I read an old interview with master perfumer Sophia Grojsman a couple weeks ago. In it, she said that she turns her nose off when she’s off the clock. I can relate. There are plenty of times when I just would rather smell nothing. But occasionally, I’m drifting through life and some odor spectacular taps me on the shoulder long enough for me to enjoy her before she disappears. It’s a funny thing smell – she loves a game of hide and seek.
Last year, I was walking up the back steps of my apartment building. They skirt the fence of this big old house next door. It’s been the site of much protest and silence since I’ve lived here. The owner left it to the city who decided it should be a parking lot … or an old folks home or something. But after years of squabble and politics and bureaucracy and activism, it’s turned into what they call “a passive park”. That means, the front yard is open to the public and has a couple picnic tables in it. They have yet to figure out to do with the house or the rest of the property. Long story short – (too late!) – I walk past this empty house every night as I go home.
Last spring, I noticed something peculiar. After having worked with raw scent ingredients for a while now, I sometimes (and this happens relatively rarely) come across a smell in real life which I have only ever encountered in my lab. This happened with TOTEM ECLIPSE (and inspired the whole North by Northwest collection). But it happened again last year, though this time, it was even more unusual. What I smelled as I walked up the chipped gray steps past the yard was an aromachemical called Phenylacetaldehyde. It smells crisply green and slightly of honey, with a bit of fresh rose thrown it. It occurs naturally in quite a few organic compounds, including buckwheat and chocolate. But at night, in the early spring, the yard next door emits the lushest wafts of it. The whole courtyard smells of it.
On it’s own, it’s a delicious scent – but with the sweet scent of the eucalyptus trees and slightly damp earth after the rain, it’s a perfume! Water is a bit of a perfume challenge, especially as I find all those marine notes stomach-churning. So I added a bit of cucumber and a base of musk to give the whole thing a little beginning, middle and an end. An artist’s rendering, if you will. But whatever you call it, it’s stolen directly from my world. It’s my walk home – early spring, 9:43 p.m., West Hollywood, California.