Perfume 101: 290 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.

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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My Selection of 10 Fragrances for Fall

I always look to that moment when leaves start to fall; the air is filled with a mellow sweetness reminiscent of walnut shelves and faded leather. It makes me want to write poetry, find patterns in the intertwined bare branches, watch bittersweet Japanese films and contemplate the beauty of morning light. Such impulses tend to break against the shoals of my routine, but even so, I enjoy the autumnal moods and the element of fantasy.

I did, however, do some translations of Persian poetry, as I shared in my October Newsletter.

And indeed, fantasy and pleasure are the only criteria guiding my selection of perfumes for this fall. My list has room on it for different themes for different moods and for new favorites as well as beloved staples.

L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse

Some years ago, L’Artisan Parfumeur had a collection of so-called grand cru fragrances inspired by the best grades of orange blossom, iris and narcissus. Narcissus was the most intriguing, because smelling this note interpreted as a complete perfume, rather than an accent, made me realize how close narcissus is to leather and woods. The same theme returns this year with Mont de Narcisse. It’s signed by Anne Flipo, the same perfumer responsible for the long-vanished grand cru, but the idea is more complex. And more interesting, I should say. Narcissus is accented with cardamom and osmanthus, another floral note that inches close to leather, to make a multifaceted, elegant scent.

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