Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Scent of Twitter in Perfume's Future

I’m still trying to figure out how a word with a negative connotation (“twit” as in “idiot”, “twitter” as in “wasting time”) became a branded gerund for micro-blogging. The idea of people posting daily “tweets”, for all of their friends to see, smacks of adolescent narcissists with too much time on their hands. When I read a Twitter page attributed to Christopher Walken*, suddenly Twitter and its potential use in promoting the art of perfumery made sense.

If you don’t know who Christopher Walken is, stop reading this sentence and drop a cartoon anvil over your head. The actor is known for delivering lines with the ceremony of a Zen master channeling staccato koans in an accent that sways from Slavic to Dutch to Brooklynese. Twitter is the perfect canvas for Walken as the 140-word limit is tailored to his distinctive style of elocution and humor.

Twitter’s promotional video is informative, but unlike the efficiency of microblogging it evangelizes, takes forever to pitch the validity of the medium’s benefits (slow, child-like drawings, pale narration, etc.). Still, there are many ways Twitter could be used to promote the art of perfumery. Glass Petal Smoke envisions the following opportunities:

1. Daily entries by fine fragrance perfumers as they are creating a scent.

2. Daily entries by essential oil houses with informative fragrance facts for consumers.

3. Daily entries by fragrance brands to build excitement for a perfume launch.

4. Daily entries by The Fragrance Foundation highlighting perfume stories in the news.

5. Daily entries by niche fragrance boutiques promoting consumer scent stories.

The issue of brands owning Twitter pages does come into question. When an end-user registers on the site, a URL is created that includes the name of the site backslashed to the end-user’s chosen name on Twitter. As a test, I ran http:/twitter.com/chanel and came up with a personal account that had nothing to do with the fashion house or its fragrances. If Twitter is going to catch on in beauty, companies need to own their brands on the site. Judging from Chanel’s full-page ads against trademark infringement in Women's Wear Daily, this sort of twittering might get on their litigious nerves.

As expected, the niche scent market is experimenting with Twitter territory. Salus Bath and Body Care in Mantou, Colorado sells Twitter Gangster Perfume for men and women. That’s right, Twitter Gangster Perfume, complete with a supporting video on the store's site featuring an unthuggy crew that look like they’ve never seen a day in the ghetto. There are some great brands out there that could benefit from attaching Twitter to their fragrances. In the meantime someone should give Ice-T a call so he can smack the hell out of the faux gangsters in this video.

Note:

* A day after this story was posted, the Twitter account attributed to Christopher Walken (http://twitter.com/cwalken) was suspended with the following message: "Sorry, the account you were headed to has been suspended due to strange activity. Mosey along now, nothing to see here." Technical abuse of Twitter is one of many possible reasons that the account was closed.

The March 27, 2009 edition of The New York Times reported that there are ghostwriters masquerading as celebrities on Twitter, coining the term "ghost-Twitterer" in Twitspeak. If a Twitterer is a fraud, as CNET's Caroline McCarthy reports with regard to the Walken Twitter referenced in this post, Glass Petal Smoke suggests the term "Twidentity Theft" be added to Twitspeak.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Oud: A Rare and Powerful Scent

Fragrance delivered through incense offers a glimpse of the invisible. It quiets the mind that insists on visual proof of what is being sensed and effortlessly calms. In releasing patterns of smoke, incense animates the soul of the ingredients being burned while moving the spirit of each person in its presence. If we can believe in things we cannot see, things we may only know as impressions, then the world in all its beauty and chaos is completely open to us. Anchored in the present we become eternal.

Of all the ingredients used as incense, none is as precious and revered as Oud wood. The story of Oud (also known as Agarwood or Aloeswood) is an interesting one. A fungus (Phialophora parasitica) infects the tree and the heartwood responds by creating an aromatic resin. Nature provides an interesting metaphor for managing life’s tribulations with the story of Oud. Consider the facts. Something foreign and dangerous attacks the tree. The tree responds from its heart and produces something more precious and powerful than the very thing that invades it. Imagine what the world would be like if each of us could respond to negative forces with such grace.

The Muslim world has embraced Oud as a sacred ingredient for thousands of years. Infected wood from trees of the Aquilaria family is burned over charcoal in a portable censor called a mabkhara and is wafted around one’s person to scent hair, skin and clothing. Worshippers who come to Mecca and Medina encounter the scent of burning Oud wood at the Great Mosque during Hajj and often return home with a souvenir of Oud wood chips from their pilgrimage. Oud is also ritually used to greet guests in the home, at wedding celebrations and in the home of a newborn child.

Essential oil of Oud is used to fragrance skin neat or in combination with other raw materials. There are superior grades of oil from naturally felled trees and lesser oils that are derived from trees purposefully infected with the fungus. Once a tree is infected it takes at least 10 years before the heartwood can be processed to extract Oud. A variety of Oud fragrances can be found in Dubai and other countries in the Arab world, where Oud is a fragrance category in addition to being a raw material. Unfortunately, Oud imposters also exist due to the exorbitant cost of the ingredient and the temptation to defraud unwitting customers.

Western noses have a difficult time embracing Oud as a facet of the bouquet is fecal and animalic. Imagine a windowless library lined with book shelves made of aged mahogany. A series of dusty leather books line the walls, covers half rotted, pages yellow with age, the room musty in the absence of sunlight. This off-putting facet of Oud can be further imagined as the scent Pip encountered in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations when he visited the embittered Miss Havisham in her room of decayed feasts, shrouded furniture and silenced clocks.

Moldering scent of decay aside, Oud wood possesses sweet, woody and balsamic qualities. These aspects are evident when you burn the material in a censor. A perfumer once told me that essential oil of Oud has the ability to make floral ingredients in a perfume bloom. I decided to test the figurative aspect of this statement to see just how literal it could be. I obtained certified Oud from Enfleurage in New York and conducted an experiment using a 10% dilution of the raw material.

I dipped one blotter in the Oud and another in Tabac Blond (Caron), keeping each blotter in a separate hand. I chose Tabac Blond for the experiment as ferreting florals in the Caron classic takes time as the dominant leatheric and tobacco effects override the floralcy in the fragrance. I slowly drew the Oud blotter towards the Tabac Blond until the space between the blotters measured an inch. What transpired was an unforgettable synesthetic moment; I saw a rose and smelled it as if it were present on a bush in front of me. The rose aroma didn’t dominate the overall fragrance impression of Tabac Blond; it made itself known among the perfume's other ingredients and seemed to add a quality of richness to the composition.

“Categorical” Oud fragrances are infusing the marketplace in the United States. Though the ingredient is becoming part of the fragrance connoisseur’s vernacular, it is often misunderstood and poorly explained by the companies who use it in their fragrances. Fragrances that utilize Oud (usually in synthetic form as there are issues with sustainability and cost) play up the luxurious and exotic aspects of the ingredient, as well as its alleged aphrodisiac properties.

Parfums Montale offers a series of Oud-inspired scents in their collection which perfectly illustrates Oud as a fragrance category. A new entry in the Oud family of perfumes is Le Labo's Oud 27 which will be released at the end of March. The juice possesses a spicy amber unctuousness that is not as complex in composition as Tom Ford Oud Wood, but it’s less derivative than some of the fragrances in Parfums Montale’s Aoud Collection. Glass Petal Smoke predicts that future Oud fragrances will strike more of a balance between the material’s animalic qualities and its ability to animate a bouquet.

Notes:

Trygve Harris, the owner of Enfleurage, sources Oud from Laos and has been present at Oud distillations on site. The raw material is available in essential oil and wood chip form at her store. Limited amounts of Agarwood essential oil are available at $130 for a 2 ml bottle. Enfleurage is located at 237 West 13th Street,  New York, New York 10011. To call the store phone: 212-691-1610 / 888-387-0300. Enfleurage is open from 12-8, Monday thru Saturday and 12-6 on Sunday.

Photo of an antique Venetian perfume brazier in the form of a domed building comes from the Royal Academy of Arts. It is part of the Byzantium 330-1453 exhibition, which ends on March 22.

Aurora is an ethereal computer drawing by artist Eno Henze. Its ethereal appearance resembles smoke, flame and fabric all at once. Aurora is part of an ongoing series of works titled "The Human Factor".

Photo of Oud wood taken by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

MSNBC.com Article on Natural Scents is Misleading

On Tuesday, March 10, 2009, writer Marisa Belger wrote an article for MSNBC.com titled “Safer Scents: Sniffing out Green Alternatives”. The eco-brand Tsi~La is highlighted. Below the article are links to other stories such as “Is Your Sofa Toxic? Switch to Eco Furniture”. There should be a new metric for this type of online attention-grabbing. It could be called “scare-to-click” vs. the pay-per-click model. Belger’s headline implies that there isn’t any danger inherent in natural materials and that anything labeled “natural” isn’t synthetic.

Apparently, Ms. Belger didn’t interview traditionally trained perfumers or IFRA watchdogs when she wrote her article and it’s evident in the copy. If she did, she’d know that bergamot essential oil induces photosensitivity (it can cause skin discoloration in the sun if “bergaptene-free bergamot oil” is not used) and that eugenol (the main molecule in clove) has been declared an allergen. Both ingredients are used in Tsi~La’s Fleur Sauvage and Saqui, respectively. When Belger uses the facts Tsi~La shares with her to form her opinion, readers don’t get all of the facts.

This is not a natural vs. aroma molecule discussion or a denial of the fact that chemical sensitivity is a real issue for some of the population. The issue here is fair and accurate reporting supported by fact-checking. Lack of proper fact-checking becomes evident when opposing viewpoints are not explored and supported by hard facts. Fact checkers take note; you can contact the The American Society of Perfumers, the International Fragrance Association (IFRA), or any number of essential oils houses such as Givaudan, Firmenich, International Flavors and Fragrances or Symrise to get the scientific facts.

Ms. Belger’s article illustrates the kind of misunderstanding that is prevalent when it comes to defining what is “natural’ in flavors and fragrances. In flavors, nature-identical molecules made in the lab are considered equivalent to the real thing. Some consumers would argue that this kind of molecular manipulation equals frankenfood, but the FDA considers nature-identical molecules to be completely “natural”. A similar misunderstanding exists when it comes to how consumers define “sustainability”, as evidenced in The Hartman Report on Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer Perspective (2007). If you aren’t an architect building passive solar or LEED-certified buildings, sustainability can be more of an ethos than a cold hard fact. Flip through Hartman’s Gnomenclature, a Flash-based presentation, and you’ll get the gist from the consumer’s point of view.

Jean Pierre Subrenat, a perfumer who owns a fragrance company called Creative Concepts Corporation, was compelled to write Ms. Belger a letter after reading her article. Since MSNBC.com doesn’t post comments or letters in the area where Ms. Belger’s article appears, Mr. Subrenat has agreed to share his letter with Glass Petal Smoke’s readers. If his name sounds familiar, it should; Mr. Subrenat is the Chairman of the World Perfumery Congress in Cannes and is quite outspoken when it comes to fragrance materials.

Dear Ms. Belger,

I am a perfumer (not a perfumier as you call us) and although I applaud every new venture which would promote my art and every article which talks about it, I am sometimes sensitive to untrue facts. I work a lot on natural products myself and have numerous products on the market using my fragrances (and some of them could be in the shampoo you are referring to (!)…names upon request if needed!) and I am sure that the
Tsi~La perfumes are nice, although I never smelled them. But, in order to promote a natural perfume, one doesn't have to denigrate or be condescending to the rest of the perfume industry.

It is NOT TRUE neither verifiable that mass market perfumes only contain an average of 3% naturals! Ms. Szapowalo doesn't have access to the formulas...It is NOT TRUE that perfumes contain benzene (just to make believe that we include gasoline additives in perfumes!) It is NOT TRUE that perfumes contain propylene glycol, at best some could contain dipropylene glycol which is a totally different product, and of course, not used in anti-freeze.

It seems that Ms. Szapowalo and Ms. Morton are a bit obsessed with these two (wrong) examples as they use them
each time that they are interviewed! Conventional perfumes have never harmed anybody (to my knowledge) and have made women even more beautiful since the last 150 years, when synthetics were discovered. Mother Nature is beautiful but sometimes capricious as she doesn’t give us, perfumers, all of her scents. The beautiful smell of flowers such as lilac, lily of the valley, peonies, or fruits like a succulent peach, a juicy kiwi or a refreshing melon cannot be obtained from the botanical. They are in fact too fragile to be extracted or distilled. This is when synthetics are indispensable as we are able to reproduce such great aromas in our labs. So, why try to destroy such an industry which, once again, is only attacked by a select few!

We could also debate the following points: “Synthetic fragrances stay stagnant on your skin, while naturals blend with your chemistry.” This is nonsense; synthetics are no more “stagnant” on the skin than naturals. As it’s a question of evaporation of the fragrance once applied on the skin and natural or not, each single ingredient having a different flashpoint (boiling point), a fragrance will always be changing on the skin. Skin chemistry or food diets interact with synthetic fragrances and non-synthetic fragrances alike. If you eat a lot of spices (garlic, curry, etc.) you can wear synthetic or natural, the spices will still come throughout your skin’s pores…with the fragrance! Also: “The body’s own natural chemistry mixes the fragrance.” It would be better to say that the body’s own natural chemistry mixes WITH the fragrance, as described above. And then again, it is the same reaction with natural or synthetic fragrances!

Lastly, as the profession of a perfumer is quite difficult to learn, lengthy as an apprenticeship and much more technically complicated than one thinks, I am wondering where Ms. Szapowalo has learned her craft as she was never a member of the American Society of Perfumers, neither do I know one company which has employed her in the past. But then again, I am perhaps not aware of all the companies in the USA. Should you have questions, I would be delighted to answer.

Sincerely,
Jean-Pierre Subrenat
President Creative Concepts Corp.
Past-President American Society of Perfumers
Chairman World Perfumery Congress
www.worldperfumerycongress.com

In today’s world and the current economy everyone wants to feel safe. We are fortunate to live in a free country where everyone can express their opinion. People don’t always agree, but we are free to discuss our viewpoints. Being unbiased is difficult when you feel passionate about something, but that does not justify inaccurate reporting. If we are going to “go green” as a nation, let’s do it truthfully.

Notes:

The complete version of The Hartman Report on Sustainability: Understanding the Consumer Perspective (2007) is available here.

Image of rose with barbed wire from My Thoughts about Things I Come Across.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rising Moon Spring Ale: Defying Bitterness with Aromatics

The first time I drank beer was with my father. It was a bottle of Hofbräu Oktoberfest and I was sixteen years old. I took three or four sips and gave up. When he told me that beer was an acquired taste I respectfully disagreed; if it tasted bitter and awful then there would be no getting used to it. In retrospect, I see that this was precisely the effect my father was hoping for. I was attending The Bronx High School of Science at the time and Dad knew that the student population wasn’t all about Trekkies colliding in the halls as they contemplated hydrocarbon chains. Party culture and the curious teenager could collide as easily as molecules being studied in the classroom.

In the late 70’s dark and amber beers weren't that popular in the States. When Hofbräu Oktoberfest showed up in the store, my father would get a six-pack and relive memories of his glory days in the United States Army (a fact peppered with irony as he was a United States soldier stationed in Schweinfurt after surviving Auschwitz as a teenager; a fact Private Paul Krell always considered his best revenge). At the same time a shampoo called Body on Tap promised to transform hair using beer as a bodifying agent. Body on Tap’s scent was malty, woody, floral and slightly musky. It would linger well into the day and leave a soft trace of scent on my pillow at night. With Body on Tap I thought I'd found the only beer I could ever love.

Today lovefests between me and a bottle of beer are rare. Blue Moon Belgian White Ale (1995) comes close, with crisp aromas of coriander and orange peel. Its distinctive creamy taste makes the natural bitterness present in a fermented grain beverage palatable. Brewmaster Keith Villa of Molson Coors revisited the application of citrus in a recipe for Rising Moon Spring Ale (2007) and created a refreshing and fragrant brew that includes kieffer lime leaves and Persian lime peel. Kieffer lime leaves lend lemongrass and bay notes, blending well with the malty facets of the drink. Persian lime, which does not have the bitterness of regular lime, adds fresh, heperidic and floral aromas. The flavor of kieffer lime leaves is prevalent in the body of the ale whereas the Persian lime is more noticeable in the finish. The overall impression of this amber wheat ale is delicious and bright.

Speaking of brightness, those of us living in the United States are due for more daylight this weekend. On Sunday, March 8th at 12:00 a.m. clocks will roll forward in observance of daylight saving time. You can celebrate spring with a few bottles of Rising Moon Spring Ale on Saturday night, so you won’t have to think about the hour of sleep you’ll be losing on Sunday morning. Just make sure to stock up on the seasonal brew and set your clocks forward before you start drinking.

Notes:

Body on Tap, which was discontinued in the late 80’s, has been revived by the Vermont Country Store. Curiosity seekers and nostalgia buffs can buy a bottle for $14.95 plus shipping. 1-802-362-8460.

Kieffer leaves can be experienced in two delicious dishes served at Boi Restaurant in New York. Ga Me offers sliced boneless chicken breast in black sesame sauce with roasted yellow squash and kieffer lime leaves. La Lot is made with marinated shrimp rolled in Hawaiian pepper leaves served on a bed of turmeric rice noodles drizzled in peanut sauce and topped with fresh kieffer lime leaves. Boi Restaurant is located at 246 East 44th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenues. 212-681-6541.

Visit the Blue Moon Brewing Company website to learn about additional tasty offerings.

The army photograph of my father, Paul Krell, was taken between 1953 and 1954.