Perfume in Art and Design : Highlights from The Perfumative Zurich

What happens when a group of people from different disciplines, such as chemistry, political science, philosophy, sociology, art, sculpture, film, literature and perfumery, come together to discuss scent?  This month I attended The Perfumative conference organized by the Zürich University of the Arts, and it was exactly such an event. It was open to the public and the combination of talks, freestyle discussions and art installations based around scent made The Perfumative a vibrant and inspired gathering.

My contribution to the conference centered around scent, culture and the way perfume writing has evolved over the past years, becoming a legitimate subject comparable to similar discussions in the related fields of fashion, wine and food. You can see the range of topics covered in the program, and since the talks were recorded, I’ll share the link here once they go online.

For now, however, I wanted to share with you some of the observations inspired by the talks and discussions. Please feel free to contribute your own thoughts.

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How to Learn Perfume Raw Materials: The Osmotheque Perfume Kits

The perfumery conservatory in Versailles, the Osmothèque, is not only an institution to maintain a record of perfumery, but also an educational center. From time to time they offer courses as well as coffrets of raw materials for purchase. This fall, the Osmothèque offers a new set that includes 21 ingredients from the perfumer’s palette, natural and synthetic. Each bottle contains 4,7 ml, and also included are blotters and descriptions. The cost is 60 €.

The materials featured are the essential oils of cardamom, Virginia cedarwood, lemon, clove, galbanum, lavender, patchouli, petitgrain, vetiver, and ylang ylang. Jasmine, rose, tonka bean and blackcurrant buds absolutes are likewise included. Then, there are synthetic materials like benzyl acetate, CIS-3 acetate, hexenyl, aldehyde C18, calone, citronellol, galaxolide, and ionone alpha.

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In Search of Dark, Opulent Musk

“Bring, bring that musk-scented wine! That wine is the key to joy, and it must be mine…” The medieval Persian reader scanning these lines by the 12th-century poet Nezami* would have understood instantly the subtle nuances of the word “musk.” Since natural musk was black, the reader would have envisioned a dark potion. Also, musk was considered the most sumptuous and alluring of scents, and musk-scented wine would surely be a libation to intoxicate one to the point of ecstasy. Most importantly, however, musk evoked seduction and passion, and in Nezami’s masterpiece about star-crossed lovers, Layla and Majnun, musk is the scented leitmotif.

The topic of my new FT column, In Search of Dark Musk, is the dark, intoxicating musk, and I search for a perfume with such a character. No white musks, clean musks or baby-skin musks will do. I want a musk that smolders and that would have been as close as possible to the kind of fragrance the Persian poet described.

You can read about the results of my search here, and of course, I look forward to reading your ideas on a perfume that smells dark and musky.

*Nezami or Nizami, Hafez or Hafiz? The Persian reading of these poets names’ is Nezami and Hafez, with a short “e”.  Nizami and Hafiz is an old-fashioned spelling, which still tends to be preferred by Western academics.

Image via FT; Persian miniature

 

Paul Poiret on Selecting a Signature Perfume

Who was the first fashion designer to launch a perfume? It was most certainly not Coco Chanel and her No 5. The first couturier who linked fashion and perfumery was Paul Poiret. His rise in the world of fashion happened at the turn of the 20th century. Although his success was as meteoric as his fall was swift and tragic, he left an indelible imprint on fashion and created a modern sense of couture and dressing, the very road that Chanel and other fashion designers would follow.

Poiret’s autobiography, King of Fashion: The Autobiography of Paul Poiret (V&A, London 2009) reveals him as a complex character that he was. While in its pages he can come across as pretentious and self-congratulating, his passion for art and fashion is moving. So is his openness to taking risks or even bearing opprobrium. “Do not kick up a fuss for something that is not admissible today, because  tomorrow it will be,” he writes. He knew what he was talking about it, since one of his first designs, a kimono coat elicited a vehement rejection from a Russian countess. “What a horror! When there are low fellows who run after our sledges and annoy us, we have their heads cut off, and we put them in sacks just like that,” she said. This kimono-coat was to become one of Poiret’s hits.

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Recommend Me a Perfume : October 2018

Are you looking for a new fragrance? Our “Recommend Me a Perfume” thread is open this week. You can this space to find perfume recommendations, to share your discoveries and favorite scents, and to ask any questions about scents, aromas and flavors.

How does it work: 1. Please post your requests or questions as comments here. You can also use this space to ask any fragrance related questions. To receive recommendations that are better tailored to your tastes, you can include details on what you like and don’t like, your signature perfumes, and your budget. And please let us know what you end up sampling. 2. Then please check the thread to see if there are other requests you can answer. Your responses are really valuable for navigating the big and sometimes confusing world of perfume, so let’s help each other!

To make this thread easier to read, when you reply to someone, please click on the blue “reply” link uner their comment.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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