…And what is sweet? What kind of sweetness do you smell? Like a sweet orange? Like a freshly baked apple pie? Or is is sweet like pink bubblegum? What gives it this sweetness?
In September 2016 I visited Grasse for a two week fragrance course at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery . I had been reading a lot about perfumery and I have quite a collection. Many times I put on a perfume when I make a drawing as it gives me ideas for colors and shapes. Woody smoky fragrances make me want to use a different pallet of colours than for instance fresh floral ones. So I wanted to know more about this magical world of scent in which we live and so I went to Grasse.
It was a wonderful experience and great to be with a group full of students who all have a connection and a love for fragrance, but each with their own story and unique view on fragrance. During this course I learnt many things such as the history of perfumery, fragrance families but mainly it focussed on getting to know raw materials and how to use them the in fragrance. It was a great introduction into the world of scent and a year later I decided to return for more training and do the october 2017 level 2 Fragrance course.
So a few weeks ago I returned to Grasse to further deepen my ( basic ) knowledge of raw materials and to find new challenges. In the year that had passed between the two courses my partner helped me make a tiny laboratory at home where I could experiment with making fragrance. My two main ‘types’ of trials I made at home in Amsterdam are florals and savory – the latter based on Indonesian meals as prepared in my family. I brought one of these savory trials to Grasse to see if I could work on it in between classes. Unlike the first course, this time our group of students was a lot smaller . This was a good thing since we then had more time to spend on our projects. Our teacher was Marianne Nawrocki. Marianne is a perfumer herself and she has her own company, Instant Perfumes. The two weeks to come, were much more intense than the first course I did at the GIP. Each lesson was set up around an accord.
On the first and second day of week one we started the morning by smelling different types of accords from different olfactive families, such as gustative,chypre,floral,spicy, green, citrus, woody and so on. We smelled complete accords and their separate ingredients. It’s important to really know how to describe the raw materials and to experience their effect in an accord or perfume. So these first two days were all about getting re-acquainted with some of the raw materials .
The third day we visited the fields of monsieur Constant Viale who showed us his jasmine fields and tuberose flowers. Mister Viale was so passionate about his plants and flowers- this really impressed me. When we were standing in the Tuberose field, a flower to which he has dedicated many years of his life, he told us : ‘When you want to work with the Tuberose in a fragrance, you have to meet the plant in person in order to fully understand it and experience it. ‘ This remark stuck with me ever since. Five years ago mister Polge, in-house perfumer from Chanel, visited his fields to ask Constant about his tuberose. Years later we could say that Chanel’s latest release Gabrielle is a direct result of all the years of mister Viale’s dedication to the cultivation of the tuberose. I am a big lover of the Polyanthus Tuberose so I was thrilled when we got to take some flowers with us.
After the visit to the fields, the afternoon was spent on making a grapefruit accord. We smelled blotters dipped in the accord that Marrianne herself had made and had to describe what we smelled. We were then given a list of materials to use, but not the exact formula. So we really had to do many trials to get it right. In my first version I put a lot of bitter orange together with sweet orange plus some other materials but in my final version I completely left out the bitter orange and added sterryl acetate to my formula. I was quite happy with the result-and luckily so was Marianne. After class some of my classmates and I went to the Place aux Aires in old Grasse town for a drink and chatted about our day. I couldn’t stop smelling the tuberose flowers as we sat there drinking. when I got back to my apartment I put them in a plastic vase and they were to delight me with their beautiful scent for the whole two weeks to come.
On Thursday day , after another smelling session of different accords, we worked on a green tea accord. After a few trials we were asked to make a body splash using either the grapefruit accord or the green tea accord or make a variation . My first thought was to make a green tea body splash with ozonic noes, as if it was green tea from the ocean. This was harder than I thought- the aquatic facet in my splash was overpowering the green tea, and so I had to make more trials. I decided to let it rest for a while and instead also try to add an aquatic facet to the grapefruit accord. I added cardamom to the formula for a spicy yet fresh facet and this ended up in the body splash. I liked it a lot but during the course I kept on trying to improve the aquatic green tea accord – it somehow seemed a nice challenge to do so.
Time flies when you’re having fun they say- and so it was Friday before we realized it. Time to make an amber accord. Again, we smelled the accord Marianne had made and then the separate ingredients. Each raw material had to be described, and this is an important thing, to capture sent in your words and associations. The word sweet is one we often use…But what is sweet? What kind of sweetness do I smell? Like a sweet orange? Like a freshly baked apple pie? Or is is sweet like pink bubblegum? What gives it this sweetness?
Also this time, we were not given the exact formula- the really had to do it ourselves, which meant trial after trial. I think that is a good way to learn. The idea was to make an amber accord to use in a scented candle . I wanted to give the candle a bit of a spicy savory touch so to my amber accord I added fenugreek absolute. After a week of intense smelling and remembering all the raw materials the weekend had come. I wanted to treat myself to a bottle of perfume, but decided not to do so since I had already the majestic tuberose that gave off its seductive perfume in my apartment.
The second week was more intense. We worked on the reconstitution of several important flowers in perfumery : The rose , jasmine,my beloved tuberose, the delicate lily of the valley and violet. On ‘rose and violet’ day we were asked to play on the rose/violet theme and I decided to create a lipstick themed rose and violet fragrance. I tried the effect of various musks we used in other accords as well as carrot and ionones.
I found the lily of the valley to be one of the most challenging flowers to reconstitute. I thought I had clear ideas of what jasmine, tuberose and rose smelled like. Somehow the lily of the valley seems to be truly delicate and difficult. I loved doing it and I am now smelling as many lily of the valley themed perfumes as I can in shops just to see how the perfumer interpreted this wonderful flower.
Although fun and certainly challenging, I found myself tired after hours in the laboratory at the institute, and so the walk home along the hilly Grasse roads made a welcome break.I often used to pause for a drink at the Place aux Aires. During my two weeks in Grasse it was there where I met perfumer and artist Olivier Durbano and Jessica Buchanan from perfume brand 1000 Flowers. They both have their boutiques at the Place aux Aires, and they were happy to exchange their stories and enthusiasm about fragrance.
At the end of the second week I had made a tiara body oil as well as dozens of trials for the various flowers. And as much as I like the tuberose accord I made- it is just seems impossible to recreate the wonderful scent the flowers grace my appartment with every day and night. Marianne had been very helpful throughout the course. My savory trial I brought from home contains a prohibited ingredient , Massoia bark tree oil, and she helped me find replacements I could use in my formula. I was very happy about that since it meant that I can continue to work on my ‘indonesian dish’ formula at home.
Apart from fun, these two weeks had been hard work too. My ideas about scent and creation had not just changed, but it seemed that the approach to scents that we find around us in everyday life has become a new one, a more conscious one perhaps. I went back to my country filled with lots of new ideas and grateful to have met so many inspiring people. Thanx to Marianne, Gijsbert, Stephen, Iratxe and Karla for a wonderful course!
Photography by Stephen Gavin, Karla Hopp, Iratxe paz , Gijsbert Koren and Chester Gibs. All rights reserved. Find out about Marianne and instantParfums here. Read about Jessica Buchanan here and Olivier Durbano here. Interested in taking a course at the Grasse Institute of perfumery? Click here. My story about the level 1 course you can find here. An interesting video about monsieur Constant Viale you can find here.