Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Moss Gown by Providence Perfume: The Aura of Story in Perfume Creation

Life inspires stories. The best ones are told with purpose, pattern and conviction. Stories shape the past, our present notion of self, and aspirations for the future (real or imagined). Every story is dependent on imagination, but in order for the story to take hold it must be grounded in something we can relate to. If stories don't resonate with something tangible in our lives our minds can't give them permission to fly.

A well-composed perfume also tells a story and does so with an intriguing beginning (top notes), a compelling middle (heart notes) and an end that anchors the story with purpose (base notes). Natural perfumery is beset with the challenge of telling a good story because more often than not, the narrative ends too quickly due to lack of tenacity. Creations with the best intentions grow flat, quickly silenced by evaporation.

Perfumer Charna Ethier, of the Providence Perfume Company, tackles the tenacity issue in natural perfumery by utilizing a method commonly applied in creating herbal remedies and bitters; that of tincturing:
 "I am a big fan of creating alcohol based tinctures to use as the base alcohol for perfumes. I find one of the biggest complaints I hear regarding natural perfumes is that they don't last long enough. Creating these infusions, oftentimes with freeze-dried fruits and spices, adds a very interesting subtle note to the perfumes. In addition, the natural sugars and starches in ingredients like apricots and basmati rice slow the evaporation rate of the perfume on skin, allowing them to last longer.

Another added bonus is the ability to extend particular notes throughout the entire dry down of the perfume. For example, it's difficult to create a natural citrus perfume that is long lasting as citrus notes are top notes and fleeting in nature. By using a Meyer lemon tincture as the base alcohol, I am able to pull the citrus note throughout the length of the perfume. You are still able to detect the lemon jasmine like note of Meyer lemon in the base notes. I find this incredibly cool!"
If you've ever made own vanilla extract or macerated spices and fruit for use in pastry then you've already dabbled in the art of tincturing. Creating tinctures for base alcohols in perfumery requires more control of the materials (some ingredients, like flowers, must be replenished daily) and is not a process that can be hurried. The perfumer's ability to shape the signature of their olfactory work via tincturing requires faith in the alchemy of combination. One of the reasons for Moss Gown’s elegant bouquet is the presence of lilac tincture in the formula.

A well made botanical perfume creates a distinctive sense of place when the olfactory theme is built around the setting in a children's book. Moss Gown by Providence Perfume is inspired by the William H. Hooks book of the same name. Themes of courage, love and magic infuse the text which is based on a southern folk tale.

The main character in the book is a child named Candace, but she is not the olfactory protagonist in Moss Gown perfume. Instead it is a witch of the bayou and the magic with which she creates an enchanted gown for the young girl. The meeting takes place where beds of moss abound.

The aesthetic appeal of a purely botanical perfume is its ability to capture the essence of nature. Glass Petal Smoke suggests anointing oneself with Moss Gown before a walk in the woods. You can feel the ingredients come to life as the smell of dirt paths rise to greet your nose, infused with the aroma of broken twigs, late blooming greenery and the honey-like scent of autumn leaves.

If a chimney in the distance sends a gentle waft of wood smoke your way the synergistic aspects of the perfume's composition become more evident, rising from skin like a fragrant plume of incense smoke. It's not about the individual ingredients (exotic coffee flower, precious boronia and intoxicating narcissus among others); it's about the statement they make in unison when the perfume mingles in a setting much like the one imagined by the perfumer.

Moss Gown by Providence Perfume is a fine example of an artisanal green chypre. If you long for the aroma of moss (an ingredient in limited use in the fragrance industry) Glass Petal Smoke suggests that you reacquaint yourself with an historical fragrance family sacred to the art of perfumery.

Moss Gown Eau de Parfum is available in a 1oz. atomizer ($140) or a 6ml atomizer ($36.00).
Providence Perfume Company sells a variety of products for the natural perfumer, including seven types of tinctures. You can find them here.

Image Credits:
Living Moss Collar by Tara Baoth Mooney, graduate of the London College of Fashion’s Centre for Sustainable Fashion.

The Fragrant Trail of Story and Autumn Stream by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Inside the Olfactory Mind of Serge Lutens

When you ask Serge Lutens a question don't expect an answer that panders or intimates; his lines are clear and sharp, but highly unpredictable. Known for his steady talent as a designer (fragrance, fashion, beauty and a few other domains) he thrives on the subtle trace of chaos latent in a fleeting moment. Lutens creates in the present, detached from influences that tempt many to drop anchor in the past or project wildly into the future. Living in the fulcrum of creation he will happily sacrifice socially accepted notions of balance, even his own preconceived notions, if the end result forges a new way of seeing.

Perfume lovers adore his fragrances because when Serge Lutens makes something he means it. His vision is not predicated on the evaporation rates of base, middle and top notes. Each fragrance he designs (in collaboration with perfumer Christopher Sheldrake) follows an olfactory narrative arc subject to the moment's choosing. For Lutens "Perfume is a form of writing, an ink, a choice made in the first person, the dot on the i, a weapon, a courteous gesture, part of the instant, a consequence." 

When reading Lutens' responses to the Glass Petal Smoke "Sensory Questionnaire" it's evident that this artist doesn't clutch his olfactory passport like a tourist enamored with nostalgia and vogue. Forthrightness, ambiguity and collision are his ports of call, qualities you will find in every bottle of perfume with his name on it.

1. What does your sense of smell mean to you?
My sense of smell is connected to others. If it were detachable, it would be anomalous. Smell is an important sense because the nose is primarily an evaluator. Originally, it allows one to be on guard, to hate or to love. It is not used to buy perfumes! It permits an evaluation relative to a given sensitivity. It is also interesting to note that from birth to death the olfactory cells are the only cells in the human body to be renewed approximately every 30 days; the only ones to do so!*

2. What are some of your strongest scent memories?
The strongest is primarily related to a situation, not the olfactory memory itself. A smell cannot be isolated from its context, but it’s often the odor that we thought we had forgotten that comes back violently, like a poison or a paradise. Vanilla can be a delight for some and hell for others. For my part, I remember the smell of the earth’s burning breath after rain or recall the warmth of my scarf on winter days when I would bury my nose in it.

3. What are some of your favorite smells (things in nature, cooking & / or your environment)?
Whatever instantly affects me. If I'm hungry, it may be the smell of something cooking. Contrarily, after eating, odors of this type disgust me.

4. Do you have any favorite smells that are regarded as strange?
I'm not sure. I love the smell of rubber when it's hot, or even that of olive oil, but it can also make me sick. In my home, like in every man’s home, nothing is fixed. If we are fixed, we become stupid!

5. Describe one or more of your favorite cooking smells.
I eat very little. I like cumin as its smell can touch me, that of clean skin slightly warmed by life. For the rest, I am led to a kind of asceticism, the only condition for ultimate creation.

6. What smells do you dislike most?
Those that immediately do not please me. You know, you can hate the best perfume worn by someone you dislike and instead, appreciate ordinary scents on loved ones. This is an ensemble linked to a sensibility, a context, which is judged. The nose alone, without sensibility, remains a nose!

7. What did you smell first dislike, but learned to love?
I never "learned” to love a smell. However, I allowed myself to be “invaded”; childhood prefers to be lulled rather than to discover. Thereafter, an odor that seemed pungent at first, like civet, musk, castoreum, once settled on the skin, becomes a true paradise!

8. What mundane smells inspire you?
If they do I am not aware of them as they are common and affect me without my knowledge. Water has a smell. Earth and skins also have a smell. It is there! This reassures us as a presence but fails to get through to our conscious, like a child who sees his mother around him. This is unconsciously recorded in us. 

9. What scent never fails to take you back in time and why?
All odors, not one particularly! As you know, everything is recorded in us by age seven - the age of reason - once done, we do not discover anything; we rediscover!

10. What scents do you associate with memories of loved ones?
None. I cannot define the smell of love. It’s variable.

11. What fragrance(s) remind you of growing up?
I am not a criminal returning permanently to the place of his assassination to smell the blood. As for the stories of grandmothers, jam ... not for me! I still prefer the criminal; it distracts! 

12. What fragrance(s) remind you of places you visited on vacation?
I'm never on vacation. I am always doing something with my head or my hands. To answer your question, however, even if you've never been to Morocco or Japan, you will be amazed, because the smell from the origins of the earth has been moved by winds, rivers, bees, etc., you will find them in their original form or another. As you can guess, the scent of tourism is not my thing at all!

13. Describe a piece of sensory literature that is very magical for you?
There are numerous pieces of literature, but they are more about how to convey emotion rather than a simple olfactory evocation. Actually, it is almost in the entire masterpiece that we find a perfume. As we say in French, the scent of a novel, the scent of a film, the scent of a person. What remains! I find this fragrance in the works of all authors that I love: Proust (of course), Baudelaire, Mallarme, Genet, etc. Like incense they are burned into memory! 


The perfumes of Serge Lutens are naturally drawn to the landscape of skin, inspiring an addictive derangement of the senses wherever they dress the air. If you have never owned a Serge Lutens fragrance you may want to prime your nose with Féminité du Bois, Ambre Sultan, and Fleurs D'Oranger. Glass Petal Smoke's favorites are always changing. These are currently at the front of the fragrance wardrobe: Vitriol d'Oeilette, A La Nuit, L'Eau Froide, and Un Lys.

*Smell sensory neurons in the nose live for approximately 30 days after which they are replaced by new cells. New cells are generated by adult stem cells located in the olfactory epithelium.

Thanks to perfumer Christophe Laudamiel of DreamAir who assisted with the French to English translation of Msr. Lutens' Sensory Questionnaire.

Image Credits:
Micrograph of human smell receptor by Professor P. Motta, Department of Anatomy, University of La Sapienza, Rome, from the Science Photo Library. Rights revert to owner

Photo of Cumin by Rebecca Siegel via Creative Commons limited license.

Photo of steaming pot on a stove by J. Cliss via Creative Commons license.

Photo of "The Unsubmissive Plant," by Remedios Varo.

Photo of antique pharmacy perfume bottle by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved. 

Ottoman miniature of doctors instructing a pharmacist from the University of Istanbul.

Micrograph photo of aspirin crystal by Annie Cavanaugh via Wellcome Images. Rights revert back to the owner.

Photograph of woman with lace veiled face from Serge Lutens. 

Photo of text from Edgar Allen Poe's "Mask of the Red Death" on the window of Antoinette's Patisserie in Hastings on Hudson. Created by Clem Paulsen. Rights revert back to the owner.

Photo interpretation of distraction through trees by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.

Photo of Atlas Mountains in Morocco by French Self Catering. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Whisky Notes: The Essence of Smoke Via Peat and Perfume

Peaty, feinty and woody flavors in whisky have an interesting connection to woody and oriental categories in perfumery. This is particularly evident in formulas with smoky notes. The allure of smoke and its application in whisky and perfume tells us something about our own essence, the persona we wish to convey, as well as the alchemy we imbibe by transference. Glass Petal Smoke suggests reading this post with a glass of single malt Scotch after applying one of the leather inspired fragrances mentioned in the last section of this article. 

Smoke Aroma in Perfume and Whisky

Smoke is an essential element in the history of perfume. The word "perfume" is derived from the Latin per fumum which means "through smoke". This reflects perfumery’s roots which began with incense. Ancient Egyptians believed that perfumed smoke was pleasing to the gods and carried their prayers to the heavens.

Modern perfumery, as we know it today, was sparked by the popularity of scented leather gloves in France. Fragrance was added to tanned leather in order to reduce animalic odors and smoky notes from the tanning process. Catherine d'Medici (who started the glove craze) transformed her passion for scented gloves into a passion for personal perfume which in turn was a catalyst for the formation of the Guild of Master Perfumers and Glove Makers in 1656.  

The drying of damp malt over peat fire incenses the barley used to make Scotch whisky. This creates a link between whisky and the early history of perfume as incense. Irish Turf/Peat Incense is evidence of this connection.

Peat smoke contains phenols which are characterized by smoky, tar-like and petroleum aromas that evoke a medicinal impression, one that single malt Scotch lovers are quite fond of, (those who don't like peaty flavor relate it to the smell of Band-Aids). One wonders what goes through the minds of those involved in the malting portion of the whisky making process as the smell of smoke never loses its mysterious ethereal quality. 

Smoke Notes in Perfume Formulas and their Relationship to Whisky

Smoke in perfumery is a fantasy element and is found in perfumes inspired by the aroma of leather and incense. These types of fragrances fall into the oriental and woody family of aromas based on Michael Edwards' fragrance wheel. The perfumer’s interpretation of smoke does not enter the senses like a dramatic flambé. Like all olfactory experience it enters consciousness, triggers emotion and then floods the mind with autobiographical memories associated with smoke. Smoke is evidence of the presence of fire, an element that can be used to transform or destroy; it is the Shiva of fragrance notes. This lends archetypal power to smoky notes in flavors and fragrance.

Leather notes, in particular the Givaudan aroma molecule Pyralone, 6-(1Methylpropyl)quinoline, encourage a soft smokiness in perfume formulas with balsamic, woody and tobacco facets (complementary notes that are also present in whisky). A smoke effect supported by woody notes and balsamic ingredients like vanilla and amber creates an olfactory impression akin to a living breathing entity. A good example of this is Cuir de Lancome by Lancome. A smokier example would be Cuir de Russie Parfum by Chanel. If you smell the vintage version of Cuir de Russie Parfum, whose formula included essential oil of Birch Tar, the smoke impression is colored by notes of burnt wood, leather and phenols; the same notes that mark the distinctive aroma of Scotch whisky. 

The Parallel of Peat Aroma in Whisky and Oakmoss in Perfumery

Peat is the terroir of Scotland and the heart and soul of Scottish whisky. Before it is burned for fuel, fresh peat smells like a newly plowed field with mild traces of a brackish bog. In perfumery, the defining ingredient in the chypre family of fragrances is Oakmoss* (Evernia prunastri) and it possesses some of the qualities found in peat moss (both are lichens). Smelled neat, Oakmoss evokes images and emotions associated with the magnificent carpet of earthy scents found in a damp forest floor. It has a seaweed-like quality which is best described as a mingling of hay, sap and brine.

Oakmoss is the defining ingredient in classic chypre perfumes like Guerlain's Mitsouko and Miss Dior Originale (not Dior Cherie, confusingly repackaged as Miss Dior in the U.S.). The smell of Oakmoss is instantly transporting as many have experienced the majesty of parks, forests and their related aquatic environments. These memories are rooted in childhood which makes the effect of this ingredient quite powerful. The current fascination with Fir as a flavor agent in mixology and cooking is related to this type of nostalgic and emotional connection.

The Cult of Smoke: Culture vs. Trend 

Aromas and flavors follow trends that are ignited by the past (history, heritage, cachet, etc.) and the present (emotional need, response to economic times, etc.). On the fragrance side, the 1980’s were economic boom times and that is when fragrances were formulated to be loud and boisterous. After September 11th consumers in the U.S. were cocooning and the “green” trend began as we questioned our authenticity and the politics of oil. As a culture grows more confident, and economies get stronger, the desire for smokier flavors and fragrances rises (interest in all things "bacon" has yet to fade and includes the emergence of a bacon perfume originally formulated by a Parisian butcher in 1920).

The desire to connect with smoke is a reflection of the need to reconnect with natural elements that symbolize power. Dr. Richard V. Lee believes that, "The rituals and rules that govern symbolic controlled combustion are ancient, perhaps a part of our biologic evolution." The kind of smoky product you choose to favor depends on what totem fits into your concept of self and heritage. 
Achieving Balance in Smoke Flavor and Aroma

There are additive, subtractive and interactive reactions that occur when materials are dosed at different levels in perfumery, much like the chemistry of cooking. Smoke can overpower flavors and fragrances, and distort or eliminate distinctive nuances. In perfumery an overdose of a smoke effect can smell like burnt rubber which prompts a wincing reaction and triggers the part of the brain that detects danger and sparks a “fight or flight” response. The sense of smell is meant to keep us from harm so we don’t enter dangerous life-threatening environments or eat spoiled food that will make us sick. This is not an instinct we want to provoke.

The right dose of smoke in perfumery makes a bouquet come to life in complements and contrasts. The same is true for whisky via peat smoke. Whisky flavor is also influenced by the the type of barrel used to age the drink, (charred, uncharred, previous liquid guest). The wood will impart sweet, woody, resinous or animalic nuances into the whisky and that is where the flavor playground lives. Get too smokey and one runs the risk of creating a whisky that tastes jagged or resembles smoke flavor additives used in food.

Somewhere in the flavor spectrum of smoke is perfectly pitched smoke; the springboard for further flavor development. Distillers and flavor chemists would be foolish not to consider “smoke” inspired perfume for inspiration as they are shadows of the same alchemy.
Glass Petal Smoke recommends these leather inspired fragrances (in addition to the ones mentioned in this article): Chambre Noire Eau de Parfum by Olfactive Studio, Aleksandr Eau de Parfum by Arquiste, Cuir Mauresque by Serge Lutens, Bel Ami by Hermes, Comme des Garçons 2 Man, Tuscan Leather by Tom Ford, Cuir de Nacre by Anne Girard and Cuir Fétiche by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier.

The dye used to color the wool used in Harris Tweed suits were once made from lichen derived dyes called crottle. Because of this, vintage Harris Tweed fabric possesses a chypre-like aroma. Lichens have an interesting relationship with humans which falls under the subject of ethnolichenology.

Oakmoss has been subject to scrutiny by Scientific Committee of Consumer Safety in Europe. Many in perfumery believe that a culture of fear is clouding the studies, but no one has made an inquiry into the scientists conducting the studies. As a result, use of oakmoss has been reduced, eliminated or replaced in some formulas.

Some of the natural ingredients used to create smoke/leather notes in perfume include Castoreum Absolute, Saffron, Cade and the rare and storied Agarwood (Oud).

Further Reading:
"The Seven Major Scent Groups of Whisky," by Mash Bonigala.

Whisky for Everyone, a fabulous whisky website.

Dr. Richard V. Lee has some interesting things to say about the culture of smoke in his paper titled, "Pleasure, Pain and Prophylaxis: Olfaction (the Neglected Sense)".

Image Credits:
"Occult Dancer," by artist Nicolai Konstantinovich Kalmakov.

Photo of Peat Gatherer in the Isle of Skye Scotland UK from Tour Scotland.

Image of Whisky Glass from Normann Copenhagen.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Great Smelling Gifts for the Scentualist: $20 and Under

Each product in this selection of olfactory-themed goodies costs less than $20. You don't have to be a perfume lover to appreciate them (well, maybe all except one), but like all things that smell great each will add an aromatic touch to your day. Consider this curated list of offerings a shortcut for all your stocking stuffer needs. You can also treat yourself to every single product in this post for $52.00 plus shipping and have yourself a smelly little Christmas.

Lakol Glue Stick
It isn't every day that one can have a dalliance with the entire macaron case at Ladurée, but one can dream. Almonds are the foundation of every great French macaron, but why eat a handful of nuts when you can tempt your taste buds with pastry redolent of Muguet (Lily of the Valley), Cedrat (Cedar), or Mangue Jasmine (Mango Jasmine)? 

Giving in to temptation like this will make you hip in all the wrong ways (think body mass index) so it's best to consider something more recherché, something that smells of the perfume of almonds versus the unspeakable burden of guilt you'll be carrying as you punish yourself on what you'll swear is the "treadmill of doom" at the gym.

Introducing the Lakol Glue Stick. It smells of the finest marzipan and since it's non-toxic and solvent-free you can sniff it to your heart's content whilst being creative with paper projects. For the record, marzipan is considered aphrodisiac so you can double your aromatic pleasure and burn calories sans guilt. Just don't tell the folks at Pfizer® or Sensa®.

The Lakol Glue Stick is priced at $2.49 and is available for purchase at

Ten Thousand Villages Wooden Eyeglasses Rest
Your nose is the most precious thing on your face. If there's smoke, gas, skunk or spoiled food it protects you from danger by giving you the big fat "don't go there" signal. Ten Thousand Villages sells a nose carved out of aromatic Indian Rosewood (also known as Sheesham wood) that serves as reminder of just how important the most prominent feature on the human face is.

Though it is designed to support a pair of eyeglasses it also works as a functional totem for anyone that collects essential oils and absolutes used in perfumery. It's great for resting errant perfume blotters and can be used to curate humorous scenarios at your desk (Glass Petal Smoke currently has a .4 oz Lust solid perfume stick from Lush taking up residence under its nose).

If you've been considering collecting aromas as a hobby you can take stock in the fact that smell calisthenics improve brain function and enhance plasticity. Just don't get caught up in the notion that a bigger nose means you have olfactory superpowers. You can leave that argument to someone who argues that there isn't a limit to how big a nose can be (aka a nosarian).

Ten Thousand Villages' Wooden Eyeglasses Rest retails for $18.00 and is available online or in-store. All items sold by the company meet fair trade and sustainability standards.

          Write Dudes USA Eco #2 Pencils
Pencils rule. A single pencil is capable of writing 450,000 words or a straight line 35 miles long, this according to the folks at Pencils made of Incense Cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) are the most fragrant pencils around, but finding affordable ones that write well requires a game of trial and error (translation: buy a bunch, get burned, try again).

Die hard Incense Cedar pencil fanatics shell out $19.99 for a dozen Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils, but there are less expensive alternatives. Some swear by General's Cedar Pointe Pencils, the oldest brand of pencils in the United States (manufactured in Jersey City, New Jersey for 120 years), but if you want a high quality graphite pencil with pencil shavings that smell like the inside of a cedar chest then Write Dudes USA Eco #2 Pencil is the pencil for you. Because the pencil is not lacquered (it's made of raw cedar) it leaves a trace of aroma on your thumb and forefinger after you write with it.

A pack of 18 Write Dudes USA Eco #2 Pencils retails for $6.09 on Amazon and qualifies for free shipping with a $25.00 purchase. Get this Dux pencil sharpener while you're at it. You can unscrew the cap and sniff your pencil shavings for a quick cedar fix and no one will think less of you for it.

Nutiva Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil
One of the main reasons that coconut oil has taken the food world by storm is that its flavor is accompanied by a rich aroma that instantly transports one to white sandy beaches in the tropics. Coconut oil is a fabulous beauty product on its own. It's solid at room temperature and a small amount placed in the palm of your hands melts quickly, transforming into a liquid that is perfect for application on skin and hair.

Though coconut oil is great for year round skincare it can be used as an aromatherapeutic treatment for winter blues. A coconut oil body treatment before bed will instantly fill your mind with thoughts of sunshine and warmer climes. To get full skin conditioning benefits draw a bath before going to bed. When you get out of the tub pat skin gently with a towel, allowing moisture to remain on your skin as this will emulsify the oil. Apply coconut oil from head to toe, get in your pj's and bask in the milky aroma of coconut under your favorite winter blanket. If you aren't sleeping alone the company you keep also appreciate its delicious scent.

Nutiva Extra Virgin Organic Coconut Oil is milky, floral and nutty smelling and is, quite frankly, the best coconut oil around. If you have a little Ylang Ylang essential oil you can add that and make your own Monoi Oil mixture. For a touch of extravagance add a drop or two of Sandalwood, Jasmine or Gardenia Oil from Enfleurage.

Nutiva Extra Virgin Organic Coconut Oil is sold in most health food stores and is available for purchase online. A 15 oz. jar retails for $11.99.

Sweetsation Choco*Smooch Organic Lip and Face Balm
A growing number of healing balms are being targeted at adult consumers because they are concentrated and portable; two important factors if one plans on traveling or saving space in the medicine cabinet. A stick balm is as concentrated as it gets and the best skin conditioning balms can outperform creams and lotions, which are more than 50% water.

Sweetsation Choco*Smooch Lip and Face Balm was made for babies, but mama likes it too. A perfect fusion of Vanilla absolute and unrefined cocoa butter makes for an incredibly delicious and comforting aroma that is truly a balm for the senses. Many manufacturers shy away from using true Vanilla because of the expense, substituting Vanillin (an aroma molecule found in artificial vanilla flavoring) for the real thing. Considering the fact that vanilla has been shown to elicit a sense of comfort in scientific studies just adds to the list of the product's ethnobotanical benefits.

The .75 oz. jumbo size Sweetsation Choco*Smooch stick retails for $12.99 and can be purchased online and at select retail stores.