Friday, September 18, 2009

The Geometry of Perfume’s Future

Fragrance marketers will resort to “gifts with purchase” and nail biting as they watch sales numbers move into the end of the calendar year. No matter what the outcome, searching for signs of recovery in profit and loss statements will not yield solutions to fundamental paradigm shifts. The perfume category is diluted with smell-alike fragrances, functional products for the home and hyper regulation. Bloggers have become virtual beauty advisers for fragrance connoisseurs and search engine users, challenging the mettle of those who sell at-counter and online. Popular opinion clings to proven growth in luxury niche, but that is only a part of the potential for an upturn.

Great creations are inspired by artistry that pushes boundaries, imagination that riffs on common notions and shatters them, reconfiguring the fragments so that every finished fragrance released resonates with another; not in sameness, but in thoughtfulness that engenders respect for the art of perfumery and results in a consumer’s desire to purchase fragrance. Flankers and celebrity fragrances have become archetypal extensions of the scene in the Wizard of Oz that unmasks the “great and powerful Oz” as an ordinary person (note the latest lawsuit between Abercrombie & Fitch and Beyonce Knowles regarding her fragrant collaboration with Coty). Consumers have a distinct advantage when the curtain is drawn and the impostor is revealed; marketers need to know what existing and potential fragrance consumers want. This could potentially give loyal fragrance fans the power to determine the destiny of the category; the playing field is level and everyone has a pair of ruby slippers.

Where will inspiration for future fragrances come from? Many will be born out of carefully orchestrated synesthetic experiences that complement the sense of smell and reach beyond the gourmand approach of mixing appetizing aspects with aromatic ones. New accords and fragrance families will enter the olfactive palette enhancing emotion via the five senses. Fragrance will literally touch the consumer utilizing warming, tingling, and cooling sensations (the term “haptics” is already nudging its way into the olfactive vocabulary). Believable storytelling will infuse fragrance marketing with elements that are authentic, timeless and educational. Lastly, the paradox of collective individuality will be explored against a global canvas that encourages and respects cultures of difference; an extension of the effects of social media.

There is a wonderful example in architecture that illustrates the geometry of perfume’s future. The concept of patterning in tile work relates to the way shapes can fill a space (something akin to the way raw materials are combined to create a diffusive scent). Geometric forms that are common to traditional Islamic ornamentation appear in mesmerizing, elaborate, non-repeating patterns of ornament. These forms support the overall ornamental structure, as illustrated in the architecture of the roof of the tomb of Hafez, a famous Persian poet (note the turquoise star form).

There is a common characteristic in girih (ornate tile work) that permits non-repeating patterns to be aligned in large-scale works; one edge of each tile used in the tile work must be the same length as that of all of the other tiles used. If one considers the architecture of fragrance, there is a lesson that can be inferred by comparing it to ornamental structure; by limiting the number of repeated patterns in perfumery and creating structures that support signature we can liberate olfactive possibilities and introduce myriad creations. It is an approach that is desperately needed if the industry is to survive the hari-kari hand it may have dealt itself.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Proust Revisited: Madeleines and Lime Blossom Tea

The only thing that came between the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past and his madeleine was lime blossom tea. It seeped into buttery crevices, engorging the sponge-like texture of the petite scalloped tea cake before exploding into precious pearls of memory on the tongue. Finding a great madeleine recipe can be as challenging as sourcing artisanal lime blossom tea, but the effort is worthwhile. There's no substitute for indulging in a freshly baked madeleine dipped in a cup of genuine Carpentras tilleul. Glass Petal Smoke shares a personal madeleine recipe and a reliable tea source so Proustian ecstasy can be yours.

Lime blossom, also known as linden blossom or tilleul in French, is a source of tea and monofloral honey. The best tilleul comes from the village of Carpentras in Provence and has become difficult to procure due to a decline in production. Cheap and poor quality tilleul produced in China and Europe continues to threaten French cultivation and harvest, and has resulted in substandard lime blossom tisanes in the marketplace. (A poor example is Pompadour brand with notes of astringent hay and a flat, urine-like bouquet.) Harney and Sons Teas carry genuine Carpentras tilleul which is conveniently packaged in bags or loose in tins. The tea has woody notes of chamomile, honey and a nascent white floral note that is distinctly reminiscent of spring.

The sensation of drinking hot tea is universal. One feels the infusion gliding down the throat, warming the body in a shroud of comfort. Imagine the sensation of Proust’s tilleul against this description of eating a madeleine in Swann's Way, the first book in the seven-volume set of Remembrance of Things Past:

“I raised to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had soaked a morsel of the cake. No sooner had the warm liquid, and the crumbs with it, touched my palate than a shudder ran through my whole body, and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary changes that were taking place. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, but individual, detached, with no suggestion of its origin.”

One taste of a fresh madeleine dipped in a cup of Carpentras tilleul and communion with the narrator of Swann's Way is imminent. Orange Blossom Madeleines have a gentle touch of floralcy that complements a variety of black teas so feel free to experiment with beauties like Darjeeling and Keemun.

Orange Blossom Madeleines
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd
Yield: 24

· 2 ½ cups Arrowhead Mills Whole Grain Organic Pastry Flour
· ½ tsp. baking powder
· ½ tsp. sea salt
· ½ tsp. Ceylon “true” cinnamon (milder than cassia cinnamon, very important)
· 1 ½ tbsp. Cortas® Orange Blossom Water
· 5 threads of saffron bled in one teaspoon of warm water
· 4 large organic eggs (room temperature)
· 4 large organic egg yolks (room temperature)
· 1 ½ cups of organic cane sugar
· 2 tsp. vanilla extract
· Grated zest of 1 large organic orange
· 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter (melted and cooled to room temperature)

· Divide oven racks into thirds.
· Using an oven thermometer to ensure proper temperature, preheat oven to 375 degrees.
· Lightly brush two madeleine pans with melted butter or grapeseed oil.
· Sift flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside.
· In a large bowl mix whole eggs, egg yolks and sugar (thoroughly by hand or with a mixer set on medium speed). Incorporate vanilla, orange blossom water and saffron.
· Gently fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
· Add melted butter and incorporate.
· Using a tablespoon fill each mold until three-quarters full.
· Set one tray on each rack and bake for 15 minutes, gently reversing trays from top to bottom and front to back after 7 ½ minutes to ensure even baking. When done, madeleines will be golden brown and spring back when you touch them.
· Allow cookies to cool on a wire rack. Any remaining batter can be baked using re-prepped cookie trays.
· Serve madeleines immediately or store in an airtight container and consume within three days.

The Spice House in Chicago carries a wonderful Ceylon cinnamon that is rich in citrus tones. Cassia cinnamon, which is commonly sold in supermarkets across the U.S., is much stronger than the Ceylon variety called for in the Orange Blossom Madeleines recipe. 

Kelly Gibson wrote "On the Trail of Tilleul" in the Spring 2009 edition of Gastronomica. You can read it for free on JSTOR if you sign up for a free account.

Photo of linden blossom by Ariane Cauderlier of Giverny News.