Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Smelling is: Healing, Feeling, Sensing, Connecting...
What shamans, herbalists and aromatherapists have known for hundreds if not thousands of years, science only now beginning to acknowledge and prove. In a recent NY Times article titled "Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places", Alex Stone reviews recent scientific discoveries pertaining to chemical sensors in other parts of our body besides the olfactory bulbs.
While this is not exactly identical to the experience of scent per se, it is not exactly a surprise from an evolutionary point of view. The olfactory bulbs originally developed as sensing organs to sample the fluid, liquid environment of the primal ocean where life has developed. Some even speculate, that from these first sensing organs predated our limbic system, and from it, the brain eventually evolved... In other words, "I smell, therefore I think" is not quite as far-fetched as it may sound.
Smell is, in a sense, an assessment of the chemical environment surrounding the organism. In every breath, the organism evaluates differences in the environment and gathers important information for its survival, such as: is there any danger (i.e. fire, toxins or predators) nearby? Is there food or water nearby?
Why would it be surprising, then, that other parts of the body would also be able to assess chemicals and molecules, and respond to its healing properties? If our entire nervous system depends on responses to hormones, why would anyone be in the least surprised that other organs in the body, such as the liver or digestive tract, have special cells dedicated to molecular sensing and identification?
And for those fascinated by the notion of pheromones: it is not in the least surprising either (though of course fascinating nevertheless) that the sperm cells use their "sense of smell" so to speak to locate the eggs in their existentialist race for life (or death).
Many people won't be able to quite pinpoint how smell affects them. But we can all feel it. Perfumers, aromatherapists, shamans, priests, witches and herbalists have been attuned to the healing properties of fragrant plants and substances with distinctive olfactory characteristics. It's great that science is now catching up to this and we can read explanations to this. But I am certain that all along, we all feel a strong visceral reaction to scent, and our skin (the largest organ in our body) needs to be treated with respect as it has an important role in absorbing some of those healing energies from our environment - including sun light (essential for developing vitamin D), pheromones from our own species, and the many fragrant gifts of nature floating in the air surrounding us, or intentionally rubbed onto our bodies in the form of healing ointments, oils and massage.
"It is deadly to be without a confidante, without a guide, without even a tiny cheering section". (Clarissa Pinkola-Estes).
Being a transitional season from abundance to constriction, fall is time of reflection, contemplation, checking the balances in both the physical world and spiritual world. Taking stock of harvests, planning for a long winter. And also - taking note of what's missing from one's spiritual life, seeking it out, and nourishing what is there. These supplies would sustain the soul in a long, harsh, cold and dark winter.
Fall is also a season for sorting. This fall I've been doing a lot of re-structuring for my business, creating a new website which is to be hosted on a new server. Through this process, there was the inevitable weeding out of many fragrances that were not sustainable enough to keep in stock regularly, and get rid of a lot of language that was no longer useful on the website, weeding out not only stale content, but also eliminating things that are taking away from the core of what I do, shifting my focus and taking away energy and attention from what's really important. The new website will be a lot more user-friendly, and all my musings on this blog are integrated into the website as well, which is quite wonderful (all the way back to the first blog posts from 2006!).
The other focus of attention for me this fall has been wrapping up my book project. While it is a new edition of an existing book, it has a lot of new material added (almost double in size). The new book is 218 pages long, printed locally in perfect binding, with ISBN and all... It's bulk of new material includes a glossary for over 250 terms; and 55 original formulae for learning in a very concrete manner about all the different fragrance families and their sub-categories. I really cannot wait for it to be ready so that I can share it with you. But it also brings to a close a very long chapter of procrastination in my life. I am the type of person who sits on an idea for prolonged periods of time, stewing over them so to speak, and then in a very concentrated effort I push it forward to completion. Not unlike birth, now that I come to think of it... The pushing part is the part when progress is visible. But most of the hard work was really done in the procrastination phase, when the ideas just "cook" and morph in my head, undergoing an alchemical process (or perhaps it is me who goes through this process).
But this is already digressing from the topic that I'm set to tackle here. Which brings me back to the quote from Pinkola-Estes' life-changing book "Women Who Run with the Wolves". I've been reading it on and off for a couple of years now, as the ideas in it are really difficult to digest and require integrating in one's psyche to really have an impact and understand the meaning behind her stories and wise feminine lore. That particular quote really struck a chord with me. And since this is a time of reflection, it reminded me of how important it is for someone to have support. It takes a village not just to raise a child; but also to keep that child healthy, connected, vibrant through life. We can't live in a vacuum, and we can't create in a hollow space that occupies nothing but our hearts. An artist needs his audience just as much as my perfumes need your skin to really bloom, breathe, and make a change. So thank you for being my little cheering section. And thank you to SmellyBlog readers to being my confidantes - because this blog is a journal of sorts. Lastly, thank you to all of my colleagues, mentors and students for teaching me, inspiring me and forcing me to move forward and share my knowledge. It is one of those few things that really keeps me going...
I meant to post this for Thanksgiving (in Canada we celebrated it this past weekend), so I hope this is not too late! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
Wishing you all a fragrant fall, a joyous harvest season, and many blessings for the new Jewish year, the new school year, and beyond!
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
A Beautiful Woman Drinking Soda
Victoria Jent of EauMG reviews Treazon a.k.a. my killer tuberose:
"It’s this perfect balance between a “green” tuberose and a milky tuberose (...) Treazon dries down a warm, creamy tuberose with lactonic, coconut-like woods and a smoky tobacco. It becomes a “darker” tuberose that melds perfectly to the skin".
Monday, October 06, 2014
Hanae Mori Butterfly
Created in 1996, Hanae Mori's eponymus scent* is as young as my daughter (which is a perenial if not a "classic" in current perfume lifespan terms) and is about as girly as could be. It is probably the fragrance that have set the trend for the myriads of sugary fruity-florals that dominate the celebrity scent world. While Angel and Lolita Lempicka had sweet notes that sugar-coated a very bold base dominated by patchouli and vetiver respectively - Hanae Mori's goes straight to the candy.
The beginning is somewhat fresh, with hints of crisp apples, and light citrusy rose and strawberry. But cotton candy is the true star of the show for the next few minutes. Creamy heliotropin creates an almondy nuance, and alongside strawberry-flavoured saltwater taffy, it is hard to imagine a little girl who won't like it. It envelopes with a smooth, sweet (and not sickening, yet) aura of fun-loving innocence. It took the gourmand sweetness of classics such as Eau de Charlotte (based on chocolate and cassis) to a new level of exaggerated sweetness. After a few good minutes, the rose peeks out of its hiding place. Rose that is slightly green, yet also sweet and juicy-citrusy. It reminds me of the insane Japanese bubble gum I had long time ago, the one that turns your skin into a rose-smelling bed of red hives. Another interesting element that comes out is sandalwood. So perhaps this is not entirely sugar and fluff. More vanilla and sweetness will come along further as it develops on the skin. It's a little too sticky-sweet to my taste, and without enough darkness to sustain my interest (I like sweet, but I also like a bit more of an edge to a scent - which is why I so enjoy L by Lolita Lempicka - the warmth of the cinnamon and the hint of immortelle really balance all the vanilla and musk overload).
In hindsight, this perfume is quite fun and original for its time. But after coming across so many celebrity scents with the same formula (nondescript flower + random choice of fruit + vague musk + arbitrary piece of wood) and the same premise - it did lose a fair amount of its lustre. Add to this the fact that most similar scents can be found for ridiculous sums, while this remains a bit of a high-end fragrance, I imagine is a bit disillusioning for Hanae Mori fans.
But of course, there is more than something to be said about the marketing and cultural aspects of a fragrance, and Hanae Mori has and will remain a cult fragrance. Not only because it was one of the first of the gourmand fruity-florals genre; but also because of its packaging, and because a rectangural bottle with a chunky, asymmetric top and what looks like a butterfly sticker slapped on it by a little child is I suppose irresistibly cute. Or shall I say Kawaii?
Top Notes: Wild strawberries, sweet blackberries, blackcurrants, bilberries**
Middle Notes: Bulgarian rose, ylang-ylang, jasmine, French peony
Base Notes: Rosewood, almondwood, sandalwood and cedar
* Usually referred to as "Hanae Mori Butterfly" because of the butterfly print on the bottles and/or boxes. There are pink, blue and red butterflies - each colour corresponding to the concentration level: Eau de toilette (pink), which is what this review is based on; Eau de parfum (blue); and parfum extrait (red).
** Bilberry is really the European version of blueberry.
Wednesday, October 01, 2014
"Butterfly Maiden is the female fertilizing force. Carrying the pollen from one place to another, she cross-fertilizes, just as the soul fertilizes the mind with nightdreams, just as archetypes fertilizes the mundane world. She is the center. She brings the opposites together by taking a little from here and putting it there. Transformation is no more complicated than that. This is what she teaches. This is how the butterfly does it. This is how the soul does it.
Butterfly Woman mends the erroneous idea that transformation is only for the tortured, the saintly, or only for the fabulously strong. The Self need not carry mountains to transform. A little is enough. A little goes a long way. A little changes much. The fertilizing force replaces the moving of mountains." (Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, Women Who Run With The Wolves, p. 209-210)
I found great solace and inspiration in this thought. Some days, and especially in a year like this one (when it seems that all hell has broken loose in so many parts of the world - and it would take a miracle to not turn into a 3rd world war - if we're not already there) - making perfumes is not something that seems too important.
To know that even the smallest of changes could be the seed for transformation, is truly meaningful to me. While perfumery originates from alchemy, this is a concept so foreign to modern-day living, where so much of our life goes by fast-forward, and we can barely scratch the surface of superficiality in so many of our interactions or areas of interests.
Perfume has changed my life, and even in times like this, when I stand helpless facing the horrors that are abound the world over; when I feel like a very small piece of the puzzle, I need to remember this. Perfume may just mean a toiletry, a status symbol, or a token of love to some. But even a small thing like a drop of perfume can change the way you feel. Even if it will just mean a woman feels connected to her wildish nature and her inner self one night, after dabbing a perfume on - it still accounts to something. Maybe it will stir something inside her. Maybe it will awaken her to understand a certain aspect of herself better.
A speck of pollen dust on the feet of a butterfly may not seem like much - a pigment, a powder - but has the power to pass on genetic information and turn a flower into fruit and grow seeds. A seed in the ground is quite and dormant, but hides the potential to transform into a massive babobab tree - and with it transofrming the earth around it, providing food and shelter for animals and other life forms.
A drop of perfume. Inhale. Exhale. Cross-pollination. Inspiration. Transformation is subtle. It is part of us, ever changing us as our cells divide, multiply and die. And as we grow and inspire others, we are part of it too...
Sunday, September 21, 2014
"The core of the seen and unseen universe smiles, but remember smiles come best from those who weep. Lightning, then the rain-laughter". - Rumi
Just in time for the much-delayed school year in British Columbia - the rainy season is upon us. Most Vancouverites don't welcome this type of change in weather, but I do. In places plagued with drought, such as my other homeland, the first rain signifies not only the changing season, but also determines the well-being of crops, and predictions for precipitation in the year to come.
In Hebrew, there is a special word for the first rain - "Yoreh". It has a special smell, and an air of excitement about it as Jews welcome the new year and begin the fall harvest season. Many stories have been told about tzadikim (sages or saints) that have saved the country from drought with vigils, fasting and prayers for rain.
In my many years of providing customized fragrance creations and matching scents to personalities, I've received countless emails describing people's faourite scents. The smell of the first rain in all its many permutations is one that comes up most frequently: rain on hot pavement, thunderstorm, wet earth after rain, in other words - petrichor...
The word was coined in 1964 and comes from the Greek petros (stone) and ichos (the liquid that flows in the gods' veins). It's exact definition accodring to the online Wiktionary is "the distinctive scent which accompanies the first rain after a long warm dry spell".
The main reason for the appearance of petrichor is a molecule called Geosmin, a metabolite of bacteria that lives at the top layer of the soil. You might also detect a bit of it in raw, unpeeled beetroot. Combined with the unique flora of the place graced with rain, the scent will have nuances of various roots and dried plant matter. This is why the scent each person associates with petrichor is unique to their homeland.
When I first moved to Vancouver, nearly 16 years ago, the only thing I missed more than my family and friends was the scent of the first rain in autumn, falling on the thirsty dry earth. It’s a scent one can’t describe to someone who never experienced it. And the occurrence of dry earth in British Columbia is a rarity. The closest I was ever able to explain it is that it is wet, musty, dusty and fresh.
The scent of spikenard essential oil comes very close to this (although the whole sensation of the clean air and the wetness is lacking from the experience of sniffing an oil from a bottle, rather than the outdoors). In 2001 I tried to capture that scent, and the result smelled ironically of the Pacific rainforest after the rain instead. The rainforests rarely go dry, but have a constant mysterious wet fresh smell about them, a mingling of all the conifers, moss, lichen and dead leaves rotting on the ground. The forest earth itself in fact layers of compacted woodchips, conifer needles and rotten leaves, which might explain why it does not quite smell like petrichor... So I decided to name it Rainforest instead.
Aside from spikenard, other natural raw materials that might remotely resemble petrichor are attar mitti - a baked earth attar that is produced from fragments of clay pots, distilled into sandalwood oil; and patchouli, with its dry, earthy, musty aroma.
Perfumes that have a distinctive petrichor or geosmin-like notes are Forest Walk by Sonoma Scent Studio, Demeter's Dirt and Neil Morris' Dark Earth.
How would you describe the smell of the first rain? Do you have any favourite perfumes that have that note?
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
NARCISO eau de parfum
NARCISO - a confusingly named fragrance (wcich is why I'm using the upper case) that due to officially come out in October, but is already available at The Bay downtown:
From the get go, it appears the Narciso Rodriguez brand aimed to create a similar cult following to their original, with a few variations: the black rectangular bottle has been replaced by a white cube. The musk was replaced by ambereine accord and a sheer, crystalline amber. The synthetic orange blossom floral theme was replaced by a nondescript gardenia-rose that to my nose smells more similar to a Madonna lily, actually. What remains consistent with the original Narciso Rodgriguez For Her is a clean, woody vetiver - only a little amplified here, and paired with patchouli, of all animals. And that's what made me take notice.
NARCISO is a little too sweet at first, but with a cleanliness that does not weight it down. For reference - the opening and up until the vetiver makes an appearance, this is similar to scents such as DiorAddict, tinged with a touch of Pure Poison and a hint of inky, murky violet notes, not unlike Kisu. The vetiver makes it more balanced and interesting, along the lines of Eau de Merveilles of all things. Who would have thought that could happen? So all in all, an ambery-woodsy vetiver with hints of violet and vague white flowers. It evolves on the skin more than the musky For Her does.
Similarly to Narciso Rodriguze For Her, the idea is not exactly original*, but the execution is what made it exceptional. The perfectionism of the bottle design and the simplicity of the campaign made it stand out in the crowd. Add to that an addictive scent that is an slightly more sophisticated formulation of street vendor variety of Egyptian Musk and a stark packaging design - et voila! A cult fragrance was born.
NARCISO needs to compete with an even larger crowd, and with an already cluttered collection of fragrances from this designer, which includes two or three sequels of For Her, one masculine fragrance, and the glass mirror reflection of "essence". Not an easy task, and indeed simplicity was the only ticket to success. And I foresee this to become as successful as For Her as it could possibly be (which is impossible, because whatever this brand creates will always stand in its solar-musky-shadows).
Bottom line: The ambery-woody version of Narcisso Rodriguez For Her. Well done overall for a mass-marketed fragrance. But why oh why did they need to already come up with a sequel? NARCISO MUSC is already on the designer's website, and I'm already confused...
Top notes: Citrus, Bergamot
Heart notes: Lily, Gardenia, Rose, Violet
Base notes: Amber, Vetiver, Musk, Cedarwood, Patchouli, Vanillin
* As a point for reference: NARCISO reminds me of a little bit like Obsession, a tad like Prada Ambre Intense Pour Homme, and a lot like Tocade. These three perfumes seemingly have very little in common; but they all share similarities with NARCISO.