Artists & Perfumers: 100 posts

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

The Heavenly Voice of Mohammad Reza Shajarian

I woke up in Tehran on a cold October morning. The city outside of my hotel window looked grey and aloof. I was in a new city. I was alone. Tehran is not a city for the fainthearted. It’s overdeveloped, crowded and downright ugly at times. What I saw out of my window intimidated me. Yet, I made myself leave the hotel and explore. I walked with a purpose as if I knew where to go. I lingered at the curb of a busy road and a taxi stopped in front of me. It was one of those open-door taxis that travel a specific route and pick up passengers until they’re too full. I got in, even though I had no idea where it was going. I had no idea how much I had to pay. When the taxi stopped in the middle of a busy shopping area, another woman got out and I did too. I had no idea where I was. I saw a music store, and I walked in. Before I even had a chance to explain what I wanted—and to be honest, I wasn’t sure what it was, the store clerk handed me a disc of Mohammad Reza Shajarian’s songs. I fell in love.

Eventually I would fall in love with Tehran as well–and then with Yazd, Shiraz and Isfahan. Yet, Tehran, the first Iranian city I’ve explored on my own, evokes the most vivid memories for me. And I always think of the heavenly voice of Mohammad Reza Shajarian as I recall Tehran. To say that he is the most famous singer of Iran is an understatement. He is the voice of Iran. As my friend put it, he is the modern-day Ferdowsi, because just like the author of the Shahnameh epic, he captured the spirit of Iran with his art.

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Poetry and Enigma of Mike Johansen

Why not start Monday with poetry? I’ve selected my favorite poetry by Mike Johansen (1895-1937), a Ukrainian poet of the 1920s. Johansen described himself as an enigma–half-Ukrainian, half-Latvian German, fluent in dozens of languages and yet making Ukrainian the medium of his prose and poetry. Johansen represents the avant-garde movement of the 1920s and he was one of the brightest stars of the same group that included people like Vladimir Mayakovsky, Velimir Khlebnikov and Mykola Khvylovyi. What distinguishes his work for me is his playfulness and humor.

Although he was a gifted translator at ease with Latin, English, German, and a number of Scandinavian and Slavic languages, his poetry is impossible to translate. It relies so much on the sound of Ukrainian that in another language it becomes something else altogether. Yet, even without understanding the language, the poem is hypnotic.

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Ballet Inspired Perfumes

In my FT magazine article Ballet in a Bottle?, I describe several perfumes inspired by ballet or created in collaboration with ballet dancers. The results are fascinating–the spirit of ballet has a lot in common with perfumery, from its ineffability to its complexity.

“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” This wonderful quote nonetheless misses the mark. Music can be captured in words just as dance can be used to understand shapes and forms. What’s more, perfumers working in collaboration with ballet artists have shown that one can even smell adagios and allegros.

Such was the idea behind Iris Prima, a fragrance by Penhaligon’s. Working with the English National Ballet, master perfumer Alberto Morillas chose iris to evoke the vision of a dancer on stage. An ingredient derived from the roots of iris pallida, at first it suggests the scent of violet petals.  Yet, the delicate opening gives way to frozen woods and intensely green buds. The same juxtaposition of ethereal lightness and strength is the hallmark of a ballet, and Iris Prima captures it perfectly. Its floral softness is challenged by woods and musk, and while the contrast is strong, the result is harmonious.

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Make Time for Yourself and Banish Guilt

If a person with children and living in an extended family were to write my article How to Handle Self-Isolation and Not Lose One’s Mind, they would instead title it How to Survive Quarantine and Not Kill One’s Family. Then again, they probably wouldn’t even write it, because they would be too busy being a career professional, cook, cleaner, and school teacher. All of this in addition to the general anxiety. Since most of the household responsibilities fall on the shoulders of women, many of my female friends are finding this period of confinement stressful. Whether they live in New York, Tehran or Kyiv, the problems are the same–they are under pressure from their employers, schools and their families.

Far more qualified people than me can give advice on how to manage home schooling, household responsibilities and children. On these pages I can only provide comfort, distraction, and a reminder that taking a moment out of a day for oneself is crucial. And that such moments shouldn’t be tainted by guilt.

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Lindens, Ukrainian Weaving, and Nataliya’s Other Favorite Things

I like meeting people who pursue their dreams. My friend and partner on our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure, Nataliya Cummings, studied theater in Ukraine, lived in an anarchist community, researched traditional weaving and created an art festival. She now lives in the UK, but she spends most of her year traveling in Ukraine and helping other people fall in love with this fascinating and yet unknown country. Today I want to introduce Nataliya to you.

Nataliya started her travel company Experience Ukraine shortly after moving to Hereford in the UK about 10 years ago, but the genesis of the idea came earlier. After completing her theater studies degree at the university, she started to create art events for children in collaboration with the Longo Maï community. Since children couldn’t travel to cities to see plays and performances, Nataliya decided to bring theater to them. Her experience was so exhilarating that she moved to the village of Nyzhnie Selyshche in the Transcarpathia, a region in western Ukraine. (It’s the same village where we will be staying during our Ukrainian Scent and Taste Adventure this summer.)

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Latest Comments

  • Klaas in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: We grew rhubarb in our garden when I was a kid. We used to eat the stems, raw, dipped in sugar. It was a real experience, the extreme sourness of… April 14, 2021 at 5:11pm

  • Sarah in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: Love the Hermes parfum. Bought it in Montreal. It is nice je of my favorite during the summer. Caramelized rhubarb pie is a delight. Unfortunately I am the only one… April 14, 2021 at 4:36pm

  • 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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