November 27

Bonjour!  Just a quick note to say that life here is very busy these days and rather than not write at all due to the lack of time for essays, I intend to attempt mini entries just to keep you up to date….

It is definitely l’Automne now here, with the hills behind Grasse turning a rusty orange as the oaks turn colour and we’ve had some days of torrential rain, causing baskets of wild champignons to appear in the grocery stores.  Yesterday, however, dawned gorgeous and sunny and was so warm that we had the sliding glass doors of our lunch room wide open as we ate.  School is hectic these days as we hit the homestretch.  We finish on the 21st of next month and tomorrow is the day for our final product submissions for the Mane & Fils competition that has taken centre stage for the entire Fall semester. My perfume formula is finished, although I am having some problems with the 10% solution made from the concentrate being different from the batch I made from raw materials that were in solution already.  (and that I used while writing the formula) This is normal apparently, but today I  must remake a batch from the 10%solution for the submission because it is subtly superior.  Everyone at school is in full competitive mode now and there have been some bickering and territorial stand-offs along the way.  It’s amazing how ‘highschool’ things can get! At this point, everyone has defined the direction they want to take once we are done and there is a slight desperation in the air because no one really  has any idea if their plans will materialize.  (or if they’ll have to pack up and go home- which, after a year, is a serious endeavour)  Of course, the general ideal is a contract in one of the perfume houses, and at the very least an internship, but, being France, no one will know for sure until the last minute.   Ok, must get to school…..a bientot……!

Paris and Perfume- Part One

serge luten boutiqueI just returned from Paris a few days ago- it was a short trip but one that was very specifically about perfume.  We began at the Palais Royale, where we visited the ‘shrine to perfume’- the Serge Luten boutique.  It is an oasis of purple calm, beautifully adorned, dimly lit and hosted by a lovely man who spoke just the perfect amount of English to mix with my increasing grasp of French.  We smelled as many of the rich and floral, woody, leafy, earthy fragrances as was reasonable and I left wearing two of them placed strategically on little spots of our wrists and arms.  We would have many more to try as the day progressed….  I wanted to sample the Silver Iris Mist that I have read so much about- and I was not disappointed.  It is vegetal, cool, fresh, calm and full of true orris notes. It has a strong carrot facet that creates this cool wet clay aspect and to me, was the colour grey and an ultra-refined and elegant fragrance.  The other I wore was Fleurs de Citronnier…a sweet candied neroli that made me see dappled sunshine and summer dresses with honeyed lemon-aid and parasols.  For me, it is so summery, warm and delicious that I would like to wear it in the winter….  What I love the most about Serge Luten is that all the perfumes are for men and/or women.  There is no division of him and her- it is about subjective taste and appreciation of perfume itself- without segregation.

Next we headed to the Rue Honore and to Colette, an amazing store filled with art and design- books, music, magazines, perfume, jewellery, and so on.  Some of the unique and cool collections I’m sure you cannot find anywhere else. I could have spent hours there being inspired.  However we rushed on to Annick Goutal (beware of a snooty and pushy salesperson) and then Jean Patou.  This was another very bright highlight for me since the perfume JOY is a great and important perfume in the French traditon.  As we spoke to the woman behind the counter, a man appeared and we were introduced to him (after making it known that we are perfumery students from Grasse).  He was none other than Jean-Michel Duriez, the current Nose of Jean Patou.  I asked him for advice- what are the most important things to keep in mind as a student/perfumer? And he generously spent some time explaining and sharing his thoughts- it was a great honour and a very special experience. 

Our next stop was just across the street in a tiny little boutique called Jar- it took us three attempts to find it as there is no signage or indication of its presence outside.  We were met by a gracious young man who sat us down at a round glass table table in a small and dimly-lit parlour and invited us to smell the collection.  Each perfume was presented in a glass bowl off which he lifted a glass lid- and inside was a honey coloured piece of leather infused with the perfume oil.  Our host refused to comment on the fragrances, leaving it entirely up to us to analyze and experience in our own way.  The oils were all warm, earthy, heavily floral, animalic and very complex. The one I loved- called Golconda-, had rich JOY-like notes of rose and jasmine and an earthy wet note I can only describe as fresh potato peels.  Being an oil, it lasted on my skin for the rest of the day.  This boutique is an afterthought of the Paris jeweller Joel Arthur Rosenthal. who decided to create perfumes also.  It is very exclusive and unique with one of the perfume in the collection without even a name- only the symbol of a bolt of lightening.  Prices range from 220-395 Euro for one ounce of parfum.  One of the things I enjoyed about this experience was the lack of a commercial approach- ie, no attempt was made to convince us in any way to buy- it was a personal experience, highly encouraged and we felt entirely comfortable leaving (with our heads in the clouds from such gorgeous heady full-of-naturals fragrances) and have our host graciously bid us farewell.  It was a communion of sorts- a seance of perfume that was about perfume- and it’s experience as perfect subjectivity.  The address is 14, Rue de Castiglione….

to be continued~

the Jasmine

jasmine harvestingHello!  Bonjour!  How time is flying by!  School continues, and we had another field trip recently. We returned to the farm in Pegamo and saw the fields of jasmine that are right beside the fields of Roses that we toured in May.  These crops are also produced exclusively for Chanel.  The jasmine of Grasse is incredible!  It is so heady and sweet and dripping with honey notes, for me, although others describe it as being very animalic.  Either way, it is recognized as being very special and unique. The bushes are much smaller than the roses and the plump little white flowers that are open are picked throughout the day, and layered in quite small baskets with pieces of damp fabric to keep them fresh and free from bruising.  They are much more delicate than the roses and even the slightest damage changes the final product.  As it is, once picked, the flowers are dying and it is because of this that the chemical indole develops and appears as a constituent in the extract.  This is the faecal/animalic note that is so pronounced and valued in jasmine absolute.

  Once enough flowers have been collected, the blossoms are loaded into the same extractors that saw the roses, in five layers of 40kg each.  Hexane is again the solvent of choice and the yield from 200kg of flowers is approximately 1kg of concrete and from that 500grams of precious absolute. 

 On our way back to school we stopped at a fantastic boulangerie and adjoining produce store, and with fresh figs (I’ve tried to eat them until I’m sick of them…unsuccessfully- yum!)  and beautiful bread, made our way back to school to work on our formulae. It was interesting to note that we were ALL quite energized and a bit ecstatic for the rest of the afternoon.  Laughing and dropping things and generally acting like we’d drunk too much coffee.  Perhaps it’s true that jasmine is an energizing plant! 

perfumery 101 con’t

It’s Tuesday evening, (it was another gorgeous hot sunny day today) and I’m at home listening to the soundtrack to the movie City of God……cooking dinner on my little plug-in two burner (wild prawns, pasta, broccoflower, pasta, biologique tomato sauce..) lamenting my absolute lack of counter space, and thinking about the formula I’m working on at school.  I spent 5 hours today in the lab, studying and reworking it.  I did three trials with the same formula, varying quantities but doing my best to avoid adding any new materials so that I didn’t end up ‘making soup’.  (or grisaille– which is a non-descript odour).  I am trying hard to discipline myself by choosing my materials and writing the formula at my desk, based on the concept, and then sticking to it once I head to the lab to fill the formula.  While I’m following the recipe I smell each raw material (on a blotter) before adding it to the mix, and then the juice itself after each addition to see how the perfume is effected. It is extremely difficult to create a good (ie well balanced and interesting)  perfume!  It can take a master perfumer years to accomplish. Now that we have a formal brief, a mock contract of sorts, all of us are really discovering what we don’t know.  This is fantastic!  Now we can succinctly drill the teachers for answers.   The art of perfumery is a highly complicated and abstract thing to learn and, I think also, to teach.  I really understand why becoming a true Nez classically requires 10 years apprenticeship.  It’s only the very beginning…

Perfume creation 101

my street in GrasseHello everyone! It’s been awhile since my last entry. Time has been flying by with the commencement of school and the settling back in to a groove here in Provence. Summer is still lingering on, with the days hot and sunny and the last few tourists wandering the streets taking photos and annoying the French by not speaking French. I am still madly in love with this place and almost every day experience a wave of sentimental nostalgia about leaving it. As much as the French are temperamental and arrogant, they are funny and fantastic and actually earn the right, in my opinion, most of the time, of being the ‘best at everything’ that they think they are. They are a special breed and as long as you try to speak their language, you will have a fabulous time. The language is the heart of being French, and they cling to this as a means of pride and identity. Many of them want to learn English, because they know they must in this changing world, but they have been scared so much of failure and sounding bad by their school system, that they are incredibly shy to try. Only when they see me struggle do they break out their limited English. Then we flounder together and cheer each other on and teach each other. At this point I understand beaucoup, but can speak only a little. My goal this Fall is to really wrap my tongue around the French vocabulary. After all, this is the land of Perfume, and I must be able to speak the language that goes along with it.

my street in Grassemy street in GrasseAs for school, we have been given a formal perfume brief, by Mane et Fils; ( -the 8th biggest company in the world in the fragrance creation and raw material production sectors), and our class has been divided into two teams, to compete and create 3 fragrances for the main stream market as well a product extension of a corresponding personal care and household product. The target market is loosely Generation Y, aged 15-30-ish, and must be high-tech, energetic, relate to the world of cyber-communication, include love, environmental; awareness, and appeal to the idea of a modern tribe. We are to create the marketing concept, and connect the raw materials we choose to this concept. Then we must, of course, formulate the perfume itself and it must be good! My team has had some amazing brainstorming sessions and I am feeling inspired with many ideas of some basic accords that I want to try. I spent last evening with Ana, looking at websites to really understand the trends, and working ourselves into a whirl-wind of inspiration. We work incredibly well together with super-cohesive ideas. I dreamed all night about formulating, even waking up at one point smelling a particular combination I had tried so vividly as if it was real. (Ana dreamed the name of the perfume, but unfortunately couldn’t quite remember it this morning…)
The process of creating a perfume must be based on a muse- a story, something that inspires and can be told olfactively. Perfumers are the witnesses of the times. We look at the world around us and interpret what we see into a portrait of scent symbols. It’s poetry really except the words are the raw materials woven together to parallel emotion and even particular events. Perfume as a medium has endless possibilities and is ultimately challenging and personal. I’m learning to tap deeply into my own imagination (and others’) to experience and access the energy I need to create; as in any art form. The psychology of creation is so interesting….and a great feeling. A large part of it means focusing on  smelling. Walking down the little narrow streets here in the old city, scents of all kinds are trapped and held is a virtual world of symbols and emotion. I practice all the time now, smelling, analyzing, dissecting, and testing myself- what is that perfume? What are the notes? Who is wearing it? What are they trying to say about themselves? How would I recreate that? Also, I practice smelling the notes I don’t like; trying to be impartial, but analytical of the smells like cat and dog urine and faeces that cloud the corners of the inner city. After all, not all perfumery materials smell good on their own. (the chemical indol occurs in faeces and jasmine both…) Fascinating stuff…