How To Guides: 44 posts

How to Smell Peaches in Guerlain Mitsouko

When I wrote my article about lactones, I explained that Guerlain Mitsouko was one of the first perfumes to use these compounds redolent of peach skin and cream. Many of you then commented that you found it difficult to detect lactones in Mitsouko. This difficulty is not surprising, since the peach skin note in Mitsouko is not intended to be a dominant one. Instead, it offsets the darkness of moss and woods and harmonizes the warm drydown and the floral heart of the perfume.

In general, none of the Guerlain classics are easy to take apart note by note; this is not like modern niche perfumery where you can tell the percentage of Iso E Super at first sniff. The idea of the grand parfums like Mitsouko wasn’t to recreate a smell of peach or moss, but to evoke a mood, to tell a story and to tease the senses. I like the streamlined modern perfumes for other reasons, but if I want baroque complexity, Guerlain classics are my first port of call.

Like other perfumers, I spent months of my training recreating important classics without recourse to gas chromatography–with only my nose to guide me. So here I propose a technique that will help you identify the peach note in Mitsouko.

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Putting Scents Into Words : Smelling Exercises

Describing aromas can be difficult. We’re used to associating a scent with something concrete–an orange, a rose, a steaming bowl of pasta, so when we encounter even a familiar smell disconnected from its source, we are lost for words. Orange smells like an orange, right? Yet, the more one smells, the more one tries to put scents into words, the easier it becomes. In this post, I would like to put together the videos I’ve recorded of basic smelling exercises that teach how to sharpen one’s sense of smell and to put scents into words. I’d like to have everything in one place for reference and also to add extra notes to each demo.

Why does putting scents into words matter? First, by describing a smell to yourself, you memorize it more easily. This scent memory bank, or olfactory vocabulary, if you will, will help you to recognize scents faster and to recall them at will. Second, any sensory experience is enriched when more than one sense is stimulated, and the ability to describe smells will make your olfactory perceptions richer and will heighten your enjoyment overall, be it the enjoyment that comes from savoring a glass of wine, a piece of cake or from taking a walk in the park. So, let’s start!

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Exercises to Sharpen Sense of Smell : Cloves and Roses

Starting one’s morning by smelling consciously is the best and the easiest way to sharpen your sense of smell. I’m sure that many of you who are reading this blog on a regular basis are already using your nose to its full potential, but if you would like to improve your olfactory vocabulary, distinguish scents better and learn to smell with more focus, I would like to share short videos with professional tips. The sense of smell becomes less acute with age, but by introducing such exercises into our routine, we’re ensuring that our noses remain as sensitive as can be possible given our genetic makeup and lifestyle. I’ve already posted a video on the basic principles of smelling in Bois de Jasmin’s YouTube channel, and the next installments will cover different techniques in more detail–smelling in images, looking for nuances in scents, etc.

Today’s video is a typical exercise I use in the morning. I pick anything scented–it can be a box of spices, a packet of coffee or a blotter dipped into an essential oil and think of images it evokes. It’s easier to do this exercise blindly (place spices in unmarked jars and smell with your eyes closed), but even if you know what you’re smelling, try to think only of the smell. What does it evoke? What does it smell of (other than the object you’re smelling)? It helps to write down your impressions, and if you like, you can share them in the comments here.

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The Allure of Extrait de Parfum

If you were a medieval caliph and desired a fragrance to delight your senses, your royal perfumers would have mixed Tibetan musk with an equal amount of Yemeni ambergris and steeped the mixture in ben tree oil over a weak fire. They would have stirred it with a gold spoon and used a silver vessel to refine it further until the liquid itself turned golden and smelled like paradise itself. If you were the wife of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, the one of One Thousand and One Nights fame, then you would have asked for a touch of jasmine oil to remind you of Persian gardens in bloom. According to the 14th century Egyptian scholar Al-Nuwayri, such were indeed the refined tastes of his time.

The luxurious, oil-based perfumes Al-Nuwayri describes in his book are the distant ancestors of the modern extrait de parfum. Today, the extrait de parfum is usually diluted in alcohol, but the proportion of fragrant oils in its formula is still sumptuously high. In my recent FT magazine column, The Allure of Extrait de Parfum, I describe what makes extrait de parfum different and why it still has a place in our perfume wardrobe.

As I’ve noted in my article about perfume concentrations, the proportion of oil alone doesn’t matter as much as the ingredients themselves. However, the parfum, along with the Eau de Cologne, is the oldest way of enjoying fragrance. It was meant to be applied directly on skin, allowing it to envelop the wearer in a soft cloud of scent. For instance, the great classics like Chanel No 5, Guerlain Jicky or Caron Tabac Blond were created as such concentrated blends. Their lighter variations appeared later in the second half of the 20th century when atomizers became popular. To continue reading, please click here.

What are some of your favorite extrait de parfums?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Crisp Summer Fragrances : Not Colognes

As much as I love colognes and find them refreshing on a hot day, sometimes I want to mix things up. After all, citrus is not the only thing that feels cool and uplifting. This is the topic of my recent FT magazine article, Summer scents that are crisp, cool – and rather unexpected.

Even more unusual, however, is the coolness suggested by myrrh, a rich and complex ingredient hinting at liquorice, driftwood and green sap. In ancient times, it was burned as incense, added to wine as a digestive or blended into perfumes to give them a lingering, suave finish. The latter is the reason I seek out myrrh-based fragrances; they are at once velvety and cool – the most intriguing of contrasts. One of the best examples is Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe (£170 for 70ml EDP), a languid rose, smothered in myrrh and bitter almond. The champagne-like effervescence of aldehydes, the aromatic compounds found in rose petals and orange peel, lights up the composition. To continue reading, please click here.

What perfumes are you currently wearing and what is your fragrance today?

Image via FT

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