mardi 3 novembre 2009

I need your ideas for my London perfume course!

Preparing my London perfume course is really preying on my subconscious mind: I woke up at 4.30 this morning, literally smelling L’Heure bleue and pondering its connections to Opium and Poison. Add to this that I’m still reeling, like Patty from the Posse, after my discovery of Cartier’s Les Heures du Parfum – the only scents that can pry me off numbers XII (L’Heure Mystérieuse) and XIII (La Treizième Heure) are Féminité du Bois and… Guet-Apens, another Mathilde Laurent. So though I tried valiantly to do a comparison test between three patchoulis this weekend -- Bornéo 1834, Parfumerie Générale Intrigant Patchouli and the new Parfums de Nicolaï Patchouli pour Homme/Intense – the only thought that sprang to mind was that the Nicolaï had an odd fresh green pepper smell throughout.

So instead of the promised reviews, I’ll enlist your help for my course at the London College of Fashion. Right now I’m waiting to hear back from the people who registered to find out where they’re at in their fragrant journey: as long as I don’t know whether they’re “laypeople” or perfumistas, or something in between, I won’t be able to adjust the type of materials I’m packing.

The point of the course is basically to tie in smells to words – descriptions, stories, culture: to get the participants to think more analytically about olfaction and, as a consequence, about perfume compositions. In other words, it’s an offspring of the blog culture and the learning curve we all underwent together in the past years.

Before plunging into aromatic materials, I want to elicit the smell-plus-words connection by presenting them with real, familiar things – from Lapsang souchong tea to rubber erasers, and grapefruit to freshly sharpened pencils. Some of these things will be presented to them while they’re wearing a blindfold; others will be to describe without directly naming the thing itself.

So my question is:

Which things do you suggest I use for these exercises?

Ideally, they should be associated to perfume notes. And above all, they should be easy to get hold of in London in December (or to carry from Paris).

I’m eagerly expecting your suggestions!

Image by Andy Julia.

54 commentaires:

  1. Well, I'm in no position for giving perfume lectures.
    But here are few things that I found very interesting when they were presented to me or that I would love to hear more about:
    1) comparing the smell of a flower (say rose or tuberose), and the absolute or concrete... and maybe pushing it by comparing, for example, the rose absolute with rose water and damascone or some aromatics commonly used in the industry.
    See also how differnt roses smell totally differently...
    2) I was delighted to smell some natural perfume ingredients: ambergris, civet. And see how the latter morphs when played with a safe side note. The experiment I was shown was: civet alone, pear extract alone, and the two together. Fascinating.
    3) If I could attend such a course, I would love to know more about the bonds between perfumes and literature (I mean we all know our Proust -which was actually more about taste, but also about smell- our Baudelaire and Suskind, but soemthing more?), perfume and Hollywood movies, perfume and mood. And how perfume is perceived differently in different cultures, western, arabian, eastern asiatic...
    4)I was amazed to discover that some very fragrant flowers don't let their precious smell to be extracted. I would love to know why. And what are the solutions perfumers came up with.
    5)And, at the end, I would appreciate, if not expect, to hear about "the future" of perfume technology, head space, etc. and the banning of some cornerstone fragrant materials with new challenges for perfumers...

  2. I so wish I could go on this course at my old college - but being pregnant and 250 miles away precludes it unfortunately.

    As for ideas how about:
    a freshly cut cabbage;
    cardamom pods;
    the pages of an old book;
    something made of well-worn leather;
    a piece of freshly laundered and ironed linen;
    a cupcake;
    a packet of rolling tobacco;
    papier d'armenie paper;
    a bag of flour;
    coins (for that metallic scent).

    Just the firts thoughts off the top of my head...

  3. Dear Zazie, you're describing a 6 week course! ;-) I only have three days... But who knows, maybe some day?
    I would love to do demonstrations with flowers but just try to find a fragrant rose, not to mention several different ones, in a florist's shop! And in mid-December in London on a Sunday (I start my course Monday morning)... But a visit to a garden would be a wonderful idea if I give the course next summer.

  4. Violetsrose, the course will be given again next summer so maybe by that time you'll be mobile...
    Terrific ideas. I'd already thought about the Papier d'Arménie for the balsamic smell, but an old book would be great to demonstrate the link between paper and vanillin. And of course, spices and leather are a must!

  5. Hi Dear.
    Exactly! A comparison of smell for flowers, woods, peppers, animal scents, resins... The biggest difficulty for laypeople is to differentiate these aromas.
    The question most frequent is: How to identify olfactory notes?
    Other item:
    - Conservation of the perfumes. - - Olfactory tolerance.
    - Setting Differences in the interaction with the skin. -
    - Different olfactory perceptions.
    XOXO. Elisabeth

    PS : Sorry my bad english

  6. Elisabeth, you're right to mention those points about olfactory tolerance and variations of perception... Like Octavian always tells me when we do our smelling sessions: "the nose is never crazy". I should really make a point of setting the participants straight on that!

  7. I just sent you an e=mail with a sensory chart attatched . It is great when sniffing , for comparisons .

  8. Carol, it's fantastic, thank you so much! Just what I needed.

  9. How about a handful of earth from a nearby park? A bit of leaf mould etc. would add to the smell, and it might be a useful way to start thinking about earthy notes like oakmoss etc.

    For live flowers v. essences maybe you could find hycainths, they're in season at this time of year, give off a strong scent, and you can usually get small ones in pots. Though I can't think of any perfumes with hyacinth notes off the top of my head, maybe you can?

    Best of luck with the course!

  10. To Violetrose's brilliant list I would add:
    - moth balls
    - band aids
    - pepper (various types)
    - muscle rub
    - blue cheese
    - cumin
    - cloves
    - ink
    - maple syrup
    - lipstick
    This could also be some sort of game where the students match each smell to perfume that "contains" it.
    How I wish I were a lady of leisure and could come to your seminar !

  11. Parfymerad, I'm afraid hyacinths would just invade the room! But I love the idea of earth and leaves, I'll be staying near Hyde Park so the source is easily accessible... Thanks!

  12. Silvia, thanks! (off to scribble frantically...) Well anyway, I'll be in London from Sunday 13th to Friday 18th, so we'll certainly work out a way of meeting up.

  13. How about pencils? So many scents use the cedar note. Cumin seed (not ground; too strong) and green cardamom pods. Crushed leaves. Pine needles. Vanilla pods. Molasses or English "golden syrup." Lavender spikes. I think all these would be easily available at grocery stores, or parks (for the leaves and pine, maybe the lavender.)

    Wish I could go. Good luck!

  14. This is probably a dumb idea but I've often thought it would be interesting to be blind tested on a sample of perfumes to try and pick which would classified as 'niche' or 'drugstore' or 'designer' or even just more expensive or which would be perceived to have a higher quality of ingredients. Could people spot a celebrity scent compared to a Luten's for example? I'm assuming the discussion around these experiments would be very interesting - especially if the cheaper more mainstream scents were perceived to be of higher quality than the 'niche' ones and why this would be the case. If anything it could be a fun ice-breaker or light interactive activity designed to get people comfortable and relaxed. You could even make it more like a quiz/game with a small prize for the winner of the most correct!
    Anyway, this whole concept is probably very juvenile so please feel free to ignore LOL.

  15. As a Jean-Baptiste Grenouille wannabe, I loved this post. I do have very developed sensitive olfactory nerves but fail at the mixing of scents. Desole, je ne peux pas vous aider!

    Great post.

    Greetings from London.

  16. if you've got some diluted oils some of the surprise ones like civet and even geranium could throw up interesting responses!

    I went to a course on making soaps and things and the lady taking it asked us to write down favourite smells. It doesn't sound that unusual but actually it really got people thinking and there were some really interesting responses- cats paws, earth, church- bacon sandwiches of course!

    Good luck- I do wish I was coming

  17. Olfacta, pencils are definitely already on the list, I'll need them for cedar! And I'll see what I can gather in London gardens without looking an utter fool. Lavender definitely.

  18. RM, are you kidding? There are going to be tons of blind tests and games, but not on the niche vs mainstream because it's more of a perfumista question, and more, say, on giving three scents and asking what the common note is (after having smelled the relevant essential oil, among other materials of the same family).

  19. A Cuban in London, I can't mix either. It's a perfume appreciation course but not a perfumery lesson... It takes *years* to learn to be a perfumer so don't get discouraged. ;-)

  20. Rose, raw perfumery materials are very much part of the program, including civet (and indol). But I thought I'd start off with real stuff to get the process going.

  21. Oh, you've gotten some very good suggestions for "scent objects" already. I think I have not seen...

    * freshly cut pine and cedar
    * bread dough on the rise
    * compost (good, fresh)
    * coffee grounds
    * fermenting fruit (maybe you can ask somebody to NOT throw away cut fruit or a compote?)
    * borax
    * okay, do you dare? used locker room towel, or work out shirt...have them sniff their own! :)
    * crushed aspirin

    BTW...just wanted to comment that I am not a "lady of leisure," but would absolutely consider taking such a class for pleasure/personal growth. Stateside travel to London does up the cost factor, natch, but wanted to point out that while I understand the wistfulness behind the commenter's assumption, one should be careful not to ascribe assumptions about lifestyle to your students. :) Learning is lifelong...

  22. ScentScelf, if I were living in London I could probably take compost or bread dough along, those are great ideas, but I'll be taking the Eurostar from Paris and I can't see myself lugging those along in my suitcase. As for sweaty gear, well, I wouldn't know where to get it, my dear: I don't smell! ;-)
    Silvia was speaking of ladies of leisure because she does actually live in London but the class was programmed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, which precludes a lot of registrations from people with office jobs, especially that close to Christmas holidays.
    I pointed that out to the school and next time we'll try doing it at the end of a week.

  23. D, I was thinking maybe somebody at the college could get you those things...though you would indeed be an interesting seat companion if you travelled with!

    Yes, I do see the scheduling issue now. Though honestly, if I had enough vacation days left, I'd consider anyway! :) I hope the school allows for a weekend wrap-around next time. Perhaps this calls for some creative thinking about how the experience would qualify as professional development... ;)

  24. ScentScelf, I wouldn't dream of burdening that lovely young woman with gathering such smelly stuff!

    The professional development angle is something I'm thinking about, though not in London (don't know how labor laws work there) more for Paris, like selling seminars to companies and such... But that's more medium-term. Right now, writing the program and gathering the materials is taking up every free second!

  25. Here's my list:

    freesia - ideally white
    vanilla pods
    vanilla pods steeped in milk
    wet wool mittens
    tomato plant stems
    an old childrens book
    kid leather gloves
    silk scarf

  26. OK, this cheating a little, sort of a "next step up" from what you want, but it might be nice to have a few commercially scented products with an overwhelmingly familiar note in them--baby powder, shampoo (you pick--but maybe Johnson's baby? Or whatever would be the equivalent in London..), soap--laundry or otherwise, a cleaning product. Just thinking that it might help folks understand their own frame of reference what is "nice" and "clean" and "comforting." So they can move on, up, and out!

  27. Scentred, I'm afraid wool mittens of any kind do not exist in my wardrobe...;-) But that smell is great, isn't it? So maybe I'll just soak a sweater? (thinking of bringing a soggy sweater back to the hotel... not).
    And if I could find tomatoes, the stems would do just as well, they're pretty fragrant. Though they really won't be in season.

  28. Alyssa, I'm not entirely sure what is traditionally thought of as a comforting laundry scent in the UK. Now most detergents have moved away from musk, so I've decided against them -- I'd ideally like mostly non-composed smells for the first exercises.

  29. Wow..everyone has such great ideas! The course sounds fabulous. Smells that occur to me are:
    fir needles (they are on the road of my jogging route and smell divine) and maple leaves or oak leaves. Also...maybe hard to replicate but that amazing rain hitting hot pavement dusty smell. Would there be a way to heat up some pavement in a jar and spray it with water??? Don't know. Coffee grounds have an intense smell..dry or wet, very different. The smell in bubble gum wrappers. Dried apples or dried apricots. Smoke from a small piece of kindling (not a match) Dried seaweed.
    Have fun! Cheryl

  30. Will you ever do a course in the NYC area? I hope so.

  31. How about taking a well known fragrance and then breaking it down for them by having them smell each of the main notes separately? We did an exercise like that at a Sniffa gathering in Los Angeles a couple of years ago, and it was a lot of fun.

    I wish I could take your course.

    Good luck. I know you will have a blast.

  32. Starscent, it's not in the works yet... Hope it'll happen some day though. The course is part of the Studies Abroad Program, so there are international connections.

  33. Violetnoir, that'll happen on day 2! Though obviously I won't have the actual materials the perfumers used in their composition unless one of them is kind enough to provide them!

  34. Cheryl, I sure wish someone could capture that rain on hot pavement smell... The closest thing I know is Bulgari Black, not the same thing but there's a vibe.

  35. A great deal has already been covered, but...
    Anosmia is a must... some of the musks but also I remember vividly the off milk chemical at school that half the class can't smell.

  36. Alexander, I am planning to do some musks, though I'll probably just use a couple -- you don't imagine the amount of stuff I'd like to cover! Wonder what that off milk chemical is called, but I can most certainly smell it in off milk. Yuck!

  37. Ooh!

    Some random thoughts of everyday things to sniff:

    Fresh leaves of lemon verbena. Or dried, given the season. While you're at it, and depending on what the grocery has in winter, sage, thyme, bay, lovage, parsley, fennel and fennel seed, dill weed and dill seed, cilantro and coriander seed. Oh, and fresh rosemary. Angelica? Mallow?

    Fresh ginger and lemongrass and carrots and sweet pepper flesh. Fresh and dried mushrooms.

    Burnt sugar. Caramel. Honey. (Any chance of getting meadowfoam honey? The smell is amazing.) Browned butter.

    Various liqueurs. Cigarettes and pipe tobacco.

    Tomato leaves or stems, if you can get your hands on them - sometimes even in winter they have those hothouse tomatoes still attached to the stems.

    A fresh evergreen branch. Maybe compared with the fresh rosemary.

    Cucumber, and melons, compared with each other. I get a lot of cucumber in watermelon and a lot of watermelon in cucumber. Apples. Peaches. Nectarines. Banana. Pear. Orange flesh versus versus orange zest versus the white part of orange peel. Or the same thing with lemons or grapefruit or lime.

    Flowers with a scent that isn't classic sweet flowery, like maybe marigolds. Fresh cut grass.

    New Barbie doll. I often smell "new Barbie doll" in perfumes, but I'm not sure what causes it. Baby powder. Pine-Sol. Froot Loops.

    Very fresh ground almonds. (Maybe get fresh raw almonds and grind them on the spot.)

    _Stale_ nuts. I frequently get a stale-nut smell in perfumes, often enough that the note I'm getting must be considered desirable, but I'm not sure what causes it.

    Wood smoke? I don't know if a charred piece of wood or bowl of wood ashes would hold their scent long enough.

  38. Thanks for asking, although I'm the wrong person to contribute--I'm a writer. But here are some things about smells I'd like to know:
    1. If you blindfold someone, removing the visual clues, do they have the same opinion as if they can see? A grapefruit, for example, smells great as long as you know it is a breakfast fruit. But cover your eyes, and it can be unpleasant, and not at all fruity. Same with bitter almonds, which can smell like Barbie Head.

    2. That leads to an interesting idea about telling people what the notes are--and what conclusions they draw BEFORE they sniff. Do we have perfume stereotypes and then dislike the perfumes because we know the notes?

    3. Humor varies in culture, and so does the popularity of a fragrance. Is that linked to something else? Food, textiles, the definition of success?

    . . .and what Zazie a dit said!

  39. I follow your blog and tried to connect to the link for your perfume course. I am DYING to go, although, perhaps, the summer course would be better.
    Earth, ashes, pipe tobacco, a good leather bag, a London Underground guard's coat after a whole work shift, crushed dandelion, freshly baked cross buns, candied violets and angelica from the fortnum and mason ground floor, cooking spices of All Kinds, rinds of fruits, clean, pure white rice, freshly boiled, a luthier's lacquer, some chalk from a southern cliff, greens, just English greens, an old iron pot, undyed sheep wool, and a bowl of milk.

  40. Chickenfreak, I'd love to use all those things and actually, every suggestion is useful to go in the descriptives for specific notes... For instance, stale nuts I get from certain lactones (and I find it in vintage Femme among others).

  41. Quinncreative, I think that you might dislike a perfume after *smelling* some specific materials in it that you dislike: you'd pick that out prominently. But reading the names: I doubt it.
    Your grapefruit example is great: I was already planning to use that particular smell but in a different way. But I like yours better!

  42. Eleven European Mystics: if I lived in England I could gather those things... Maybe I could ask each participant to bring something to smell, though?

    For my course, does the link I put in to the LCF not work? It's

    Otherwise just connect through the main page, there's a link:

    You can contact me at the address I give in the right-hand side column of the blog:
    graindemusc at gmail dot com

    Hope to see you in London!

  43. Hi Denyse,
    I have some carved sandalwood boxes and prayer beads from India that are many years old but still give off their wonderful smell when rubbed. How I wish I could bring them to you, but alas not from Vancouver (this time!)

  44. Jane, if they're real Indian sandalwood they are precious indeed!

  45. Here's my list (as if you need more!)of items paired with a representative perfume:
    1)Nutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream (scented)- has a cold rooty damp iris to rival Iris Silver Mist
    2) Cumin (Cartier Declaration)
    3) Leather and Saffron (Etat Libre d'Orange Tom of Finland)
    4) an OLD book (the lignin combined with the acid occuring naturally in old paper produces vanillin)
    5) a bouquet garni of rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme (Azarro pour homme)
    6) Immortelle Flower (Eau d'Hermes)
    7)absinthe (Fou d'Absinthe)
    8) juniper berries (Ormonde Man)
    Your course sounds wonderful, wish you offered it in California!

  46. Wow, D! Fantastic suggestions, and so many of them, in French as well as English; it's great! To add to them, I have only a few suggestions - mostly to do with working with the students - and these are only suggestions.

    I know you're waiting to hear from your students, so you'll have a better sense of what they already know. Incorporating as much of that as possible into the class can only be enriching to all, as well as a big help to you. You make your "learning outcomes" (as we're obliged :( to call them these days!) pretty clear on the London College website - making people more aware of what they smell - so I'm wondering if you might want to ask people to keep a scent diary for about ten days before the start of the course - ending, say, on the Friday before, so they'll have time to think about what happened when they started having to think carefully about or become more consciously aware of the smells in their everyday lives. If they sent you a short paragraph or a page summing up their most important observation, you could read them on the train coming over, and incorporate them into your approach. At the very least it would help you feel that you know each person a little better.

    (I generally start each teaching year's tutorials by asking people to tell one another their name and something they think others should know...usually it's things like "foods you hate" - because it's memorable and some people's hates are others' loves, so you get a reaction and people laugh a lot. This year I added "memorable smells" and the discussion was really interesting.)

    The other thing I was thinking might work would be to make use of L'Antimatiere, for example by having people smell it at the beginning and the end of the three days (possibly also in the middle). I have found that learning to smell it is learning to be very attentive to what is happening in my nose - with the overall result that I smell other things more acutely. I find that it works 'against' ambient scent in an interesting way. If I'm distracted or in a hurry (too much noise in brain), I can't smell it at all.

    Finally, I wonder what you'd think of water versus alcohol - i.e., making people aware of the impact of alcohol as such. I find with so many things these days there's this top-note punch that I don't remember having been there before, and which is absent in the work of Christopher Brosius who doesn't use alcohol. It's not so much the two media I'm thinking about, but their different effects on the nose.

    Delighted you'll be here in December, and hope we'll have a chance to meet, but we'll have been in touch before, I'm sure. Also pleased to think there'll be a spring/summer intensive.

    with all best wishes, kit

  47. Scott, I'm busily sniffing my oldest books to find the most vanilla-ish one! The scary part is that some of them, I bought myself...
    Ditto my leather stuff. And I can't believe I forgot juniper berries -- I think it's because I'm a woman and it's less common in feminine fragrances. Thanks!

  48. Kit, thank you so much for your thoughtful and relevant suggestions. A scent diary is a superb idea, I'll see if I can swing it: it could be used for the "introductions" part of the course which I'd intended to base around "describe your favorite perfume or smell". But most memorable is another great idea.

    Smelling l'Antimatière is a brilliant idea! I'm seeing Isabelle next week and I'll discuss it with her. It was already on the program for the 3rd day, but I'm afraid people will be so "smelled out" they won't be able to perceive it.

    Re alcohol versus other bases, I don't think I'll be able to cover that as I'll use mostly alcoholic dilutions.

    I'll email you to set up an appointment, I'd be delighted to meet you at last!

  49. This is clearly going to be fun, and you have a lot of good suggestions already. I wish I could bring you to my college to teach a short course here! I'd love to attend.

    This is more along the "six week course" line, but it might be interesting to look at some ingredients that aren't usually smelled outside perfume. You've mentioned civet, but there are also things like sandalwood and myrrh. Most people know those names, but they don't know those smells. So smelling the substance then seeing how it's used in various perfumes might be very revealing. (I'd love to go through this exercise!)

    Anyway, good luck with it!

  50. Fernando, it's true, one doesn't run into the Three Wise Men and their myrrh much these days...
    Myrrh will probably be involved in presenting Opium. Sandalwood is a staple and is sure to pop up somewhere!

  51. To ScentScelf: indeed, no assumptions whatsoever were intended about the course participants and their status or occupation ! I only meant that, as Denyse wrote, I work full time and have no hols left to attend the course.

  52. Another course next year? - wonderful news!!!

  53. Violetsrose: in principle, there should be two or three courses a year open to the general public, on top of the two or three reserved to LCF students. I'll advertise them on the blog, of course.