Yesterday morning I sprayed several perfumes on scent strips but nothing moved me enough to want to spray one on my skin for the day. I think I’ve got sniffer’s block. And so when nothing seems to inspire I take the week off… but I wanted to share a couple of ideas with you regarding perfume description… which is largely a matter of citing great references.
Until the day that readers can click on a button and get a whiff of the perfume coming out of their speakers, perfume description will remain a challenge of finding the perfect reference. Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s landmark book, Perfumes : The Guide, speaks clearly to the reader because their references are excellent. Describing the seamless character of Chanel No. 5 as a Brancusi sculpture is nothing short of genius. When I read the reference, I understood immediately. Although made up of jasmine, rose, ylang ylang and sandalwood, No. 5 smells like none of these raw materials from topnote to drydown. No. 5 smells like something different… a combination of all four. This seamless quality is what sets this masterpiece apart from so many other abstract florals and the nod to Brancusi summed it up perfectly.
I’m not saying that listing notes is not important… we’ll never get away from it. Sometimes listing the notes is the quickest way to get an idea across. For instance, when I say “this is basically a rose scent” or “the drydown is an animalic leather”, most of you reading this post will get a good idea of what the perfume smells like. But what a perfume projects or symbolizes is something different. Octavian Coifan from 1000 fragrances recently said “We do not want just the illusion of a flower but its soul. Not just the sketch of a new original idea but its full expression through perfume.” The idea blew me away. It’s brilliant! That’s why references are important because you’ll never be able to describe the soul of a flower by listing its notes. It can’t happen.
Another way to describe a perfume is by referring to other perfumes. I would love to do more of this but you need a very big collection of perfumes or it won’t work. Referring to the same 20 or 30 scents gets tiresome very quickly. Dane and his friends over at PeredePierre are masters at referencing other perfumes. I’m always amazed at their knowledge and their recall. I’m not there yet but when I do, I bet my posts will be better for it.
And so… when I just can’t write another perfume review, I go to museums… I listen to music… I read other blogs… but I stay away from the perfume counter. This past week, I saw the Otto Dix show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and on Saturday night I saw Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux… one of the best operas I’ve ever seen. Both were inspirational. And I hope both will provide a new set of references which I can use in future posts.
And, of course… I obsess. For instance… this has been on my mind for months. Will the great thereminist Clara Rockmore ever be replaced? Isn’t she incredible? Also very inspirational. Enjoy!
Top image : Sleeping Muse (1910) by Constantin Brancusi