Monday, October 4, 2010

Fan girl

Scent strips of various vintage perfumes from the Osmotheque, resting in glassines.  Glassines handed to me by the hands of Patricia de Nicolai.

Who had just spent a few hours talking about them and modern interpretations from the same fragrance family she was using each to represent.

With Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez and Christophe Laudimiel and Christoph Hornetz sitting nearby, offering commentary.

Perfume geek nirvana.

I mean, look at the far left.  Iris Gris.  Who can put their nose on that?  Precious few.  And now the far right.  La Fuite Defendu, 1914.  A strapping...fruity floral.  In between, two of my all time favorites, Tabac Blond and Coty Chypre.  Both among those de Nicolai would call "the disappeareds."

Oh, oh, oh.

I had travelled to Washington, D.C. to sit in a seminar hosted by the Smithsonian.  The program I attended was the second of two that weekend; the night before, Luca Turin was the main speaker, and led the attendees through a session on perfumes with five specific notes forming a spine for discussion.  (Read more about this at March's Perfume Posse post; she attended that night.)  

I'm going to go ahead and write about it here, but you'll notice the writing style is a little different.  Because I'm still coming out of the zone I allowed myself to occupy while there:  Stupid.  Because when else was I going to be able to relax and soak up such a thing, and what might I miss if I was too busy trying to demonstrate what I knew already?  Which, of course, is pretty limited anyway.

Details of my day, served straight up:

De Nicolai was the main speaker, and opened with a summary of how and why the Osmotheque came to be.  "Conservation, not interpretation," given a kick start by the materials Jean Kerleo (he of Jean Patou scents including Joy) kept samples of when he retired from the Patou lab.  She then led us through a presentation that basically reviewed perfume families as defined by perfumers (including chypre, oriental, floral, etc.), with a few sidetrips into anecdote and history.  You could have been a newbie, or even just curious (as was one of my tablemates, currently a local resident thanks to her Air Force assignment, and taking in some of what being there had to offer), and be able to follow along.  As an accompaniment to the review of each family, PdN offered a scent strip of a vintage composition from the Osmotheque vault, and then a modern composition from that family.  Citrus was Eau de Cologne a Ste Helene (ca. 1815), with Ckone (1994) as a modern example; her side-by-side for the chypre family was Coty Chypre (1917) with Aromatics Elixir (1971).  Etcetera, etcetera.  

Nicolai concluded with a brief discussion of her own history as a perfumeur, taking time to emphasize that she did NOT ever work for Guerlain, despite her family history, and that her experience working for others included time on the business side before starting up her own company.  Which, she carefully pointed out, she considered to be both a Big Deal and a Big Gamble.  (My words, not hers, but the gist is the same.)

Details, with a twist:

As the talk progressed, Nicolai invited Turin and Sanchez to contribute thoughts about certain perfumes or ideas. If you've read the Guide, some of the comments would have come as no surprise, but it was fun nonetheless to hear them straight from the horse's mouth, as it were.  When fougeres were up, there was talk of whether or not the audience perceived them as masculines, which ended up leading to Turin opining "for a masculine to be successful, it should be a little bit grim."  Much sidechatter at my table about that idea.  (My table included a former decanter, a perfume enthusiast, and the Air Force newbie.)

A pair of nicely presented young gentlemen sat over with Turin, Sanchez, and Nicolai's husband.  They were nodding and clearly engaged throughout, but quiet.  Until, at the end of the day, Nicolai asked one of them to get up and describe his efforts to establish an Osmotheque in the United States.  Ladies and gentleman...Christophe Laudamiel.  Nice.  Next to him?  Christoph Hornetz.  Oh, shoot me now.  (See a Basenotes interview here.)

Nicolai did offer one of her perfumes as the modern example of an interpretation.  She used Violette in Love as the soliflore counter to Vera Violetta (Roger & Gallet, 1892).  I was a bit too fascinated by the green elements in the vintage soliflore -- something in there smells like an herb I use when I mash up for cooking, brain searches, comes up with pesto, not quite right, tries to also incorporate input from the Nicolai scent, is too caught up trying to solve the vintage riddle to register anything other than "pleasant" for the violet.  Fortunately, because we were given sample vials of a few PdN offerings, and Violette in Love was among mine, I can come back to it.  Meanwhile, I'll be huffing on this scent strip, trying to solve the green mystery before the evidence fades.

Details, on the side:

In addition to the fun woman who came because, as she said, "I know nothing about this AT ALL; where better to start learning?," there was a gentleman a few seats down on my other side who clearly was there of his own volition (and not a date or tag along).  The fact that I feel compelled to note his presence is a little disappointing, but I think bears pointing out, given that the audience was clearly majority female, and perfumers (as Nicolai pointed out herself) are primarily male.  I wish I had had a chance to talk with him, find out what drew him there, where he was at in an interest in perfume.

It was kind of funny to see a number of members of the audience start to get squirmy in their seats and hear a murmuring rise as the strips of Iris Gris were prepared.   When Nicolai was done with her part, Luca Turin got up and noted how he thinks it may be the finest perfume of all time.  You could tell who knew what he thought before PdN even got started.  The slide for that family (which she has as a "floral fruity woody" from the "woody floral" family) wasn't even in our handouts.  Methinks maybe it was added as an afterthought.  Thank you to whoever decided to put it in.  (The modern comparison, btw, was Dior Homme.)

The day included two "first time ever" experiences:  First time ever sniffing Iris Gris (on paper, at least). And first time ever asking for an autograph.  

Like I said, permission to be stupid.  


Josephine said...

What an amazing post - and experience! Made me smile.


Ines said...

:D Oh, it seems this is a fruitful time for perfume happenings.
Thank you for describing this in such detail, I just wish I was there (and at Harrod's lately). :)

flittersniffer said...

What an enthralling account of - as you say - "perfume geek nirvana". : - )

And you called them "glassines"..."glassines"... - the "etuis en papier cristal" have a name in English after all! Looks like there was an abundance of them at your event, all the better to preserve these very special scents. I envy you the opportunity to see LT & TS in action, and for once I do agree with LT that fougeres are a bit grim. Happy landings, if you ever do come down from such a thing...

ScentScelf said...


But of always happy to bring a smile to one's face. :)

ScentScelf said...


There does seem to have been a bit more activity on the perfume radar lately, doesn't there?

I have to admit, though, I got an additional blast of fun meeting folks I have only "run into" online. StyleSpy was in attendance, and Fishbone, and ggs; because I am so often trolling the blogs, I end up getting acquainted with people virtually. There is a distinct joy in discovering how delightful they are in person.

I am happy to present the information. Stay tuned for me sharing some of my goodies...

ScentScelf said...


Yes, "glassines" is the word I remember from my father's stamp collection. Precious little (and occasionally) envelopes, available in various sizes to accommodate various size single stamps, plates (sets of four with serial #), etc. And then mounts, to put them in your album...hmmm, another collecting obsession with attendant and requisitie tschotsckes...but I digress. Yes, glassines; and I was QUITE happy to discover that I had been given just the right amount to sheath each of the Osmotheque recreations.

Ha! You find fougeres in general to be grim? The most common sentiment in the room that day was "shaving cream." It was the largest consensus of any of the various opinions murmured about during the course of events. "Shaving cream" followed closely by "my father."

To be sure I am presenting LT's words clearly, he said a successful masculine should be grim, not specifically a fougere, though he also put the fougere in "typically associated with masculine" context. He went on to say that some masculines are just "light" or there, and as a result don't satisfy.

Right now I'd love to be able to use my time machine and go back to sort his dialogue from the voices surrounding me...kind of like Gene Hackman's character does with his recording equipment in The Conversation, or any innumerable sleuth does with technology in spy tales these days...I was attending to the fresh-to-perfume person processing this whole idea of "dad scent," "man perfume," her own associations, and her trying to take in others...who were talking about how they could never smell a fougere without smelling shaving cream...trying real hard to see how the guy on the other side was responding...pondering how I don't necessarily have such a strong reaction to fougeres or lavender, and wondering if the fact that I was a gardener before I was a perfume fan had anything to do with it...and meanwhile, on top of all of that, trying to listen to Turin, whose comments were off the cuff and transitional between Nicolai's slides.

Musette said...

Oh!OH!OOOH! - the Emeraude!

The Chypre?

Permission to be stupid, too? And maybe shed a tear of joy?

xo A

ps. btw - I detect no 'stupidity' in any of your recountings. You are an amateur, in the true (French etymology) sense of the word.

flittersniffer said...

Aha - that was my fault for running ahead and making a link between "fougere" and "masculine" where there was none. As well as fougere (in my view), there are of course other types of grim masculine perfumery, notably the "tonic sport" / "fly spray" genre. : - )

And I had forgotten you had already brought the term "glassines" to my attention in connection with our fragrance blotter/stamp collecting discussion.

I have the memory of a goldfish these days...

ScentScelf said...


Absolutely, permission granted. Let us go over to this side of the room and giggle. Here, here's the Emeraude...


ScentScelf said...

Flittersniffer Who I Want to Call Bonkers,

Do goldfish have memory? I forget...

Blergh. "Fly spray." You know, one of the sub-categories was "aromatic fougere" (included Boss and Egoiste Platinum among others); now you've given me a reason to explore the mini of Egoiste Platinum that came in an online auction lot. "Fly spray..." {walks away in thought, hopefully will remember to make it all the way to the sample, let alone why she headed there...}

ScentScelf said...

Incidentally, who or whom? "To call" is an infinitive, not a prepositional phrase...oh, dear...say, why do I have the sense I am supposed to be swatting at a fly...???

Ankica said...

I am interested in strips :) Where did you buy them :) :)

ScentScelf said...


These scent strips were provided as part of the seminar. In fact, watching the seminar hosts dip the strips as de Nicolai talked was an amusement, in an "oh, oh, please don't spill/please be sure to soak mine but good/self, stop paying such attention and listen harder to PdN" way.

I Googled "scent strips" and came up with a few sources; as I have no specific recommendations, I'll let you search and choose as you see fit. :)

Flora said...

I am in AWE - what a transcendent experience! I would kill to smell those "disappeareds."

Lucy said...

How wonderful! Thank you for sharing the experience with us.