Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Sensory Training: Making Friends with Devil's Dung

Opening a container of asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida) will clear out a room. The ground gum oleoresin, which is used as a spice, has a nose wrinkling smell that resembles mercaptan, the rotten cabbage-like odorant used to scent natural gas. Mercaptan and asafoetida contain sulfur compounds associated with decomposition, so why would anyone want to make friends with a spice that's earned the nickname "Devil's Dung"?

Asafoetida is an alliaceous substitute for onions and garlic in Jain cooking. It's also used as an umami flavor enhancer in Indian cuisine and acts as an antiflatulent, which is ironic when one considers how asafoetida smells before it mellows during the cooking process. 

There are aesthetically pleasant things one can study when training their sense of smell, but asafoetida is one of the best because it's a catalyst for discovery when confronting sensory bias. Humans are hardwired to escape dangerous smells, but not all unpleasant smells are dangerous. The challenge in sensory evaluation, inclusive of taste and smell, is the fact that most of us would rather experience something we like and avoid anything we find unpleasant.

When you're going through sensory training you learn to let go of personal preferences and aversions. The goal isn't to become objective because sensory perception is subjective. You learn to become more evaluative in sensory training, which is to say that you assess something for its character—whether you like it or not.

Smelling tincture of asafoetida as it evaporates on a perfume blotter is a revelation. The hellish brimstone odor is transformed as sulfur compounds evaporate and sweet balsamic notes redolent of vanilla emerge in the drydown. The heavenly transformation is striking, counterintuitive and unforgettable. 

Making friends with Devil's Dung (asafoetida) is a catalyst for self-discovery and a great way to conquer sensory bias. It teaches us that something we find unappealing can become a gateway for beauty over time. That's something worth lingering over.

Sulfur compounds aren't found in the non-volatile constituents of asafoetida—they're only present in the essential oil. Once the sulfur evaporates from the oil other constituents such as vanillin and ferulic acid in ester form (the later related to ferulaldehyde found in maple syrup) can be detected. Ferulic acid is also related to isoeugenol (found in clove and other plants) and vanillin (found in vanilla). You don't have to be a chemist to recognize the inter-relational quality in plant volatiles on a molecular level. You can smell it.

To make an asafoetida tincture for smelling combine 1.42 grams (1/4 teaspoon) of asafoetida with 4ml of ethanol (high proof vodka) in a 5ml amber glass vial. Keep the tincture in a cool dark place and allow to age for one month. Shake the tincture daily during maceration.

Asafoetida resin sold in spice shops is ground into a powder with gum arabic and neutral materials such as wheat or rice flour. Turmeric is sometimes added to boost health benefits of asafoetida.

I'll be sharing tincture of asafoetida at The Storytelling Secrets of Optimus Yarnspinner, a Smell & Tell program that takes place tonight at the Ann Arbor District Library (downtown branch), from 6:30-8:45pm. This unique Smell & Tell focuses on an apothecary cabinet of inspirational smells that belongs to Optimus Yarnspinner, a beloved character in the Zamonia series of books by German author Walter Moers.

Spoiler Alert: Yarnspinner uses asafoetida when he's writing horror stories. The German word for asafoetida is stinkasant. Right up there with Devil's Dung.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Transcending the Boundaries of Live Television with Scent

Talking about scent on live television is a challenge that has nothing to do with the absence of Smell-O-Vision. Sight dominates the Western hierarchy of the senses, which is odd considering that shutting your eyes doesn't make you blind for life, but shutting off your nose could leave you quite dead.

So how does one scaffold a smelling experience on live television that doesn't make viewers feel awkward when listening to conversations about smell? After being interviewed on Live in the D, I think I have the answer. Talk about how to buy perfume and deliberately punk Western sensory hierarchy with smells that are novel, nostalgic and free of taboo.

Perfume is a tangible product with a rich history that evokes memory, emotion and conversation. Flavor (the intersection of smell and taste) also triggers emotion and memory, but it lacks the taboo that's implied by the word "smell". When we say something "smells" it can mean one of two things; the object has a smell or it stinks. Vision lacks this nuance of reek.

Funk & Wagnalls Standard Handbook of Synonyms, 
Antonyms & Prepositions, by James C. Fernald (1947)

I shared tips on how to buy perfume on Live in the D, a lifestyle show broadcast on WDIV Local 4, an NBC-affiliate in Detroit, Michigan. The program, which took place on December 12, 2018, took an interesting turn at the 3:45 minute mark.

All About Ann Arbor community news producer Meredith Bruckner was transported by the smell of incense cedar pencil shavings. Live in the D host Tati Amari cross-sensed the smell of incense cedar pencil shavings with the sound of a pencil sharpener. It happened in nine seconds.

The transporting sensorial moment was a natural extension of authentic conversation captured on live television. This proves that context and curiosity can set the stage for talking about smell without awkwardness or Emperor's New Clothes hyperbole.

Tati Amari, Meredith Bruckner, & Michelle Krell Kydd
on the set of Live in the D

Smell is a subjective sense, but sharing sensory impressions and stories makes subjective experiences universal. That's the hallmark of Smell & Tell programming, which builds community through interactions with flavor, fragrance and storytelling. It's also the essence of this television interview, which didn't need Smell-O-Vision.


Thanks go out to Meredith Bruckner, who interviewed me for All About Ann Arbor in June; Tati Amare who said yes to the "How to Buy Perfume" pitch; anchor Jason Colthorp who made me laugh in the green room and let me smell his signature Banana Republic cologne; and the camera crew at Live in the D (especially the gentleman who rocked a spicy eau de cologne scent).

Smell & Tell: The Storytelling Secrets of Optimus Yarnspinner takes place on Wednesday, December 19, 2018 at the downtown branch of the Ann Arbor District Library, from 6:30-8:45pm. The event is inspired by the Zamonia series of books by Walter Moers. It will mark the 80th Smell & Tell presentation I've given to date. Admission is free. P.S. There will be incense cedar pencils and everyone will be smellmatized.

A review of Smell & Tell written by arwulf arwulf appears in the December 2018 edition of the Ann Arbor Observer. I can now add "olfactory humanitarian" to a list of endearing nicknames that include: high priestess of smells, olfactress, nose of Ann Arbor, scientualist, walking smellopedia, etc.

Tati Amare articulated an interesting experience when she wore a perfume that smelled great on her mother and aunt, but evoked the smell of a "barn animal" when she wore it (1:45 minutes into the program). Ms. Amare's perfume may have included a highly indolic Jasmine. Two types of Jasmine are commonly used in perfume; Jasminum grandiflorum and Jasminum sambac. Grandiflorum is a clean, lush and expansive Jasmine. Sambac has a hint of the barnyard in the bouquet due to the presence of indole molecules, which smell fecal and horsey.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Answers from a Walking Smellopedia: Hunting Lures & Perfume

I received a curious email from a Smell & Tell attendee after delivering a Zoologist Perfumes presentation in late November. I was expecting a bit of prodding and nudging regarding Mammalia Incognito, a mysterious work-in-progress that was evaluated at the end of the Zoologist Perfumes scent flight (it followed the stunningly beautiful Chameleon, which is scheduled to show its colors in 2019). The attendee's query had nothing to do with Mammalia Incognito and everything to do with a deceased hunter's olfactory relics.

I have obtained permission to share the email exchange with readers of Glass Petal Smoke as the conversation affords a learning opportunity. The attendee's name and that of her partner are anonymized. What you are about to read is true. The names have been changed to encourage publication of existing and future inquiries (there are many).

November 15, 2018
Dear Michelle, 
Looking forward to next week's Smell & Tell. I have an interesting question for you. Going through my dad's effects this summer we came across a cotton ball container filled with fluffs and a bottle of deer "attractant". My dad hunted years ago so this bottle is old. It does contain some very potent essence of doe. I take it they put some on each little cotton ball and left a trail through the woods until they got some action (like Hansel and Gretel, but malodorous crumbs at that). 
Anyway, neither Hayden nor I hunt. We know no hunters and will throw this out unless you would be interested. I'm telling you it is foul stuff but you've got a nose that might find this an interesting addition to your collection of "sniffs". Let me know if you want it or not—it's definitely not something folks would want to smell. 
When I held it under Hayden's nose, he was appalled and hurt that I would do even asked me "Why would you?". So that's my unusual question. Hope you are staying warm and toasty on this snowy Thursday. 

November 18, 2018 
Dear Heather, 
This is a great question! I have an answer that you'll find intriguing. Animals respond to smells of kin and kind. That’s why glandular and urine lures, some of which indicate a female in estrous, are used in hunting lures. (I suspect that's what you found in your father's effects and it's worth pitching.) 
Animals also respond to smells of food, those they know in their natural setting, and those that smell like animals they hunt for sustenance. Then there are smells that make them curious. Hunting lures that utilize these kinds of smells are called curiosity lures. 
Many ingredients used in perfumery are also used in curiosity lures. Particular ones. Animalics like Civetone (synthetic civet), Ambroxan (a synthetic variety of ambergris), Castoreum, synthetic Musk, and flavor extracts like Anise or Apple, to name a few. 
When you read news stories about animals responding to Calvin Klein’s Obsession it’s because perfumes may contain ingredients that arouse an animal's curiosity. It doesn’t make the perfumes "sexy" though that’s the kind of nonsense supported by hack journalists, the silence of the fragrance industry (who remain silent because they can't talk about proprietary perfume formulas protected by non-disclosure agreements), and the ignorant. 
Perfumes are curiosity lures for animals and humans. If you come across hunters you may be able to get a few interesting stories out of them—many have secret formulas for homemade curiosity lures. 
My father and his fishing buddies used vanillin powder to flavor cooked yellow cornmeal that they formed into balls of bait at the end of their fish hooks (a kind of polenta-like Play-Doh®). They were after Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), a species of fish that have an exquisite sense of smell. They caught a lot of carp (and were very particular about who they shared their bait recipe with)! 
P.S. The Simulacra of Rat perfume I formulated for The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities event contained a small amount of a hunting lure that has synthetic deer musk in it. Let me know when you want to smell the musk lure. You can tell Hayden that it's not a nose-wrinkler like the deer "attractant" you found among your father's effects.

Michelle Krell Kydd

I've received several email queries from Smell & Tell attendees, but Heather's was the first one regarding the smell of hunting lures. Adirondack Outdoor Company in upstate New York makes a coveted Tonquin Musk (Siberian Deer Musk) lure—the same one I used to create Simulacra of Rat for The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities program.

The lure is "quite lovely and animalic" according to Manuel, who commented in a "Best Synthetic Musk" thread on Basenotes (November 22, 2011 at 3:33 a.m.). I concur with Manuel regarding the lure's olfactory aesthetics, though Tonquin Musk lure is not something one should wear on skin (or expose in the woods where rutting deer can detect it). That would be as bad as wearing Boarmate™ in a pig sty. Tonquin deer are nearly extinct, so it's best to wear perfumes made with synthetic musks. There are many beautiful ones to choose from.

The Hunting Kit was a trio of Ambergris, Civet and Musk perfumes sold by Jōvan in the 1970's. The product copy on the outside of the box was aimed at women. "Lure your man with musk. Excite him with civet. Bring him to his knees with ambergris." The owner of the license needs to wake up and follow the scent trail. Just skip the gender specific copy and don't call it Spoor.

If you're curious about the use of musk in perfumery you should read Claire Vuksevic's musk articles on Basenotes. Re-reading part one and part two (which includes a review of 20 musk perfumes) reminds me why Claire Vuksevic's website, Take One Thing Offis the 3.0 version of fragrance blogs.

The perfumer for Chameleon by Zoologist Perfumes is Daniel Pescio. Pescio's Instagram is filled with fragrant inspiration, including his passion for kōdō.

I will be crestfallen when the sample of Chameleon that was provided for Smell & Tell runs dry. It's one of those skin loving scents that draws your nose to your wrist several times a day. I'll write about Chameleon when it's released. In the meantime I'll use what's left of Zoologist Perfume's Chameleon to take revenge on winter.

Art for Chameleon perfume by Zoologist Perfumes.

Cover of Hansel and Gretel, a pop-up book illustrated by Louise Rowe, via Tango Books.

Engraving of The Origins of Perfume by Simon Barbe (1699). This image features animals associated with perfumery. Ambergris floats in the sea, in the absence of the whale that regurgitated the sea-aged fragrance material. A goat awaits combing of aromatic Labdanum resin that clings to its fur. A caged civet awaits scraping of its glands. A deer musk is about to have its aromatic musk sacs removed, which will result in its death.

The Hunting Kit trio of perfumes by Jōvan appeared on Quirky Finds' online shop, but quickly disappeared.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Musings on the Smell of Autumn

Autumn arrives in late September, but it doesn’t take long for a kaleidoscope of brilliant yellows, robust oranges and fiery reds to adorn the October landscape. Cooler temperatures, a reduction in daylight and increased amounts of sugar in leaves trigger a variety of chemical changes involving carotenoid, flavonoid and anthocyanin compounds. Our eyes bear witness to what we see, but vision can't reveal what our nose instinctively knows—that autumn has a smell.

The presence and degradation of color-inducing chemical compounds mingle with changes in temperature. The air is crisper than it was in summer and smells are less varied and more distinct. Dry pine needles cushion footsteps on forest paths, releasing a vanillic, woody pine-like odor as twigs and sticks crackle underfoot. The aroma of wet autumn leaves pours over the senses like honeyed amber treacle. Humus, the decomposition of leaves by soil bacteria that will nurture plants in the spring, adds earthiness to the fragrant mélange.

There isn’t a word for the smell of autumn. Perhaps it’s because several aromatic shifts take place before winter arrives, each with it’s own distinct set of smells. The incense of chimney smoke redolent with shadows of tree sap and resin will soon replace these scents. Warm spices will trill our tongues and the slow evaporation of complex perfumes will ease the longing for new plant life to emerge. Many will eat the bright and brindled colors of autumn at the winter dinner table, and dream of long sunsets. It won’t be long before new smells surface in the landscape and another kind of restlessness overtakes the senses.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Adele Webster and the Mysterious Dictionary of 10,000 Smells

A 66-year-old mystery remains unsolved. It involves a twentysomething female chemist who was in charge of a dictionary of smells at a London fragrance company. Ten thousand bottled smells to be exact.

The company is unnamed. The chemist, Adele Webster, is described as slim and attractive, but we never see her face. One can easily deduce that the journalist who wrote about Ms. Webster was a man, keen on beauty with little time or inclination for exploring a woman's intellect. He writes like Detective Joe Friday of Dragnet speaks.

The article you are about to read appeared in The Argus, a newspaper of record in its time (1846-1957). Are the contents of the article true? Is the tenor of the piece an example of how female chemists were perceived at the time?

There were few female chemists in the flavor and fragrance industry before or immediately after WWII, which begs the question. Who was Adele Webster and what was the name of the British company she worked for?

Glass Petal Smoke leaves this mystery in the hands of you, dear reader, because this kind of thing keeps us up at night.

The Argus
Friday, July 25, 1952
Page Two
LOOKING after a 10,000-volume glass dictionary that can be printed is slim, attractive Adele Webster's job. 
It's a dictionary of smells.

Every volume in this London building is a bottle containing a different odor. Oils and scented crystals, powders, and pieces of root are there. 
The more precious smells, among them musk from the musk deer, civet from the civet cat and ambergris, are kept in a safe. 
Floral extracts from petals can't be risked on shelves either.
One ton of petals gives only two ounces of extract. 
In May some of Adele's bottles were on show in the British Industries Fair to help sell scents.

In her early twenties, she is a chemist in a London factory that supplies ingredients to perfumiers. 
Her nose is her fortune.

It is pretty enough, but the part you see is not her particular pride; she values most her power of smell. 
Remembering 1,000 basic odors is easy.
With one sniff she can analyse a complicated scent saying exactly what it contains. 
No odor-giving ingredient escapes her. 
Picking up a bottle of expensive perfume, blended to grace the boudoir of the wife of a millionaire. Adele will murmur "Skatole" or "Indole." "They are disgusting odors," she says, "but in minute quantities invaluable in special perfumes."
People like Adele don't insure their noses, and take no care of them. 
"We don't have to," they say.
"We rarely catch colds, and then only slight ones, probably because in smelling correctly, we keep the nasal muscles strong and so don't pick up germs." 
The chief chemist is a human bloodhound.
Though he smokes he's never deceived when an assistant who spills an expensive scent tries to baffle him by spilling cheap ones on top. 
"He's phenomenal!" his staff say. "But even he can't go on sniffing all day. "It's too exhausting and would strain the muscles." 
And the bottle-stacked shelves of Adele's "dictionary" are there to prevent strain on his memory.
The article was published in The Argus and reprinted for educational purposes. The mystery of Adele Webster and the London fragrance company she worked for requires solving. Revelations welcome. Source:

The image of a woman scientist that accompanies this is article is from the National Photo Company Collection at The Library of Congress. There are only four "women scientists" in the search results for this collection. The images were taken between 1909 and 1923. Glass Petal Smoke considered using this this image, but the whole smashing-the-patriarchy-by-standing-on-a lab-table thing would be overstating the point. In addition, such an image may not reflect Adele Webster's character as she remains a mystery.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Brian Eno, Maurice Roucel and the Perfume of Unfinished Business

Brian Eno and perfumer Maurice Roucel collaborated on a fragrance project in the late eighties that never came to fruition. Sounds like the perfume of unfinished business, but decades later, no one is talking about it. That's a shame because an existing fragrance opportunity that intersects with music and technology is right under their nose—and the fragrance industry's.

An interesting fact surfaced in the Spring 2015 edition of Noble Rot magazine. Brian Eno (musician, composer, producer and all around polymath) revealed that he collaborated with Quest perfumer Maurice Roucel on a "sex" perfume back in the day. That was just for fun.

Eno refers to Roucel as a friend, but what doesn't surface are details regarding how the two became acquainted (Roucel currently works for Symrise). Putting the pieces together makes the case for artistic collaboration in the present using technology that didn't exist when the two originally worked together—an app that incorporates music, color and fragrant inspiration.

Brian Eno

Brian Eno was immersed in learning about perfumery at Quest during Roucel's tenure there (Quest was acquired by Givaudan in 2007). The perfumer and the fragrance company aren't mentioned in Neroli's liner notes, but what took place in this time frame is.

The deduction is not squelchy. Neroli (1993) is an ambient album inspired by the essence of orange blossom and Eno's passion for collecting ingredients used in perfumery (a picture of his fragrance kit packed with vials accompanies liner notes in the 2014 reissue of the CD).

The CD liner notes contain an excerpt from a radio interview Eno did with WNYC's John Schaefer, the host of New Sounds. They reveal that Eno was working on a commercial perfume project with a large fragrance company, and that he made monthly trips to the company's office in Paris to gather experience and knowledge. The timeframe is the late eighties.

It would make sense for Eno to withhold the name of the company he was working with in a taped radio interview. The fragrance industry is notoriously secretive. A non-disclosure agreement may have been signed, but if it was have the terms of the NDA expired? Does it matter where the project picks up if Roucel is now at Symrise? Is Eno interested in revisiting something he abandoned in a new timeframe with new tools? These questions and more are worthy of consideration.

Maurice Roucel via Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Roucel was working for Quest in 1989 and though he isn't mentioned in Neroli's liner notes, his participation can be deduced if one reads “An Evening with Brian Eno” in The Complete Music Magazine (1982), “Scents and Sensibility” in Details magazine (July 1992) and “Ode to Perfume” in Noble Rot (2015).

Eno's fragrance industry references are always Quest and Roucel, but the liner notes for Neroli, which are dated September 18, 1989, require further exploration. Content from the New Sounds interview doesn't match Neroli's liner notes verbatim and a deeper "industry" reveal is in the liner notes. So why the blip?

Shadow of Neroli by Michelle Krell Kydd

Eno's interview with New Sounds was broadcast on October 18, 1989 under the title #375: Ambient Music with Brian Eno. The content of Neroli's liner notes isn't the "edited" broadcast that aired on New Sounds. It would be interesting to hear the uncut version, but the past is gone and it's 2018—time for Eno and Roucel to combine their métiers and visit uncharted territory.

The Bloom app created by Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers is a natural starting point. Bloom's haptic interface plays a sound every time a finger taps the touchscreen. Each tap generates a colored sphere and corresponding sound. Successive tapping creates multiple sounds and colors that are playfully synesthetic. The background color is set by the user as a "mood". Each mood on the Bloom app is named after an ingredient used in perfumery—there are 12 of them.

Screenshot of Bloom App on an iPad

Bloom's 12 fragrant "mood" settings are: Neroli, Vetiver, Ylang, Labdanum, Bergamot, Orris, Ambrette, Benzoin, Tolu, Cedar, Civet and Skatole. There are no smells in reality or virtual reality, though one could easily hack that with a collection of diluted aroma materials from suppliers like Eden Botanicals, Enfleurage NYC, Perfumer's Apprentice and White Lotus Aromatics.

Two product lines are immediately possible. The first is a collection of finished fragrances based on Bloom's mood settings. That's 12 perfumes Maurice Roucel can make and everyone knows he brings sexy back like it never left the room.

The second opportunity is a coffret containing each of the "mood" materials in dilution. This would encourage the development of a personal lexicon for smells, and indulging in scent layering to create perfume accords on skin.

The coffret addresses Eno's observation of fragrance as an "unlangued" sense. It's an opportunity to move through subjectivity into objectivity via learning to evaluate raw materials used in perfumery. Et voila. Glass Petal Smoke has just provided a fragrance brief for Brian Eno and Maurice Roucel.

One is reminded of writer Italo Calvino's words when considering the possibility that Eno and Roucel—two highly respected artists that are well versed in distinct disciplines—will never collaborate again:
…the phials, the ampoules, the jars with their spire-like or cut glass stoppers will weave in vain from shelf to shelf their network of harmonies, assonances, dissonances, counterpoints, modulations, cadenzas: our deaf nostrils will no longer catch the notes of their scale.
        —“The Name, The Nose” from Under the Jaguar Sun, by Italo Calvino
Let's hope perfumer Maurice Roucel (a 2012 Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres recipient) and polymath Brian Eno pick up where they left off, and don't leave us with dead air.

Thanks to WNYC Associate Producer Caryn Havlik for assisting Glass Petal Smoke in locating #375: Ambient Music with Brian Eno on the New Sounds website when the date cited in Neroli's liner notes didn't correspond with the date of the broadcast.

The liner notes referenced in this article are from the 2014 reissue of Neroli on CD at All Saints Records. It is currently sold out.

A perfume accord is the basic character of a fragrance consisting of three or four blended notes that create a new aromatic impression. It's like using a mirepoix in cooking; the sum in flavor is different than the individual ingredients that comprise it.

A generative audio-visual installation utilizing Bloom made news last February, but smells weren't included in the communal mixed reality experience shaped by Bloom and Microsoft HoloLens.

"Brian Eno Smells" took place on February 21, 2018 at the Ann Arbor District Library, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I introduced the Bloom app at the Smell & Tell and 40 people smelled Musk Ambrette while the Bloom app operated in Ambrette mode. The purpose was to encourage personal olfactory lexicon via intersensing, a form of multisensory learning. You can read about the Smell & Tell event here. Special thanks to Christopher Porter who covered the event as a journalist and participant. Porter rocked a stylish coif a là David Bowie on the cover of Low, one of three albums in the Bowie "Berlin Trilogy" that Brian Eno worked on.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Venus Oil Perfume from Enchantments NYC is a Whispering Vixen

The Love Potion by Beatrice Offor

Venus Oil is a wearable love potion sold by Enchantments. It's a whispering vixen of a scent that's been available at New York City's oldest occult store since 1982. The fragrance is sold in simple glass bottles sans fancy packaging and photoshopped hokum. It's nothing like the olfactory pap that passes for perfume at retail counters these days.

How to Make a Love Potion by Lucia Whittaker
The description for Venus Oil on Enchantments' website reads:
A Planetary and Goddess devotional formula. Attracts love and beauty to your life. Also good for prosperity and house blessing.
Utility and simplicity infuse the description of Venus Oil, but matters of the heart are complex. The first formula for Venus Oil was created before the Internet existed. That meant reliance on mentors, aromatic grimoire, research and a little bit of magic.

The original formula for Enchantments' Venus Oil was created by Lady Rhea (Aurelia Bila) who opened Enchantments with Lady Miw (Carole Bulzone) in 1982. Lady Rhea reveals the ingredients for two versions of Venus Oil on pages 132-134 in the book The Enchanted Formulary: Blending Magickal Oils for Love, Prosperity, and Healing, which she co-wrote with Eve LeFey. Venus Oil began as a combination of Rose, Gardenia, Frangipani, Wisteria and a touch of White Diamonds perfume by Elizabeth Taylor. A second version of the oil emerged thereafter and is known as Voluptuous Venus Oil.

Ingredients in Voluptuous Venus Oil are allied with intention: Rose for love, Musk for sensuality, Orris for love, Sandalwood for compassionate love, Lilac for hypnotic seduction, Cinnamon for passion and fire, Magnolia for grace, and Hibiscus for beauty. If you are hand blending Voluptuous Venus Oil and have difficulty obtaining some of the ingredients in the formula, Lady Rhea recommends using at least four of the formula's ingredients in equal amounts (dosing follows the style of the complete formula).

The current version of Venus Oil sold at Enchantments smells like something between the formula for the original Venus Oil and Voluptuous Venus (Cinnamon and Lilac aldehydes have been detectible since I began buying Venus Oil at the store's original location). I recently purchased a one-ounce bottle of Venus Oil online and was struck by the enduring legacy of continuity in the formula—which is a lot more than you can say about the state of classic French perfumes these days.

Concentration can vary at times (by 1-3% at most) but this is a hand-blended product so that's not unusual. The transparent pink flesh color of Venus Oil is newer (it was amber hued back in the day) but it continues to unfold on skin with a soft salty sultry floralcy one would expect to find in an embodied goddess of love. Venus Oil is a whispering vixen. Blessed be.

Enchantments relies on proprietary texts for its formulas. Venus Oil is categorized as on-shelf. Others are made to order. If you purchase items online you will be taken to a secure page once you're ready to pay for the items in your cart. The cost of Venus Oil is $14 for half an ounce and $25.00 for a full ounce. The store is located in 424 East 9th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A); 212-228-4394.

Enchantments makes a hand-blended incense version of Venus Oil that is truly divine. It burns well on incense charcoal that is not self-igniting (much healthier). Shoyeido makes a square-shaped incense charcoal that is highly recommended. It is categorized as "type B" (type A is smaller) and is available at Enfleurage NYC and

White Diamonds (1991) by Elizabeth Taylor remains a bestseller. Notes include: Neroli, Amazon Lily, Aldehydes, Egyptian Tuberose, Turkish Rose, Italian Orris, Narcissus, Jasmine, Sandalwood, Patchouli, Amber and Oakmoss.

Lady Rhea owns and operates Magickal Realms in the Bronx with her partner Lady Zoradia. The store opened in Greenwich Village in 1992 and moved to the Bronx in 1995. Magickal Realms is currently located at 72 Westchester Square; 718-892-5350.

The Enchanted Formulary: Blending Magickal Oils for Love, Prosperity, and Healing is available as an e-book. Formulas for additional elixir vitae amore can be found in the book. Used copies of the print version are priced between $38.00 and $1046.00 based on the condition of the book. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Perfect Pair: The City of Dreaming Books and L'Artisan Dzing! Perfume

The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers and Dzing! perfume by Olivia Giacobetti are a perfect pair. The novel and the fragrance are infused with the aroma of Biblichor—the smell of old books. Moers' novel visually engages the sense of smell using the printed word, hand-drawn illustrations and a bibliophilic plot. Dzing! utilizes aromatic molecules in solution to create an olfactory presence redolent of antiquarian books and wood. A third dimension emerges when the novel and perfume are experienced together.

This dimension has less to do with what the two creations have in common and everything to do with what sets them apart. Books are physically tangible. Perfumes worn for enjoyment are sensed, but cannot be seen. Perfumery and literature were not intended to meet beyond the creative concepts that lead to their manifestation and yet, they fit together like a lock and key. How can that be?

Personal use of perfume and literature require permission to enter human imagination. The interaction of memory, emotion and imagination defines the experience of reading and smelling perfumes—it's how we form pictures in our mind and allow past, present and projected understandings of truth and beauty to interact with each other. When experienced in the right combination perfume and literature can amplify each other's essence and expand the notion of what it means to be human.

International Circus published by J.F. Schreiber  (published in the late 19th Century) via Theirault's

The City of Dreaming Books takes place in Bookholm, an urban setting inhabited by a carnival of imaginary creatures devoted to literature. Books line the walls of personal libraries, bookshops, cafes, and secret spaces hidden in the city's catacombs where the forces of good and evil battle over books. Bibliophilia reigns in Bookholm. The perfume of old books and the desire to acquire them can be smelled everywhere.

Dzing! by L'Artisan Parfumeur is a fragrance inspired by a pop-up book featuring an old-time circus. The wearable liquid zylotheque embraces different forms of wood, reminding perfume lovers of the smell of dusty leather-bound books filled with sweet aging paper. L'Artisan's website describes Dzing! as:
...a magical evocation of a circus. There is the scent of warm hay, cardboard cutouts, sawdust on the ground, and saddle leather as pretty girls ride by. Dzing! is a circus with a bohemian soul captured in a fun theatrical pop-up book. As the book closes so do the last notes of the paper waft gently. 

Optimus Yarnspinner, Narrator and Protagonist, by Walter Moers

Wearing Dzing! perfume while reading The City of Dreaming Books enlivens the text and human imagination. The experience is highly evocative when combined with Optimus Yarnspinner's description of the bibliosmic paradise of Bookholm:
You can smell the place from a long way off. It reeks of old books. It’s as if you’ve opened the door of a gigantic second-hand bookshop – as if you’ve stirred up a cloud of unadulterated book dust and blown the detritus from millions of mouldering volumes straight into your face. There are folks who dislike the smell and turn on their heel as soon as it assails their nostrils. It isn’t an agreeable odor, granted. Hopelessly antiquated, it is eloquent of decay and dissolution, mildew and mortality. But it also has other associations: a hint of acidity reminiscent of lemon trees in flower; the stimulating scent of old leather; the acrid, intelligent tang of printer’s ink; and, overlying all else, a reassuring aroma of wood.
I’m not talking about living wood or resinous forests and fresh pine needles; I mean felled, stripped, pulped, bleached, rolled and guillotined wood – in short, paper. Ah yes, my intellectually inquisitive friends, you too can smell it now, the odor of forgotten knowledge and age-old traditions of craftsmanship. Very well, let us quicken our pace! The odor grows stronger and more alluring, and the sight of those gabled houses more distinct with every step towards Bookholm we take. Hundreds, nay, thousands of slender chimneys project from the city’s roofs, darkening the sky with a pall of greasy smoke and compounding the odor of books with other scents: the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and freshly baked bread, of charcoal-broiled meat studded with herbs. Again we redouble our rate of advance, and our burning desire to open a book becomes allied with the hankering for a cup of hot chocolate flavored with cinnamon and a slice of pound cake warm from the oven.    
—The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers1

Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti

Anyone who reads The City of Dreaming Books can envision Optimus Yarnspinner having Bookholm bee-bread and mulled coffee with a perfumer. They would exchange words for scents and scents for words, occasionally disagreeing on which species in Zamonia is best at describing smells, but in complete agreement that supersmellers are equally creative, psychic and neurotic.

Let's engage imagination and pretend that the perfumer conversing with Optimus Yarnspinner is Olivia Giacobetti, the creator of Dzing!. The two sit at opposite sides of a table inside a Zamonian cafe. As an inhabitant of Bookholm Giacobetti takes the form of an erudite reptilian crossed with a slow loris.

The Slow Loris

The slow loris in Giacobetti exudes a cautious languid beauty. The perfumer has an incredible sense of smell and the skill to communicate using odor alone. She also possesses the lethal weapon of all slow lorises; the capacity to manufacture and issue poison through her body in self-defense. She can do this by biting or applying slow loris poison by touch; she is known for the latter.

Optimus Yarnspinner picks Giacobetti's brain with characteristic braggadocio, but it's not long before the writer finds himself tongue-tied by a bee stinger. It's the fugu-esque risk associated with eating Bookholm bee-bread, which consists of roasted bees slathered in peppered honey on freshly baked rye bread.

It's an eerie experience when combined with the presence of a perfumer with slow loris blood. Yarnspinner knows he hasn't been bitten or touched, but he's paranoid nonetheless. His only reassurance is that he can still smell and that means he's still breathing.

A few intellectual touchés from Ms. Giacobetti follow the encounter with Yarnspinner. She returns to her lab and creates an olfactory representation of Bookholm's bee-bread, as it is nothing like bee bread in the human world (including the use of a hyphen when the word is spelled out).

The perfume formula includes Szechuan Buttons for a tasty electrical "zing" effect, followed by a hint of caraway and ergot floating on a background of warm butter, honey and musk. The ergot is mildly psychoactive. Its inclusion in the formula is not enough to cause poisoning or hallucination, but it's enough to make one feel lighthearted and giddy. Perfume critics in Bookholm call this aspect of Giacobetti's formulation style "the transparent effect", but it's not meant to be taken literally.

Booklings Illustrated by Walter Moers

A few days later Yarnspinner receives Giacobetti's Bee-Bread perfume by bookling post. He smells it and remembers that he was stung in Giacobetti's presence, but survived the bee sting and avoided what he feared most—the gift of slow loris poison in exchange for being a pompous ass. He smells the perfume and tells himself that meeting the perfumer was worth the risk.

The imaginary chapter is now closed and we return to Dzing! to find out why this bookish perfume smells the way it does.

Dzing! By L'Artisan Parfumeur

The notes in Dzing! include: Leather, Fur, Wood, Talc, Iris and Caramel. One could easily find these smells in the aroma profile of books (as researched by scientists) and Yarnspinner's aforementioned description of Bookholm's scentscape (an account that would make smell researcher Kate McLean green with envy).

Does this mean that these ingredients are literally in the formula? Yes and no. There are naturals, nature-identical molecules and synthetic molecules in the formula for Dzing!. Think of the ingredients as olfactory synonyms, antonyms and homonyms with different colors. They create complementary contrasts and beautiful harmonies when the alchemy is just right.

Bee Bread by Chris Tonnesen / Nordic Food Lab

Intrigued by the idea of combining literary passages with perfumes? Make it a reality. It's an experience that will change the way you think about literature and perfumery (especially the latter if you've never experienced olfactory curriculum inclusive of the arts, which is the case for most people who've been educated in the United States). Combine the right literary passage with the right scent and you'll have an analog version of virtual reality. You can add flavor to the mix if you include food and drink, which is the formula for a memorable dinner party.

Aromatize your imagination and read The City of Dreaming Books under the spell of Dzing! perfume. It's a great #SmellLiterature experience and one you can replicate using other books and perfumes. Make sure you have a few slices of warm rye bread slathered with peppered honey at the ready. You can skip the roasted bees unless eating bugs is something you enjoy. Just watch out for the stingers.


Zamonia is an imaginary continent that deserves exploration. The following books are a passport for English readers as author Walter Moer's native language is German: The 13½ Lives of Captain BluebearRumo and His Miraculous Adventures, The City of Dreaming Books, The Alchemaster's Apprentice, and The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books. Visit the Walter Moers page on Amazon for details. P.S. Follow The City of Dreaming Books with The Alchemaster's Apprentice on your reading adventure as the latter is about food and magic!

True "bee bread" is a fermented bee product consisting of pollen mixed with nectar and digestive fluids that are stored in empty honeycomb cells sealed with honey. It doesn't include "detoxified" bees that have their stingers removed prior to roasting. That twist is the work of author Walter Moers' imagination.

The story about a meeting between Optimus Yarnspinner and perfumer Olivia Giacobetti is purely fictional, and inspired by every Walter Moers book translated from German to English. There are a few truth-inspired elements that fragrance lovers will recognize as writing this was an exercise of imagination. I plan on making the Bee-Bread perfume described in this post for a future Smell & Tell event. It will be tamer than 2017's Simulacra of Rat, which was quite memorable.

Dzing! perfume can be purchased online from L'Artisan Parfumeur and various luxury fragrance boutiques. Affordable sample sizes of perfume can be purchased online at Aedes de Venustas, Lucky Scent, and The Perfumed Court (request vintage Dzing! if it's available).

Olivia Giacobetti's fragrances are known for an unusual quality of transparency that magnifies the quiet and sublimates the loud. Mark Benkhe reviewed a number of her perfumes on Colognoisseur and all of them are worth reading.

Glass Petal Smoke created the hashtag #SmellLiterature and uses it to tag aromatic passages in literature on the blog and Twitter. It inspired Nosetalgia: The Smell of Books and Aromatic Passages in Literature, a 2016 Smell & Tell program at the Ann Arbor District Library (AADL) focused on literature and scent pairings, as well as the smell of books.

Spoiler Alert: Nosetalgia Part II is in development as Smell & Tell celebrates its sixth anniversary year in 2018. Smell & Tell is the longest running program in the history of the Ann Arbor District Library. Where else would you attend an event called Haute Skank: An Olfactory Menagerie of Animalic Ingredients in Perfumery or The Plague Doctor's Cabinet of Olfactory Curiosities? Only in Ann Arbor, Michigan and only at a five-star library like AADL.

1Walter Moers, "To Bookholm" in The City of Dreaming Books, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2007), 10.