Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Snork Maiden and Ombre Rose Perfume

There's a wonderful passage in Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson that illustrates how descriptions of smells can draw us inside our imagination. This is interesting when one considers that much of what's been written about the transporting power of scent is related to the context of our own memories. 

Let's drop the Proustian madeleine for a moment. What happens when we smell something and forget ourselves? Wonderful things. Magical things. Things we don't want to admit to ourselves or show the world because we are too embarrassed to dream in front of others. Want to know more? Just ask Snork Maiden. 

The following passage is from the fourth chapter of Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. It's about an adventure that Snork Maiden has when she sets foot on a floating theater with an adventurous family of gentle creatures called the Moomins: 
She went instead a bit further along the passage, sniffing the air. She had noticed an enticing and very interesting scent, a scent of face powder. The small round spot from her flashlight wandered along the walls and finally caught the magic word "Costumes" on a door. "Dresses" whispered the Snork Maiden to herself. "Frocks!" She turned the door handle and stepped in.  
"Oh how wonderful," she panted. "Oh how beautiful."  
Robes, dresses, frocks. They hung in endless rows, in hundreds, one beside the other all around the room—gleaming brocade, fluffy clouds of tulle and swansdown, flowery silk, night-black velvet with glittering spangles, everywhere like small, many colored blinker beacons. 
The Snork Maiden drew closer, overwhelmed. She fingered the dresses. She seized an armful of them and pressed them to her nose, to her heart. The frocks rustled and swished, they smelled of dust and old perfume, they buried her in rich softness. Suddenly the Snork Maiden released them all and stood on her head for a few minutes.  
"To calm myself," she whispered. I'll have to calm down a bit or else I'll burst with happiness. There's too many of them...
What would the world be like if we responded to beauty by standing on our head rather than seizing what beckoned us? It would be a very different world indeed. If we stood on our head and felt everything that Snork Maiden did what would that moment smell like? The moment would be redolent of Ombre Rose L'Original (1981) by Jean Charles Brousseau. 

Ombre Rose has an interesting history. Perfumer Francois Caron included a premixed fragrance base that was used to scent vintage face powder in the formula for Ombre Rose. Madam Caron did this to shape the perfume's olfactory character as this introduced a timeless quality associated with glamour that several generations could relate to. 

Author Barbara Herman elaborates on this effect in Yesterday's Perfume, "That re-used base was itself being self-reflexive: by reproducing the scent of face powder (rather than a flower or something "natural") it's commenting on its own status as a cosmetic, but also on itself as an aesthetic medium. It reflects; it doesn't merely reproduce." 

And to that I would add that like Snork Maiden, Ombre Rose stands on its head. It's perfumed with glamorous actresses of the past modeling the aspirations of a young girl who will one day be a woman. Smell it as you read the passage and you can simultaneously dream in the present, past and future for yourself. 

Notes:
This is the first in a series of posts about interesting literary passages with an olfactory twist. Each post will include a recommended perfume and/or raw material for smelling that resonates with the text. Glass Petal Smoke recommends experiencing the fragrance while reading the text associated with it. Get your nose inside a book. The hashtag for these posts is #SmellLiterature.

Demeter, a fragrance company known for its library of smells, sells a representation of snow as perfume. It was inspired by a passage in Moominland Midwinter. Snow perfume was formulated by Christopher Brosius when he worked for Demeter. Brosius is an independent perfumer and continues to create interesting olfactory portraits at CB I Hate Perfume

The image of Snork Maiden is from Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. The book is one of eight in the Moomin series. Jansson created the illustrations that accompany the stories in her books, which were written for children. There's a Wiki for all of the Moomin characters. Reading through the character descriptions makes it clear why Moomin stories aren't just for children. Character descriptions of Moomin characters on the official Moomin website are playful, informative and highly entertaining.