Thursday, August 01, 2013

Tell Me About It

The hardest part of an artisan perfumer's work, well, besides all of it, is expressing exactly how a finished composition or particular accord smells. There are so many variables here that it's almost impossible to share an image of perfume without actually smelling the perfume, then it's a matter of comparing notes (no pun intended). I am as guilty as the next artisan perfumer when I describe a composition I have created by saying it is made with cepes, patchouli, jasmine and costus -- what exactly does that tell you? It's almost like a paint artist saying, yes, I painted a gorgeous landscape today, it is brown with green bits and a swatch of blue.

The musk accord I am building is good. Tenacious, which is necessary in building an all natural. It's not quite musky enough for me, so I may be returning to the bench to flesh it out -- or, rather, fur it out. Now, here is where some creative scent description comes into play. You know this is a musk I'm talking about, so you probably have some preconceived notion of what a musk smells like; furry, slightly fecal, doggy breath-like, maybe seaweedy and warm and musty and living. This musk accord I'm currently composing has some of those elements, more of the musty and less of the fur, which I'd dearly love to get in there, and due to the wonders of chemistry, which for the most part elude me, this accord smells a bit like tobacco and angelica root. There is a breathy airiness to it, something of the ether, and the sweet coumarin tones of a tobacconists humidor. There are lots of vanilla notes as well, though nary a drop of vanilla in the composition. However, the longer I smell the strip, the more furry smelling it becomes, so maybe it's a matter of truly getting to know the accord. That sounds an awful lot like work, and who wants to work at smelling a note? Then again, this is a young accord, so time will tell whether it will expand in that regard -- the furry regard. And so to paint the picture of this accord, I will say it inspires images of a well-cared for shaggy dog, let's say a golden retriever, hiding under an old tarnished brass bed with rusted squeaky springs and blanketed by a patchwork quilt, happily chewing on a meatless bone, his bum end sticking out from under the bed, tail thumping joyously on a faded spiral rag rug. I'm thinking there isn't enough wild animal in this musk accord ~ yet. Perhaps I'll give the retriever rabies.

The more I work in the studio, the more solitary the work feels. I love collaborations, so for this long-distance collaboration, I try to imagine that my cohort in scent is standing or sitting next to me, guiding me a little here, making suggestions there, but the process of pretending brings to the fore how very much I would love to teach in person on a regular basis, find an apprentice, someone who is as passionate and geeked out by perfumery as I am.

I am less and less concerned these days with the retail end of my work, less worried about creating a 'masterpiece' because getting to that level of expertise still feels a long way off, despite a few stellar accomplishments. It is the process I love, the way this element works in a composition, the way that one changes the game, and learning that just because an element is rare and exotic doesn't mean it will translate those attributes into a final composition. It's the hand of the perfumer that creates the masterpiece, not the materials necessarily (because anybody can easily botch up a composition containing expensive and exquisite materials). So I trudge on, alone, waiting for the day when I sit elbow to elbow with a real, live collaborator.

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