AbdesSalaam Perfume Course – Part I: The Pre-Course, Theories & Philosophy

Artwork by Lisa Dietrich (part of her Spirit Art collection): www.lisadietrich.com

Artwork by Lisa Dietrich (part of her Spirit Art collection): www.lisadietrich.com

How do you describe the experience of a lifetime that introduced you to new worlds, theories, sights, and smells? How do you convey the depth of information so generously shared by a master of his art through six intense days (and a pre-course) covering both theory and practical usage? Perhaps one way would be to compare it to an olfactory Star Trek, where Captain AbdesSalaam Attar took many of us through a new frontier where few of us had gone before, through a portal into a new dimension of thought as much as scent and perfume creation.

It may sound silly or hyperbolic, but it really isn’t. AbdesSalaam tried to teach us a completely new way of thinking about scent through concepts that, as you will see in this post and others, are completely untraditional, unconventional, or alien to typical fragrance narratives, let alone the mainstream perfume world. The sheer quantity of information was staggering, and that combined with the unique experiences during the course truly blew my mind. Not just mine, either. When the lunch break was called on the first day, one of my classmates said she felt as though she was having an out-of-body experience at the deluge of information and the intensity of the smells that were pouring over her. Like the essences we explored, the class itself became a form of life undiluted — life at its most essential, fundamental level, concentrated for a burst of raw, thrilling intensity that none of us would ever forget.

AbdesSalaam's logo, based on his own calligraphy. Photo: my own.

AbdesSalaam’s logo, based on his own calligraphy, on one of his bottles. Photo: my own.

It’s extremely difficult to know where to begin in talking about the class and all that we learnt, especially since certain themes and concepts were constant throughout each day’s class, but I shall try to break down the information into several segments. Today, in Part I, I will cover the pre-course and the critical conceptual and philosophical framework that it laid out, making it perhaps the longest section of all. I hope you will bear with me. In Part II, I’ll talk about the process of getting to the location in Coriano where we stayed; the Germano Reale; meeting AbdesSalaam for the first time and what he’s like; and the food and life we enjoyed in Coriano. In Part III, I’ll cover “learning how to smell.” From Part IV to the end of the series (however long that may be), I hope to cover: how to make or blend perfumes; animalics and their individual odor; how you distill raw materials into essential oils; the perfumer’s creed; and whatever else I can fit in from the voluminous, lengthy course material without boring you.

This is the rough plan for the division of topics because, as I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of thematic and philosophical continuity throughout the course, so it’s not always so easy to separate the material from one day to the next. If one post ends up being too long (by even my admittedly verbose, skewed standards), then I may cut things up further and add an additional part instead. (Dear God, let’s hope I can be succinct enough to avoid a Part VI or IX, for your sake and mine!)

At the very least, I hope to give you a general sense and feel of what it was like to take the course from start to finish, especially for those of you who are considering taking it next year. There will be a plethora of photos, but I should warn you that a handful of them may be a wee bit blurry on occasion, since my camera continuously objected to my passion (okay, my obsession) for super close-up, macro shots, and I often didn’t have the time to take the perfect photo while the materials were being passed around.


Exploring The Materials:

The First Aid & Aromatherapy Kit. Photo & Source: AbdesSalaam Attar.

The First Aid & Aromatherapy Kit. Photo & Source: AbdesSalaam Attar.

In choosing a place to start, the most logical point is the pre-course that began far before we ever set foot on the shores of Italy. A few weeks before the seminar, we each received an Aromatherapy and First Aid kit of natural essences, all in 8 ml glass bottles and sent free as part of our course registration. There were individual materials like Lavender, Geranium, Ginger, Frankincense, Peppermint, Cypress, and Star Anise, but also several aromatherapy blends created by AbdesSalaam Attar. (As a side note, AbdesSalaam let us call him “Salaam,” so I may sometimes do so here, if only for reasons of typing efficiency and speed.) One of the blends was called “Anti-Shark,” another was “Mental Sport,” a third (Artrix) was meant to deal with arthritis and joint issues, among other things (and helped me just yesterday with some bone aches I had from Vitamin D deficiency!), while a fourth was for feminine or hygiene issues.

Source: Palmbeachdailynews.com

Source: Palmbeachdailynews.com

Unfortunately for me, Salaam loves lavender, and believes it to be the king of all essential oils. Regular readers know of my lavender phobia, and how fragrances centered on that note can send me running, screaming from the hills, pursued by visions of the demonic lavender bushes in the South of France that so traumatized me as a young child. Well, this oil was clearly the highest, purest quality — and far worse than the lavender of my nightmares. It felt like lavender on steroids, concentrated down to its greatest medicinal power (alas), and then amplified by a hundred. Nay, by a thousand. (I’m wincing at the memory as I type this.) While I was rather awed at its quality and its sheer (horrifying) potency, it left me feeling physically nauseated, and actually dizzy at one point. I have no doubt that this was the Rolls-Royce of lavender oils by objective standards, but it was also where I put my foot down, steering as far away from it as I could possibly manage, no matter how incredible or therapeutic it might have been.

Flowering mint that Salaam brought into the classroom one day. Photo: my own.

Flowering mint that Salaam brought into the classroom one day. Photo: my own.

The essential oil that I absolutely loved was the Peppermint. This one was utterly glorious! It brought back instant memories of Christmas, sugar canes, and sparkling delights. It tasted delicious, but was never too sweet, thanks to a bracing, peppery bite. It worked well in cooling and relieving aching muscles, and also alleviated mosquito bites. In addition, I was astonished at its rapid efficacity in raising my blood pressure when I felt dizzy one day. I’m someone who has extremely low blood pressure in general, and it frequently drops further when I’m tired or over-exerted; the peppermint raised it faster than anything else I have ever tried. (I plan to buy a giant vat of it on Amazon as soon as I finish AbdesSalaam’s bottle, though I know it won’t be the same, high-end quality.)

Rosemary. Source: hdwallpapers.in

Rosemary. Source: hdwallpapers.in

The kit was sent practically overnight to us, and was paired with an emailed Word Document detailing at length how to explore the materials in aromatherapy and First Aid. For some ailments, the advice was to dilute 40 drops of a particular essence in olive oil; for others, to use a single drop undiluted under the tongue. To give you an idea of what is involved and what we were meant to explore, let’s take, for example, “Mental Sport,” a blend of lavender, rosemary, peppermint, and grapefruit, whose Word entry reads, in large part, as follows:

Properties: Muscle relaxant, analgesic
Affinity organ: muscular system
Features: Burns, effective in acute gouty arthritis
Symptoms: All that which is swollen

The older the Rosemary plant, the stronger it becomes.  In old age it blooms with flowers. The essence strengthens and reinforces the weak parts of our body and our tired mind. Use it to reinforce the knees, articulations with regular applications, and also the hair.

Mental Sport is very tonic on the body and for the mind. Rosemary give it the property to strengthen the body who has been weakened by disease or injury, Peppermint gives it analgesic properties and soothing effect on the muscles. Lavender makes it healing by helping in the repair of damaged tissues.

For these reasons it is the best essence to use for massaging the back, neck, legs, feet, and shoulders. It makes muscles strong by massaging them, and also strengthens articulations when applied over them. [¶] It is balsamic and fresh, it refreshes hot spots of the body which are tired and swollen.  Use on the chest as a balsamic oil during the night when someone is coughing or has a cold.

Mental Sport is an excellent topical analgesic for the pain that seems to only respond partially to mint or lavender. In our experience it seems to be ideal for gout pain with immediate and long-lasting effects. Its action as muscle relaxant is also particularly evident when we use it for muscle cramps as well as contractures in general [….]

Burns: apply the pure essence immediately on burns, the pain will disappear in 1 minute and they will heal quickly.

Sports and Gym: apply before and after exercising the areas that will be strained, muscles or articulations. They will have more resistance and no side effects will show up from too much exertion, such as muscle or articulation pain.

INDICATIONS: Tense muscles, hard points, shoulders, contracted muscles, cramps.  Strengthens muscles and articulations, headaches, analgesic, swollen ankles and legs, burns, bumps, mental tiredness, helps study.

I used Mental Sport quite a bit on myself after I left the course when walking for hours through the streets of Florence and Rome rendered my feet into swollen, painful lumps of numbed flesh. And it helped quite a bit. I can’t say Mental Sport reduced the extreme, heat-induced swelling (nothing I used worked on that, not even stuff from a pharmacy!), but the relief it provided from muscle aches was quite wonderful.

The Conceptual & Philosophical Framework:

The First Aid Aromatherapy Kit was only one aspect to the pre-course, which also introduced us to the critical olfactory theories and philosophies that we’d explore in far greater detail during the actual classes. The entire conceptual framework for the class was laid out in various texts and blog posts written by Salaam on such issues as:

The Animalic Set. Photo: my own.

The Animalic Set. Photo: my own.

As a side note, Salaam had apparently intended for us to also have an Animalic Essences Kit to go along with some of these texts and to introduce us to pheromones in a hands-on way before class began, but there hadn’t been enough time for that. We certainly got to explore them in-depth during the seminar itself, so that didn’t end up being an issue.

If you’re looking at all those links and thinking that there seems to be a lot of work involved in this pre-course, let me reassure you on one level. Most of the texts are very short, about 1 to 2 pages in length, perhaps 3 at the very most. But there was a serious point to having us read all this ahead of time. The goal was not only to provide us with a complete conceptual framework ahead of time so that we could better understand his class lectures, but also to give us the time to absorb it instead of hearing it all for the first time during the actual seminar. As you will see, the texts involve a unconventional perspective on scent and perfumery, so you have to recalibrate your thinking to see the world in that way, even the actual page numbers are short. By getting the theoretical out of the way first, AbdesSalaam thought he would free up more time during the classes for the concrete, the actual perfume creation. And he was right. With these general ideas and new perspective under our belt, we could dive right into the specifics much faster, and we started with perfume blending as early as the afternoon of the first day.

Photo: Tony Heald for Natureph.com. Source: bbc.co.uk

Photo: Tony Heald for Natureph.com. Source: bbc.co.uk

I encourage any of you who are interested in AbdesSalaam’s work and approach to read the short texts for yourself, because they make clear how different he is from other perfumers, even within the natural perfumery field, in my opinion. The texts underscore just how much of a primordial, instinctual, spiritual, and historical approach he takes to olfaction. He goes back further in time than the alchemists who began distillation, further back than the ancients who used frankincense to heal. He goes all the way back to our primordial, innate nature. Even to the animals, at times, and their instinctual approach to the life, world, and scents around them. He grounds some of his perfume creation in the original responses that we, as Man, had to smells, as well as its physiological impact on us on a biological, evolutionary level.

Take, for example, his four-part Pheromones series on his site and, in specific, Part 3 which pertains to Sexual Pheromones. In it, he talks about our “genetic patrimony through smell,” and the evolutionary role played by pheromones. He points to various laboratory experiments involving rats to demonstrate his point, as well as to the existence of a DNA sequence in mammals called MHC (Major Histocompatibility Complex). I’m trying to be succinct with all this information, so I’ll leave you to read the details via the link if you’re interested, but the bottom line is that AbdesSalaam believes that we have an evolutionary-derived, genetic scent lineage, particularly when it comes to pheromones, and that we are therefore genetically programmed to respond to them on an instinctual level. That is a significant point for someone who wants to be a perfumer, but also for those of you who want to better understand why you may like animalic scents to begin with.

Hyraceum from the Hyrax. Also known as African Stone. Photo: my own, taken of a huge lump that Salaam gave to us in class.

Hyraceum from the Hyrax rodent. Photo: my own, taken of a huge, fossilized lump that Salaam gave to us in class.

So, what are some of this pheromones? Well, one of them is Hyraceum (or African Stone) which you can find in Bogue‘s MAAI, the scent that I (and other sites, like Basenotes) chose as the #1 Best New Release of 2014. Given that MAAI also contains civet and castoreum, two other important pheromones, I now wonder if I was instinctually drawn to the scent for reasons that I didn’t realise at the time. It’s worth noting that Masque Milano‘s highly praised Montecristo also has hyraceum, while civet (and castoreum, to my nose) are at the core of Bal à Versailles in its legendary vintage form. Malle‘s cult-hit, Musc Ravageur, also has a very civet-like aroma, or it did in pre-reformulated form, but I suspect most of it is a synthetic version. Still, it’s yet another example of a hugely popular, animalic scent. Finally, since this is a blog that skews heavily towards the orientals and ambers, and since many of my readers tend to have similar tastes, I’m happy to say that Salaam classifies ambergris as a pheromone. (Not labdanum, only ambergris.) The point is, all of you who have been gravitating constantly and intently towards amber scents were probably drawn by their pheromonal qualities, even if you didn’t know it and even if you were experiencing a synthetic (and thereby diluted) version.

Salaam may derive a few of his perfume philosophies from an evolutionary, almost primordial, and scientific context, but he also believes in the power of individually acquired memories. He talks about some of that in the text linked above on the language of scent based on olfactory archetypes, along with the role of culturally acquired memories. Again, I have taken the liberty of formatting several single-sentence paragraphs into one combined paragraph for more succinct and convenient reading:

How do smells get associated with emotions? Through our olfactory memory. It memorize them through the emotions that were experienced in its presence. This is the part that we share with animals, we identifies smells as being simply good or bad in function of the emotional context in which they are perceived. Often with basic emotions such as fear, hunger, anger, joy, satisfaction, love…  This is why we may love some smells that other people hate, because we lived opposite experiences with that scent.

Whenever smelled again, the odors will reawake the emotions associated to them in our memory so that we can identify the meaning that they bear for us in absolute terms of being good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. From each individual, his experience of life will make some smells awaken positive or negative emotions. These are the olfactory memories individually acquired.

Source: imgarcade.com

Source: imgarcade.com

This explains also why some smells entirely disgusting to Americans are lovely to Chinese. Or why French cheese stinks to all others than French preople. They have been memorized as “good” since childhood because they accompanied positive emotional situations. These are called olfactory memories acquired through a culture, mostly a culinary one. They are olfactory memories culturally acquired. [Emphasis in the original by AbdesSalaam.]

Source: Amazon.com

Source: Amazon.com

The text goes on to talk more about archetypes, how certain scents achieve that status, and about AbdesSalaam’s personal philosophy that there is a congenitally acquired olfactory memory within each of us. That last part on a genetic component to scent memories would seem to be supported by such recent discoveries as the “Adam gene” that I talked about in my last monthly Grab Bag, where researchers have found that we once had a critical gene that permitted us to recognise and detect sex pheromones. Evolution essentially removed our instinctive responses to certain scents in order to create a monogamous and harmonious family unit. (See, e.g.The Guardian, “Smell, Evolution and the Sex Brain: Why We’re Monogamous and Use Perfume” discussing the ideas in Michael Stoddart’s “Adam’s Nose.”) Yet, much of Salaam’s perfume philosophy maintains that we still have an instinctual, conditioned response to animalic scents. Regardless of whether we’re either repelled or attracted to them, we’re always reacting on a deep, sometimes subconscious, and primordial level to what was once so innate to our world.

He also firmly believes that we need animal scents of some sort or another in our lives. In the Basenotes interview that was one of our required reading texts, he talks about how we bring nature (plants/flowers) and animals (pets) into our lives because “their presence is necessary to our psychological and emotional balance.” He then talks about animals, and ties all of together in terms of how to make the most complete, tri-dimensional, satisfying fragrance:

My Hairy German, my own need for "animal" scents in the house.

My Hairy German, my own need for “animal” scents in the house.

The presence of animals around us is as necessary to our equilibrium as is the presence of plants. Whoever of us can afford it, does keep a pet at home, be it a dog, a cat, a bird, a mouse, a snake, a fish or a tortoise… watching animals, touching them and speaking to them is a need for us. Mankind has lived with domestic animals since its origins. The need for this relation is in our genes. […][¶]

Just as with trees and flowers, the scents of animals can be a substitute for their presence even when we do not live among them, as most of us, in our modern, urban environment, do not. We have constructed lives cut off from the natural world; perfume is a way to restore the harmony we’re missing. […][¶]

A fragrance made entirely of ingredients from plants meets only a part of our soul’s needs. Animal smells are the other, equally important part of our genetic olfactory memories. They are archetypes of considerable importance in the language of odors. A perfumer is but a story teller who writes with smells: imagine how few tales or fables could be written without the presence of animals.

This is why I call a perfume that contains both botanical and animal ingredients a three-dimensional perfume; for while there are only two images, they combine, just as the pictures in the stereoscope do, to create an extra emotional dimension. Without them both, the picture may be flat, the story may be too simplistic.

Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain via Guerlain.com

Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain via Guerlain.com

Not all of AbdesSalaam’s philosophy is rooted in the instinctual or genetic world of the distant past, and some of his most frequently discussed, fundamental lessons to us are rooted in the words of two modern perfumers. Well, the first one is relatively modern, comparatively speaking. It is Guerlain’s founding father, Pierre-Francois-Pascal Guerlain (1798-1864), whom Salaam referenced repeatedly during the seminar:

Guerlain is reported to have said to perfumery students: ‘Have simple ideas, work them scrupulously, never cheat on the quality and make good products‘.

In looking up which Guerlain said the quote, I found out that Guerlain itself has it on its website, in the section on the company’s Creators and Heritage, “Four Generations Went Before Him [Thierry Wasser].” They think the quote has such significance for the Guerlain ethos and philosophy that they have it as almost the very first thing of note about Pierre-Francois-Pascal, right after a brief line on how he founded the company. However, they word it a little differently in terms of order: “Make good products, never compromise on quality. For the rest, have simple ideas and apply them scrupulously.” Still, the point is the same, and the meaning is clear in both cases. For AbdesSalaam, as you will see later, that quote and the corollaries which he has derived from it are both fundamental and critical, not only to perfume ethics but also to the very way a perfumer thinks, acts, and creates — to his very being, in short. (If only LVMH-owned Guerlain continued to follow that philosophy, particularly the part about not compromising on quality….)

Master perfumer, Guy Robert. Photo source: Basenotes.

Master perfumer, Guy Robert. Photo source: Basenotes.

The other person whom Salaam quoted again and again in our seminars is a modern perfume legend: Guy Robert. In addition to the six texts above, Salaam emailed us a short speech given by Guy Robert to his colleagues at the British Society of Perfumers in 1998. Guy Robert — the man behind such famous scents as Madame Rochas, Equipage, Caleche, Dioressence, Gucci Parfum, and Amouage Gold — was speaking about “The Biogenesis of a Perfume,” but he revealed some surprising opinions about the profession, starting with the confession that making perfumes was actually “easy.” To him, it wasn’t deeply complicated magic that should be hidden behind marketing or industry obfuscation; rather, it was a rather simple, straight-forward thing to do. Making perfumes is easy. Salaam believes that the industry doesn’t want you to know that, and that Guy Robert confessed it because he was speaking to his peers, so there was no need to hide what they all knew.

Yet, at the same time, Guy Robert admitted that there was also some mystery involved:

Our art is so mysterious, most of the perfumers cannot explain the proceedings they use to build a perfume. [¶] Our method could be compared to the Art of Cooking, a sort of “rule of thumb” (empiricism), and I agree this is not looking very serious!

I am convinced that a few rules comparable to what is called in music : “harmony” or “counterpoint”, should actually exist in perfumery, but nobody [has] succeeded in defining them.

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

Jean-Claude Ellena. Source:CaFleureBon

There were other points in Roberts’ speech that Salaam highlighted — like the ludicrousness of “fixatives” (ie, certain aromachemicals) to create super longevity in a scent — but the main point that we were to take away from the speech was how even a famous perfumer admits that making a perfume is actually rather easy. For the sake of clarity, I should note that AbdesSalaam would later occasionally add a caveat to this firmly believed principle: it was easy to make natural perfumes, since you clearly had to be a master in order to manage to meld together several hundred chemical materials in order to get a harmonious result that didn’t stink. That feat — one performed by the likes of Jean-Claude Ellena who speaks often and loudly about his love for aromachemicals — is not an easy task at all, in Salaam’s view.

The Essential Oils Encyclopedia:

Source: Amazon.com

Source: Amazon.com

At the same time as we were exploring essential oils at home and learning about olfactory theories, we were also asked to order a perfume book and bring it with us: The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Aromatic Oils in Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health and Well Being,” by Julia Lawless. I admit, I didn’t originally see much value in the book beyond having an essential oil reference guide, and I was a little grumpy about adding any “unnecessary” weight to my suitcase. (If you knew how I pack and traveled, you’d understand my perpetual worry about suitcase weight!)

Yet, once the class began, I suddenly understood why the book was so invaluable, not just for perfume creation, but also for blogging. Here, for once, at my fingertips, was the provenance, characteristics, odor, uses, and benefits of seemingly every possible ingredient under the sun. No more need for me to Google unusual perfume ingredients like Dittany of Crete (for Slumberhouse, for example) or to find out what exactly Litsea Cubeba smells like other than the basic “lemony, almost like lemongrass” aroma. No more need for Fragrantica searches for obscure things, only to come up with the most cursory definition. No, for once it was all here, in concise detail. There was actually an even more amazing book which Salaam used during the course, a legendary, very expensive rarity by Arctander that I’ve heard a number of natural perfumers mention, like Mandy Aftel and Ayala Moriel, but that one is basically the Bible on every possible raw material that ever existed, and it’s too expensive to boot.

Page from the Lawless book on Vetiver. Photo: my own.

Page from the Lawless book on Vetiver. Photo: my own.

For a newbie’s purposes or someone in my shoes, the more basic, less academic Lawless book is perfect. Plus, it’s not hugely expensive or hard to find, either, so I really encourage anyone with an interest in the raw materials of perfumery (or just a simple thirst for knowledge on olfaction) to look it up. It’s sold on Amazon US, CanadaUK, France, and Germany for roughly about US$13, CDN$16, £10, €19, and €22, respectively, with cheaper Kindle versions sometimes offered as well. (Amazon Australia only has the Kindle version.)

For AbdesSalaam, the book served another purpose. It was a tool and means by which we could follow one of his cardinal rules for perfumers, the one derived in part from the Guerlain quote discussed above. To “work scrupulously,” as Guerlain advised, you have to understand your materials, their properties, their healing capacities, and their history. Take, for example, the Lawless text on Vetiver, shown in my photo (which you should hopefully be able to expand into another window). Lawless talks about the plant’s: family, synonymous names, general description, geographic distribution, herbal and folk tradition history, method(s) of extraction or sourcing, odor characteristics, aromatherapy or home use, and molecular components. Some of the areas in which vetiver works on the body on a glandular, physical, or systemic level are the following:

Skin Care: Acne, cuts, oily skin, wounds.
Circulation muscles and joins: Arthritis, muscular aches and pains, rheumatism, sprains, stiffness.
Nervous System: Debility, depression, insomnia, nervous tension – ‘Vetiver is deeply relaxing, so valuable in massage and baths for anybody experiencing stress.’ [citation omitted.]

Aromatherapy benefits such as relaxation are precisely the sort of thing that Salaam thinks is useful in terms of perfume psychotherapy, in addition to crafting scents that will appeal to people on an instinctual level and indirectly serve to heal them as well. One of the texts that was our required reading and was linked above concerned the healing powers of natural materials, while another was about perfume psychoaromatherapy. For Salaam, not only are essential oils “medicines from the pharmacy of nature,” but “[y]our nose is your doctor,” because you are often subconsciously drawn to what your body needs most.

It may sound hokey but, as I’ll explain in Part III, there turned out to be a lot to the theory, more than I had ever suspected in my initial hesitancy. I discovered that almost every single one of my favorite notes actually helps some condition that I have, like insomnia, low blood pressure, or “stress-related conditions.” I was quite astonished. So, in the end, I became quite a fan of the Lawless book, because it either taught me more about various fragrance materials (and myself), or was a source of interesting factoids. (Did you know that, in Chinese medicine, one of the uses of sandalwood is to treat gonorrhea, the sexually transmitted disease? Or that the Ayurvedic tradition uses it for chronic diarrhea and urinary infections?) Bottom line, if you’re interested in the core building blocks of perfumery or in honing your nose to better identify materials by their odor characteristics, you might want to consider getting the book.


Finally, we were encouraged to download the WhatsApp program on our smartphones. There, Salaam had set up a private group for the new classmates to get to know each other, share experiences using the materials, chat, and ask questions. Whether it was by email, WhatsApp, or even phone call, Salaam was on hand day and night — even at the wee hours of the morning his time, to my surprise — to answer any questions, no matter how small, and to guide us. His help went far beyond the course work, too. He offered me hotel and travel advice when I had been thinking of going to Venice, while he gave others suggestions on the best train station to meet at when joining up to carpool to Rimini.

I’m not an app-addicted person, but I thought the WhatsApp feature was very useful for several reasons. First, it let us share mutual experiences as we learnt how to use the Aromatherapy Kit, and to get pointers from those in the class who had more experience with essential oils. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it was a very helpful way of getting to know individual members of the group ahead of time, thereby easing any potential awkwardness once we all met in Coriano, the mountaintop area outside Rimini where the class was held. Third, it really facilitated communication once we were all there, with minimal to no expense. WhatsApp can operate via WiFi, thereby saving exorbitant cellphone roaming charges, and we used the program constantly to stay in touch. For example, when someone drove into Rimini to book return train tickets and got lost for ages on the way back, we used WhatsApp in an attempt to guide them back (with support from the great hotel staff). Or, we used it for something as simple as figuring out what each person wanted to eat for dinner when doing take-out. If you end up doing the course, you’ll end up relying on WhatsApp, too. Like everything else that AbdesSalaam had us do in the pre-course, there was a definite purpose to it.

Finally (Yes, finally! The end is in sight!):

WhatsApp’s uses brings me to my final point: every part of this program seems to have been meticulously planned and thought out to ensure that we maximized both our time and what we learnt — in the smoothest, most efficient, and/or most convenient way possible. Whether it was WhatsApp or the texts we were given ahead of time, each one had multiple purposes and benefits. AbdesSalaam is clearly very aware that people are flying in from all over the world, spending a chunk of money, and taking a week from their busy lives to be there, so he scrupulously organised everything down to the smallest detail to ensure that it’s worth it for you, and as manageable as possible.

His goal really is to teach you from scratch, to give you everything you could possibly need, and to be continuously on hand to guide you if you stumbled. As a result, it didn’t matter if you were an expert in perfumery beforehand or a novice. One reader wrote in a comment to my Overview post yesterday that she would love to take the course, but her nose was not good enough for it. Well, rest assured, you don’t need a good nose or in-depth knowledge to take the course! As you will learn in the other parts of this series, both AbdesSalaam and the actual seminar stray from the typical, conventional path as much as possible, so the expectations or requirements are very different as well. As AbdesSalaam loves to say, “making perfume is easy.” If you follow his teachings, it very well might be.

Next time, in Part II, I’ll talk about: what it took to get to Coriano; what AbdesSalaam is like, and more. [Update: Part III, “Learning How to Smell,” has been posted. In Part IV, I’ll talk about how to blend and make perfumes, while Part V is about the language of perfume and the secret messages sent by its archetypes, as well as olfactory marketing and bespoke perfumery. Part VI covers the animalics and what they smelt like. Part VII  concludes the series with a look at perfume psycho-aromatherapy, distillation, final thoughts, and information on the next perfume seminar.]

50 thoughts on “AbdesSalaam Perfume Course – Part I: The Pre-Course, Theories & Philosophy

  1. Pingback: I'm Back: Perfume Classes, Italy, Seeing The Pope & More - Kafkaesque

  2. Thank you Kafka, so much, for taking the time and effort to allow us a peek into this important part of your life and this very interesting course! I absolutely resonate with some of the concepts and ideas, and will order Lawless immediately. Part of the reason why I have become so interested in perfume I believe has to do with the immediate effect of scent, physically, emotionally, mentally, and more (?), ofcourse partially inspired by living with the most incredible animal nose…
    You probably have enough to read, and reread, but one of the books that I found very helpful in this realm Is Jennifer Rhind’s Fragrance and Well Being. No book would subsitute for spending a week with a Ninja Perfumer I suppose, but we do what we can.
    I will return to this post often, it is a true treasure chest,,,and in the meantime I will see if I can raise interest in my husband and see if we might do this course together, if Abdes Salaam would do it again (it must be quite demanding upon him as well).
    Lots of well wishes, and kisses on a big black nose.

    • You’re very welcome, and you don’t know how pleased I am that you found the post to be a valuable “treasure chest.” That’s such a huge compliment, so thank you! It means a lot because I worried so much about the length of the post, particularly since it was densely packed with a lot of theory and new information. It was a lot of work to try to boil down his theories as much as possible, and I tried to cut things as much as I could, but some things simply had to be there in full in order to make people understand what he was teaching us and why. Plus, there was no way to separate it all out into separate posts since I had to keep all the pre-course stuff together. But now that we’ve gotten the theoretical part out of the way, all the subsequent posts should to make sense.

      Anyway, onto your other points, I’m really glad to hear that the course concepts and theories resonated so much with you. I do think your work with Angela Merkel 😉 has brought home to you the power of scent, but I also think that you have a naturally inquisitive, intellectual, curious mind and that you’re very attune to your reactions to sensual and sensory stimuli. I remember your comments on the incense in Oman, and the impact on you. So this is something that I think is simply a part of you. AbdesSalaam would say that you are genetically programmed towards certain things, or that you are more consciously aware than most of your olfactory reactions.

      As a side note, since I mentioned your visit to Oman, you may be interested to know that I’ll be talking about Omani vs. Somali frankincense in one part of the series. AbdesSalaam covered it quite a bit, including sharing some superb photos of the special trees with their “skin” coverings in Oman. We also burnt both sorts, so you would have loved that.

      I really wish you could have been there, and I hope fervently that you and your husband can go next year. He’s definitely planning to hold the classes next year, by the way, though he’s learnt his lesson about having one of them in the scorching heat of July! Next year, I think there will probably be another course in June, and then the 2nd one is tentatively planned for September. As for finding it demanding, I would think it must be, but AbdesSalaam seemed very invigorated by it all (he’s a born teacher), and he really enjoyed both groups. I wish I could convey what a warm, remarkable and mentoring man he is. Hopefully, Part II will give a glimpse into that, as well as the other parts of the series. Either way, please work on your husband and pique his interest so that, by next year, he’s eager to go too.

      Kisses to Angela Merkel from me, and several hugs, too. I hope she’s been well, and that her advanced training is going wonderfully.

  3. I am definitely going to get the abridged version of the Lawless book. And hoping I can take this class in some of the years to come. I attended a brief overview of the process by Shelley Ferguson some years ago but would love to know and do more. Thank you again for lovingly describing it all in so much detail!

  4. Just WOW! Needless to say I’m green with envy. No, make that neon green. It sounds like you had a blast with the course and the group and also that AbdesSalaam is a really nice and knowledgeable guy. I like it when someone uses an easy way for more complicated things, and from what I’ve read so far, I like his method of teaching. He really likes and knows his stuff! Plus it’s good to get to know better and understand the things you are usually not drawn to! Obviously my favorite part will be animalics, but I’m eager to read the rest of the ‘chapters’!

    • He’s a remarkable man, and I talk about what he’s really like in detail in Part II but, basically, much of what you see or feel in reading his texts is very authentic to who he is. Humility is a particularly strong part of his character and he’s a born teacher. Really, he has both a knack for it and a way of keeping his students very engaged!

  5. I really loved your post and read every one of the links which you so graciously supplied for us. I’m one of those who has difficulty separating perfumes into notes, but was especially interested in thinking about what scents attract and repel us. It goes a long way to explaining why I seem to pick the same set of notes in almost everything that I like. I’m going to get the Lawless book and another on aromatherapy. How I wish that I could take his course. I think I would swoon from the sheer pleasure of it. Sadly, it probably is not possible, but I feel as though I’m getting a taste of it through you. Thank you for taking the time to do this.

    • You’re very welcome, dear Ellen. I’m beyond pleased that you discovered something about yourself, your perfume tastes, and why you like certain things. (In your case, incense!) I think you might find the Lawless book quite interesting. It’s quite a trove of useful information, though I think it has more value when put into a larger context or framework, like some of the stuff AbdesSalaam taught us. That’s why I’m even more pleased you read some of his texts, because they provide that foundational context. I hope the rest of the posts/series ends up being useful to you in some way, too.

    • Thank you for that great, very useful link, Julie! I really appreciate it. AbdesSalaam sent us a PDF of the book, which is equally helpful. I’m somehow who loves the tactile, emotional, and symbolic issues in having an actual book, though, something to flip through easily and to have right there in front of you. (And I love the smell of books, especially new ones.) Unfortunately, given the cost of an Arctander book, your link or AbdesSalaam’s PDF will have to do. 😀

  6. Wow this was an incredible insight into the perfume course and I can’t wait to read your upcoming posts. His approach sounds completely different, refreshing and horizon expanding. And a lifetime experience to boot. Thanks for sharing the links and the book tip too.

    • His approach is definitely worlds away from what most people do I think, let alone those Givaudan perfumers who hold courses at the Givaudan headquarters and make you smell endless white musk and aromachemical accords. His whole way of thinking about scent is unconventional, at least in today’s modern world, because he really takes a more spiritual and historical approach to olfaction. I’m glad you found it interesting, Megan.

    • AbdesSalaam recommends putting a drop of it, undiluted, under the tongue for fastest absorption. It has to be top, therapeutic grade level oil, though. It worked unbelievably quickly. I’d been dizzy, faint, had gone totally pale, and almost felt like vomiting at the same time. But a drop or two on the finger, put on the underside of the tongue… amazingly effective. It started to work in about 2 minutes, perhaps less, slowly bringing my pressure back up. In about 8 minutes, I was up, full of energy, or actually with a little bit *more* energy than before.

      AbdesSalaam recommends carrying the needed essential oils in a small vial (if undiluted) or in a small, plastic, 5 ml drop bottle (if diluted in oil) with you at all times. I’m definitely going to do that for the peppermint.

      I hope that helps, Lajka. Welcome to the blog, by the way. 🙂

        • You should also consider Rosemary that I mentioned below to another reader with a similar blood pressure issue. AbdesSalaam thinks that may be even more effective than peppermint!

  7. This all sounds exciting and thanks for the interesting links! Aha, now I know why I often reach for Herba Fresca, my blood pressure is 100 / 60 on good days and even lower on others. Have to try peppermint essences soon as I just want to smell peppermint (or put it under my tongue like you recommended in the above comment) but not smell of peppermint.

    • AbdesSalaam also strongly relies on Rosemary to bring up the blood pressure and apparently put some on the sole of my foot while I feeling faint. I think he finds it even more effective than peppermint, so you may want to keep that in mind. I prefer the smell of peppermint, though, and found it effective in Florence once when my blood pressure crashed in the mid-day heat. (My blood pressure is generally even lower than yours on a normal day, about 90/60 or 90/58 on average, but seemed to crash often in the intense triple-digit heat of Italy’s summer.) Plus, I love how it makes sore muscles tingle and feel refreshed. But, apparently, rosemary is the main, core one for raising blood pressure, though the Lawless book notes several other essential oils also impact/help it. (More than one type of oil can treat the same condition, but some oils are better suited for targeting a particular condition than others.)

  8. Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!
    I was really close to signing up for the course, cleared my calendar, scoured the web for plane rezzies. Alas this year my health dictated it was not to be. HOWEVER…2016….. I love hearing about your course experience so take as many parts as you need! I somehow suspect that your readers won’t mind if it goes to Part XI !!
    AbdesSalaam is such an interesting person and his passion for his art shines through every page of his website. You can just tell that he keeps his students/mentee’s rapt attention. Ugh….I could go on and on, just so happy to be able to share in this experience through your eyes.

    • You have no idea how happy your comment made me, because I’m writing for people like you as much as to share my experiences with my readers in general. I really hope this series will help you, guide you in any plans you make for 2016, and also tempt you. 🙂

      As for my planned number of parts, I’m afraid I’ve already blown my initial 5-part goal because, frankly, there is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much information to address that — even with my attempts to synthesize THE MAIN 20% — I’m already hopelessly off target. When one of my classmates, someone experienced with essential oils and some of this world before, said at the end of the first day that we’d “covered two years worth of perfumery in one day,” she wasn’t kidding. I’m a bit freaked out at how little I’ve managed to cover in each part, and am continuously scrambling to re-edit my planned Parts summary to better reflect the current situation. Honestly, the amount of information he fit into each day when combined with what we did or learnt is STAGGERING.

      On a separate note, I was truly sorry to hear that you’d had some health problems this year, my dear. I hope you’re feeling a bit better now. If there is ever something I can do, I hope you will let me know.

      In the meantime, I’m happy to hear of your reaction to my perfume class series, and hope you’ll let me know your thoughts as the series progresses.

  9. Arrgh – i’d typed up a long comment and my son took my phone and now the page reloaded. I’ll be back with my comment..:-)

  10. I was already impressed with AbdesSalaam before you started writing about this course, but now I’m super-impressed, Kafka – driven home by the point that you make near the end of this report, when you were talking about the smart phone app and pointing out that it’s just one small but essential detail that spoke of Salaam’s incredible organization and respect for everyone’s time. There are not a lot of people (myself included) who are so efficient and respectful in that regard, and it’s very clear from your report that this class event was exceptionally fine-tuned and well thought out in every regard. Looking forward to reading the rest of your installments.

    • Also wanted to add that he’s so right about the need for animals in our lives. For the past 25 years, I hadn’t had a pet in my life until just two months ago, when I got a pet rabbit. And it’s so motivating now to get up in the mornings and go out to his hutch and hold him, then later to play with him in a big playpen in our yard. The smell of him is irresistible (plus he’s terribly handsome and even, I would argue, rather smart!) 🙂

      • He sounds WONDERFUL!! What’s his name? I’m not at all surprised that he’s brought a spark of joy to your mornings, and your clearly infatuated words made me grin to no end. (“Plus he’s terribly handsome and even, I would argue, rather smart!”– LOL. 😀 Wonderful!!) Send me photos, Suzanne. I’d love to see him up close.

        • His name is Boxer (I’ll explain this in my email when I send you pictures, but a little girl who lives next door helped name him). It sounds like a strange name for a bunny but it suits him. 🙂

    • You summed it up perfectly, dear Suzanne, and nailed it. There is a definite respect for others (and their time) that underlies much of his planning. xoxoox

  11. I had no idea you were home until I checked in several hours ago and saw 2 postings. All I can say is ” Wow, wow and wow”!! I’m glad you had an amazing holiday,yet I am selfishly happy you’ve returned. 🙂

    Things have been a tad dull here. lol

    I would love to take
    AbdesSalaam’s course…he’s fascinated me for quite some time. Just last night I was browsing on his site looking over perfumes and today find out you were there. Not only did you have the best teacher, also making new friends is a bonus. I laughed when I saw the part about the lavender!
    Genetic scent lineage/pheromone animalics etc. was particularly intriguing. Btw, I ordered the essential oils book by Lawless from Amazon. That will be more convenient than searching online.

    I read about Italy’s heatwave after you left as well as most of southern Europe. I love heat but that….

    On another topic I’ve used up my samples I bought from before your Mortal Skin review plus I purchased 2 very nice fragrances
    from a discount site. Now it’s time for more samples. 😀

    I’m looking forward to your upcoming posts about Italy.
    Since I viewed the video of the Pope on my phone, I didn’t need to turn my head- only my phone. Heh..

    Good to see you are back Kafka dear….

    • Thank you for the welcome back, Don! I’m glad you ordered the Lawless book because I was actually thinking of you and our mutual problem — insomnia — when I was over there and having my revelation that many of the notes I am drawn to help with some condition I have. I bet that is similar for you, too, and I hope you end up discovering some essential oils that help ease a portion of your sleep woes.

      • Kafka, I am working my way backwards instead of forwards to your replies. Somehow I swear whatever I say always sounds like I am truly a scatterbrain which could be insomnia.
        The book should arrive this week; I’m really excited to read it and research/search for anything to help insomnia or anything else that may help migraines. They’re worse than no sleep. Anyway..

        So you finally smelled a Rose (oil) that even made you pause? I’ve actually been looking @ ASAQ oils, most of the high quality ones are FSO [For $heiks Only]- rose oils I meant.

  12. Hello Kafka. I am so happy you had a real holiday – one that inspires and transforms and elevates one’s perception of this world. I am also very grateful that you are sharing your experiences with your gift to us of your writing and photographs. I shall look forward to the delight of reading about your adventures with AbdesSalaam and your fellow students and also hope you will allow us a glimpse as time permits of the travel and culinary side of your holiday! With all good wishes, C.

    • All you foodies out there… I love it. 😀 For you and some of the others, I’ve included a culinary section at the end of Part II, complete with a number of photos! I’ll try to post more separately, if I can, once the AbdesSalaam series is over because I really had some great food in Florence, and I think a food post on Italy would be fun.

      It’s going to depend on just how long the perfume series is, though, because I think I underestimated my ability to cover even a portion of the information in 5 parts. Not even 20% of the stuff we learnt or he talked about will fit in 5 parts, so I fear the series is going to be longer than that. By that point, I may have expended any good will from my readers in hearing *more* about Italy, or any interest they may initially have had in posts on non-perfume subjects like food.

  13. what a fascinating, enlightening, and exciting trip you had!! While a trip of that magnitude is beyond me at the moment, I am thus thrilled to be able to share in your experiences through your wonderfully descriptive writing!!, I am also wracking my brain, looking feverishly to find some way to be a part of one of AbdesSalaam’s 2016 classes!!!
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts, knowledge, and other pertinent information with us, your faithful readers!! 🙂

    • Thank you for your lovely, incredibly sweet comments, Lexi. I just hope you feel the same way by the time Part IX or so rolls around. *grin* 😀 This is proving to be a more of a monster enterprise than I had anticipated, so I hope you’re not all thoroughly fed up with the series by the end. Still, it’s great to hear that I’m tempting you to take the course. I’m so glad!

  14. Pingback: AbdesSalaam Perfume Course - Part II: Getting There, The Germano Reale, Meeting Salaam & Coriano Food - Kafkaesque

  15. Good morning, I’m going to write very fast as my contractor & his crew should be arriving any minute & I’ll be unable to get to my computer until they leave this evening. Thank goodness they work on Saturdays because I need this job finished!!!!

    I spent the last 3 evenings reading Part 1 and have some quick thoughts:

    It’s obvious to me as well that we’re “genetically programmed to respond to smells on an instinctual level. I’m sure AbdesSalaamAttar also means we’re programmed to respond on a sexual level. As for amber being a pheromone–AGREED! I am completely in tune with AbdesSalaamAttar’s philosophies on scent, and I as I was reading, I kept thinking, “of course,” “obviously,” and “Yes, I knew it!” Smell is all about attraction and creating life and enhancing experiences, sexual and otherwise.

    The part about olfactory memory also makes perfect sense to me. High church incense takes me back to my days as an innocent altar boy inside our beautiful church (which I haven’t attended in more years than I’ll ever admit). Vanilla reminds me of the smells of my mother’s kitchen when she used to bake, so I’m always on the hunt for the perfect vanilla.

    When I began to read Part I, I was wondering whether our sense of smell has diminished or increased since our pre-historic days, so I read with great interest about the Adam gene & that we’ve, for the most part, lost the ability to detect sex pheromones, which would encourage us to reproduce. I say “for the most part” because I’ve read about and come across some humans who speak of their love for the smell of unwashed body parts, so all this makes sense to me.

    I have more thoughts on Part 1 & intend to read the links you provided, but it will be slow going as my home is being renovated & I only want to fall down in exhaustion, along with my stressed out cats, when the workers leave at 6 p.m. They’re due to arrive any minute, so I’ll stop here. Please excuse my hasty response.

    I ordered the Lawless book on Half.com for only 2.95 (used, but in “very good” condition) & look forward to keeping on my nightstand. Reading about vetiver, which I’m still not crazy about has given me a newfound respect for it, though.

    I look forward to starting Part II once I’m done with the links in Part I, and I can put my home back together again. Right now, my computer is in the middle of the room and all the contents of my closets are in the middle of the floor. Dust is everywhere, and I’m physically and emotionally drained.

    I am also in agreement that mixing botanical AND animal ingredients in perfume makes for a 3 dimensional experience. I suppose that’s why my tastes are so similar to yours, and why I’m not especially comforted by scents that are just “green,” or only “floral.” I need the animalic–it comforts and soothes me.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write these fascinating articles, and my apologies for such an unfocused response..and there’s the doorbell and the cats have scrambled under the sofa for the day (my obese younger cat actually looks a little thinner after a week of not eating until late in the day when the construction noises are gone!).

    • You poor, poor man. You sound utterly frazzled, completely exhausted, and almost at your wits end. (And let’s not get into the state of the poor cats!) I’ve gone through a remodeling job, and empathize COMPLETELY with you. It’s a chaotic, seemingly never-ending hell. The upheaval does a number on one’s mind, body, and morale, too. I’m glad for you that the end is somewhere in sight, or so I hope?

      As for AbdesSalaam’s theories, I told you that they sync up closely with some of your own! See, all your comments on amber, about animalics, about what you need in a perfume and why… there is a basis for it. In history, our past as a species, our memories, and more. I’m glad you found things to which you related to so strongly, my dear. And chin up on the construction/remodeling job!

  16. Reading this post gave me goosebumps my sweets. A new way of thinking about scents makes me shake at the possibilities.
    I know how you feel about lavender and I feel for and with you. The conceptual and philosophical framework is so illuminating. My favorite yet is the human pheromone piece. Thank you for sharing these with us and thank you for sending a thought my way while smelling scents you know I love. It moves me. Sh%^&t!! I’m an emotional scented mess today.
    Keep the posts coming my darling K.

    • You’re very welcome, dearest. You know, I think a class like this would be so much up your alley and appeal to you on so many levels, it would blow your mind. You’re an ideal student for something like this because of your intellectual bent, but also your olfactory tastes and your consistently powerful reaction to animalics.

  17. Hi! I’m happy to know that’s there is such an amazing event! And I’m also happy because I own the spanish version of the Lawlee book!! I bought it 10-15 years ago !!! I have always “believe ” in the healthy properties of essential oils 😉

  18. Let me see if i remember my comment.
    I thoroughly enjoyed your meaty post Kafka! I know what you mean when you say it was life changing. The first time I took a systems neuroscience course it was life changing because while learning something new i was, in a way, learning about myself. This course sounds like that.
    I am definitely going to check out the Adam’s nose book. I borrowed Arctander’s from the library once and it was huge! Julia Lawless sounds familiar – Alec and Julia Lawless? Nice to know you recommend it – i will check it out.
    Can’t wait to read the rest

    • Perhaps the name “Julia Lawless” sounds familiar because it sounds like a romance novelist? I think there is someone with a very similar name who writes Regency romances? I’ve probably gotten the name wrong. In any event, I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Lavanya, and thank you for taking the time to write it again after it got swallowed up!

      • LOL- nope not the romance connection ..:D

        I think I had come across Alec and Julia Lawless a while ago when I was buying essential oils and was part of some perfume making yahoo groups.

        Ok, just did a quick google for their names. : http://www.aqua-oleum.co.uk/about

        I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. I am moving house this week and things have been crazy, but I will get to them. I feel like I am saving them up like they were pieces of rich dark chocolate..:)

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