Chapter & Verse: fragrances inspired by literature

Fragrance and literature have a scented symbiosis, a way of piercing beneath layers of logic to reach our most instinctive emotions. They tap into deep-seated memories, dare us to dream, and share the power to make us feel a certain way, even if we don’t fully understand why. Consequently, English Literature is a particularly bountiful resource for perfumes – so many have taken inspiration from the pages of novels, hoping to evoke the atmosphere of the story itself, or exemplify famous characters through the ages.

This cultural crossover allows us to indulge in our greatest fragrant fantasies, immersing ourselves further in the myriad escape routes from reality we’re beckoned toward within a library (or fragrance department); adding an extra olfactory appreciation for the world the author has created and, consequentially, giving greater context to the perfumer’s composition.

Writers frequently allude to other senses when attempting to fully plunge the reader into a plot – the most skilled wielding the sense of smell as another character, almost, or underlining that most private, inner world the other characters inhabit. On the subject of smell and literature, of course we most often think of the brilliantly disturbing Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind, but as Catherine Maxwell reflects in her interdisciplinary and scholarly tome, Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, ‘Smell’s evocative capacity, its connection to atmosphere and memory, make it a potent means of registering the particularity of a historical and cultural moment.’ Even if it’s not actual fragrances the author refers to in their work, Maxwell explains, ‘Culture is still a factor for those more conservative aesthetes who prefer natural scents to to perfumed products; the flowers they enjoy are frequently enhanced with mythic or literary association.’

 

 

 

 

Whatever their procilvities, both author and perfumer have stories to tell: one in the words they choose to play with on the page, the other via scented chapters that slowly unfurl on your skin. Those of you who cannot suppress the almost iressistible urge to vigorously rub your wrists together having spritzed a fragrance might like to know this unnaturally warms up the top notes and makes them evaporate more quickly.

Some (rather melodramatically) say this ‘destroys the perfume’, but I prefer to liken it to flicking through the first few pages of a book – yes, you’ll still get a sense of the story, but you may have missed some vital clues to the fragrant characters within; the narrator setting the scented tone, if you will.

Nothing worse than accidentally landing on a page and finding out whodunnit before you even know who’s who to do anything to. The same is true of a fragrance – allow it to settle in properly before you make a hasty decision. Now, with that perfumed preface out the way, I’ll dismount the lectern so we can dive into the scented stories themselves, and discover which you might be best paired with, for as Master Perfume Jean -Calude Ellena says:

‘Perfume is a story in odour, sometimes a poetry in memory…’

 

 

 

Sarah Baker Parfums Far From the Madding Crowd

Juxtaposing idyllic pastoral scenes with simmeringly intense emotions, this fragrance references Thomas Hardy’s book of the same name, seeking to evoke an atmosphere that is, to quote Baker, ‘simultaneously exquisitely beautiful and cruelly unforgiving.’ Amidst the beautiful note of helitrope – a flower that often grows wild among ancient hedgerows – dangerous declarations and balmy evenings are poised betwixt the romantic idealism of a country picnic. Think long summer grasses, orchards filled with fallen fruits, wide meadows to run through in gauzy gowns, willows to sit beneath while passionately pining.

£95 for 50ml eau de parfum or try a sample in their Discovery Set for £25 / VIP price £21

 

Histoire de Parfums 1804 George Sand

Renowned for her androgynous pen name, Sand was ‘the incarnation of the first modern woman’, and forms a central part of the brand’s literary leanings (which include an intriguing voyage via their 1828 Jules Verne and the rather more risqué 1740 Marquis de Sade). This vibrant throb of a scent tempts the senses with succulent pineapple before lavishly decorating with tall vases of white flowers and coming to rest on the warm, ambered sensuality of the spices that ripple throughout. If ‘fruity’ fragrances have previously made you recoil, come back into the fold with this utterly grown-up and bosomy embrace.

From £36 for 15ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

Parfums Dusita Montri

A writer, traveller and strong yet gentle man who spent a lot of time in Paris, this fragrance was not only inspired by one of his poems, the office he wrote in and the materials he used – it radiates a sense of his poetic soul. A refined and ultra smooth blend of sophisticated spices are seamlessly stirred through orris butter, rose and Oud Palao. Ah, but this is a sheer, spacious and uplifting oud that speaks of wooden desks, piles of papers, the gentle scratch of a fountain pen on parchment and writing as the sun sets. An elegantly comforting scent that feels immediately timeless, how perfect for perfumer Pissara Umavijani to honour her literary father in this way, and what an honour for us, the wearers, to share it.

€150 for 50ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

Guerlain Mitsouko

Author Claude Farrère was a close friend of Jacques Guerlain, so when Farrère included a Guerlain fragrance in his novel Opium Smoke, describing ‘Jicky poured drop by drop onto the hands blackened by the drug’, Jacques was thrilled at the symbiosis and returned the favour by naming one of his greatest ever creations after a character in Farrès novel La Bataille. Conjuring romanticism as see through a woman’s eyes, this scent is a complex unfurling of cinnamon infused, milk-lapped plump peach skin, the oakmoss trail that lingering beguilingly for hours. The masterful current reformulation by Thierry Wasser is as close as we’ll get to the original, thanks to oakmoss restrictions, but oh it’s a must-sniff for literary and perfume lovers alike.

£112 for 75ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

 

 

4160 Tuesdays Shazam!

In a turnaround of the usual perfume inspiration process (fragrances based on books), here’s one that began life as a scent that only existed in a novel, The Scent of Possibilty, written by the perfumer and founder of the house, Sarah McCartney. Finally realeased as a fragrance it shimmers with all the mystique of a Marrakesh Medina – an ultra classic amber base of dark labdanum balsam and soft vanillin that blooms in the heat to encompass ‘a whole spice market.’ Puncuated by fizzing pops of pink pepper, an aromatic breeze of juniper berries and basil, the scent invites an imaginary bird’s-eye view of the scene it’s set in, ‘swooping low over the bustling square, Jemaa el-Fnaa’, freshly-squeezed oranges and all.

£65 for 50ml eau de parfum

 

 

 

 

Frederic Malle's Portrait of a Lady perfume

Frederic Malle Portrait of a Lady

In Henry James’ eponymous novel, protagonist Isabel Archer sulks her way through immaculate gardens, burdened by blessings of too much beauty, intelligence and wealth [#thoughtsandprayers] while James himself seems to scamper behind, awed by her melancholy and reflecting that ‘a visit to the recesses of one’s spirit was harmless when one returned from it with a lapful of roses.’ Dominique Ropion’s fragrance leads the wearer face-first into that lap, a rambunctiously sexualised and swaggeringly confident portrait of the woman she might have been, perhaps; the shadier bowers ravaged for ripe berries, lips stained vermillion from their juice, petals torn as velvety pocketfulls of roses are ripped from their stems. A page-turner on the skin, for sure.

£188 for 50ml eau de parfum

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Pairing Perfumes to Teachers. Today’s lesson: Geography

The majority of British schools have now broken up for the summer holidays, with some having even broken up earlier due to the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing here. Having worked through perhaps the most challenging few academic years in our lifetime, we can practically hear the sighs of relief from teaching staff the land over! If you’re a teacher, we think you deserve a treat far greater than an apple, so over the next few weeks we’re matching scents to teaching subjects and encourage you to explore and indulge at will. Today’s lesson is…

 

 

Scented Subject: Geography suggests earthy scents, and yes those loamy, wild-roaming fragrances can be found in this selection, but we’re thinking more laterally, with houses who are inspired by world travels, wild landscapes, and fragrant foraging.

 

Ella K – Brumes de Khao Sok £175 for 70ml eau de parfum

Founder and perfumer, Sonia Constant, finds inspiration ‘From my travels – flowers, trees, arid landscapes, humid places. Everything I encounter can be an inspiration.’ For this one, we journey to ‘…an impenetrable jungle some 160 million years old’ in Thailand, ‘watered by the monsoons and the mists of the Andaman sea. Sonia continues: ‘At daybreak, the mist rises to reveal the floral, transparent freshness of the white flower-filled forest borders, and exhales moist, green and woody perfumes. Unseen in the distance, the gibbons impose their presence on this mysterious awakening with their characteristic early-morning calls.’

 

 

Kingdom Scotland – Metamorphic £120 for 50ml eau de parfum

‘Scotland has some of the most complex geology in the world and this scent is inspired by metamorphic rock that is spectacularly woven into the landscape,’ explains founder, Imogen Russon-Taylor. It’s complex, fusing black pepper and tobacco, incense, minerals and rose absolute, metamorphosing on the skin as it’s warmed to reveal a base of amber resin and leather. And in this one, you might make out just a splash of Islay malt whisky – a nod to Imogen’s own history, here.

Ruth Mastenbroek – Amorosa £70 for 30ml eau de parfum

Inspired by her innate love for Italy, talented perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek created Amorosa as a perfumed paean to the country she so proudly declares her passion for. Literally translating as ‘a woman in love’ this is an intriguing new take on a floral that feels like a love affair with the landscape itself. Yes, the notes are classic at heart – but it’s the fascinating opening that particularly sets the senses tingling: Mouth-wateringly juicy watermelon paired with the fresh green sap-like note of galbanum and violet leaf, while the heart proffers a bouquet of white flowers and tender blossoms, beckoning you forth to the final layer of woody musks and exotic amber.

 

Maison Crivelli – Osmanthe Kōdoshān £170 for 100ml eau de parfum

A sublime portrait of the apricot-y bloom, this is inspired by a trip to ‘a tropical mountain shrouded in mist.’ We sense sunsets, a gasp of geological height and grandeur, in a scent that very slowly unfurls itself as it warms. Curls of fog clear to reveal a forest far below, the resinous scent of verdant vegetation and grounding woodiness rising to meet you, the osmanthus swathing your skin in a leathery embrace. Calming, mysterious, transcendentally beautiful – a voyage for the senses, no matter where you are in the world.

 

Written by Suzy Nightingale

 

 

Something whiffy this way comes – Marty the Mighty Nose kids’ poetry competition

Do you know a child aged 7-11 who loves writing and exploring their sense of smell? Get those nostrils in training, for The Fragrance Foundation‘s Marty the Mighty Nose Awards are once again open for smell-inspired poetic entries!

Kids tend to be far more naturally connected to their sense of smell than most adults, and the annual competition invites Key Stage Two pupils to explore this sense even more, by taking ‘…an aromatic approach to creative writing, as we invite them to write their own smell-inspired poems for the chance to win prizes for themselves and for their schools.’

The Fragrance Foundation say: ‘Whether it is inviting children to develop their use of simile and metaphor in English by writing smell-inspired poems or learning about history through the stinky aromas of the past (Ancient Egyptian Mummification anyone?), structured activities incorporating fragrance and smell can truly support and inspire pupils of all abilities.’

Marty the Mighty Nose entries can be made by schools, or by individual parents and guardians, and details of the competition and how to submit an entry are explained, below, and the more who join in, the merrier Marty will be.

The Fragrance Foundation encourage pupils to write poems inspired by the sense of smell (the whiffy socks of an older brother has been a previous winner’s poetic theme!) and these are then read and chosen by a distinguished panel of judges each year, including once again, this year, the multi-talented (and huge fragrance fan) Richard E. Grant!

Entering Marty The Mighty Nose Awards is easydownload the entry pack here. The deadline for submissions is the 9th December 2019, and entries can be sent online or through the post. Please note entires must be submitted by a teacher or guradian.

We cannot wait to read these pongy poems, and wish everyone who enters the very best of luck!

By Suzy Nightingale

How can you improve your sense of smell? Watch this cute cartoon and book our 'How To' workshop!

Are perfumers possessed of magical noses gifted to them at birth – with a heightened sense of smell beyond the reach of mere mortals…?
Well, there’s an argument to made that perhaps some of the ‘noses’ behind our favourite fragrances are somewhat naturally gifted, but my goodness they had to work to get where they are. Perhaps also some of them grew up in perfume-y places – like Grasse – where the culture, history and even the streets themselves are awash with scent. But the truth of the matter is, they had to start somewhere. And those of us lucky enough to have a working sense of smell can undoubtedly go about improving that sense – and thereby enhancing every aspect of our lives.
We couldn’t resist sharing the wonderfully incisive (and undeniably cute) cartoon, below, that does a great job of explaining how important our sense of smell is in everyday life, and the basics of how one might begin mastering the sense of smell.

Apart from simple practice, practice, practice – the most important aspect, we have gleaned by interviewing those famous perfumers over the years; is learning to “fix” a smell in your head by creatively describing it in terms that are absolutely and entirely personal to you. And how on earth do you go about doing that? By attending one of our regular How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops
These fun, informal (but totally informative) sessions are held in groups, some people liking to bring friends along others preferring to sniff solo, and during which you will be taught how to start building your very own volcabulary of scent – pinning those intensely personal memories and emotions that are automatically triggered the second you smell something (good or bad!) and using that to invesitage – and vastly improve – your sense of smell. We’re not pretending you’ll come out as a fully fledged perfumer – and neither is this the reason we set up the workshops. But we can gurantee you’ll not only experience your favourite fragrances in a whole new way – you will appreciate your nose like never before.

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[Photos by Essence PR]
So, do you fancy a morning or afternoon of sharing fragrances, laughter and learning to improve your sense of smell – with a fragrant goody bag at the end of it and as many biscuits and tea (or coffee) you can drink in-between? Of course you do!
Come and join us for the next How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshop in London on Saturday 4th February. Not a Londoner? Look here to find (or request) your nearest workshop.
How do you join in the fragrance fun? It’s simple:
How To Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops cost £10 for VIP Subscribers – which is 100% redeemable against any box purchase on the day of the workshop
Want to bring a guest? (it’s even more fun with a friend!) £20 for Guests of subscribers or non-VIP Subscribers
Maximise the opportunity by choosing to become a VIP with your booking for £35 to include a one-year VIP subscription to The Perfume Society, £10 of which is redeemable against box purchases on the day of the workshop.
Want to read a review from a happy attendee of a previous workshop? Cosmetic Candy blog waxes lyrical about attending one of our Manchester workshops, and Samantha Grocutt, MD of Essence PR describes her experience, here.
Workshops are generally hosted by Senior Writer of The Perfume Society, Suzy Nightingale within the London area, and co-founder Jo Fairley further afield.
Simply bring along a favourite fragrance – and your nose – and we so look forward to meeting you there.
Book your tickets here.
Written by Suzy Nightingale

The scent of success… Perfumer Karen Gilbert talks us through the fascinating world of 'functional fragrance'

When a perfumer creates the scent for a ‘functional fragrance’ – a product that millions of people around the world use daily in their homes or on themselves – they are composing the scent of a home, a loved one, the smell you associate with your own clean skin, perhaps. An incredibly technically challenging role, perfumers are plucked from the very same schools as those who create fine fragrances, indeed may often be the very same ‘nose’…
For a full exploration of this fascinatingly secretive cross-over between designer fashion fragrances and the scent of “clean washing”, see the hot-off-the-press Fashion & Fragrance edition of The Scented Letter magazine. But we wondered – is there room for a perfumer’s artistic expression, or does it necessarily take a differing form? We caught up with perfumer, expert consultant and teacher, Karen Gilbert, to talk about the challenges perfumers and evaluators face when evoking the scent of “clean washing”, and wondered how on earth she got into this fabric care – or “functional fragrance” – world.
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‘I fell into it by complete accident,’ Karen reminices. ‘I originally went to The London College of Fashion to train as a make up artist after working the cosmetics industry for a few years. I decided to stay on and do a cosmetics science diploma and two-week work placement at IFF [International Flavors & Fragrance]. They asked me back for a six-month temp position that turned into five years working on UK own label products as an evaluator, and running the fragrance library for the London office.’
Having interviewed the perfumer’s at IFF’s Centre of Excellence for fabric care, we knew how talented they are. But although the world of fine fragrance and fabric care/fucntional fragrances are entwined, some raw ingredients simply don’t translate because of the high temperatures and processes they’re subjected to.
Explains Karen, ‘Creating fragrances for an alcoholic fine fragrance is the easiest thing as there are much fewer technical challenges. When you are creating for a laundry care product you not only have to work with a base that already may have an unpleasant odour but you need to make sure the fragrance doesn’t get washed away during the wash/rinse cycle. There’s also the budget to consider, as most people will only pay a certain amount for something like a fabric conditioner.’
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And exactly how closely do the fabric conditioners and fine fragrances rub against each other? ‘Oh goodness everything filters down eventually to functional products. It’s so weird when people ask me to smell a perfume as I really learned about fragrance whilst I was at IFF so most of my days were spent sniffing “types” rather than fine fragrance. So if I smell a particular men’s “Aquatic” fragrance now I always think of blue toilet cleaner, and to me Tresor translated down to peach fabric conditioner. Whenever I smell a new fragrance I still find myself thinking “oh that would be good for a roomspray”  or “this would work in a men’s shower gel”. I was never a “perfumista” so my view of fragrance is quite different to the average fragrance fan I think!’
Such is the demand for perfumers to create various scented products for fragrancing every aspect of our lives that, as part of her fragrance training offering, Karen now runs a specialised course for those wanting to learn more about this intriguing yet technically challenging world. She explains that ‘…it came out of years of students coming to my live classes where we make an alcohol based EDT, who really wanted to create for their own product line.’ And that although the techniques of making a fragrance are the same ‘…there are lots of other things you need to take into consideration when creating for other types of product base.’
Aimed at anyone who want to learn more about developing fragrances for face, body and bath products – including how to professionally evaluate the performance of your products – you can find out more about Karen’s course, here
Written by Suzy Nightingale