I caught “perfume obsession” in the summer in 2006. I had just finished a bottle of Bois d’Encens, a pricey masterpiece by Armani and was on the hunt for a budget alternative. Scanning the interwebs, I found an olfactory cousin by Commes des Garcons called Avignon. But something unexpected happened; I fell down the fragrant rabbit hole. If I had just bought that Armani, I wouldn’t have become a collector. And I certainly wouldn’t have become a perfumer.
I spent the next 3 years reading all I could about perfume. I was on the blogs, at the perfume counter – always sniffing, sniffing, sniffing. But as my fascination grew, I began to notice a natural shortcoming when it came to talking about perfume. Why didn’t I have the words to talk about my new love? Why did articulating my experience prove so challenging?
I forget who suggested it, but I once read that it is because we are not given words to talk about smell. Of all our senses, it is the most overlooked. Sublimated but never completely shut off, we go around tongue-tied when it come to talk about smells.
I do shows and sell my perfume out in the real world from time to time. I meet normal (non-perfume) people and talk to them about smells. I ask them what they like and I watch as they smell my perfume. In many ways, this is more exciting than playing with a more experienced nose. The reactions are less filtered, more associative. They don’t have the vocabulary that comes from being an insider. They haven’t learned the jargon. But this comes at a price. They are often relegated to terms like “sweet” and “lemon”, borrowed form the culinary world.
I still struggle with articulating the nuance and mood of a scent. I am constantly in awe of bloggers who paint subtle and delicate portraits of a perfume. As with any skilled critic, they create a longing to see the world as they do. It often causes me to revisit scents which were only ho-hum at first sniff. What did I miss? How did they have such a rich experience? I think the answer lies in language.
vo·cab·u·lary started as the fusion of 2 difference ideas for collections. The first was a “do-it-yourself” perfume kit that I thought about for holiday. It was going to be a set of single notes to play mix-n-match with. The second was a spring collection of sheer sprays. I realized that they could come together as something more than the sum of their parts. The idea was create scents that embody the language of the perfume world. The idea of abandoning our normal note listing came a little later in the game, as most of my ideas do, during a workout at the gym.
If you live, work, or play in the olfactory world long enough, you’ll see a language which has been carefully developed and refined. The aim of vo·cab·u·lary, outside of making great perfume, is to help open up this secret realm a little more. smell bent has always been about making perfume more accessible. And this is one more way to lift the curtain a little. It’s a little departure from what I normally do, but sometimes you gotta flex your creative muscles. The characters will be back shortly. But for now, let’s just play with our words for a bit.