Tuesday, February 28, 2006


There is a principle in cognitive psychologyaccording to which humans always try to find a reason or an explanation for their own behaviour (some spend more time trying to explain the behaviour of others, but that’s another story). When a behaviour does not have an explanation in the tangible environment, we try to find an internal reason for our behaviours.

It has long been my practice to make careful rather than impulsive purchasing decisions when it comes to perfume. A perfume bottle sitting on the shelf unsmelled and unworn is like an orphan child waiting for adoption. To avoid this unsettling scenario of feeling obligated to wear a perfume just because it’s there, I have developed a golden rule that never failed me until now: I only purchase a perfume if I find myself daydreaming about it after I empty a sample of it.

This worked great until I found myself using up more than two samples of Narciso Rodriguez, and while denying any affection to it find myself trying it on almost every time I visit a store that carries it. I could probably be held accountable for justifying the production of at least 4ml of this juice, but still I refuse to put either money or words to explain such a bizarre behaviour!

There is something unsettling about Narciso Rodriguez. It is obscure and unstable. The first time I smelled it I thought it was an extremely heady floral scent; It left impression of artificial gardenia, or perhaps it was a trick of my imagination, as I was expecting it to smell like narcissus – or at least something close. How naive of me! A few other times it was just so barely there I could hardly smell it (carrying on the musk and anosmia theme here), but a few hours later it grew warm and strong and the little ribbon was enough to scent the whole living room. One time I thought I like it so much that I sprayed so much on I ended up with a terrible headache and swore to never wear it again…Recently, I smell in it a faintly sweet floral opening, reminiscent of orange blossom and slightly sweet and warm citrus honey. This quickly fades into a more woody floral accord, and finally warms into a subtle skin-like musk, with a very close to the skin dry down. In any case, it does have the tendency to grow on fabrics better than the skin – and make them smell like they just came out of the drier… When that happens I seriously consider adding Narciso to the category of comfort scents that are obscure, overtly synthetic and sensually aloof (next to Tocade and l'Eau d'Issey). Perhaps I am intrigued by the unstable and indecisive, sitting-on-the-fence mind frame, and that is why I find myself obsessed with this perfume. I

If I was a cognitive psychologist, I would conclude – I wear it because I like it. I prefer to stick to my golden rule, only this time – if I finish the mini bottle that just arrived from e-Bay today, and still try to figure out Narciso Rodriguez – I will commit to buy a 100ml EDT bottle for the full retail price at Holt Renfrew crew who have been very patient...

*Photograph of Mariko Tanabe's Narcisse en silence

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Monday, February 27, 2006

Decoding Obscure Notes Part I: Vegetale Musks

Of late, I have found myself mysteriously fascinated by obscure notes, notes that often meet with anosmia when they arrive at the olfactory headquarters of even the great noses in the industry: musk and iris.

Distinct yet soft and unreachable, these notes have a long history of seduction, while at the same time can be very clean, polite and proper, their subtlety and vagueness interpreted as a virtue of humble and quiet shyness.

Although musk deers are now farmed rather than hunted, their musk pouch surgically removed as to not end their lives while being robbed of their scent, it is very hard to procure as it is rare as well as illegal in most countries, and raises many ethical questions in the natural perfume community. Vegetale musks are the alternative to both synthetic musk and true musk, they are notes that of botanical origin rather than from the endangered Musk Deer. Ambrette seed can be a substitute on its own for its delicate, light and subtle musky aroma; other darker oils and absolutes are used for a more intense animalic musk accord - costus, opoponax, vetiver, patchouli, labdanum, tobacco, sandalwood and more.

Ambrette Seed
Known as the best musk substitute from the plant world, Ambrette seed comes from the seeds of a hibiscus species. It has a very soft, delicately sweet, vaguely woody and very much reminiscent of human skin. It is available as an oil, absolute and co2 extraction. The oil may be much stronger, sharp in an almost harsh way, and animalic. Perhaps this is due to other plant parts that sneak into this type of distillation which makes it so different than the absolute and CO2. The latter being very soft and even slightly powdery and woodier and quite similar to the absolute. The absolute is the sweetest of all and has a very subtle aroma that is oily and slightly vinegar-like (some refer to it as wine like, but to me it is much like apple cider vinegar!). Once matured, ambrette absolute becomes sweet and floral and musky in the most subtle and sublime manner. Ambrette seed is used as a light musk base for delicate floras, where it will support them gently without taking away from their cheerful lightness (as in Tamya and Rosebud). It also serves as an accessory note in oriental perfumes, where is adds a musky odor to the base. The essential oil’s intense animalistic character and forceful silage makes it a perfect companion in leathery, tobacco and other smoky compositions (such as Espionage).

Costus Root
Next to ambrette seed, costus root is another extremely important vegetale-musk. It is darker than Ambrette, with a fatty skin like undertones, reminiscent of goats, wet puppies or the subtle yet distinct scent of the scalp. When aged for a year or more, it has a sweeter aroma with rosy undertones. It is one of my most favourite notes ever – I loved the goats when I grew up and found their adventurous and energetic character quite inspiring. Unfortunately, costus was recently declared a skin sensitizer. I use it in my original formula for Espionage, which happen to be my signature perfume – there, along with ambrette, vanilla, tonka and opoponax it creates a skin-like musky-vanilla foundation adorned with only minimal amounts of orris, rose, jasmine and cedar.

Also known as Sweet Myrrh, Opoponax is a relative of myrrh, only sweeter and softer. It is sweet, balsamic, spicy, warm, musky. It is invaluable in oriental bases, and lends a musky and powdery base. When used in minute amounts, especially along with other musky or animalic notes, opoponax lends a soft, powdery, subtly animalic character to the perfume (as in Espionage mentioned above). However, it can also be used in larger quantities as a resinous, sweet, honeyed, animalic base - especially when paired with other resinous-incense notes such as frankincense, cedar, myrrh, sandalwood, honey, spices or narcotic florals (as in Epice Sauvage, Opium and Poison).

*Musk deer image courtesy of Alchemy Works
**Next time in this series: orris root

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Muscs Koublai Khan

There are two ways of getting privacy when you need it – hiding away (i.e.: “DO NOT DISTURB” sign on the door) or kicking the unwanted company out. The latter can be achieved by sufficiently spraying oneself with generous douses of Muscs Koublai Khan – the most daring and sensual musk I have ever smelled. It reeks of raw, animalistic sexual energy of the most desirable nature. While the opening may be obtrusive to some, it is surprisingly clean and warm at once to my nose, while also being intesely animalic, yet curiously does not bring to mind any specific animal… In fact, it is quite like raw ambergris chunks, straight from the beach, undiluted. But as I said – it is strong enough to send out of the room all parties that are not invited, or for that matter, not welcome to whatever will take place after the drastic step has been taken… And keep the one(s?) that will stick around long enough for the stench to dissipate and turn into the most alluring, warm and erotic musk.
Muscs Koublai Khan gradually softens but never quite changes it’s true character. It lasts for hours and hours on end, and I must admit it can be quite distracting (for yourself and others) to wear it during the day in situation that require reasonable thinking and perhaps even a bit of cognitive effort. Rather, it is a scent for times of freedom and no restraints, either out in the wild or in the privacy of your own room… It’s a scent that draws your full attention to its source, and haunts you without mercy. It is inspiring, motivating and mesmerizing. You simply won’t be able to stop thinking about it when wearing it – in a good way…While the aphrodisiac qualities are quite obvious, it is a truly liberating experience in all levels to wear Muscs Koublai Khan – it is very much reminiscent of the male body odour, and to pull this out, one needs to have quite the presence and sense of self-acceptance – also known as one of the keys to happiness.

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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.


Welcome to my Smelly Blog!

This is the temporary home of my Smelly Blog - a perfumer's journal, a personal journey and a sneak peak into one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of human existence - scent and perfume.

This blog will feature essays about the creative aspects of perfume making, the Building Blocks of perfumery, perfume reviews, and interactive sections with DIY recipes for fragrant (and edible!) products, as well and activities that introduce young children to perfume joyfully (and safely). Many more surprises will be added along the way, and eventually this blog will move to it's permanent home on my upcoming new website.

I hope that you will find this blog smelly in the most affectionate and sensual way possible through the scentless cyberspace, and that it will open the door to a deeper understanding and enjoyment of our day-to-day-life.

Thank you for reading!