have an evaluation where everyone smells everyone’s creation and we discuss and get feedback and advise from Laurence. At this point we have been at school for about eight hours. Normally at the end of a day I would be a bit tired and want to go home. Here I keep finding myself thinking “oh, now I have to wait to tomorrow to smell more…”. I am very happy in this experience that I am having right now.

We learn so many things every day… Every morning we smell ten paper strips with raw material like a test, we have to tell what is on the strip. Rosey is not rose. Rose is oil or absolute and it comes from Grasse, Turkey or Bulgaria. In this room life gets so many nuances. It moves me. Some raw materials appear similar in our minds – then we get them on separate strips at the same time and we understand exactly. The contrasts between naturals and synthetics are extra-ordinary. Something we think that we know and know in a certain way, like a blackcurrant, has so much depth and darkness and beautiful strangeness.

Fir balsam, childhood memories.

Everyday new raw materials are added to our collection. We talk about our associations to them. Our memories. Today I had a moment where a raw material I had never smelled separated suddenly catapulted me back to my childhood in my grandparents home as I was reminded of wood shavings. We have different references and different terminology and this creates a really rewarding atmosphere.

Oh and vetiver… Every day with vetiver is a better day.

Tomorrow we are going to visit the jasmine fields. But first I have to take control over my notes. And sleep.

I cannot wait to wake up so I can go smell things again.

Moon over Grasse.

Picked some on the way home with a lovely new friend from the course after she told me that in her family in Spain they always picked fresh jasmine to have in the bedroom during a warm night because it smells amazing. Now my room smells amazing.