Scent Mapping: Diagrams and Aroma Wheels

Scent mapping tries to make sense of the smells in the world around us by mapping them in a variety of ways. This can take the form of various diagrams, tables, and aroma wheels. Usually such diagrams contain categories that classify and group individual smells, but they can also tell us other things, such as how we relate smells to gender, and also how similar or dissimilar certain smells are to one another. They can also tell us something about how we react – both physically and psychologically – to certain smells. There are a number of famous scent maps, including Paul Jellinek’s odour effects diagram, and Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel from his Fragrances of World book. In this post I’ll be introducing you to some of these wheels and diagrams, which are fascinating to look at in their own right. In a future post, I will be discussing some of the findings of a study by Manuel Zarzo and David Stanton, in which they compared various odour databases, scent maps and wheels and drew some interesting conclusions about our perceptions of scent. Paul Jellinek’s odour effects diagram (a later version here has been modified by his son Joseph Stephan Jellinek and Robert Calkin) originally dates from 1951. Jellinek’s map proposes various categories or types of smell, and also the various effects that such smells have on us, e.g. stimulating, erogenous, calming or fresh.

Jellinek’s Odour Effects Diagram

Michael Edwards’ fragrance wheel, from his Fragrances of the World book, comprises a number of fragrance categories, showing the relationship between one category and the next. In Fragrances of the World, which is released every year, Edwards groups thousands of commercially available fragrances into these categories. The book is intended for industry use so that sales assistants can recommend new fragrances to customers, based on similarities with a customer’s favourite perfumes.

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Michael Edwards’ Fragrance Wheel. c. Michael Edwards

Mandy Aftel’s Aftelier Natural Perfume Wheel consists of categories of scent families, sub-categories within these (like Jellinek’s diagram, labelled with subjective descriptors such as fresh and heavy), and individual notes/ingredients within the sub-categories. The Drom Fragrance Circle is similar to Aftel’s, complete with subjective descriptors, and aligning some scent categories with gender.

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Drom Fragrance Wheel

The aromachemically-literate among us might be interested in Givaudan’s very beautiful scent ingredients map, which reminds me of a stylised subway diagram.

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Givaudan’s Scent Ingredients Map

There is a well-known connection and cross-sensory interrelationship between the senses of smell and taste, so the following wheels are provided for your interest and comparison with the fragrance-specific diagrams provided above. It’s interesting to me how much overlap there is. First up is Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel, originally devised in the 1980s.

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Ann Noble’s Wine Aroma Wheel

Below is the Beer Flavour Wheel invented in the 1970s by Dr Morten Meilgaard. wheel

And finally, Niki Segnit’s flavour wheel from her brilliant book The Flavour Thesaurus.

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Flavour Wheel from Niki Segnit’s “The Flavour Thesaurus”

What do you think of scent mapping? Do you have a favourite map, diagram or scent wheel that I haven’t included here? Does scent mapping help you to understand smell, fragrance ingredients and fragrance better? I’d love to hear what you think – let me know in the comments below! Until next time, Polly Technic

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Perfume Meetup at Fleurage Perfume Atelier

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Perfumer Emma Leah in front of her work space

A small group of Melbourne perfume aficionados recently had a wonderful and immersive experience learning all about fragrance from botanical perfumer Emma Leah at her perfume atelier Fleurage. Back in September I created my own fragrance with Emma, and wrote about it in one of my early blog posts. We ended up with a magnificently rich and original fragrance called Karatta, a fragrance based on scent memories of my childhood holiday house at the beach. It was such a lovely experience and on the day, Emma and I discussed the various perfume groups I’ve been a part of, both online and in person. She very generously offered her space for a perfume meetup, and I arranged for a group of six of us to meet with Emma and her partner Robert, at Fleurage, for a supper meeting.

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Emma talking with the group

Emma offered to talk about her practice and show us her perfume-making materials. The format of the evening took the form of a free-form conversation between Emma and all of us. She encouraged us to ask questions throughout, and it was these questions that guided the conversation. We got to hear about Emma’s own perfume education and training (traditional, botanical), her process of making fragrances, the materials she uses, her opinions of the new IFRA restrictions, the price of materials and their availability, and so on. So much was discussed that I can’t possibly record it blow-by-blow here, but it was a fascinating and very educational experience.

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Emma talking with the group

Emma also passed around some of her own fragrances periodically for us to smell. These are wonderful, botanical, vintage-style creations, and I recommend anyone in Melbourne go and visit Fleurage and give them a try; they are truly beautiful and sophisticated fragrances and like nothing else on the market today. We also got to smell some of the perfume ingredients that Emma uses to make her fragrances. It was a real treat to be able to smell real iris – which had everyone in raptures. Iris is one of the most expensive and hard-to-come-by ingredients used in perfumery, so none of us had smelled it before as a discreet ingredient. Iris smells very much like violet (which surprised me), and much less “flat” and waxy than it does in the iris-heavy fragrances I’ve smelled. We also smelled several types of lotus (from memory, pink, blue and white), which were also beautiful, but the highlight ingredient of the night for many was cèpes mushroom. This unusual perfume ingredient smelled of an intensely savoury and rich combination of mushroom and vegemite. I would love to smell this ingredient in a perfume one day, I think it would be earthy and marvellous!

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Gabriella sniffing the cèpes mushroom – a magical ingredient!

All of those who attended the meetup were very grateful for the opportunity to meet with Emma and have an open conversation about perfume. Being able to have an in-depth discussion with a perfumer and to have access to her fragrances and materials was wonderful. Thank you Emma and Robert for sharing your fabulous perfume atelier and your time with us!

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Emma Leah’s fabulous perfumes

If you are interested in learning more about Fleurage Perfume Atelier and Emma Leah’s perfumes, you can visit the website here.

How Smell Works: Olfactory Cells Heal Paralysed Man in Breakthrough Treatment

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A coronal section through the main olfactory bulb of an adult male mouse. “Mouse MOB three color” by Matt Valley – Released by author. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Last week I posted a link to an interesting article about how olfactory receptors are not just in our noses, as previously thought, but can actually be found throughout our bodies. Scientists have discovered that there is the potential for healing damaged skin and tissue with the application of various aromachemicals to damaged areas. You can read more about these discoveries and find the link to the article via my How Smell Works: It’s Not All in the Nose blog post.

This week, another interesting article made headlines around the world, again demonstrating the powerful healing potential of olfactory cells in the human body. In this case, cells taken from the olfactory bulbs in the brain of Darek Fidyka, a 38-year-old Bulgarian man, were used to heal his severed spinal cord. Darek has now learnt to walk again and can drive a car. You can read more about this incredible finding in this ABC News article.  If you want to read a little more about the method scientists used in the procedure, this article from The Guardian contains some good information.

Here is a short extract from the ABC News article:

The breakthrough came after four decades of research by Professor Geoff Raisman, from the University College London, who spotted the potential of cells that repair damage to nasal nerves.

The circuitry that gives rise to the sense of smell is the only part of the nervous system that constantly regenerates.

“The idea was to take something from an area where the nervous system can repair itself, and does throughout life, and put it into an area that doesn’t repair itself,” Professor Raisman said.

“I believe this is the moment when paralysis can be reversed.”

Amazing stuff! Enjoy reading and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

How Smell Works: It’s not all in the nose

Andreas Vesalius, olfactory bulbs, from “De Humani Corporis Fabrica”, 1543.

I hope to be able to share with you, from time to time, articles that are both interesting, and which challenge our collective, accepted knowledge about things. As this is a perfume blog, the nose, and how we smell, are central concepts. So… how do we smell? Many of us would answer “with our noses”; but is it just with our noses that we experience scent? You would be forgiven for answering “yes”, but researchers over the past decade or so have discovered that olfactory receptors (the things that are in our noses that allow us to smell) are also situated throughout our bodies, in many of our organs, and even in sperm. These receptors react in such interesting ways to the application of various aromas or scent chemicals, that they provide new potential methods of healing the body, and show promise in repairing things like damaged skin and muscle tissue.

This kind of discovery reminds me of recent findings regarding the presence of enormous quantities of neurotransmitters and serotonin in the human stomach. So, you literally feel with your stomach and have a second “brain” down there, albeit one that functions (thinks and feels) differently to the one in your head. That gut feeling you have about something, really is a gut feeling.

I love it when things don’t fit into neat boxes, and when we discover previously unknown connections between things. So, in today’s post, I want to share with you this very exciting article from the New York Times. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did!

You can read Smell Turns Up in Unexpected Places by Alex Stone here.

 

Smell Walk No. 1

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Photo of dog’s nose by Piotr Grzywocz http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedysta:Paul167/Galeria

The purpose of these walks is to acquaint myself and my nose with the smells of whatever environment I’m in, to pay more attention to these smells, beautiful or not, and to attempt to describe them. Think of them as meditations based on the sense of smell.

Tuesday Evening: 6:45 pm. En route to the compost bin.

I start my adventure in smell walks today with a short walk from my kitchen to the compost bin. Living in the country on a large sheep farm, I’m subjected to all kinds of smells that I never encountered in my city-dwelling days. I decided that it would be interesting enough, therefore, to start by exploring the smells immediately around my house. Today I will describe the smells that I notice while taking out the compost.

First, I inhale the aroma of the bowl of organic scraps that I want to take out to the bin. It contains banana skins, rotting strawberries, mint tea and eggshells. It is musty, sour, fermented, mouldy, sweet, sulphurous and savoury all at once. It’s not a pleasant smell: it’s confused and contradictory, but it is interesting.

Down the hall I walk, and through the laundry, where towels are going round in the dryer. I associate the smell of washing so closely with the concept of cleanliness, so I’m not very objective about what I’m actually smelling, other than something that has become, to my nose, generically “clean-smelling”. Today I pay a bit more attention. As the towels are still quite wet in the dryer, I’m getting a smell that’s a bit like the smell a steam-iron gives off, crossed with a slightly toasty smell; a little like a vanilla cake cooking in an oven, far off in the distance somewhere. It’s a bit sweet, a bit toasted, and warmly wet.

As I open the back door, a blast of fresh, cool, evening air greets me. I deeply inhale the sharp green smell of grass, acres and acres of it, mingled with the faint scent of soil and sheep manure. It’s crisp, earthy and slightly animalic, all at once.

Past the rose-bush I go, towards the compost bin. It’s only just in bud, so the flowers themselves are disappointing and don’t give off much aroma. I have to crush a leaf to smell it – it’s green, fresh and watery and a little like cucumber. Next, I pull out a weed and shake the soil from it: the loosened soil smells of warm patchouli, chopped raw mushrooms and humus. It’s delightful and forms a counterpoint to the vegetal smell of the freshly plucked weed roots.

A fresh peppermint leaf offers much olfactory delight, but I have to break it to really smell it. It’s more complex than I’ve ever noticed before, now that I’m properly paying attention. It smells earthy, zesty, spicy and cool. It also smells a little bit like cedar wood, and there is a surprising sweetness to it. I can’t resist eating it, and when I pop it in my mouth and chew, the aromatic oils dissolve and deliver the pepperiness that this variety of mint is known for.

I round the corner of the path and lift the lid off the compost bin. It reeks of ammonia from the cat litter that is decaying in there. It’s repulsive, off-smelling and foul! I empty my bowl of waste from the kitchen into it, and notice the sweet, acidic smells of banana and strawberry mingling briefly with the ammonia of the cat’s urine. But it’s too much; it’s making me physically recoil. I put the lid back on.

We have a septic tank next to the compost bin, but I detect no fecal wafts from it today, even when I go up close and inhale. Disappointed, I look around for something else to smell and spot some sheep’s wool on our wire fence. The sheep stick their heads through to eat our lawn, and little tufts of wool often remain on the wire afterwards. I pluck off a couple of pieces and hold them to my nostrils. Ah… that comforting, sweet, warm, animalic smell of wool! It’s just like a cosy woollen jumper, but in its raw state, combines with the faint aroma of waxy lanolin and dirt. It’s beautiful and I take it inside with me so I can keep smelling it.

 

 

 

Creating Karatta Perfume: Part Two – Process

Adding the ingredients directly to the bottle drop by drop to make Karatta perfume. Photo credit: Emma Leah from Fleurage.

PREPARATION

In Part One of this post, Creating Karatta Perfume, I wrote about the inspiration for the perfume I made at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne, during my Create Your Own Perfume experience. You can read that post here.

To quickly recap, the notes I wanted to capture in the fragrance were my scent memories associated with Karatta House, a wonderful old dilapidated mansion that my family owned when I was a child. The smells that I was keen to recreate in this perfume were:

cedar / honey and beeswax (the bee hive)/ leather / smoke / mulberry / salt / orange / chocolate / fig

Along with these notes, from Emma’s list of 80 ingredients, I then chose a few more that I thought would complement the composition and the concept. These notes were:

forest / earth / seaweed / ambergris / resins / amber / sandalwood / warm wood

PROCESS

My Create Your Own Perfume experience was a one-on-one experience with perfumer Emma Leah and took about two hours. The session took place in the Atelier, which is a combination of workspace and shop. Fleurage is a gorgeously decorated old shop, very stylish with vintage and Art Deco accents. The store was closed for business the day I was there, so I had the space to myself, which certainly felt luxurious. The work bench was set up on my arrival with all 80 ingredients lined up in racks according to scent families (Fougère, Chypre, Oriental and Floral) and in groups of top, heart (middle) and base notes.

As I mentioned in Part One, my session didn’t follow the usual process as I had a concept for the perfume I wanted to make and some knowledge about perfume already. So, rather than familiarising myself with all of the notes and scent families as is usually done in a Create Your Own Perfume session, Emma had me pull out and sniff all of the ingredients I’d chosen to use, and I smelt them one by one. Then began a process of elimination. Did I like the note or accord? Did it remind me of Karatta House? Did it smell how I thought it would smell? I eliminated a few that I didn’t like or that I thought wouldn’t work, but kept many of the notes I chose before the session.

Some smells are tricky to replicate in perfumery, which often uses synthetic ingredients to replicate natural smells. And sometimes natural essences, while extracted directly from the raw ingredient, don’t match up to our conceptions or memories of how things might actually smell to us in nature. From the group of smells I was trying to recreate in Karatta, salt, the bee hive and mulberry fell into this tricky area. Emma explained that we could create illusions of these particular scents by combining multiple notes or accords. So, mulberry was created from raspberry, a touch of lime and geranium; the smell of a beehive from a combination of beeswax and warm woods; and salty and beachy smells from seaweed, ambergris and an accord called seaforest.

Once these notes were chosen, Emma suggested a few more heart and top notes to round out the composition and these were used discreetly in the final formula. The extra notes and accords we decided on were:

metallic / cinnamon / ylang ylang / dryspice / champa flower / chypre accord / pepper

Emma explained to me how top, middle and base notes interact, and how each of these categories literally have a different molecular weight to one another. Base notes are the heaviest, so when you make a perfume in a bottle, as we did, they literally sink to the bottom of the formula, the heart/middle notes hover in the middle, and the top notes sit up top. When mixed with perfumer’s alcohol and left to mature, these notes combine, rather than staying in their separate layers. The different kinds of notes also evaporate from the skin at different rates – the top being the most volatile and transient, evaporating quickly, but most apparent when we first spray a perfume. The middle or “heart” notes create the body, or main character of the fragrance and last a moderate amount of time. The base notes provide support for the whole composition and last the longest.

After deciding on our notes, Emma devised a formula for the fragrance. She worked out the relative proportions of base, heart and top notes that would work well, and then the number of drops of each ingredient that we would need to use to achieve both a balanced fragrance and something that represented my vision of Karatta perfume.

Once Emma had all the numbers worked out, it was my turn to add the various notes and accords, drop by drop, directly into the perfume bottle. You can see a photo of me doing this at the top of the post. It takes quite a bit of time and concentration to make sure you get the correct amount in the bottle and don’t make a mess!

We added the notes in a specific order too, effectively building the fragrance from the bottom up, and testing the formula along the way to ensure it was progressing well. Starting with the list of base notes Emma had entered into the formula sheet, I added ingredients in groups of three or four at a time. After each group, Emma dipped a fragrance blotter into the liquid and we would smell the result. As I added more and more ingredients, we kept testing and sniffing the new results on blotters, both on their own and in combination with each other. It was a fascinating, additive, creative process and we continued this method right through the middle and top notes, until I had added all our ingredients and we had our final creation.

Emma advised me to leave the fragrance to settle for 24 hours before testing, to allow the notes to properly combine and give a more realistic effect of how the fragrance would smell. It was hard waiting those 24 hours, but well worth it.

THE PERFUME

So, what does Karatta perfume smell like? It is a wonderful and unusual concoction, and is very rich, strong and complex. Each time I sniff it I smell new ingredients that I haven’t noticed before. At first spray there is something green and vegetal mingling with the dominant heart notes of mulberry and seaweed; this is probably fig, but it also reminds me of cut grass, pine needles and crushed leaves. It’s a very curious and fascinating fragrance, and like nothing I’ve ever smelt before. The beeswax note is strong, adding a warm, sweet and animalic smell to the composition. The woody/resiny notes, so evocative of Karatta, with its polished wooden staircase and floors, is very much apparent, becoming even more so as the fragrance develops. All of the base notes that I chose combine to form a solid, complex foundation for the fragrance and are complementary to one another. But it is the overt combination of mulberry and seaweed that really grabs me: it’s edible, it’s odd, warm and sweet, salty and sexy all at once. This is the heart of Karatta.

VERDICT

I would recommend Fleurage’s Create Your Own Perfume experience to anyone – it was such a fun, educational and enriching creative activity and it would appeal to both perfume aficionados and to those with no prior knowledge of fragrance. I had such a wonderful time making my own fragrance with Emma from Fleurage; it was a really magical experience and a wonderful way to make a tribute perfume both to my father and my own childhood scent memories.

You can read more about Fleurage’s Create Your Own Perfume experience here.