Wednesday, November 30, 2011

redolent byredo read

 [Ben Gorham in bed, image via Into the Gloss]

Woah, I loved this Into the Gloss interview with dreamboat Byredo perfumer Ben Gorham. Lengthy (by internet standards), but worth reading in full, the piece is bursting with insights into the process of a perfumer obsessed with memory and storytelling (the best kind of perfumer, in my estimation). His thoughts on developing a vocabulary for scent are so encouraging: 
For me it was about awareness. If I took you in the lab for two weeks, and showed you a spectrum, you would probably be able to show me things that remind you of specific memories. You would be able to develop your vocabulary to create a perfume. And that was the first phase for me, trying to understand the possibilities. Now when I walk down the street I can smell a lot more-dirty laundry, etc. I don't think it's a heightened sense of smell, it's just awareness. 
I too have been curious about how a place maintains its smell over many years and much change:
If I had to pick a favorite [from the line]--I don't know, they all have a special place--but I did, quite early, a fragrance based on a place in India where my mother was born and raised. It's outside Mumbai, it was a place that was very green, I remember visiting it as a child-it was a picnic spot. And when I came back, semi-grown up, it was massively developed, but it smelled the same. So I became very intrigued, I thought--how is this possible? What has changed, what hasn't changed?
I'm not especially familiar with the Byredo line (in part due to the lack of samples at my local Barneys), though I would have purchased Oud Immortel on impulse (a rarity for me when it comes to perfume) had it not been beyond my budget. After reading this piece, I'm itching to get to the Byredo counter and smell everything--especially Green, the fragrance inspired by the "green bean essence" of Gorham's absent father, and an upcoming scent that inspired the exchange "More goat...less goat."

I understand completely what one of the commenters said about liking reading about perfumes as much as smelling them--I felt that way reading this article, imagining milk on skin, what Mexico smells like, and why Gorham's girlfriend rarely wears perfume, and I even feel that way reading lists of notes, the promise in those simple lists, so like musical chords in their potential to be new again each time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

brother love

I printed out a fellowship application tonight (on my Brother laser printer, pictured in all its splendor above) and it smelled incredible! Granted, it's been a while since I've printed so many pages at once, but I don't remember my past print-outs yielding the yummy, papery, pasty (the minty kindergarten kind), sort of vegetable-meets-machine smell that these hot pages emanate. I'm taking it as a good sign.

Nosy Interview: Sharon Pomerantz

Sharon in the Pelican Nebula Close-Up, © Martin Pugh

Though Sharon and I haven't met, the caliber of our mutual friends assures me I would enjoy her company in real life as much as I have online. Sharon's novel, Rich Boy, is now available in paperback, and you can learn more about the book and Sharon by visiting her website. After reading Sharon's interview, and learning that her novel was rich with scent descriptions, Rich Boy shot to the top of my to-read list. 

What do you smell like?
I asked my boyfriend, Bill Richert, and two of my oldest friends, Marcie Wald and Ricki Lowitz, what they thought I smelled like, and I'm sad to say that everyone agreed I have no discernible smell! I guess this is better than smelling like onions and garlic, or fertilizer, but considering how attracted I am to smells, and how sensitive my own nose is, I think that's rather depressing. On the other hand, because I'm so smell sensitive, I think I'd notice pretty quickly if I had a nasty smell, so maybe that's a good thing. The closest I could get to an actual answer to this question was from Marcie. She's known me for over thirty years, and she said she identifies me with the smell of coffee brewing because whenever I visit I make coffee every morning and the smell fills her apartment. Since there are few smells I like better than fresh brewing coffee, I can live with that.

What do you like to smell?
Well, coffee brewing is one of my favorite smells. Another is a perfume I sometimes wear called Spring Flowers by Creed; they are one of the oldest perfumers in the world and made this perfume in honor of Audrey Hepburn. It really smells like spring to me, and like elegance--hey, that's how they sell perfume, right? They want you to buy into the fantasy. I feel like I have a lot to live up to when I wear Spring Flowers

I think the pheromone thing is real because I love the smell of my boyfriend--he smells like soap and home to me. I love to stick my nose in a glass of white wine that has a lot of grapefruit and citrus, that's a very summery smell to me. And I love the smell of apple cider with a lot of cinnamon and nutmeg, that's a fall smell, along with burning leaves. Who doesn't love the smell of burning leaves? The smell of baked apples makes me think of the house I grew up in, as does roasting chicken, two favorites my mom made a lot when I was growing up. My father has been gone for five years now, but I still remember his smell when he came home from work, where he did a hard physical job--all my life I've identified that smell, of sweat and metal, with masculinity and hard work and security; my dad was someone who made me feel very safe. Babies, that's another great smell, newborns especially; they smell pure and sweet, like baby powder and new life and hope. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

crazy sale on crazylibellule

[ image via]

If you weren't the lucky winner of the first Nosy Giveaway, but still hanker after a stick of Crazylibellule and the Poppies solid perfume, HauteLook is selling them for $3.50 each (and even less per stick as part of sets). My favorite, Encens Mystic, is not available (and neither is Aimee's), but there are some nice florals to choose from if you're looking for some sweet, affordable, nosy stocking stuffers.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Nosy Interview: Courtney Mandryk

 Courtney in HH-222: The Waterfall Nebula, © Z. Levay, T.A. Rector, & H. Schweiker

Courtney and I met at the University of Michigan, probably first at a welcome-students barbecue. But I better remember a later barbecue where she gave me one of the nicest compliments I have ever received, one that managed to be both morbid and effusive (a combination I often aim to achieve). She makes beautiful things; you can see for yourself at MOTHDRAWN.

What Do You Smell Like to Smell

Cilantro of August, calendula into September,
the pink cream I rubbed on the bites of October.
Now the leaves are holding onto their sugars,
the leaves are letting go of their branches.

The fire is lit. My black dog's warm fur-smell
is of fleece blankets inside of a dryer, a womb.
My gun dog has always smelled like the pound she came from.
I wonder if the dogs smelled the baby through my skin.

My boy was born already not smelling like me.
He smells warmer, a smell beyond me: church incense under Burt's Bees.
Today he made a painting using apples for a brush,
the smell of apple juice and tempera heart-shapes on paper, 2011.

I am the dirt the rain kicks up.
I used to press my nose to window screens in a storm
when I thought rain was the smell of its metallic mesh.

I smell like sun-dried clothing - I smell like clothing half-dried in the rain.
I smell syrup and chlorine on my wrists when I'm afraid.

I dislike the smell of hamburgers and teenagers
and teenagers' painful perfumes even though I have smelled that way.

Stephen smells like a pencil box.
I have never owned a pencil box. I never knew him as a teen.
I never knew him in his twenties.
My furnace husband, the stronger heart that heats a room.
He is right now somewhere in the fields
tending a fire in the rain, rain-face dripping.

I want to be the smell of ginkgo and coconut but I am not that coconut girl,
though sometimes I want to take my arms and whip them around
and around like a helicopter.

I am the smell of skunks far away on a summer night's drive.
I am tomato plants bowing in the garden.
I am leaves loud on the sidewalk.
Original chapstick. A match just blown.
When I smell basil I know I am home.

Now the gun dog smells of rot she found by the pond.
The boy smells of pee and a hot Midwestern sky,
his breath the scent of Elmer's glue.
Now there is a flower blooming that smells like the day is done
but I can't find it in the fields to cut it down.

Monday, November 21, 2011

game changers

 Detail from Panel V of Romare Bearden's The Block

The seasons are changing, every day it seems, and sometimes over the course of a single day. Last Thursday, in New York again, I could feel the air lean towards winter, in that way that makes it harder to take a very deep breath. But the night air was mild, even a little warm. I was running late, and wearing too many layers, but also wearing Bois de Paradis. Just as you sometimes read the right book at the right moment, there are days when you make the exact right choice with your perfume. Bois de Paradis was a fine choice that afternoon, but as I ran down Lexington Avenue on a weirdly warm nearly-winter night, it became perfect. Sometimes I'll honestly forget that I'm wearing something lovely, and ask around about what smells so good. But that night I didn't wonder; Bois de Paradis was like some golden amber orb around me, pulsing with a beauty that grew as the evening warmed, and darkened.  

Two days later, on the dress I was wearing again, I could still smell the wood. The sweat had lifted, and some of the sweetness was gone, but there remained this sturdy beauty that I love. I wish I could explain to you all the reasons that this was the perfect fragrance for this week, for the things I heard, the people who showed me something of what it means to do more than endure, but most of that has already faded into the fabric, and it will take some running on my part to remember.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Nosy Interview: Ayelet Amittay

Ayelet in The Butterfly Nebula from Hubble, © NASA

Ayelet and I met in Ann Arbor, where we were both candidates in the MFA program at the University of Michigan. I think she can bring down people's blood pressure with her comforting voice alone (though unlike Ayelet, I don't have a nursing degree and so my theories are not necessarily medically sound). Definitely don't miss her essay, "Igloo."

What do you smell like?
Ever since my first job, I’ve always smelled like work. Summers working as an art camp counselor I came home smelling of paint, of clay, of the darkroom with its liquid trays of metallic scent: developer, stop bath, fixer, fixer remover. After every 8-hour shift at the university library, my hands would smell of ink and binding paste. In nursing school, I would drive home after a shift at the hospital, strip as soon as I walked in the door, and beeline for the shower to scrub the scent of the med-surg or pedi floor off of my skin. It didn’t matter how many times I’d changed my gloves during the shift, or how many power washes I gave my scrubs. The scent of sweat in the sheets, of plastic tubing freshly opened, of urine, of feet, of sadness, of televisions with the sound off, of blood, of macaroni, of open sores, of fluorescent light—these followed me home.
Now I am a psychiatric nurse practitioner and what I smell like seems more complicated. Whenever a patient comes into my room I smell them, and their smell becomes a part of our interaction. Sometimes the way that happens is obvious—if the smell is alcohol, or cigarette smoke, or unwashedness. But usually the smell is something quieter, like an emotion, but more characteristic of the person in that it doesn’t seem to change from session to session. Honey. Black lab. Marijuana. Jasmine perfume. Sweat. When each patient leaves, his or her smell remains in the room,building on the smells that came before. I drive home with the windows down, even if it’s raining. I try to air out the space that is around me. I am trying to learn to leave work and go back to smelling like myself. 

What do you like to smell?  
Green things: tea, grass, leaves, moss. I live in the Northwest where the rain always smells green and the green smells rainy. I like to smell tea, and coffee, even though I don’t drink coffee. Popcorn. Cookies in the oven. The crooks in the body of my love: nestling my head under his chin or against his back. Newly washed sheets. My mother’s shampoo. 

There are also some smells that I specifically associate with Judaism and that really bring me into whatever season they are linked to. Right after Yom Kippur there’s a holiday called sukkot, which involves (among other things) shaking a bundle of different long branches and a small yellow citrus fruit called an etrog. There is nothing like the smell of an etrog, summery and bright in a season where fall is coming on. Some Jewish smells are in harmony with the season (think apples and honey in the fall for the new year) but some, like the etrog, seem to suggest a time that is already ahead of or behind us, that we’ll catch up to ourselves in some other time soon enough. For me, those are the most reassuring smells.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

nosy about (again)

Sometimes I think the best reason to have a blog is to see what sorts of things people search for.  I told you before about being tickled by the search for "my brother picking friend nose" but here are two more recent lists: 

I wish I could offer more insight as to how to be interested in a girl's life without being nosy. Ask questions! But don't read the texts on her phone. 

This list is a whirlwind! Barely pregnant to interspecies friends playing with childhood toys, to those manure girls again (I'm starting to get too creeped out to google them), to monkey balls nut--so many smell possibilities--to what must be among the finest ways to end any list or evening: sharing a beer with Tim Riggins.


[image via]

If the quarter machine has temporary tattoos or animal-shaped erasers, I'm probably buying one. The same is true of nearly any perfume under ten dollars, which is how I wound up with a bottle of With Love...Hilary Duff. (I'm pretty sure the ellipsis is part of the name, but what is being whispered in that pause? With love and...what?! Affection? Squalor? Sunshine? Hilary, you elusive minx!) The opening is too sweet and coconutty for me (Chandler Burr's description of being "hugged close to the suntanned neck of a pretty volleyball player on a Malibu beach" fits perfectly), especially now that it's pitch black by 6 p.m., but it dries down into such a pleasing, shimmery, woody powder that I'm counting the purchase as the best $5.99 I spent this weekend. If you spot the satisfyingly-faceted little bottle at your local T.J. Maxx, snap it up. It's a fruit-bomb at first, but it grows up fast.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Nosy Interview: Emma Straub

 Emma in the Young Suns of NGC 7129, © Johannes Schedler

Though I haven't met Emma in real life, I have it on good authority that I'd like her if I did. In the meantime, I like her writing. You will, too! Visit her blog and buy Other People We Married, her book.  

What do you smell like? 
I often smell like vanilla, or melting chocolate, or cat spit, but that's just when I'm at home. When I leave the house, I smell like a teenager (Perscriptives' Calyx), a sex goddess (Kiehl's Musk), or some fruity combination of jasmine and gardenias. It is my life's ambition to smell as good as Lorrie Moore.

What do you like to smell?  
See above, plus all the old faves: my dad's ancient leather couch, tomato sauce, suntan lotion, my husband's t-shirts, my mother's perfume, anything made with butter and sugar that is fresh out of the oven, hamburgers, the ocean. Smells I don't like: the subway in July, wet dog, tacky beer on a floor.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

new york notes

 Your nosy host poses with our mascot at the Sensorium exhibit. 

We spent this past weekend in New York, and smelled winter. On Saturday it snowed on and off all day, big fat wet clumps of snow, turning all the wool I wore wet. But I don't mind that wet wool smell, and I don't mind the first day of snow; it still feels clean, smells like air and mineral. And I love how everybody heats up when they come inside from the cold, how they're stinkier even in some ways than in summer, wearing all those layers, sweat and perfume rising thick off their sweaters. 

Other nosy New York highlights:
  • The entryway to my aunt's apartment. Why is it that some homes--some rooms, even--maintain such powerfully specific scents over time? Her foyer was probably the first smell I distinctly associated with New York and, as such, it remains one of the most New York smells I know.
  • The Sensorium exhibit, where my favorite part was smelling the "flights of fragrance" in unmarked wine glasses. I liked having so little information about the fragrances (I wouldn't say that I had no information, as the perfumes were organized thematically on four trays: playful, polished, casual, and addictive, and I also knew they were all for sale at Sephora). My other favorite part, and this is very unMidwestern of me to admit, was the tickle of pride I felt when the attendant, Ranfi, remarked that I'd correctly guessed more of the fragrances than some of the perfumers and noses that he'd seen come in and sniff. Apart from my deeply-ingrained aversion to boastfulness, I don't know why it's so uncomfortable for me to admit I am getting better at identifying scents. Of course I am improving; if you smell a lot of fragrances, you get better at remembering and naming those fragrances. And wasn't that part of the point of starting this blog in the first place? To improve my fragrance vocabulary, to reduce the number of times when identifying a scent is, as it so often becomes, frustratingly similar to the experience of hearing a melody to a song you can't name, or having the right word forever on the tip of your tongue.
  • We finally made it to MiN New York, a gorgeous little store that feels like the well-appointed personal library of a fragrance-obsessed, tweed-wearing grandfather. The beautiful built-in bookshelves displayed all sorts of fragrances--many lines I'd never had the chance to smell before--and, book-related bonus, MiN is super close to two actual (and awesome) bookstores: Housing Works and McNally Jackson
  • At MiN, my husband fell pretty hard for the Parfum d'Empire line. He just brought the shirt he was wearing when we were there in to the kitchen to have me smell it, and the Fougere Bengale he'd sprayed still lingered. It smelled warm and alive, like it could take on any weather. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nosy Interview: Margaret MK Hess

Maggie reads in a Sky Panorama over Lake Salda, © Tunç Tenzel
Maggie was another reason that working for Seattle Arts & Lectures was so much fun. You can get in on the good times by reading her piece for the Funny Women column on the Rumpus, and by visiting Dear Mr. Postman, where Maggie writes open letters to everyone.
What do you smell like?
I think I most likely smell of curl cream. At least, whenever someone sniffs me, and compliments me on the results, and tries to identify the source, their nose generally gravitates towards my hair rather than my feet or my armpits or my teeth or knees.

My curl creme smells like (according to the ingredients label) Parfum, or "fragrance" as it is known among scientific circles.

What do you like to smell?
I have such clear memories of the smell of my first dog, the radiator in my first room, the first boy I ever kissed, and the damp mud of a Pacific northwest spring (a little bit of dog poop mixed in with the dirt on my childhood soccer cleats). Now-now I've had years of sinus infections and allergies, and I'll smell almost anything that reaches my nose, confirmation of its (the nose's) existence in the world. I can smell cinnamon and garlic, onions, dumpsters. Cigarette smoke. I can smell pine trees and rotting bananas and hot tar.

On the no-smell list: airplanes and their recycled, stale air fill me with dread. It's amazing the shift of scent along that threshold.

I have trouble smelling people-- their scents, usually, are subtle, require a certain proximity, and for me, that involves burying my nose in your skin and leaving it there (turns out there are few I am interested in engaging in this exercise, and few who wish to participate, and the intersection point is small...I'm still waiting for Matt Damon to return my call).

Salt. I can smell salt when I return to Hawaii, where my father grew up, and plumerias if I put my face right up into the branches of a tree.  And I can smell the clear, clean slate of the mountains, the Rockies, where my mother was raised-really, a smell of no smell at all, a lack of smell, an absence that is particularly noticeable when you first open a car door upon arriving at a lookout point, some place of significant elevation that makes you catch your breath-for lack of oxygen, for dizzying altitude, for shock of recognition.