Mountains Of Fragrance: Perfume School at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery
Fragrance has always been an important part of my life. I was born in Zaandam, a small city outside of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. My mother is from Indonesia and this resulted in our home always smelling ‘different’ from my friends homes: The food was different! When I first realized this – the sensation of our home having its own scent- I was only a child. When I was in my twenties I started to cook my own Indonesian food. I would ask my mum, friends and my aunt for recipes. I make my food from the very base, which means selecting spices and other ingredients and grinding them or making them into a paste that can be used as a base for a particular dish.
In 2002 I graduated from the Rietveld Academy Of Fine arts in Amsterdam. Up to this day I still make art, though sometimes not as much as I feel I should. I love drawing. I love selecting paper and tools such as pencils, ink or pens. About four years ago I started to get interested in perfumery. I began reading more about the legendary perfume houses such as Guerlain and began exploring both mainstream and niche brands. My perfume collection gradually started to grow and from there the idea to somehow combine my art and fragrance began to develop. I started to draw images and feelings that came to me while smelling a certain perfume. This for me is very interesting and challenging as I can translate the meaning of a perfume into a drawing in a manner that words – in my case – could never .
In January this year I decided I wanted to get a bit more acquainted with the history and process of making perfume and so I enrolled for the two week summer school in September at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery ( GIP ). In our group there were eight people from different parts of the world: New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Japan, England and the Netherlands. All of us had come to to the course for our own reasons but all of us had one thing in common; a love for all things fragrant! During the first week our teacher Laurence focussed on natural raw materials. Each day we were given new materials to smell and we were tested every few hours to see if we could recognize the raw materials on the blotters. Of each raw material we were quoted a price as to make us aware of the cost that goes into creating a fragrance.
Bergamot, cystus, jasmin, oak moss, sandalwood, firbalm, pettigrain: After the first two days since the start of the course my head was spinning and once back in my hotel I made the above drawing : A mountain of fragrance had shaped itself in my mind ! Yes, I had smelled many perfumes in my life but somehow it seemed that smelling all the raw materials somehow opened an extra door in my creative brain. I am used to thinking in colors and shapes, structure and composition when working on my art. I am used to thinking in ingredients and combinations when I cook my Indonesian food at home. Yet I had never imagined I would think in fragrance ingredients. Doing so however, seemed to make perfect sense.
Later that week we visited jasmine and tuberose fields.The Tuberose Polyanthus is definitely my favorite flower! Its scent is creamy and seductive but I also find there is a muted sadness to it. At the end of the first week we made our own Eau de Cologne and compared the results with each other afterwards. Of course I couldn’t help but adding just a touch of Tuberose!
The second week we dealt with perfume genealogy and explored synthetic materials and again were were tested on a daily base. I noticed I found it much harder to find associations with the synthetic materials than I did with many natural ones. Nevertheless the thought of using them together with a few naturals such as rose and vetiver excited me. During the fragrance creation parts of the lessons we made our chypres and fougeres. I took the opportunity to make some own creations in between breaks.
Later that week we made a trip to Charabot. Now a part of the Robertet Group, Charabot has been composing for 200 years an incredibly epic story dedicated to raw materials,flavors and fragrances, both in Grasse and all over the world. It was amazing to see their robot that can mix up to 350 raw materials. I realize that I have never used my nose as intensively as I did during these two weeks – or maybe I have never been aware of it. On the last day of the course we created unisex fragrances. I tried composing a ginger-incense fragrance but although it smelled nice enough on the blotter – it performed horribly on my skin. Luckily my woody/amber/patchouly fragrance smelled much nicer !
I can honestly say that after these two weeks my ideas about perfumery and scent in relation to my drawings have changed in a positive way. I have found an additional way to express myself : a fragrant one.
Thanks Kate, Ainslee, Rob, Sandy, Gijsbert, Tomohiko, Hans and Laurence for an inspiring two weeks!
Chester Gibs, 2016