Perfume 101: 217 posts

Here you can find how to guides to selecting, testing and enjoying scents. Also includes are the lists of our top favorite perfumes for different occasions and articles covering all range of topics related to fragrance. If you’re curious to step inside a perfume lab (or even become an industry professional), this group of essays will be of interest.

Scents of Evanescence

I often come across comments that many spring flowers are unscented. Tulips, cherry blossoms, and snowdrops fall into that category. But are they really? Tulips smell of earth, green sap and unripe apples. Cherry blossoms have a mild bitterness that contrasts with their frothy looks. Snowdrops smell green, dewy, with a curious musty note. Their aroma is mild, lacking the generous sweetness of late spring-early summer blooms, but they’re hardly unscented.

These watercolor fragrances are among the treasures of spring. Taking a bit of effort to discover them makes their delicate beauty more memorable. Even more so when you find them in an urban setting.

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Cherry Blossom Haiku

The sky shifts with the cherry branches above my head. I’m lying on the grass staring at the blossoms. This idyllic scene would be straight out of a Japanese silk painting were it not for the fact that I’m dressed for garden work and the reason I’m in a reclined position is because I’m exhausted after weeding the garden. But as the petals fall on my face, I forget about the back pain and think of my favorite haiku by Matsuo Basho, the 17th century Japanese poet.

How many, many things
They call to mind
These cherry-blossoms!

Haiku weaves vivid images, and cherry blossom themed poems have an element of contemplation and bittersweetness that is compelling. The sight of blossoms, so exquisite and so evanescent, is a reminder of the transience of things, and while it can be melancholy, it’s also reassuring. Everything passes–and then returns.

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Three Ultimate Iris Perfumes

Once, as I was telling Maurice Roucel how much I loved his Iris Silver Mist, a perfume he created for Serge Lutens, he laughed and explained that Lutens kept asking again and again for more iris, so he ended up using all the iris aromatics in the catalogue of his company and essentially “mixing them together.” Roucel can be refreshingly self-deprecating about his work, but I knew that achieving the precise harmony of Iris Silver Mist took much more than just blending all irises in sight. For me, it evokes the cool, frozen beauty of this complex note in a way that few other iris perfumes can.

In my recent FT column, I examine three iris classics, describing what makes them compelling and memorable. Above all, iris as an ingredient deserves attention because it’s one of the most layered, rich but difficult materials available to perfumers.

The first time I smelled iris essence, I stood for a few minutes with a perfume blotter under my nose before I regained my senses. In an instant it conjured up frozen petals and snow-covered trees, and while this image of a winter garden was vivid, I couldn’t easily describe the fragrance. It was like nothing I had encountered before, and pinning down its radiant but surprisingly potent scent proved difficult. To continue, please click here.

What are your ultimate iris perfumes?

The Art of Perfume Course : Marie-Antoinette’s Travel Case

What would you pack if you had to flee for your life? If you were Marie-Antoinette, you would commission a case that would allow you to write, sew, picnic, and perfume yourself with ease. At the International Perfume Museum (Musée International de la Parfumerie) in Grasse, you can see the very item made to the queen’s specifications before she fled to Varennes in 1791. Legend has it that she was given away by the scent of her rich perfume, but if this travel case is any indication, the royal couple didn’t travel light.

After we visited Edmond Roudnitska’s house as part of my Art of Perfume course, we headed to Grasse. Once upon a time, Grasse used to grow the bulk of the flowers used in the fragrance industry, but today it plays a mainly symbolic role. Its environs produce the famous rose de mai, jasmine, lavender and tuberose, but the combination of high real estate value, steep labor costs and climatic change has affected aromatic agriculture in the region. Nevertheless, it’s a charming town located in one of the most beautiful areas of Provence. It also boasts the best perfume museum in the world.

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What Does The Scent of Books Reveal?

My Proustian madeleine is a piece of furniture. One of the first things I do when I arrive at our house in Poltava is to pry open the stubborn glass doors of the old bookcase and take a deep inhale. Even before I knew how to read, I loved smelling the leather bound volumes standing in neat rows on its shelves, so it’s true that my love of reading and my interest in aromas developed in tandem. Inside, the bookcase smells of vetiver roots, vanilla and sesame biscuits.

I’m not being whimsical with my descriptions, however. A ground breaking project by researchers at the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage explored odor descriptions as they relate to the chemical composition of books and created a “historic book odor wheel” to link the scents with the aromatics present in decaying paper. It’s amazing to see how many aroma-molecules books and perfumes have in common, from limonene (zesty, lemon-line odor) to hexanal (freshly cut grass) and vanillin (sweet, vanilla).

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