Thursday, March 6, 2014
Tuesday, March 4, 2014
I haven’t posted anything here for over two weeks, so it’s time to do something to help me get back in the habit of blogging regularly. Anything is better than nothing, even the superficial “what I did last weekend” report along with a few announcements of upcoming perfume-related events. Posting is easier said than done with the ridiculous schedule that I got myself into for the first half of 2014.
This past weekend we packed up a big batch of orchid plants and took them to the Mount Baker Orchid Show and Sale in a small agricultural town halfway to Canada. It was fun, as usual, but I got way behind on everything else. As I sold plants I thought of the nursery rhyme,
This little orchid went to market,
This little orchid stayed home.
This little orchid got a good home,
This little orchid got none,
And this little orchid went squee, squee, squee, squee
All the way home.
Coming home we drove the whole way in a monsoon, which has continued all night and all day so far, and is expected to continue until further notice. The amount of water coming out of the sky is incredible. At least it’s not a blizzard, which I understand it is in the mountains, closing the passes periodically for avalanche control. The photos are webcam shots from one of the local ski areas, where there’s over 130 inches of snow accumulation.
Week after next, on March 15, there’s the San Francisco Artisan Fragrance Salon, so this week I pack up stuff for my display and ship it off to the hotel. Every time I do it, it gets a little easier and less anxiety-provoking, but it’s still a lot of work. If any of my readers are in the Bay Area, the fragrance show is in tandem with the chocolate expo at Fort Mason. If you decide to go, please stop by and say hello, say you saw the announcement here, and get a surprise free sample.
It looks like there may be another Seattle Fragrance Salon in May, so stay tuned for more information! If it happens, it will be at the same venue as last year, right on the waterfront.
On the afternoon of March 29, I’ll be at the Sweet Anthem perfume shop in West Seattle, with a “meet the perfumer” event and trunk show. It’s free and it’s fun, so if you’re in the Seattle area, put it on your calendar and plan to attend. More details will follow over the next couple of weeks here and on Facebook. Sweet Anthem is located at 6021 California Ave SW, Seattle, WA 98136.
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Kafkaesque’s blog recently featured an extremely thoughtful and thorough discussion about the perennial issue of increasingly stringent EU regulations being proposed for the perfume industry. The latest version of the EU regulations would essentially ban a large number of traditionally used natural materials, thereby severely limiting the palettes of European perfumers and wreaking havoc on Grasse and other regions that produce essential oils and absolutes for the perfume industry.
The ostensible argument for these regulations is that a very small percentage of the population might be allergic to the materials in question. Whether “allergic” is the right term to use is questionable, but that was the topic of a previous post a long time ago. Even if it were correct, the obvious approach would be to have perfume manufacturers list all of the potential allergens (or irritants) on the label and let people make up their own minds whether or not to use the product. This is what is currently done with foods “that may contain peanuts” and other materials that could cause an allergic reaction far worse than anything that could potentially result from a little bit of dilute oakmoss or bergamot on the skin.
By the EU’s reasoning, practically all food should be banned, and it appears that this process is already underway with the restriction of cinnamon in Danish pastries. Soon to follow will be all spices, nuts, dairy products, wheat products, meat products, fruits and vegetables. If allergies are a problem, then the EU should ban all pollen-producing plants, trees, and grass. Ever heard of “hay fever”? That’s a real allergy, but as far as I know, no one wants to get rid of forests, food crops, green lawns and pastures except the developers who put up ugly housing projects, strip malls, and parking lots.
Given that the reasoning behind the current and proposed regulations makes no sense at all from a logical point of view, the question of "why?" remains unanswered. No one is going to clearly benefit financially, and probably the regulations will harm many EU industries large and small.
Cynic that I am, my guess about the motives underlying this type of micromanagement by the EU is that it is mega-bureaucracy's way of instilling a feeling of learned helplessness in their subjects. I see this tactic used all the time by the administration of the university where I work, by the local, state, and federal governments, by religious organizations throughout history, and by corporations that do not want to provide any sort of service to their customers.
Teach people not to ask why they are instructed to do or not to do something; teach them not to question “authority”; teach them not to ask to talk to a human being who takes responsibility for having made the rules; teach them that if they ask questions or complain they will get no response or at best a dismissive response; shame or penalize them if they have a reasonable reaction to an unreasonable rule. Eventually people will realize their powerlessness in the face of the mega-bureaucracy and obediently behave as the bureaucracy asks them to.
A populace trained in learned helplessness will eventually swallow any bullshit piled upon them. Too many times history has seen oppression start with the ridiculous and end up as harm to the oppressed themselves, or as harm inflicted by the oppressed on those who have been designated by the authorities as inferiors or enemies. Often it begins with arbitrary, but seemingly harmless, rules.
[Lavender, peanut butter and cinnamon roll photos from Wikimedia; last photo is from Orson Welles film of Kafka's "The Trial".]
Saturday, February 8, 2014
A while ago, after a previous post, the good folks at O'Driu contacted me and asked if I would like to review some of their perfumes, especially the two latest ones, Peety and Eva Kant. Not being one to shy away from expressing my opinion if asked for it, I accepted, and shortly thereafter received a big packet of "stuff", including 7 perfume samples. I'll start with the two main attractions today and work my way back as I find time, considering them strictly as perfumes, naked of all their hype and baggage.
I can’t help wondering if Peety was originally named for the Pitti fragrance exhibition where it was launched last year, but morphed into a different concept somewhere along the way. Be that as it may, given all the hullabaloo surrounding it, I approached it with extreme negative prejudice. Surprisingly, Peety turns out to be an excellent perfume that can stand on its own without any need for kitschy hype.
In the beginning it’s resinous-floral, quite strong and natural-smelling in an original way. The first time I tried it, there were some initial sweet, almond nougat-like notes that burned off within 10 minutes, but the second time, on a cold, sunny, dry day, it transitioned immediately to a woody, peppery, sweetly spicy, incense- and patchouli-rich composition that is very pleasant indeed. For a while it has a funky backbeat of something like spikenard, or maybe it’s just an earthy variety of patchouli. There’s also an element of fresh evergreen sap. There’s a good bit of sillage, but it’s not overpowering. After about 4-5 hours, it turns into a patchouli-vanilla scent, and by 8 hours it’s just faint vanilla and ambroxan. Peety is a neo-hippie perfume done with enough style to lift it well out of the head shop realm. I have to admit that I enjoyed Peety a lot and would definitely wear it, but be warned that if you do wear it, you’d better like patchouli!
After smelling Peety, I was surprised by how mild and inoffensive Eva K smelled. The first sniff is like a slightly camphorous lemon and vanilla-flavored dessert. The first time I tried it, on a rainy day, I smelled a bit of rubbery ylang-ylang at low intensity plus some quiet citrus and herbal notes, but the second time, on a cold, clear, dry day, the lemony citrus was dominant. The deliberately messy card that bore the sample appears to give a list of notes embedded among the other pseudo-random scribbles: “grapefruit, lavender, chamomile, ylang-ylang, something that’s had a hole punched through it for the sample to hook onto, which may be “legni” (woods) and magnolia, benzoin, cardamom, sandalwood, ginger, and vanilla. All very fine and good, but the spices are barely detectable, if at all. Each time I wear it, I smell something overtly aquatic, not listed in the notes, which quickly becomes a dominant theme.
The overall impression is of a dainty and pretty aquatic fragrance with moderate sillage, although I could do with much less of the aquatic stuff and more of the other notes. I was not as put off by the aquatic theme the second time I tried it, probably because I was expecting it and braced myself to deal with it. After a couple of hours it dries down to an aquatic vanilla scent and stays that way for the duration as it slowly fades away.
Eva Kant is not the bold comic character I expected her to be, but rather a shy office worker who went for a morning swim in a chlorine-polluted public swimming pool, didn’t have time to shower afterwards, and sprayed herself with a low-key citrusy-floral scent in a misguided attempt to avoid offending her cubicle-mates at work. I know Eva Kant receives a lot of love in the blogger world, probably because it smells familiar and is favored by those who like a lighter version of the more in-your-face mass-market aquatic scents. However, I’m not one of that crowd. In fact, I will go on the record as saying that I detest most aquatics, so Eva K just doesn’t do it for me.
These two perfumes are both well-constructed in their own ways, Eva Kant as a low-key mainstream aquatic scent and Peety as a near-natural patchouli-based perfume for those who like bolder, more organic fragrances. In response to my natural question about who formulates the perfumes, Alessandra Novazzi, public relations representative for O’Driu, states that, “Angelo Orazio Pregoni is the only one Nose or Art nouse of O’Driù perfumes. … he formulates the composition and than he creates by himself the first fragrance.” My final thought after sampling O’Driu’s latest perfumes is that Angelo Pregoni is a much better perfumer than he is an artist.
[Bottle photos courtesy of O'Driu; hippie van and swimming pool photos adapted from Wikimedia.]
Friday, January 31, 2014
The other night I dreamed that I was writing a blog post with the title “No one wants to be free”. When I woke up, I realized that it was the perfect title for a rambling series of posts originally inspired by a NY Times article calling attention to the fact that so many people, especially creative ones, are expected to provide free content to feed the insatiable appetite of the internet and entertain that segment of the public that wants to do nothing but sit back like semi-conscious zombies and consume the content of other people’s brains.
Contrary to the title, some of us (including readers of this blog!) do want to be free to create according to our own vision, whether it be perfume, writing, visual art, music, or even science. The price of this freedom is often doing what we do for free, or at least from the precarious perch of a free-lance existence or a demanding day job.
As an independent perfumer, I’m fortunate not to have to be constrained by a wealthy corporation’s miserly budgets and explicit briefs to make conservative-trendy fragrances that smell familiar to mass-market consumers. I don’t have to make perfumes for detergents or deodorants. If I want to buy expensive osmanthus absolute, I can do so and use it to my heart’s content, and if I want to make a perfume that doesn’t smell like anything else in existence, I can do that, too.
I’m fortunate to have reached a position where I make enough through sales to continue to finance my creative experiments, even as my production capacity grows and sucks up larger and larger amounts of materials. I may not make a living as a perfumer, but at least I break even. This year I even had a little extra to buy myself an expensive treat for my birthday.
The thing that has set me off on my latest rant was finding yet another bug in Blogger. I wanted to do a new post on Arabian perfumes, but needed to know where I last left off. The search function in Blogger doesn’t work! I type in a search term and nothing happens. I sent Google feedback through the window that seems to be there for the sole purpose of directing complaints to an automatic deletion system. Do I feel better for having vented? No, I don’t, because I know it was futile.
Instead of tech support, Google has forums where users can post their complaints and have them addressed by other users. This means that Google has a lot of geek wannabes working for nothing, spewing out html workarounds for Blogger’s many bugs. Google doesn’t have to pay a penny for tech support personnel because these people provide it for free. The advice that users post may be inaccurate, incomplete, incomprehensible, irrelevant, or it might actually work, which is about the same level of help one would get from many “professional” tech support people. However, I really resent having to rely on self-appointed free workers for information and services that should be provided by the company. Google isn’t the only guilty party. It seems that more and more companies hide behind a firewall of anonymity while allowing customers to discuss problems among themselves and, if they’re lucky, stumble upon solutions.
Apparently the Blogger search function problem has been going on sporadically for a year or more without any resolution, but with extensive discussion on the users’ forum. Maybe it’s time to finally move on to another platform, even though I’d probably lose a lot in the process. If anyone has made a successful switch from Blogger to Wordpress with no loss, I’d like to hear about it.
I’m eternally optimistic but profoundly cynical, so I would like to think Wordpress is better, but expect that it has its own set of problems, most likely similar to those of Blogger, especially a lack of real tech support.
[Painting of frustrated writer by Leonid Pasternak; zombie, osmanthus, and chain-gang images adapted from Wikimedia]
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Some things can be done at leisure but other things demand to be done right away. Orders have to be shipped in a timely way, and a lot of outdoor gardening tasks have to be done at a certain time of year. Yesterday was a glorious sunny day. When I went out to inspect the garden, I saw that the cyclamens and primroses were in full bloom, the hyacinths were poking their heads up, and the red hellebores were pushing up their new growth. I realized that if I didn’t prune the roses and fruit trees immediately, it would be too late. So prune I did.
After the roses and fruit trees, I started in on a butterfly bush that had become a problem, growing to the height of a tree and encroaching on neighboring vegetation. It was a huge job, and I’m not through yet because I have to go back with a saw to hack away the bigger pieces.
A few years back I planted a tiny sprig of a butterfly bush, a Buddleia species or hybrid, and it’s grown into the monster in question. I am confident that, even with severe pruning, it will again grow huge in no time. I planted it because I’d seen small, well-behaved Buddleia bushes in Europe, and didn’t think about the fact that in the Pacific Northwest everything grows to many times the size it does elsewhere.
Buddleia is native to North and South America, Europe, and Asia, and has been bred and domesticated in gardens throughout the world. I recently learned that it’s considered a “noxious weed” in Washington state, but if given the choice, I’d rather have it growing everywhere than blackberries. Bring on the armies of Buddleia to do battle with the hordes of Himalayan blackberry orcs!
Last spring the butterfly-tree was completely covered with electric purple flowers, and was quite a sight to see. With such colorful flowers, I expected a correspondingly colorful fragrance. However, this particular specimen isn’t the star member of its genus when it comes to scent. Yes, it’s fragrant, but it’s not perfume-worthy. It has its floral facets, including a generic lily-of-the valley type scent along with a bit of heliotrope, but it also has a flat, sour-milky smell along with the florals, and it has a little bit of that “semen” smell that’s characteristic of a lot of shrubs with small white flowers (more on that in another post).
Other butterfly bushes have a pleasant fragrance. There’s a magenta one down the street that has a light, floral fragrance with citrusy notes. There’s an even redder one on the university campus that has a deep, full floral fragrance that’s altogether pleasant, if not really novel. I suppose the moral of the story is that if you want to make sure that your garden shrub has pleasantly fragrant flowers, you need to check it out in bloom before buying it.
[All photos are mine, from my garden]