A look at random things from perfume news to some of the things occupying my attention this month.
Training Your Nose: This should be in the perfume news section below, but I wanted to devote more focus on an article in The Telegraph called “How a ‘nose workout’ can unlock the power of smell.” The significant part is this: “The average person is capable of recognising around 10,000 scents and women generally detect more than men. So how can you improve on that? “Smell and write at the same time,” says Fairley. “That’s what you do in perfume school. Words fix the smell in your brain. Make associations.[“…][¶] Fairley quotes Prof George Dodd, who set up the Olfaction Research Group at the University of Warwick, and who affirms that with this practice “you actually strengthen the neural pathways in the brain itself and in turn that helps you to become better at smelling things”.”
This is essentially what I do when I test a perfume, and I think it makes a significant difference. I don’t jot down cursory descriptions, key words, or summations; I take pages of detailed notes in full sentences on a large, yellow legal-pad. For a recent review, there was 8 pages of analysis. Now, I am NOT saying that you should do anything as intense, OCD, or extreme. However, I don’t think the sort of analysis that consists of something like a simple Excel spread-sheets with keywords (something I know a lot of people do) is sufficient if you want to really hone your nose for the finer nuances and to lock the details in your memory. In my opinion, to expand your mental and olfactory Rolodex, the best way to “strengthen the neural pathways” is to take detailed notes on the finer points so that your mind locks in the connection between an ingredient and a particular smell. Not simplistic keyword summations, but full sentences just as you would do in school when analysing a book or science project. It’s just a thought for the most obsessive amongst you if you’re truly keen on developing your sense of smell.
Interesting Perfume Articles from the Last Month:
From The Atlantic magazine: “Making Perfume From The Rain.” This is a really cool article on Indian attars, from a detailed look at their methodology to the story of one small village which has somehow managed to capture the scent of rain (“petrichor”) over the last few centuries. Kannauj seems to be a hub for Indian attars and perfume-making in general: “In the crop rows, white jasmine flowers shaped like starfish bloomed in their ocean of waxy dark green. Twiggy trees called gul-hina were blooming too, their tiny flowers clustered into points of white flame. Ordinary on the tree, gul-hina leaves become the extraordinary henna that decorates women’s hands and feet for special occasions, or tints dark hair a spicy red. The tree’s flowers also make a delicate, sweet attar. It can take about 100 pounds of flower petals or herbs, infused into a pound of sandalwood oil—the ideal and purest base for essential oils—to make about one pound of pure attar.” All that is well written, but it’s the villagers’ ability to bottle the smell of a monsoon (“Mitti attar”) that seems particularly unusual, so check out the article if you’d like to know more.
From The Wall Street Journal: “Eau de Fracking? Companies Try to Trademark Scents.” I thought this was interesting for two reasons. First, it talks about the scent that certain big companies (Verizon Wireless, United Continental Airlines) want associated with their business — and who isn’t curious about what an airline considers to be their signature scent? (I assume “Eau de Stress And Misery” is not possible.) The second interesting thing about the article was the fact that “Not a single scent has European Union-wide protection, according to the EU’s trademark office.” It explains why.
The Daily Mail had a piece on the scientific reasons why certain perfume ingredients have a particular impact on people. I know, I know, the Daily Mail is a terrible rag, but some parts were interesting. For example, vanilla is strongly associated with pleasure in the central nervous system, while citrus is associated with cleanness. “Floral perfumes can take years off a woman, as long as the smell is subtle. However, if it’s cloying or overpowering, the effect can be ageing. Anything that overwhelms our senses can begin to smell stale and musty, and these are scents that the unconscious mind associates with age.” If you think about that last part, there is some truth to it.
There’s been some talk about a recent Washington Post article entitled “Modern life smells so good it’s killing the cheap perfume industry.” Everyone seems to be interpreting it as great news and as a sign that niche is improving perfume tastes. I read it completely differently. It’s not saying that people are eschewing cheap scents because of how poorly they smell. It says that they are turning to even cheaper things still: “The fast growth of specialized scents in fabric softeners, household cleaners and body sprays” is why people don’t feel the need to spend money on cheap colognes. How is it a good thing if the focus is on “sweet-smelling fabric softeners and household cleaners”? Are people’s tastes improving if “[m]ost skip the cheap perfume and get the same scent from sweet-smelling deodorants, body lotions, body washes and body mists”? Buying scented deodorant is a big deal? Not in my opinion. As for their other conclusion that niche perfume sales are growing while celebrity scents are dropping, that is hardly a new development. A range of sites have talked about it in the last 18-months. I have as well. My piece on Frederic Malle, Estée Lauder & Perfume Industry Changes explains it with detailed financial analysis. Plus, the Washington Post is really focusing on what they call “premium scents” which is defined as designer scents. To me, an increase in sales of Acqua di Gio or scented deodorants is not significant news for the niche world. It’s simply a continuation of existing trends, particularly the unfortunate obsession with laundry clean aromas. Forgive me if I don’t celebrate.
Speaking of sales, “fragrances flourish in new Asian markets.” They define things quite differently than I do because, once again, it’s scented household products that are popular, not actual perfume: “a growing number of consumers think spending money on pleasant smells is necessary rather than extravagant. Spraying air freshener products like Febreze and lighting aromatic candles have become routine. Growing consumer demand for relaxing scents from candles and diffusers as a form of stress relief has also contributed to the rise of the fragrance market.” In contrast, the Middle East continues to be obsessed about actual perfume — which is why the Saudi market is expected to grow to $2 billion in sales by 2018. The Saudi Gazette talks about area’s “growing stature as a key market,” in large part because fragrance sales accounted for 19.6% of the joint Middle Eastern-African sector in 2014. That’s huge as compared to American or European markets, and it’s why Western companies like Eurofragrance and the prestigious Robertet are expanding to the region, setting up offices or building huge 10,000 sq. ft. centers, and joining the Beautyworld Middle East fair for the first time. The latter seems to be the beauty and fragrance equivalent of the Pitti or Esxence shows, only with a wider focus. I had no idea there was such a thing.
[UPDATED because I forgot a few cool articles]: “How Jean Patou Squeezed 10,600 Jasmine Flowers Into a 1.6-Ounce Bottle” is the story of the legendary Joy. “A Sniff to Go With Your Cocktail” talks about how “[p]erfume players use new tricks amid fierce market,” like Givenchy‘s fragrance-inspired cocktails and Google‘s wearable “fragrance emission device.” Finally, the nicely detailed “Smelling Good Throughout History” goes from “the first perfume maker of record … a woman chemist named Tapputi of Mesopotamia” to Chanel No. 5.
Music This Month: I started out the month listening quite a bit to Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana – O Fortuna” but, lately, I’ve been listening to the Algerian musicians, Rashid Taha and Cheb Mami. The latter may be familiar to you from his collaboration with Sting on the song, “Desert Rose.” Cheb Mami’s music style is called “Raï” which Wikipedia describes as fusing “blues, funk, salsa, reggae, hip hop and Algerian rhythms, while integrating touches of his idols Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding and French rapper MC Solaar.” When I’m frazzled, though, I keep turning to Rashid Taha’s “Barra Barra” from the Black Hawk Down soundtrack. For some inexplicable reason, it de-stresses me when listened to on repeat:
Movies: Black Hawk Down. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies, ever. (Let’s not get into the politics of it, if you don’t mind.) I don’t know how many times I’ve watched BHD, but it’s a lot. It’s one of those rare movies where I can watch it back-to-back, going from one viewing straight into the next. I love the soundtrack too, as I’m a huge Hans Zimmer fan and have many of his movie scores. (The one for “The Rock” is one of my favorite CDs in general). As a side note, another favorite war film is the little-known but excellent “Bravo Two Zero” with Sean Bean. It’s based on the true story of a British SAS patrol in the first Persian Gulf War.
Television – Good to Great: Orphan Black is back! So is Game of Thrones! And I cannot wait for tonight’s season finale of The Americans. My new fascination, though, is Wolf Hall about the Tudor Thomas Cromwell. My God, Mark Rylance is a spectacular actor. I was wary going into the first episode because, really, just how many more times can one hear about Henry VIII’s Anne Boleyn situation and plans to get a divorce?! Thankfully, this is a new angle by focusing on the life of a key political adviser. Still, I do wish the BBC would cover other historical areas. Perhaps their charter requires them to focus on British matters, and royal intrigue is admittedly a juicy area, but how about a look at the Stuart period, from Oliver Cromwell to the beheading of Charles I in the civil war? Or the always fascinating Charles II (who wasn’t well served, in my opinion, by “The Last King” mini-series)? Or the Hanoverian succession? Mad King George? Anything — for the love of God, anything — other than Henry’s first divorce. My grumbling aside, Wolf Hall is surprisingly interesting (especially from the 2nd episode onwards), not to mention being beautifully filmed. If you love historical period pieces with superb acting, you should check it out.
Television – Eh to Bad: I’m still struggling with The Vikings this season. Spoilers are a terrible thing, so all I’ll say is that I really don’t give a damn about British court politics in 800s Wessex, no matter what the long (very long)-term historical significance may be. The Good Wife is also frustrating. I’m one of those weirdos who always found Alicia Florrick to be incredibly unlikable, but I hung in for the rest of the cast and story. Now…. eh.
Bane of My Existence This Month: website design problems. I’ve outgrown the limitations of the site in terms of set-up, apparently need a complete overhaul with something called a Mother-Child theme, and some other technical gobbledygook that I don’t understand. Creating a mobile-friendly system that would survive Jetpack updates would help, too. Basically, I need to professionally redesign the whole structure, but it would cost a significant amount. Probably too much so for a site that involves a lot of expense as it is and generates no income. Hopefully, a friend’s husband can tweak a few things as a temporary band-aid, since the always wonky sub-menu headings (one of which completely vanished in the Other Perfume Houses sub-division last night) are killing my OCD/TOC perfectionism. All of this is utterly overwhelming in its scope and details to a non-techie person like myself, so I’m listening to the Black Hawk Down soundtrack (see above) on repeat as I breathe in and out like a crazy person.
Joy: It’s been a stressful month. At least Game of Thrones is back.
Things I Simply Don’t Understand: The Chinese Communist party has warned the Dalai Lama “that he must reincarnate, and on their terms.” The CCP (an atheist organization, if I may remind you) insists that the poor man has “no say” over his own reincarnation, and that he will come back in whatever form and way they decide. This is not a parody piece from The Onion, but a real situation which The New York Times described in an article last month. It’s so ludicrous to me, a mix of “The Twilight Zone” and George Orwell, that I keep thinking about it.
So, that’s this month’s Grab Bag of random stuff. I’d enjoy hearing about any of your recent loves, rants, book or television interests, or random thoughts. I may not have the energy to respond to everything right away, but I’ll be eagerly reading anything you’d like to share.