Japanese Incense : My Financial Times Magazine Column

In my new article for the Financial Times Magazine’s fragrance column, Perfumes with a Twist of Japanese Incense, I discover the pleasures of incense in Japan.

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I’m sitting in front of smouldering joss sticks trying to determine whether they smell of the milky sweetness of sandalwood or the raspy sharpness of cedar. A young woman with a glossy black bob lights one stick after another, blowing out each flame with a gentle wave of her hand. I’m unused to kneeling for so long, and I feel the crunch of tatami mats through my thin wool trousers. Please read the rest by clicking here.

As Kiyoko Morita explains in The Book of Incense, “unlike perfume, the fragrance of incense can be quite faint and subtle; so much so, in fact, that we can understand why the Chinese used the expression ‘listening to incense’ (wenxiang) rather ‘smelling incense’.” Even so, the delicate suggestion of Japanese incense can be found in some fragrances, whether it was deliberate or not. I mention a few such perfumes in my article.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

The Wallace Collection

One day Richard Wallace found out two things that changed his life–that he was the illegitimate son of the Fourth Marquess of Hertford and that he was the heir to an invaluable collection of antiques, including paintings by Titian, Frans Hals, and Rubens. He worked as a secretary for the Marquess, but discovering the true nature of their relation was a shock.  When he inherited his father’s collection, the apartment in the rue Laffitte, the chateau of Bagatelle, and the estates in Ireland, he was living in Paris. He married Julie Castelnau, a former perfume seller, and set about taking care of the collection. It was to become his life’s work.

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The Franco-German war of 1870-71 and the uprising of the Commune precipitated his move to London, and that’s where his collection currently resides. What is more, its treasures are available to visitors free of charge; Lady Wallace bequeathed most of the collection to the nation.

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Paco Rabanne Calandre : Perfume Review

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Patricia revisits Calandre, a metallic green rose with a chypre heart.

Nineteen Sixty-Nine was a year in which I watched with my family as men walked on the moon, 400,000 young people crammed into the then little known town of Woodstock, NY for a three-day music festival, and the hugely unpopular war in Vietnam was escalating with accompanying casualties on both sides of the conflict. In the same year, Calandre, an avant-garde perfume from the fashion house of Paco Rabanne and created by nose Michel Hy, was launched.

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Betty Friedan, considered by some to be the mother of the second wave of American feminism, had written The Feminine Mystique in 1963, and the sixties provided fertile ground for the growing Women’s Movement. Perfume styles were changing as well. The more formal floral style of the fifties and early sixties was giving way to more modern interpretations.

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Our Complex and Fascinating Olfactory System

The New York Times’s Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places is one of the most fascinating articles I’ve read lately. Scientific research conducted over the last decade has revealed that odor receptors can be found not only in the nose, but in our skin, heart, kidneys and other organs. What is more, they aid various physiological functions, such as helping tissues heal or acting as a safety switch against poisonous compounds. Whether we will see the development of scent based medicine is still under debate, but it’s beyond doubt that our olfactory system has an incredible and still poorly understood potential.

“Over the last decade or so, scientists have discovered that odor receptors are not solely confined to the nose, but found throughout body — in the liver, the heart, the kidneys and even sperm — where they play a pivotal role in a host of physiological functions.

Now, a team of biologists at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany has found that our skin is bristling with olfactory receptors. “More than 15 of the olfactory receptors that exist in the nose are also found in human skin cells,” said the lead researcher, Dr. Hanns Hatt. Not only that, but exposing one of these receptors (colorfully named OR2AT4) to a synthetic sandalwood odor known as Sandalore sets off a cascade of molecular signals that appears to induce healing in injured tissue. Read the rest.

Thank you to Susan, Amanda and L for a link.

4711 Original Eau de Cologne : Perfume Review

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Simple. Lemon with a touch of lavender and piney rosemary. Not a perfume to wear if you want a big trail. Not a perfume that will make you ponder the mysteries of life. Just a good, no-nonsense cologne that smells bracing and sharp and makes you feel clean and energized. And the name is straightforward too, just four numbers. 4711.
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When I first smelled 4711 at the now defunct pharmacy on New York’s East Side, it smelled so familiar and traditional that I could picture my grandfather slapping some on his shaved cheeks or my grandmother adding it to her bath. This was, of course, pure fantasy. 4711 didn’t exist in my Ukrainian childhood, but because the scent of a classical cologne–and 4711 is anything if not classical–has such a recognizable form, it feels as if this German cologne has always been around.

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