Archive

lavender

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.

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.

Have you ever picked fresh lavender? When it is halfway between buds and flowers and the leaves are velvet soft? You can detect so many difference scents in it then… That obvious lavender smell we all recognize is not there, instead there is a variety of things going on… Try it. I could name about ten-fifteen different smells. What about you? 


Lavender is a somewhat underestimated scent. It has been used in so many contexts that it has almost become a cliché and unfortunately the market is so over-whelmed with what pretends to be lavender scent that we have almost forgotten the real deal and how that smells. It does not smell like sleep – in fact lavender increases your ability to solve problems because of the effect it has on the brain when you smell it. And there are many lavender products out there that smell fresh, elegant and manly and not like Laura Ashley duvet. Not that I want to disrespect Laura Ashley, it’s just that those florals kind of take the jazz out of some rather jazzy raw materials when they go all romantic on bed spreads and lamps.
Try to find some fresh lavender and begin the lavender love affair again.

Every now and then it’s good to refresh our memory about the basics when it comes to scents. Brands are more or less trendy, there are seasonal perfume launches and top ten lists and marketing budgets. Then there is the smell of rain, of summer, of skin, of coffee beans. Sometimes it is easy to forget how it is all connected. So, here is a very short and extremely simplified guide to the sense of smell – or olfactory perception. It is not necessary to know these things to appreciate perfume, but having some rough insight into the links between scents and our body and brain makes things more interesting and the search for perfume or candles more conscious.

Nothing is arbitrary, and so much of how we perceive scents has to do with the construction of the brain.

First of all, we are all affected by scents around us. This has nothing to do with preferences or interest. We are programmed to take smell seriously as it has initially been a survival tool used to sense danger and to find suitable partners for reproduction. We might not find ourselves in the situations where it is the most important tool anymore, and much has changed. For example we select partners according to various criteria and we have dates written on food packages so we don’t necessarily smell them to see if they are still ok. But our brain is still built the same way and our instinct is to trust the information that smells gives us. 

aromatherapy4u.wordpress.com

When we inhale a scent travels in odor molecules. It goes up through the nose (it is possible to have two separate impress, that is one through each nostril) and to olfactory membranes inside the nose. The odor molecules match receptor cell sites that line the olfactory epithelium. When stimulated by odor molecules the nerve cells send impulses to the olfactory bulb in the brain which forwards  the impulses to the gustatory center (where the sensation of taste is perceived), the amygdala (where emotional memories are stored), and other parts of the limbic system of the brain. The sense of smell is the only one of our five senses that is directly linked to the limbic lobe of the brain which means that what we smell goes directly to the brain’s centers for memories and emotions.

The limbic system is also directly connected to the parts of the brain that control heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, memory, stress levels and hormone balance. What we smell goes right to the parts of the brain that are related to emotions and memories. We might intellectualize olfactory impressions, but we can never avoid the highway they take to our feelings. This is one of the reasons why a conscious use of smells, for example in professional contexts, is a very powerful (and underestimated) tool.

What scents we prefer is to a large extent based on memories and cultural preferences. Scents trigger old memories and suddenly something creates a feeling of safety because it reminds us of childhood. Or the opposite – a scent can take us back to an unhappy feeling because it triggers a sad memory. Scents have been used in therapy to activate traumatic memories among war victims so that these memories can be processed. Sometimes we are not even aware of the strong associations between a smell and a memory until we experience them. It is noteworthy here that what we perceive as a bad smell is something that we are taught. This is a good reminder for parents with small children – the children do not evaluate the smells until you teach them. Why not let them keep discovering for a while longer before drawing the map?

israelplug.com
The associations are subjective. There are however some general scent-related effects that seem to affect us in a similar way. A citrus smell will boost our energy (try smelling a lemon when you get sleepy in your office the afternoon). Lavender has been used in studies that indicate that it improves our cognitive ability. Benzoin, vanilla and sandal wood calm and balance. You might not think this matters or that it is obvious – but do you really think about how your perfume affects different situations at work? A brain storm and a crisis meeting benefit from entirely different smells. You benefit from different smells in the morning compared to when you need to unwind. 
globeattractions.com/field-lavender-trees-sky-nature/

Smell the attraction
A strange mash-up of procreation science and marketing clichés has created some sort of hype around fluffy explanations and theories on the sense of smell and attraction. You will for example hear the word “pheromones” thrown like some sort of dating dart. It is not that easy. Olfactory perception does indeed play an important role in attraction but various aspect of contemporary life has changed that game a bit. We have over-washed bodies, on-paper-criteria and online dating for example. It is true however that olfactory perception has had the purpose to help us select appropriate partners based on information about immune systems communicated through pheromones. But let’s leave it at that for now and I promise to do a post on pheromones later. I would suggest however that when you select a perfume based on your desire to meet Someone that you want to keep meeting: don’t go looking or asking for perfumes that “smell sexy”, look for perfumes that add to you smelling like you.
There is an infinite amount of aspects to talk about when it comes to our sense of smell and our body and mind. I have mentioned some of these in my posts about scent and memories, and the posts on specific ingredients. Please feel free to share insight or questions by commenting below or send an e-mail.

Olfactory disorders
Last but not least, our olfactory perception is not something that we should take for granted. Many people suffer from an olfactory disorder and this can be quite problematic. Here are some of the most common disorders of smell.
  • Anosmia – inability to smell 
  • Dysosmia – things smell different than they should 
  • Hyperosmia – an abnormally acute sense of smell
  • Hyposmia – decreased ability to smell 
  • Phantosmia – “hallucinated smell,” often unpleasant in nature 

It is a man. I am sure of it. A tall man with integrity in corduroy. He has the fingers of a pianist and speaks of politics. It is a fragrance of an intellectual man, sharp and keeping the world at a distance. Not someone you hug. Someone you would really want to discuss the world with by a fireplace with some incredible cognac though.
Two hours later he is gone. He has left a veil of something that makes me think of Santa Maria Novella or a meeting between the clergy and herbs. But the man is replaced by a woman with strong attitudes and sharp features. She takes over a room. 
She stays for about an hour. Then enters a different person. Someone more subdued but confident. Much softer though. I envision a baroness from Veneto in masculine clothes and unruly hair. I like her. 
As day turns into evening the herbs are gone. Also the sharpness. What remains is a soft warm velvety vanilla. Where did they all go?

Does it matter if you can classify what fragrance you’re wearing? If you know whether it is a floral, fougère or oriental? In theory, if you ask someone like me who is against superficial pointless namedropping – the answer is no. There is absolutely no point in keeping that sort of stuff in your head just for the sake of it or because you “should” know. In practice however, there are two reasons for you to think about perfume classification – the main one being that it’s a great tool for new discoveries as it will provide you with concrete links between what you like or dislike, and this will lead you to new fragrance pleasures. And pleasure is a great reason to care about things. The other reason is just simply curiosity. Some people just like maps. I do.

19th century perfumer Charles Piesse was one of the first to start classifying perfumes. He quickly turned to the world of music for symbols and so the language of perfumers became similar to that of musicians (which it still is today). The terms used in perfume language have the purpose to describe the different aroma layers in a fragrance, like chords. We also talk about top notes and different tones when distinguishing between ingredients and specific scents. We talk about the tonality of a fragrance just like we when analyzing a music piece.

There is also a more architectonical way of visualizing perfumes. William Poucher was one of the first to use the ‘fragrance pyramid’ to explain the top, middle and foundation as layers. He created the structure based on measurement of evaporation rate of perfume ingredients (fastest evaporation = top).

Image borrowed from davidreport.com/201103/scent-tokyo/



Here are some terms (from different eras, let’s not be so dogmatic) that are good to know when going on your perfume quest. The terms continuously develop and some perfumes contain traits of different families.


Floral: There are a few different types of floral fragrances. A Single Floral is a fragrance dominated by one particular flower (if you are fragrance shopping in France just channel Vanessa Paradis or madame Deneuve and say “soliflore”). Floral Bouquet is combination of fragrance of several flowers in the perfume. And Bright Floral is a modern fusion between Single Floral & Floral Bouquet.


Amber or Oriental: Fragrances with slightly animalic scents of ambergris or labdanum, combined with vanilla, tonka bean, flowers and woods. Orientals are not fragrances from the Orient but rather evoke the European (or specifically Victorian) 19th century image of the Orient.

Wood: Fragrances dominated by woody scents, usually sandalwood and cedarwood.

Leather: Fragrances with a middle note with honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars.

Chypre: Bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum. “Green” is a modern more light version of this group.

Fougère: A base of lavender, coumarin and oakmoss. (More info in post on Houbigant)

Aquatic/Oceanic: A modern category with clean often androgynous fragrances.

Citrus: Used to be a term used about eau de colognes now used for, well, citrus fragrances. (I know, a bit boring this description but some things are just not that complicated).

Fruity: Fragrances characterized by other fruits than citrus for example peach or passion fruit.

Gourmand: A term used for fragrances that often contain tonka bean, vanilla etc and create associations to desserts or flavors.

If these terms seem confusing or too many, The Fragrance Wheel might be your tool. It was developed in 1983 by Michael Edwards and based on four standard families: Floral, Oriental, Woody and Fresh. (Edwards divides these into three sub-groups which helps us see connections. The subgroups are Floral, Soft Floral, Floral Oriental, Oriental, Soft Oriental, Woody Oriental, Mossy Woods, Dry Woods, Citrus, Green and Water. But I think you might be ok just remembering the four main ones). 


Fougére gets a special position in the center as it combines elements of all four. If you know just these five terms you are safe, and it is likely that by studying the wheel and fragrances that you like you will be able to tell your preferred scent family/families. Also, if you ask someone in a perfume store for help and they give you a puzzled look – then I would suggest go to another store. Let’s encourage enlightenment, shall we?

I have found several “how to find your fragrance” articles that talk about how a certain type of person or age is recommended to go for one of the fragrance groups (eg fruity – young girl, fougére – man, green – sporty, oriental – in the evening). This is not my kind of fragrance approach. Be aware of the signals that your fragrance sends out, what it communicates about you. But find your thing. Go for what makes you feel good – and feel like you.