Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Fresh Nose

A huge part of my work is educational, either spontaneously via interactions with customers and random encounters at social events; or intentionally through workshops and classes I offer. 
This past winter holiday season, I had a blast interacting with children at a Christmas show last year. Unlike their parents, they're not spoiled yet with misconceptions against fragrance (like so many folks in Vancouver - everyone claims to be "allergic", where in fact they are more like just ignorant and close-minded). These children's curiousity and sheer delight at smelling something new was so refreshing that it stuck with me for months after the fact! 

Time and again, I meet adults that are so jaded about perfume (and probably life in general). They act like they've seen it all, even though it is more likely that they are too scared to step out of their comfort zone and experience anything new. How many times have you met someone who just jumps at the opportunity to rather than just claim that they "live life to the fullest" (a cliché I hear so many times that I want to scream and run for the hills), where in fact, they just want to do the same thing over and over again because they identify with the notion of being "au naturele" or whatever their rational or made up ideology is behind not wearing fragrance is.

Back to those sweet kids: their enthusiasm was heartwarming and their natural curiousity was inspiring, to say the least. I had two main encounters with them that stuck with me. One was with two friends who were about seven or eight years old. They smelled and tried different perfumes and when one of the girls inquired about price, she wasn't discouraged because she could not afford it (the point when most adults glide their gaze elsewhere and remove themselves as swiftly as possible from my booth) - but was excited that she can try it on. I also mentioned to her the price of the samples, in case her allowance might be closer to that. The other girl, who was by then exploring the tucked-away Zodiac line, came back after a few minutes, and asked me if Taurus had a sample... So sweet! Of course I sent them off smelling heavenly and gave them pretty postcards and scent-cards with some of the scents they liked.

The other pair were a brother and a sister, probably about ten and eight, respectively. The girl was smelling and enjoying the display of testers, while the boy went on and on with questions about how perfumes are made, how oils are extracted, whether or not I grow the plants and distill them myself, all dotted with clever attention to detail and more interesting questions than many interviewers in professional magazines ever bother asking. I was hoping they will never leave my booth because the rest of the show was mind-dumbing boring, thanks to the uninterested crowds.

And then there was a woman older than my mother, who visited the booth and was probably more excited about the notion of having a perfumer in the city than any other person I've ever met. She sat there for hours, sniffing, sharing stories, swooning in pleasure and near-ecstasy elicited by the scents I've created (what an honour!) and inviting anyone who as much as peeked at my room to come in and marvel at the rarity of the opportunity of meeting the perfumer who created them.

While I'm more than just a tad tired and bitter about the current state of affairs in my city during craft and holiday shows, and in particular what seems to be like a pathetic downhill tumbling of the city's culture thanks to the sense of entitlement so many people seem to have whenever they interact with one another -- I am most thankful for these three occurrences of graceful interaction with future generations and with the lady who truly appreciates perfume. Don't ever underestimate what a kind word to an artisan or a small business owner can do. They might just decide to not quit thanks to you!

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February Giveaway: NARCISO

Half of February has already passed, and I now realize I haven't even posted my giveaway for this month... Time flies!
So, for this month we've got a little Narciso beauty pouch with a scented body lotion, as well as eau de parfum spray samples of this fragrance.

Reminder for the rules: Each month, blog commenters (on all and any post) will be entered into a draw on the first day of the following month. The winner is selected at random. You must respond via email with a mailing address in order for me to be able to send you the prize. If a prize is not claimed,  it will go to another random commenter, or will be offered again at a later time. Winner who have already won something in the past 12 months will not be entered into the draw.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Tuberose Pommade and a Flower Meditation

The other enfleurage pommade I ordered from Dabney Rose was a tuberose one. If you've smelled fresh-cut tuberose before, you'll be appreciate the glorious beauty of the living flower that has been captured in the vegetable oil base of this pommade. You can read more about the process and what pommade means in my post about the equally stunning Butterfly Ginger pommade.

Capturing a living flower's true scent is an enormously challenging feat. Dabney Rose does an incredible labour of love growing her own plants in a glass hothouse and her own little garden, and she must be tending to each blossom and petal with much care while growing them, and of course handpicking and placing them in the coconut-base vegetable alternative to enfleurage.

The Tuberose Pommade brings to mind spring eternal when the entire room is intoxicated from a single cut stem. It transports you to a hot summer night on the beach, adorned with a lei of tuberoses and gardenias. I am yet to experience this in real life, but my imagination is quite satisfying and a dab of real tuberose is enough to make it feel real. All is needed is to close one's eyes and surrender your senses to this beauty, for it is fleeting.

The pommade is not a solid perfume, but a pure, single note extraction - a rather antique method, like the one invented in the city of Grasse. It does not last long, which demands you do pay attention to it while it lasts. With such rare beauty, a floral meditation is in order, once you apply this white unguent to pulse points or even finger tips. Take a few moments off your stressful day to appreciate this beauty. Or better yet - start your day that way. Dedicating the beginning of your day to gratitude and appreciation is the best way to start the day. Invite life's blessings and pause to fully appreciate it, and more will come your way.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Almonds for TuBishvat

Today is Tu BiShvat - the new year of the trees. And what better essence to celebrate than that of almond? This year I have finally got my paws on bitter almond oil. It is a very simple essence, and can technically be considered an isolate, as it is nearly 100% benzaldehyde, the simplest aromatic aldehyde, comprised of a benzene ring and a formyl substituent.

Benzaldehyde smells almost cloyingly sweet - which is funny coming from what is generally called "bitter a almond". Benzaldehyde was first extracted in 1803 by the French pharmacist Martrés, and in 1832 synthesized by German chemists Friedrich Wöhler and Justus von Liebig.

It is extracted not just from the bitter, and largely inedible type of almonds (which have a dangerous proportion of prussic acid, AKA cyanide) - but also from the kernels found in apricots, cherries, peaches, plums, apricot which have a more delicate but still bitter taste and that unique aroma of benzaldehyde. Apple, quince and pear seeds also have small amounts of benzaldehyde, and it is also naturally occurring in oyster mushrooms, cinnamon root and bark, champaca, patchouli, cassia, orange blossom concrete and cassie concrete.

Bitter almond oil is mostly produced in the USA, Israel, Syria, Turkey, Morocco, Spain and France. To extract bitter almond oil, the press cakes from the bitter almonds (Prunus amygdalus var. amara), or kernels of apricots, plums, peaches or cherries (an easy raw material to come by, as a by-product of the fruit canning process, and after their fixed oil has been removed - mostly for the cosmetics industry) are soaked for 24 hours. This soaking allows for an enzymatic process to occur, that will break down the amygdalin in the kernels and initiate the formation of benzaldehyde and hydrocyanic acid (cyanide). Of course, the latter must be removed (by alkali washing and rectification), due to its lethal toxicity. As to be expected, non of the almond oil used for perfume or flavour contain any cyanide. Curiously, although cynadine and benzaldehyde share no commonality in their molecular structure, they both have a similar aroma. You may have come across the smell of almonds in numerous detective and crime novels.

Bitter almond smells like marzipan (or almond paste), is highly volatile and unstable, and is more popular in favouring than in perfume - though preferably, it should be fixed by adding alcohol, vanillin or anise alcohol, among others. Besides its extensive use in baked goods (i.e.: in almond filling for frangipane tarts and almond croissants, for example). Curiously, the taste of this oil is sweet, not bitter (the bitterness is from a non-volatile ingredients, and it disappears when exposed to the water during the distillation process). Bitter almond oil is therefore used as a sweetener when composing flavours such as apple, apricot, cherry, pistachio, raspberry, almond, and more.

As far as perfumery uses, bitter almond adds a sweet, gourmand note whenever one wants to have a marzipan-like quality. It also is a great additive to violet, mimosa, cassie and orange blossom. It pairs beautifully with anise, cacao absolute, cassie absolute and vanilla.
It's important to note that nowadays, mostly, synthetic benzaldehyde is used. A telling sign that a "Bitter Almond Oil" is in fact synthetic benzaldehyde is the notion of FFC on the label of "Bitter Almond Oil", which stands for "Free From Chlorine" - chlorine only turns up in the process of synthetic manufacturing of this component, and must be removed for flavour and food preparations. If the label says "FFPA" (which stands for "Free From Prussic Acid") that means that it's from a natural origin (i.e. the kernels mentioned above).

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Monday, February 02, 2015

Winner of January Giveaway

Thank you for everyone who contributed with insights and comments throughout the month of January!
The winner of the lucky draw is SmellyBlog reader Darcy Rouhani. She will receive a coffret of 5 vintage minis from the 80's, including Bal A Versailles, Animale, Sunwater, Hollywood, 360 Perry Ellis and 273 Fred Hayman.

Please continue leaving comments in February :-) I will announce the prize for this month shortly. 

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Breathe In Israel

Yesterday I had the pleasure and the honour to partake in Limmud Vancouver - an annual event of Jewish learning and cross-fertilization (as all presenters also participate as student). The first Limmud was at Carmel College outside London, in 1980. Limmud events sprang all over Britain, Europe, and the Americas. This year was the second event of its kind in Vancouver, and offered an exciting schedule, with 9 sessions each hour, including 8 lessons and a mini film festival from Peace It Together.

My class was titled Breathe In Israel, and was a virtual olfactory trip to Israel around the Jewish calendar year. Here's the gist of it (though we smelled many other things, of course, including a perfume from my collection that had some connection to an ingredient or a time of year).

Citron or Etrog essences, and my Etrog Oy de Cologne, as this Sukkoth is celebrated then. Other smells: Hadas (green myrtle).

The smell of the first rain, called Yoreh in Hebrew, and about petrichor in general. We've smelled Spikenard, which reminds me the most of the smell of wet earth, and also Rainforest and Tamya, named after my daughter whose birth night was also the night of the first rain that year!

Olive absolute, to commemorate the Ness (miracle) of the olive can. It's also a great time of the year to enjoy hot ginger tea (Zangvil in Hebrew) with hulnejan.

Precious bulb flowers adorn the land at the dead of winter, including wild narcissus and orchids. So I brought both narcissus absolute and Narkiss perfume to smell. This is also the time of the year when one can find Sahleb (or Salep) - originally made from ground up starchy root of the early red orchid (Orchis mascula), in every street corner. Think about a thick, almost pudding-like milk beverage, perfumed with rosewater, and topped with spices (cinnamon, cardamom) and nuts (coconut, pistachio, almond or peanut).

To celebrate the New Year of the Trees (AKA Jewish Arbor Day), which occurs on the 15th of Shvat (just in 2 days - although technically, it starts tomorrow evening!), I brought in the scent of bitter almond. This is because almond blossoms are the botanical symbol of the holiday - their pure flowers adorn the trees exactly at this time of the year. I also brought in Hanami, as it's the closest thing I have to almond blossom.
I also brought in pine needle absolute, because on Tu BiShvat, we plant a lot of trees, and among the non fruiting trees, pines are the most widely planted all over the country, to make for fast-growing (although sadly also fast-burning) forests on the once barren hills.

"Enter Adar - begins happiness".
And at this time of the year, the orchard begin to bloom. Their scent evokes happiness more than any other perfume in the world. We also smelled Zohar, my orange blossom soliflore.

During Passover, the Song of Solomon is read (either on Shabbat of Hol HaMoed, or the 7th of Passover). Which is why we smelled some frankincense, myrrh and labdanum - aphrodisiac perfumes mentioned in that spiritual, romantic and shamelessly erotic poem, and also key ingredients in the Song of Songs perfume.

Remember the pine trees we planted in Tu Bishvat? Many will burn down during the return of the hot season (summer in Israel lasts almost as long as the rainy season on the West Coast). We smelled both Scotch pine essential oil, pinewood (Bois des Landes) and pine needle absolute (again) and compared the three. Also, for celebrating Lag BaOmer that happens that month, cade oil, which is a destructive distillation of juniper, and really smells like liquid smoke and campfire.

Wheat absolute for the wheat harvest season and holiday of Shavuot. And roses, big, luscious red roses, like the ones my friends would bring in a basket alongside green almonds and almost-ripe apricots, to the altar of Bikkurim they'll set up in kindergarten to reenact the holiday in the days when the temple was still built in Jerusalem. And of course we had to taste some rosewater-scented Rahat Loukum (Turkish Delight), and indulge in Cabaret perfume!

In the dog days of summer, not even the beach can save you. It's too hot there, and besides, it's usually infested with poisonous jellyfish. If you're lucky, perhaps you can enjoy some beach time just around sunrise and around sunset. The rest of the day, lay low. And exert as little energy as possible, as to not overheat. If you need an extra boost of energy (and you will need it for sure by the time the dreaded 4pm rolls in) - you'll have to indulge in some iced mint lemonade, nana tea (spearmint tea, the Moroccan custom has caught on to the rest of the country quickly, because it's so good - even though there was no gunpowder tea to be found in the land of Israel back in the 1950s, when the Moroccan Jews made Aliyah). And last but not least: Coffee, the stronger the better, either Turkish style cooked in a Finjan with cardamom and tons of sugar; or iced espresso made on a stovetop mokka machine.
For this month, we smelled seaweed absolute, coffee CO2, cardamom CO2 and spearmint oil. Oh, and some Charisma perfume and Charisma tea as well. Students took some fresh sprigs of

Av being the peak of the grape harvest season (also celebrated in Tu Be'Av - the only holiday in an otherwise rather sad month for Jews - the month in which both the first and second temple were destroyed) - it would be appropriate to mention a wine-related term: Garrigue. That is also the scent that permeates the air if you walk on the hillside even at the dead of summer, when everything is seemingly dry and dead, the sturdy wild herbs are still alive and fragrant, underneath all the dust: sage, hyssop, wild oregano and mountain thyme. So we smelled these, as well as labdanum, and Ayalitta, which among my perfumes is one of the most evocative of the Meidterranean garage.

No perfume lecture is complete without mentioning some weirdly repulsive animal ingredient. There are four "New Years" in the Jewish calendar, and 1 Elul is the new year for animal tithes. So what month could be more appropriate for mentioning Israel's very own animal raw material - hyraceum (AKA Africa Stone) from the Rock Hyrax?

The class after me was about vegetable dyes and the the Tchelet (light blue) dye of the Tzitzit that is described in the Torah, taught by out-of-town guest Nili Simhai. It was fascinating and inspiring to see what can be done, for example, with just elderberries (the picture above is of the presenter's hand-dyed and knit Talith & Kippah case).

It was so much fun. Can't wait for the next Limmud!

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