The first thing one sees when entering Perfume: A Sensory Journey Through Contemporary Scent, the brand new and very exciting exhibition held at Somerset House, London, is a list of words that describe a variety of odours. These disembodied smells represent the ethos of the exhibition, which is to remove perfume from the commercial setting and allow it to be experienced as something more immersive than one would find on the department store shelves, despite the fact that the scents themselves can be found in such a place. This is perfume as an experience, rather than a consumable product. It shows that it can be something more than just a pretty smell to make a person smell good.
It’s Fume Chat, it’s Fume Chat, here we go! That’s right, folks, a brand new episode of Fume Chat is ready for you to download and enjoy. Our latest is a companion episode to Episode 16 (Molecule Mania) and this time we’re talking about the positives and negatives of natural perfumery. What makes it so tricky and why can natural perfumes sometimes come off smelling a little bit flat? And why do Nick and I find it a bit ‘meh’ overall? Find out in this latest episode of Fume Chat, in which we will sniff some fabulous natural stuff.
Iris, or orris, is many things. It is famously known as the most expensive natural ingredient in the perfumer’s pallet, making it one of the most elusive and luxurious materials out there. It’s also one of the most beautiful and complex ingredients in the perfumer’s magic bag of tricks, allowing itself to be utilised in vast array of ways, which gives it this strange shape-shifting ability, whilst allowing it to remain instantly and undeniably recognisable as iris at all times. Iris is also a divisive material – some will dive readily into its often cold and aloof arms, whilst others will simply say it smells like carrots and they wish it to be moved very far away from them. Both view points are valid of course, but the striking character of iris cannot be denied.
In perfumery it is not the iris flowers that are used but the root. The roots are dried over a number of years (hence the hefty cost, orris is an exercise in patience) and then ground before being distilled to create orris butter (beurre d’iris). Reportedly, one ton of iris root produces two kilos of iris butter, making for a painstaking process that drives the cost of the material skyrocketing up to the roof and beyond. But is the beauty of the material matched by the price? Well, the answer to that question will certainly depend on your opinion however, the complexity of the odour profile or orris certainly lives up to its value, more so in fact.
The scent of orris is a tricky one to pin down. It is most known for its earthy character, which in extreme can smell vegetal, like carrots and turnips. The scent is mineral but it can also have sweetness, sharing a similar character to violets. If we’re talking texture, orris can be suede-like or powdery, but in some instances it can also appear as doughy and thick. There’s also a woody character to the material and in terms of colour, orris can present hues that range from blue to purple to grey to beige. If you hadn’t guessed already, orris is one of the most fascinating and flexible fragrant materials out there and it has been put to use in thousands of intriguing ways throughout the history of perfumery.
“Stop and smell the roses” urges the first line of new smell and perfume publication ODOU Magazine, and it’s a good mantra for print that approaches perfume and scent in a new and more personal way. Curated by web/graphic designer and Personal Odour blogger Liam Moore, ODOU explores the world of olfaction from every angle and is an exciting new project for perfume lovers.
Within the 58 pages of Issue 1, ODOU proves that it is more than just a perfume magazine, combining poetry, striking visuals and thought provoking (and even touching) articles from the likes of Sarah McCartney (of 4160 Tuesdays fame), Pia Long (of Volatile Fiction and Lush fame) and Callum Langston-Bolt (he of Les Senteurs) for a wonderful olfactory experience.
This reader sat down with a cup of Earl Grey (or two) this weekend and very quickly digested and worked his way through the entirety of Issue 1 (and he will most definitely be reading it all over again I’m sure) and very much looks forward to more from ODOU in its very bright future. You can find more about ODOU and Issue 1 here.