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.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Answers from a Walking Smellopedia: Hunting Lures & Perfume

I received a curious email from a Smell & Tell attendee after delivering a Zoologist Perfumes presentation in late November. I was expecting a bit of prodding and nudging regarding Mammalia Incognito, a mysterious work-in-progress that was evaluated at the end of the Zoologist Perfumes scent flight (it followed the stunningly beautiful Chameleon, which is scheduled to show its colors in 2019). The attendee's query had nothing to do with Mammalia Incognito and everything to do with a deceased hunter's olfactory relics.

I have obtained permission to share the email exchange with readers of Glass Petal Smoke as the conversation affords a learning opportunity. The attendee's name and that of her partner are anonymized. What you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to encourage publication of existing and future inquiries (there are many).

November 15, 2018
Dear Michelle, 
Looking forward to next week's Smell & Tell. I have an interesting question for you. Going through my dad's effects this summer we came across a cotton ball container filled with fluffs and a bottle of deer "attractant". My dad hunted years ago so this bottle is old. It does contain some very potent essence of doe. I take it they put some on each little cotton ball and left a trail through the woods until they got some action (like Hansel and Gretel, but malodorous crumbs at that). 
Anyway, neither Hayden nor I hunt. We know no hunters and will throw this out unless you would be interested. I'm telling you it is foul stuff but you've got a nose that might find this an interesting addition to your collection of "sniffs". Let me know if you want it or not—it's definitely not something folks would want to smell. 
When I held it under Hayden's nose, he was appalled and hurt that I would do even asked me "Why would you?". So that's my unusual question. Hope you are staying warm and toasty on this snowy Thursday. 

November 18, 2018 
Dear Heather, 
This is a great question! I have an answer that you'll find intriguing. Animals respond to smells of kin and kind. That’s why glandular and urine lures, some of which indicate a female in estrous, are used in hunting lures. (I suspect that's what you found in your father's effects and it's worth pitching.) 
Animals also respond to smells of food, those they know in their natural setting, and those that smell like animals they hunt for sustenance. Then there are smells that make them curious. Hunting lures that utilize these kinds of smells are called curiosity lures. 
Many ingredients used in perfumery are also used in curiosity lures. Particular ones. Animalics like Civetone (synthetic civet), Ambroxan (a synthetic variety of ambergris), Castoreum, synthetic Musk, and flavor extracts like Anise or Apple, to name a few. 
When you read news stories about animals responding to Calvin Klein’s Obsession it’s because perfumes may contain ingredients that arouse an animal's curiosity. It doesn’t make the perfumes "sexy" though that’s the kind of nonsense supported by hack journalists, the silence of the fragrance industry (who remain silent because they can't talk about proprietary perfume formulas protected by non-disclosure agreements), and the ignorant. 
Perfumes are curiosity lures for animals and humans. If you come across hunters you may be able to get a few interesting stories out of them—many have secret formulas for homemade curiosity lures. 
My father and his fishing buddies used vanillin powder to flavor cooked yellow cornmeal that they formed into balls of bait at the end of their fish hooks (a kind of polenta-like Play-Doh®). They were after Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), a species of fish that have an exquisite sense of smell. They caught a lot of carp (and were very particular about who they shared their bait recipe with)! 
P.S. The Simulacra of Rat perfume I formulated for The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities event contained a small amount of a hunting lure that has synthetic deer musk in it. Let me know when you want to smell the musk lure. You can tell Hayden that it's not a nose-wrinkler like the deer "attractant" you found among your father's effects.

Michelle Krell Kydd

I've received several email queries from Smell & Tell attendees, but Heather's was the first one regarding the smell of hunting lures. Adirondack Outdoor Company in upstate New York makes a coveted Tonquin Musk (Siberian Deer Musk) lure—the same one I used to create Simulacra of Rat for The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities program.

The lure is "quite lovely and animalic" according to Manuel, who commented in a "Best Synthetic Musk" thread on Basenotes (November 22, 2011 at 3:33 a.m.). I concur with Manuel regarding the lure's olfactory aesthetics, though Tonquin Musk lure is not something one should wear on skin (or expose in the woods where rutting deer can detect it). That would be as bad as wearing Boarmate™ in a pig sty. Tonquin deer are nearly extinct, so it's best to wear perfumes made with synthetic musks. There are many beautiful ones to choose from.

The Hunting Kit was a trio of Ambergris, Civet and Musk perfumes sold by Jōvan in the 1970's. The product copy on the outside of the box was aimed at women. "Lure your man with musk. Excite him with civet. Bring him to his knees with ambergris." The owner of the license needs to wake up and follow the scent trail. Just skip the gender specific copy and don't call it Spoor.

If you're curious about the use of musk in perfumery you should read Claire Vuksevic's musk articles on Basenotes. Re-reading part one and part two (which includes a review of 20 musk perfumes) reminds me why Claire Vuksevic's website, Take One Thing Offis the 3.0 version of fragrance blogs.

The perfumer for Chameleon by Zoologist Perfumes is Daniel Pescio. Pescio's Instagram is filled with fragrant inspiration, including his passion for kōdō.

I will be crestfallen when the sample of Chameleon that was provided for Smell & Tell runs dry. It's one of those skin loving scents that draws your nose to your wrist several times a day. I'll write about Chameleon when it's released. In the meantime I'll use what's left of Zoologist Perfume's Chameleon to take revenge on winter.

Art for Chameleon perfume by Zoologist Perfumes.

Cover of Hansel and Gretel, a pop-up book illustrated by Louise Rowe, via Tango Books.

Engraving of The Origins of Perfume by Simon Barbe (1699). This image features animals associated with perfumery. Ambergris floats in the sea, in the absence of the whale that regurgitated the sea-aged fragrance material. A goat awaits combing of aromatic Labdanum resin that clings to its fur. A caged civet awaits scraping of its glands. A deer musk is about to have its aromatic musk sacs removed, which will result in its death.

The Hunting Kit trio of perfumes by Jōvan appeared on Quirky Finds' online shop, but quickly disappeared.