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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)

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

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.

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 

Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a post about a Kilian perfume that made me think of the aria Casta Diva… One of my favorite arias of all times from Norma (yes, I have a thing for the druid thing, not so far-fetched if one is into the various aspects of scents).

I didn’t know then that there was a perfume with this name. The other week losing my olfactory mind looking at all that MiN New York have to offer, suddenly I found this obviously precious thing among their curator’s favorites.

Honestly? I would have tried it just for the name.

Honestly? After months of Swedish dark introverted winter when someone offers you (me)…

“Castadiva is a fragrance that resonates like celestial voices; 
its pure and flowery notes rise up towards the bright blue sky 
and explode high up with frangipani and osmanthus.”

…you (I) have no desire to refuse.

I confess, I am one of those women with slight floral phobia when it comes to perfume, but I do love frangipani. I also confess: the descriptions of this fragrance (quite opulent) categorize it as something that normally is not my kind of preference. But I was curious, for superficial reasons, for romantic reasons, for poetic reasons. 
I am wearing this female ceremony of a perfume today and I admit, it is strikingly romantic. It is organza dresses and long eye lashes and blushing cheeks and unforgettable kisses and makes me feel like an Alma Tadema lady in disguise. Random surrounding oceans of petals, gold hair pieces and Roman palaces and Illiads included. It is undeniably feminine and in love. It is a perfume in love. 

This love is composed of: ylang ylang, frangipani, osmanthus, jasmine of Egypt, neroli, oak moss, amber notes, white musk and vanilla. Marie Duchene is the nose.

So much has been written about the collaboration between designer Dries van Noten and Frederic Malle (for a moment of aesthetic heaven please look at this story on his home) that it feels a bit superfluous to add one more blog post… But I can’t stay away from mentioning it because any new perfume from Malle is an event of significance.

What Frederic Malle does and his vision is admirable and embodies values that add an absolutely necessary element to today’s perfume market. His ambition when creating the brand and company was to “liberate perfumers from the kinds of restraints often imposed by marketers and focus groups”. Malle functions as an editor, working with the noses that are invited to create scents in the same way that an editor works with writers. Every perfume creator is free to create and explore an idea of his own. The result, of course, is that Malle perfumes are the fragrance explorer’s dream. I love to try a new perfume from this collection, and I love how often it surprises me and makes me redefine my own preferences. One of my true favourites, Anqelique sous la pluie, was a perfume that I just did not notice until I had a conversation with one of Malle’s advisors about my preferences and she showed it to me. I love it. (Not to mention it has probably the most beautiful perfume name in the universe). Nice read: the Q&A on Malle’s web.

There are many parallels to draw between the perfume editor role and that of an editor for writers. It is indeed something of an anthology of scents that Frederic Malle has created. The stringent curiosity of Ellena’s Bigarade to the dark carnal Noir Epices from Roudnitska. The tender teardrops in Anqeliques sous la pluie by Ellena (yes, I know, I mention Ellena a lot). The blushed cheeks of Maurice Roucel’s Dans tes bras. All these stories…

And now this new launch that surprised many since there has been no designer collaboration framed by Malle so far. Turns out though that this is the result of a long friendship and creative bond between the editor and the designer. They have taken their time, I am sure the process has been beautiful and filled with very interesting conversations.

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I have been an admirer of Dries van Noten‘s eclectic style for a long time. So interesting, and interested, to me it feels like travellers’ clothes. Like the garments carry journeys from Buenos Aires to Samarcand and back. So I was instantly curious to hear what notes would be chosen to tell an olfactory story of his.   I guessed it would be something oriental, spicy, woody. It’s not too spicy but features sandalwood, guaiac wood, tonka bean, saffron, musk and vanilla. The top note is citron. The sandalwood is particularly interesting as it is the return of Indian sandalwood which has been absent from perfumery for a long time due to sustainability concerns. From what I have heard from friends fortunate to have tried it, it is a very undemanding and wearable perfume. The nose is Bruno Jovanovic, who has also created Notre Dame, Chez Monsieur and Marius et Jeannette for Malle among other perfumes.

This new lovely addition to the perfume world will be available in stores in the next two weeks, exact dates vary slightly from one city to another. I will be sniffing in Stockholm, at COW on February 25.