Osmanthus: The Scent of Happiness ~ out of the bottle


This is my last post as an official writer for Now Smell This.1 It’s been a huge opportunity and a real thrill to write for the blog that first woke me up to perfume, and I will miss my regular gig very much. But I’ll see you in the comments section, and I’ll be easy to find, so instead of getting weepy or nostalgic, I simply want to say thank you and offer you a bouquet of osmanthus blossoms.

I admit that, as bouquets go, it isn’t much to look at. The flowers, white or yellow, depending on the variety, are simple and very tiny — you could easily hold a hundred in the palm of your hands. The greenery of the variety that grows in the Southern U.S., where osmanthus is widely known as the Tea Olive, is unremarkable. But none of that really matters. This bouquet is not for display, it’s a nosegay, and as soon as you bend your head to sniff, your eyes will be closed in bliss.

I think of osmanthus as the scent of happiness. It smells of warm, ripe apricots, good black tea (maybe a Ceylon, with its floral notes and natural sweetness) and soft leather. It’s a luscious, velvety scent, rich and delicious, but the sunny, citrus-kissed fruit and the tannic tea notes keep things from getting too serious…

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Fragile Beauty: An Interview with Dabney Rose (and DIY Enfleurage Instructions) ~ out of the bottle

Dabney Rose

I first came across perfumer Dabney Rose on Twitter where her lyrical tweets about the plants in her greenhouse and gorgeous photographs of harvested flowers add a quiet loveliness to the ongoing chatter. Rose specializes in “flower waters,” or hydrosols, the fragrant distilled water created by steaming or boiling fragrant plants and flowers — she uses a pressure cooker rather than an alembic — and “flower crèmes,” buttery solids produced by enfleurage, the practice of laying blossoms on top of solid fat until it is impregnated with scent.

Like the blossoms they come from, flower waters and crèmes are fragile and ephemeral — most hydrosols will turn within six months — but their scents can be hauntingly true-to-life. When I rub Rose’s hyacinth crème into my skin, what I smell is not perfume, or even the heady indoor scent of potted bulbs, but a growing hyacinth flower wafting from across a sunny yard. It’s an uncanny experience, almost a visitation, and it feels right for the scent to fade after barely an hour.

I wanted to know more about the creator of this beauty, so I emailed Rose some questions…

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Candying the Buddha’s Hand ~ out of the bottle

candied buddha's hand

Surely the fact that peak citrus season falls smack in the middle of winter is a sign the cosmos is not entirely without mercy. Just when we’ve thrown away our holiday trappings, the supermarkets brim with flashes of color. Even the humblest corner bodega has good oranges right now. My amazing local grocery store is having its annual citrus festival, and the produce section is crammed with so many exotic varieties that I brought my camera with me on my last shopping trip.

The fruit was piled high in fragrant chaos — pale chartreuse pomelos the size of melons nestled alongside orange-red kishu tangerines no bigger than a kiss. White, pink, red and yellow grapefruits kept company with a dozen different varieties of oranges, including sour Seville oranges begging to be roasted with duck, and blood oranges with their deep maroon flesh and Cara Cara oranges that are supposed to taste of raspberries but tasted, to me, exactly like a sweet-sour Pixie Stick. Not only were there kumquats (and I ask you, is there a more adorable fruit than the kumquat?) there were limequats and mandarinquats (which I keep wanting to call manquats, though I can see why they didn’t). There were real live bergamots, round as cue balls, and wrinkled, deflated yuzus, both of them smelling — when I dragged a nail across their peels — twice as heavenly as all the teas and candies and perfumes that feature them…

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Of Gifts and Gratitude ~ out of the bottle

red candles

When I think about perfume, I think of gifts and gratitude. It’s difficult to make outsiders understand just how deeply giving things away is woven into the perfume world. It’s built into the industry — all those testers and samples floating around. It’s even part of perfume itself — to wear it is to share it. And when I try to explain how generous perfume people are, all my fellow decanters and swappers, I find myself talking about gardeners in zucchini season.

It’s not quite the right metaphor though, because perfume generosity isn’t just about having too much of the stuff. I’ve received packages so full they made me dizzy — a bottle where there should have been a decant, a dozen samples when I expected one. But I’ve also been bowled over by a single milliliter vial with a tiny dab of some rarity carefully transferred from a bottle no bigger than a nickel because the sender thought I might love it, or because we were talking about it, or because someone just couldn’t bear for its beauty to go unknown. We give our perfume away to share the astonishment and delight and pleasure we felt the first time we smelled it. Oh, you just have to try it. Please let me send you some.

In the days when my entire collection fit easily inside a small wooden cigar box, those gifts made me both very happy and very uncomfortable…

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Sniffing at Sensorium ~ out of the bottle

Sephora Sensorium

I’ll be honest. I didn’t expect much from Sensorium. The promotional materials announced that the exhibit was “presented by” Sephora with “magic by” flavor and fragrance company Firmenich. That info, and the tagline “lucid dreams from the sensory world” suggested a barrage of the usual perfume PR nonsense. When I arrived at the small storefront in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, I nearly balked at paying the $15 entrance fee, but what I saw inside was a fascinating range of efforts to inspire and educate potential consumers and an excellent snapshot of the mainstream perfume industry’s challenges and internal divisions.1

The exhibit was divided into six small galleries. The first was a long narrow hallway. One wall featured a well-researched timeline of perfume history highlights. On the other wall was an interesting mix of tradition and technology. Raw materials like vetiver and pink pepper were on hand to see and smell, but there was also a video about the use of molecular compounds (“How do we use molecules to make a fragrance?” asks a husky-voiced female narrator. “It’s like a dance.”) and vitrines featuring fake and real diamond necklaces (“Can you tell the difference?”) and fake and real sugar (“Which do you prefer?”) intended to help viewers ponder the nature of synthetics. The two definitions of “perfumer” on display didn’t shy away from science: 1) “A modern-day wizard who conjures emotions with molecules,” 2) “A hybrid bio-chemist and fine artist trained in the esoteric knowledge of crafting a perfume.”

In the second gallery I donned headphones in a dark, padded room (they call it a “sensory deprivation booth”) and listened to anosmics talk about how losing their sense of smell has diminished their lives…

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