Reflections: 92 posts

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

Perfume as a Fantasy : Let’s Dream

Despite a persistent belief that perfumers aim to imitate nature, fragrance is about a fantasy. So looking for the exact smell of a rose in a bottle is like reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment to relive a vacation in Saint-Petersburg, even if said sojourn involved all things dark and sordid. Like literature, music, and sculpture, perfumery is a meditation on reality, rather than its photographic reflection. The best of compositions give us a glimpse into someone else’s world and their olfactory idea of a rose—or a cup of black tea, their lover’s skin, or a melancholy evening in Paris.

We read scent message differently

Each one of us might interpret the aromatic message in different ways. For instance, when I smell Balmain’s Vent Vert, I feel the same exhilaration as I do on the first days of March when the air smells intensely green and fresh. My friend, on the other hand, finds it disconcerting and aggressive, a storm of sharp, raspy notes that leaves her lightheaded. Considering that Vent Vert’s creator, Germaine Cellier, minced neither words nor accords, perhaps my friend’s impression is closer to the original intention of the perfumer.

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Why Bad Smells Are Important in Perfumery

One of the paradoxes of perfumery is that to create a good smell, you need a bit of funk. A strawberry accord won’t smell convincing without a sulphurous accent. Recreating a dewy white blossom requires the same substances that are present in horse sweat. There is even a space in every perfume lab devoted to materials with strong, reeking odors, and it’s appropriately called “the stinky room.” Next to the roses and vanillas in a perfumer’s palette, notes reminiscent of dirty hair, musty fur, burnt toast or decaying fruit have their place of honor–costus, musks, civet, pyrazines and many other pungent ingredients. They may be used in small quantities, but they’re important enhancers, giving vibrancy, texture and spice to an otherwise conventional fragrance.

Traditionally, the raunchy notes in classical perfumery were of animalic origin—musk, civet, and ambergris. Today they have been replaced by their synthetic analogs, but they play the same role, warming up a composition and giving it a lush character. Chanel No 5 wouldn’t be the marvel that it is without a cocktail of musks that lingers under the layer of champagne-like aldehydes, rose and jasmine. In Hermès’s Calèche, a whisper of sunwarmed skin keeps this refined blend from becoming icy and aloof. Even more unexpected is Cartier Déclaration, a citrus cologne with a shot of cumin, a spice with a distinctly sweaty odor. For a proper bombshell you could turn to Schiaparelli Shocking, which transforms musk, honey, and civet into a symphony of ripeness.

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Myrrh and Almonds : The Secret of Serge Lutens La Myrrhe

As a complement to my article about Autumnal Fragrances, I recorded a video about the fragrance that scented my fall this year, Serge Lutens La Myrrhe. Early into the spring lockdown, I decided to devote more attention to studying, wearing and enjoying my old favorites, rather than seeking out anything else. Partly, it was a matter of necessity–I transferred my studio to my home and I didn’t want to bring all of the fragrance samples from the office. Partly, it was influenced by my desire to pare things down to the essentials. It was a much needed antidote to the persistent commercial message of buying things.

So I would sometimes spend days analyzing a fragrance, finding its nuances and decoding the stories hidden within its accords. It reminded me of the time I was a perfumery student and would spend weeks studying a single fragrance. I can tell you that I didn’t miss anything. On the contrary, I’ve learned a great deal about fragrance over these past few months.

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A Promise of Spring in Every Autumn

Autumn. Sonbahar in Turkish. Son means last. Bahar means spring. Bahar, a Persian loanword بهار, means also blossom, blossoming. And so, sonbahar, autumn, is literally the last blossoming. Turkish, one of the most elegantly structured languages I know, has its opposite counterpart— ilkbahar, which means spring. İlk means “first.” İlkbahar and sonbahar, spring and autumn. The first blossoms and the last. 

So in every autumnal leaf lies a promise of another spring. 

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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