Lost in Scent Space ~ Part 2

Lost in Scent Space ~Part 2

Smelling, really smelling consciously, takes time. Time to explore the layers, nuances and meaning of an odor demands not only length, but particular qualitative time that allows focus, expansiveness, heightening one sense, while subduing others. Throughout one’s life in scent, thoughtful intimacy with each material in the organ is established via smell evaluation and note taking. A personal olfactive library compiled in notebooks, or index files becomes a crucial reference tool. However, the inner olfactive library writ in memory is the scenteur’s première tool, for the sense of smell itself is an inner sense, an associative, feeling & judging sense with which we experience the world.

Once I’ve determined the theme of a new perfume, as described in Part 1 of this article, I call up my inner library of scent materials. Then I must decide whether to work composing from top down, bottom up, or begin with the heart as a main point for expansion. How does that choice occur? For now, I can say that picking the “right” direction & materials is a cognitive feeling choice, one that already perceives the creation in another dimension. My job is to give that embryonic creation a kind of breath, if you will, an aromatic voice that could bring the smeller (you) somewhere into this plane of feeling. Olfaction, is not, as claimed by those who don’t understand smell phenomenologically, a merely subjective perception. We’ll visit the actual smelling of smells in another article.

Let’s say I opt for the most common structural form, the vertical, with its top, center and bottom chords*. Experimenting with proportions (ratios) of these materials commences. Here, relying on my inner library of notes, I consider volatility rates, the playing well together of aromatics within each chord, and also their aspects of olfactory connectivity, chord to/ through chord. This stage in the process may consume a few intense, mad days (rare); meander through a weeks or months (most often); or extend for years (when I get stuck, or am waiting for a new note, either from the garden to extraction process, market forces, or simply to smell a live model in its next season).

Proportioning materials in each chord comes next. My innate sense is usually on target, even before going through the Carles* method for ratio trials. It’s similar to cooking, in the way I can tell when in the flow of inspired proportioning/ ingredients..or not. Whether in that zone or not, though, with perfumery, it’s essential to weigh or measure, and also to take notes. As with a really good cooking session, mise en place plus an undisturbed, free from time-pressure space helps so much with the ritual. For me really, it’s vital. Others claim to create more easily with clutter and stimulation, but I think that is more the exception in the perfume world.

When the need to further elaborate a chord with another material arises, either I rummage through my inner library or, reach for my book of notes. Sometimes I simply pick up Arctander for reference.

Recently in creating a base chord I felt the inclusion of patchouli…specifically Sri Lankan patchouli…would be just the thing to bring in a bit more longevity as well as depth. In the perfumery is a shallow drawered cabinet, mostly devoted to my glass droppers. These dedicated droppers, sealed in plastic envelopes (yuck) and labeled, lay in a bit of a messy heap. On opening the drawer, a bag popped out and onto the floor with some force. Was it.., I wondered? Of course, it was the patchouli, not any of the other patchouli specimens, but that one Sri Lankan. This, as well as opening Arctander or my notes to just the right page, or putting my finger on the right bottle on the organ shelves, without looking at the label happens more than infrequently. The reminder I’m not alone while I do this work is very obvious.

It’s not always happy synchronicity, though, at the bench. The aromatics that smelled gorgeous together on the blotters may do strange things together. One or more chords may need to be reconstructed step by step to find the error which creates undesirable or meh effects with the other accords. The most dreadful occurrence may be being so caught up in a creative flow ..sounds wonderful, yes? but wait….hitting on the most beautiful perfume ever, be called away by some contingency, and return later with ardent expectation, only to realize intelligible notes have not been written, or final ratios, even perhaps we have lost said notes. Quelle horreur ! This too, was a recent experience, after composing the most ethereal green woody fragrance of my dreams. The mouillette “sketch”, list of materials, and each bottled chord but how did I build them? A few weeks ago this brought me to near meltdown. Somehow I managed to arrest that trajectory and let it go. For now. There will be a propitious time to revisit this perfume, smell each chord anew and bravely attempt reconstruction. Perhaps it will be even better.

The moral of the story is: take exacting, detailed notes; label bottles carefully; jot your notes in a book, and not on scraps of paper! Carefully examine those “unimportant” scribble scraps on the workspace before consigning them to the trash! By all means, become lost to the world in the attention space of smelling & combining; at the same time do not get lost, ie become very present, to the practical world of note recording while engaged in the former. Happy smelling!

*Carles: referring to the Jean Carles method

*Chord: also accord, a combination of aromatic notes. Each accord contributes to creating the major mood & structure of a perfume, similar to musical chords.

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3 thoughts on “Lost in Scent Space ~ Part 2

  1. Anna says:

    What a beautiful, thoughtful description of the composing process! Being in the flow and staying attentive at the same time – this is so crucial for this métiers d’art. As well as the deep, personal, I’d say even intimate knowledge of each material. As always there is some place for magic – it couldn’t be different with you, Donna! Thank you so much for sharing, it was a true pleasure to read! Now I’m looking forward to your next article on the smelling of smells – so curious to know about your experiences with this!

    • Donna La Pré says:

      It’s a delight to share my thoughts with an appreciative & knowledgeable reader such as you, Anna! Thank you for following along! ♥️

  2. Rachel says:

    Oh my dear! The perfume of your dreams **** Vanished ! I wish I could hug you as I know this kind of loss. Again, Thank you for your vulnerable in sharing these tragedies as well as the triumphs… Once again you teach us to straddle both worlds of the ethereal and practical world of good artistic practice. Bravo !

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