perfume dabblerey
December 21, 2013 6:15 PM   Subscribe

For some time now I've had an on-off fascination with scent and perfume, particularly the artistic side of scent. How can I further explore this?

I'm not sure where this fascination started exactly, but I have often thought that in an alternate timeline I would probably be a perfume artist. I am most interested in how scent and perfume can create whole atmospheres just by a sniff - triggering memories, imaginative leaps, and so on. For example, I once smelled some basic sandalwood soap and immediately got massive flashbacks of spending time in Bangladesh as a kid (my family's from there), I find the smell of wet markets comforting in a way that's hard to explain, and often I'll smell some perfume or incense or other and entire stories pop into my head.

I've been reading up about Luca Turin and bits and pieces of perfume culture, and also looked into learning how to make perfume, but it seems a lot of it hinges on the science - which I don't have a lot of background in and am not quite as interested. Examples of scent-related things that are more interesting to me are an issue of National Geographic from 10+ years ago that had fold-out samples of perfumes used by Cleopatra and Napoleon, and an artistic installation at SOMArts for Day of the Dead where the artist hung packets of herbs from the ceiling, each with a particular medicinal or spiritual purpose relating to death and rebirth, and invited people to crush the herb bags and take in the smell.

Are there other creative and artistic avenues of scent and perfumery I could explore? Where could I learn to make my own if I don't have much knowledge in chemistry? (I'm based in Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco if that makes a difference.) Which other artists used scent in interesting ways? I liked what I've read by Chandler Burr - anyone else I should investigate?
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
You want to check out The Perfumer's Apprentice, especially her educational kits. Sadly her storefront closed a few years ago but the kits are still great.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:43 PM on December 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do you read perfume blogs? You might like Bois de Jasmin, Grain de Musc (who wrote an amazing book interweaving the history of perfume with her own personal history, and path to creating her own scent (which is great), and Perfume Shrine.

A few perfumers have also written great books... Jean-Claude Ellena, Frederic Malle, etc.
posted by acidic at 6:56 PM on December 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, for San Francisco specifically, you'll want to get on the mailing list for the next Artisan Fragrance Salon. The Institute for Art and Olfaction is in LA if you ever get down there.
posted by matildaben at 7:09 PM on December 21, 2013

Chris Brosius and his website are unquestionably a unique take on perfume . . . and some really novel scents.
posted by eggman at 7:44 PM on December 21, 2013

A great and easy way to explore perfumery is to follow the path of Frederic Malle, as recommended above. He basically rounded up the best noses in the industry, gave them free reign to make scents for themselves, and has created a collection of some pretty unique perfumes.

The best part about it is that it's a line where each of the scents are unique and easily distinguishable from each other, have characteristics that make it easy to learn about the different notes that perfumes possess, and exemplify the various broad group classifications of scents (floral, woody, etc.). And they're all carried by Barney's in San Francisco.

The downside: they're pretty expensive, and, of course, not everyone likes them.

It's a great collection to learn from, and from there it makes all the additional reading and reviews easier to understand and relate to.
posted by herrdoktor at 9:55 PM on December 21, 2013

Perfume school.
posted by cecic at 10:04 PM on December 21, 2013

Response by poster: Are there any that are less about "here's a review of a really fancy schwanky designer perfume that will cost more than you can ever earn"?
posted by divabat at 5:09 AM on December 22, 2013

Read Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by German novelist Patrick Süskind, for a literary approach.
posted by Ghislain Bellec at 5:12 AM on December 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: matildaben's rec for the Institute of Art and Olfaction led me to a massive rabbit warren of resident artists/researchers and special projects incorporating scent in their work - such as Nosy Girl, doing an interview series around scent. This is exactly the sort of thing I was after, THANK YOU!
posted by divabat at 5:47 AM on December 22, 2013

Another artist using scent is Andrea Maack. Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has done several perfume projects in collaboration with exhibits at the Boulder Art Museum.
posted by matildaben at 7:45 AM on December 22, 2013

Nothing I can add here that Matildaben hasn't gotten to already. Love that you're interested! Chandler Burr is your gateway without question.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 7:50 AM on December 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: you all inspired a mefi post!
posted by divabat at 7:50 AM on December 23, 2013

The Making Natural Perfumes 101 class at Nova Studio in Richmond is fun and very informative.
posted by Lexica at 9:48 PM on December 30, 2013

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