Sunday, November 16, 2014

Happiness in a Bottle: Christmas Fir Cabin Spray by Juniper Ridge

Unseasonably cold temperatures across the country have triggered polar vortex memories that most of us would prefer to forget. It's an unfortunate association, but there's a sensorial antidote for the collective PTSD affecting portions of the country experiencing December weather this November; it's Christmas Fir Cabin Spray by Juniper Ridge

The product is the sixth in a series of "cabin sprays" made by Juniper Ridge and is described as "Christmas tree in a bottle". One spritz and you can say goodbye to forest-inspired scents that have been conning nostrils for decades. Christmas Fir Cabin Spray's fresh arboreal bouquet replaces memories of store bought fauxery with the soothing aroma of fir, cedar, and pine sourced from Mt. Hood. The product smells "real" because folks at Juniper Ridge go into the forest and forage for raw materials before distilling the ingredients by hand.

The scent of the forest belongs in the air which is why Christmas Fir Cabin Spray by Juniper Ridge is rife with Proustian potential. It's not a scent you have to learn; it's a scent you know in your DNA. Whether the memories are tied to gentle walks in the forest or Christmas trees lined up for sale, this olfactory creation is a righteous must-have at $30 a bottle.

Image titled "Douglas Fir Variations" is comprised of four Creative Commons graphics. It was designed by Michelle Krell Kydd.  The images are (clockwise): Douglas Fir and HemlocksCoast Douglas Fir Cone by David Douglas, Douglasie by Petwo, and Abies Alba by Böhringer Friedrich.

This article was serendipitously posted on the anniversary of the first volume of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time (1913). A future Smell and Tell workshop that links scent, memory and literature is in the works for 2015. December's Smell and Tell is focused on Patchouli and takes place on Wednesday, December 3, 2014, from 7:00pm to 8:45pm at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library. For more details click here.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Scented Memories: My Father's Leather Shop

When I was a child I would accompany my father to his leather shop on 236 West 27th Street in the garment district. The world changed the moment you walked into the freight elevator and were greeted with the scent of gear oil and metal. I remember the aroma of the shop which was a combination of leather, rubber cement, tailor's chalk, spools of thread, rolls of acetate lining, coffee, manila pattern paper, pencils, wooden cutting tables, rack and hand carts, metal chairs ornamented with handmade cushions, buttered rolls and bagels, and the warm metal of zealous sewing machines stitching away.

A flock of women from the Caribbean to South America worked there. I remember watching them change from their work clothes into street clothes and admiring how lady-like they were. The changing room was aflutter with slips, skirts, dresses, pantyhose and the staccato of Spanish conversation. The women were like butterflies. When they'd leave the shop you could smell traces of soap, hand cream and eau de cologne from Spain in the changing room. The soap was different from the one we used at home and smelled of citrus, cinnamon, and white flowers.

One of the women who worked in the shop was from Cuba and her name was Dulce. I remember how hard she worked and how beautiful she was. The sound of machines and hands working inside Brand X Fashions never leaves my memory. The video "Soul of a Shirt" captures the spirit of what I remember even though it's modern and related to shirt production (my father made coats, dresses, and suits in leather and suede).  

The building that housed Brand X Fashions now leases space to the Fashion Institute of Technology as a tenant. The 12-story deco sandstone building is across the street from the fragrance lab on 27th Street where I studied perfumery with Virginia Bonofiglio of FIT. On the first day of perfumery class I met Dulce Urquiza of Givaudan. We became fast friends and no matter how much time goes by she always reminds me of the Dulce I knew in my childhood. Both are of Cuban heritage and have an interesting blend of strength and sweetness; just like a perfect café cubano.

The aroma of Swedish Dream Sunflower Facial Soap inspired this story; it smells exactly like the soap that sat on the porcelain sink in the women's changing room at Brand X Fashions.

The video that accompanies this post is curated by The Skyscraper Museum of NYC and can be found on their YouTube channel. My experience in the Garment District took place in the early 1970's. Though the video was shot from footage in the 1950's it affords an interesting historical perspective.  

The image of my father's business card is embellished with the wooden portion of a garment rack that was used to walk finished product to a contractor or distributor. I took a few rides in these as a kid and still remember how you could hear the sounds of the city mixed in with the rumbly bumps of the rack's wheels, which swiveled out of sync at short stops and cracks in the sidewalk. I was partially camouflaged by the garments and that made every ride a true adventure.

The picture of a vintage Singer
® sewing machine was taken by Jorge Royan and was used with permission. It was remixed with an image my cousin took of the building where my father grew up. The building is in Brzeziny, Poland.

Image of "Leather Bouquet" featuring bolts of leather skins in bright colors taken by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Dulce Urquiza is Senior Creative Fragrance Development Manager at Givaudan and a chemical engineer; she puts the flower in STEM. A future story about her journey as a woman in science is planned. It is a precious story that has never been told before.

The Annette Green Fragrance Foundation Studio at The Fashion Institute of Technology is modeled on professional perfumery labs.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Flavor Stories: Dr. Roman Kaiser on Saffron's Affinity for Mullet and Shellfish

Shellfish and saffron have a natural affinity for each other. For some, the experience of savoring the flavor of a delicious paella is proof enough. Still, the desire to know why and certain flavors work so well together is enough to keep a curious cook up all night, or in some cases, inspire in a 2438 page corpus on molecular gastronomy.

Dr. Roman Kaiser is a renowned flavor and fragrance chemist who has dedicated his life to analyzing scents emitted by plants in their natural setting. Respectful of plant life and the environment he is known for utilizing dirigibles to conduct fragrance studies in locations including: Lower Amazonia, Papua New Guinea, India, and rainforest biotopes.

These days Dr. Kaiser can be found with both feet on the ground. He retired from Givaudan in 2011 and lectures at European universities. He spends more time doing things that he loves including foraging, canning and cooking; something he did in his youth as he spent a good part of that time in the hills and forests of Switzerland.

It isn't difficult to imagine a curious flavor story Kaiser shares from his childhood. As a young boy he added a few petals of Rosa centifolia from his father's nursery to a batch of homemade raspberry marmalade. The result was a memorable flavor pairing that inspired his pursuit of sensory science as an adult.

Last month I shared a recipe for parsley pesto with Dr. Kaiser via email and confessed that its success was the result of two unplanned events; accidentally buying parsley for a cilantro-based sofrito recipe and deciding to build a dairy-free pesto using the parsley as a flavor base.

I discovered that lemon zest and ground sumac temper garlic and parsley's assertiveness, creating multiple flavor complements. What I knew in the creation process as "instinct" is something I can now share as experience as there are clear reasons why this flavor experiment worked.

Lemon rind is not juicy, but if you add an umami enhancer like ground sumac berry you receive an added benefit; malic acid. Malic acid gives fruit a pleasant tart quality. In adding ground sumac berries to lemon zest one returns a sensory quality to lemon that is associated with a part of fruit that isn't present in the recipe; the juice-filled pulp. The effect is, in essence, a reconstitution of lemon's juicy character without the addition of water. The water forms in the mouth from the savory umami effect.

After sharing the recipe for parsley pesto with Dr. Kaiser he responded with a flavor story of his own. The event took place while he was dining at a restaurant on the Ligurian coast with colleagues (a story he relates on page 150 of his book Meaningful Scents from Around the World). If you're a home cook with a penchant for seafood and saffron you'll appreciate what Dr. Kaiser has to say about science and the role of a cook's instinct in the kitchen:

"...I would also like to describe a culinary insight. I was always wondering how the idea developed to add saffron to shrimps, prawns and red mullet. During a project at the Ligurian coast we once had lunch in a very simple but culinary-wise, wonderful restaurant where we could even see how the dishes were prepared. We had red mullet (rouget, Mullus barbatus) very delicately enhanced in its flavor with saffron, and I suddenly understood why they did this. 
The fresh red mullet itself already has a very faint saffron smell due to minute amounts of safranal and related compounds formed by degradation of carotenoids which gives the typical color to this and some other marine species, including shrimps. In fact, this faint saffron note is also perceivable in fresh shrimps and prawns, in which I have been able to demonstrate the presence of safranal by headspace trapping. 
Another fascinating example illustrating of how people are often able to do the right thing intuitively, in this case to support a very faintly present, but desirable olfactory note with a suitable spice.  

Dr. Kaiser's capacity for discovery defines him as a person and a scientist. These qualities make it a pleasure and privilege to know him. When I returned to read the passage about saffron and shellfish in his book, I found a note from Kate Greene, Vice President of Marketing at Givaudan. The note, written on July 1, 2008, was situated on page 152; one page ahead of the one Dr. Kaiser cited in his email to me. I must have used the note as a bookmark when I was writing about geosmin, a molecule that smells of freshly turned earth. Kate's note read, "On behalf of Roman, please enjoy his amazing book- it has given all of us much inspiration."

Meaningful Scents from Around the World has the approachable tone of an observational diary with a provocative scholarly flavor. It continues to attract readers because the human element in Dr. Kaiser's work, which is as much about curiosity as it is about science, is timeless. September 16th marks the eighth year since the book was published. Meaningful Scents from Around the World continues to inspire me. I have a feeling it always will...

Details regarding Dr. Roman Kaiser's childhood discovery of rose-raspberry flavor pairing can be found in an interview conducted by Dyptique.

Dr. Roman Kaiser pioneered an aroma capturing technique in the 70's referred to as "headspace" trapping. This technique allows scent samples to be collected in the field without harming the plant.

Image of a dirigible from a ScentTrek® in Madagascar's Masaola Peninsula via Givaudan.

Image of a pint of red raspberries by Dan Klimke via Creative Commons.

Image of saffron threads by David Hawkins-Weeks via Creative Commons.

A big thanks to my husband, A.J. Kydd, who encouraged me to invent something new when I bought the wrong herb at the grocery store. It's nice to be reminded that mistakes and inconveniences are often opportunities in disguise.

"Inside the Olfactory Mind of Dr. Roman Kaiser" continues to be the most popular post on Glass Petal Smoke to date. It is part of a series of interviews regarding the sense of smell and memory.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Unstoppered Bottle of Perfume

A perfume is known by its name, smell, shape and sometimes, its color. These attributes influence expectations in a perfume encounter. The unstoppered bottle is an invitation, a provocation, a dare, the gaze of a beautiful stranger that playfully intimates, "Would you like to get to know me?"  

Saying "yes" to the unstoppered bottle reveals an interconnected web of memories that belong to everyone and no one, intimate remembrances that reside in a compartment of the collective unconscious particular to smell. Scent can trill resonance, discord or a sense of the uncharted and does so against the backdrop of personal identity; it achieves this more affectively than any other sense.

Many hands are joined in the effort of making a perfume, but the terroir of human creativity is generally overlooked. This aspect rarely plays in the foreground because the eye's capacity for "knowing" is limited to what can be seen and we live in an ocularcentric culture. The unstoppered bottle releases the invisible which begs the question; what if it were possible to connect with the memories of those involved in the production of a perfume?             

Would the memories belong to the flower pickers whose fingers are capable of reading the coolness of dawn in the slip of a petal? Fingers that know the perfect tension in the snap of a bud plucked from its stem at exactly the right moment? Maybe the memories belong to the distillers who gather the flower pickers' handiwork and are incidentally perfumed by the essences they labor to extract. 

Perhaps the memories in the unstoppered bottle belong to a less agrarian figure, a technician whose hands rest in the pockets of his lab coat after he's carefully weighed and measured the ingredients for a new perfume. He stands at the lab bench reviewing a formula written by la maître perfumeur who is in the habit of composing immediately after she dreams. The technician knows the rich persimmon ink that never bleeds through the pages of the mauveine notebook to which she commits her formulas. The flourish of her cursive inspires contemplation and the sense that one is viewing an autobiographical dossier.

It is the memories of la maître perfumeur that infuse the formula most. Using aroma she regularly transforms the linear notion of time by fashioning a galaxy orbited by timelessness. This is most evident in her classic compositions, many of which shook off their dust decades after they were launched and were not touched by poor reformulation when their bouquets were reborn. 

Each of la maître perfumeur's fragrances is marked by a floral signature free of the pantomimes of nature one finds in modern perfumes that are designed to appeal to the many under the guise of the impeccable taste of the few. To smell them is to know her most intimate memories without the benefit of words. It is in this intuitive milieu that timelessness abides and it's as real to the technician as the logic of precision that guides his hands as he works. 

La maître perfumeur has her peccadillos, one of which is that she is occasionally discomforted by the use of mechanical automation that has become de rigueur at fragrance houses. When she looks at the glass-enclosed lab that contains the soulless compounding robot la maître perfumeur utters a soft curse under her breath. The curse reaches the technician's ears as he adds the final drops of jasmine absolute to a formula that won't need modification. He considers the word merde, which means "shit" in French, but it only fertilizes his efforts at the lab bench as he is working with an indolic jasmine.

Memory has yet to leave the flower picker, the lab technician, the distiller and the perfumer, but the day will arrive when time dissolves a few of their remembrances. Some will be spared significant loss of identity while others will have their essence extracted like a fine perfume absolute. The onset of memory's departure is unsettling and yet a shadow of its sunset is key to transforming the unstoppered bottle into a memory maker. One must be open to the "new" while forgetting preconceptions forecast by the experienced, the indifferent and the jaded. Detaching from likes, dislikes and odious comparisons paves the path of personal truth and it is to this experience that every unstoppered bottle is dedicated.

So the next time you encounter the unstoppered bottle, consider whether you will be the same person you were before you opened it, or if you will become a truer rendition of yourself in the hands of collective memory. 

The first graphic that accompanies this post is a composite of two works from Wellcome Images: The first is of an illustration of a white magnolia blossom (Magnolia altifima) and its seed pod which was photographed by Mark Catesby. The second is an image of a model eye made by W. and S. Jones in London (1840-1900). The editor made additional embellishments.

The second graphic is an illustration fro m Hieronymus Burnschwig's Liber de arte Distillandi de Compositis (Strassburg, 1512). It depicts distillation.

Other images created by Michelle Krell Kydd. 

La maître perfumeur means "master perfumer". 

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Bergamot and Chocolate: A Perfect Flavor Pairing (Brownie Recipe Included)

A person’s first taste of bergamot is typically experienced in a sip of Earl Grey tea. A refreshing and distinctive perfume greets the nose as steam rises from the cup. The tantalizing fruity floral aroma has the same affect on the senses as the invisible aromatic trail left behind by a beautiful perfume; it inspires the desire to encounter the source and merge with it. One sip and the scent is transformed into flavor on the taste buds as bergamot balances the astringent tannins in the tea leaves. Black tea and bergamot is a perfect flavor pairing, one that is easily understood by anyone who finds comfort in a warm drink.

Another flavor pairing that produces an equally sensual effect is that of bergamot and chocolate. Like its lemon, lime and orange cousins, bergamot marries well with chocolate and provides a complementary citrus contrast against chocolate's deep dark earthiness. Like all good flavor pairings, when bergamot is combined with chocolate none of the unique characteristics of the individual ingredients are lost. The edge between their differences blurs in harmonious transformation.

Bergamot has floral and citrus notes, both of which can be found in single origin chocolate. Spicy, nutty, winey and caramel-like aspects can make these delicate notes of bergamot harder to detect, but they are there. The contrasting notes have common ground in a specific medium. The trick is to find the space where they meet and consciously refrain from being distracted by the ambiguous fringes. This is difficult for many as ambiguity is irksome because it defies black and white distinctions. When it comes to ambiguity in flavors, notions of certainty disparate and give way to shades of gray that disrupt the senses. It is in this locus that new flavors are born.

Flavor pairing is an art and a science. Home cooks regularly build on flavor pairings that are particular to their culture (tomato and basil, garlic and ginger, shallots and tarragon, etcetera). Though it is true that one can taste harmony in an ordinary dish without donning a lab coat, innovative flavor pairings are evolving as a result of collaborations between chefs (artists) and flavorists (scientists).

Flavor pairing research has yielded an interesting though hotly contested result; when aromatic properties of ingredients are compared and analyzed for common molecules, chefs and flavorists are able to build bridges that result in flavor pairings between ingredients that appear to have nothing in common. "Whilst this [flavor pairing] is still just a theory it is a great tool for creativity," says Heston Blumenthal, chef at The Fat Duck.

Blue Cheese and chocolate. Bananas and parsley. Mango and pine. These are just a few of the flavor pairings that Heston Blumenthal has discovered and applied in his kitchen. His experiments involve cross-pollinating reference material from perfumery and gastronomy (this approach developed when Blumenthal consulted with scientist François Benzi of Firmenich). Blumenthal tests and applies innovative flavor pairings using Steffen Arctander’s Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin (known as the "perfumer's bible" in the industry) and Leffingwell’s flavor database. The approach is intelligent and intuitive.

Flavor extracts sold in supermarkets are the equivalent of food grade eau de colognes. This may sound odd but essential oils used in perfumery are the same ingredients used to make food grade extracts, with one caveat: essential oils used to create flavors are subject to stricter safety standards as end product is ingested. A growing trend in the use of food grade essential oils continues to influence chefs and mixologists (something White House pastry chef Bill Yosses and I evangelized at a flavor and fragrance event at the James Beard Foundation in May of 2006).

You don't have to be a professional chef to use food grade essential oils. With products like Aftelier's Chef's Essences home cooks can add unique flavor facets to their culinary creations. Glass Petal Smoke’s Bergamot Brownies utilize a bergamot and chocolate flavor pairing in a flourless pastry base that is gluten-free. The recipe is the result of a complete reworking of the Gluten-Free Goddess’ “Dark Chocolate Brownies”.*

Bergamot Brownies 
Recipe by Michelle Krell Kydd 
Serves 9-12 

·      5 ounces 72% dark chocolate (chips or broken up bar)
·      ½  cup Unsalted Butter
·      2 large organic eggs
·      1 cup Dark Muscovado Sugar
·      ½  cup almond meal
·      ¼ cup Brown Rice Flour
·      ¼ cup Flaxseed Meal
·      ½  teaspoon non-iodized sea salt
·      ¼  teaspoon baking soda
·      4 teaspoons Mexican Vanilla Extract
·      8-10 drops Aftelier's Bergamot Chef's Essence

·    Position rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease an 8x8-inch square baking pan with cooking oil spray and set aside.
·   Microwave butter in a glass bowl. Start with 20 seconds, adding 15 second increments until the butter is melted. The butter should be melted, not hot. Set aside.
·   Microwave chopped chocolate in a glass bowl. Start with 30 seconds, adding 10 second increments, stirring every time you add more time to the melting process. (Do not over melt as chocolate will crystallize and won’t be good for baking.) Using a dropper add essential oil of Bergamot to the melted chocolate and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
·   In another bowl, beat eggs by hand until combined. Add sugar and vanilla, making sure to smooth out any lumps. Fold the egg and sugar mixture into the chocolate and butter mixture. Blend until smooth and glossy.
·   In a separate bowl combine almond meal, rice flour, sea salt and baking soda. Mix together with a silicone spatula until well incorporated. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the chocolate mixture. Combine thoroughly.
·   Fill baking pan with brownie mixture, using a spatula to even out the batter. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Test for doneness by sticking a toothpick in the center of the pan; there should be no crumbs sticking to the toothpick. The brownies will be slightly moist. Do not overbake.
·   Allow pan to cool on a wire rack. Refrigerate the brownies until ready to serve. If you don’t plan on serving all of the brownies at once you can wrap individual pieces in foil and store them in an airtight bag in the freezer. Thaw or microwave to soften when the craving for a brownie strikes. 

*Flavor modifications include: use of chocolate at percentages higher than 70%, substitution of dark muscovado sugar in place of light brown sugar, use of butter in place of coconut oil (very important if you don't want coconut to be part of the flavor profile), substitution of brown rice flour in place of sorghum flour, the addition of flaxseed meal to improve texture, and use of Mexican vanilla in place of Madagascar vanilla for a creamy woody caramelized tone. Food grade essential oil of bergamot is utilized to complete flavor pairing synergies. 

Food grade essential oils are highly concentrated and should be dosed with a very light hand. A primer on baking with food grade essential oils can be found here.

LorAnn sells food grade essential oil of bergamot. Click here for more information.

Bergamot is a top note in perfumery which means it evaporates more quickly than middle and base notes. If a middle or base note was used in this recipe the amount of essential oil would be cut by at least 50% as middle and base notes evaporate more slowly and evoke stronger flavor effects. 

Blood orange, Ginger, Jasmine, Neroli, Rose, and Ylang Ylang would work nicely in the brownie recipe should you choose to experiment in a chocolate flavor pairing using food grade essential oils.

Glass Petal Smoke predicts that national brands like McCormick will produce gourmet flavor extracts inspired by materials used in fine fragrance. The materials will have acceptance in existing cultures and expose consumers to new flavor combinations that will balance the exotic and the familiar. Growth in local food movements across the U.S. will increase the chances of palatable flavor pairings rooted in authentic foodways (e.g. Midwest). 

Images by Michelle Krell Kydd are marked as such (all rights reserved). 

Image of flourless chocolate pastry is taken by Karen Neoh (some rights reserved).  

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Why Chanel No. 5 Smells Like Babies

The sway of flapper fringe that defined a generation of liberated women in the 1920's inspired the creation of Chanel No. 5. Nine decades later the world's best selling perfume now defines the smell of baby products. The Perfume Heretic, who is not a fan of Chanel No. 5 says, "A cheap knockoff of Chanel No. 5 is now the default scent of almost all baby shampoo."   

The Perfume Heretic is not alone in her opinion. A page on Facebook was dedicated to the fact that Chanel No. 5 Smells like baby wipes (it has since been removed). Conversations on fragrance boards across the web reflect similar observations with regard to baby products that smell like Chanel No. 5. Most opinions are fixed on the powdery notes in the perfume. Is this an example of the trickle down effect (when an expensive luxury product influences the introduction of cheaper versions to the market) or is there something happening on a cultural level that influences what appears to be an unlikely parallel? The answer is yesto both.

Aromatic ingredients provide a tangible foundation for understanding scent's ability to shape memory, especially when raw materials are identified alongside olfactory descriptors. The universal "manufactured smell of babies" is built on the aroma of perfumed talcum powder, which is applied to skin to absorb wetness and to deodorize. By itself, talcum powder smells neutral and somewhat clay-like. When consumers refer to the smell of powder they are usually referencing ionone molecules found in the root of the Florentine Iris (also known as orris root). Ionones possess a quality of tenacity that resembles the experience one has in the presence dusting powder after it's been applied (when you can see the powder in the air). Ionones derived from orris root smell cool, steely and violet-like.

Historically speaking, perfumes added to talcum powder vary based on function. Rose is commonly added to face powder and luxury dusting powders, adding an element of boudoir to associations with powder. Orange flower, lavender and orris root are ingredients associated with wig powder which was popular with men in the 18th century. When it comes to understanding the relationship humans have with "powder", in all its scented forms, one must examine powder's functional purpose and associated aesthetics. Perfumes added to baby products add a refreshing quality to the experience of diaper changing and bathing, something that makes the unpleasant smells encountered during these rituals tolerable. The smell of baby products are associated with cleanliness, innocence and new life, qualities which are reinforced each time pampering products are applied.

The aromatic palette of "baby powder smell" varies based on culture, climate and rituals associated with new life. For instance, the smell of rose and vanilla are favored in baby products sold in the United States, (rose being a Victorian influence that cast its spell in the New World). Babies in France and Spain are perfumed with products that include the scent of orange blossom, a flower that is common to both countries and part of each country's flavor and fragrance culture. Floralcy aside, powder notes in most baby product formulas are derived from ionones. In this respect the smell of powder is a bridge to "baby smell" cultures.

In an article titled "Ah, There's Nothing Like New Baby Smell" New York Times science reporter Douglas Quenqua asked me to describe the smell of baby products. I offered the following olfactory descriptors; powdery (dry, chalk-like, violet), aldehydic (soapy, fresh, citrus), lactonic (milk-like, creamy), fruity (apple), floral (rose, violet, orange blossom), vanillic (woody, balsamic, sweet), and musky (clean, fresh and sweet). Two types of musk commonly used in baby products are galaxolide and ethylene brassylate. Both musks, with their superhero-like names, support the structure of a fragrance formula and are the last notes to evaporate on skin. They are also featured in most luxury perfume formulas which make them familiar strangers when they migrate from fine fragrance to functional fragrance.

The skin of a baby that has been dusted with powder and massaged with lotion possesses its own scent, which is veiled by the cultural interpretation of "baby smell" in pampering rituals. Delicate bottoms are powdered for comfort. Protective unguents are used to keep baby's skin free from irritation, most notably barrier creams which have the tenacity of Vernix caseosa, the wax-like, milky "human cold cream" which protects the fetus in utero and has a fatted lactonic aroma. New life has an inherent quality of freshness which is why some baby care products have a crisp apple note in the fragrance formula, (double symbolism here as a baby is the fruit of the womb and the apple is the fruit of temptation which led to the existence of the baby in the first place).

If aromatic plants smell extraordinary at first bloom why should human children be any different? Humans and plants are part of the same ecosystem. Can you imagine a baby born without a natural aroma? Author Patrick Süskind did when he created Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the protagonist in  "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer. As a foundling, this bastard child of an infanticidal mother possessed a peculiar characteristic that unhinged his caretakers; he lacked a natural aroma. As an adult, Grenouille combined his hyperosmic sense of smell and skill as a perfumer with an inherited proclivity towards murder. He procured the essence of virgins via enfleurage to forge his own identity via perfume. Grenouille was the ultimate narcissist, extracting the essence of others to obtain power and a sense of self. The charade proved destructive.

There is a parallel between the innocence with which one comes into the world and the innocence lost to the pleasure and power of sex. Both mark the start of a new beginning. Nothing traverses these two seemingly contradictory worlds better than perfume. A perfect example is the similarity between Chanel No. 5 and the scent of Johnson and Johnson Baby Shampoo (original formula). Perfumer Yann Vasnier of Givaudan confirms the similarity: "Baby products have used popular fragrances as inspiration and Chanel No. 5 is probably the clearest example. The parts used in Chanel No. 5 that have influenced baby products are: the aldehyde accord, rosy notes, jasmine notes, ionones and methyl ionones (from orris root), balsams, coumarin, vanilla and musks (especially nitro musks* which are commonly used in baby products). The addition of orange flower and salicylates are also used as these shape a softer and cleaner rendition in a baby product formula." *Nitro musks are no longer used in fine fragrance in Europe and have been replaced by polycyclic musks. They are also less commonly used in the United States.

The formula for Chanel No. 5, created by perfumer Ernest Beaux, steered clear of floral bouquets and worshipful soliflore compositions (perfumes inspired by single floral essences) that were typical of perfumery in the first half of the 20th century. This was achieved by several natural and synthetic ingredients in Chanel No. 5's formula, the most well known being an aldehyde accord that included 12-carbon aldehyde 2-methylundecanal (a molecule which appears in the skin of kumquats). Other raw materials in the formula worked in combination to gently sublimate the immediate floralcy of rose and jasmine, including ylang-ylang, a tropical smelling flower that is at once woody, balsamic and creamy. Aldehydes produced the effect that answered Coco Chanel's desire for a fragrance that smelled like freshly scrubbed skin. The feeling of "powder" in this fragrance comes from a touch of ionones. Knowing the olfactory qualities of the aroma chemistry in Chanel No. 5 makes it easy to understand why aspects of the perfume would be co-opted in baby products; baby products are about cleanliness and freshness.

Dressing the skin in a perfume that is reminiscent of the smell of babies allows the wearer to indulge in the ultimate of beginnings; that of new life. When looked at through an archetypal lens what appears to be fetishist on the surface is transformed into something that makes perfect sense. An infant is innocent, fresh and filled with potential. These qualities can be resurrected throughout the life cycle as there are degrees of innocence in life that have nothing to do with sex, (something the fragrance industry should take advantage of).

Newness offers opportunities of discovery that lead to transformation. When desire is stripped from these encounters authenticity is magnified and one arrives at pure human essence, (something Süskind's Grenouille attempted to replicate using all the wrong tools and intentions). Exponential newness is the ultimate aphrodisiac. In this respect the fact that Chanel No. 5 smells like babies makes perfect sense; it's a tangible example of purposeful ambiguity in an abstract bouquet that remains timeless. Perhaps it's why Chanel No. 5 remains the best selling woman's perfume in the world.

Those that find aldehydic perfumes bitter and overbearing should steer clear of the Eau de Toilette version of Chanel No. 5 and try the Eau de Parfum and Parfum versions. Chanel No. 5 Eau Premiere is completely devoid of the cold aldehydic slap that offends some noses. The formulaic tinkering by former house perfumer Jacques Polge would probably infuriate Ernest Beaux if he were alive today as Beaux's love of aldehydes comes from personal memories of Russian winters.

The Eau de Parfum version of Chanel No. 5 is a knockout. The base, middle and dry down phases are distinct, and the shift from clean to complex is downright sexy (it takes 8 hours for the full effect at the EDP concentration so the aromatic shifts are like little presents that unwrap themselves on your skin). Ernest Beaux's memories of icy Russian winters are transformed to a tropical paradise in the drydown which smolders of tonka bean, jasmine and ylang ylang. Wear Chanel No. 5 EDP when it's snowing and start your day in the story of the scent. Let serendipity determine where it takes you. You might experience what Liesl Loves Pretty Things did; an olfactory revelation that transcends associations with baby powder.

Powder notes aren't the only aromas that ring the "baby smell" bell in the olfactory minds of perfumistas and consumers; polycyclic musk notes that have replaced nitromusks are ubiquitous. Take a trip to Whole Foods and smell Oriental Musk by Kuumba Made and you'll find it hard not to nose trip on baby memories.

Glass Petal Smoke recommends reading "From Rallet No. 1 to Chanel No. 5". The article appeared in the October 2007 edition of Perfumer and Flavorist and offers interesting insights with regard to the use of aldehydes in perfumery and the work of perfumer Ernest Beau.

Jean-Louis Froment curated "No. 5 Culture Chanel" at Palais de Tokyo in 2013. The exhibition is now online and a "must see" for fans of Chanel No. 5.

Perfumers Françoise Caron and Pierre Bourdon used functional product association to advantage when they re-purposed an aroma used to scent vintage face powder in the formulation of Jean Charles Brosseau's Ombre Rose (L'Original). Consumers instantly recognized something familiar and nostalgic in the powder notes and continue to be drawn to its powdery feminine bouquet. The fragrance, which is quite beautiful, can be found in drugstores and online.

The layered graphic at the start of this post is built around a Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle. It has a hidden image; my goddaughter Francesca. Her head is in the blue portion by the bottle and you can see her eye to the left of the cap, her body is behind the bottle. This is a purposeful design as the "smell of babies" doesn't dominate Chanel No. 5; it's one of countless olfactory aspects.

Woman Blowing Powder off Powder Puff by Gjon Mili. Rights revert back to the artist.

Graphic of Grenouille from Perfume: The Story of a Murderer illustrated by dodochiyu. Rights revert back to the artist.

"L'Oiseau volage" by artist Georges Barbier is from the book The Romance of Perfume by Richard La Gallienne.

Photograph of Chanel: Livre d'Artistes, a by Irma Boom, from the No. 5 Culture Chanel exhibit. The book utilizes embossing instead of ink and is available for purchase online. It is a limited edition.

The layered graphic at the end of this post is built around a Chanel No. 5 perfume bottle and a beautiful image of Gabrielle Chanel from the No. 5 Culture Chanel exhibit. What you don't see is who she's looking at; Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovitch. It appeared in section of the Chanel website under the title "A Love Story". The photographer is anonymous. The picture was taken in 1921.