Sunday, October 25, 2015

Norell: The First American Designer Perfume

On Wednesday, October 28th “Norell: The First American Designer Perfume” will be presented as part of the Smell and Tell series hosted by the Ann Arbor District Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Some of you may know who Norman Norell was (today happens to be the anniversary of the fashion designer’s death) and how Norell’s designs continue to influence fashion. What isn’t typically elaborated in the accounting of Norell’s legacy is his entrepreneurial spirit, which serves as inspiration to anyone who has ever dreamed big and never quit.

Norell perfume and Norell New York perfume will be smelled at next week’s Smell and Tell, along with key ingredients and classic green floral fragrances that shaped their creation. A sense of reverence and inspiration are inevitable when learning about this entrepreneurial designer as who Norell was in life and fashion will never be repeated again. 

There is no biography, autobiography, or film about Norman Norell's life that can be told in his voice as the designer was a private person after hours. As a result, this Smell and Tell required vigorous academic inquiry. Research about Norell for this event was conducted at the University of Michigan Library and the Kellen Design Archives online. The inclusion of scent at this Smell and Tell lecture will allow participants to arrive at a more meaningful understanding of Norell’s life and legacy through their senses.

I have had the good fortune of receiving an anonymous donation from someone in the Ann Arbor education community that allowed me to purchase vintage fragrances created by Josephine Catapano that will be experienced at next week's Norell Smell and Tell. International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) has supplied raw materials used in Norell New York for olfactory demonstration. Karyn Khoury, Senior Vice President, Corporate Fragrance Development at The Estée Lauder Companies provided a bottle of Aliage (a Galbanum-inspired fragrance exemplar which illustrates how this ingredient, which is present in both Norell perfume formulas, can be applied to timeless classic effect). Lastly, Parlux Fragrances Limited is providing samples of Norell New York so there is much to be grateful for as the support will enrich the learning experience for all.

A reader of Glass Petal Smoke who is also a Smell and Tell fan once asked me how I get ideas for the Smell and Tell series of lectures. Some of the concepts are developed over time based on academic inquiry and presentations I've given at the University of Michigan (where I work). Other ideas come directly from attendees (the Serge Lutens Smell and Tell idea came from Vanessa Sly Thoburn, a talented pastry chef and mother of two, who is currently experimenting with some beautiful salves made with natural essential oils and absolutes). I would be remiss to exclude the element of serendipity. This summer I found a vintage bottle of Norell perfume at a local Salvation Army in Ann Arbor, Michigan when I wasn't even looking for it, which begs the question: did I find the bottle of Norell or did Norell find me?

Thank you, Norman Norell. For everything... 

Image of Norman Norell is an Associated Press photo circa 1948. Rights revert to back to the Associated Press. This image is used for educational purposes only.

Michael Edwards, creator of the Fragrance Wheel, describes the green family of fragrances thusly: "Green fragrances capture the sharp scent of fresh-cut grass and violet leaves. Despite the outdoors imagery, the impact of the classic resinous Galbanum accord is so potent that many green fragrances have a formal rather than sporty personality. In recent years, a palette of softer, lighter green notes has given this fragrance family a fresh appeal."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Creative Process of Firmenich Perfumer Nathalie Lorson

The particulars related to creative process in perfumery continue to infuse media produced by flavor and fragrance houses. These vignettes are purposefully choreographed to instill a sense of authenticity in the viewer, and respect for the art of perfumery. An edgy Gallic soulfulness infuses Firmenich's video portrait of perfumer Nathalie Lorson. The video was posted on Vimeo last week* and appears to be the first of future video portraits from the private Swiss firm.

The story begins with Lorson lighting a strip of Papier de Armenie. A thoughtful monologue ensues:

Everything is rounded, gentle. Everything is done with delicacy. There's no vulgarity–ever. Because it must be things I like, all things considered, whatever the brand you are working for, you put something of yourself into it. 

When I have an idea, I don't let it go. I work, work, work until I succeed. I never give up. My inspiration comes from life, traveling, a color, a shape, a's all linked. I do the job of someone searching for gold nuggets, a gold digger! I think I'm...persistent, passionate, but on the other hand I can be quite tough. I can be very harsh. 

It's not easy for me to place my trust in someone, but when I do, I'm very loyal. In fact, I'm not hard. I'm actually quite sensitive, but I don't show it necessarily. It's a form of protection...a shell. It's so reductive to call someone a "nose." I'm not a "nose," I'm a brain. 

It's hard not to be struck by Lorson's displeasure at being called "a nose." A perfumer's creation speaks to the sense of smell, but the perfumer integrates several sensory modalities to actualize their creation. (This type of sensory interplay is well articulated by sommelier Jaime Smith who happens to be a synesthete.)

Would one call a visual expert "an eye?" Too Cyclopean. It's a matter of language and "a nose", even when referred to as le nez in French, doesn't do a good job of defining what it means to be a perfumer. Such are the limits of language and culture. Good thing there's video...

Brands were getting comfortable with the idea of sharing the spotlight with fragrance creators when "Exposing the Perfumer" was published (Perfumer and Flavorist, May 2007). This has allowed flavor and fragrance companies, who formulate perfumes for international brands, the opportunity to highlight the métier of perfumers. It will be interesting to see how this evolves in the coming years.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Smell and Tell Lectures: Three Years and Counting

The history of "Smell and Tell" presentations in Ann Arbor, Michigan began on June 6, 2012. Three years and 27 presentations later, the unique multisensory lectures continue to delight and intrigue a wide audience. From elementary school children at 826Michigan, to students at The University of Michigan, and patrons of the Ann Arbor District Library, the demand for Smell and Tell lectures continues to grow.

Evangelizing the perfume arts with an art-science twist has led to an interesting side effect; a sense of community through the sense of smell. The experience of attending a Smell and Tell is not only educational; it is profoundly self-authenticating. Smell is memory's sense and memory is identity, so there's no getting around connecting with others in the same room when a Smell and Tell takes place.

Seeing someone who is shy open up like a flower when they smell a raw material or perfume is powerful. Everyone deserves to be respected, understood and listened to which isn't easy in our hurry-hurry world. Smell and Tell supports this as it creates a safe, non-judgmental space that is conducive to learning. This is key to positive outcomes in an educational setting that is multisensory by design. It's also what motivates me to take Smell and Tell to higher ground at The University of Michigan and beyond.

Comparing complementary and contrasting responses to aroma materials weaves a rich tapestry of conversation and affirms a sense of community. Smell Mapping, a technique I developed from my perfumery training at Givaudan and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), teaches Smell and Tell attendees how to get comfortable with evaluating scents versus judging them based on likes and dislikes. They learn how to do this by immersing themselves in the science of olfaction and the art of perfumery.

Another benefit of Smell and Tell is that it teaches attendees how to develop an olfactory lexicon; something that is painfully lacking in ocularcentric culture. Learning how to describe what can be sensed, but not seen supports communication skills, some of which are compromised because of reliance on digital devices. When you can't see something and have to describe the invisible, you need to get comfortable with the absence of visual proof. Turning inward isn't comfortable for some, but we do this every time we think silently to ourselves. The more you exercise the sense of smell the better you get at decoding the invisible. It's a superpower. All you have to do is follow your nose.

This is an extraordinarily powerful exercise in a culture attached to binaries. Sometimes an object isn't black, white or grey; it simply is. Smell and Tell is about cultivating presence and objectivity so you can decode the invisible and engage curiosity. When curiosity is allowed to thrive it can be harnessed to solve problems and innovate. This benefit of Smell and Tell catches on quickly in academia as it bridges art and science while fueling communication skills that support creative confidence and interdisciplinarity.

This week marks the debut of Glass Petal Smoke's YouTube channel. Programming from a Smell and Tell at the Ann Arbor District Library is now live. "Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science Behind a Timeless Perfume" was produced by the Ann Arbor District Library and can be shared via a Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0 International License. The video has been edited to fit a specific time frame so the smelling of Spanish Leather (created by perfumer Christophe Laudamiel for the lecture), Aldehyde C11, Dihydromyrcenol, Cashmeran, Aldehyde C10, Grasse Jasmine and Rose de Mai has been omitted. These materials were attached to specific contexts that are best suited to a live lecture.

If you want to experience the real thing you can attend the next Smell and Tell at the Ann Arbor District Library in August (date and topic to be announced shortly). Keep an eye on the right hand page of Glass Petal Smoke for information on future Smell and Tell programming. If you have any questions you can direct them to glasspetalsmoke [at] gmail dot com.

Smell and Tell Lectures Given Between June 2012 and June 2015

“Exotic Woods and Ethereal Exudates in Perfumery.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, May 20, 2015.

“Serge Lutens: Collaboration in Luxury Fragrance Design.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, April 8, 2015.

“Secrets from a Trained Nose.” TEDxUofM at the Power Center for the Performing Arts, March 20, 2015.

“The Scent of Disappearing Trees.” The North Campus Sustainability Hour at The University of Michigan, February 25, 2015.

“Smell: The Ultimate Provocateur.” University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Course: “A Dialogue of the Senses,” February 18, 2015.

“Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science Behind a Timeless Perfume.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, February 10, 2015.

“The Aromatic Allure of Patchouli.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, December 3, 2014.

“Olfaction and the Art of Perfumery.” University of Michigan Biology and Arts Course: “Mandorla of Life Sciences and the Arts,” October 10, 2014.

“Chanel No. 5: The Art and Science Behind a Timeless Perfume.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, August 27, 2014.

“Smell and Tell: Follow Your Nose.” The MSTEM Academy, Center for Engineering Diversity and Outreach, University of Michigan, July 29, 2014.

“Cooking with Flavor.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 11, 2014.

“Smell and Tell: Lavender.” Relax and Rejuvenate event at The University of Michigan College of Engineering, May 20, 2014.

“Smell: The Ultimate Provocateur.” University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Course: “A Dialogue of the Senses,” February 25, 2014.

“Baking with Flavor.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, February 19, 2014.

“Reconstructing Meaning in the Face of Loss.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, November 10, 2013.

“The Aroma of Terroir.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, September 18, 2013.

“Stories of Anosmia.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 8, 2013.

“Eau Whisky: The Essence of Peat and Perfume.” Nerd Nite, Ann Arbor, April 17, 2013.

“Aroma Spies.” Smell and Tell Workshop Series at 826 Michigan, March 7, 2013.

“Smell and Tell: Vanilla.” Autism Play Connection at the Ann Arbor District Library, February 17, 2013.

“Smell: The Ultimate Provocateur.” University of Michigan Interdisciplinary Course: “A Dialogue of the Senses,” February 25, 2013.

“The Alchemy of Scent.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, January 12, 2013.

“Sacred Scents.” University of Michigan Art Course: “Rethinking the Power of Art,” November 14, 2012.

“Sacred Scents and Aphrodisiacs.” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, October 30, 2012.

“Flavorology: A Bubblegum Smell and Tell.” Smell and Tell Workshop Series at 826 Michigan October 17, 2012

“Using Your Sense of Smell for Creative Inspiration” Smell and Tell Lecture Series at the Ann Arbor District Library, June 13, 2012.

“Smell and Tell: An Olfactory Writing Class.” Smell and Tell Workshop Series at 826 Michigan, June 6, 2012.

A special thanks goes out to AADL librarian Erin Helmrich who didn't wrinkle her nose when I first proposed the Smell and Tell series in the winter of 2012; even after she smelled an indolic jasmine that smelled more like a horse stable than a bouquet of flowers.

Another thank you goes out to Glass Petal Smoke fans. Your enthusiasm, tweets and emails continue to inspire me.

The Glass Petal Smoke YouTube channel is not taking comments at this time, but you can reach me on Twitter if you'd like to connect on social media.

Images included in this post are: Fumée d’Ambre Gris by John Singer Sargent, a portrait of Mumtaz Mahal, and a photo of two Canadian women sporting accoutrement designed to protect their noses from the perils of snow circa 1939. 

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Secrets from a Trained Nose at TEDxUofM

It's been over three years since I began calling Ann Arbor, Michigan home, and over two year since I took a job as a communications specialist at The University of Michigan. I've been an evangelist for the art-science connection in perfumery since I arrived, so you can imagine how excited I was when I received an email requesting that I give a TEDxUofM talk related to the sense of smell.

TEDxUofM is run by students at The University of Michigan and is supported by faculty and staff who believe that great ideas are worth spreading. Everything you'll see and hear in "Secrets from a Trained Nose" is true. What's even more amazing is what happened four days after an audience of 1300 experienced "Secrets from a Trained Nose" at The Power Center for the Performing Arts. Two congenital anosmics were interviewed in The Michigan Daily. Those of you who are familiar with the articles I've written about anosmia know that a person is more likely to encounter someone who has lost their sense of smell versus someone who was born without a sense of smell.

I continue to get feedback and email regarding "Secrets from a Trained Nose," which took place on March 20, 2015. I look forward to receiving news on the call to action at the end of the talk. The creation of a functional and affordable smoke, carbon monoxide, natural gas detector will help those with and without a sense of smell. I hope the solution will coincide with greater anosmia awareness, as well as the addition of "anosmia" to spellcheck because being nose blind stinks.


TEDxUofM Salon Organizers, April 2015 

Thanks go out to all of The University of Michigan students who organized TEDxUofM in 2015. Special thanks go out to Adam Levine, who sent the email asking if I would give a TEDxUofM talk; you were a terrific and insightful speaker coach. (Adam Levine is not "the Adam Levine," but he's a rock star in his own right who happens to be on the far left in this photo.)

Anosmia Hope offers more information on smell loss and is part of The Monell Chemical Senses Center website  The number of people with anosmia is likely greater than 6.3 million, but more research is needed to arrive at a true number as anosmics don't always self report and doctors don't always recognize smell loss.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Lessons from a New York Moment in Ann Arbor


I had a New York moment in Ann Arbor, Michigan. It's been over three years since I arrived from New York. Developers have cannibalized half the places I miss in the city, but home is home and certain things make you miss it like hell even if the places you knew don't exist anymore. New Yorkers can't help themselves. What's trapped inside our heads from childhood defines our whole life; forever

A New York moment, now? It took me a year to realize that all of the things I thought I couldn't find anywhere else in the country were here; food, friends, quirky creatives, local coffee roasters, community, people who are driven by "why?" instead of "so what?"  So what took so long? 

Lesson One: My problem was that I thought New York City was the center of the universe. It isn't. Especially now.

The possibility of a New York moment in Ann Arbor existed the day I arrived. There are a lot of ex-New Yorkers in Ann Arbor. Some up and left because they were bored. Others had kids and thought New York City was 'no place to raise a family'. Some folks went to The University of Michigan and felt the same urge Diaspora Jews had for "the return". Baby boomers who experienced one too many trips through the revolving door marked "failing economy" got tired of the unrelenting vertigo and took off to explore entrepreneurial terrain. 

Ann Arbor has grit that's driven by synaptic impulses (it's home to The University of Michigan) and it's cheaper to live here than it is in New York. There's no shortage of great restaurants either, though you'll have to go to Ypsilanti if you want really good Chinese food. As far as supermarkets go Kroger is a food mecca and if you're in luck, the first cashier you meet will know more about science fiction than the entire cast of The Big Bang Theory (in my case a cashier recognized that "the Krell" were an advanced race from outer space in the movie Forbidden Planet and was happy to tell me so when he saw the spelling of my middle name). Buh-bye New York. I'll visit often, but when I do please know I'm not staying for good. People in Ann Arbor are characters and as the only "trained nose" in Ann Arbor, so am I.

Lesson Two: Wishing for a New York moment is equivalent to spell casting; one wish and the moment will immediately find you. 

My New York moment in Ann Arbor (or A2 as the locals call it) happened when the unstoppable troika of food, love, and loss followed me into the jam section at Babo: a Market by Sava. Babo is a gourmet food store in Ann Arbor that feels like a less neurotic Dean and DeLuca and is marked by authentic conviviality that is particular to the Midwest.

I dropped by the market on a grey winter day in February and was on a marmalade mission. Babo stocks Medlar marmalade from Spain that's impossible to find if you live stateside. Juergen Ausborn introduced me to this unusual fruit via a jammy confection sold at a Pierre Marcolini chocolate shop he managed in New York City. (The chocolatier is based in Brussels and is no longer operating in New York; the line was dropped a year after Ausborn drowned while snorkeling in Bermuda).

Pierre Marcolini offered some of the most exotic and delightful chocolates I'd ever eaten. The store was around the corner from The Clarins Fragrance Group where I worked as a marketing consultant so it was easy to give into temptation at least twice a week. The chocolatier was known for masterfully applying floral flavors in some of his chocolates. What he did with violet and tonka bean was beatific. 

I walked up to the cash register at Babo's coffee counter with flavor remembrances in tow when suddenly my eyes were drawn to colorful and oversized rainbow bars (aka seven-layer Neapolitan bars). They were childhood magnified. The decades peeled back as I looked at them; I was standing at the cookie counter at Weber's bakery in the Bronx hoping one of neatly arranged rainbow bars in the glass cookie case would find its way into my mouth. If an accompanying parent didn't buy the rainbow bars I'd deploy "cookie face" which was a glassy-eyed combination of wonder and sadness. Cookie face worked wonders on the meanest lady in a hairnet. I never left the Weber's without a few free treats. This amused my father. My mother, on the other hand, found it reprehensible even though I'd always share.

Lesson Three: When you think you've found New York you have really found yourself; no matter where you are.

All of the cookies that Babo makes are showcased inside glass domed cake stands. The presentation is so beautiful that even an oat bar looks like a deliberate work of art. The colorful macarons are a visual respite from what can be seen at the opposite side of the counter by the window; dull snow covered sidewalks, salt parched asphalt roads, and a gray sky that lasts into forever. The cashier tells me that the macrons are delicious, but very delicate. "Once in a while I get to eat one that breaks," she says with a reserved smile. I tell her how excited I am to have finally found medlar jam and she encourages me to speak with one of the store's owners. "His name is Kris and he loves to talk about food," she says. 

The woman at the counter was right about Kris. He and I had an animated conversation about food. Kris and his sister Sava own Babo, Sava's Restaurant, and Aventura in Ann Arbor. The food business is family business and each of their enterprises is well run and beloved. There was something familiar about Lelcaj's elocution and it turned out that he and his family once lived in the Mosholu section the Bronx. My family moved to nearby Pelham Parkway after spending 20 years in the Fordham section of the Bronx. We reminisced about the neighborhood bakeries we knew, trips to Arthur Avenue, and agreed that the Bronx was and still is a very special place, which is largely due to its diverse immigrant population. 

"Whenever I visit it doesn't matter whose house I'm in. When my head hits the pillow and I hear the overhead trains I know I'm home," says Lelcaj. I began to recall an experience I had when I visited my sister in Forest Hills last year. I was instantly comforted by the sound of overhead trains on the first night I went to sleep after flying in from Detroit. Forest Hills resembles a larger version of Pelham Parkway so it's easy to feel the comfort and nostalgia of being home in Queens. I hadn't recalled this memory until Kris shared his story.

Lesson Four: If you talk about food it can bring back the dead.
                            "Our family has always been in the food business," Lelcaj says. "The store is named after my father, Mark. He was with us when we got started, but died of pancreatic cancer in 2011 before it was finished." 

I thought about my own father who died of pancreatic cancer in 2009. I told Kris I was sorry about his dad and we shared stories about our fathers' experiences before and after cancer. Kris tells me that Babo is an endearing Albanian term that loosely translates to "father". "It's funny," he says. "People who never knew my father say his name all the time. I like that. It's like he's always here." Kris's voice is mixed with humor and low-key irony.



The conversation shifts to neighborhood bakeries including trips to Arthur Avenue. Kris informs me that Babo's offsite baking facility smells like heaven on earth when the all of the ovens are running at once. I imagine the smell of the Stella D'oro cookie factory from my childhood, and the perfume of vanilla, anise, cinnamon, and lemon that made my sister and I roll down the car window so we could get as much of that sweetness into our lungs as was humanly possible (we'd practically hyperventilate). These experiences led to the permanent appearance of Stella D'oro Breakfast Treats on the shelf next to the cereal in our kitchen pantry. The "S"-shaped treats were a food group in our household and each of us was known to enjoy them with a little bit of grape jelly. 

Lesson Five: New York has a cookie that really isn't really a cookie, and a really good one doesn't exist in Ann Arbor...yet.

The texture of Stella D'oro Breakfast Treats is slightly crumbly and reminds me of a New York cookie from my childhood that is really a large handheld cake masquerading as a cookie. Black and white cookies are frosted with equal halves of vanilla and chocolate icing. Memories of eating them inspire an insatiable craving so I ask Kris if he remembers them and he does. The staff at the take-a-number bakeries of our childhood would hand tie boxes of these cake-like cookies and hand them off like presents. Black and White cookies had a tendency to disappear. 

There aren't any cake boxes or spools of striped bakery twine at Babo, but the gourmet food shop is rife with imagination and possibility. I ask Kris if he thinks Babo could make black and white cookies. He thinks about it and smiles. We exchange business cards and I make my way towards the door with four jars of medlar jam in hand. The temperature outside is bitter cold, but it doesn't bother me. Kris had a gleam in his eyes. I saw a black and white cookie in their light...

For a great description of the Stella D'oro aromascape read Ian Frazier's article "Out of the Bronx: Private Equity and the Cookie Factory," in the February 6, 2012 edition of The New Yorker

For the record, the producer of The Big Bang Theory is Mark Cendrowski; a graduate of The University of Michigan. Word, nerd...

Kate Krader, chef and writer for Food and Wine, insisted on visiting one of the local Pelham Parkway bakeries in my neighborhood when we were just out of college. Her quest? The perfect black and white cookie. She returned to Greenwich Village with a bag of them.

I've been working for two arts organizations at The University of Michigan since February 2013. Each organization promotes interdisciplinarity that is inclusive of the arts. The Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru) is a national organization. ArtsEngine is a local one. Both are housed on North Campus at The University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.