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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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Butterfly Ginger Pommade

Dabney Rose's Butterfly Ginger (Ginger Lily) Pommade is nothing short of a miracle. But for you to understand, let's first explain what pommade is. And no, it is not spelled "pomade", much to my autocorrect's disapproval. This is the French word for a step in the enfleurage process. Enfleurage is the fat (usually from an animal source) that has been fully saturated with a flower essence. Once this is achieved, the pommade will be washed with alcohol and produces an extrait (an alcoholic dilution of flower extract). When this alcohol is removed by evaporation, it leaves behind the pure flower absolute (much like any other extraction process).

There are a few things that are unique about Dabney Rose's pommade: first of all, she makes them by hand from plants that she lovingly grows in her garden and hothouse. Secondly, it is sold as is, without further washing in alcohol - thus offering a pure, fresh flower scent in a solid perfume form. Thirdly, the fats she uses to absorb the living flower's beautiful perfume are vegan (I believe it is coconut oil, but it might be mixed with other vegetable oils).

Specifically, the Butterfly Ginger Pommade is stunning. Even though it is made of just one plant, it smells like a complete perfume, yet also smells very alive. As a point of reference, thing of a floral green such as Laura Ashley No.1, sans all the sharp and headachy notes that this genre tends to give me (much to my dismay, as I do admire green florals). It also reminds me of a certain fancy soap that was the household name at my best friend's home: a fine white soap with a very clean yet floral, exotic aroma.

This ginger flower is not at all ginger-like, even though it could be described as slightly spicy. I haven't smelled it in real life, so forgive me if my points of reference are commercial items. At the same time though, I'm sure this is very true to a fresh living flower. It perfectly retains that character and authenticity. This is the kind of thing that you may not be able to describe, but you certainly can feel.

Dabney Rose's offerings are seasonal in nature, and are made in very small batches. The website doesn't a catalogue or shop yet, so it's best to follow here Facebook and twitter stream, and order immediately when something that strikes your fancy is out of her still or enfleurage trays.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Marriage of Life and Death

Earlier this winter, as I went deeper into the forest trails, my eyes met with a devastating sight. After several days of rain and wind storms, two beautiful, tall and rather ancient Douglas fir trees (well over 200 years in my estimate, although this is probably young in fir years) were uprooted and simply flipped over. It's a sad sight, and one that literally pierced my heart and brought tears to my eyes. The air around the trees was filled with their tragedy, and I heard their screams and shrieks of pain from being uprooted and losing their life-giving connection to the earth.

Here is the strange thing about an ancient fallen tree: it dies a slow painful death. Perhaps even move the course of several weeks when in such moist conditions that as the rainforest. Maybe it's not that slow in tree years, but it sure seemed prolonged to me, as I was walking by the same trail several weeks in a row, and still saw signs of life in these two fierce yet fallen giants.

First the roots alone feel the change: they are accustomed to life of darkness and the cold yet nutritious moisture of the earth. All of a sudden they are exposed to the foreign presence of air and light. The tree's equivalent of nervous system must have felt the pain of the roots as they leave the ground and disconnect from the smaller rootlets, and the shock along the tree's spine as it hit the ground. Over the next few days, if not weeks, the tree's storage of moisture will get used up, perhaps slower than before. The roots will attempt to cling to any moisture they reach from the damp rainforest air, but circumstances are largely not in their favour.

I get closer to the tree. Touch its rain-soaked bark. Feel the tremendous pain its in. The tree that once had stood so proud and high above all creatures is now lying horizontally. I can feel its pulse, weak, trembling but still there. I pat the damp moss on the base of its bark and on the formerly superficial portion of its root system. What about all the lesser life forms on the tree? Did they notice the change? Are they worried about their future? Perhaps not. The tree's body will nourish these fungi, fern, lichens and moss strands for countless years to come. And water is present in abundance for these plants from prehistoric kingdoms.

And this is how life meets death. Or perhaps the other way around - death is the one that greets life and reaches out to it. In the rainforest the coexistence of these two opposites is the most obvious, natural. And if it weren't for the drama and tragedy of the storm, those two states of being just weave in and out of each other seamlessly. The trees took about four weeks to use up their water, shut down their entire systems of livelihood, and say their farewells to the world as they lay horizontally and stare at the barren skies through the space their missing canopy left behind. After checking their plus this weekend, I am pretty sure that they are now among the dead. Not only are the needles no longer green, many have already began falling to the ground. And there is something you cannot see, but only feel, that tells me they are now just inanimate objects, vegetal corpses providing nutrients to the new generation of trees, bushes, housing birds and squirrels, bugs and microorganisms that will take many years to penetrate the strong essential oils in the heartwood to completely break it down. It will become, eventually, part of the soil and part of the root system of those new plants and create an intricate piece of the rainforest ever changing landscape. 

We humans are strange creatures. Life should be life; and death should be plain and simple, cut and dry. But how many of us live in a state of a dream (or a nightmare) and constantly attempt to escape the present moment? How much of our lives we wish we were somewhere else than where we are, and be someone else - or be with somebody else than the people and creatures that are present in our lives? I am beginning to think that constant discontent with the present moment is the root of all illnesses. That and the lack of gratitude to what IS in our lives, what is present, what we "have" so to speak (at the end of the day, I don't believe ownership truly amounts to much). That obsession of what would happen next - after we finish work, or after we finish resting; after we finish living, or once we stop dying. This mindset is so futile, counter-productive and ultimately shows very little gratitude. We should be thankful every moment that we are alive, and literally, live up to what that entails. 

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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cold Milk

I was a couple of years late into the game trying Santal Massoïa Jean-Claude Ellena (created for the Hermèssence collection). Perhaps it was after the Iris Ukioye that I felt a little disappointed in the line. I feel that the majority of the new creations are becoming victim of their own style. As if the creator's commitment to stick to a certain genre of aesthetic statement. I feel that no matter what theme would be picked for this line, and no matter how outrageously intriguing the combination of notes may be, the result would be the same ethereal, non-descript quality of non perfume. Something quite pleasant, utterly wearable and easily so.

Like many of the scents in the collection, in the several times I wear it and try to find words to describe it - I stick my nose really close to my wrist and shake my head from side to side in search for something more. And before it has any chance to appear, the scent disappears altogether. Which is truly unfortunate in the case of Santal Massoïa. I was truly excited to discover what Jean-Claude Ellena would do with such an intriguing raw material as massoia bark: a rarity in the world of naturals, offering an extremely milky, lactonic odour reminiscent of toasted coconut and melted butter. It would have been the perfect accompaniment to sandalwood - highlighting its milky, creamy qualities, especially the Mysore kind which is practically non existent. This would have helped, I thought, to create a similar quality even in lesser varieties from, say, Australia or New Caledonia.

Instead, I get a watered-down, vaguely woody rendition with hints of peppery spice - sort of a cross between Iris Ukioye, somewhat violetty tea-like hints like Osmnathe Yunnan, and a very subtle wink towards Poivre Samarcande (but with non of the piquant originality of the latter). The sandalwoodiness of it is practically a reflection of a reflection of a clear water pool in a mirror; and the milkiness is more reminiscent of cold milk that one would gulp to wash down a very dry and neutral flavoured shortbread. Maybe if this appeared before any of the above scents did, it would seem original. But being the tenth fragrance in the collection, I desire for something more, something original and surprising. Which haven't happened since the launch of Vanille Galante, and only happened again with Épice Marine (the 11th in the series). This is very thin and linear, which is unfortunate, because neither sandalwood nor massoia are. It left me lukewarm and wanting much more.

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