“I Wanted to Touch You With the Smell”: Ernesto Neto’s Immersive, Cross-Sensory Installations

Ernesto Neto's Work The Island Bird, recently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne

Ernesto Neto’s work “The Island Bird”, recently acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne

The making of fine fragrance to wear on the body is just one artistic expression or outcome of engaging with the sense of smell creatively. Scent can also be used in other artistic contexts, including in the work of olfactory artists who exhibit in galleries, or multi-disciplinary artists who make scent an important element of their work. I have a strong personal interest in this kind of olfactory art. As a composer, knitter, textile jewellery designer and now scent enthusiast, I’ve recently been considering what kind of outlet or mode of artistic production or presentation might best suit my own multi-disciplinary skill-set. I’m interested in researching artists who use olfactory elements in their art works because I want to use scent and all my other creative skills in my own kind of multi-disciplinary art practice.

Ernesto Neto is a Brazilian artist who creates large organic sculptural installations out of textiles which are often interactive, calling for audiences to climb into or onto, touch, or smell his works. As an artist Neto wants to engage many different senses, not just the sense of sight, as many more traditional galleries do. He wants to immerse and engage people in his works, not just make them stand there as passive observers, looking at a work of art hanging on a wall.

We stopped just here at the time (2002), Centre Pompidou. Photo c. Yann Caradec https://www.flickr.com/photos/la_bretagne_a_paris/8584239764/

“We stopped just here at the time” (2002), Centre Pompidou. Photo c. Yann Caradec https://www.flickr.com/photos/la_bretagne_a_paris/8584239764/

I came across Neto’s work a few years ago when I was researching the use of knitting and textiles in art. More recently, while researching artists who use scent in their artistic creations, I’ve come across him again. Bingo! Neto uses many of the modes I wish to work in, so his work a great place for me to start my research.

Seeing Neto’s work for the first time a few years ago revived a fond memory of a similar installation I saw as a child, inside the foyer of the Festival Centre in Adelaide. Like Neto’s work currently installed at the National Gallery of Victoria, The Island Bird (2012), the work I saw and interacted with consisted of a series of colourful knitted, netted and knotted platforms, tubes and tunnels that I climbed and played in. I know that this work can’t have been created by Neto, as he would have been too young to have made it in the early 1980s (he’s 51 now), but I wonder if the artist that did create this work influenced him. I look forward to visiting The Island Bird in Melbourne next week. I’ve not heard of this work having any scented components, but if it does, I will report back!

As I’ve not yet experienced any works by Neto, I’d like to share with you this fabulous impression of his work by artist Nicola Anthony:

“Recognized as the most influential contemporary Brazilian artist, Neto lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. Influenced by Brazilian neo-concretism, his practice explores membranes, organic structures and sensory interaction between viewer and artwork. His most iconic installations are sprawling, monstrous, playful sculptures that use pendulous forms of translucent membrane, filled with tactile and sensuous materials such as polished ball bearings, spices and washing powder. Neto’s abstract, architectural pieces filled the Hayward Gallery in 2010. If you visited the space, perhaps like me, you experienced the artwork taking you physically away from the everyday, gradually becoming more aware of your surroundings and your connections with the space, the membranes, the art, the other people in the gallery. Neto’s pungent materials become a further layer of the sculpture, invisibly snaking around the gallery: A scent sculpture, being displaced, conveyed, shaped and eroded by passing viewers. Such experiential artworks mix up our senses. Scent becomes space and movement; sight becomes tactile; minuscule textures become vast visual landscapes and voyages; shapes and forms become palpable pressures, tensions and forces; whilst sounds become punctuations of time.  My favourite ‘states of matter’ quote from Ernesto is – “What is silence, is it more solid than a stone?” (Copyright Nicola Anthony, quote sourced from http://nicolaanthony.squarespace.com/blog/2013/1/4/what-is-silence-is-it-more-solid-than-a-stone.html)

The full article is well worth a read and there are some amazing photos of Neto’s work. You can find the article here. I love Nicola Anthony’s way of describing this inter-sensory experience, of the senses literally crossing and getting mixed up.

In his work Anthropodino (2009), Neto encloses 1650 pounds (approximately 750 kilograms) of spices in pendulous, dangling “limbs” that hang down from the ceiling of the tulle structure. The spices used include cloves, cumin and ginger. In another section of the work, a tent-like structure is full of lavender-filled pillows that you can lie down on. Neto says of the work in the following video: “I wanted to touch you with the smell…” He goes on to say the he wants his sculptural works to be touched, because touching artworks (and people also, particularly strangers) is something that’s not normally done, and he wants his audience to interact and physically connect with his works. To Ernesto Neto touch isn’t just sexual, rather, “touch is love”, touch is connection.

Heidi Zuckerman Jacobson and Phyllis Wattis have also written about some of Neto’s earlier works that use scent:

In early works such as Piff, Paff, Poff, Puff; Piff Piff; and Puff Puff, which comprised his 1997 exhibition at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in New York, Neto filled small Lycra sacks with colorful and aromatic substances such as chili powder and coriander. The sacks were dropped on the floor in strategic arrangements to form abstract compositions of color, form, and scent. The intensity arose from the powerful mix of scents and the evocative palette. The aroma of the installation greeted visitors upon the opening of the elevator and increased as they rounded the corners and neared the gallery. As in many of Neto’s works, the viewer was drawn in through a sense not traditionally associated with art: smell. By giving equal importance to smell and touch, Neto’s works challenge the traditional primacy of vision in 20th–century art. (Source: http://bampfa.berkeley.edu/exhibition/190)

I love the cross-disciplinary nature of Neto’s works and how, in these earlier works, the spices created the scent, colour and form of the piece, and also lured visitors towards the works with their exotic aromas. What an amazing and clever use of olfaction in art.

I can’t wait to see and climb inside The Island Bird at the NGV next week. The Island Bird is currently on display at NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road Melbourne, until the 19th April 2015. You can find it on the third floor.

Further Reading

If you’d like to read more about Ernesto Neto’s work, I recommend the following resources, as well as the two articles quoted in my post above:

Blogger Evan Namerow reviews Anthropodino on Dancing Perfectly Free.

In 2014, the Guggenheim Bilbao exhibited a retrospective of Neto’s works. You can read more about the exhibited works here.

Green Fragrances For Saint Patrick’s Day

St Patrick's Day March, Downpatrick, 2011. Photo credit: Ardfern (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Patricks_Day,_Downpatrick,_March_2011_%28045%29.JPG)

Saint Patrick’s Day March, Downpatrick, 2011. Photo credit: Ardfern (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Patricks_Day,_Downpatrick,_March_2011_%28045%29.JPG)

Today is Saint Patrick’s Day. Not being religious nor particularly Irish (though there’s a little bit of that in my ancestry), I’m no expert on the day. However, some basic research tells me that the celebration of Saint Patrick’s Day falls on the death date of Patrick, Ireland’s most notable patron saint, who lived between AD 385-461. It is a significant religious feast day, observed by many types of Christians, from Lutherans to Anglicans and Catholics.

In Australia, the religious aspects of the feast day are no-doubt observed by some Christians, but for many, Saint Patrick’s Day is a time to drink copious amounts of green beer, wear enormous, green, shamrock-adorned felt leprechaun hats and dance to Irish music, often U2.

The shamrock is a symbol of Saint Patrick's Day

The shamrock is a symbol of Ireland and Saint Patrick’s Day

The colour green and the shamrock (a three-leaved clover symbol) have been associated with Ireland and Saint Patrick’s Day for the last few centuries. As for the symbolism of the shamrock:

According to legend, Saint Patrick used the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to Irish pagans. (Source: Wikipedia)

It seems the shamrock was used as a religious educational tool, possibly as part of converting pagans to the Christian faith. You can read more about the symbolism of the shamrock here.

Green Fragrances

All of this focus on the colour green today got me thinking about green fragrances, and which green fragrances are my favourites. I’ve written micro-reviews of my four favourites for you below. I hope they inspire you to wear a green fragrance today!

So… what exactly is a green fragrance?

Online fragrance database Fragrantica states that in perfumery, “green” is:

[A] generic term for notes that evoke snapped leaves, foliage, green vegetal scents.

Green notes are fresh and lively and they are used to make a fragrance feel crisp and sharp. Green notes very often include green leaves, tea leaves, the essence of freshly cut grass and even some marine plants. Green notes are most commonly used in sporty fragrances and summertime editions of popular perfumes. (Source: Fragrantica)

Michael Edwards, in his classic perfume reference Fragrances of the World (2010 edition) says:

Green fragrances capture the sharp scent of fresh-cut grass and violet leaves. Despite the outdoors imagery, the impact of the classic resinous galbanum accord is so potent that many green fragrances have a formal rather than sporty personality.

My own definition of what a green perfume is combines elements of both these definitions.  I think of green fragrances as employing fresh green ingredients, such as leaves, grass or herbs, and also the classic galbanum accord that Edwards mentions. I don’t personally think of green fragrances as sporty, but agree with Edwards, that they are generally quite formal in style instead.

And herein lies the conundrum: it seems that the perfumes I think of as green are not necessarily considered green by others. And not all databases agree with each other either. Some of the fragrances below are classified as green or floral-green on Fragrantica, but not by Edwards. Nevertheless, all of the fragrances I’ve chosen feature either green notes, herbal notes and/or heavy amounts of galbanum. To me they are all very “green” indeed! Classification is a tricky subject!

Chanel no. 19

Chanel no. 19

Chanel no. 19 (borrowed from http://www.fragrantica.com)

The version I have of this classic green fragrance is a 1980s eau de parfum in a silvery plastic canister. It’s astonishingly green, and to my mind and nose Chanel no. 19 is a “reference green” fragrance. This means that when I think of what a green fragrance is and should be, I think of this one, and compare all others to it when judging their relative green-ness! Even the juice itself is even a startling green colour!

Made for Chanel by perfumer Henri Robert in 1970, this is an iconic fragrance. It’s crisp, almost savoury and a little bit scary. It reminds me of a cool and sophisticated woman; one who guards her emotions and is in total control. But she’s a stylish woman, and incredibly beautiful too, thin, grey-suited, neatly coiffed and with chiselled cheekbones.

As for how it actually smells, the green notes dominate entirely and on first spray no. 19 really does smell like freshly-crushed green leaves. I smell a hint of rose, which rounds and vaguely sweetens the crispness, and the peppery oakmoss and cool vetiver are a wonderful compliment to the green notes.

Ma Griffe

Ma Griffe (borrowed from www.fragrantica.com)

Carven’s Ma Griffe (borrowed from http://www.fragrantica.com)

Ma Griffe is another very green, vintage fragrance, but with a twist. It was created for Carven by Jean Carles in 1946. I own a vintage (c.1990s) parfum de toilette version of this. At first this fragrance is almost overwhelmingly ugly, with a blast of the screechiest, dryest aldehydes I’ve ever experienced. But be patient and wait a little while, and this one reveals its complexity and beauty. When the aldehydes calm down and fade away, green notes and oakmoss are revealed, later followed by the sweetest, warmest floral notes of ylang-ylang and gardenia. This vintage version of Ma Griffe is lovely, multi-layered and surprising. I strongly recommend you find a vintage version to really experience the nuanced story this fragrance can tell. However, the most recent release of this fragrance (2013) is also delightful and evokes the spirit of the vintage fragrance very well.

Grand Amour

Grand Amour by Annick Goutal (photo borrowed from www.fragrantica.com)

Grand Amour by Annick Goutal (photo borrowed from http://www.fragrantica.com)

Grand Amour is a vintage-style green fragrance, heavy on hyacinth, which to me reads as a very green, bitter note. It also shares the general character and sophistication of Chanel no. 19, and also several of its notes, including rose, leather and iris. However, this fragrance is a very opulent and rich green, and dries down with a sweet and voluptuous iris note dominant, which somehow warms up the overall tone of Grand Amour in comparison to no. 19. Grand Amour was created in 1996 by Annick Goutal, for herself. This is one of my favourite fragrances of all time.

Un Parfum de Charmes & Feuilles

Un Parfum de Charmes et Feuilles by The Different Company (photo borrowed from www.fragrantica.com)

Un Parfum de Charmes et Feuilles by The Different Company (photo borrowed from http://www.fragrantica.com)

Un Parfum de Charmes et Feuilles is the one that nearly got away. At first I didn’t understand it, and listed it for sale online. But then I gave it one more spray on a hot day, and I was blown away by the originality of this lovely and light green fragrance. Mint and marjoram present themselves to you on first spray, but the marjoram is hiding. It’s an unusual fragrance ingredient, so the nose has to know what to sniff for, but it’s there, vying for top billing with the cool, fresh mint, which wafts in and out of focus. It’s a sweet and light herbal fragrance and also features sage and thyme (though these are more subtly blended in). Lemon couples the zest of the peppermint and a lovely cool jasmine adds sweetness and depth. Un Parfum de Charmes & Feuilles was created by Celine Ellena for The Different Company in 2006.

So, there you have it, a green fragrance round-up in honour of Saint Patrick’s Day and its association with the colour green! If you’re heading out to celebrate this centuries-old feast day, I hope you’re inspired to wear a green fragrance. Do you celebrate Saint Patrick’s Day? What’s your favourite green fragrance? Let me know in the comments box below!

Haiku Perfume Reviews: Histoires de Parfums’ Petroleum / 1969 / Moulin Rouge 1889


Photo sourced from HdP US Website: http://www.histoiresdeparfums.com/us/histoiresdeparfums/preface.php Copyright Histoires de Parfums.

Introduction to Histoires de Parfums Reviews

Last year in my Facebook perfume appreciation group some of the members took part in a perfume review challenge. In this group task, we each chose a fragrance house that we wanted to become more familiar with, and wrote a review on a different scent from that house, every day for seven days. I chose to review seven fragrances by the French company Histoires de Parfums. A few months ago I shared four of these reviews with you at Perfume Polytechnic (scroll to the bottom for links to these reviews). Today I’m sharing with you the remaining reviews, a series of three haiku poems. At the time of the perfume review challenge I was a little burnt out after a few days from the “review a day” concept, so I tried to come up with a novel, concise way of reviewing my remaining three fragrances!

While I don’t claim to be a poet, I wanted to convey a sense of the remaining three perfumes without resorting to long sentences, anecdotes and similes. So… here you have the final three reviews in my Histoires de Parfums Perfume Week Review Challenge. I’ve presented the haiku for each fragrance first, followed by the fragrance notes for each one.

Petroleum (Edition Rare)


Car oil, not petrol —
Trees ooze sap, dark earth, dry, cool;
I glimpse a musk stag.

Fragrance Notes:

Top Notes: Oud, Bergamot, Aldehydes / Heart Notes: Rose, Oud, Amber / Base Notes: Oud, Civet Absolute, Leather, Patchouli, White Musk.



Among ripe peach trees
Orange sun, I sit eating
Musk rose chocolates.

Fragrance Notes:

Top Notes: Fruit of the Sun, Peach / Heart Notes: Rose, White Flowers, Cardamom, Clove / Base Notes: Patchouli, Chocolate, Coffee, White Musk.

Moulin Rouge 1889


Legs, flesh, silk, feathers
Powder puffs and grease paint — lights!
Lipstick kiss: salut!

Fragrance Notes:

Top Notes: Tangerine, Prune, Cinnamon / Heart Notes: Absinthe, Rose of Damas / Base Notes: Iris, Patchouli, Musk, Fur.

If you’d like to read my other four reviews from the HdP line, click on the following links. They also include some background info on the perfume house.

Tubereuse 1: Capricieuse

Tubereuse 3: Animale

1740 Marquis de Sade


What’s your favourite Histoires de Parfums fragrance? Tell me in the comments section below!

Who Are The Snazziest Sniffers in the Animal Kingdom?

dog-450083_640It thrills me whenever I approach an animal that I don’t know as the first thing they do is waggle their nose in my direction, nostrils flaring, sniffing me out and trying to work out whether I’m friend or foe. I notice that my cat does this with inanimate objects too. If something new is added to the house, or if something has moved, or is where it shouldn’t be, the first thing she will do is sniff it. It must be her primary sense, or maybe the quickest and most reliable sense to help her ascertain whether said object is safe to be around or not.

man-426985_640We’ve all heard that in comparison to non-human animals, the human sense of smell is fairly poor. Even the magical, astutely trained and experienced noses of perfumers are pretty far down the scale of sniffing-ability in comparison to some of our animal friends. As someone interested in fragrance, I’ve had to develop my sense of smell consciously, and it’s taken some work. I know I still have a lot of training to do, even though I reckon in comparison to the average Joe, I smell pretty well! Women also have a keener sense of smell than men, apparently. This is backed up by my own (non-scientific) observations that I can tell Olly’s shirts sometimes need washing well before he’s even aware of a problem. Eeeeuuwww!

elephant-111695_640Now, if I was an African Elephant, I’m not sure I would be able to cope with Olly’s shirts at all. The African Elephant trumps all other mammals: not only does it have an extremely long proboscis, which is necessary for smelling out predators, amongst other things, but scientists have also found out that it has the largest number of olfactory receptor (OR) genes in a study of thirteen placental mammals. A whopping 1948 OR genes.

This research was undertaken in Japan by Yoshihito Niimura, Atsushi Matsui and Kazushige Touhara of the University of Tokyo’s Department of Applied Biological Chemistry, and their findings were published in the journal Genome Research. You can read more detailed information about the study here and here. You can also read the original article here.

So, where do we humans end up amongst a list of animals with superior schnozzes? How many OR genes do we have? A mere 396. Here is the list of the thirteen mammals that the researchers studied, in descending order of the number of OR genes each animal has:

Elephant 1948

Rat 1207

Cow 1186

Mouse 1130

Horse 1066

Dog 811

Guinea Pig 796

Rabbit 768

Human 396

Chimpanzee 380

Marmoset 366

Macaque 309

Orangutan 296

You can see that primates fare quite badly in the OR gene stakes, and while we humans are near the bottom of the list, poor Orangutans would probably not make very good perfumers at all.

roe-deer-110068_640Why is the sense of smell so important to mammals? The authors posit that

“…the sense of smell is critical to all mammals, and they use it for sniffing out food, avoiding predators, finding mates and locating their offspring.” (quote sourced from this article)

And why is an elephant’s sense of smell so incredible?

“The large repertoire of elephant (smell) genes might be attributed to elephants’ heavy reliance on scent in various contexts, including foraging, social communication, and reproduction.

African and Asian elephants possess a specific scent gland, called the temporal gland, behind each eye, and male elephants exude an oily secretion during annual mating, which is characterized by increased aggressiveness and elevated levels of testosterone .

Research has also shown that elephants have well-developed olfactory systems that include large olfactory bulbs and large olfactory areas in the brain.

And previous studies have revealed that African elephants can reportedly distinguish between two Kenyan ethnic groups—the Maasai, whose young men demonstrate virility by spearing elephants, and the Kamba, who are agricultural people that pose little threat to elephants, through smell.” (quote sourced from this article)

cows-nose-503999_640Relatively speaking, why is the human sense of smell so poor? One idea is that, as our posture became more upright over the course of evolution, we

 “…lifted our noses far from the ground where most smells originate, diluting scent molecules in the air.” (quote sourced from this article)

ginger-cat-253731_640But where does my cat fit into all this? I don’t know. The study doesn’t mention how many OR genes cats have, sadly. But a brief bit of research on Wikipedia tells me the following about a cat’s sense of smell:

“A domestic cat’s sense of smell is about fourteen times as strong as a human’s. Cats have twice as many receptors in the olfactory epithelium (i.e. smell-sensitive cells in their noses) as people do, meaning that cats have a more acute sense of smell than humans. Cats also have a scent organ in the roof of their mouths called the vomeronasal (or Jacobson’s) organ. When a cat wrinkles its muzzle, lowers its chin, and lets its tongue hang a bit, it is opening the passage to the vomeronasal. This is called gaping, “sneering”, “snake mouth”, or “flehming”. Gaping is the equivalent of the Flehmen response in other animals, such as dogs, horses, and big cats.”

It’s all rather humbling really. I guess we’ll just have to console ourselves with the knowledge that non-human animals aren’t able to make perfume, yet. So we’ve got one up on them there. But if they could make perfume, and did, would we even be able to smell or appreciate the wonderful creations that they might produce with their superior sense of smell? I’ll leave you to ponder that question…

Celebrating International Women’s Day with fragrances by Sophia Grojsman


A woman’s place is in the Revolution

Today is International Women’s Day. It’s no secret to anyone who knows me well that I’m a card-carrying feminist. The purpose of my Masters folio in music composition was to research and create feminist music, a topic that I studied and engaged in for years prior to my degree, and in the years since. I’m passionately interested in women’s issues and in working towards and advocating for the equality of women, in all areas of life and all occupations. So today I got to wondering about women in perfume: how many women have made perfume in the past, or make it today? Who are our female perfumers? I can’t answer that question in its entirety, but I can make a contribution, and point you in the direction of some resources about female perfumers.

Earlier today I (briefly) had the mad idea of creating a list of all the female perfumers that I could find, until I realised how difficult and time-consuming that would be, and until I discovered the fabulous lists already compiled by DeeOlive at Basenotes. DeeOlive has compiled a thirteen-part series of lists of women perfumers and their creations. Her list starts with this post here; at the bottom of the post, click on the “Female Noses and Perfumers – Part 2” link at the bottom, and so on at the bottom of each subsequent post, to sequentially find your way through all thirteen parts. Thanks DeeOlive – what an amazing resource you’ve created for us all!

As well as sharing this resource with you, you can read the recent interviews I’ve published with contemporary female perfumers Emma J. Leah of Fleurage and Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays. These interviews are fascinating reads into the work of two innovative and brilliant female perfumers. I hope to bring you more interviews with other female perfumers in the near future!

Sophia Grojsman


Perfumer Sophia Grojsman. Photo taken by Alison Yarrow. Photo source: http://forward.com/articles/144873/perfume-nose-conjures-up-perfect-scents/

Today, in honour of female perfumers, I’m testing and briefly reviewing for you a quartet of fragrances by renowned female perfumer Sophia Grojsman. Grojsman created such popular and well-known fragrances as Paris, Yvresse (Champagne), Trésor and White Linen. She has worked for major fashion labels and smaller, niche perfume houses to produce these (and many other) well-known fragrances, including A Lab on Fire, Frédéric Malle, Lancôme, Lalique, Estée Lauder, Yves Saint Laurent and Calvin Klein.

Grojsman’s style is described by many as “baroque” and I can testify that wearing four of her fragrances at once (one small spray of each, mind) is olfactorily overwhelming. But, in her defence, I am wearing four eighties-nineties “powerhouse” fragrances all at once!

The four I have on today are Paris (EDT), Yvresse (EDT), SpellBound (EDP) and Trésor (EDP). I can certainly detect a “Grojsman style” by wearing them all at once, which was one of my intentions in spraying them all on together. To me, Grojsman’s style is rich, quite sweet, complex, and the ingredients are well-blended. Certain ingredients play a starring role in each fragrance, but in the background, the impression is of well-blended “backing notes”. The feeling I get when wearing Grojsman’s fragrances is kind of like how I feel after eating a too-rich dessert: I enjoyed it, I wanted it, but afterwards I feel a little overwhelmed, and declare that from now on I’m only going to eat clean, minimalist foods like white rice, miso soup and green salad. Thankfully, this feeling doesn’t usually last very long! Similarly, I am rather fond of Grojsman’s fragrances, despite their richness.



Yvresse / Champagne for Yves Saint Laurent

Yvresse is a fruity, sweet, floral concoction, and is hard to pin down in any traditional fragrance category. It belongs firmly in the camp of “early 90s powerhouse fragrances”. On Fragrantica.com, the most frequently detected notes among users of the site include peach, nectarine, apricot, cinnamon, lychee, rose, carnation, oak moss, caraway and violet. But to me, I smell intensely sweet plum rather than the more peachy stone fruits listed, a bucketload of carnation (to rival any traditional Caron fragrance), a sweet-sharp apple-ish rose, a slight waft of warm spice and yummy, smooth vanilla or benzoin in the deep background. It’s a gorgeous fragrance, suited to a warm day and happy occasions.



Trésor for Lancôme

Trésor, a great commercial hit for Lancôme, is one of those fragrances that I associate with growing up as a teenager in the early 90s. I own a bottle now mostly for nostalgia’s sake, and I like it, but rarely wear it. This doesn’t mean it’s not good, but my preference these days is for ambers, woods, Orientals and Chypres, and Trésor doesn’t quite fit the bill. Trésor is basically a peach-rose-oak moss fragrance, although oak moss isn’t listed anywhere in the specs for the fragrance on Fragrantica. I love the way the oak moss offsets the sweet richness of the peach and rose; it’s almost mouldy and earthy and a little bitter. I probably should wear this more. In comparison to Yvresse, Trésor is much further along the spectrum towards “savoury”, but worn alone it seems quite a sweet and overbearing fragrance.



SpellBound for Estée Lauder

SpellBound takes the liberal dose of carnation found in Yvresse and turns the dial up to the max. Fragrantica lists carnation, cardamom, amber, tuberose, vanilla and rosewood as the top six ingredients, but to me this fragrance is just a rich melange of sweet, fruity and floral notes. Apart from the carnation, I can’t really single out many other notes. The warmth and sweetness combine in SpellBound to create the impression of a rich and heady nectar. It’s a beautiful fragrance, and so far is outdoing Trésor and Yvresse in both sweetness and projection. Yvresse is a beautiful beast of a fragrance. It’s the epitome of glitz and glamour, and is the olfactory equivalent of gold lamé, bling and wine-coloured velvet. But it’s good, as all of Grojsman’s fragrances are: they are well crafted, well blended, balanced and distinctive, even if they are a bit too much for today’s pared-down tastes.


paris YSL

Paris for Yves Saint Laurent

Finally we come to Paris, another fragrance that reminds me of my teen years, filled with stolen sprays of fragrances like Paris from counters in department stores. Back in the day when perfume was too expensive for me to buy much of it, I wished I could own a bottle of Paris, but that wish has only recently come to pass. Now I have various versions of this beauty, but today I’m wearing a newish Eau de Toilette. I’d love to own a bottle of the Eau de Parfum one day, which is more majestic, complex and even more beautiful still. Paris is a celebration of the rose. Rose underpinned by violet and a bouquet of seemingly a hundred other flowers including hyacinth (which gives off none of its usual bitterness), iris, mimosa and geranium. It also includes such ingredients as musk, woods, amber and oak moss, but the overall impression is of a lush, sweet, beautiful rose. A hyper-real rose. It’s gorgeous, and the vintage Paris is even more so.

It’s been a fun exercise covering myself in Sophia Grojsman’s creations for International Women’s Day 2015. By wearing several perfumes of Grojsman’s at once, I’ve been able to compare and contrast them in a way I haven’t done before. I feel like I’ve got to know her signature style as a perfumer much better, and appreciate her work more.

Do you own any fragrances made by women perfumers? Will you wear something made my a female perfumer for International Women’s Day? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Happy International Women’s Day to all my female followers and readers, and to all the female perfumers out there!



Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadowThirteen thoughts from perfumers around the globe. Each perfumer profiled at Perfume Polytechnic has been presented with the same set of thirteen questions that probe into scent memories, imagination, education, history, the creative process and philosophy. How each perfumer answers these questions, and what form the answers take, is up to them. Tune in each week for a new instalment to learn more about the olfactory arts and how perfumers think about smell.

This interview is the last of five, weekly instalments of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series for now. Today, London-based Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays answers the thirteen questions.

I want to let each perfumer speak for themselves about who they are, what drives them, and what they do with fragrance, so without any further ado, I introduce you to…

Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays

Sarah McCartney

Sarah McCartney

  1. Tell us about a significant olfactory memory from your childhood.

When I was two years old I liked the smell from our mock orange bush so much that I pushed some buds right up my nose. My mother shoved me in the pram and sprinted to the doctors.

  1. What is your “origin story”? When, why and how did you decide to become a perfumer?

It happened in stages. I’d been dabbling with essential oils because I needed to understand the materials I was writing about for Lush. I wrote and edited the Lush Times [a printed publication produced for Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics] for 14 years, and a lot of that involved describing scents. To cut a long story short, I took a short break from Lush in 2010 but never went back.

I left to write a novel about a problem-solving perfumer who would give each of her clients a bottle of scent to remind them of their happy times. I tried to find all the fragrances I was describing in the book but couldn’t find anything like them, so I decided to have a crack at making them for myself. Then, people would ask me how the novel was coming along, but instead of wanting to read my book, my friends and family kept asking me to make them scents to sum up their happy memories.

I met Odette Toilette [a “purveyor of olfactory adventures”, also from London] one day at a friend’s house, got out the fragrances for her to smell, and she organised one of her Scratch + Sniff events which featured them, and Liz Moores’ scents too. Jo Fairley of The Perfume Society was in the audience, and so were Claire Hawksley and Nick Gilbert from Les Senteurs. Jo wrote about me and Nick talked Claire into stocking my perfumes. That’s about it.

  1. Do you have any formal training in perfumery, or are you self-taught? Have there been any mentors or other personal or cultural influences on your work as a perfumer?

Often I’m described as self-taught. That’s not quite true although I haven’t been to perfume school, and I haven’t studied alongside any other perfumers. What I did do was read every book I could get my hands on – I was always the school swot – and I took Karen Gilbert’s courses, mostly to get my hands on synthetic raw materials which are very difficult to experience outside the big companies. Very hard to get in small quantities when you’re working alone. I also did the Perfumers World one week course in London a couple of years ago, and bought up over a hundred 10 ml bottles of synthetics to take away with me and study at the end of it. I’m about to start another course because you can always learn more.

Mind you, I think the advantage not having learnt the way that you’re supposed to do things means that I have approached my perfumes in ways which I have since been told are impossible. If I’d believed there were impossible perhaps I never would have tried them. Of course it turns out that many of them are perfectly possible; it’s just generally not done. Learning from someone else can make things a lot quicker but it can put the blinkers on you.

What I do is learn in stages. I’ll find out that I need to sit down and do another great stack of learning to take me to the next place that I need to be. So I sit down and do it.

SML30ml beach three

Some of the 4160Tuesdays range

  1. Who are your favourite perfumers or perfume houses, and what do you like about their work?

I just look for scents that make me love them, then I’ll often find that their perfumers have also made other things I adore.

I like Jean-Claude Ellena’s deeper scents like In Love Again for Yves St Laurent, and Bois Farine for L’Artisan Parfumeur, and Olivia Giacobetti’s Tea for Two.

I love Lipstick Rose by Ralph Schweiger for Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle. For the same company Dans Tes Bras by Maurice Roucel, who also did the wonderful Tocade for Rochas, New Haarlem for Bond No 9 and Guet Apens for Guerlain. All quite brilliantly delicious.

It’s well worth looking on Basenotes.net perfumers directory and clicking on the name of the perfumer who made one of your favourites. Although some of their works may seem to have nothing in common with each other there will be something that links all, a common olfactory thread. That’s what I find, anyway.

Houses: I’m very fond of Guerlain, Frederic Malle, Serge Lutens and Les Parfums de Rosine.

  1. Describe your brand to us: tell us about the kind(s) of perfume that you make, as well as your brand’s philosophy or ethos.

As I started by trying to create scents which recapture people’s happy times, I had a habit of making things which have a certain retro feel to them. People and the press described them as “vintage”. I then discovered that the way in which I blend materials was in use in small perfumeries in the early 20th century to around about the 1960s, when the GCMS [Gas Chromatography Mass Spectrometry] machines  started to take over. My style is to use a complex natural material (all natural is complex) enhanced or boosted by complimentary synthetics, and it turns out that this was the way perfumes were made for decades. I didn’t know that, I just did it because it suited me; it got me the results that I needed.

I don’t have a thing about using naturals or synthetics; I use whatever will make the right effect, as long as it’s safe, not endangered, complies with EU regulations, is cruelty free, available to me and affordable. Some materials are only available through the five major fragrance and flavour companies that manufacture them. I’m not worried about perfume fashion, as I seem to be ploughing this vintage furrow of my own, so it doesn’t bother me if I miss out on the latest magical molecule only available from one of the big guys.

As for the rest of the company, I aim to be kind, fair, and to keep my perfumes affordable. I am not a fan of that school of marketing which insists that you charge the earth for your products if people are daft enough to pay it. I’m not targeting the super-rich (except for one particular perfume, but what I do for bespoke customers is another story). I want my friends to be able to buy them. Even if I do make an extrait from super expensive materials I’ll still sell 4ml bottles so everyone can have a go. There’s a lot of poppycock talked about perfume; I don’t subscribe to it.


  1. How do you come up with the idea for a new perfume? For example, do ideas come to you spontaneously, do you work conceptually, or do you try to fill gaps in your range?

It all depends on the scent. Sometimes I think of a name, then I have to make perfume to fit it. Inevitable Crimes of Passion is one of them (that’s not out yet). Often, I’m trying to capture a place I’ve been to or a memory I have, like The Dark Heart of Old Havana or What I Did On My Holidays.

It can be someone else’s idea. I would never have made Rome 1963 if Peroni hadn’t asked me to create it for them, and sent their stylist, Silvia Bergomi, to work with me. She had a really clear idea of what she wanted which was great because we only had a day to make it. So then I ended up with a white flowers, woods and tobacco fragrance which I probably wouldn’t have started because I was never that fond of white flowers.

Centrepiece is made with frangipani that I had bought in specially for a bespoke project, then when my new friend Mohammed Fawaz visited the studio, he picked it out, with a handful of other materials he liked and said, “please would you make me one that smells of these?” So I blended them with some other materials to make it all work, and the result was what I suspect will be our next bestseller.

It’s not in my nature to create something to fill a gap in the range, but it happens like that because of circumstances.

Sometimes I just wake up in the morning knowing I have to make something. Midnight in the Palace Garden (in progress) is one of those. Occasionally I do it as an intellectual exercise, which is actually the way that The Sexiest Scent On The Planet. Ever (IMHO) came about. It was a base that had to provide smoothness and softness for blending with gin botanicals. It just turned out that this smoothness and softness was exactly what people wanted – by itself.

  1. What element of your perfume making process do you think readers of this blog would be interested or surprised to learn about?

Perhaps they would be interested to realise how important the maths is. I spent 20 years thinking that my two maths A levels and half a maths degree had been a complete waste of time, and although I never use advanced calculus these days, when I have to do some scaling up or down and some averagely complicated maths to work out what proportions of different blends I need to use, or how to create the final formula for materials I’ve used at different concentrations, that’s as easy as falling off a log. I’ve seen people turn pale at the idea of just having to multiply their formula by a factor of 10.

If you want to make your own perfumes, and you’re not that hot at maths, you’ll need to get someone to sit next to you who is.


Sarah’s workspace

  1. What are the current challenges you face as a perfumer, both creatively and in regard to manufacturing, distributing and marketing your perfume?

I do hate sales. I’m not good at picking up the phone, leaving a message, then picking it up again the next day, and the next. I don’t really like negotiating, or having to make new contacts.

I love it when shops call me and ask if they can stock my scents. Fortunately that happens quite a lot, but I still have to allocate time to getting out there and into more shops.

I spend too much time answering people’s emails, doing the accounts, doing the stock checks, chasing up all the EU safety data I need for certification, sending links to press photos, getting deliveries to the right places at the right times. I just want to be in my creative corner making lovely things.

Creatively, I don’t really mind the regulations, as they force you to use your ingenuity.

Distribution, as you well know, is a complete nightmare now that perfume is classed as Dangerous Goods. How I wish I could get mine to Australia. Every box I pack to Lucky Scent, our biggest stockist in the US, plus the goddamn paperwork, takes half a day.

  1. How has your work as a perfumer affected your perception of everyday smells?

Everyday smells are a constant source of inspiration. I walk past the Acton water processing works every morning and evening, so sometimes there is a very strong smell of poo, and I just think, “Hmmm, indole.” Cat pee is buchu essential oil or blackcurrant bud absolute. Yesterday on the bus someone stank more of garlic than I thought it was possible to stink; I just find it interesting. Shrubs can stop me dead in the street. Some beguiling flower will be wafting a glorious fragrance and I have to track it and trace it and stick my head into its source. One day I’ll probably get arrested.

I’ll also spend a lot of time with my nose stuck in my husband’s glass of port, until this starts to irritate him and he asks if he can please drink it. I used to be very sceptical about people who said they could detect caramel or black currants in wine, but now it seems obvious. Scents have stopped being good or bad to me and have just become more interesting.


A range of smaller bottles from 4160Tuesdays

  1. Many ingredients that are edible are also used in fragrance (chocolate, vanilla, coffee and rose, to name a few). If you could reverse this process and turn any perfume ingredient into an edible ingredient, what would that be? Which fragrance ingredient do you think would taste nice as a flavour?

I’d like to eat opoponax.

  1. If you had a time machine, which historical period in perfumery would you like to go back to and work in as a perfumer?

I’m quite happy working now, in the style of the 1920s to the 1970s.

  1. If you could invent a new olfactory gadget, tool or technology, what would it be and how would it benefit perfumers and/or society?

I would invent the process that enables rose absolute, jasmine absolute and geranium essential oils to smell exactly the way they do and not be restricted for cosmetic use.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

Perfume is for making new memories and recalling distant ones.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the final instalment of Perfume Polytechnic’s first Perfumer Interview Series with Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays. Further series of Thirteen Thoughts will feature on Perfume Polytechnic in the near future!

I want to thank Sarah for taking time out of a very busy schedule to answer these questions. I loved all of her interesting and amusing answers, but particularly loved reading about how her idea for a novel turned into a new career as a perfumer! I also like how Sarah aims to make her fragrances affordable to all.

If you’d like to find out more about 4160Tuesdays, visit the website. You can also find 4160Tuesdays fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

4160Tuesdays is currently crowdfunding to create a new range of seven fragrances: The Crimes of Passion series. If you’re keen to read about the project and help out, click here.

You can buy Sarah McCartney’s novel The Scent of Possibility here.

Previous Interviews

Last week, Paul Kiler of PK Perfumes was interviewed. You can catch up on his interview here. In week three, Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù answered the thirteen questions. You can read his very unconventional answers here! If you’d like to catch up with week 2’s interview with Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes, click here. Emma Leah of Fleurage was interviewed in week 1 of Thirteen Thoughts. To read Emma’s interview, click here.

I’d like to extend a warm and hearty thank you to all of the perfumers who participated in this first series of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. I hope to be back shortly with a new series of Thirteen Thoughts, featuring interesting perfumers from across the globe. Suggestions on who you would like to see interviewed in the future are welcome, please share your ideas with me in the comments section below!