As you all know, one of my biggest loves and projects in recent years was this fragrance and olfaction blog, which is sadly no more, due to chronic illness and allergies stopping me from both using perfume and writing about it. During the time I wrote this blog, I submitted a piece called Four Loves to Odou magazine, a boutique magazine about olfaction. The piece was going to be published a couple of years ago, but sadly the magazine ceased production soon after my submission was accepted. For this piece, I wrote a series of four tiny short stories, each connected with a significant love/relationship of mine, from the perspective of scent and smell and their unique characteristics in each relationship. Continue reading
One could be forgiven for thinking lately that the world seems to be going to hell in a handbasket. I needn’t mention all the unsettling things that have gone on globally in recent times, the events are still so fresh and are being discussed endlessly in the media. Fear of instability is rampant and is, I feel, often incorrectly attributed to certain groups in society, often those who are most vulnerable. Divisiveness is encouraged as we are told to fear those who may take from us what is “rightfully” ours.
Those of us who don’t subscribe to this way of thinking might be struggling a little with the current social and political climates. I know I am. Lately, as I’ve dealt with chronic illness, and the long struggle to get well again, I’ve turned to meditation and to writers such as Tara Brach, a Buddhist psychologist. I also find myself pondering the things that make life (and humankind) good, thinking about the similarities between us all, and how we are all struggling with one thing or another. It’s important at a time like this to cultivate positive connections with others (which we need for health and survival), love, kindness and understanding. We all fear the loss of safety and stability and the loss of control over our lives:
Wanting and fearing are natural energies, part of evolution’s design to protect us and help us thrive. But when they become the core of our identity, we lose sight of the fullness of our being. We become identified with, at best, only a sliver of our natural being — a sliver that perceives itself as incomplete, at risk and separate from the rest of the world. If our sense of who we are is defined by feelings of neediness and insecurity, we forget that we are also curious, humorous and caring. We forget about the breath that is nourishing us, the love that unites us, the enormous beauty and fragility that is our shared experience of being alive. (Tara Brach – Radical Acceptance)
This sense of connectedness, of beauty and collective fragility, is at the core of perfumer and writer Sarah McCartney’s novel The Scent of Possibility. When I read this novel last year, I was quite moved by the kind and generous spirit of the book, the intense Britishness of it (there are many, many cups of tea served), and the way the characters connect and intertwine. The Scent of Possibility is both a remedy for and a respite from real life, while encapsulating all that is good about people and their capacity for kindness.
The novel, lucky for us, was the catalyst for the accidental launch of Sarah’s 4160Tuesdays perfumery. The story goes that McCartney was writing a novel about a perfumer/counsellor who creates bottles of personalised scent that capture her clients’ happy memories. Suddenly, all her friends were asking her to make the perfumes she was writing about in the novel, and make them she did. Now we all have the wonderful fragrances of 4160Tuesdays – with their fabulous names and creative backstories – to wear and enjoy. How serendipitous!
Down a cobbled mews off one of London’s rare tranquil backstreets, people come to talk, gaze at the garden, have a nice cup of tea and a biscuit, then leave with a small blue bottle of perfume. Captured inside it is the scented memory of happy times.
The protagonist in the novel (our perfumer/counsellor) is aptly named Unity Cassel, and I am inclined to think that she is the sort of heroine we all need right now in this chaotic time. Unity connects and unites the characters in the novel in the most delightful way – I’m not going to give away any plot points – and her kindness and generosity cast a wonderfully warm glow over the whole story. Slightly more sinister characters and plot twists and turns also emerge, but instead of destabilising everything, they ultimately serve to shine an even brighter, more positive light upon the more pleasant qualities and characters in the novel. Goodness and connectedness win out over divisiveness.
And in case you’re wondering, yes, some of the scents created in the novel by Unity for her various clients have been made into perfumes and are available to purchase from 4160Tuesdays. You can experience a multi-sensory journey by reading the book and then trying the fragrances, or order them first and try them as you read! Among them, Ealing Green, Tart’s Knicker Drawer, Shazam!, What I Did on My Holidays, and A Kiss by The Fireside are available. If you know and wear these fragrances already, you will love reading the book and finding out about the characters and the stories that inspired them.
If you’re a perfume buff, or just want to read a really lovely novel about people being kind to one another, give The Scent of Possibility a go. It’s an elixir for the soul and gives hope that good scent, cups of tea and most importantly human connection can help overcome adversity.
I’ve been unwell, dear readers, really not myself at all lately. I lost my mojo due to a flare up of chronic illness, and haven’t had much energy to write. But I’m getting back on the horse and I’m not going to fall off again. I’ve been a truant from Perfume Polytechnic but now I’m back and making up for missed lessons. Here is a little update on my recent smelly adventures and discoveries…
Rochas Femme Where Have You Been All My Life?
While I’m an eager beaver when it comes to perfume, and though I try to smell most of what I can lay my nose on — with the exception of many recent commercial releases, which I often find uninteresting — I still haven’t smelt every perfume out there, including some of the classics. Sometimes it’s hard to remember what I’ve smelt and how it smelt, unless I make notes about it. I might have smelt a fragrance once in a discount chemist somewhere, or at a friend’s house, and then swiftly forgotten what it was like. Unless one has a vast scent library, it can be hard to keep track of things.
I have only been on this olfactory adventure for a little over three years, and I live in Australia, a rather isolated island, where it seems impossible to find and sample certain perfumes. Here, you take what you can get, what you can find, and what friends can share with you. It can be a patchy self-education, but I try my best. My nose is maturing and developing with all of the wonderful indie perfumes I’ve been sent to review and I find I’m more open-minded (open-nosed?) than ever before. But it’s still only a fraction of what’s out there…
Despite these limitations, I estimate that I have nevertheless smelt at least a thousand perfumes by now. I haven’t kept track. Even though this is only a small percentage of what’s ever been produced, it’s getting to the point now where not much surprises my nose, and when it does, or when I instantly adore something, it’s a good and surprising thing. It reminds me of the early days, when I first decided to study perfume, and every single fragrance smelt new and exciting to me, because I had experienced so little at that stage.
Tastes change also, so what didn’t appeal a year or two ago might now be the instant love of my life. As is the case with my recent rediscovery of Rochas Femme, in one of those family-run chemists that stocks odd and interesting bottles of perfume, heavily discounted, in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Rochas Femme was ubiquitous at various discount chemists a couple of years back, and I did try it then, but it didn’t grab me. Was it too vintage-smelling, too mature, too animalic? These are the reasons why I love it now, but a couple of years ago, I don’t think my nose was ready for those qualities.