Sunday, February 26, 2006

How it all began...

My fascination with scent started very early in my life. I grew up in a remote village by the Mediterranean sea, away from civilization... Growing in this village was an aromatic heaven: wild flowers covered the hills and meadows in the spring, filling the air with their delicate and sweet scents; aromatic herbs such as hyssop, sage, thyme and white mint grew on the mountains. The smalle community was intensely interested in the wild herbs’ medicinal properties, cultivated some and grew other herbs in the gardens for making tisanes – lemon verbena, lemongrass, spearmint and geranium to name a few of my most favourite. The scent of the earth after rain, the resinous scent of labdanum bushes, the obscure and suggestive scent of carob blossom in the fall, and the intoxicating blooming brooms at springtime have left an unforgettable impression on my olfactory memory to this day.

I was always very sensitive to smell, and was most comfortable in places that smelled pleasant. I noticed the different smell each house of my friends and neighbours had – depending on the food they prepared, the plants in the gardens surrounding the house, and the scent of the people in the family. One house smelled strongly of goats milk, as the family raised goats and made their own cheeses and yogurts. Another smelled like old books (the mother was a writer), another house was haunted by the scent of dark black tea while another was surrounded by jasmine bushes (incidentally, this friend’s name was Yasmin!). Naturally, I felt most comfortable in places that had a familiar scent similar to my own home.

As a little girl, I used to mix different leaves and flowers soaked in water in little medicine bottles with an eye-dropper. After a while, the “perfume” turned nasty smelling, and I had to throw it out as I was told this was poisonous. The word “poison” sounded so intriguing!

When I was in my early teenage years, I started wondering about perfumes and how they are made, as I wanted to make a perfume of my most favourite smell - lemon verbena. I learned that the essential oil of the plant can be distilled, and a perfumer or a “nose” needs a special gift and mysterious training that nobody was able to tell me enough about. I was fascinated, and was hoping to one day open a factory of my own that will produce only verbena scented olive-oil base soaps.

As a teenager and a young adult, I was obsessed with one scent – it was a lovely liquid soap for babies called “Softcare” that could be used as a shampoo as well as a shower gel. It had a wonderful smell that made my skin smell better, yet smelled very much like “me”. I developed early fears about the scent being changed… But luckily for me, it never happened, and this soap is still available. I always bring it back from my trips back home.

My encounter with perfumes and a growing passion for them did not happen until much later in my life. My exposure to perfumes in my childhood was quite limited. My mother never wore any perfume that I can remember, but lit sandalwood incense occasionally. My grandmother had a few bottles of perfumes on her vanity – Shalimar and Judith Miller made the strongest impression on me because of their lovely bottles. When they run empty, my grandmother gave them to me to play with. Looking back, I now find it strange to remember that I was not so impressed by the perfumes themselves. Whatever scent remained in the bottles smelled “perfumey” and I did not make a connection between the soothing smell of my grandmother and her house and Shalimar until much later in my life. I suspect it must have been too strong for my nose, a nose that was accustomed to the scents of wild flowers and herbal teas…

However, when I was about 16 years old, my grandmother brought me a solid perfume in a lovely container from Greece, that was confusingly called “Anais”. My grandmother was convinced that it was the same as Anais Anais (Cacharel), and when I run out she bought me a nice big bottle of the scent... Alas, the original AnaisAnais was a completely different one, and although pleasant (it smelled like a lovely, clean and fresh floral soap to me), I couldn’t bring myself to wearing it, and my gradmother kept it for herself (it was one of her favourites too, so at least it didn’t go to waste!). Another fragrant gift I remember very clearly (and I was clever enough to keep the bottle even after it was empty) was a bottle of thick, green oil that my aunt gave me in my late teens. She said it is eucaliptus oil, but it wasn't as eucaliptus oil was much lighter in both scent, colour and consistency. It was, nevertheless, a capmphoreous perfume oil that I was later reminded of when I first smelled Aftelier's Shiso perfume, a perfume based on a Geisha formula for a powdery perfume (aka rubbing incense powder).

The first perfume I bought for myself was Abishag, which I found in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem when I was 17 years old. I wanted to become a tour-guide in archeological digs, and went there for my screening. I found the perfume in the gift shop, and the girl that was with me encouraged me to try it on. I was a bit hesitant, as wearing perfume seemed like such a womanly thing to do… But my new friend urged me to put it on as we continued on our tour in the museum, to see how it settles on my own skin… It turned out it was a perfect perfume for me – the strange green top notes gave way to a soft, ambery base of labdanum, oakmoss and incese, then melted into my skin and beautified its natural scent. It also reminded me somehow of “Softcare” and so I bought a mini bottle, which I soon had to replace with another one. To my dismay, Abishag was discontinued after I finished my second bottle, I haven’t had a chance to replenish it as I didn’t go to Jerusalem very often. And I wasn’t clever enough to keep the bottle either, so it is now lost forever to me…

When I grew up, I started collecting bath products primarily for their scent – rose scented body lotions and shampoos, and so on. There were enough of those to provide entertainment in the form of guessing games in my home – “which shampoo did I use tonight?”…I also loved burning oil in a diffuser – pure frangipani oil that my aunt gave me, as well as coconut scented oils. I also loved stopping at the fancy new drugstore ("Superpharm" - the first of its kind in Israel) that opened close to my house right after work, and sniff all the different perfumes, as well as body lotions and soaps. I never considered wearing or purchasing any of them, but I do remember Tocade quite clearly. It was when it just came out, and years later when I smelled Tocade, it reminded me instantly of my drugstore snifforamas.

I was aware of my growing passion for scents, and as a psychology student, was dreaming about developing psychotherapy through fragrance and perfume… Little did I know that this dream will come true in a different form just a few years later…

When I was about 19, I got Diorissimo for the woman who was to become my mother in law for the next ten years. It was lovely and youthful, like fresh flowers, and my than boyfriend loved it a lot, as it smelled like real flowers (and not like a grown up perfumey scent). I wore it for my premature wedding at the age of 19. It was a lovely spring day, and I kept wearing it for my entire marriage, which fortunately did not last forever... It used to be the scent of spring happiness to me, with its clear jasmine and lily of the valley heady and intoxicating fragrance. But now it has become a piercing reminder of a painful relationship.

It wasn’t until I was about 24 years old, that I have completely immersed myself in fragrance. I was living in a foreign country for just over a year, and my longing to my childhood landscape and olfactory memories have become unbearably painful. I have moved to Vancouver – a Northern West Coast city, where it rains about 85% of the year. There are hardly any flowers in the spring (not wildflowers, anyways), and the only two scents that I had any connection to was the forest in the autumn (otherwise even the scent of the coniferous trees is washed out by the rain most of the year) when the earth in the forest exudes a warm, sweet scent of “Chypre”, and at the heat of the summer, when there is enough salt in the ocean to detect in the air. I missed the wild flowers, the scent of earth after rain, the scent of the special fruit that arrive every fall, all the scents of my childhood. Curiously, I have met a couple of people who made their own loose incense. I was inspired and started collecting materials and blending gums, resins, spices, herbs and essential oils. My incense smelled lovely, until… I did what one is suppose to do with incense – burn it: It turned into a thick and sickening, caugh inducing smoke. After a few months, I have decided to change direction and start making perfumes that required no burning – and started making alcohol and oil based perfumes. I studied passionately and learned quickly, and was soon able to fulfill my dreams and bottle my memories and passion in the form of perfumes – later to be enjoyed by others as well.

It is my greatest pleasure and my deepest satisfaction to create a perfume and be able to achieve my olfactory visions. Although my perfumery skills are constantly improving, I still love my earliest creations, and I enjoy tremendously the process of learning, evolving my olfactory awareness and vocabulary, and perfecting my technique as to be able to follow my dreams even further.

Image: Friday Eve: a mysterious little girl picking fragrant flowers of geranium and nasturtium.



At August 21, 2010 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Ayala... Isn't it interesting how we never seem to forget scents from our past? I am convinced (and science seems to back me up here) that the scent memory is the strongest, and scent can bring up memories we thought we had forgotten. Lovely story of how you got where you are today!


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