Monday, April 18, 2016

A Message from Michelle Krell Kydd: Editor of Glass Petal Smoke

I was inspired to launch Glass Petal Smoke in 2007 after receiving training and education in perfumery at Givaudan and the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT).  I'd been working as a marketing and communications consultant in the fragrance industry and fell in love with the art+science connection in perfumery. The world of scent, with its strong connection to memory and emotion, opened my eyes to a world of possibilities beyond sight.

Most of what I learned about the perfume arts was derived from the vantage point of an insider positioned in a highly secretive industry. Access serves as a starting point when one is intensely driven by curiosity. Where one arrives depends on how deeply one wants to explore the terrain, which itself depends upon the willingness to ask questions. The more I learned about aromatic materials and the people who shaped them as perfumes and flavors, the more questions I had.

I taught myself how to read science papers and developed a passion for inquiry. With this came a strong desire to share what I learned. Blogging has allowed me to do this, but getting out in the world and teaching others how to describe smells using the method I was taught in perfumery school has allowed me to transform knowledge into multisensory experiences. This is what Smell and Tell lectures are all about.

Describing a smell requires that you decode the invisible. What I find most striking about this process is how it brings people together by generating respect and understanding in the face of different points of view. A side effect of olfactory training in perfumery is that it is powerfully self-authenticating. Because perception is filtered through autobiographical memory, differences of opinion are not about right or wrong; they are about experience and one's personal story. This allows diverse observations regarding what something smells like to be contained in the same space; just like complementary and contrasting ingredients used in combination to create a perfume or a delicious dish.

Education is just as important to me now as it was nine years ago, if not more so. The sense of smell is least explored in classroom settings and this has always puzzled me in spite of everything I've experienced as a public speaker who creates multisensory experiences for the purpose of exploring the sense of smell and building community. Education as we know it simply doesn't offer enough opportunities to learn in non-judgmental settings. Students are educated to make the grade, which is rooted in whether or not they have assimilated material to the point of being right or wrong. This kills curiosity. 

The need for inclusion of olfaction as a legitimate sensory modality in K-12 and higher education is both a scientific and cultural imperative. I've worked to affect this at Smell and Tell lectures; at the University of Michigan; at TEDxUofM, and by creating the #AromaBox, an analog scent device that can be used in classroom settings and beyond. I believe that what I've learned via The Jean Carles Method of olfactory training, as well as conversations with scientists and perfumers, inspires curiosity of the highest order and is worthy of inquiry at all levels.

Without curiosity we cannot cultivate the kind of creativity that leads to understanding and problem solving. At best we engage with trends, entrepreneurial jingoism and what others decide is important to us as a culture. Remove curiosity and our internal compass falls into a heap of shards. Who we are and who we are meant to be suffers dearly because we not only lose direction; we lose time. Being human is inclusive of integrated sensory experiences and if we are going to develop technology that incorporates sensors, especially those that address assistive and safety needs, we must get better at including all of the senses; hearing, sight, touch, taste and smell.

To stay curious we need to pay attention. Digital life can remove us from face-to-face interaction with others outside of routines like shopping, commuting and work. It also removes us from nature as we more commonly inhabit indoor and mental spaces daily. This was recently illustrated in "That Strange Country Smell," an article that appeared in the New York Times' Metropolitan Diary on March 26, 2016, and was inspired by a four-year-old child who was offended by the smell of cut grass. Materials in perfumery are a gift from nature whose design lives in all of us at a cellular level. Nature feeds us, clothes us and provides us with shelter. We need to know her. Intimately.

This is not to say that we are in dire straights because connecting with nature is a choice. We know who we are and who we are becoming through our memories, dreams and reflections. Smell is memory's sense and memory is identity. In a world fraught with misunderstanding and clashes of culture we need to connect with others who may or may not be like us. Nothing does this better than interacting with the sense of smell, and the intersection of smell plus taste, which is flavor. We need to face each other, break bread with each other, and delight in the garden that is life as we share stories of our common humanity.

Think of this when you indulge in Ma'amoul Tea Cake and the accompanying stories that inspired last week’s nine-year anniversary post. The recipe was enkindled by everything you've read thus far and its spirit will ignite future stories on Glass Petal Smoke.

P.S. If you live in or near Ann Arbor I encourage you to get inside your olfactory mind at a Smell and Tell event. These talks take place at the Ann Arbor District Library in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor. I created the Smell and Tell series in 2012 and demand for programming continues to grow.

Research is catching up with the sense of smell and its importance in the human organism. The driving force in all of this is the rise of incurable neurodegenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's and Dementia, which dissolve patients' memories (smell loss is the first symptom). More research is being conducted on the absence of smell at birth (congenital anosmia) and future findings will allow researchers to dig more deeply into the genetics of olfaction so they can solve problems beyond anosmia. In addition, olfaction is not limited to the human nose; it takes place on a cellular level in other parts of the body that are dependent on chemical communication.

Better ways of managing neurodegenerative brain disease will arrive in the coming years, benefiting everyone on the planet. It's an exciting time to get to know your sense of smell, and what it means in your life and the lives of those you love. Glass Petal Smoke  looks forward to serving curious minds and serendipitous guests so each of you may discover that getting in touch with the sense of smell is the best way to discover who you really are.