What sparked your love for perfume? My own passion for scent is a journey with no end in sight, yet I can attribute three main factors to its inception: Diorissimo, Chemistry and Trésor.
As Nabokov noted in Mary, “Nothing revives the past as completely as the smell.” If my early memories had a scent, they would be redolent of Diorissimo, lilies of the valley blossoming on a misty spring morning. Diorissimo was my mother’s favorite fragrance, its little pink box with black and white checks concealing a small bottle of extrait de parfum. She worked at the chemical engineering research institute, which was an organization with a very vague purpose. Or perhaps, it is just my confused memory, because what I recall of the institute had little to do with either chemistry or engineering. Yet, imagining my glamorous mother trailing a scent of Edmond Roudnitska’s legendary creation down the halls of that dingy grey building never fails to amuse me. She would drop me off at the pre-school and then leave, yet the scent of her would remain.
That veil of scent leaving an imprint upon the memory is what I wanted to have as well. However, it was a specific veil, differing from the cloud of “Krasnaya Moskva” my school teacher would force upon me when chastising for a lack of interest in the pioneer activities. It was also completely unlike a wave of “Shipr” cologne one would notice when passing a careening drunkard. “Shipr” (chypre in Russian) was often a drink of choice for the Soviet alcoholics when vodka was not in stock (and yes, it took a long time to overcome my prejudice towards chypre genre.) The scent I was craving was ethereal and elegant, a blend of white flowers and crushed leaves. I would surreptitiously dab on my mother’s Diorissimo before my ballet classes, feeling elegant and ethereal myself (despite whatever mirrors told).
Another motivation to learn more perfume was provided by the Soviet emphasis on natural sciences, or rather a particularly engaging lecture in an organic chemistry class. Its gist was that plants and animals produce chemical materials through a process of biosynthesis. Based on their biosynthetic origins, plant natural products can be divided into three major groups, one of which is the terpenoids. While the terpenes comprise the largest group of natural odorants, they also form the largest group of the modern fragrance ingredients. Only one such example is hydroxycitronellal, an aroma chemical with a lily of the valley character. Many of the connections I had to make myself, reading in my spare time, yet it was—and still is—an exciting discovery.
Then 1991 brought a collapse of everything as we have known it to exist. Suddenly, the red pioneer scarves were tossed and giving directions became difficult because of the constant street name changes. What do I remember about this time? Lancôme Trésor! Achieved masterfully by Sophia Grojsman in 1990 by using four ingredients that made up almost 80% of the formula, this shimmering cloud of roses and peaches was with me until I left Ukraine a couple of years later.
Photo: Nina Ananiashivilli in Swan Lake, from ballerinagallery.com. Trésor advertisement from psine.net.