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As I return from some magic days with old and new friends in my beloved happy place Amsterdam I carry many scented memories with me home. Some of these are related to the music experiences. This was truly a music-filled trip and the highlight was seeing Kenyan band Sautisol live, something that I have been looking forward to so much (more on my love for Kenya can be found in this post…). For a synaesthete (great explanation can be found on Olfactif) its more than natural that music and smells resonate and create some really good mind travel. But then you also obviously have the leather of jackets and straps, the metals, the particular sweat of excitement and dance, the rain, the way venues smell both a bit rough and comforting somehow… All this reminds me of something I wrote a while back… “What does a G minor chord smell like?”.

Some time ago I was so happy when some Jasmin Saraï creations arrived in the mail. The perfumes are made by perfumer Dana el Masri (remember when I posted about her brilliant interview with Mandy Aftel way back?) and they are all inspired by music. Love the idea. It’s not uncommon to use music for inspiration but Dana has done so much more through how she incorporates and communicates the links between the fragrance and the song. My favorite so far that I also for some reason really like to bring with me when traveling is Otis & Me.

Sauti Sol soundcheck

Sauti Sol soundcheck

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Quite recently Hermès announced that nose Christine Nagel would be joining Jean-Claude Ellena as new nose to create new fragrances together for this legendary luxury brand. It was interesting news for many reasons. One is that Jean-Claude Ellena has been alone in his role for a long time (a decade) and it is hard to distinguish what is Hermès and what is master Ellena in an Hermès fragrance. Each fragrance is permeated by his artistry and endless choices down to the most detailed detail. Some were surprised by the choice. I am not familiar enough with Christine Nagels character as a nose to say anything about it other than that it is obvious that taking in a new nose to work with Ellena at Hermès must be a very particular process since everything about this brand is an homage to detail and perfection. So I am curious to discover what this new phase will bring and what Christine Nagel will bring to it. She is the nose behind many Jo Malone fragrances and Narcisco Rodriguez For Her so not at all a typical French haute parfumerie artist but more contemporary in her style.

Photo of Ellena and Nagel in The Cut.

Photo of Ellena and Nagel in The Cut.

The Cut recently did an interview with the new nose team that includes some really interesting statements. Direct and art-focused, just like the fragrances that monsieur Ellena makes.

I do recommend you to read the interview but let me share some highlights. The description of their collaboration is something many creative professionals can relate to and be inspired by. It’s great to hear a master such as Ellena describe their differences as an asset and then their generous way of working as a strength of their team work. They describe progressing together and surprising each other.

The discussion on luxury is also very interesting, this is really a core question in today’s market and zeitgeist I believe. We are becoming more globalized and more ethical consumers which leads to a decreasing interest in show-off luxury items in informed markets. Consumers want something else than a shortcut that mainly signals affluence, the “specialness” in luxury has changed. Jean-Claude Ellena says: “There is no scent that is luxurious. It’s what we do with it that makes it luxurious. Otherwise, how will we know when something is luxurious? The supreme luxury is to take time, and we have time at Hermès” and adds, “the thing that is important at Hermès is that it is the perfumer who decides whether the perfume will go on the market”. He concludes, “this is really the luxury, the freedom”. There is another perfume house characterized by this rule, Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. A much anticipated launch can be delayed because the perfume is not ready. If this is considered luxurious working conditions for the perfumer, than how luxurious is it not for the person who wears the perfume to know that this is the level of dedication and ambition behind it? Does this mean that these perfumes are better? If I look to myself, definitely these two perfume houses take up more space in my perfume collection than other ones and I made many of those selections before knowing these facts behind them. Not surprising of course that Malle’s fragrance range includes two creations by Jean-Claude Ellena.

Jean-Claude Ellena's photo from his lab. Photo used in The Cut.

Jean-Claude Ellena’s photo from his lab. Photo used in The Cut.

For Hermès fans it should be interesting to read the description of Hermès as a day and afternoon brand. To be honest I had actually never thought of this aspect. When I think about it though I realize that in fact I never wear Ellena perfumes in the evening or night, it never felt right. Voyage, Bigarade give me fresh air and energy as I embark on a new day. Ambre Narguilé comfort for an afternoon that closes circles. There is one exception though, Poivre Samarcande, this one I love for a dinner with conversations about life and travel!

I will not reveal more, read the interview. It’s great. And then you will also find out what smelled of vanilla and mold.

For more Ellena I suggest this interview at Perfume Shrine and this one or even better, reading monsieur Ellena’s own books.

There is much wonderfulness to say about fragrance and drinks. Not too long ago I shared this great piece on whiskey from Samir Dave and just now I heard about a great event in Berlin.

"Whiskey is a journey, not a destination", quote and photo from Samir Dave.

“Whiskey is a journey, not a destination”, quote and photo from Samir Dave.

On Thursday, June 12th, Ritz-Carlton Berlin will open Fragrances, a mixology/olfactory experience where patrons use their sense of smell to select their drink of choice.

Designed by “Cocktail Whisperer” Arnd Henning Heissen, the menu’s alcoholic beverages are presented with a bottle of perfume. The drink will not only smell like the scent, but will also reflect that smell in its taste.

There will be a display of the drinks’ ingredients, placed in glass domes next to the perfumes. Each drink will be served in a unique way to augment its individuality.

PSFK write: “Smells evoke memories and create strong emotional bonds with the environment. They have an immense influence in product and experience association, and the Ritz-Carlton is evidence that brands are capitalizing on this idea.”

Ingredient display. Photo from PSFK. article.

Ingredient display. Photo from PSFK. article.

I haven’t written any post here for a while because of travelling and an over-whelmed mind. I spent most of March in Kenya with a malaria elimination project. (As some of you now my other professional path is communication, mainly PR and strategy but also some fundraising.) An extra-ordinary experience that allowed me to discover many different places and contexts, from embassies to small island communities on Lake Victoria. These weeks and the complex context can be summarized and shared from many perspectives of course and my main focus on the experience is indeed from a malaria elimination project point of view. (If someone is interested in more information on that please feel free to contact me, especially if you are interested in supporting.) But for now, I do want to share with you some reflections and impressions from an olfactive and sensory perspective given the context of this blog and part of my life.

Coffee beans in the garden of Karen Blixen's house

Coffee beans in the garden of Karen Blixen’s house

This was my first trip ever to Kenya and when I left Sweden spring had just begun to discretely announce its ambition to arrive… at some point. Many layers of clothes, gentle silent shy spring smells. Preparing for intense days by the equator I expected a mild shock, that it would be hot, that the Nairobi air would be compact, stubborn, urban, dusty and the Lake Victoria air sticky, lush and sweet. I was not prepared to instantly fall in love with Kenyan air but that’s exactly what happened and I spent many days talking about it to whoever would listen. The Kenyan air is amazing. It’s a fragrance in itself. Fresh, breezy, sweet, soft and always with a hint of something floral. It’s so likeable, so tender. Such a contrast sometimes to the visual impressions, for example in Nairobi where there is a lot of traffic, construction and… people. (I live in Sweden… it’s not so densely populated, downtown Nairobi is a physical and visual sensation for me.) Every day I felt aware of this particular air and felt like inhaling endlessly. The Kenyan air was really a remarkable part of my impressions and it feels like the perfect reflection of other impressions such as for example the soft slow voice that many Kenyans speak with.

Streets of Nairobi

Streets of Nairobi

Nairobi bloom

Nairobi bloom

Something else that I thought about a lot was the directness and purity of flavors. It was really quite relaxing and restoring for the senses, and I noticed how I quickly started to avoid cosmetics that smelled to much (the one particular product that felt the most right was a serum from Swedish brand Emma S, that actually smells a little bit like the Kenyan air). Even having returned home I notice when cooking that I am much more attracted to simple gentle pure things, I keep trying to recreate ugali and sukuma. When you are raised and based in a climate that allows for things to grow in your garden only a few months per year, it is a true luxury to eat fresh food and only fresh food every single day. Fresh fish and fresh lime is really really fresh in Kenya.

Porcupine lime

I don’t know how many times I ate kachumbari, a delicious salad made with tomatoes and onions and cilantro, and never grew tired of it because the flavours were so rich and intense. A little bit more onion or cilantro or not made it feel like a different dish. And the mango… I think for the rest of my life when I think of mango my brain will start creating the sweetness of fresh ripe mango in my mind. Surprisingly enough the closest I get to the intensity of fresh Kenyan mango is the dried mango from Swedish-Colombian Nathalie. I quickly found a favorite routine for the early evenings when we returned from field trips in the islands on Lake Victoria. There was a place, a lawn right in front of the lake with soft chairs and a beautiful view and they made Masala tea with milk, served in a nice pot. The soft grass, the soft chair, the over-whelmed mind… watching the lake make its daily transition turning into a an unruly water more resembling a sea than a lake… warm dusty skin and the taste of the spices embraced by soothing milk. I will remember this forever.

Masala place.

Masala & contemplation place.

There was an abundance of sensory impressions in this environment but somehow they came isolated and so there was a balance between variety and purity that felt energizing. It reminded me of the first week at perfumery school in Grasse where we smelled so many raw materials every day but somehow I never felt tired or sedated (the first week with naturals that is, the second week with synthetics was an entirely different story…). There were so many new sounds and smells and flavours… all senses were on an endless daily safari. And such odd combinations that form new associations of the mind… For example every night I applied mosquito repellent before going to sleep and every night in Mbita there was music somewhere in the distance. Very often the same song reappeared with a certain background drum loop repeating. Two slow, three fast. That kind of beat smells like mosquito repellent to me now. A more pleasant association is dusty clay road and fresh sugar cane. That one I love. And this is where I tell you that going on a road trip in Nyanza with a good jeep and an excellent driver and some fresh sugar cane should be on everyone’s bucket list. It is epic.

Sugar cane, dusty road

Sugar cane, dusty road

Someone asked me the other day, if I would create a fragrance that symbolizes Kenya, what would it smell like. An enchanting challenge of course but I am not ready at all to even attempt. My first encounters with Kenya revolve around being struck by the many faces and characteristics of Kenya, from one extreme to the other. So dynamic and unruly in one second, so peaceful and intimate the next. Dusty roads and lush opulent rural hills. Fast lanes with matatu madness and zebras that just don’t care. Flowers and fish. Masala and sugar cane. Mandazi and mango. Nyama choma in the making in the night air. Drumbeat and breeze. Endless contrasts. I admire the pride that every Kenyan I met seems to have in the spine, and the soft silent voices. The big smiles that light up not a room but an entire street. The reserved poise. I have no idea how to convey all that. But I know I would want to capture it in a way that also includes those incredible magic infinities…

Kenyan infinity

Kenyan infinity

I could write a book about everything that Kenya did to my mind, heart and senses. Maybe someday when I have had the privilege to spend more time there I will. For now I leave you with these impressions, some Kenyan seduction from Dela for your ears and some amazing photos by Kenyan photographer Kevin Ouma.

Asante sana Kenya. Infinite place.

Maasai Photo by Kevin Ouma

Maasai Women. Photo by Kevin Ouma

Boats in Mfangano. Photo by Kevin Ouma.

Boats in Mfangano. Photo by Kevin Ouma.

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The first post this new year, a year that certainly brings much newness already from the start. At the end of 2013 I quit my job and decided to be my own boss for a while, for the first time in my life in fact. So now I am a freelance communications consultant dividing my time between PR strategy, media relations, social media curation, teaching and copywriting – and my perfume passion and all the different kinds of great projects that brings my way. To inaugurate this new phase in life I wanted to do something inspiring, dynamic and new. This in my case often means travel. I decided to go somewhere relatively far and new where I would not only discover all kinds of new things but also meet people that inspire me and learn things related to my chosen path(s). The answer was: Chicago.

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Jumping from the intensity of the last weeks at work into the new life didn’t allow me to spend as much time on research as I normally like to so I got on a plane to cross the Atlantic with fairly abstract expectations I must admit. I did know that I would meet a super-cool intelligent warm inspiring person, Tara Swords, founder of Olfactif. I knew I would discover a real big city with diversity and more new streets than I would even have enough time to think about let alone discover. I knew there would be many traces of Polish immigrants and great art. I had no idea what Chicago would like to smell or smell like. As a destination for an Inspiration & Scent trip it felt somewhat unusual.

I brought three fragrances with me for comfort and conversation. Two that I have made, and one that was a gift to me.

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On my first day things instantly got off to a great start. I went to Barneys and discovered a brave inspiring selection of perfumes. Who ever chooses which brands to sell there is doing an amazing job. A lot of niche, both well-known and more unusual. A premium inspirational treat for customers looking for a new fragrance.

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And it got even better when we met Dinara, responsible for Editions de Frédéric Malle. A super-pro, with an abundance of charisma, charm and knowledge. Thanks to Dinara we found out that Frédéric Malle himself would be coming for a special event my last evening in Chicago. This perfume house is a favorite of mine and I was really happy to meet Mr Malle who turned out to be a very stringent and refreshingly direct (Dutch amounts of directness even) man with a great sense of sharp intellectual humor.

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As I mentioned, Chicago is where the world’s first niche perfume subscription service, Olfactif, has its headquarters. I had the great pleasure of spending some time with its founder Tara Swords, both learning more about her business and discovering the scents of Chicago together. (Some of you might remember where this conversation started… I am looking forward to it continuing for a long long time.)

I had a unique opportunity to have a closer look at how Olfactif works, on scene and behind the scenes, and I can assure you, this company is a product of a lot of passion for fragrance, a genuine respect for both perfumers and perfumistas and a lot lot lot of hard work. Unfortunately, there is no European Olfactif yet but for those of you lucky to be based in the US, I suggest having a look. An Olfactif subscription is an easy and inspiring way to discover niche fragrances, some from well-established brands like L’Artisan Parfumeur and some from indie small-scale perfumers that make super-interesting work. Every month the selection is curated around a theme and you get loads of bonus info on the perfumer and the perfume in a way that really distinguishes Olfactif. Yes, I love this business idea and how its done – and I have discovered some really interesting perfumers though it for example Josh Meyer (perhaps you remember my tennis romance with Soft Lawn?) and Neela Vermeire. Neela Vermeire’s Bombay Bling was definetely one of my olfactory highlights last year.

From what I was able to see, Chicago does not have any well-known niche perfume store. However, Barney’s definitely caters to the needs of most niche perfume aficionados. And then there are some true hidden gems, such as Merz Apothecary. They had me at their typography, I admit.

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I am so confused and delighted (mixed, shaken and stirred) that there is this place that sells cough drops and Santa Maria Novella and D.S & Durga and 4711 and a thousand liquids for any medical inconvenience you could ever imagine. And Fa shower cream? (That would be where some confusion kicks in).

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One windy day we made a short stop at Sephora where I found these two Atelier Cologne miniatures (why do we do not see more miniatures? So practical. Especially for me when doing consultations…) and got some Tom Ford samples (Noir – love the dry down, don’t get the pour home) and some from a new (?) brand called Tokyo Milk.

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Naturally, scents are not only found in perfume stores and I am happy to say Chicago offered a wealth of olfactive impression in many other places. I quickly became addicted to David’s Tea in Lincoln Park and fell in love with the vegetable selection at Eataly. Not to mention my local Whole Foods where I also found this great yoga balm. (Who would guess badger and great smell would come as one?).

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Chicago is indeed a great art city and among the highlights were a day at the Art Institute and Chicago Cultural Center. The Art Institute impressed and amazed me not only with its extensive exquisite collections, but also the way the space is designed. Immaculate lightning, great air, spacious and very well-written information and enthusiastic staff – details that matter more than we consciously might contemplate.

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What can I say? I hope to be back soon.

 

I want to share with you the story of my last evening in Grasse. (How I miss this place and how I felt being in that experience…)

There is a narrow winding long cobbled street in Grasse, Rue de L’Oratoire. Somehow wherever I would go I would find myself in Rue de L’Oratoire. In this labyrinth of Grassesque marvels there is a place I knew I would visit sooner or later. 

Before going to Grasse Institute of Perfumery I had read about Clayton’s adventures there and about his visit to perfumer Didier Gaglewski (in Rue de L’Oratoire 12). It seems many visitors to Grasse feel the need to buy perfume as a souvenir and the local shops cater to that idea in different ways. For me the real treat of being in Grasse was the access to the backstage area of the perfume industry. The fields, the insider information, the lab, the raw materials – but above all – the conversations with people who work with perfume in various ways. If I had an experience like that – and could buy something that would preserve the moment for me – then great, but perfume per se was not the main thing. But then of course a place like Grasse provides gems like Beauty Success where you can find Coriandre and Caron’s Pour un Homme! But back to Gaglewski. This encounter was really a quintessential part of this adventure.

First time I met Didier Gaglewski was when going to dinner with my Spanish friend (and I am sure future perfumer) Inma, Daniela from Fragonard and the lady that they were staying with in Grasse. The lady knew Didier so we introduced ourselves briefly when passing by his shop and said we would come back. After a few days, you see, Inma and I had embarked on an inspiring inner journey analyzing various ways to pursue olfactory paths in our future careers. And monsieur Gaglewski seemed like a very good person to turn to for some advise since he himself started to work with perfumes after pursuing a different career for some time. So a few days later we returned. 

The shop. Photo from Gaglewski.com
Didier generously shared his story with us and we spent a long time discovering his creations, from the ultra-masculine conceptual Cambouis, a humoristic flirt with the idea of a man working on his car and the smells of this, to the soft romantic Aria, a seductive classic über-feminine dream of tuberose and vanilla. I had a different instant crush though… first for the name and then for the smell, the woody Journaliste. No surprise that it includes some of my favorite notes – petit grain, mandarin, ginger, cardamom and tonka bean. The Journaliste is now here in Stockholm with me. It reminds me of the alliance between brain and heart, plans and dreams and of this very special place in Grasse. 
So, on my last day I went back to Rue de L’Oratoire, 12 to say goodbye to Didier and to show him my three own creations from school for some professional feedback. A very rewarding visit since I also had the luck to talk to the customers that came to the shop. I was struck by the great conversations that happened. So far from some of the empty quick exchanges of clichés in department stores. People ask Didier a lot about his background and profession and creations and he answers every person’s questions very genuinely and generously. A young man entered out of curiosity, not really ready for a purchase, but full of questions. It was such a nice conversation to listen to and a moment that captured some of that special thing about Grasse so well – it is a place that loves perfumes and that loves to take the time to talk about perfume with anyone who has a desire to know more. There is so much knowledge in those hills… and so little of the excluding elitism that you find between perfume shelves around the world. 
Scent strips made of ribbons at Gaglewski.

Thank you Didier for sharing your story, time and thoughts. D
ziękuję.

“Vous êtes brune, de peau mate.Vous êtes gaie et un peu capricieuse. 
Vous croquez la vie.
Votre rire cristallin ne connaît pas de frontière. 
Vous êtes si près de l’enfance que l’on se demande parfois si vous n’en sortez 
que pour paraître sérieuse, mais l’on sait bien que cela ne durera 
que le temps d’un clin d’oeil.”

(From description of Aria on Gaglewski.com)

In some moments Grasse can really feel a bit like Fragonard Town. A fairly large part of the old town is dominated by Fragonard’s museum and various shops offering not only fragrance but also clothes and linen. My impression is that their business seems to be going quite well.

Of course. And it rhymes.

It is unquestionable that the Fragonard family do take their role as providers of knowledge about the perfume making history very seriously. I decided to save the Fragonard museum for my last Saturday in Grasse and took not one but two tours – one in Italian and one in English. As a former tourist guide and more recently communications and marketing professional I was very interested to see how the guides of Fragonard tell the story, what tools they use and how they incorporate sales into then tour. I also had the privilege of getting some VIP guidance through the range from my friend Daniela who works there.

 
Enfleurage Süskind-style.

The Fragonard factory tour is really well-designed. There are only guided tours, no walking around on your own, so anyone who visits is more or less guaranteed to leave with more knowledge. During the tour the guides use pedagogic graphics, scents, interactive moments and go through rooms that really give the visitors the feeling of getting a backstage perspective. Very well-organised all this. The tour ends with an olfactive test where everyone guesses what notes can be found in some of the fragrances offered in the gift shop. Very clever.

Enormous raw material bottles to smell during the tour – fun!

Étoile – a nice fresh fragrance that I ended up buying.

At entry level there is the obligatory history of perfume exhibition. In comparison to the one at the International Perfume Museum next door this one is lighter and more focused on objects. I like them both, as I wrote in an earlier post I found the International Museum very informative and ambitious. In both places there are some truly exquisite objects to admire. After these two collections I am now rather obsessed with antique perfume flaçons… Especially 19th century. I leave you with some favorites of mine from the Fragonard collection.

If you see something like this at an auction do please let me know?