Saturday, March 23, 2019

Olfactory Curiosities: Equine Musk from a Horse Named James Bond

If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living that moment all over again. —Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

James Bond's debonair horse musk has been macerating for a little over six months. The musk tincture was made using pieces of an aromatic callous-type growth called equine horse chestnut that groomers remove by gently rubbing them off a horse's leg. The shape and positioning of equine horse chestnuts are unique to each horse. Their origin and purpose is still a mystery, though some speculate that they're vestigial scent glands or toes.

Equine musk isn't found among animalic essences in a perfumer's training kit. There are several musks (all synthetic), castoreum, civet, civetone (synthetic civet), and ambergris-type molecules, but nothing associated with the smell of horses that's derived from horses. This is rather odd, considering that perfumery was born in the Middle East in 1200 BCE and research suggests that horses were domesticated 9000 years ago in the Arabian Peninsula.

James Bond, the horse with the debonaire musk.
Image by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Horse musk derived from equine horse chestnut was explored by a group of curious natural perfumers, and documented by Lisa Abdul-Quddus in a post for Le Parfumeur Rebelle (February 21, 2011):

It happens often, yet I still get amazed at how simple actions can spark inspiration and discoveries. Take, for example, a conversation back in January 2009 between Natural Perfumer Justine Crane and one of her Antiquarian Perfumery students, Paulha Whitaker. Paulha started a discussion about a subject totally different from where that discussion ended. Basically, she casually mentioned the smell of [equine] horse chestnuts and very briefly described what they were. Justine suggested she tincture them and voila The Natures Nexus Academy of Perfumery Arts students had begun a journey in horse smells. Paulha generously supplied the students with [equine] horse chestnuts and there began the experimentation.

Lisa Abdul-Quddus attends Smell & Tell programs at the Ann Arbor District Library and shared her equine horse chestnut story during a 2015 presentation I gave called Musk: The Essence of Seduction. A few weeks later she shared a sample of her tincture with me. I still remember the first time I smelled it. It was sublime, powdery, musky and evocative of softer tones found in Tonquin deer musk.

James Bond, retired racehorse extraordinaire, enjoying the good
 life in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Image by Michelle Krell Kydd.

I visited a retired racehorse named James Bond in Ann Arbor, Michigan with Rebecca Bizonet, a librarian and archivist, who is friends with the horse's owner. We obtained equine horse chestnut for tincturing, which Bizonet used to shape Madam Plague Doctor perfume for The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities. She's attended Smell & Tell events since 2012 and is an avid natural perfume hobbyist.

Equine horse chestnut from James Bond. The pocket knife was used to
break up pieces after they were removed by hand. Instruments aren't
needed to remove stubborn chestnuts, but are helpful in separating the
layers after they're removed. Image by Michelle Krell Kydd.

I obtained rear and front samples of equine horse chestnut, and front and rear samples of another type of keratin-containing growth called an ergot (unrelated to alkaloid producing ergot fungus found on rye and related plants). Rebecca and I also visited an Icelandic horse named Zoltan, whose owner loved the idea of tincturing the smell of a horse, a scent she described as spiritual and comforting.

An equine horse chestnut on the inside of James Bond's front right leg,
seen to the left of his shadow. Image by Michelle Krell Kydd.

The goal of the equine musk experiment was to find out if the there was a difference between the smell of rear and front equine horse chestnuts. This is what I discovered after making tinctures with a 1:5 ratio of animal material to 190 proof alcohol, and evaluating them after six months of maceration:
  • Rear horse chestnut tincture from James Bond smells of sweet hay, flinty musk, powder, sun-warmed blankets and horsehair. A facet in the drydown smells like pages from an old book. 
  • Front horse chestnut tincture from James Bond starts off boozy and fruity, carrying the same tonal qualities as the rear horse chestnut. Drydown is more assertive and vaguely salty—it smells like the horse is in the room with you when you close your eyes and smell the fragrance blotter. 
  • Front and back equine ergots from James Bond were combined to create the proper ratio of aroma material to alcohol (there were less ergots to work with). Equine ergot tincture is milder than equine horse chestnut tincture. It has a faint trace of white floralcy (methyl dihydrojasmonate) when the fragrance blotter starts to dry.
  • Front and rear equine horse chestnuts were collected from Zoltan, an Icelandic horse known for long hair on its mane and tail. Samples were collected when the outside temperature was 90 degrees, and Zoltan was a bit sweaty compared to James Bond, who has less hair. 
  • The front equine horse chestnut tincture from Zoltan smells funky and barn-like when initially smelled a perfume blotter. The funk disappears when the alcohol evaporates. The resulting aroma is sweet, musky, powdery and redolent of dry straw and horsehair. Something akin to Tonquin deer musk is also present (confirmation by GC-Mass Spectrometry needed) with nuances of honey and vanillic urine.
  • The rear equine horse chestnut from Zoltan smells the same as the sample taken from the front. Similarity in odor may have something to do with the fact that Icelander's have more hair and produce more sweat on a hot day, which affects their overall scent, including that of equine horse chestnut.
Jame Bond's dark brown coat shines under a warm September sun
revealing topline musculature. Image by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Equestrians have strong bonds with their animals that are meaningful, emotional and highly sensory. Sara Stenson of Art of Equine Massage and Bodywork has this to say about the scent of a horse:

The scent of a horse is holy to an equestrian, a spiritual mantra, and a koan for living. We can go for a few days without that bouquet in our noses but that is pushing our limits. When things get rough we hightail it for the paddocks to replenish our fragrance of horse. It is a warm smell, somewhat of a musty smell like hay in the spring, it is a sweet smell, more radiant than a rose. Bury your face in a horse's neck and the whole of that horse enters into your blood stream to permeate your whole body until all the nerve fibers vibrate in its essence. It is a natural sedative and no perfume made comes close to what horse musk awakens inside the human. It stirs the sense of tranquility, that somehow no matter what is wrong the aroma of a horse will make the world seem fresh again. It is a whiff of contentment, a sigh, a breath, a whisper, a kiss of wind that floats you into their soul, down the portal of their eyes to see the truth written there. The world is once again at peace.                                                                           
—Sara Stenson, "Scent of a Horse" (May 22, 2015)

Research on the aromatic properties of equine horse chestnut tincture can shape new molecules for use in perfumery. The first step would be a GC-Mass Spec analysis of tinctures to isolate specific molecules responsible for dominant olfactory characteristics of equine horse chestnut.

These molecules should possess performance characteristics of animalic base notes used in perfumery (see notes section). We need this kind of creativity and innovation in fine fragrance, especially where animalic materials are considered as horses aren't harmed when their chestnuts are removed as it's part of their regular grooming routine.

Experience Equine Musk on March 27, 2019
I'll be sampling equine horse chestnut tincture from James Bond at Haute Skank: An Olfactory Menagerie of Animalics in Perfumery on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at the Ann Arbor District Library. I've been asked to develop a Smell & Tell program about my equine musk experiment and am giving it serious consideration. Smell & Tell events at AADL are free to the public and take place monthly.

Horse chestnuts that grow on trees.

Horse Chestnuts and Equine Horse Chestnuts are Different
Equine horse chestnuts are unrelated to horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) that grow on trees, which are toxic to horses as they contain esculin, a coumarin glucoside. The scent of horse chestnut flowers is beautiful and deserves further exploration in perfumery. Horse chestnut tincture has a barn-like aroma (lower volume funk when compared to monofloral chestnut honey). The term "equine horse chestnut" refers to the aromatic growth on a horse's leg versus the plant material.

Function of Animalics in Perfumery
Animalic notes reduce volatility and bouquet ingredients in a fragrance formula. They also and add a touch of sexiness to perfumes, evoking intimate human aromas that remind us of the fine line that occupies the space between intimacy and animal archetypes.

Animalics Can Be Polarizing
Yuanxiao Xu, a copyright specialist at the University of Michigan Library, invited me to speak at a lunch and learn on copywriting smells and tastes on October 11, 2018. (Xu attended Follow Your Nose in the Great Outdoors, an autumn scent hike, in September 2018). I blind sampled six-week-old equine horse chestnut tincture from Zoltan with attendees (it was allowed to dry on perfume blotters and enclosed in glassine paper the day before the event).

A majority of attendees described Zoltan's musk as floral, powdery/chalky, musky, sweet, sweaty, like a wet screen door, and almond-like. One attendee found it fusty and metallic. She revealed that she was sensitive to smells, which makes sense when one considers that scent evaluation is subjective. It's not easy to migrate to an evaluative point of view when you're distracted by what you like or dislike, which is what I focus on when teaching others how to evaluate aromas at Smell & Tell events.

Blind Evaluation of Zoltan's Musk at Westland Library
Equine horse chestnut tincture from Zoltan was used at the September 26, 2018 Nose-talgia Smell & Tell. The tincture was 13 days old (a mature tincture requires three to six months).  The best evaluations came from two elderly women who appeared to be in their seventies. Each was spry and confident, one more outgoing than the other (the mild mannered woman later asked why her dog "Suzie" liked to spend a lot of time smelling her when she entered the house after an excursion).

The two women offered the following descriptors before being told that they were smelling equine horse chestnut tincture on perfume blotters: powdery, sweet, musky, soft, floral/fungal (Suzie's owner) and "smells like outside". The tincture was young and would shape shift in a few weeks, but the descriptors were likely to remain. The "smells like outside" element comes from hay, earth and other natural materials in the horse's environment. The rest is, more than likely, the smell of the horse.

Why Animalics are Attached to Myth
Interest in animalic ingredients as medicinal or aphrodisiac is commonly attached to myth. If an ingredient smelled to high heaven (the excreta-like scent of civet), had a history of use in attack or defense (external or within an animal's body, e.g. ejected as ambergris), or was associated with a rutting beast (deer musk), it was purported to have powers that enhanced fertility/virility, defied death, and/or kept one invigorated when taken as a tonic. Some of these myths continue to be held as beliefs today.

James Bond and Perfume
Sir Roger Moore's favorite perfume was in keeping with suave characters he played in film and television (Simon Templar, James Bond, etc.). Moore's favorite fragrance was Jicky by Guerlain (1889), a perfume that changed fragrance history with its abstract structure and the inclusion of synthetics. It was also a favorite of Sean Connery. Moore gets perfume props because he was a member of the Fabergé Inc. board and a debonair Bond.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Andy Warhol Was a Perfume Loving Smellaholic

World Wide Web Logo by Robert Cailliau

I'm engaged in research for a Smell & Tell program on Andy Warhol called Drella Was a Smellaholic, which takes place on April 17th. I've kept my nose out of recent articles that chronicle Warhol's love of perfumes because it's important to support findings and opinions against an historical timeline as a way of testing my theories to see if they're true. Historical patterns examined against olfactory narratives reveal facts, some of which are novel. This is especially important when examining an artist like Andy Warhol: culture maker, culture vulture and everything in between.

Keeping the research process fluid and open allows you to find facts you’re not looking for. Some of these facts will provide clues and take you where you need to go. It's not uncommon for a researcher to reference the fact-finding of others in order to support their opinion, but there's a caveat. Don't use other people’s research to bolster your own in place of doing the work yourself. Think everything through. This will allow you to detect and interpret patterns.

Journalists who are critical thinkers present multiple points of view when supporting their own opinion because bias is the enemy of forming an evaluative opinion while maintaining your own. This skill is one of the reasons why great journalists win awards. Personal bias, be it conscious or unconscious, shouldn't be a main course at the research banquet if one wishes to dine on the experience of discovery that comes by way of inquiry. It shouldn't even be on the menu.

Vintage Bottle of Youth Dew Perfume via Perfume Fetish

There are missing pieces of information regarding Andy Warhol's love of perfumes. Andy isn't here to tell us his perfume stories, but his ghostwritten books provide more clues than a Ouija board. My premise was, is and continues to be that Warhol's commercial work as an illustrator (in addition to the postwar perfume scentscape of the 1950s) inspired his love of collecting perfumes, which began in the 1960s. Warhol's pursuit of perfume was further supported by the influence of counterculture, disco, punk rock, and the full-throttle era of 1980s designer perfumes.

Perfume immortalizes time and allows one to be transported in a single whiff. Solitary and social experiences are supported by this effect, so it doesn't matter if you're smelling someone else's perfume or enjoying whiffs in solitude (which many people do and is also why looking at someone smelling a paper perfume blotter with their eyes closed feels voyeuristic). Andy Warhol was a culture vulture and culture maker who didn't have trouble living in the overlapping space between these two distinct ways of being in the world. He was an astute, sensitive and keen observer. If Andy Warhol hated perfume he wouldn't be Andy Warhol.

Mary Magdalene, Patron Saint of Perfumers

One of the effects returned to Andy Warhol's family after he died following routine gallbladder surgery on February 22, 1987 was a small bottle of Youth Dew (1953) by Estée Lauder. Go back in time and walk in Andy's shoes for a minute. You're going to have surgery and you bring a bottle of Estée Lauder's Youth Dew perfume to the hospital. Youth Dew. The historic fragrance that kick-started American perfumery after the Second World War. It's like bringing a myrrh-weeping icon of Mary Magdalene, patron saint of perfumers, to the hospital. Warhol was raised as a Byzantine Catholic. Youth Dew may have reminded him of church and family, in addition to the promise of alluring rejuvenescence that infuses the name of the fragrance.

Andy Warhol was purportedly buried with a bottle of Beautiful (1985) and copy of Interview Magazine that Paige Powell threw into his grave before the casket was lowered during a private burial attended by family and close friends. Warhol was introduced to Beautiful at a 1986 promotional event hosted by The Estée Lauder Companies. This is what he told Evelyn Lauder when he found out that the perfume being launched was called Beautiful, “Beautiful?” he said. “Are you serious? That’s the name? I love it. Are they giving a party for it? When? I have about ten bottles of Poison, yes. I love it. And Coco. I have one bottle of that, but I want to get another bottle before I open it. Obsession, that’s great.” Andy Warhol was a full-on smellaholic. The story is recounted by Evelyn Lauder in The New Yorker.

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes" is a quote attributed to Andy Warhol. Though he denied saying this, it stuck. It's perfumed with the ethos of the Warhol brand and continues to inform his legacy as an innovative artist who wasn't afraid to blur the lines between art, commerce and multiple disciplines.  The history of the World Wide Web may contain a nod to Andy Warhol, who was born Andrew Warhola on August 6, 1928. Fact: the Internet went worldwide on August 6, 1991, opening the playground of world famousness to everyone on the 63rd anniversary of Andy Warhol's birth.

Think of that when you hear the phrase “World Wide Web” or see "www" in a URL. Robert Cailliau designed the historic triple "w" logo as a representation of the World Wide Web. Something about it looks Warholesque, but that might be my bias talking...

Never been to a Smell & Tell at the Ann Arbor District Library? Click here to find out what all the buzz is about. The program will celebrate it's seventh anniversary year in June. Events take place monthly (and will include offsite flavor events in 2019).

Andy Warhol and his family attended St. John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in his hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Orthodox iconography is an art onto itself. Holy icons are known to exude myrrh, an ingredient in the formula for Youth Dew by Estée Lauder.

Drella is a nickname that was given to Andy Warhol by superstar Ondine. It's a mash-up of Dracula and Cinderella. Songs for Drella is an album by John Cale and Lou Reed dedicated to Andy Warhol.

The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, (1975), ghostwritten by Pat Hackett and Bob Colacello (editor at Interview Magazine). The contents of the book were drawn from taped conversations with Pat Hackett (who did a lot of this kind of collaborative work with Warhol) and conversations that Warhol taped between himself and Bob Colacello, and former Warhol superstar and artist Brigid Berlin. Chapter 10 on Atmospheres is where smell and perfume are discussed in detail. One can't help wondering what life would have been like for Andy Warhol had he lived long enough to discover fragrance blogs.

A quote worth remembering if inquiry is your thing:
“Stealing from one author is plagiarism; from many authors, research.” ― Walter Moers, The City of Dreaming Books

Image of vintage Youth Dew perfume via © Perfume Fetish on Etsy. I'm looking forward to a small bottle of vintage Halston that I ordered for the Drella Was a Smellaholic Smell & Tell. I missed out on the gorgeous vintage bottle of Youth Dew and will stare admiringly at the picture in an attempt to will into my life.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Sensory Training: Making Friends with Devil's Dung

Opening a container of asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) will clear out a room. The ground gum oleoresin, which is used as a spice, has a nose wrinkling smell that resembles mercaptan, the rotten cabbage-like odorant used to scent natural gas. Mercaptan and asafoetida contain sulfur compounds associated with decomposition, so why would anyone want to make friends with a spice that's earned the nickname "Devil's Dung"?

Asafoetida is an alliaceous substitute for onions and garlic in Jain cooking. It's also used as an umami flavor enhancer in Indian cuisine and acts as an antiflatulent, which is ironic when one considers how asafoetida smells before it mellows during the cooking process. 

There are aesthetically pleasant things one can study when training their sense of smell, but asafoetida is one of the best because it's a catalyst for discovery when confronting sensory bias. Humans are hardwired to escape dangerous smells, but not all unpleasant smells are dangerous. The challenge in sensory evaluation, inclusive of taste and smell, is the fact that most of us would rather experience something we like and avoid anything we find unpleasant.

When you're going through sensory training you learn to let go of personal preferences and aversions. The goal isn't to become objective because sensory perception is subjective. You learn to become more evaluative in sensory training, which is to say that you assess something for its character—whether you like it or not.

Smelling tincture of asafoetida as it evaporates on a perfume blotter is a revelation. The hellish brimstone odor is transformed as sulfur compounds evaporate and sweet balsamic notes redolent of vanilla emerge in the drydown. The heavenly transformation is striking, counterintuitive and unforgettable. 

Making friends with Devil's Dung (asafoetida) is a catalyst for self-discovery and a great way to conquer sensory bias. It teaches us that something we find unappealing can become a gateway for beauty over time. That's something worth lingering over.

Sulfur compounds aren't found in the non-volatile constituents of asafoetida—they're only present in the essential oil. Once the sulfur evaporates from the oil other constituents such as vanillin and ferulic acid in ester form (the later related to ferulaldehyde found in maple syrup) can be detected. Ferulic acid is also related to isoeugenol (found in clove and other plants) and vanillin (found in vanilla). You don't have to be a chemist to recognize the inter-relational quality in plant volatiles on a molecular level. You can smell it.

To make an asafoetida tincture for smelling combine 1.42 grams (1/4 teaspoon) of asafoetida with 4ml of ethanol (high proof vodka) in a 5ml amber glass vial. Keep the tincture in a cool dark place and allow to age for one month. Shake the tincture daily during maceration.

Asafoetida resin sold in spice shops is ground into a powder with gum arabic and neutral materials such as wheat or rice flour. Turmeric is sometimes added to boost health benefits of asafoetida.

I'll be sharing tincture of asafoetida at The Storytelling Secrets of Optimus Yarnspinner, a Smell & Tell program that takes place tonight at the Ann Arbor District Library (downtown branch), from 6:30-8:45pm. This unique Smell & Tell focuses on an apothecary cabinet of inspirational smells that belongs to Optimus Yarnspinner, a beloved character in the Zamonia series of books by German author Walter Moers.

Spoiler Alert: Yarnspinner uses asafoetida when he's writing horror stories. The German word for asafoetida is stinkasant. Right up there with Devil's Dung.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Transcending the Boundaries of Live Television with Scent

Talking about scent on live television is a challenge that has nothing to do with the absence of Smell-O-Vision. Sight dominates the Western hierarchy of the senses, which is odd considering that shutting your eyes doesn't make you blind for life, but shutting off your nose could leave you quite dead.

So how does one scaffold a smelling experience on live television that doesn't make viewers feel awkward when listening to conversations about smell? After being interviewed on Live in the D, I think I have the answer. Talk about how to buy perfume and deliberately punk Western sensory hierarchy with smells that are novel, nostalgic and free of taboo.

Perfume is a tangible product with a rich history that evokes memory, emotion and conversation. Flavor (the intersection of smell and taste) also triggers emotion and memory, but it lacks the taboo that's implied by the word "smell". When we say something "smells" it can mean one of two things; the object has a smell or it stinks. Vision lacks this nuance of reek.

Funk & Wagnalls Standard Handbook of Synonyms, 
Antonyms & Prepositions, by James C. Fernald (1947)

I shared tips on how to buy perfume on Live in the D, a lifestyle show broadcast on WDIV Local 4, an NBC-affiliate in Detroit, Michigan. The program, which took place on December 12, 2018, took an interesting turn at the 3:45 minute mark.

All About Ann Arbor community news producer Meredith Bruckner was transported by the smell of incense cedar pencil shavings. Live in the D host Tati Amari cross-sensed the smell of incense cedar pencil shavings with the sound of a pencil sharpener. It happened in nine seconds.

The transporting sensorial moment was a natural extension of authentic conversation captured on live television. This proves that context and curiosity can set the stage for talking about smell without awkwardness or Emperor's New Clothes hyperbole.

Tati Amari, Meredith Bruckner, & Michelle Krell Kydd
on the set of Live in the D

Smell is a subjective sense, but sharing sensory impressions and stories makes subjective experiences universal. That's the hallmark of Smell & Tell programming, which builds community through interactions with flavor, fragrance and storytelling. It's also the essence of this television interview, which didn't need Smell-O-Vision.


Thanks go out to Meredith Bruckner, who interviewed me for All About Ann Arbor in June; Tati Amare who said yes to the "How to Buy Perfume" pitch; anchor Jason Colthorp who made me laugh in the green room and let me smell his signature Banana Republic cologne; and the camera crew at Live in the D (especially the gentleman who rocked a spicy eau de cologne scent).

Smell & Tell: The Storytelling Secrets of Optimus Yarnspinner takes place on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, from 6:30-8:45pm. The event is inspired by the Zamonia series of books by Walter Moers. It will mark the 80th Smell & Tell presentation I've given to date. Admission is free. P.S. There will be incense cedar pencils and everyone will be smellmatized.

A review of Smell & Tell written by arwulf arwulf appears in the December 2018 edition of the Ann Arbor Observer. I can now add "olfactory humanitarian" to a list of endearing nicknames that include: high priestess of smells, olfactress, nose of Ann Arbor, scientualist, walking smellopedia, etc.

Tati Amare articulated an interesting experience when she wore a perfume that smelled great on her mother and aunt, but evoked the smell of a "barn animal" when she wore it (1:45 minutes into the program). Ms. Amare's perfume may have included a highly indolic Jasmine. Two types of Jasmine are commonly used in perfume; Jasminum grandiflorum and Jasminum sambac. Grandiflorum is a clean, lush and expansive Jasmine. Sambac has a hint of the barnyard in the bouquet due to the presence of indole molecules, which smell fecal and horsey.