Perfume Polytechnic’s Christmas Gift List & Olfactory Experience Ideas

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Christmas Party on Bondi Beach, Australia, 1959. From The National Archives of Australia.

Is it that time of year again already?! My, hasn’t it come round fast! I’m sure most of us understand the sensory and emotional excitement that Christmas brings. For those us in the Southern Hemisphere (including myself), Christmas is an important part of summer; most people are on annual leave, children go on school holidays, families go away together, spend days at the beach, picnicking or bush walking. Christmas in Australia is part of an extended summer festival, and is – I can only imagine – very different to the cold Christmases up north.

But there are things we all no doubt have in common: those of us who celebrate Christmas often get overstimulated, overwhelmed even by all the expectations and complexity of this holiday. There is frenzied shopping, cooking and eating, and a busy schedule of catch-ups with friends, family and work mates before the year is out.

Here at Perfume Polytechnic I like to focus on the sense of smell, learning about olfaction, the connections between people (and the role smell plays in that), and explorations of multi-sensory art and experiences. I like to keep things personal, small-scale and intimate, and as a starving artist myself, have learnt that the best things in life are often free, or at the very least, affordable.

So, this year, instead of focusing my Christmas Gift List entirely on consumables, I’m including some experiences that cost nothing (or very little), but might just bring you joy, happiness, wonder and connection with those you love anyway. I’m also including fragrances or fragrant products that I love, or those that involve a process of exploration, curiosity, daring or education.

I hope these ideas interest and inspire you and that you all have a very lovely and peaceful Christmas.

N.B. While numbered, the order of this list doesn’t indicate any kind of ranking.

1. Buy a 4160Tuesdays Taster Box + 100ml bottle later

4160box

A Taster Box from 4160Tuesdays. Photo borrowed from 4160Tuesdays website.

What

Here’s how this works: you pay £100 to 4160Tuesdays and you get a wonderful sample box containing 7 x 4ml bottles of this British microperfumery’s perfume, and a voucher to spend on a 100ml bottle later, once you’ve chosen your favourite! What a brilliant idea! You can send one of three different, pre-selected sets of seven little bottles (woods, florals, or citrus), or you can mix and match and choose your own choose your own seven samples to try from 4160Tuesdays’ extensive range.

Why

Because it encourages the spirit of exploration and curiosity about scent. It’s also a clever idea: who wants to give or get a big bottle perfume they’ve never tested before? It’s risky. And… you save £25 buying the taster box and bottle together like this, rather than buying the two items separately.

Where

You can buy this online at 4160Tuesdays or if you live in London, pop on in to the shop in Acton and say hi to lovely perfumer Sarah McCartney.

2. Go on a Smell Walk

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Olly Technic making friends with some rosemary on a smell walk

What

Take yourself on a smell walk. You might like to take your friends, your children, or relatives too. Most of us (even perfumistas) don’t pay much attention to the everyday smells around us, so this is a good way to start doing so.

How

Go on a walk, anywhere, at any time, and pay mindful attention to the smells around you. You could go to a fragrant garden, a market, or simply down your own street. It can be as short or as long as you like. Stop and smell various objects that you come across on the way. You can even take a notebook to jot down your observations about the smells, or take photos to remember what you sniffed. Take your time. See if you can smell something you haven’t smelt before. Adopt an attitude of non-judgment: let yourself smell anything and everything, even if you don’t find it pleasant. Be an observer. You will emerge from this experience with a new sense of curiosity about smells, and a broader knowledge of the olfactory landscape around you. Ain’t that a good thing?

Why

Because it will put you in a good frame of mind and gives you a chance to hone in on an under-used sense, which creates a sense of wonder and new-found interest in the world. It will give you a chance to connect with friends over an interesting experience, and to introduce children to the sensory marvel that smell is. And it’s free. Who says fun experiences have to cost anything?

Where

Anywhere at all.

3. Cook with Aftelier Perfumes’ Frankincense Chef’s Essence

almonds1

Candied Almonds with Frankincense and Cinnamon

What

Aftelier Perfumes’ Frankincense Chef’s Essence, which comes in a 5ml dropper bottle. Mandy Aftel’s fabulous range of Chef’s Essences are like edible perfume: you can add these food grade essential oils to food and drinks to experience exciting new aromas and flavours, or enjoy intensified versions of more familiar ones.

How

You simply add a drop or two (or more, but exercise caution as these oils are concentrated) to your cooking or drinks. Earlier this year I spent several months experimenting with the Chef’s Essences and came up with some interesting uses for them. You can read my posts for inspiration, and also the post that I dedicated to Mandy’s Frankincense Chef’s Essence, including recipes for an Orange & Frankincense Almond Polenta Cake and Candied Almonds With Frankincense and Cinnamon. Yum!

Why

Because the Three Wise Men gave Frankincense to the baby Jesus. You can’t get any more Christmassy than that! And, it tastes and smells remarkable. Give it a go. Expand your flavour horizons!

Where

You can purchase the Frankincense Chef’s Essence online at Aftelier. It’s only $12USD per 5ml bottle. Mandy also makes a delicious frankincense-infused oolong tea, if that’s more up your alley.

4. Help Fund the OSMODRAMA 2016 Scent Festival

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The Smeller 2.0 scent organ. Photo borrowed from the OSMODRAMA Kickstarter page.

What

OSMODRAMA will be a new festival of “Storytelling With Smells”, and is proposed to take place in Berlin in 2016, showcasing the amazing new scent organ Smeller 2.0. You can help crowdfund the project until December 16. Get your skates on!

The OSMODRAMA Kickstarter page says of the project:

“Introducing a new art: composing+performing time-based smell sequences via SMELLER 2.0, the instrument. This festival starts in Berlin.

A new field of art: composing and storytelling with scents

The instrument is ready and works perfectly

The instrument Smeller 2.0, the digital scent organ was invented by Wolfgang Georgsdorf. With the prototype he developed and built with his team, we can finally play and perform smells in sequences: time-based, controlled, without blurring or lingering. Smeller 2.0 has been successfully tried and tested in a large exhibition for three months in Austria. It is overdue to share the extensive cultural potentials of this innovation in arts and media.

Smeller 2.0 is a mighty machine, operated to blend and play thousands of smells from 64 channels with electronic precision. The smells of Smeller are real. They point to places and times of the world as if we paint invisible and silent theatre, drama and big pictures into our imagination and into the space. In that sense Smeller is truly a time and space shuttle.”

You can read more about the project at the OSMODRAMA website and at the Smeller 2.0 website.

You can get a range of rewards for supporting the project (rewards vary based on your contribution, starting at €20), including tickets to OSMODRAMA events, Smeller scents, and art cards.

Why

Help support the bold new frontier of olfactory art. Smeller 2.0 gives artists a chance to perform with smells through time in a live context. It’s exciting stuff!

Where

Help this olfactory project and festival get off the ground at the OSMODRAMA Kickstarter page.

5. Give Someone a Perfumed Posy or a Fragrant Plant

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What

A bunch of flowers, hand-picked, or florist assembled, or a fragrant plant: start one from your own cuttings, grow something from seed, or buy from a nursery. Pop it in a lovely earthenware pot, and you’ve got a beautiful gift to give someone dear.

Not all flowers smell, or smell nice, but many do. Commercially grown flowers have often had the scent bred out of them; though the reason for this is beyond me. However, there are some kinds of flowers that seem to be dependably fragrant: roses, lilies, carnations and daffodils, to name a few. Gardenia flowers always smell divine and the shrub grows well in pots, as does lavender. If you’re in Australia, both of these are in season now.

Why

Because everyone loves to get flowers. If you give a plant, it’s a gift that will keep on giving as it grows and flowers. These gifts are about life and nature and appreciating the magnificent smells that so many flowers exude. And they’re pretty too.

6. Take a Class About Olfaction

vintage-classroomWhy

Because learning is good for you, and can be fun too! I love learning and one thing I’ve figured out is that you can never know everything, and there’s always more to learn. Why not learn more about olfaction and/or perfume? There are some fantastic places to learn more about fragrance and olfaction, depending on where you are in the world. Here are just a couple of ideas…

Where

Odette Toilette

Odette Toilette (aka Lizzie Ostrom) runs wonderful sessions about perfume and olfaction in London. At the moment, Lizzie is running a number of Vintage Scent Sessions, each of which focuses on a particular decade in perfumery. Take a friend, a group, or go on your own; just go! If I was in London, I would be there with bells on. You can buy gift vouchers too if you want to shout someone you love a ticket to one of these scent sessions. Sessions cost £35 to attend.

The Institute for Art and Olfaction

The Institute for Art and Olfaction (IAO) in Los Angeles runs a wide range of classes and talks. These include Open Sessions, in which you can tinker with perfumery ingredients in a casual environment, and a range of talks about olfaction and intensive perfumery workshops for those with some experience or a deeper interest. In February, the IAO will host the following hands-on workshops: Aphrodisiacs of Ancient Greece + Rome and Froth and Folly: Perfumery in 18th c. France, both $65USD to attend. Open Sessions cost $40USD to attend.

The IAO also has a handy online resource for locating other places, globally, where you can learn more about perfume and/or olfaction.

7. Buy a Bottle of Peety by O’Driu

SML_Peety_Why

Because Peety is one of the most beautiful animalic amber fragrances out there. And it’s a profound work of conceptual art. Angelo Orazio Pregoni’s Peety shocked and outraged many members of the international fragrance community when it was launched in 2013. Owners of Peety are asked to complete and personalise their bottle of fragrance by adding 1ml of urine to it. Shock, horror! Why are we so disgusted by our own bodies and their secretions? That’s something to have a think about… Meanwhile, I believe Peety is seriously misunderstood: it isn’t the abomination that so many people think it is.

The moment that I understood Peety and was truly moved by it, was when I interviewed Angelo earlier this year. We discussed Peety on this occasion and he had the following to say about it:

“…A boy had just given Peety to his girlfriend, who is pregnant, to celebrate the impending arrival of their child. They opened it and decided to add ten drops of pee of the expectant mother! Then they forget it for a while. After a month she had a miscarriage. You have no idea what that bottle of perfume is worth to them! A man on his deathbed (a close friend of mine) asked me for three bottles of Peety to which he added his pee and left them to his three sons!

Peety is a fetish: the fetish is considered by anthropologists as a key element of the most primitive human religiosity. Without valuing the magic that a human instills in an object, that object will never be a fetish. This is the only magic value intrinsically unique to humans and not God. Peety is not the defeat of a taboo, is the affirmation of the individual in a world where identity is no longer important.”

You can’t get much more personal or meaningful than that.

Where

You can buy Peety online at the O’Driu website. It costs €160.


I hope you’ve enjoyed my list of Christmas suggestions and that it inspires you to think differently about smelling, gifting, and connecting with others this Christmas. Enjoy the sensory excitement that is Christmas and soak in the wonderful aromas that are unique to this holiday!

Merry Christmas!

Polly

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