How do you actually make perfume? For AbdesSalaam, the fundamental starting point is with an idea or thematic concept for your creation, one that is as simple as possible. Again and again, AbdesSalaam returned to the Guerlain quote discussed in Part I on the importance of simple ideas, and emphasized that you should not get lost in your own fantasy or over-complicate things. Once you have the idea, then you try to render it concrete by blending materials in accordance with a formula that is centered first on the main accord, then on secondary elements.
The scent hit you with the force of a tornado from the moment you pushed open the door. Even at the very threshold of our classroom, you were plunged into a maelstrom of aromas. Sparkling citruses danced a brisk Foxtrot with green herbs; dark spices intertwined in a slithering tango with lush floralcy; ripples of golden warmth ran over a hint of desert dustiness here or a whisper of geranium there — they twisted and turned in the air, alone and together, a multitude of invisible forces spinning out to touch you, to suffuse your body, to stampede up your nose with the force of an invading armada before quickly flittering away. A wave of woods, both spicy and aromatic, vibrated in the air, set at a lower frequency than the rest, but caressing you nevertheless.
The molecules may have been invisible, but they carried as much weight, heft, and impact as anything solid in the classroom. They felt like an introduction to the lesson we’d be learning, a welcoming committee or advance guard that enveloped our senses far before we ever sat at our tables. It’s a testament to the sheer force and intensity of concentrated essential oils that the scent maelstrom had somehow managed to escape from the hundred of closed bottles in that room, transforming the very air around them into a tantalizing promise of things to come.
Giant sunflowers filled the field, their yellow faces turned down to hide against the glare of the sun that dominated the cornflower blue sky. The next field over was filled with golden hay, freshly harvested and rolled into enormous, round bales that dotted the landscape for several miles. Small grapes hung from trees in another field, while the distant landscape was a gentle, rolling wave of green hills adorned with tall, ancient cypresses, elegantly pruned into long columns and standing proudly like Roman centurions guarding the land.
This was Coriano‘s “Agriturismo” commune, the countryside about 15 to 20 minutes outside the busy seaside resort of Rimini on Italy’s central coast. As I stared at the view from my taxi window, I thought of how the scene had been repeated from the trains I’d just taken from Rome and from Bologna. Well, minus the enormous fields of sunflowers that would have made Van Gogh utterly ecstatic. Italy was in full bloom, its countryside lush and slowly getting ready for harvesting. It made me all the more eager to get to my destination, to harvest my own crops of an olfactory nature, and to begin the perfume course that I’d journeyed so far to take.
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.