Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadowThirteen 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 is the third of five weekly instalments of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Today’s interview is with Italian perfumer Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù. Future instalments will feature PK Perfumes’ Paul Kiler and 4160Tuesdays’ Sarah McCartney.

O’Driù – A Brief Introduction

Amongst perfume enthusiasts, independent perfume house O’Driù is often considered controversial. For example, in 2013,  O’Driù released the divisive Peety, a fragrance that is supposed to be completed or personalised by adding 1ml of the owner’s urine. O’Driù’s fragrances are often filled with conceptual or imaginary fragrance notes or ingredients, including “bitter battle”, “the nightmare that reveals the pleasure” and “the hug of a woman”. Perfumer Angelo Orazio Pregoni’s work at O’Driù displays a friendly playfulness combined with the intention to shock. In combination with references to high art and culture, this combines to create a very interesting aesthetic full of tension and friction. I think O’Driù is creating some of the most interesting work out there in contemporary perfumery, conceptually and artistically.

At the bottom of this page, I reflect on my own thoughts about Angelo’s answers and O’Driù. As I don’t want to let my ideas influence your experience of this very interesting interview, I have left my thoughts until the end.

Without any further ado, let me introduce you to…

Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù

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Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù

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

The story would take too long to explain however as soon as my mother conceived me she was forced to escape to save my life. We hid in a trunk on the deck of a pirate ship that sailed away while my mother cradled me inside. Near the island of Serifo the trunk was thrown overboard and was recovered by a fisher named Ditti, the brother of the island tyrant, Polidette. Ditti brought the trunk to shore thinking it contained treasure and opened it. The smell of fish was so strong that it overwhelmed mother, who fainted while I cried. That is therefore the first smell I recall, fish.

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

Being the product of incest between my mother Mirra and her father, my adolescence wasn’t all that happy! You can imagine the social bias I was subjected to. So for a while I took care of the preparation of salves to be used during sacred ceremonies, the only activity I was allowed to undertake. As my birth was considered “inhuman” so my “touch” was thought alike to that of the Gods.

  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 think that schools are suitable only for French people, with French tastes and French formulas. No external influence will ever affect a person’s DNA, however a person is the result of accumulated experience. In this case I recall happy memories about a time in my life when I was living with a prostitute, a woman who welcomed me into her house just because she was in love with me! Rosa, that was her name, used to grease her hats with rancid butter and white flower essences and my nose was greatly influenced by this.

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

I don’t like fantasy characters!

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Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù

  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.

There is no philosophy at all behind my brand! I am my brand and my perfume.

  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?

As originality is not my strong point I try to participate in as many fairs as I can to steal some hints from other perfume houses. I often go to perfume shops and if I find something good, that is the so-called best sellers, I just copy them.

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“O Shame! Where is thy blush? Panty (about Peety)” signed art work by Angelo Orazio Pregoni (100/100).

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

Everybody will be surprised to know (no doubt) that none of my perfumes contain urine! For the rest I use casks from King Arthur’s time to perfect the perfume (though I have no idea of their purpose). In my living room I do the distillation of essences from my neighbour’s trees and flowers. Each perfume is magically tied to the memory of a dead person and is inspired by the thought of a celebrated writer! I often work at night, drinking rum and experiencing feelings that not even Baudelaire ever felt.

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

My current challenge is destroying the world of perfumery and rebuilding it in only three days!

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

I’d say the contrary!

  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?

As a matter of fact we eat stupid things and we use stupid perfumes! Now this scent “Stupidity” is used as much in food as in perfumery. As far as I’m concerned we could cook a very good dish using the most famous raw material widespread in perfumery: the Pathetic! We could cook a beautiful heart-shaped cake, with strawberries and cream, add grandmother’s secret touch and a sprinkle of Pathetic. Wow!

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Pathétique perfume by O’Driù

  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?

Immediately after my death.

  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?

A vanilla-flavoured anal vibrator! I’m sure that using it most critics could discover how precious vanilla becomes when blended with fecal notes.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

Making money.


Reflections on Angelo’s answers and O’Driù

I must admit that the morning I received Angelo’s answers to my questions, I was in a grumpy, pathetic mood. After reading these answers, I found myself smiling, and in a much better mood for the rest of the day. Angelo’s answers seem to embrace the same kind of spirit expressed by the Dadaists, an art movement I have always been particularly fond of. Dada, an art movement that sprang up in Europe during World War I, was an “anti-art” movement:

Many Dadaists believed that the ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ of bourgeois capitalist society had led people into war. They expressed their rejection of that ideology in artistic expression that appeared to reject logic and embrace chaos and irrationality…

According to Hans Richter [one of Dada’s key artists] Dada was not art: it was “anti-art.” Dada represented the opposite of everything [that] art stood for. Where art was concerned with traditional aesthetics, Dada ignored aesthetics. If art was to appeal to sensibilities, Dada was intended to offend.

(Text quoted from Wikipedia)

Is Angelo Orazio Pregoni channelling Dada in his work? Is his perfume “anti-perfume”? I don’t know; but the playfulness of all that Angelo does and his rejection of the conventions of perfumery remind me very much of the Dada spirit. These ramblings are only my interpretation of Angelo’s creative answers to my standard set of thirteen questions. All I really know for sure is that Angelo’s answers put a broad smile on my face the day I read them and reminded me not to take life, or myself, too seriously. Life became lighter for me.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the third instalment of Perfume Polytechnic’s Perfumer Interview Series with Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù. Hearty thanks to Angelo for his fun and lively answers! If you’d like to find out more about O’Driù and Angelo’s perfumes, visit O’Driù’s website. If you’re interested, you can also read a previous blog post of mine in which Olly Technic and I blind-tested and reviewed a sample set of O’Driù perfumes. O’Driù’s fragrances are listed on Fragrantica.

If you’d like to catch up on last week’s instalment of Thirteen Thoughts with perfumer Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes, click here. Emma Leah of Fleurage was interviewed in week 1 of Thirteen Thoughts. To read Emma’s interview, click here.

NEXT WEEK’S Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series will feature Paul Kiler of PK Perfumes. Make sure you visit Perfume Polytechnic again this time next week to find out how Paul answers the same thirteen questions!

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Smell and Synaesthesia Part One: Frédéric Malle

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An example of time unit – space synaesthesia. Image credit: Dankonikolic (Own work) – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Synesthesia_5.jpg

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, as in the following passage by William Shakespeare from Romeo and Juliet:

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Here, Romeo sees Juliet at night through a window, and finds her beauty so vibrant and illuminating that he compares her to the sun. In the world of scent, our vocabulary to describe smells and perfumes is limited, due to an insufficient vocabulary or language to describe smell; so we use metaphors, similes and comparisons to describe perfume frequently. When we describe smells, especially those that are unusual or new to us, we refer to other things outside the world of scent to describe the smell. A particular perfume note might smell nutty, dark, or velvety, dirty or bright. These adjectives actually come from the sensual realms of sight, touch and taste, and yet we often use such words to describe smell. But this is not synaesthesia, rather, it is a deficiency of the language that we have available to us to describe scent that forces us to use words that commonly describe other senses.

Similarly, we might imagine the colour orange when we smell orange oil, or red when we smell raspberries, or green when we crush and smell a pine needle, but these are understandable, logical associations. They are not synaesthetic responses. We compare perfumes to works of art or music or even famous people, but not in a genuine synaesthetic way (unless we are smell synaesthetes). Again, we do this to try to describe what we are smelling to others so that we can communicate about our experiences with smells.

However, 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.

One key factor of working out if you’re a synaesthete is the repeatability of such experiences. For instance, if every time a person hears the musical note “G” they see the same shade of yellow in their mind’s eye, and they have other colours assigned to other musical pitches, they almost certainly have synaesthesia. Synaesthesia is something that people seem to either have or not have. It’s not something that can be cultivated. It can be simulated, and is simulated sometimes by artists who wish to find analogies or faux-synaesthetic associations between different art forms or to create multi-disciplinary works. But with synaesthetes, the experience has always been there, usually throughout their lives, and it’s often repeatable and the same, and it can’t be switched off.

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The colours and shapes used in the design for my website were based on synaesthetic associations between the letters of my name and the colours in which I see these letters (grapheme-colour synaesthesia).

Why am I so interested in synaesthesia? Because I am a synaesthete. And because it’s one of the few neurological conditions that allows one to function fully in society! In fact, it can make life more interesting. For as long as I can remember, I have always experienced grapheme-colour synaesthesia, which is one of the most common, most studied types of synaesthesia (there are more than 60 types altogether). This means that when I imagine letters and numbers (as forms) in my mind, I see each letter or number in a specific colour and shade. The same colour and shade each time. I had no idea this was unusual, until I thought to mention it to a friend when I was 19 years old. My friend, a fellow composer, was most excited: he told me it was a rare condition called synaesthesia and that not many people experienced it. I’m glad that the first person I chose to tell was someone who a) knew what it was and b) didn’t mock me or make me feel strange for seeing coloured letters and numbers in my head. Apparently synaesthesia is much more prevalent amongst creative people and artists, and some studies show that it is also more common amongst women. I also experience number form synaesthesia, whereby the days of the week and months of the year form a pattern of linear blocks in my visual imagination, which I see every time I imagine the days ahead, or try to plan something.

As I mentioned already, the grapheme-colour synaesthesia that I experience is actually one of the most common kinds. I’m jealous of those who feel shapes when they eat certain foods (e.g. the chicken tastes “pointy”), or hear music when they smell certain smells. As  composer, I really wish I’d been born with a type of synaesthesia that related to sound in some way, and as a perfume buff, I’d love to have a smell-based synaesthesia. But alas, it’s not meant to be, and as a true synaesthete, I know that sadly I can’t train myself to develop these kinds of synaesthesia, nor would it feel right to fabricate connections between these senses and any others. Being endlessly fascinated by this topic, and wanting to find out more about the other kinds of synaesthesia, I decided to research the topic as it relates to the sense of smell. I wanted to find out if there were perfumers and artists out there who are known to experience smell-based synaesthesia. And there are.

So, with all that in mind, in today’s post I wanted to introduce you to synaesthesia, tell you a little bit about my own experience of it, and introduce you to my first subject in this series: perfumer Frédéric Malle, who experiences smell-colour synaesthesia.

Frédéric Malle

Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums is a collection of niche fragrances composed by some of the greatest perfumers in the fragrance industry.

Frédéric Malle introduced the Editions de Parfums in 2000, as a completely original concept whereby the world’s greatest noses composed exclusive, creative fragrances that would be sold under their creator’s names. In an era in which most companies attach more importance to brand names, by intensified marketing campaigns, Malle brings the attention back to the product itself: perfume. Through a simple “back to basics” ideology, the Editions de Parfums are challenging all prevailing trends.

Frédéric Malle grew up immersed in the world of perfumery; his grandfather, Serge Heftler, was most notably the founder of Parfums Christian Dior. Malle started his own career in 1986, at the prestigious perfume creation labs Roure Bertrand Dupont. Over the years, he acquired a profound knowledge of the raw materials of which perfumes are composed, as well as a strong sense of olfactory balance. Simply, he is an “evaluator,” the professional term defining a specialist whose deep understanding of fragrance structure and accords enables him to critique a perfume’s composition.

Source: http://www.fredericmalle.com/eu/about-us/frederic-malle

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Frédéric Malle’s illustrations for the limited edition release of Editions de Parfums at Barneys New York. Image credit: Illustrations by Frédéric Malle. Image sourced from The Fashion Reporter blog: http://thefashionreporter.com/blog/?paged=2&m=201212%2Fpage%2F2

In 2012, to celebrate ten years in business together, Barneys New York and Frédéric Malle released a special, limited edition range of packaging for the Editions de Parfums collections, based on Malle’s own synaesthetic illustrations.

Malle told Laura Feinstein of PSFK.com:

To celebrate 10 years with Barneys [Malle’s US distributor], I decided to create a line of packaging with each of these illustrations, so that – for the first time in the history of our brand the exterior expresses what’s inside the bottle…

When smelling fragrances I see colors. This capacity to translate scents into images is called synesthesia. A few years ago, I decided to put these visions that I have when smelling the perfumes of our collection on paper. I used Photoshop, its many layers and its many brushes to illustrate the layers and textures that I smell when smelling these scents. At first the purpose of these images was to explain each perfume not using words.

While I receive inspiration from all things– nature, things I see while walking, design, I certainly am also inspired by these colors.

In this wonderful video from Barneys New York’s website, Malle explains his synaesthesia and describes what he sees when he smells a couple of fragrances from the line, while showing us the resulting illustrations.

Video sourced from Barneys New York’s “The Window” website.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the first in this series on synaesthesia as it relates to the sense of smell. I’d love to know if you experience synaesthesia too, and if so, what type you have.

If you’d like to read more about synaesthesia, the following websites are good places to visit:

Wikipedia’s page on synaesthesia

Synaesthesia.com

University of Sussex synaesthesia research page

If you’d like to take a test to see if you are a synaesthete, I recommend the following:

The Synaesthesia Battery test

Frederic Malle’s website can be accessed here.

Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series – Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes

thirteen-thoughts-v2_800_shadowThirteen 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 is the second of five weekly instalments of Thirteen Thoughts, a Perfumer Interview Series. Today’s interview is with Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes, based in Adelaide, Australia. Future instalments will feature O’Driù’s Angelo Orazio Pregoni, 4160Tuesdays’ Sarah McCartney and PK Perfumes’ Paul Kiler.

I want 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, I introduce you to…

Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes

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Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes

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

I’d love to be able to regale you with stories of fragrant holiday locations and smells that tear me back to momentous events in my past, but I’m afraid the truth is I was raised in a regular English immigrant family in the seventies in suburban West Australia where money was short and such things as perfume, holidays and aesthetics just didn’t play a part (proven by the lurid purple bedspread and orange carpet in my bedroom as a teenager). Two smells that I guess do take me back to those times are the smell of woodchips and potting soil from my first ever job in a plant nursery and the other would be the smell of body filler putty stuff that was used in a panel beating shop where I had another job sweeping the floors. Not sure I could get more prosaic if I tried but really, the world of the senses or art of any sort was just not a thing back then – you worked hard, ate a meal, watched TV and went to bed. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I managed to shake off that mindset and discover that there was so much more to experience from life and the senses and the world around me. The gradual discovery of perfume was certainly a driving force behind this revelation – it corrupted me completely.

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

One day in my thirties I found myself re-reading over and over the chapter relating to smell in Diane Ackerman’s Natural History of the Senses, particularly the part where Sophia Grojsman visits IFF (International Flavors and Fragrances) and describes experiencing perfumes being developed there. I had no idea why, but I found the whole idea fascinating and I became incredibly excited to throw myself into this completely unknown world – it was like something inside my psyche that had lain dormant had stirred, woken up and started shouting at me! I remember being confused and even a little concerned at the time; nothing had prepared me for the strength of this sudden obsession that was so foreign to my normal life as a geeky computer tech. Maybe this is just how it is when you stumble across the thing you were destined to do. Just a pity that it happened to me so late.

This new obsession was magnified ten-fold when I finally managed to obtain samples of some actual perfumes (I certainly couldn’t afford whole bottles and wasn’t confident to go into a shop to smell the testers) and was incredulous that such beauty could be contained within a smell!

Being of a scientific bent and having a huge curiosity, I needed to find out about how these smells were put together and so I started exploring any way I could. And so here I am, ten years or so later and that excitement hasn’t abated in the least. By the way, I have no qualms about waltzing into Mecca Cosmetica and spraying with abandon now!

  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’m completely self-taught. Thank goodness for the internet, hey? There’s a bunch of communities online devoted to learning perfumery and it’s only because of their existence that I was able to make any progress at all. I was also lucky to come along at a time when these communities were still young, very active and enthusiastic. The learning curve has been incredibly steep and it has taken many years of fanatical devotion, but I like a good challenge and here’s hoping that I’ve managed to succeed a little. Of course there have been many influences and diversions along the way. It seems that every few months I smell something and decide that the rest of my training needs to head in that direction. Until the next influence comes along, that is.

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

Without thinking too hard, names that come to mind include Christopher Sheldrake for Serge Lutens, Jean Paul Guerlain, Isobelle Doyen for Annick Goutal & Lez Nez, Thierry Mugler, and Jean-Claude Ellena for Hermès.

I’m thinking about what could be the common factor between these (and many others, of course) that appeal to me. I think it must be that the perfumes they create or release are all extraordinary, as in extra ordinary. The perfumes grab your attention and force you to think about them. You can’t spray them casually.

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Evocative Perfumes’ range of Eau de Toilette fragrances

  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 guess when you study perfumery, there naturally comes a point at which you think about taking the scary step of baring your soul and letting others smell and even pay for your creations. I’m an introvert and so taking this step was especially scary – more like a headlong leap into the unknown.

When I was thinking about some sort of consistent brand image and name (I certainly couldn’t use my actual name for the brand like many other indie perfumers do, can you imagine – Evans Perfumes, hahaha) I wondered if I could use the actual descriptive word evocative – it described what I wanted to achieve with my work and when I found that no one else seemed to have used the name (and the internet domain was available) I went for it. It’s kinda daggy I know but I’m hoping the Evocative name will eventually become associated with quality and creative perfumes.

The perfumes themselves are a mix of different styles and types that are released as I experiment with and learn about different styles of perfumery. One day in the future hopefully they will settle down into a more consistent range when I find a style that particularly suits 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?

Yes to all of them. Ideas can come from anywhere and at any time but I think that they mostly result from smelling incredible ingredients and wanting to ‘do something’ with them. Like my Olibanum which resulted from smelling an amazing frankincense and needing to break it down to its elements and highlighting them within something that is wearable as a perfume.

It’s also true that I would like to fill in gaps in the range: it would be great to have a leather and a woody aromatic masculine.

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Olibanum perfume oil

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

Maybe your readers would be surprised that an indie perfumer with limited funds has to do it all themselves. Everything. Not only do you have to actually learn and practice perfumery itself for years, you have to source small amounts of the hundreds of hard to find ingredients from all corners of the globe. Researching where the best quality ingredients come from and then begging, borrowing and stealing what you can and even making your own when necessary.

You have to liaise with suppliers of these ingredients as well as the producers of bottles and label printers etc. Then comes learning web design and eCommerce, creating the website yourself and then handling all the logistics from payments to packaging and shipping. Then there’s the marketing side of things, getting your name out there and answering interview questions 😉 coming up with a brand, an image and so on. It’s a lot of work and there’s a lot to learn!

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

I could go on about the mundane reality of never having enough funds to fully realise my dreams for Evocative Perfumes, but I guess that’s the case for any venture – you do the best with what you have available to you. Funnily enough, although it has been a huge challenge getting my hands on the many, many ingredients needed to make perfumes, I really enjoy that side of it. I think of it as the same way that a collector loves scouring around and finding their prized items. I’m a collector as well, it’s just that I collect smells and I love the thrill of the chase and the excitement of finding that one rare extract that no-one else has.

Another hard thing for me has been the whole business of getting the finished perfume from the big flasks here into the hands of the wearer. Hassles of sourcing bottles and labels and packaging and dealing with restrictive postal services and taking money from people and so on and so on. So tedious.

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

It has affected my smell perception to an amazing degree. After the years of concentrating on how my experiments are smelling, the relevant parts of my brain must surely have laid down new pathways and I’m aware of the smells around me constantly now, like you on one of your smell walks, Polly.

I’ve also started occasionally perceiving smells that I know aren’t actually there. Sometimes I’ll actually get a whiff of bacon if I see an advert on TV or something. Not often but it does happen.

I read somewhere that a study was done on the brains of perfumers and although their olfactory nerves were normal, they had more neural pathways leading away from the olfactory part of the brain to other parts. So it wasn’t so much their sense of smell that was enhanced, but the associations that resulted from the smells.

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Siberian Fir perfume oil

  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?

Patchouli – can you imagine? And labdanum absolute!

A lot of the materials used in flavours are exactly the same as used in perfumery so it’s highly likely that we’ve all consumed most of them in our food already!

Here in Australia we have musk candy that really does taste like ethylene brassylate smells.

  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’d have to say the 1940s and 50s: such an amazingly creative time for the couture houses and perfumers.

  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 a hard one. You hear of the new technologies attempting to transmit scents via phones or the internet, but knowing what goes into complicated smells, this simply could never work for perfumes – they might work for a range of generic smells, but nothing too complex or original. In fact I think that these devices are a bad idea. I really don’t see much use for them beyond novelty – surely they could only promote the standardisation and cheapening of scents.

  1. What is the purpose of perfume?

Talking about fine perfume as opposed to functional perfume…

I’d make a distinction between deliberate and casual perfume wearers here. For those who grab and spray a trendy celebrity scent on the way out the door, perfume is just an additional part of the wardrobe – a final touch, a boost to self-confidence and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

For the deliberate wearer, though, I think perfume is first and foremost about personal pleasure. Whereas the casual wearer wants to smell good for other people, the deliberate wearer sprays or dabs firstly for themselves and if those around catch a whiff, then that’s fine too. So in this case the perfume acts more as an artistic medium – the wearer is sharing the perfumer’s vision and it’s our job to try to take the wearer on an emotional journey through bliss and remembrance and even intellectual curiosity.

That’s what it’s all about for me.


I hope you’ve enjoyed the second instalment of Perfume Polytechnic’s Perfumer Interview Series with Mark Evans of Evocative Perfumes. Warm thanks to Mark Evans for his fascinating answers! If you’d like to find out more about Evocative Perfumes and Mark’s fabulous creations, visit the Evocative Perfumes website. For those seeking more in-depth information about Mark’s creative practice including detailed information on how his fragrances are made, visit the companion blog to his website, which is great reading too. You can also find Mark’s fragrances listed on Fragrantica.

If you’d like to catch up on last week’s instalment of Thirteen Thoughts with perfumer Emma Leah of Fleurage, click here.

NEXT WEEK’S Thirteen Thoughts: Perfumer Interview Series will feature Angelo Orazio Pregoni of O’Driù. Make sure you visit Perfume Polytechnic again this time next week to find out how Angelo answers the same thirteen questions! You are in for a singular experience.

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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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