Culture: 372 posts

Art, travel, books, history

How Artist Serge Lutens Revolutionized Perfumery

In his marvellous essay Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino offers 14 definitions of what makes a classic piece of literature. Reflecting on his list, I thought how easily its ideas could also be applied to perfumery. The same notions of the inexhaustible sense of discovery, timelessness, and “imprints on our imagination” also define a classic scent, be it Guerlain Shalimar or Chanel No 5. It was Calvino’s 13th point, however, that struck a chord. “A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without,” he says. They’re rooted in the present even as they transcend it.

Inspired by Calvino, I decided to draw up a personal list of perfume classics, creations that reflect their moment and yet have timeless relevance. The first I selected was Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, a fragrance conceived by the artist and photographer for Japanese brand Shiseido in 1992. Lutens wanted a perfume based on the Atlas cedarwood, and he sought to convey the softness of the ingredient that beguiled him ever since he came to Morocco in the 1960s. Initially when Lutens talked to the perfumers about his idea, he encountered a lack of comprehension. Cedarwood was traditionally treated as a sharp, masculine note and few fragrance professionals understood how to reinterpret it in a different guise.

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How to Save The Kashmiri Shawl

“On 5 August last year, I was finalising the itinerary for my upcoming trip to Kashmir. The same day, the Indian government revoked its special (limited) autonomous status, which the Muslim-majority state had held since joining the Union in 1947. The government then imposed a security lockdown, cut communication lines and restricted travel. I’m neither a reckless risk taker nor an irrepressible optimist, but I didn’t cancel my trip. I knew it was foolish to hope that the situation in the Kashmir Valley – a place whose borderland status between India and Pakistan has seen it become a violent battleground over the decades – would stabilise in time for my journey a mere month away, but I was obsessed. The reason? A piece of fabric so weightless and yet so warm that it seems to defy all laws of science. I wanted to meet the artisans and learn how real Kashmiri shawls were made. The escalating conflict only increased my resolve for a glimpse of this rare art that is under threat of vanishing.”

The article “How To Save the Kashmiri Shawl,” which appeared in last week’s issue of Financial Times magazine, is the result of my journey to India. I was determined to use whatever means I could to talk to the artisans and to understand why this craft is so meaningful to them. As I’ve learned, weaving has a venerated status in Kashmir. As a crossroads, Kashmir developed its culture through interactions with other people and traditions, and the Kashmiri shawl is the perfect example of this intricate synthesis.

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Mir Taqi Mir’s Jasmine Pilaf

While reading the memoirs of Mir Taqi Mir, a great Indian poet who lived in 18th century Delhi, I came across a charming anecdote about a jasmine pilaf. Once you read it, you’ll know right away why the description captured my attention.

“They used to prepare a fine jasmine pilaf at the house of A’zam Khan Sr. They would put jasmine flowers in some oil and let it sit for a few days so it would absorb the fragrance. Then they would use the oil to cook the rice, which gave it a fine aroma. Burhan-ul-Mulk heard its praise and made a request to A’zam Khan Sr., who then had some prepared and sent over in several big platters. Burhan-ul-Mulk ate it with relish, then remarked in a jocular vein, “It’s not a platter of pilaf; it’s the blessesd grave of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya.” The remark was greatly enjoyed, for people in fact used to bring jasmine flowers in great quantities to cover that revered person’s grave. It would then look like a heap of flowers, and their fragrance would transport passersby even at some distance.”

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Cultivating Creativity : Perfumer Dora Baghriche & Victoria Frolova IGTV

Firmenich Senior Perfumer Dora Baghriche and I recently met on @FirmenichFine’s IGTV on Instagram to talk about cultivating creativity in today’s world, from our own perspectives. Many of you already know Dora through her beautiful creations, but what you may not know is that before becoming a perfumer she studied journalism. So, we have a lot in common.

Here is the recording of our conversation. Many of my IG viewers enjoyed it and requested the full version, so here it is. (You can also watch it on IGTV here.)

In the course of our conversation, Dora recommended a documentary called The Possibilities are Endless about a lyricist Edwyn Collins who suffered a stroke that deleted the contents of his mind. The documentary is about his recovery and journey. Among the things that inspire me, I mentioned a book by Ismail Kadaré, The Chronicle in Stone as well as a poem by Boris Pasternak, Let’s Drop Words.

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Celebrating Spring and a New Century

Happy Nowruz! نوروز مبارک ! Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is celebrated on the spring equinox, which March 20 this year. It will also mark the start of a new century according to the Persian calendar. 21 March 2021 will be the first day of 1400. I wish all of you health, happiness and joy. May it be the start of a beautiful new year.

And to start the new century on a positive note. Yesterday I met on Instagram Live with Firmenich perfumer Dora Baghriche–whom many of you know through her beautiful perfumes, and we talked about cultivating creativity in today’s world. We discussed our difficulties with facing uncertainty over the past year, ways of coping creatively and emotionally, and why perfume retains its power. We also shared our favorite books, documentaries and poems. Dora’s energy and passion were palpable. The Live was hosted on @firmenichfine and they will provide a video, so that I can share with all of you. In the meantime, you can go to firmenichfine IGTV and see the recording there. I hope that you’ll enjoy our candid, warm discussion.

The image above is of haft seen, a special spread of symbolic items that have deep significance on Nowruz.  I’ve already written about the tradition of haft seen before, so please check my article.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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  • Silvermoon in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: When I visited relatives in Germany as a child, I remember being served rhubarb compotes or similar for dessert. Always liked it, but considered it oddly sour for a “dessert”.… April 14, 2021 at 3:28pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: Ah, delicious! I cooked one batch of rhubarb with sugar, a bit of salt and vanilla as a compote. The second batch was blanched very shortly for a Persian-ish khoresh… April 14, 2021 at 11:51am

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