Perfumers & Artists: 76 posts

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

California Dreaming

Alyssa Harad is the author of Coming to My Senses and here is her contribution to the Women in Perfumery series. You can learn more about Alyssa’s work and read excerpts of her book at alyssaharad.com.

When Jessica, a.k.a. the Perfume Professor directed my attention to the July Allure article  on the “new frontier” of indie American perfumers—that is, perfumers who create and sell their own brand—and their “solitary, rugged, luminous,” distinctly American perfumes, I was struck by the absence of California as much as by the absence of women.* Few states better embody the fantasy of America (sit down, Texas). California is the eternal frontier, the last stop on the push from east to west. It’s also home to a well established indie perfume scene dominated by women who are deeply influenced by the culture and landscape of their home state. Here are a few of my longstanding favorites. This is by no means a complete list. If you have others please say so in the comments.

Natural perfumer Mandy Aftel has been creating her lush, complex natural perfumes for more than thirty years now. She surely deserves credit as an early pioneer of the American indie scene if not its progenitor. Aftel’s home studio is located in Berkeley, one block from Alice Waters’ famed Chez Panisse. Like Waters, Aftel’s innovative work marries French sophistication to a Berkeley obsession with eschewing the synthetic and highlighting the glory of natural materials. But while Waters could draw on a living tradition of French techniques, Aftel had to invent her own.

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Renegades, Artists, and Artisans : Women in Perfumery

“Only a few people have the supersense of smell necessary to become a Nose—for reasons known only to Noses themselves, no woman has ever had it,” wrote one Donald William Dresden in a 1947 article about “twenty noses of France.” All of these twenty noses, as Mr. Dresden explains to his New York Times readers, are middle-aged men, imposing and intellectual. At round the same time, Germaine Cellier was galvanizing traditional French perfumery with her unforgettable Bandit (1944) and Vent Vert (1947). But she remained invisible for the likes of Dresden.

Fast forward to 2017. Since 1947 perfumery around the world has been altered dramatically by the greater openness of the industry and the opportunities it gave women. One would have hoped that their contributions were honored and recognized. In July 2017 Allure ran an article, The American Perfumers Modern Approach to Fragrance. Yet, in the magazine issue devoted to diversity, the article about the American indie movement didn’t mention a single female perfumer. It’s a serious oversight, since the indie movement is inconceivable without female perfumers. Having found the traditional houses either closed to them or limited in creative opportunities, talented and ambitious creators turned to the indie approach. The former situation was especially true for women.

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Searching for a Beautiful Scent, A Conversation with Maurice Roucel

Maurice Roucel is one of the best people to talk perfume. For one thing, the rarefied, quasi-mystical approach to fragrance so common among many perfumers is entirely foreign to him. He sees the role of a fragrance creator in need of a clear definition and classification afforded to other artists, but he doesn’t comport himself as a savant of subjects too refined for the understanding of mere mortals. If anything, his down-to-earth attitude and candid manner make him a refreshing presence and a great conversation partner on topics that range from perfume to wine and life in general.

One winter Roucel and I met at a café in Paris and I posed a slightly provocative question to him: what makes a perfume beautiful? His answer and our subsequent conversation that lasted for several hours is the inspiration for my latest FT piece, Striking Accord.

“The idea of perfume making as an art form, however, can be hard to champion. While scents are related to other kinds of intangible Unesco-listed cultural heritage such as cuisine, they don’t benefit from the same recognition or documentation (the Osmothèque, a scent archive based in Versailles, is the main institution studying and preserving historical fragrances), and are generally seen as too subjective to analyse or even describe, making definitions of artistic worth complicated.” To continue reading, please click here.

What is your personal definition of a beautiful perfume?

Photography via WPC

Lonely Mozart in Lemberg and Reflections on Solitude

In 1808 Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, the youngest son of the famous composer, traveled to Lemberg. Today it’s Lviv, a city in western Ukraine, but when the eighteen year old pianist was packing his sheet music and books and setting off on his journey, it was located in Galicia, an entity created by Joseph II after the partition of Poland in 1772. (It was the same Joseph that commented about the Marriage of Figaro, “too many notes, Mozart.”) While young Mozart was aware that he was trading Vienna for the provinces, he was in dire straits. Lemberg seemed like a promising place for a pianist to build his career and return to the capital. Mozart ended up staying for more than two decades.

Young Mozart’s early letters to his family were filled with mentions of his “loneliness [Einsamkeit].” He acutely felt the Galician isolation and complained that his inspiration was deserting him. He envisioned all of the brilliant conversations he could have experienced in Vienna society, the music, the books, the arts, and despaired of finding anything similar in Lemberg. Franz Mozart’s output over his lifetime was indeed small, yet, what becomes obvious is how much he drew on the local surroundings and how creatively he interpreted them.

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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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