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July 02, 2022 5 min read
The world of scent surrounded me in the "fragrance library" when I started my training as a fragrance evaluator/designer at my first job in the fragrance industry in New York when I was just a kid transplanted from Arkansas after my first year of college. The fragrance library is like any library-- a repertoire of references from around the world to use as resources for learning. This library in particular, was a reference center of consumer products perfumers, marketers, sales and "evaluators" used for working projects submitted to us for competition by clients as diverse as L'Oreal, Procter & Gamble, Unilever and Kao. The products lining the shelves of this library were primarily detergents, soaps, cleaning products, shampoos and conditioners while "fine" perfumes from makers like Chanel, Christian Dior and Estee Lauder were stored in a small refrigerator nearby.
I was initially hired as an assistant to perfumers at a company called Fritzsche Dodge & Olcott (now Givaudan), and my responsibility was to type perfumers' hand-written formulas onto an IBM Selectric typewriter for storage in a vault. Going along with the typed formula was a calculated raw material cost that I had to calculate based on weekly pricing updates recorded on Rolodex cards. Yes, you guessed it--I'm older than most readers here, but my career has been like a "long and winding road" and I will assure you that reflecting on my past experiences have taught me basic, simple methods for shaping my entire professional and life skills that started with a "smell test" resulting in the discovery that I had a good sense of smell and ability to communicate and pinpoint the nuances and emotional "feeling" of the scent. The fragrance I was blindly tested on that day was Francois Coty's masterpiece "Chypre" formulated in 1917 that ultimately started the fragrance category of this genre.
Back in the fragrance library: I decided to turn the task into a treasure hunt to learn making lemonade out of lemons. Through the hours spent in the windowless room, I picked up each and every product and smelled them and soon realized that many fragrances from one country to another had similarities: The cleaning products were often with pine, lemon, lavender and fabric softeners had powdery smells. The Asiatic countries' products seemed to have fragrances less strong and less "direct" types of scent consisting of subtle citrus combinations or violet and light, delicate rose scents. I also learned the term "synesthesia" where scent is paired with a color: Blue graphics were often powdery scents, and pink was floral and purple was always lavender. The most incredible archeological fragrance discoveries however, were from the refrigerator containing fine fragrances where I sniffed my way through perfumes from France like Jolie Madame, Je Reviens, Equipage, Amazon and Caleche from Hermes, Chanel's no. 5 and no.19 and Jicky, Chants d'Aromes and Mitsouko from Guerlain. Not knowing French at that time, I asked a perfumer "what does Je Reviens mean?" They responded, "I will return." Many of these perfumes are still my favorites of all time and I still turn to them for special occasions.
On Road Trips: I have always returned to my roots and at the end of May, I took a road trip back to Eureka Springs for a high school reunion. "Eureka" is a town of about 2,000 inhabitants tucked into the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas where the scents of my childhood are thrown instantly back to memories of the sweet scent of new mown hay, the barnyard, my mother's kitchen, and pine trees that separated my home with my grandmother's at the bottom of the hill. I went to the church where I was baptized and confirmed and met Reverend Angus after the services and introduced myself and we engaged in a conversation about our roots. I told him about my childhood in Eureka and of my travels since I hopped on that train in St. Louis to Penn Station and worked as an accessory designer before becoming an evaluator/scent designer. I told him of my most recent work as a creator and developer of multi-sensory kits for well-being helping people living with dementia, learning disabilities, strokes, viruses, PTSD and other ailments that lead to the reverend telling me of deeply personal story of his turmoil and despair while his partner in life was suffering from cancer, and how scent helped him: "...the scents were like a gift of heaven, wellness, wholeness and well-being. When times were tough, I would sample the little vial in its festive wrapping. The smell was the smell of hope."
My Roots: I am deeply rooted to my childhood and to the fragrance industry because that's where where I grew up, helping to form who I am today. The world of scent has brought me happiness and has lead me to discover and understand nature, people, and world cultures. I have met highly intelligent and talented people along the way: Biologists (Dr. Mukherjee, IFF and Roman Kaiser, Givaudan); psychologists (Dr. Stephen Warren, IFF), neuroscientists (Dr. Rachel Herz), chemists, engineers, and seriously talented perfumers from both sides of the Atlantic, and there have been too many to name here. I've learned the values of how the sense of smell can help protect us from harm, bring us joy and the feelings of calm, hope and comfort. In difficult times and in the height of the pandemic, I have turned to my bottle of Chanel 19 (for empowerment), Tom Ford's Metallique (for comfort) and Frederic Malle's Eau de Magnolia (revitalization). My quest to enrich lives through the sense of smell continues and I am now on a treasure hunt to find a perfect scent that gives me the feeling of security.
To end this writing, I am now in the outskirts of Paris at a village near where my daughters were born taking some solitude underneath a beautiful sky, fresh evening air while windows remain open and I wake up to the sound of singing birds, the scent of a neighbor's coffee and fresh-baked baguettes from the patisserie down the street. I am practicing my command of the French language and enjoying my cafe au lait on the town square, taking walks through the village's passages, smelling the roses, jasmine and wisteria in and around the village, and digging my hands into the earth. I'm going to find the nearest agricultural center to purchase and transplant mint and verbena for my host's garden and intend to take a snippets to make teas and water infusions and live as simply as possible during this rejuvenation period in order to give my mind a reset and get back to full productivity again. One thing I do not intend to do: Drive a car!
I will never retire because I love what I do and this temporary "sejour" will help jump start yet another journey in my life. I find life full of infinite changes and have learned to swim with the waves as I continue my road trip focused on scent and wellbeing.
Best wishes to all during this important July 4th weekend to celebrate independence and the upcoming Bastille Day in France. Joy to freedom. Vivre l'independence!
To read about the science of smell, anosmia, parosmia, smell training and memory recall at this link from nature.com:
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