Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadow1Thirteen 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.

Today marks the launch of Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series, including interviews with Dana El Masri, Josh Meyer, Yosh Han, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and Hiram Green.

You can catch up with Series One of Thirteen Thoughts here, featuring interviews with Emma Leah, Mark Evans, Angelo Orazio Pregoni, Paul Kiler and Sarah McCartney.

For Series Two of Thirteen Thoughts, I interviewed Mandy Aftel, Ellen Covey, Shelley Waddington, Andy Tauer and JoAnne Bassett. You can read those interviews here.

The intention of Thirteen Thoughts is 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, let me introduce you to…

Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï

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Dana El Masri

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

Oh I have many! This is a tough one… I’ll go with one I haven’t shared before… back when I was about 4 or 5, I was on a flight from Dubai to Beirut. There were no tunnels upon arrival, just the stairs to descend out of the plane. The strong scent of gasoline mixed in with the unforgettable Beirut air (fresh, pine, lemon, slightly aquatic with a hint of pollution) struck me. That thought brings me back and undoubtedly every time I land in that city, I feel like I am four years old again, and every time I smell gasoline, with slight rubber notes off airplane or car wheels, I think of that moment.

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

I am from the Middle East and grew up there; scents have always been a part of my life in one way or another. I moved to Montreal in my late teens with the hope of making my dream to sing come true. I graduated with a BA in Communications and felt like there was something missing. Long story short, I read a lot and had a moment of awakening: I wanted to become a perfumer. From there I did everything I could to get to where I am today and hopefully further in the future. Why did I become a perfumer? Well, it’s undeniably satisfying as an art form; it connects many different ideas and feelings… it feeds my creativity to no end. Being a perfumer opens my eyes, ears, hands and nose to the world even more vividly and don’t even get me started on how much I appreciate flavours as a result too.

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  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?

Yes, I was classically trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery (GIP). Among my very special professors, I had Max Gavarry as a composition teacher and Philippe Collet of Expressions Parfumées guided my winning perfume the year I studied. We also visited Jean-Claude Ellena at his lab in Cabris as a class. My experience seeing Jean-Claude Ellena was unforgettable; much of his advice has stuck with me. Yosh Han has been very generous with her advice along the way as well. Without my education at GIP, and subsequently a trip to Pitti in Florence, I would have never met her.

Culturally speaking, I believe that my perception of scents has been influenced by my ethnicity even if it isn’t predominantly clear in my work. The fact that I have grown up with so many people from different cultures has also helped me stay curious and aware of how others perceive smells.

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

I have a list of that too! I’m a fan of many perfumers’ works; it’s inspiring and great to learn from others. What a group of extraordinary people!

My favourites would include Francis Kurkdjian whose work speaks for itself. As well as Olivia Giacobetti, Pierre Bourdon, Jean-Claude Ellena (his minimal approach rubbed off on me), Calice Becker, Christine Nagel (her perfumes are cohesive, romantic, with a strong point of view), Christopher Sheldrake (I deeply connect to Serge Lutens and his collection). Christophe Laudamiel is a total badass whose work I respect tremendously, this doesn’t just include his perfumes but his olfactory artwork and his championing of scent education. This is very important to me, bringing about scent awareness and channelling scent as art. A Lab on Fire, Indult, Neela Vermeire Creations, Mandy Aftel, Pierre Guillaume. In terms of old school scents, I really love Poême by Lancome, Tabac Blond de Caron, Idole by Lubin (the original and its reconstitution). I’m a sucker for most Florientals… Sophia Grojsman is a force and her view of perfumery is very interesting to me.

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The current Parfums Jazmin Sarai range

  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.

My brand Parfums Jazmin Saraï is a collection of perfumes inspired by songs. I have four perfumes and am working on a fifth. The concept is simply scent & sound. Both are invisible, connect to emotions, are authentically direct and transport us elsewhere. The idea is to approach perfumes and scents in another way, since scent is subjective and music is a universal language connecting people around the world.

I want to help change perspective and bring attention to the nose, therefore appreciating and understanding oneself through the experience of these two mediums together. Also, I want it to be a fun experience; a new way to experience scent and a shot at hearing a song/artist you might not have heard of before!

  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?

A little bit of both; sometimes the idea or the song chooses me almost right away and I can get the formula on the spot, other times I need to flesh out the concept or the juice itself a lot longer. I don’t look at trends to fill in the gaps; I just make what feels right. I will usually dissect the song, separate its ‘parts’ and translate timbre, pitch, melody, rhythm, tone, what have you, into scent form.

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

I make perfumes with a very small number of ingredients. Out of the four perfumes in my current collection, the maximum number of ingredients is in Neon Graffiti, which has 30, while the shortest formula belongs to Otis & Me, with just ten ingredients. Everything is made by hand, in small batches; every single aspect of my brand, actually, is authentic and straight from the source. Part of the focus of my work involves synaesthesia (merging of the senses) and intermodal perception; so I am being quite literal with the scent and sound continuum, I think that’s cool!

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Neon Graffiti by Parfums Jazmin Sarai

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

My biggest challenge is accessing ingredients in small quantities… anything in small quantities for that matter! It’s tougher going at it alone with limited access to supplies and things like that. In terms of distribution, the fact that perfume has been classified as ‘dangerous goods’ now has really made things a lot more difficult than they need to be (in terms of shipping). It’s a learning process though, many of the challenges from the beginning cease to get in the way as your business grows.

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

They are that much more heightened. I feel like my world is more vivid and more interesting. I feel like I am more present and more perceptive as a result of my stronger sense of smell. I smell therefore I am! Every environment I am in is a new chance to discover new smells; I seek little nooks and crannies to stick my nose in! Even with smells that are socially considered to be ‘bad’ – I now have even more curiosity and less judgement.

  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?

Ambroxan is interesting, I love its scent: fluid, refined, slightly ambery, cool and sexy. Osmanthus is beautiful, however I think there are already very close flavour equivalents to the scent (apricot, tamarind etc…) Most musks too, they smell so comforting, it would be like eating clouds!

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How You Love by Parfums Jazmin Sarai

  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 would like to go back to when and where ‘perfume’ was created. I want to be surrounded by ancient alchemists and resins. The transformative, spiritual aspect intrigues me. If not, then I’m very happy with this period of perfumery. We have new technologies, more respect for the industry as a whole, more transparency and more access. People are writing about perfumes and sharing scents all over the world, and it’s a good time to be a female perfumer too. Times have changed; do you see how many women out there are noses now? It’s incredible.

  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 love this question! Hmmm… it would definitely have something to do with diffusion and being able to share scent everywhere no matter where you are. They’re working on this for sure… Maybe being able to express my art through laptops. I want anyone who visits my website to be able to experience the multi-sensory message that I am trying convey. It would benefit perfumers because they would save on shipping and this would give their fans/clients a chance to experience their work immediately. Scent is the only medium that requires physical presence. It’s less about gadgets for me though, I’m all about sharing the world of scent and how special it is; accurately informing the public on how perfumes work and how special their own sense of smell is.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

To understand, treat and express oneself, to alter perception, to feel and smell goooood!


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first instalment of this third series of Thirteen Thoughts.

I want to extend my warmest thanks to Dana for her fascinating answers and for taking the time to chat with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I connect strongly with Dana’s use of synaesthesia in her creations and love the way she works with both music and sound to create her perfumes.

If you’d like to find out more about Dana and her fragrances (and buy them), visit the Parfums Jazmin Saraï website. You’ll find information on each of the fragrances, including the musical inspiration for each perfume. You can also find Jazmin Saraï fragrances listed on Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Dana also has a blog, The Scentinel, full of interesting and regularly published pieces about her own fragrances, scent culture, and music.

I will write an article soon about Dana’s fragrances for my new Smell and Sound Series, which delves into the relationships between smell and sound that are currently being explored by perfumers, musicians and artists.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors answers the thirteen questions in Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Follow the blog here or over at Facebook so that you don’t miss out!

Intellectual Property:

All interview answers and photographs were provided courtesy of the perfumer, and remain their intellectual property. All interview questions remain the intellectual property of Perfume Polytechnic. Please do not reproduce interviews or images without permission.

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Smell and Sound 1: A Scented Opera. Perfumer Sarah McCartney scents Handel’s Acis and Galatea

Smell and Sound is a new series on Perfume Polytechnic, exploring the relationship between smell and sound, including multi-sensory projects created in this field. As a classically trained musician and composer who is also a perfume enthusiast and a synaesthete, I am interested to explore the junctions and interconnections between the senses of hearing and smell, and between the art forms of music and scent. Multi-sensory art that engages people in new, corporeal ways is being embraced by artists, perfumers, and even multi-national companies. People are interested more and more in the interconnectedness of things, including creative modalities. As a composer and olfactory blogger, a creative cook, felter, knitter and textile addict, I am often looking for new ways to combine my creative skills. This series is a result of my personal research and will inform my own creative practice in the months and years to come. As always on Perfume Polytechnic, I want to share what I learn with you. I hope you find this topic as fascinating as I do.

Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays

Sarah McCartney

Sarah McCartney

Perfumer, author and classically-trained musician Sarah McCartney is no stranger to multi-sensory work that involves scent. The 4160Tuesdays perfumer has worked with BitterSweet, an organisation that hosts multi-sensory classical music concerts. For one concert that Sarah was involved in, the Phaedrus ensemble played Debussy’s String Quartet in G in a multi-sensory performance involving touch, movement, taste, smell (Sarah’s scents) and sound. This video featuring snippets of the performance and the audience’s reaction is fun, uplifting and moving. Please spend a few minutes watching it:

Sarah has also worked with poet Claire Trévien to scent her one-woman show The Shipwrecked House. Sarah created the scent of a house and the sea for the show and you can read here about some of the creative processes she used while making the scents for The Shipwrecked House.

Sarah has worked on other multi-sensory arts projects as well, and you can read about them all over at the 4160Tuesdays website.

A Scented Opera: Handel’s Acis and Galatea

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A drawing of Covent Garden (the Royal Opera House) in London. Created in 1808, just before the building burnt down and got rebuilt. This is how an 18th Century opera house looked. Public domain.

Last Monday, November 2, perfumer Sarah McCartney scented a performance of Baroque composer George Frideric Handel’s opera Acis and Galatea at St John’s Smith Square. This might seem an odd concept to modern-day opera-goers, who are used to sanitised spaces often scented with little more than the pleasant perfumes of patrons. However, it’s important to remember that going to the opera in Handel’s day was a smelly business: accidentally, because of the repulsive smells that abounded in Handel’s pre-sanitised 18th Century London, and intentionally: pleasant smells and fragrances were used to mask and detract from the repulsive smells of everyday life and the unwashed.

Sarah McCartney of 4160Tuesdays says:

“A few years ago I read about the way early music was scented and wanted to give it a try, bearing in mind that people’s exposure to smell has changed completely over the last 150 years.

 In Handel’s time scents abounded – from animals, lack of public hygiene, both personal and civic, and from expensive perfumes used by wealthy individuals and establishments, including the church.

An opera would have been intensely scented, both accidentally and on purpose.

Posies drowned out the stench of the street; dried flowers and incense created a suitable atmosphere, the wealthy powdered their hair and clothes with costly iris root, and kept deterred fleas and moths with patchouli.

People generally assume that naturals are safer, but in fact it’s the other way round.

For this project I’m using pure synthetics to avoid even the slightest possibility of any kind of allergic reaction.

Rather than aiming for an authentic 18th century fragrance – which 21st Century audiences would find completely intolerable – I have created three light background scents to alter the mood, literally changing the atmosphere.”

Source: St John’s Smith Square website

If you want to read more about the opera and how Sarah’s scents were received by the audience, have a read of Sarah’s fascinating blog post Greek Gods & Monsters. It’s so comprehensive and interesting that I decided to link to her post rather than write anything else about the project myself.

Sarah was also interviewed on BBC Radio 3 about the project, and you can listen to the broadcast online (and download it if you’re in the UK) for a limited period. The broadcast expires on Saturday the 28th November, so get your skates on! You can hear extracts from Handel’s opera as well as listen to Sarah and musicians from the performance speak about the project. Click here to access the broadcast, and listen from the start of the program.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Sarah McCartney’s multi-sensory work as a perfumer and finding out about her recent, scented version of Handel’s’ Opera Acis and Galatea. Stay tuned for more interesting posts in the new Smell and Sound series, which I will publish regularly over the next few months.

The Nasophone: An Unexpected, Musical Use for the Nose?

I suspect that the following old newspaper excerpt is a joke, and a fun one at that, but one can never be too certain! One thing I do know is that the opening remarks about Mozart seem to be based on an anecdote that I’ve heard before. Scroll down below the picture to read more about this.

This excerpt dates from 1885 and was published in the New York Times via the Pall Mall Gazette. Do you know if the nasophone was real? I certainly hope it was (or still is)! nasophone2Now, as for those opening remarks about Mozart, I suspect they were based on the following anecdote from Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes:

One day, Mozart taunted Haydn that the latter would never be able to play a piece which Mozart had just written. Haydn sat at the harpsichord, began to play from the manuscript, then stopped abruptly. There was a note in the center of the keyboard while the right hand was playing in high treble and the left hand in low bass.

“Nobody can play this with only two hands,” Haydn exclaimed.

“I can,” Mozart said quietly. When he reached the debated portion of his composition, he bent over and struck the central note with his nose.

“With a nose like yours,” Haydn conceded, “it becomes easier.”

(Anecdote taken from Slonimsky’s Book of Musical Anecdotes by Nicolas Slonimsky, and quoted online at Story Compositions)

What do you all think of this silliness? Should noses be used more to make music, rather than just smell things? I used to play my plastic recorder with my nostrils as a child, but that’s a story for another time…

Music and Smell: Brian Eno’s Scents and Sensibility

Bitter orange foliage, blossoms and fruit by Franz Eugen Köhler, from Köhler's "Medizinal-Pflanzen". Public Domain.

Bitter orange (neroli) foliage, blossoms and fruit. By Franz Eugen Köhler, from Köhler’s “Medizinal-Pflanzen”. Public Domain.

I’m a composer of more than twenty years, a musician of thirty years, and an accomplished knitter. I sew reasonably well, I write, I love to cook and plant things and once had a tiny business making and selling my own felt and textile jewellery. You could say I like to make things. In fact, creativity is my life force, and it’s the thing that gets me going more than anything. That and sensuality: creativity as it relates to the senses. In order to create in any medium or art form,  I feel that I really need to get to the core of an activity and find out how things work in the background. If there’s a science to it, I try to learn about it, if there are methods and practices that artists use to make their work, I find out about them and practice them. That’s what I intend to do with this blog, to really get into the nitty-gritty of the sense of smell and the art of perfume.

One of the things I wanted to do when I started Perfume Polytechnic a few months back was to investigate the connections and parallels between music and perfume. This is something else I do, and perhaps it’s because I’m a synaesthete as well as a creative person – I like to see and find the connections between things. Or perhaps it’s because I hope to use fragrance or scent or smell in an artwork I create one day. As music is the field I understand best of all, perhaps I strive to understand other creative practices by finding parallels and similarities (and also differences) between other artistic practices and it. I see other art forms through the lens of music, and my understanding of it, as well as looking at each art form as a separate entity.

I’ve only just started digging into this topic of the connections and differences between music and perfume, and in doing so, I came across a wonderful article by Brian Eno called Scents and Sensibility, published in Details Magazine in 1992. It was news to me that Eno, a well-known musician and creative polymath, is a long time fan of all things smelly, including fragrance. Eno is interested in trying to understand the working innards of perfumery and the science of smell, and in his article muses about the futility of trying to find a classification system for smells that is neat and clear and finite. He also laments the difficulty of finding a direct and clear language to describe smells that doesn’t simply rely on metaphors and similes. Eno draws some wonderful comparisons between the areas of music and scent, and how the two fields are studied and described, but I won’t spoil too many surprises by summarising any further. You can read Brian Eno’s Scents and Sensibility here.

In 1993 Eno released an ambient instrumental album called Neroli, named after the syrupy sweet, floral and heady essential oil produced from the blossom of the bitter orange tree (citrus aurantium subspecies amara or bigaradia). The perfume ingredient neroli actually got its name after the popular 17th Century Princess of Nerola (Anne Marie Orsini, aka Marie Anne de la Trémoille) started using the oil to fragrance both her gloves and bath. A lovely name and etymology for such a beautiful fragrance ingredient!

I haven’t listened to Brian Eno’s Neroli yet, but I intend to soon. Did you know that Brian Eno was interested in perfume and the sense of smell? What do you think of comparing one art form to another – can it be done, or should each art form stay clearly defined as a separate entity? Let me know what you think in the comments box below!

Until next time…

Polly Technic

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White Smell: Like White Noise for Your Nose

Durian – King of Fruits, by Hafiz Issadeen https://www.flickr.com/photos/yimhafiz/4835066590/

I’ve been fairly verbose in my posts of late, so sometimes I like to take a break, link to a smell-related article that interests me, and hope that it interests you too! This article from New Scientist talks about recent developments in the newly conceived field of “white smell”. Like white noise, which is a broad-spectrum sound that can be used to cover up or mask other sounds, white smell (at least theoretically at this stage) will have the ability to mask pungent smells that may offend, such as durian and tuna. How have scientists done this? You will have to read the article to find out!

Another exciting development in the science of smell! You can read the article here. What do you think of this concept? Are you looking forward to the development of a white smell machine? Let me know in the comments section below!