Perfumers & Artists: 72 posts

Articles about perfumers, artists and other interesting personalities. Also, please see Interviews.

Jean Carles on Olfactory Training and Perfumer’s Organ

“Perfumery is an art, not a science, as many seem to believe. A scientific background is not necessary for the perfumer; scientific knowledge may even sometimes prove an obstacle to the freedom required in perfume creation,” wrote Jean Carles (1892-1966), the perfumer whose fingerprint is on Miss Dior, Carven Ma Griffe, Dana Tabu, Schiaparelli Shocking, and my absolute favorite, Elle… Elle by Lucien Lelong.

“The creative perfumer should use odorous materials in the same way that a painter uses colors and give them opportunity for maximum development and effect, although it is understood that potential reactions such as discoloration within the ultimate formulation and also the stability of the perfume should be given due consideration. This is about the only use the perfumer will be able to make of his scientific training, if any.”

Today many would disagree with Carles’s dismissal of a scientific background, especially when a perfumer is expected to create fragrances for a variety of products, from laundry detergents to candles. Carles himself approached perfumery in a scientific manner, laying out the techniques in his influential “A Method of Creation and Perfumery” published in 1961. All perfumer trainees, myself included, studied according to his theories of smelling and composition.

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The Art of Perfume Course : Grasse and Gardens

The first day of our perfumery course started at the Edmond Roudnitska garden and the Art et Parfum studios. I intended to give an overview of perfume techniques and to analyze some of the greatest perfume masterpieces, and this corner of Provence was the perfect start. Roudnitska founded Art et Parfum a year after the end of WWII, and this 70 year old enterprise is still thriving under the guidance of Michel Roudnitska, Edmond’s son and student.

Roudnitska’s garden is a beautiful place to visit, especially during the spring months when every leaf looks fresh and dewy and every blossom seems like a gem, but it’s not a museum to the great master. Besides Michel, three other perfumers work out of the studio–Céline Ellena and Eric and Jean-Claude Gigodot. Céline Ellena moves her hands when she talks as if conducting an invisible orchestra, and she’s utterly spellbinding. She shared her thoughts on perfumery and what makes her work as an independent creator both challenging and exciting.

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Edmond Roudnitska’s Perfumed Garden

I’m in Provence this week teaching the Art of Perfume course. One of the sessions will take place in the garden created by the legendary perfumer Edmond Roudnitska. Situated in Cabris, it’s maintained by his son Michel Roudnitska, the creator of Parfums DelRae Bois de Paradis and Frédéric Malle Noir Épices who also keeps the tradition alive by running Roudnitska’s Art et Parfum lab and studio.

It’s a marvelous place to visit for anyone interested in modern perfumery, fragrant gardens and history. Above you can see the view from Edmond Roudnitska’s office. How could anyone not have created masterpieces in front of such a splendid view.

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“I’m Dying of Love for You” : The Letters of Isabella von Parma

I returned from my recent trip to Vienna bring back not only an obsession with Johann Georg Pinsel, but also with Isabella von Parma (1741-1763), who lived at the same time as the mysterious 18th century sculptor. Isabella was one of the most remarkable personalities of the 18th century, admired for her achievements in art, music, and philosophy. The reason I became fascinated with her, however, was an excerpt from a letter she wrote to her sister-in-law, Marie Christine of Austria. “I am told that the day begins with God. I, however, begin the day by thinking of the object of my love, for I think of her incessantly.”

I am once again struck by the narrow lenses through which we see women in history. In many books Isabella is repeatedly described as “mad,” “tragic,” or “odd.” People search for the roots of her melancholy moods in the family tree and discuss at length the mental problems of her father and her mother’s cold attitude. What about the fact that princesses in the 18th century were little more than breeding mares, and Isabella had half a dozen miscarriages during her short marriage to Joseph II of Austria? The couple was under enormous pressure to produce a male offspring to the Hapsburgs.

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The Passion of Johann Georg Pinsel

It’s not often that a sculptor causes me to crisscross Europe in search of his traces. But Johann Georg Pinsel did just that. I took rickety marshrutka buses to distant Ukrainian villages to see his work at local churches. I visited many a palace where fragments of his sculptures were displayed–a wing of an angel, a headless saint, a saint motioning one to come closer and listen to the revelation. Finally, I made it to Lviv, a western Ukrainian city, and later to Vienna, the center that once exerted considerable political power over Lviv. These journeys spanned almost a year, intertwined as they were around other trips and exploration, but somehow, Pinsel, a mysterious 18th century master, was the leitmotif.

Very little is known about Pinsel. His name was only established with certainty in the 1990s. Where was he born? With whom he did study? The area where he chose to work was the Lviv region, at the time a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and after the first Partition of Poland in 1772, a part of the Habsburg Empire. After Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany in 1939, these territories once again exchanged hands and ended up in the Soviet Union. This bloody and brutal history had consequences for the master who has been dead for almost two centuries–he was forgotten.

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