Just The Juice: Brief Fragrance Reviews – Albino (A Study in White) and The Voices of Trees by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Today marks the start of a new series of brief perfume reviews called Just The Juice. Why “Just The Juice”? I want to talk about fragrances that I’ve come across, both new releases and older ones, and I want to keep it focused on the perfume (the “juice”) itself. So often I write about the background, the history, the sociological and psychological significance, etc. etc. of a smell or a perfume. But in the interests of pure perfume prose, in this series I’m going to write about the juice, in 300 words or less per perfume, and include relevant artistic/conceptual notes from the perfumer too, if I can. I hope to introduce you to some wonderful perfumes in this series.

Today I will be reviewing two recent releases by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes, both in VdP (voile de parfum) strength.

Albino (A Study in White)

white-painted-concrete-wall-888895_1280Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes says of her recent (2015) release Albino (A Study in White):

“What began as a fascination with the albino raspberry soon became an exploration from the real to abstraction.

What is it to be without pigment?  There seems to be a kind of quality; a luminosity and sense of lightness.  So then what?  “White” materials… and a questioning: what does white feel like?

Albino takes an abstract look at white from a synesthetic and textural stance.  The textures being crisp, pithy, and creamy; shifting from fruity crispness to pithy to a creamy feel, with blond woods, and musk at the final drydown.

Meet Albino.  He’s gorgeously unusual.”
Source: DSH Perfumes website

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Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes

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’s interview with Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes is the fourth in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. There are five, weekly instalments in this series.

Last week, I interviewed Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes. Prior to that, Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors answered the thirteen questions. In week one, I interviewed Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï. Next week I will conclude the third series of Thirteen Thoughts by interviewing 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.

As 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, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes

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Yosh Han

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

When we were growing up, our family would take summer holidays across the country in an RV. One particular summer, when I was about 12 or 13, we drove across from California through Arizona, New Mexico and up through Wyoming and into Canada. It was such an epic summer. I remember the smells of the Great Outdoors and how each scene was vastly different. Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico have a wet earthen smell from minerals in the cave walls. I also remember the smell of the sulphur geysers at Yellowstone National Park. We ended up at Niagara Falls, Toronto, Canada. The impact was just enormous. The velocity of the waterfall is truly remarkable and the scent of the falls, forest and fresh air is amazing.

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

The Chinese character for my name means fragrant. One could say it was destiny.

  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?

Straddling East-West will forever be a theme for me. There are so many nuances from my diverse cultural background that I try to bring into my professional work, yet it’s very subtle. My Asian programming is based on not being direct but that is in high-contrast with the very direct Americanness of how I’ve been educated in the school system and work place. I think this shows through in the way I create and blend perfumes. All my perfumes have clearly defined edges yet the trajectory unfolds in a less direct manner. One could say, it’s my signature.

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Some of the YOSH range of perfumes

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

I have so many friends who are perfumers – it’s hard to say! I am drawn towards the conceptual indie artists more than commercial perfumes for sure. I’m a sucker for great packaging but I draw the line when something is over branded.

  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.

I practice vibrational perfumery. Each of my perfumes has an energetic component to them because I design using scent resonance. I don’t only focus on the olfactive but also on how scents work together synergistically to produce a specific effect spiritually. I try to teach my students how to feel when a fragrance formula is complete. Many people design their formulas from a cerebral place but for me, it’s truly about feeling the vibe of a particular scent – if one learns to listen to the raw materials, one can learn to hear the compositions rather than figuring out a mathematical equation. Of course, one has to understand chemistry, but blending intuitively is very important to me.

  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?

Inspiration comes randomly – emotions, flavor pairings, events, traveling, reading, conversations, ingredients, art, music, textures and collaborations. Sometimes, I have an idea for a perfume that I might mull over for months or sometimes years and they might be blended but not bottled up for commerce. I tend to work in themes so if I decide to produce something commercially, I will work on the blend, packaging and marketing simultaneously and edit and adjust until it feels right.

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Konig by YOSH

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

I originally blended everything by hand when I first started my business. I still do the concepting and aromatic sketches by hand. In the last few years, I started working with Robertet and their in-house perfumer, Olivia Jan. For the last three launches, we worked collaboratively and won a Golden Pear award from the Institute of Arts and Olfaction for my men’s fragrance, König, a scent inspired by the Bavarian forest. We worked on three subsequent fragrances that will launch in 2016. I feel like the film director and she, the cinematographer. It is a very close relationship that is really rewarding.

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

I abhor all the regulations. I understand the need for them, but it is stifling as a creative entrepreneur. I think retailing has become really boring and impersonal. I can appreciate an efficient check-out experience both on-line and brick-and-mortar, but I really envision Perfume as Art and hope to see more gallery or showroom settings where people can relax and enjoy perfumes as aromatic narratives rather than mere commodities.

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

I love expanding my repertoire of smells – my library of odors. It is important to me, culturally, to have a wide range of odors that come from various parts of the world. I enjoy learning about new scents – whether natural or synthetic. However, I do not like, when I meet a new person who upon learning my profession, sticks a body part in my face. I find this to be an occupational hazard that while it does not happen daily, happens too frequently!

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Yosh Han at her blending desk

  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?

What I think is more challenging to communicate in scent is the ability to convey textures, whereas in flavors, that’s much easier. I would like for example, whipped cream textures to be more available in perfumery. I am working on a second umami scent right now and that seems to be more challenging to express in perfumery. That might have to do more with the fact that consumers are tuned into wanting sweet, floral smells, but I hope to change that. I love savory, salty flavors and I would like to offer that more as a perfume category.

  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 love to go back in time to the Edo Period in Japan when the Imperial Geishas were versed in various arts. I would love to be one of the eccentric artists working with incense, beauty products and perfumes. What an amazing time period when the high arts were valued and appreciated. It was also a highly competitive, politically charged climate amongst the women so many of the formulations were kept secret. I am particularly fascinated by the game of Listening to Incense where one would burn incense, ask a question and play back and forth. Much of the Japanese language is subtle and nuanced and so one would have to be an astute poet to play the game well. The fragrance scent game is also featured prominently in court during the Heian period so I would love to go back and be there too. It has been chronicled in The Tale of Genji by Tosa Mitsuoki. I love burning Japanese incense and particularly agarwood chips and feel like I am in a time machine when I burn it. It’s so narcotic and mesmerizing!

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The Evanescent collection by YOSH

  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 love to invent a way to magnify odors: like glasses, binoculars or telescopes, but for the nose. It could even be like a hearing aid or listening device where one might be able to turn up or down the volume of aromas. I would not necessarily want olfactory bionic powers all the time, but rather, the ability to increase olfactory capabilities in specific situations. It would really benefit those who lose their sense of smell as they age or those who lose their sense of smell due to an accident or surgery. I think the ability to turn down smells could potentially be interesting in urban environments as well. People are so sensitive now to odors in public spaces that it would be amazing to have that ability to just shut out displeasing odors. As I write – on the plane – I am interrupted by the scent of nail polish, and to my chagrin, the woman behind me was in fact, painting her nails as if she were in the privacy of her own home!

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

Sensuality, inspiration and enjoyment. We still need olfaction to ascertain danger especially when something intuitively smells fishy but perfume is an elevated art and should be enjoyed as such.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the fourth interview in this third series of Thirteen Thoughts and reading Yosh Han’s answers.

My heartfelt thanks go out to Yosh for taking time out of her busy schedule to conduct an interview with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I find Yosh’s intuitive, vibrational approach to creating perfume really interesting and unusual, and her ideas about textural perfume are so fascinating! Japan is one of my favourite places, so learning about the importance of scent in culture in the Edo and Heian periods has been interesting to me too, and is something I want to explore further.

If you’d like to find out more about Yosh and her fragrances, visit the YOSH perfumes website. Yosh has some really interesting information on her website, so you can learn more about her practice and the ideas behind her perfumes there. YOSH perfumes are stocked at various retailers: online, in the US and around the world. You can also find information about these retailers on her website.

YOSH perfumes are listed at Fragrantica and Basenotes.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Hiram Green 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.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes

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’s interview with Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes is the third in Series Three of Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series. Last week, I interviewed Josh Meyer of Imaginary Authors. In week one, I interviewed Dana El Masri of Parfums Jazmin Saraï. There will be five, weekly instalments in this series. Other perfumers to be interviewed include Yosh Han 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.

Today Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of Boulder, Colorado answers the thirteen questions. Dawn is so well-known and highly regarded amongst fragrance aficionados that I hardly need to introduce her. She is a classically trained visual artist, a synaesthete, and one of the most prolific perfumers I’ve ever come across.

But enough of my preamble. As 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, without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz of DSH Perfumes

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

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

It’s interesting that you ask this question as I have just completed a perfume based on a couple of similar, or I should say interrelated, memories from my childhood. The Voices of Trees is a new natural perfume that expresses an experience that I had when I was 4 years old and had my first overnight sleepover. It was with my preschool summer camp and we slept in a grove of old, very tall, pine trees. As I lay on the needles in my sleeping bag and smelled the warm resin and bark I distinctly heard the trees murmuring to each other. The aroma of the trees and the sounds that they made are intertwined in my consciousness. One summer later, I was learning to swim at our town swimming pool which happened to be very near the river that ran through our town and I noticed a scent coming from a very dark, almost black thicket of woods near the river. I also heard a ‘song’ with the scent. It was mysterious, dark, and humid, layered with warm and balsamic. Much later I learned that this was the fragrance of sycamore trees. To this day that aroma stops me in my tracks and beckons me to come closer to fully appreciate the scent wafting in the air. I can never get enough of that olfactory intoxication.

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

Goodness… it’s kind of a long story but when people ask “how I got into this” I generally tell them that I fell into it. Here’s a slightly condensed version: I’m a classically trained visual artist and I had planned to become an academic; I wanted to teach art at a university. But while I was living and studying in Boston the asthma condition that I have had since childhood became very serious and I was severely medicated for it. So, I started my search to find a new way of healing and day-to-day dealing with my health which led me to herbal medicine and essential oils. And, as so often happens when you get involved deeply in something, I met someone who knew someone who knew another person who was looking for a custom perfumer for an oil / perfume shop in Boston. I applied with no experience in perfume or retail but I said that I had a good handle on aesthetics and that I had some experience with aromatherapy. I was hired with the caveat that if I couldn’t do the job that they would find someone else. Fair enough; it was sink or swim and so I swam.   It was later that I realized that I’m synaesthetic and that for me, I was applying what I had learned as a painter to fragrance design. Each material has a color / shape/ texture / edge quality, etc. that made learning, remembering, and understanding how to design with aromatics the same as creating a painting.

As luck would have it, I graduated art school and needed to start paying my student loans, so I did what I knew I could do to make money: create fragrance. That was the when and where… I had already developed a small following for my work and felt as passionate about perfumery as I did for painting. I was already talking to people about ‘fragrance as art form’ on par with the other arts back in 1991…way before that concept would become part of the collective consciousness. It’s been an amazing ride.

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Some of the DSH range

  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?

I did a pretty loose apprenticeship with the perfumer at Essense on Newbury Street in my Boston days, where I learned a fair amount about designer perfumes and the basics of what I might call the ‘reverse-engineering’ skill (I did my very first successful recreation of an old French perfume that was discontinued for a woman in her fifties who had worn that perfume since she was 13). I’m also a certified aromatherapist and I’ve taken organic chemistry intensives. Beyond that, I have been my own teacher in terms of a deep study of perfume history, French methods, classical vs. modern methods, and the like. I got into perfumery way before there were any real openings or ways to be classically trained as a perfumer unless you were to go to ISIPCA or another industry ‘school’, or if you held a chemistry degree and were accepted into a fragrance house for training. (I didn’t even know about ISIPCA when I got started…)

I can easily say that coming from a classical tradition in my art training, where copying masterworks in order to gain insight into the Master’s process and vision, has been invaluable. I spent many years studying, deconstructing and then re-constructing the great classics of perfumery. Through this I have learned a lot. My art school cultural background has informed my work in its entirety. And although I never had the honor to meet him before his passing, Edmond Roudnitska has been a posthumous mentor through his writings and his great perfumes.

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

Of course, Edmond Roudnitska; as well as Jacques Guerlain, Ernest Beaux, and François Coty. I have studied their work and their concepts very deeply. They each had a unique style, however I might say that their sense of ‘symphony’ may unite them. They each made complex yet not overdone fragrances; complete with cultural, time / place references, intellectual interest as well as sensual attraction. I aspire to do the same in my own work.

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Reveries de Paris

  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.

Well, I currently describe DSH Perfumes as ‘encyclopedic’, which sounds kind of funny but if you have looked at my website, you’ll see that I kind of have a large collection. I work in all styles and genres (families of fragrance), from modern to historical, from what I would call ‘realism’ (like Oeillets Rouges or Tubereuse) to ‘abstraction’ (like the CHROMA collection). I love ‘Vintage / Retro styles Nouveau’ (like Jitterbug, Pandora, and Parfum de Luxe), and as I’m still just fascinated by perfumery all of the time, I tend to let my creative energy just flow. I realize that it’s very unusual to have so many perfumes, but I’ve come to accept this need to create and share my work.

My brand philosophy has always been to make perfumes as natural as possible, meaning that if the design can be achieved using all naturals, I would prefer it but much of my catalog is ‘mixed media’ where you find the excellent balance of the intrinsic quality of naturals combined with the gorgeous variety and structural abilities of synthetics. I also want to spend the most money on the actual perfumes (juice) that I’m creating; on what goes in the bottle as opposed to packaging. I do love a beautiful package, but if it means that I can’t have the quality of materials for the perfume itself, or if it left the realization of the concept wanting, I would always choose to make a perfume great. My brand is design driven, so telling a story, expressing an aesthetic, creating an exquisite interpretation of a classic, for example, are all paramount to me. I see the value in creating many perfumes for many tastes and offering them in many sizes (often small), so that even my most expensive designs can still be enjoyed by anyone.

Lastly, I have espoused the ‘fragrance is art’ mantra from the beginning. This is my deepest philosophy.

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Dawn in her studio

  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?

All of the above. I carry around notebooks and have a constant stream of notes about new perfumes or accord ideas inspired by everything around me; from a movie I am watching, a painting or music, characters or storylines in books, to what’s happening outside my window, or even my son’s toys (yes, I have a concept I’m working on inspired by his basketball). I’m also very inspired by my consulting and bespoke clients who bring their ideas to me for realization, as well as the very creative energy my students provide.

I do ask myself when considering a new perfume, “do I already have something like this in my catalog?” So in that case, I take into consideration filling holes in my range, but for the most part I go where inspiration, my clients, and students take me.

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

The length of time that I think about my perfume designs before I sit down to formulate them, as I tend to do almost all of my design work in my head, abstractly. I also pay very strict attention to the body feel of a fragrance. The perfume that I am completing in my mind comes with sensations in my body that are unique to each perfume. I need to imagine the perfume down to its completion and then I am able to very directly formulate the concept. In my trials and testing of the formulas, I know that the design is finished when I sense the same feelings in my body. This is also the basis of how I do re-formulations of vintage perfumes without a GC (gas chromatograph); it’s all sensory. The fragrance and the body feel must match. My fragrance Scent of Hope was created this way.

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

The biggest recent challenge was becoming a certified hazardous materials packer and shipper. The regulations are staggering and extremely detailed. It’s quite arduous and surprisingly expensive to maintain full compliance as a small enterprise.

Beyond the headache of ‘hazmat’ issues associated with shipping alcohol based perfumes, as a business I find balancing the time required to do accounting, business management, sales, etc. and finding peaceful, creative time a challenge. I would love to have more creative time.

Marketing and brand awareness are always challenges, I think, to a small enterprise. Thanks to the incredible fragrance community, connoisseurs, and aficionados that have come together via social media and all of the meeting places on the internet, small brands can enjoy wonderful word of mouth references which are invaluable. I feel immense gratitude for all of the well wishes, kind words of praise, and wonderful support that I’ve received over the years not to mention the referrals that make all of the difference.

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Dawn Spencer Hurwitz smelling sakura blossoms

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

I have always been a smeller, so everyday aromas are just as fascinating now as they ever were. One thing that happens now quite a lot is that I can’t help deconstructing most smells to their composition ‘notes’ or materials used to create them. I do it unconsciously; I have spoiled many smells / tastes for my family by telling them what’s in it. My husband can’t stand Juicy Fruit gum anymore since I told him what makes up that odd flavor.

I also have an insatiable need to know what just about everything emanating an aroma smells like in detail. To that end I have been known to jump fences, climb trees and the like to get to whatever is calling to me. While in Japan recently I was named “Curious George” by my colleagues for climbing a tree to smell a flower and came down with pollen all over my face. Typical.

  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 have wanted to drink amber essence from the day I first smelled it. That kind of almost brown sugar but not so sweet ‘vanillic-yet-tree’ thing would be amazing to taste; oh yes.

  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 definitely choose the period from the turn of the 20th Century through the 1920’s, in Paris or Grasse. There was a renaissance in terms of fragrance art form, new materials, and collaborations with wonderful glass makers and package artisans. Some of the most exquisite examples of fragrance and packaging artistry come from this period and I would have loved to be a part of it.

Having said that, we are experiencing a wonderful renaissance now in terms of new materials, in both naturals and synthetics, that would make the early perfumers very jealous. The ability for a small, indie company to get very high quality materials to create with is unparalleled and has increased exponentially since I started back in 1991. It’s a great time to be an independent perfumer.

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Pandora

  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?

This is probably the most difficult question. I’m not a big gadget person so I never really think about them. I suppose some kind of gadget that could perfectly translate the thoughts and feelings of clients so that there was no need for language, just the expression of the scent in mind, would be a very helpful tool for perfumers. I have spent years learning to decipher what my clients are saying and what they actually mean by the language they are using. As discussing fragrance relies on borrowing language from other senses to describe it (high / low, dark / light, sharp, dull, warm, cool, soft, etc.), there is always a learning curve with each person to know what they mean by what words they use. The upside to engaging in this dialogue, however, is that we have the opportunity to discover new possibilities along the way.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

To express thoughts and emotion and convey them to the world. Aroma as a medium possesses the power of communication. One can tell a story to oneself and those around them through fragrance. It can express beauty, love, joy, desire, pain, heartache, wonder, and so much more. I feel that perfume allows people to engage in the deep pleasure of the sensuously beautiful world around them; we are hard-wired to do this. It possesses the power to heal and to add to everyone’s quality of life.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the third instalment in this third series of Thirteen Thoughts and reading Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s answers.

I want to extend my warmest thanks to Dawn for taking time out of her busy schedule to conduct an interview with me for Thirteen Thoughts. I have learnt so much about Dawn’s fascinating creative process, background, training and philosophy through this interview, and I hope you have found it as interesting and educational as I have.

Dawn is also a painter and a multi-sensory, synaesthetic artist. I wrote a piece about her Giverny in Bloom collection recently, for which she created a special scent experience at an exhibition of Impressionist floral paintings at the Denver Art Museum. You can read that piece here. I hope to write more about Dawn’s synaesthetic work soon, including a review of her CHROMA collection.

If you’d like to find out more about Dawn and her fragrances (and buy them!), visit the DSH Perfumes website.

When Dawn says she has a large range of fragrances, she’s not kidding. There are 216 perfumes listed for DSH Perfumes in the Fragrantica database. Some of her fragrances are also listed on Basenotes.

Next week:

Stay tuned to see how perfumer Yosh Han of YOSH perfumes 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.

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.

Giverny Blooms at Denver Art Museum: Scent Experience by Dawn Spencer Hurwitz at “In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism”

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Spring blooms

It’s been a long, cold Winter here in rural, South-Eastern Australia, but spring is finally here. The fruit trees have blossomed, the canola fields are neon yellow, pretty bulbs have come and gone: tulips, daffodils and irises. The rose bush is now in bud, and my pot of carnations promises flowers soon. Lavender flowers have emerged a deep shade of purple after dying off over Winter. The grass is green and needs constant mowing, the sun is plentiful, encouraging weeds to shoot up rapidly. I’ve spent a lot of time in the garden recently, fingers in the dirt, smelling the cut grass, the uprooted weeds and the flowers. It seems like an appropriate time to embrace floral perfumes again: they mimic my real-life experience of Spring, which promises vibrant new life, energy and growth.

When I travelled to Europe in March 1999, I spent some time in France, on the cusp of Spring. I was keen to visit painter Claude Monet’s famous garden at Giverny near Paris, but was mortified to find out, once in Paris, that the garden didn’t open until the 1st of April. As I had plans to be in Provence before then I sadly had to forgo my visit to Giverny.

Giverny in Bloom: a Scent Experience

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The Iris Garden at Giverny by Claude Monet (1900). Public Domain.

Sixteen years later, perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz has given me the chance to experience an olfactory visit to these gardens with her fragrance collection Giverny in Bloom. Giverny in Bloom was created for the Denver Art Museum’s In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism exhibition, which has been running throughout the American Summer and finishes this coming Sunday, 11 October. The exhibition showcases floral, still-life paintings by 19th Century French Impressionist painters, including Manet, Degas, Monet, Renoir and Van Gogh. For anyone living in or near Denver who is interested in olfaction, you still have a chance to visit and experience the special scent experience that Dawn has created for this exhibition. The Giverny in Bloom collection is also available to purchase from the DSH website, so if you can’t experience the scents in the context of the exhibition, you can still enjoy them at home.

Dawn is a perfumer, painter and synaesthete and has collaborated with a range of other artists and with the Denver Art Museum many times before. The Giverny in Bloom scent experience takes place in its own room at the In Bloom exhibition. The room features a panoramic photograph of Claude Monet in his famous garden, and the scents designed by Dawn are dispersed into the space with specially-designed diffusers. Dawn’s scents were inspired by the flowers and plants found in Monet’s garden at Giverny, with a focus on Spring and early Summer flowers, as well as paintings by Monet of Giverny, and floral artworks by other painters in the exhibition. The scents and their placement in the space are intended to convey the impression of being in a garden, moving from one fragrant flower bed or garden space to another, through the use of three separate accords. Each of these fragrance accords is linked to colour.

“Le Jardin Vert” (The Green Garden): a refreshing, slightly cleansing blend of green leaves, trees, and moist earth scent. This aroma of fresh cut leaves and soil greets the visitor and gives its last breath to you as you leave the garden room.

“La Danse des Bleus et des Violettes” (The Dance of Blues and Violets): a lighter, mildly watery interpretation of violets, heliotrope, irises, and lilacs.

“L’Opera des Rouges et des Roses” (The Opera of Red and Pinks): a dramatic, heady scent dominated by old roses, red and pink, peonies, red geraniums, and carnations.

Source: Denver Art Museum website

Dawn has also created a fourth scent from a combination of these three accords, resulting in a highly complex garden fragrance called Giverny in Bloom. Dawn describes this fragrance as:

“An impressionist style perfume of green budding trees, wet dewy flowers and soil, that transforms to a rich floral bouquet as it wears.”

Source: DSH Perfumes website

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Water Lily Pond at Giverny by Claude Monet (1900). Public Domain.

She says of her inspiration for the scents:

“The inspiration for Giverny in Bloom is not only taken from actual information about Monet’s garden but also from the flowers found in the paintings of the exhibit. This ties the scent experience to more than the Monet paintings in the show. Before leaving the scent experience visitors are invited to take a scratch and sniff card of “Giverny in Bloom” as a memento but as well as to bring the multi-sensory aspect of the olfactory art with them to enhance their interaction with the remainder of the exhibit.”

Source: DSH Perfumes’ Press Release

Dawn also drew upon Impressionist creative concepts when making Giverny in Bloom:

“I intended for the designs to not only reflect the flowers in the paintings, but also to give a sense of what impressionism entails,” Dawn said. “A ‘plein air’ feeling, a kind of lightness and airiness that I feel is found in many impressionist paintings, much like the fleeting delight of walking through a flower garden in full bloom.”

Sourced: Denver Art Museum website

Giverny in Bloom Micro-Reviews

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Claude Monet in his Garden at Giverny, 1921.

As well as including Dawn’s descriptions of the Giverny in Bloom scents (see above), I also want to share my own impressions of the scents with you. I’ve written some quick sketches, or micro-reviews of each of the four scents below.

Le Jardin Vert (The Green Garden)

Dirty. I smell the realistic scent of freshly dug earth, sweet grass and green leaves. A garden waiting to be planted: empty beds in a manicured garden bordered with neatly clipped lawns, waiting for flowers. Like the inside of a flower shop, which, oddly, these days, rarely smell of fragrant flowers and more like cut stems, greenery and water.

L’Opera des Rouges et des Roses (The Opera of Red and Pinks)

Rich and vibrating with excitement and intense energy. The rose is crisp and tart and the clove-like, peppery carnation adds a spicy undertone that makes the fragrance shimmer even more. This is a deeply exuberant scent and it literally took my breath away when I first sniffed it. My favourite of the collection.

La Danse des Bleus et des Violettes (The Dance of Blues and Violets)

Soft and comforting and old-fashioned with notes of Victorian violet, iris and heliotropin dominating. I’m reminded of Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue, though this is softer and as it develops, watery notes emerge and take over. This is a watercolour-soft fragrance. It’s delicate, realistic and pretty.

Giverny in Bloom

A realistic, interesting and complex scent – just like that of a real garden. At first I smell mostly the green, dirty, watery and softer floral notes (the blues and violets), but as the fragrance warms and settles, the sweeter, richer red and pink flowers emerge. The smell of dirt remains subtly throughout, which reminds me that I’m smelling the scent of a garden, not just a bouquet of flowers.

Epilogue

It’s been a delight to be able to experience Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Giverny in Bloom collection, particularly at the height of Spring in Australia, when smelling these lovely floral and garden-inspired accords and fragrances seems particularly apt. As a veteran collaborator with other artists and galleries, and as a synaesthete, perfumer and visual artist herself, Dawn Spencer Hurwitz is the perfect fit for this scent collaboration. I wish I could visit Dawn’s special scent room and experience the In Bloom exhibition in its entirety, but having the fragrances to smell will have to suffice. These beautiful garden scents transport me in my imagination to Monet’s garden at Giverny, a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years.

Exhibition Details & Where to Buy Giverny in Bloom

In Bloom: Painting Flowers in the Age of Impressionism is on at the Denver Art Museum until Sunday October 11, 2015. Visit the Denver Art Museum website for further information.

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Giverny in Bloom Discovery Set

The Giverny in Bloom collection can be purchased at the DSH Perfumes website. You can buy the Sample Pack (4 x 1ml) for $24 USD or a Discovery Set (4 x 3ml) for $48 USD here. A coffret of four mini flasks can be purchased for $70 USD here. You can also purchase the individual fragrances from the collection in a range of different sizes here.

You can read more about Dawn Spencer Hurwitz and her work as a perfumer and artist over at her website.

Find out more about Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny at the Fondation Claude Monet website.

Acknowledgements & Disclaimer

Warmest thanks to Dawn Spencer Hurwitz for generously providing me with a discovery set of the Giverny in Bloom collection for this blog post and review.

Smell and Synaesthesia Part Two: Synaesthetic Poems for a Sunday Afternoon

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Composition 6 (1913) by Wassily Kandinsky, a synaesthete.

Synaesthesia: a definition

Synesthesia is a perceptual condition of mixed sensations: a stimulus in one sensory modality (e.g., hearing) involuntarily elicits a sensation/experience in another modality (e.g. vision). Likewise, perception of a form (e.g. a letter) may induce an unusual perception in the same modality (e.g. a color).

Source: http://www.synesthete.org/

Synaesthesia is a kind of sensory interplay. It isn’t the same as consciously setting out to find equivalences between things attributed to separate senses, realms, or artistic media. And it isn’t the same as using metaphors or similes to describe things. For a small percentage of the population (between 2-5%), the parts of the brain that usually detect and experience our five senses as discrete things, connect with each other neurologically, so that when one sense (or perceptual mode) is engaged, it triggers a response in another part of the brain that relates to another sense (or perceptual mode). The result? A kind of sensory co-existence of two (or sometimes more) sensory or perceptual experiences at once. One sensory experience triggers a simultaneous co-experience, usually between seemingly unrelated things.


The other day I launched a new series about synaesthesia and smell. This is the second post in the series. If you’d like to read the first, which includes a brief profile of perfumer Frédéric Malle’s smell-colour synaesthesia, click here.

As this is a blog about olfactory matters, my focus in this series will be mostly on smell and synaesthesia. As it’s a very hot Sunday afternoon, and I’m feeling lazy and tired, I’ve been researching smell and synaesthesia on the Internet. I came across these two magnificent poems, one by Rimbaud and one by Baudelaire. Both demonstrate the phenomenon of synaesthesia so beautifully that I wanted to share them with you.

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“Lances of proud glaciers…”

The first poem, by Arthur Rimbaud, is more about the type of synaesthesia I have, grapheme-colour synaesthesia, than smell, though there are a couple of odour-related references within. It also describes letters and colours as they relate to objects, nature, emotion, and all manner of other associations, both synaesthetic and more logical. In any case, it makes for wonderful reading:

“Voyelles” (Vowels) by Arthur Rimbaud (1883)

A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue: vowels
One day I will tell of your latent birth:
A, black hairy corset of shining flies
Which buzz around cruel stench,

Gulfs of darkness; E, whiteness of vapors and tents,
Lances of proud glaciers, white kings, quivering of flowers;
I, purples, spit blood, laughter of beautiful lips
In anger or penitent drunkenness;

U, cycles, divine vibrations of green seas,
Peace of pastures scattered with animals, peace of the wrinkles
Which alchemy prints on heavy studious brows;

O, supreme Clarion full of strange stridor,
Silences crossed by words and angels:
—O, the Omega, violet beams from His Eyes!

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“There are perfumes… green like fields of grass…”

The following extract from a poem by Baudelaire conjures up several synaesthetic associations between smell, colour, and sound, leading me to believe Baudelaire experienced synaesthesia between all three modes of perception.

“Correspondances” (Correspondences), extract, by Charles Baudelaire (1857)

…Perfumes, colors, and sounds respond to one another.
There are perfumes fresh like the flesh of children,
Sweet like oboes, green like fields of grass,
—And others, corrupted, rich, and triumphal,
Possessing the expansion of infinite things,
Like amber, musk, benjamin [benzoin] and incense,
That sing the transports of the spirit and the senses.
(Translation by James C. Morrison)

Sources

Baudelaire, C. (1857/1961). “Correspondances”. In Antoine Adam (Ed.), Les fleurs du mal (p. 13). Garnier Frères, Paris.
Rimbaud, A. (1883/1967), “Vowels”. In Wallace Fowlie (Trans. and Ed.), Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters (p. 121). University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Both poems were sourced from the following online article: Hypermedia and Synesthesia by James C. Morrison.