Childhood Scent Memories: Highlights from Reader Entries to Perfume Polytechnic’s First Birthday Giveaway

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Photo credit: smelling the roses (Creative Commons license) – https://www.flickr.com/photos/95632040@N00/3356909594

Perfume Polytechnic turned one a couple of weeks ago. To celebrate the blog’s first birthday I held a giveaway and entrants were asked to share one of their favourite childhood scent memories with me. I received some fabulous answers, and what struck me most was the emotional power of these memories. These scent memories were not only pleasant smells remembered on their own, but they were related back to treasured activities, relationships and special moments.

Scent is evocative. It helps us to recall memories, people, places and things. It connects us. I’ve published a selection of some of the lovely scent memories that my readers sent in below. I hope you enjoy reading them too.

Crystal Marie (USA)

“Narrowing down my favorite childhood scent memory is sort of difficult as there are several. My favorite has to be of the totality of semi-swampy forest and fields behind my childhood home. The sweet fragrance of walking on crushed cottonwood leaves, as mimosa flowers, willow and dogwood perfume the air, especially in early morning or early evening. It’s a lovely combination, which is I suppose my inspiration for botanical fragrance work. I love the smell of places in nature best.”

Roslyn (Australia)

“Both my mother and grandmother were superb cooks, so some of my strongest childhood scent memories are of food cooking, from aromatic chicken soup with home-made noodles to pavlova and honey cake, delectable savoury and sweet dishes of all kinds. And I also strongly remember the scent of 4711, which seemed to be everywhere back then!”

Goh Sha (USA)

“My favorite perfume memory is going through my mom’s drawer and smelling Dior’s Poison which took my breath away. It was so contrary to the idea of perfume I had at the time.”

Sue Holleron (UK)

“I live in a very old City called Chester. My favourite childhood fragrance was the scent of clean hay and straw when I helped my Dad with the animals as he was a Keeper at Chester Zoo. I loved the feeling that the animals had comfortable beds to sleep on!!”

Al (Australia)

“One of my earliest smell memories is of a cumquat tree in my parents’ garden – it sat in a large pot by the door, so I passed it often, and associate its zingy scent with summer warmth, bare feet and a bee-sting I received nearby. At some point I couldn’t resist having a taste of the cute little fruits, so I also associate that unpleasant experience with the much nicer smell. But I am still fond of the smell of a cumquat tree.”

Charlotte Scheuer (USA)

“My favorite memory as a child was walking to kindergarten and going past a greenhouse. I loved the smell of earth, geraniums and the various flowers therein. I was a wee little girl growing up in Ohio and I think my ‘career’ as a perfumista began right there! I think I have been trying to replace that scent in my heart since then. At that age also, my grandmother had huge peony bushes in her backyard and I remember them as well. These fond memories bring me comfort and joy!”

Gaby (Australia)

“I’m from Australia and a childhood scent memory is the ink from those old-school stencilling machines we had back in primary school. I can waft the slightly sour acrid chemical smell right now if I close my eyes. It takes me back to year 2 – we had a cool teacher who loved The Beatles and I remember she made us draw pictures of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – little did we know what it really meant! As well as stencilling ink, her classroom smelt of decaffeinated coffee and the jelly beans she used to hand out when we did good deeds.”

Naz (USA)

“My favorite scent memory from childhood… I sometimes have trouble recalling them until the smell is actually present. One of them would be the smell of mustard flower in the night air, when I walked outside in a village in my native country, Bangladesh, and you couldn’t see anything, not even your hand in front of you… but you could smell the flowers, and that smell lent you a sense of peace, even though your vision was lost.”

Damir (Croatia)

“There are many different kinds of olfactory memories from my childhood (preschool age).

Memory #1 Roses in spray: My great-grandmother had a neighbor who worked in Germany. Every time she came home, she brought a bottle of home fragrance. A large pale green bottle like the old design of hair spray bottles under pressure. The smell was so similar to the roses that are rare today. An intensive smell that was almost identical to many roses we easily found in most of the yards then. It was sweeter probably because of high concentration but it smelled like real roses.

Memory #2 Peonies: My great-grandmother had many bushes of multicolored peonies. Once upon a time, in the 70’s, when the climate was healthy, spring showers happened often in the period of the peony’s blooming. The rain intensified the scent of the peonies that was spread and mixed with the scents of the other flowers.

Memory #3: Forest. My favorite memory. It is amazing to watch how the seasons of the year change and bring various odors in the same place. It depends on so many factors: tree species, the level of humidity, the amount of rotten and dry fallen leaves, lakes and streams, the amount of snow and sunlight are some of them. I’m happy that I spend a lot of time in the same forest nowadays, too. It is a very important place for me.”

The Perfume Magpie (Spain)

“Your question on a favourite scent from childhood made me think a lot… There are so many and it’s rather difficult to pick one or two. If I were to choose the smells with emotional attachments, I would say incense and osmanthus. Incense was a part of my daily life and I did enjoy the act of offering incense every morning. The smell and the sight of osmanthus in autumn was pure magic. Every autumn, I was waiting and waiting for the gorgeous orange coloured blossoms to open. Pity, I haven’t found any osmanthus trees here in Spain.”

Sun Mi (USA)

“My favorite scent memory is a bizarre one, but it’s the smell of Powerbait. I actually wrote one of my college essays on it back in the day. My dad and I would go fishing often, and I loved it. After a day of fishing our hands would reek of the potent, neon fish bait, layered with the slimy smell of fish and lake water. It wasn’t, perhaps, the most pleasant of smells – but it was the smell of fun with my dad.”

Darkros3 (Italy)

“Perhaps my most vivid childhood memory is related to summer holidays at the sea and to the various scents I recall from those days spent at the beach: the salty smell of the sea, obviously, but also that of suntan lotions, pastries sold in the bars on the promenade and plastic bags in which my mother used to put all my things (swimsuits, toys, etc.). I used to miss this fabulous mix of smells when I came home, and I’ve always loved exotic/beach scents since then – especially after getting seriously addicted to fragrances.”

Sally (Australia)

“A “scent memory” I hold dear is of the musty yet fresh scent of the ice-skating rink. The anticipation of a seven year old being able to do something exciting, a little dangerous and somehow otherworldly with its endless white was added to with the crisp smell of the ice plus the leather from my beloved little ice skates. I remember how the scent would intensify when on the ice, when a blade would cut into the ice and of course, when I fell. When I get a whiff of a smell like this, I am transported back to this time.”


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these wonderful scent memories and conjuring up the images that they convey and suggest. Do you have any treasured scent memories from childhood that you would like to share? If so, please leave a comment in the box below!

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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.

Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One – Inspiration

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Dad in front of a painting of Karatta House by Kenneth Jack

Recently I had a very special birthday. My wonderful partner, knowing that (A) I love nothing more than making things and (B) I am obsessed with perfume, gave me a fantastic gift: a voucher for a Create Your Own Perfume experience at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne. Fleurage is a traditional, European-style perfumery. Emma Leah, owner and perfumer of Fleurage says:

We created Fleurage to re-establish the lost art of classic European perfume making. The Fleurage Perfume Atelier is a traditional working perfumery. We manufacture our own perfumes, conduct classes and offer unique perfume events and experiences. (Text from Fleurage website)

The Create Your Own Perfume experience is a two-hour, one-on-one experience with perfumer Emma Leah that involves the creation of a custom scent with the perfumer’s guidance and assistance. At the end of the experience you get to take home your own unique, 40ml perfume. You can read more about the Create Your Own Perfume experience here, and the usual process that it involves.

In this post, Creating Karatta Perfume: Part One, I will write about the inspiration for my fragrance. In Part Two, I will talk about the process that Emma and I went through to create my fragrance.

The time I spent with Emma was a little bit different to the usual Create Your Own Perfume process. I contacted Emma prior to the appointment as I wanted a list of the 80 scent ingredients available for use (both single notes and accords). I had a concept in mind that I wanted to work with, and I wanted to see if this would be possible. Emma was very open to me bringing in ideas, and was very excited when I told her about my concept, which was to recreate my scent memories of a holiday house that my parents owned when I was young: Karatta House.

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Karatta House c. late 1970s

Karatta, situated in the idyllic seaside town of Robe in South Australia, was built in the 1850s and was Governor Sir James Fergusson’s summer residence between 1869-1873. Karatta sits on a large parcel of land, flanked by a harbour on one side, and Karatta Beach on the other. By the time my family bought Karatta House in the early 1980s, it was in a state of disrepair, bearing more resemblance to Miss Havisham’s house than a grand mansion.

My father had a close attachment to the house. He had dreams of returning it to its previous, majestic state, but sadly it never happened. He reluctantly sold it in the late 1980s, and felt a keen sense of disappointment and loss for many years afterwards. Dad died four years ago. Karatta reminds me of him, of his striving to be different and to take on big things. I wanted to create a perfume that would be a tribute to Karatta House, my scent memories of the place, and to my Dad, with his courage to dream big.

When I was a child, we would spend most holidays at Karatta House: Easter, Christmas, school holidays. It was an eccentric and magical place for a kid. Karatta was a relic of a bygone era: it had a ballroom with a marble fireplace, crumbling servants’ quarters, deep feather mattresses, an old pedal organ, a magnificent, curved wooden staircase, pressed tin wallpaper, a claw-footed bath, rotting floorboards and peeling paint. My mother would often dig up 19th Century bottles and crockery when gardening. Up the road were the ruins of an old gaol, and an obelisk on the edge of a crumbling cliff.

There were many places in the house that were forbidden to my brother and I, which only made Karatta more exciting. One of these places was an upstairs room that contained an active bee hive. Oh, the smell! That waxy, mellifluous sweetness!

When we first stayed at Karatta House I was only six years old. Sleeping upstairs was terrifying for me with the howling winds coming off the ocean; I honestly though the house was haunted. We quickly moved our bedrooms downstairs, and I felt much safer. Dad built a rope playground for my brother and I just outside our bedroom, with swings and tightropes. I still remember the feeling of rope burn on my hands after a day of play. But the best place to play, apart from the rope playground and Karatta Beach, with its caves and rock pools, was in the Morton Bay fig tree. This massive, old tree, with its dusty smell of powdery figs and earth and protruding roots was the site for a game that we invented: Tree Chasey.

One day last year I was thinking about Dad, and Karatta, and I came up with the idea of creating a perfume based on scent memories from Karatta House as a tribute to him. I made a list of smells from the house that I would want to include in my perfume:

  • Cedar: for the wooden floorboards, antique furniture and staircase
  • Honey and beeswax from the forbidden hive
  • The warm leather smell of Dad’s car seats from the long drive down to Karatta
  • Smoke from the fireplace
  • Mulberries: juicy and sweet-tart, fresh from the tree
  • Salt: the smell of seaweed, the ocean, and seafood
  • Oranges that I would gorge myself on every summer
  • Chocolate Easter eggs
  • The Morton Bay fig tree

As I lack the technical skills and knowledge to make perfume, this dream lay dormant for a little while, until I received the voucher for my Create Your Own Perfume experience. Two worlds collided. This experience would provide the perfect opportunity to create my Karatta perfume with the expert guidance, assistance and knowledge of perfumer Emma Leah. I couldn’t wait…

Next: Part Two of this post, in which I discuss the process of making the perfume, and write about the resulting fragrance and how it smells.