Wednesday, April 27, 2011

royal smelling

I haven't been paying attention to the frenzy surrounding the royal wedding (except, of course, the  face-on-food angle), but this excerpt from perfumer Francis Kurkdjian's interview in Vogue UK (via NST) tickled my fancy: 
Who would you love to create a signature scent for? 
Actually Kate Middleton. Coming here at this time there is so much about the royal  wedding, and it made me think: she has no intimacy with anything, everything is seen. Her dress will be seen, her hair, her ring. I love the idea that her scent, the fragrance she chooses to wear on the day, will be the only part that is intimate.  
Of course, even Ms. Middleton's scent won't remain a secret if the British press has any say in the matter. What did you smell like on your wedding day?

p.s. Katie Puckrik, this week's nosy interviewee, talks about the scents she wore on her wedding day in the third installment of her perfume collection series.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nosy Interview: Katie Puckrik

 Katie Puckrik (photographed by Kimberly Metz) in front of The Tadpoles of IC, ©Mark Hanson

Perfume blogger Katie Puckrik is a serious gateway drug. If you're at all interested in perfume, prepare to become a lot more interested after clicking through to her fragrance blog, Katie Puckrik Smells. Puckrik is the perfect pick for the first nosy interviewee I have not met in person, as I credit (blame?) her with upping my perfume-curiosity to a consuming (expensive!) degree. Her witty, addictive video reviews (bet you can't watch just one in her perfume collection series); insightful blog posts;  and entertaining correspondence with her perfume pen pal, Dan Rolleri, make her site one of my favorite spots on the internet, smelly or otherwise.

What do you smell like?  
Right this instant, I smell like the honeyed, musky roses of Keiko Mecheri's perfume Attar de Roses, and I can't get enough of myself! I keep hoiking the top of my shirt over my nose and huffing down my front to create a warm Attar de Roses vacuum.

As a perfume writer with a YouTube channel and blog, my audience keeps me on the hop trying an endless parade of fragrances that far exceeds what I'd naturally choose to wear if left to my own devices. After a day of testing and writing, I often smell like a perfume version of a patchwork quilt.

On the plus side, it means I'm exposed to a great deal of sensory stimulation that really amps me up creatively. In the con column, it takes me away from quality time wearing favorite scents from my own collection, which leans heavily towards what I call "Queen of Sheba fumes": rose, incense, amber, musk, patchouli, oud.

I adore theatrical, emphatic perfumes. I've always loved wearing deep,sensual scents, but it's only in recent years that I've embraced florals, particularly rose. Like many perfume thrillseekers, I'm fascinated by the stanky barnyard element in fragrances that add the beast to the beauty. Maybe I'm comfortable with those subtle physical flourishes after my years working as a dancer, accustomed to my perpetual "clean sweat" smell. Or at least I told myself it was clean- maybe it wasn't as subtle as I liked to imagine! Regardless, I lean towards perfumes that complement the built-in saltiness of my skin: ones grounded by sandalwood, musk and oud.

What do you like to smell?
I love to smell of the air in Southern California on a cold spring night: a bouquet of fragrant weeds, sweetshade trees, fireplace smoke, wet earth and chaparral. It's almost an incense.

There's a certain plastic wrapping smell I really like. The right kind of plastic will have me snorfing deeply into a faceful of it, like Dennis Hopper in "Blue Velvet".

Most of all, I love to smell my husband's warmed-by-the-sun skin. It's sweet/salty, a little like rising bread. When I go to kiss the back of his neck, it's really an excuse to sniff him. I read somewhere once that 1800's Chinese culture was horrified by kissing, because it was considered one step away from being a cannibal! It's a funny idea, but sort of true: the pleasure of a kiss does include the beloved's smell and taste.

Monday, April 25, 2011

robot rose

Vor-Mag is a benevolent robot leader.

On Sunday, it was crazy-humid here in Cambridge. I'm glad winter is over, but please, Boston, let's not skip straight to the heights (temperature-wise) and depths (existing non-disgustingly-wise) of muggy summer. The humidity prompted me to buy a new bottle of this rosewater spray. It's mild and lovely; I like to add two or three drops of grapefruit essential oil and keep it in the fridge. Then I just sit back and let the robot-water make me as ecstatic as the blonde above.

programming note no.2

While the weekly Nosy Interviews will continue to feature my smelly, talented, and weird friends, I also intend to interview people I haven't met, but whose writing, style, or work inspires or intrigues me. This nose of mine is curious about people I haven't sniffed in real life, people I barely know, even people I sat across from once on a train.

 I will take any excuse to post pictures of interspecies friends. [via]

As always, I welcome suggestions.  If you could Nosy Interview anyone--alive or dead, real or fictional--who would you choose? Jesus? Clive Owen? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, April 22, 2011

great scott

These noseworthy posts are turning into TV Guide, but I don't care!  I adore Parks and Recreation beyond reason, and loved the late, great, painfully hilarious Party Down. In the Venn diagram of things that are awesome about these two shows, Adam Scott occupies a comfortable position (perfect for snacking) in the intersection.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

you smell cro-magnon

My friend Britta first introduced me to Yosh Han's perfumes with the gift of a six-piece sampler set. I fell hard for U4EAHH!, with its batty name and sweetness so fresh it seemed just-squeezed from some kind of maniacally-relaxed melon who surfs a lot and has the perfect sprinkling of discrete nose & cheek freckles. (It's more pear than melon, but somehow melon seems like the more laid-back fruit to me. Can you picture a pear on a surfboard?)

this guy looks pretty laid-back, though

The title of Mireille Silcoff's post (discovered via Elisa), "Smell is the nearest thing we have to bottled time travel," reminded me of how much I want to get my hands on another Yosh sampler set: the Timeline of Frangrances she created exclusively for 826LA's Time Travel Mart. I'm such a sucker for lists of notes in fragrances, especially when they include inscrutable things like white pearl and sparkles:

Caveman (34,000 B.C.E.) — notes of: earth, washed suede, galbanum
Sheherazade (818) — notes of: African musk, opium, cardamom, rose
Silk Road (1280) — notes of: bamboo flower, peony, China lily
Aztec (1494) — notes of: chocolate, rose, nutmeg, pink pepper, cardamom
Gold Rush (1849) — notes of: musk, denim, pink pepper, river
Victorian Violets (1888) — notes of: violets
Studio 54 (1977) — notes of: white pearl, juniper, coriander, lime, champagne & sparkles
2012 (ditto) — notes of: Egyptian musk, blue tansy, peppermint
Utopia (77777) — notes of: French vanilla, nectarine blossom, cassis, green tea
Dystopia (77778) — notes of: kukui nut, foraha, tobacco, peppermint, peach, galbanum

 image via

I looked up foraha; supposedly it smells like pecan ice cream (what, no butter in the dystopia?). The lack of a shared language for scents allows for some beautiful imaginative leaps. What does denim smell like? Indigo dye and cotton? Or like jeans? Metallic zipper & button, detergent, dirt.  And corduroy--what is its smell? Velvet & heat, tiny rhythmic burnings. Silcoff:
We all know that scent is the most emotional of the five senses, and linked to memory like none other. We know this because we have all smelled fresh-mown grass or the hair of a passing person on the street or the notes of a shot of Jägermeister, and been instantly transported back to a childhood summer in the country or the arms of the first person we kissed or some bender weekend that occurred over a decade ago. There is a certain uric smell in certain London Underground stations that can literally make me cry from the number of stacked emotions it brings up. Ditto for the smell of Dove soap with Listerine and corduroy, which is the smell of my grandfather.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

pick your friend's nose

 via slaughterhouse 90210
You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, and you can also pick your friends' brains about their noses. One of the unexpected delights of collecting Nosy Interviews has been how intimate reading my friends' responses has felt--how their answers have given me a look into their lives that feels more vivid and textured than an everyday e-mail, and more revealing than the average phone call. I'm grateful, and I hope they'll keep introducing me to their "unexpected weirdness" for many weeks to come.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nosy Interview: Preeta Samarasan

Preeta pictured in The Elusive Jellyfish Nebula, © Bob Franke

I met Preeta when we were both graduate students at the University of Michigan, where I was lucky enough to meet a disproportionately high number of my favorite people. You can learn more about Preeta and her first novel, Evening is the Whole Day, here

What do you smell like?  
An Ethiopian phlebotomist in Rochester, NY, once told me my blood smelled like garlic.  She meant it as an expression of solidarity: "We cook with a lot of garlic too," she said.  I'm sure she was right, and I didn't mind it coming from her, but the question of what we smell like is a slightly painful one for anyone who has experienced racial prejudice.  Racism is almost always about what you eat, what you smell like, what your body is made of, and these questions came up a lot for me during my childhood in Malaysia.  So even now, whenever people happen to mention in front of me that they don't really like the smell of "curry," or that they like eating it but don't like the way it clings to their clothes afterwards, or that they don't mind it but don't want to smell it wafting across the hallway of their apartment building *every* evening, or whatever, I cannot help but put a small black mark against them in my book.  I never feel the same way about them again.  I think I probably do smell like curry, though not like the supermarket curry powder these people's grandmothers stored for thirty years in their spice cabinets, because no Indian person would be caught dead using that.  I think I smell like garlic and ginger and shallots and the curry spices Malaysian Indians commonly use, which come in two flavours (meat or fish, neither of which contains any meat or fish), and are largely purveyed by two rival brands (Baba's and Alagappa's).  I'm sure I smell like milk to my daughter.  Milk and mother and home and safety.  But maybe my milk smells mostly of garlic and Alagappa's (my family was pro-Baba's for decades, but recently switched!), after all, so maybe that's just a different way of saying the same thing.  I've been using Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Soap since receiving it for Christmas, so I think I probably smell minty right after my shower, but it wears off after an hour or so.  In college, I used to use the Body Shop's Dewberry scent, and that was the only time I really had a signature scent: people recognised me by it, and if you hugged me you smelled of it for a while afterwards.  But now I don't often use scent (unless you count the lemongrass deodorant spray I use), and I'm okay with just smelling like me/Alagappa's.  I think that's been part of my process of growing older and wiser. 

What do you like to smell?
I'm lukewarm about a lot of the classic favourites (baking bread, baking *anything,* freshly mown grass, meh). What I love to smell most of all is my daughter.  It's a clich√© but it's true.  We always talk about wanting to eat babies and small children up, but until I had my daughter that was just a figure of speech for me.  Now I mean it almost literally; when I bury my nose in my daughter's neck, my jaws itch and ache.  It's a bit like the feeling I used to get when holding to my nose those fake-fruity erasers they had in elementary school, only much, much more intense.  Hers is the one smell I absolutely cannot put into words; there's nothing I can compare it to, and all our words for smells are comparisons or words stolen from our other senses.

The smell of my husband -- vaguely mossy and rainy, but in a good way -- is comforting and calming, like almost everything about him.  And all the women in my family smell like spicy sweat and talcum powder, a smell that makes me feel like a child again, in both the good ways and the bad.

Smells I love in the kitchen: first and foremost, fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves.  This the the most appetising smell in the world to me, the one smell guaranteed to make my mouth water, even if I've just eaten, even if I'm sick.  But there are dozens of others in close second.  The stem ends of tomatoes; citrus, especially calamansi limes; ginger (except when I was pregnant: then ginger made me gag). The many Southeast Asian herbs I grew up with: screwpine, torch ginger buds, lemongrass, galangal, laksa leaves, kaffir lime leaves. The food I grew up with is also rife with fishy, funky, briny smells; it's not a subtle cuisine at all.  I love those smells -- fermented shrimp paste, salt fish, dried shrimps -- but I have to admit that kitchens in the Western world are not made for them.  I love the smell of garlic, shallots, and ginger frying in hot oil (see above). Good black tea, especially in the afternoons.  Rose essence (similar to rosewater, which we don't use in Malaysia). Coconut water.  Simmering coconut milk. Palm sugar. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

colbert smells american

These Colbert clips-of-clips just make me want to watch more Colbert. And sniff the air- beneath-an-eagle's-wing note in his imaginary fragrance, I Smell American (And So Can You!). If America's national fragrance had a season, I feel like it would be summer. Smelled from inside an automobile, maybe.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

the good nose

 Alan Cumming and Josh Charles: Who would triumph in a war of the noses?

All of these remarkable noses deserve posts of their own, but for now let's just revel in the fact that we can see them each week on (the super-compelling) "The Good Wife."

Archie Panjabi, pictured below, plays a sleuth on the show, and has an appropriately impressive nose for sniffing out case-changing inconsistencies and highlighting her own stone-cold do-not-trifle-with-me stare (not pictured).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

hay fever

Few scents remind me of the Midwest more than hay. CB I Hate Perfume's Hay accord is one of my most-treasured fragrances. I don't wear it often, but I sniff it a lot, and I remember clearly the feeling I had when I first smelled it, at the amazing CB I Hate Perfume Gallery in Brooklyn. It was hot and muggy and I'd probably already stuck my nose in thirty bottles, but when I smelled this one the day's frenetic energy disappeared. I was back in the car on a country road, nothing but time and possibility ahead of me.

image via
According to an article in New York magazine, the farm to table trend has led to a resurgence in cooking with hay. The chefs interviewed acknowledge that the technique is neither particularly new, nor necessarily innovative ("Hay comes from where the chickens lay the eggs," says one. "To cook chicken in hay is a natural thing."), but hay-infused yogurt and hay ice cream are all new to me. What could be more Wisconsin than hay and ice cream together?* Next time I visit New York, I'll give it a try and report back on its transportive powers.

*Fried beer cheese cone.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Nosy Interview: Janet Brown

Janet is seated at The Bubble Nebula, © Dave Jurasevich 

I met Janet when we both worked at (the beautiful-smelling) Elliott Bay Book Company. Now she has a book of essays on the shelf at that store, and two more on the way.  For more from Janet, please visit Tone Deaf in Thailand

What do you smell like? 
I smell like whatever I've been eating, which is why I avoid onions but not garlic--there are limits to my consideration toward my fellow-creatures. I'd like to think I smell like limes and ginger and lemongrass and Thai chili, since these are things I eat every day of my life, but if I do it's a very, very subtle scent. 

I know I often smell of lavender because lavender oil is one of the best mosquito repellents in the world and I can't stand the smell of cheaper, more conventional repellents. I spend quite a bit on soap to get the scent I want and am in deep mourning because Boots in Bangkok no longer sells the lime shower gel that I loved--sharp and bright and non-floral. 

The only perfume I love on me is Niki de Saint Phalle but the air in Bangkok is too heavy and humid for me to wear perfume in this city. One of the things I love about Bangkok is that people avoid heavy fragrance here--and I never smell body odor on public transit.

Every time I get my hair cut, I have to rush home and take a shower to get rid of the odor of mousse and gel and spray that the lovely woman who is my hairdresser uses to finish off her handiwork. She enjoys the process so much that I can't tell her to stop but I can't stand smelling like that.

What do you like to smell?
My favorite smells in the world are jasmine when it blooms at night and fresh-ground coffee beans and bread when it's just baked and horses in the sun and marijuana after it's just been lit and bus exhaust (because when I grew up in Alaska, I only smelled that when I was in Manhattan.)

Monday, April 11, 2011

waiting by the phone

Katie Puckrik's review of Kate Walsh's new fragrance, Boyfriend, prompted me to test-drive my own sample vial this weekend. Though I feel like the feminine-masculine distinction in fragrances is pretty arbitrary, I was interested in the idea that the perfume was designed to smell like a man's cologne on a woman's skin. With this in mind, putting it on my own skin felt kind of meta, a "smell lingering on skin" lingering on skin. I was also intrigued by the fact that Walsh was inspired to design the fragrance when she was badly missing an ex-boyfriend, the venture capitalist who ended up giving her not only the heartache, but also the business-advice that fueled the scent. I found this story, regardless of how much of it was designed to set an ad campaign spinning, compelling: to be missing someone so much that you go searching for ways to re-create his scent on your skin, in your bed--and, when the smells you find in the world don't measure up, you essentially start your own business to satisfy your longing.

In the comments on Puckrik's post, a conversation emerged around a blue cheese/"pissy pineapple"/gardenia note. I didn't get any of these notes until the third time I tried the fragrance, and then I got more pineapple than pineapple-pee, and I of course wondered how much my nose was influenced by wanting to smell this (Why does one want to smell pee-pineapple? This is a fine question, and one this website was started in part to answer for myself. Why do foodies feel the need to eat kumquat-glazed Cornish game hen? That's for them to sort out on their own blogs.). All weekend, wearing the scent mostly outdoors, I got big plummy blasts of vanilla-y amber, a little bit of cedar, and some other mixed warm woody bits, but no peenapple (how could I resist?). Now, wearing the scent for the third time, indoors, it's still warm, but it smells more like tinned pineapple and pencil shavings, though soon these heat up into woodier, richer swells of musk and amber and something glowy enough to get me shoving my wrists up against my nose again and again--big benzoin tears (so named for the way the benzoin resin weeps from trees--and here I'd always thought it was just romantic fragrance-speak!) and some sweet pouty fruit. My own boyfriend, who likes Boyfriend, smelled the pee-pineapple note earlier on, and in general is able to more readily detect musky, animalic notes in perfume than I am. When I think something smells a little furry, he gets the whole beast smell straight off. It makes me wonder what notes he smells in me that I'll never know, and what he utters out into the air that I fail to register.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


Elisa mentions labdanum in this week's Nosy Interview. I think this is a scent, maybe even a word, that those with less knowledge of perfume may be unfamiliar with. The best thing I've learned about labdanum comes from an informative Perfume Shrine post
Herodotus and Pliny report that labdanum was collected by combing the beards of goats, which were impregnated with the substance. The goats graze from the branches [of the cistus shrubs] and the sticky resin gets stuck on their beards. Upon their return, their owners comb...their beards and extract the resin.
kneepad-needing goat via

Wikipedia says this same sticky goat hair was used to make the false beards once worn by Egyptian pharaohs. We can imagine then, that their beards may have had a "sweet, herbaceous, balsamic odor, with a rich amber undertone found in few other essences," according to Mandy Aftel's notes on labdanum, or, back to Perfume Shrine, may have smelled "balsamlike, with woody, earthy, smoky, and even marshy undertones. Some even describe [labdanum] as ambergris-like, or leathery and honeylike with hints of plum or oakmoss after a rain."

I think it would be good to have two goats and a yard. Resin is a really great word.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Nosy Interview: Elisa Gabbert

Elisa pictured in the Cocoon Nebula, © Jean-Charles Cuillandre & Giovanni Anselmi  

I just met Elisa in real life (though I've been enjoying her writing for some time), and she's already taught me loads about perfume. You can learn about fragrance from her, too; she writes the "On the Scent" column for Open Letters Monthly.

What do you smell like?  
I must have some innate smell I’m not privy to – what John calls “that good Elisa smell” (which raises the question, does he like how I smell because he loves me, or does he love me because he likes how I smell?). But I generally cover that up – or enhance it, if you prefer – with perfume. I have many, and I subscribe to the marketing adage “Always be testing,” so there are always samples in the rotation. On any given day I might smell like lilies and amber (Donna Karan Gold), caramel leather (Cuir de Lancome), glossy geranium-rose (Rossy de  Palma), clove cigarettes (Tabac Aurea), peachy tuberose-jasmine (Carolina Herrera), rubber and vanilla (Bulgari Black), spicy sandalwood (Chanel Egoiste), lavender, heliotrope and patchouli (Belle en Rykiel), lily of the valley, hyacinth and lime popsicle (Gucci Envy), orange blossom and musk (Narciso Rodriguez for Her), laundry soap and baby powder (Flower by Kenzo) … you get the idea.

What do you like to smell?
San Diego. The smell of approaching rain in El Paso. My clothes, after I’ve worn them (lingering perfume traces create a kind of out-of-body, third-person experience). Barbecuing meat. Pizza. Fresh herbs (especially basil, mint, and cilantro). Limes. Grapefruit. Figs. Coffee beans. Roasted nuts. Roasting chiles. Anything baking. Rum. Tobacco shops. Patchouli. Roses. (If none are available, Perfumer’s Workshop Tea Rose will do.) Tuberoses. Apricots. Violet leaf. Labdanum. Leather. Woodsmoke. Blown out candles.

Monday, April 4, 2011

honeysuckle and lilacs both

It was springtime, and the park’s grass was very green and the air suffused with honeysuckle and lilacs both, which was almost too much. --David Foster Wallace, “Good People
My favorite passage from "Too Much Information," John Jeremiah Sullivan's GQ article on David Foster Wallace and The Pale King, comes when Sullivan describes how Wallace writes not about his characters, but into them:
Imagine walking into a place, say a mega-chain copy shop in a strip mall. It's early morning, and you're the first customer. You stop under the bright fluorescents and let the doors glide closed behind you, look at the employees in their corporate-blue shirts, mouths open, shuffling around sleepily. You take them in as a unified image, with an impenetrable surface of vague boredom and dissatisfaction that you're content to be on the outside of, and you set to your task, to your copying or whatever. That's precisely the moment when Wallace hits pause, that first little turn into inattention, into self-absorption. He reverses back through it, presses play again. Now it's different. You're in a room with a bunch of human beings. Each of them, like you, is broken and has healed in some funny way. Each of them, even the shallowest, has a novel inside. Each is loved by God or deserves to be. They all have something to do with you: When you let the membrane of your consciousness become porous, permit osmosis, you know it to be true, we have something to do with one another, are part of a narrative—but what? Wallace needed very badly to know. And he sensed that the modern world was bombarding us with scenarios, like the inside of the copy shop, where it was easy to forget the question altogether. We "feel lonely in a crowd," he writes in one of his stories, but we "stop not to dwell on what's brought the crowd into being," with the result that "we are, always, faces in a crowd."
It's this ability to get into another person, to put the reader in a small room with another whole human, that can make reading Wallace’s fiction so painful. Empathy, connection, the possibility of true understanding—essential to human kindness, yes, but also terrifying. I thought of S---, whose trauma is retold by the narrator of “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men #20.” He explains how she used empathy to save her life, how she had to make what she calls a “soul-connection” with a psychotic rapist to keep him from murdering her. The narrator recounts: 

nose byrne

 photo via
The characters on "In Treatment" (I'm near the end of season 2, want to make Oliver a sandwich) are always mooning over his eyes, but look at that glorious nose!

Friday, April 1, 2011

anticipated weekend smells:

  • the return of the halloumi cheese grilling outside of formaggio kitchen
  • the inside of leavitt & peirce, a local cigar shop i know my dad will want to visit 
  • the smell of snow, melting all at once, and for the last time this year