Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Letter from a Perfumer

Sometimes life opens up like the precious petals of a flower; we never see the unfolding, but feel it intuitively as random patterns in our lives form realities that foreshadow the future. At this time our senses are highly attuned to the present and no subtlety escapes unnoticed. So it was when Gwenael Goulet, four-star chef at Buffet de la Gare, stopped me in the street to unravel the composition of Slatkin’s Persian Lime & Mimosa fragrance. This singular instance would lead to a letter from a perfumer.

“What are you wearing?” Goulet asked. I wasn’t sure what he was referring to. “Your perfume…It’s so fresh and youthful and there is something in it that reminds me of Brittany, where I’m from.” I let him smell my wrist and he immediately singled out the lime blossom and other gourmand notes, wanting to know more. My curiosity was piqued and I remained intent on contacting the perfumer in order to get the facts that led up to Mimosa's creation. The next time something like this would occur would be in the afterlife—and I wasn’t about to wait that long to find out.

On August 5th, 2003, I sent perfumer Christophe Laudamiel an email and told him about the unusual occurrence. A week passed and there was no reply. Another week passed and I began to wonder if Laudamiel thought I had penned a myth as an excuse to meet him. On August 23rd a warm and enlightening response arrived in my inbox, with a culinary reference. The letter you are about to read sparked an enduring professional relationship:

Dear Michelle,

Besides the official description the fragrance contains some materials which, taken on their own, are not part of the concept. They act as a motor inside the fragrance to give it diffusive power.

In this Mimosa fine fragrance, as well as in the Persian Lime & Mimosa Body Therapy line, some of these materials belongs to the linden blossom family, some to the milky family, some to the green rosemary family, some to the citrus family, some are abstract molecules. Certain of these materials, be it naturals or molecules, can be quite offensive when smelled on their own, just like salt is strong, but a pinch in a cake makes a nice difference, boosting other flavors and giving an aura to the whole composition. Some of the materials which I use are quite unusual in fine fragrances, or I use unusual proportions of other ones, unusual meaning for such a fresh floral fragrance…

Any diffusive fragrance is built on a key of strong materials dressed up by the rest of the fragrance. Because these strong materials are difficult to work with, it is hard to find new unusual keys each time, so much so that certain perfumers will work mostly with known keys. If I am given the freedom to work in my own style, I use mostly new keys, and I have been known for this, which I have to discover each time. This requires (an) extra amount of work and inventiveness, but results are astonishing, as you have experienced yourself. Mr. Harry Slatkin has always understood and believed in this and gives me a lot of freedom in my work. This is quite unique in the age of commercialism in which we are today.

Christophe Laudamiel

I read and reread each word, over and over again and was fascinated by the extent to which Mr. Laudamiel detailed the creative process. Mimosa is one of my earliest olfactive memories and as such exerts a powerful force on my emotions. As a child, I often played under a Persian Silk Tree (Albizia julibrissin) which grew in my aunt’s backyard, running my fingertips along its green leaves which magically folded when touched. A. julibrissin was once a member of the mimosa family, but is no longer considered to be a part of that genus. The flowers, a cluster of stamen with silky pink threads, have no petals and bear a strong resemblance to true mimosa in fragrance. If you brush the flower across your cheek it creates a pleasant tickling sensation that is akin to being touched by miniature delicate feathers.

I have yet to encounter a vibrant fragrance with the sensual qualities that Slatkin’s Mimosa possesses. Its bright, lactonic floralcy is boosted by the use of terpeneless patchouli sourced from Laboratoires Monique Rémy (now owned by International Flavors and Fragrances). Patchouli sans terpenes smells cleaner than raw patchouli, leaving the original material’s diffusive properties untouched (think less “hippy”). In addition, the Persian lime oil used in Mimosa resembles the fruit’s freshly cut skin and is not at all functional smelling. Slatkin’s Mimosa takes at least four hours to dry down, marking the skin with a warm, crystalline musk. Reading Christophe Laudamiel’s letter while smelling the fragrance proves to be infinitely revelatory—a testament to the mysteries and pleasures of perfume.


Slatkin Persian Lime and Mimosa is available at Bergdorf Goodman and Zitomer. Availability varies.

Buffet de la Gare is located in Hastings on Hudson, a suburb of Westchester.

Photo of Persian Silk Tree flower from GardenBits.