Last week we stumbled upon a fantastic article about perfume making from a 2005 issue of The New Yorker. "Annals of Innovation: The Scent of the Nile"
details the creation of an Hermès perfume, Un Jardin sur le Nil (translation: A Garden on the Nile
), and provides a fascinating insight into the incredibly complicated world which is perfumery.
From debates about how to create a signature across a line of perfumes to listings of the countless iterations which Hermès perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena created and tested before settling on the final formula for the "juice," the article details exactly how difficult it is to do what perfumers do.
Finally, the overall piece serves as a reflection on the different ways in which perfume is incorporated into major fashion houses, like Hermès. Hermès and Chanel both have in-house perfumers, allowing them to create a body of work that is cohesive and completely in line with their brands concepts. Many other larger houses and big name perfumes (such as celebrity perfumes) outsource their perfume factions, turning to external companies who employ master perfumers to create their scents. While this second tactic has been known to turn out some very successful fragrances, there is no cohesion, no authenticity or truth behind the perfume which links it to the ultimate message of the brand. By using the model found in niche perfumery, Hermès was able to create a body of perfumes which are distinctly Hermès and which represent all of the elegance, glamour, and class for which their brand is known.
Read the whole article here
introduction to the exhibit
Today the Nomaterra team ventured up to Columbus Circle to check out a fragrance-focused exhibit at the Museum of Art and Design. The exhibit, called the Art of Scent
, features twelve scents laid out chronologically. The exhibit's brochure explains that "olfactory arts have historically been overlooked as a significant creative practice. New materials and technologies that have appeared since the 19th century have transformed the medium and have been used by scent artists to achieve previously unimaginable works." The exhibit highlights some of those new materials and technologies in the perfumes on display, such as Olivier Cresp's Light Blue, who used olfactory holograms of his ingredients to this favorite. His modern process also allowed each of the key notes to stand out as separate entities while being in equilibrium, which is unlike the traditional form of composition where the blend was created to be seamless. The usage of synthetic ingredients is also on full display in all of the perfumes highlighted at the exhibit, including Jicky, created in 1889.
Our favorite were among the newer fragrances; we enjoyed the final two scents, produced in 2006 and 2010, the most. Osmanthe Yunnan (loaned by Hermès) was a very fresh, clean scent that "achieved an amazing effect, suggesting the diaphanous quality of light in a scent." We also enjoyed Untitled (loaned by Maison Martin Margiela, L'Oréal and Givaudan), which was very green and smelled both grassy and earthy at the same time. The bulk of this perfume comes from galbanum, which is a plant resin with an intense green scent. Our only dissappointment: no natural fragrances on display.
Along the rear wall at the end of the exhibit was a series of five scents on a card, all different versions of what ultimately became the popular Lancôme fragrance Trésor. Each step was more complex than the last. In the first, the notes of rose otto, orris, heliotropin, geranium leaf, musk ketone, ionone alpha, and vetiver were all characteristically distinctive. The second modification gave off poweder-y, woody accents, while the third was completely different, with a hint of nuttiness. The 4th version had green, metallic, and lavender accents, and the 5th and final version, well, is Tresor. What's cool about the final Tresor is that it's impeccably quite different than any of the preceding versions. You can tell the perfumer, Sophia Grojsman, made many adjustments between the 4th and the final version.
version three of Lancôme's Trésor
The exhibit only runs through March 3rd, so be sure to get up to the MAD and check out this great exhibit soon!
Art of Scent, 1899-2012 at the Museum of Art and Design
The Museum of Art and Design is located at 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019. It is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11 am until 6 pm, and on Thursday and Friday from 11 am until 9 pm.