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Insects have the most acute sense of smell in all nature and used it for all sorts of physical courtship. A queen bee attracts drone males with an indisputably welcoming scent from a gland in her mouth. In an experiment scientists harvested this scent and put it on a flying balloon. Drones clung to the balloon in layers desperate to mate. No wonder the queen bees are not exactly humble… The same gland produces another pheromone that worker bees take from the queen and distribute to female workers bees. The effect it has on these is that their reproduction ability is killed. This means that there will never be another queen bee competing for the spotlight until the first one has died and stopped distributing her pheromones.

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There are more than twenty thousand species of bees but only a couple of them can make honey. They make it by using nectar from flowers. Honey is actually partially digested food that bees store in the hive during winter when no nectar is available. It takes about ten worker honey bees to make one tea spoon of honey and each bee’s contribution to that tea spoon corresponds to the amount of honey it will produce during its lifetime. In 2006, honey bees suddenly started to disappear in the US. When this was discovered a more careful monitoring of the honeybees was conducted and soon it was clear that this was a global phenomenon. This phenomenon was named Colony Collapsed Disorder. It affected the honey supply of course, but also all crops globally that are pollinated by bees. It is still not entirely clear how this started but research indicates that is has to do with pesticides severely affecting the nervous and immune systems of the bees.

Cave paintings in Valencia, Spain, seem to reveal that humans have been harvesting honey for at least 15,000 years. Bees have been producing honey for about 150 million years.

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Mesolithic rock painting of a honey hunter harvesting honey and wax
from a bees nest in a tree. At Cuevas de la
Araña en Bicorp
.


Honey almost sounds too obviously “nice” to be perceived as something interesting enough to analyze and be seduced by. It is enormously attractive visually of course, like liquid jewellery. But still, it is also something we associate with tea and honey and home made facial masks, right? Honey does play an interesting role in perfume though and can be found in an impressively wide range of fragrances. And the history of honey is mesmerizing and impressive. Yet we tend to not really speak about it that much in perfume contexts. Why is that? Honey seems to be like the pretty smiling well-composed sister that gets forgotten at the family dinner because the little magnates, monsters, delinquents, clowns, professors and divas demand all the attention. But we should not forget about honey. Honey is sweetness with attitude and patina.

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Honey is versatile and interesting. In daily life it is a wonderful sweetener but also has health benefits. Honey builds up our immune system, soothes sore throats, fights with bacteria, viruses and fungi and helps with hangovers. Phytonutrients found in honey seem to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties, and may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.

When used in perfume the honey note is sweet in a soft and balsamic way, soothing. The scent can vary from woodsy to floral, herbal or tobacco-scented. It is often used as a prelude to the gourmand character of a fragrance. The honey used in perfumery is typically created from beeswax and molecular ingredients found in organic honey.

Melting beeswax. pinterest.com/pin/1407443603097640/
You’ll find honey in an epic olfactory diva like Dior’s Poison but also in Jo Malone’s youthful Nectarine Blossom & Honey and in Chanel’s Beige. And in a very unfrightening cosy Honey I washed the kids. In Acqua di Cuba by Santa Maria Novella honey is combined with herbs, tobacco and citrus. It is a warm fragrance, slightly spicy with a vanilla base. If you are into Serge Lutens look for Miel de Bois and A La Nuit. There’s an interesting discussion on Miel de Bois here. One of my personal favorites, Ambre Narguilé by Jean-Claude Ellena, also has a honey in a sultry olfactory performance that is nothing for a shy day. Another gourmand honey fragrance is Thierry Mugler’s Angel, brilliantly exposed by The Perfumed Dandy. To get to know TPD’s world – and honey analysis – better, just click anywhere on the eloquent area below. (And for a female Dandy, do check out the review from Olfactoria’s Travel of La Dandy).

Other honey fragrances and thoughts of them can be found here: Hedonist by Viktoria Minya, Perfum de Luxe from enchanting DSH reviewed by the lovely Sigrun and the exquisite dark unusual M/Mink from Byredo. 
Honey can be kept for thousands of years without losing its qualities. An extra-ordinary example of this is the honey found in Tutankhamen’s tomb which was still edible after more than 2,000 years. Honey is mentioned as a symbol of good things in many sacred writings. In Hinduism it is considered as one of the five elixirs of immortality in Hinduism. The Promised Land, Canaan, is “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The word “honey” itself reveals a powerful, sacral significance. This word originates from the ancient Hebrew word for “enchant.” Honey is considered kosher, even though it is produced by non-kosher beings. The explanation for this can be found in the fact that bees during Biblical times were wild bees who carried nectar from flowers to hives for storage in the shape of sweet liquid gold. Beekeeping was developed long after this. And honey, the liquid sacred sweet gold, will be around long after this…

In 2013, I hope to see more of the perfume related accessories that this past ear has shown some curiosity for. At Pitti Fragranze, an annual perfume fair, it seemed that this is indeed an area that will grow. If it does, it could create a very interesting intersection for perfume and fashion, art and design.

I believe – and hope – that we will see more perfume jewellery. Necklaces with some kind of container, amulets etc are classical pieces that unfortunately seem to have been forgotten. (I love my vintage necklace from Chanel…) It would be interesting to see a contemporary take on such objects, and what other ideas there are out there.

I have found some items such as Aftelier cases and these earrings from Lisa Hoffman.(For vintage lovers go to the auction houses that sometimes have some really exquisite items, or here.) But I am curious to see more of a contemporary twist. A more edgy, avant-garde, rock feeling.

Dutch designer Jody Kocken has created some pieces that I would definitely like to wear. When she discovered that she was allergic to perfume, she looked for solutions that would enable her to still wear a fragrance. She came up with and designed her own solution, ‘Perfume Tools’, a series of industrial jewellery pieces.

The pieces can be attached to the opening of a perfume bottle, the tools then absorbs the scent and work as worn fragrance diffuser. In places where the skin is most vulnerable, the precious metal is warmed up so that the scent can travel. Any skin contact with the perfumed liquid is avoided. This poses some questions of course as we often speak of how the perfume evolves and is affected by a person’s skin. In this case, this dimension is lost. But if the option is to never be able to wear perfume at all – the I think these pieces are an excellent idea. Seeing that quite a lot of people are allergic or sensitive to perfumes, I think all kinds of solutions adapted to this situation are an interesting area to develop. If any perfume maker is reading this I would really love to hear your thoughts on this way of wearing perfume? Are some perfumes more suitable? Can something be done to create perfumes that can compensate the lack of skin exposure?


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(All photos from Jody Kocken)

There is one perfume commercial more infamous than any other. Chanels “Balcony” for Egoïste, produced in 1990, directed by Jean Paul Goude. Égoïste was created by Jacques Polge and is a woody spicy fragrance with sicilian tangerine, brazilian rosewood, coriander, damask rose, sandalwood, vanilla and ambrette seed.

Jean-Paul Goude was born in 1940 in Saint-Mandé. He is a graphic designer, illustator, photographer and advertising film director. His name became famous world-wide for the Chanel commercial but many people knew about him already before because of his collaboration with icon Grace Jones. He directed several of her videos and took many memorable photos of her. Their collaboration was at its peak in the early 1980’s and their personal chemistry strong enough for her to become his muse and the mother of a son, Paulo. Paulo Goude has a band, Trybez. Here’s a moment of their concert at one of my favorite places in the entire world – Paradiso. Rather crappy quality but still. This is his mother performing on the same stage.


Goude is a universe of inspiration and aesthetic joy. Explore his official website or check out the official documentary video So Far, So Goude. Right now, there is a restrospective hommage to his career in Paris, at Les Arts Décoratifs. Go if you can!

The music you hear in the Chanel Ègoïste commercial is Sergei Prokofiev’s “Montagues and Capulets” from Romeo and Juliet. With this magnificent take on the complete version I wish you a lovely Saturday. Valery Gergiev conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.


I work with PR and communication so it is natural that the different aspects of sales techniques interest me, from the rhetorics to hands-on practical details. I am particularly fascinated by this, when it comes with perfumes as I think this business does have some work on when it comes to consumer communication. The gap between the art, knowledge and stories within the perfume world – and the consumer – is gigantic. This leads to people spending too much money on products that are not right for them, which leads only to confusion and disappointment. People buy to much crap produced without neither heart nor art – because the perfume world allows itself be a slave to sales logistics. And the exceptions to these descriptions – they are much less well-known than they should be. Seriously, je déclare la guerre.

I don’t expect every person who sells perfume to be an expert. Although, that would be amazing… But I do hope that you feel, if not passion, then at least respect for the exceptional product that you sell, and that you have the will to create genuine dialogue.

I would love to spend some time with people who sell perfumes and talk about how we best invite and guide others into this world. Selling perfume is not like selling ”anything”, its like being there for someone who is discovering their inner self, its like being an expert of Michelangelo’s art. For crying out loud, all you sales machines – get your act together!

So. Here is a real-life example on how it should not be done. Today after work I went to a store in Stockholm to try Coco Noir. Inevitable. I have avoided reading reviews, just noticed them, because I wanted to discover it with a clear mindset. However, from my post yesterday (and if you read this blog you know), you can picture my stand on the noir side of things.

And here we go… I get to the Chanel counter, look for paper strips, none are to be found… After a while a sales woman approaches me and asks if she can help me. I answer politely ”No, thank you, I am happy botanizing by myself”. This is sign No 1 that she should back off. She doesn’t. Instead she says with the persuasion special effects of a real estate sales machine, ”Oh, this one is SO GREAT, I wear it myself. I have worn it everyday since I got it”. Ok… let’s pick this army of information apart. 1) I am smelling the perfume to see what I think about it. Not what she thinks about it. I could of course be interested in that and some other day maybe I would be, but today I already signaled that I wanted to be left alone. 2) It is completely irrelevant if she wears the perfume to me. For all sorts of very logical reasons like for example the fact that my skin does not smell like her skin. It is just completely irrelevant. The only two reasons why this information would be valuable are 1) if the two of us were identical or at least similar in a couple of relevant ways – and we were just not, and 2) if I really wanted to be (=try to smell) like her, and I don’t, and its just megalomania on her part if she assumed I do. The natural conclusion when someone is testing perfumes is that they want to find a fragrance that smells like them, like the self that they want to be. Needless to say – she has no idea what about me it is that I am looking for in an olfactory reflection of me – as she is only talking and thing about herself. So all this information about this total stranger leaves me bored and silent. If she really wanted to talk to me about herself, well, weirder things happen in the metropolitan landscape – fine. But she wanted to tell me what to do (=buy) by telling me what she does, taking for granted that I want to be like her. Don’t ever do this when you sell perfume. You are insulting art when you do. If you don’t get this or if it sounds to pretentious for you, please sell something else.

You would think that it would stop here. After all, I was totally silent and not exactly encouraging the conversation. But she had more in store. ”You should know (I just love strangers who tell me what I “should”) that this is the last bottle we have, they all went flying of the shelves”. Ok. Should I buy it because everyone else that I don’t know did? Because…? By now I am thinking, ”Please, just stop talking, you seem like a nice girl but this is not working out, can’t you feel that?”. But I feel rude ignoring her so I say, ”Yes, it is exceptional, but not as noir as I expected”. This triggers no conversation. I sigh and walk away to the other Chanel bottles to play around for a while. I pick up Coco Mademoiselle. A familiar voice goes: ”This one really reminds you of the other one, they are very similar. They both contain patchouli.” Please, perfume girl… I just said the noir was less noir than I hoped, what are you saying? It’s like you’re comparing a man’s mistress to his daughter.

And then she starts talking about a body lotion that is perfect with the perfumes. I leave.

Perfume deserves more than this. If you agree and if you are in a position where you can do something about it, I will gladly support you in any way I can.

I am guessing some of you ran straight to the perfume counters when Coco Noir was released. So, what did you think? Was it as Chanel as you expected, was it noir enough?

I find this launch interesting. As avant-garde and undefinable as The Big 5 was when it was created, the last decades of Chanel olfactory adventure have been less controversial and well, sophisticated but uncomplicated. Noirness stands for something else. For me this step brings some edge to Chanel that is in line with using Alice Dellal as muse. I like this step. But then I am generally into the noir.

The internet is swimming in an ocean of reviews of Coco Noir so I will let you do your own googling. What I do have to offer however in terms of treasures is 1) a beautiful article on the noir from Perfume Shrine that dances with this topic in a elegant, ambitious and exiting way. You will find this excellent piece here. And 2) the magic world of Clarimonde created by magic Lucy Raubertas… get enchanted here.

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It sounds almost to obviously ”nice” to be interesting, but honey really does play its role well in a high-quality perfume. If you make a note-search on Fragrantica for example you will see that honey is a very very popular ingredient that is part of an impressively wide range of fragrances. Yet we tend to not really speak about it so much. Why is that? It seems to be like the pretty smiling well-composed sister that gets forgotten at the family dinner because the little magnates, animals, delinquents, clowns, professors  and divas demand all the attention. But lets not forget honey… It takes all kinds to make a world. And sweet like honey is so much more interesting than sweet like sugar. Honey has attitude.


Honey is versatile and interesting. You can add it to a light breezy citrus caressy fragrance and to an extravagant oriental. (You will often find it in gourmands of course). It works in pour homme, pour femme and pour both. You’ll find it in a diva like Dior’s Poison but also in Jo Malone’s youthful Nectarine Blossom & Honey and Chanel’s Beige.
Another example, an interesting one, is Acqua du Cuba by Santa Maria Novella which is a unisex fragrance where honey is combined with herbs, tobacco and citrus. It is a warm fragrance, slightly spicy with a vanilla base.


If you are into Serge Lutens look for Miel de Bois and A La Nuit. There’s an interesting discussion on Miel de Bois here. One of my personal favorites, Ambre Narguilé, also has a honey in the composition that must be described as quite bold and nothing for a shy day. Honey is sweetness with integrity.

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.

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. 
Photo: getreligion.org

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?
You can see just looking at the word that it has to be something a bit nasty, can’t you? It sounds like a place on the human body that is geographically located in an angle that only very close allies ever visit. 
As we know, the poetic world of perfume would not be so seductive and mysterious without the mysteries and oddities. Just like a perfume wouldn’t. Perfumes that are just easy and sweet are… boring. Just like people who are just easy and sweet can be. And then we have those who use perfumes like Mandy Afteliers Secret Garden (also has natural civet as Mandy Aftelier is known for her use of natural ingredients), Cuir de Russie and Antaeus (of course…) from Chanel or Labdanum 18 from le Labo. 

Castoreum, comes from the castor sacs of a mature North American or European beaver. Both males and females have castor sacs located in cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail. Together with the urine, it helps the animal to scent mark and mate. The secretion has a bitter and strong-smelling odor (as if you expected it to smell like roses…). To create the castoreum resinoid that is used for perfumes it is dried, ground and put into alcohol. The dried sacs are generally aged for two or more years for the harshness to go away. The scent it then gets is compared to dried leather.

Castoreum is not only used in fragrances but also in food. You can find it in alcoholic and other beverages, baked things, frozen dairy and ice cream, chewing gum, candy, meat products and gelatin. In Scandinavia it used to flavor a schnapps called Bäverhojt. A few months ago some people went rather ballistic when Jamie Oliver brought up castoreum at David Letterman. Interesting, since quite a lot of parents feed their kids artificial crap without any moral dilemmas. The vanilla ice cream and ”beaver glands ” appear around 2:30.