In my art, I build sculptures. I carve them, or build them, using a mix of two media: my words and your memories. You’re part of this now, because you’re reading this. My sculpture only works halfway until it stirs up your memories. I make choices with my words and shape different sculpture. If I wish to create a sculpture of romance, I make a choice. I talk about pretzels and beer and it’s one sculpture for some people—pine needles and clear wind makes a different sculpture—cinnamon and a fireplace a different one again. It depends what strange chemistry happens between my words and your memories. That’s the great puzzle, you see. That’s why books do tend to carry on and on a bit. I can take hundreds of thousands of words to build a deep, satisfying sculpture in your memories. It takes many layers of description, laid in complex ways, to create a moment of clarity.
The art of building fragrance takes a shortcut. Our sense of smell is our sense most closely associated with memory. It’s a poetic convenience, and it’s a biological truth. A well-constructed perfume creates a layered story, carved and built out of your memories, in the time of a single breath.
I may be grasping here, but I don’t think so. A perfumer is like a poet. A perfumer builds experiences out of your memories and an understanding of how your mind will interact with their science.
There is a science, as much as there’s an art. The job is called Perfumer. The Perfumer is an expert in nez. It’s French for “nose.” There’s a funny thing that happens when you translate otherwise innocuous words into French. There’s a strong air of culture with translating things into French. Anyway, sort of a sidebar to the artistry of the Perfumer. It’s their superpower to learn and recognize more than fifteen hundred separate scents.
They will take a scent, like a musk, or perhaps some strong floral air. The Perfumer will choose something that evokes a sense of confidence—or of sensuality—or of fierceness. Most of us can’t describe what confidence smells like, but that’s what a Perfumer ought to do: bypass description. Instead, they evoke. They conjure memory. The heart of the scent will be something strong, and it will serve as a core—foundation—backbone—as the drums and bass—of the whole breath-long story. The Perfumer then layers sharpness—sweetness—spice over that heart of confidence. On top of a floral essence, a Perfumer might place layer on layer more of floral scents—May rose, then jasmine from a particular town in France, then more and more until one breath contains a whole story of a sex symbol in the 1950s finding a happy medium between shocking honesty and polite modesty. And that’s how Chanel No. 5 becomes a story.
It’s a question of elements—of vocabulary and grammar. A perfumer learns all the elements, as many scents as possible, and constructs poetry out of them. But their poetry has no words, and it needs no words.
Once they do, they are armed with the tools of their trade: fifteen hundred separate triggers for memory, with which they have the power to build the triggers for stories as long as a breath the likes of which the novelist can only envy.
That’s the mad thing, I assure you. In a lifetime of studying my craft, in a lifetime of seeking the best way to strike into the depths of the soul with my words, the enduring advice has always been, “find a way to leap past the mind and dance with the heart.”
If I could capture one ounce of the power of the Perfumer, my stories would be magic. It is scent that triggers the whole mind. Personality is made of stories. They’re how we understand ourselves and the world around us. And stories are made of our memories. The Perfumer makes symphonies out of memory. That is their superpower.
Ed.Note Have you seen our new Pinrose MUSE YouTube Channel? Subscribe and share the love for scents and lyrical aromas in our collective minds.