Thursday, July 23, 2009

The FirstNerve BurrOmeter: Play by Givenchy

Name drops: 14
Hubert de Givenchy 
Audrey Hepburn 
Ernest Shiftan 
Francis Fabron 
Jean Guichard 
Dominique Ropion 
Alberto Morillas Ilias Ermenidis 
Françoise Donche 
Jacques Cavallier 
Emilie Coppermann 
Lucas Sieuzac 
Justin Timberlake 
Jean-Claude Ellena 
Frédéric Malle
Bonus points:
Perfumers: 9
Celebrities: 2
Moguls & “Creative Directors”: 2
French: 10
Jean-Claude Ellena Deluxe Triple Bonus Points®: 9

Movie & book allusions: 3
The Da Vinci Code

Bonus Points:

Naming studio and publisher: 2
Nonsensical fragrance description:
neon gourmands: 1
Total BurrOmeter reading for Play: 52 milliburrs

Outlook: Stormy—Popular warm front meets critical arctic air mass

“Smokey Fifties” by Amy Winehouse

Tough to know how much credence to give this report. Perhaps the Attack of the Face People has descended into the absurd.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Extinct American Smellscapes: The Milk Wagon

Sherman, set the WABAC machine for 1940—we’re going to Lubbock, Texas to ride in a horse-drawn milk truck and inhale a long-lost aroma.

Wilkerson remembered there was a unique fragrance, perhaps of fresh cream, about the milk wagons.

“It was not a bad smell. I can still kind of smell that after all these years,” he said.

Plus, the horses learned the delivery route and would pull ahead to the next house on their own . . .

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One from the Vault

UK tabloid The Sun reports that a few surviving bottles of Michael Jackson’s never-released fragrancesMystique de Michael Jackson for women and Legende de Michael Jackson for men—may go on sale soon. They were kept by Neil London who produced a cheesy “available only on TV” ad for them in the early 90s. Apparently the line was scuttled when, a few days after the launch, the child molestation charges became public. London tried to sell the bottles before, only to retreat under a barrage of hate mail.

Would you spend the money to buy a bottle? Why not?

It doesn't matter who's wrong or right,

Just sniff it, sniff it.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Clown Prince of Perfumery?

Commenter “Eliza” recently added this note to my post about Roja Dove, the buffoonish ‘Professeur de Parfums.’ I found it interesting enough to reprint here in full:

I’m so glad you post pieces like this one. I studied perfumery in Grasse and am constantly amazed at the amount of baloney out there. 

I’ve often wondered where Roja Dove received his professorship . . . 

There’s a ‘perfumer’ in Portland who writes that he is ‘recognized as one of 26 by the Council of Six. To qualify as a Nose, the prospective candidate must be able to recant all of the elements that comprises the essential elements within a fragrance before the sprayed droplets reach the floor.’

I LOVE that last bit. (Image in my mind of shrieking out “Hexyl cinnamic aldehyde, Hedione, Benzyl Salicylate!” as they ‘fall’ to the floor.) I double-checked with Max Gavarry just to make sure this wasn’t a top secret society I’d missed out on and he snorted in response. 

In a nutshell, it seems that because a lot of people haven’t had the opportunity to learn about smell and at the same time are fed a huge amount of misinformation, ‘Noses’ like these can say what they like.

What an excellent comment—a mini-essay, really!

On the matter of baloney and misinformation, I couldn’t agree more. I’ve given talks all over the country and it astounds me that, thanks to Chandler Burr’s lick-job of Luca Turin, people think the vibration theory of olfaction is taken seriously by scientists. (It’s not. Most scientists find it as snort-worthy as the name-it-before-it-hits-the-floor test of the Portland Nose.)

It was in part to counter the sheer volume of olfactory nonsense that I wrote my book. At times I felt I was beating the dead horse of Proustian odor memory into a pulp. But every time I give a lecture someone in the audience brings up the old canard, so I get out the horsewhip and have at it again.

Eliza’s reference to the Nose of Portland got my attention. Here is a character as potentially ridiculous as Roja Dove. The Oregonian’s name is Chris Tsefalas and he’s the elderly proprietor of a quirky but high-end perfume shop run out of his oddly-appointed home. He’s been in business over twenty years, along with his wife. By all accounts—and there are a lot of accounts available on the web—he’s charming, knowledgeable, and quite the raconteur (that’s French for “elegant bullshitter”). He’s made a business filling a niche in the ecosystem of West Coast retail fragrance, and for that he deserves applause.

As to his being anointed a “Nose” by the quasi-mystical “Council of Six”: well, let an old fellow have his delusions—or let a sly old fox bamboozle the newbies. The only web reference I can find to the Council of Six has something to do with World of Warcraft. (Hey, can any of you teen gamers out there stop reading the fart posts long enough to help us out?)

Mr. Tsefalas’s loopy claim of being a Nose (along with his tutelage by the mysterious Dr. Walter Lauchner of Cologne) is even more unnecessary than it is silly. The proprietor of a parfumerie needn’t be a Nose. The owner should be a person of taste and a judge of character—how else match fragrance and customer reliably enough to stay in business?

Finally, can we dispense with the term “nose”? If you apply that term to any of the real perfumers I know, odds are your nose will soon be meeting their fist.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

ISDP: Couples’ Edition

It’s the thirteenth of the month, once again time to lift the lid on our collection of the cadaverous. It’s not for everyone—those with delicate sensibilities and nervous nostrils should click away, click away, as fast as you can!

We have not one, not two, but three instances where smell led to the discovery of a pair of bodies. On July 2, in San Antonio, Texas, 82-year-old identical twin sisters Florence and Emma Jernigan were found dead in their home when “a neighbor called police after noticing a foul odor.”

Eva Ruth Moravec and Elizabeth Allen of the San Antonio Express-News provide the back story:

Having never worked, the Jernigan women lived off money they inherited when their parents died about 20 years ago. Friends say the women were able to make it because of their frugal lifestyle. Friends also said it appeared the twins, who never married and never moved out of the home where they were raised, didn’t have any close relatives.
The frugal lifestyle included a reluctance to turn on the fan or air conditioner. The twins died during a heat wave when temperatures were consistently above 100 degrees. Neighbors had seen them only a few days before.
. . . firefighters found one of the sisters lying on her side on the couch; the other was on the floor near a rocking chair. A small window air conditioning unit was turned off.
A few days earlier in Treasure Beach, Florida, just south of St. Augustine, an elderly couple were found dead after “neighbors noticed a foul odor coming from their home.”The St. Johns County medical examiner later determined that they had both suffered heart attacks.

The third couple was found dead in a trailer home in Tucscon, Arizona, on July 7.
Their bodies were discovered after a neighbor called to complain about a foul odor coming from the home on Palo Verde Road near Benson Highway.
Police do not suspect foul play. 

Elswhere, an ex-con who had served time for murder was found dead in his apartment in Columbus, Ohio, on June 13. His 4-year-old son was also there but alive
Officers arrived at the apartment Saturday after the complex’s manager was notified of a foul odor.
In Arkedelphia, Arkansas, on June 21, a 38-year-old woman was found dead in her apartment after her neighbor called police.
The neighbor told police that she had not seen Marion for “three or four days” and that she had heard her dog barking inside the apartment. She also noted she smelled a “foul odor” coming from the area of the apartment.
The dog survived.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, a 28-year-old man was found dead in his apartment on June 22.
Neighbors stated that they had detected a bad smell coming from the apartment on North Stratton. A building maintenance employee subsequently accessed the apartment and discovered the deceased.
High temperature may have played a role in another incident in Hillsdale, Missouri, near St. Louis, on June 25. A 62-year-old woman was found after neighbors
called police when they smelled a foul odor coming from her home.
Police said it was over 100 degrees in the house yet no windows were open and no fans were on. An officer who knew the victim said she “was a nice lady,” who “had not talked to her family members in about 10 years.”

In Kansas City, Missouri on July 6, police found a body in an abandoned van after being alerted by a caller who said it “had been parked there for several days and there was a bad smell.” Police believe the case is a homicide.

On July 2, KOB-TV reporters Cris Ornelas and Charlie Pabst in Albequerque, New Mexico filed a story headlined “Part of body found in Gallup.”
Investigators in Gallup are trying to figure out who sliced a man’s body, cut it in half, and then buried the pieces in two different holes on the edge of town. 

The first discovery came Monday on a wind-swept mesa overlooking Gallup when a group of kids noticed a bad smell. They followed the stench until they found a partially-buried trash bag.

“They first just saw the skin and they thought it was like a pig or something like that so they pulled the entire bag out of the hole at which point they saw it was an entire upper torso of a male individual,” Investigator Owen Pena with the McKinley County Sheriff's Department told Eyewitness News 4 . . .
On Thursday, a couple walking in a nearby area found the lower half of the body. Sheriff’s deputies believe the victim “was a homeless man who lived in Gallup and was last seen three weeks ago.” 

Another suspicious case came to light on June 22 in Moore, Oklahoma, just south of Oklahoma City. Police found the body of 40-year-old Louellen King in her apartment. They were notified by “a neighbor who hadn’t seen the woman in three to four days,” and who “smelled a foul odor coming from the apartment.”

The apartment was ransacked and there were signs of a struggle. A police officer said they were “looking for the woman’s boyfriend who was the last person seen leaving the apartment, but has not been seen for a few days.”

On July 1, police arrested the boyfriend, 40-year-old Finis Brownie Twohatchet, and charged him with first-degree murder.
According to a court affidavit, King died of blunt force trauma to her head.
Blunt force trauma to the head. A suspect named Twohatchet. Whoa.

And finally, an ISDP case involving a potential love triangle. On July 1, cops in Hialeah, Florida went to house on East 19th Street in response to “reports of a foul odor coming from the house of a man who had been missing for days.”

They confirmed the foul odor, obtained a search warrant, but found nothing inside the house. So they started tearing up the floor.They found the body of the missing man, 33-year-old Jose Ramon Alegre Rodriguez, “tied up and stuffed in a plastic bag and buried in a shallow grave” beneath the house.
police are looking for Rodriguez’s landlord, although police are not calling Nestor Garcia a suspect. Neighbors said they last saw Garcia arguing with Rodriguez over the landlord’s wife. The couple lived across the street from Rodriguez, but have gone missing.

Another report cites the love angle:

Neighbors told WFOR-TV they believed Rodriguez was having an affair with Garcia's common-law wife. She said she knew him “only as a neighbor,” the report said.

As ISDP goes to press, Nestor’s whereabouts remain unknown.

UPDATE July 15, 2009 Nestor Nabbed.

Jose Pagliery at the Miami Herald reports that Nestor Oscar Garcia, the missing landlord, was arrested yesterday in Boca Raton and charged with first degree murder in the death of Ramon Alegre Rodrieguez.

Attack of the Face People

Play and Play Intense, the Givenchy fragrances rolled out in Europe a year ago, will be launched in the U.S. this fall. Former boy band heart throb Justin Timberlake will spokespimp the scents for LVMH. Can you feel the excitement?

No? Well, LVMH’s Pamela Baxter can. Here’s what she told WWD’s Julie Naughton:

We were looking for a man who’s recognized all over the world, someone new to the world of perfumery, and with great seductive potential.
OK, so Givenchy wanted a famous, hot, fragrance virgin. (Just curious, but how much “seductive potential” does it really take to date Britney Spears?) Until LVMH popped his commercial cherry Justin had not been sullied by a scent promotion. (The money he got from MacDonald’s doesn’t count—he didn’t actually have to eat the meat and swallow for that.)

Speaking in Imagery Voice, Ms. Baxter goes on to say:
Most importantly, we needed to find a man who could embody the modern elegance specific to the Givenchy brand as well as all the facets of Play.
Would that be the modernity of Givenchy Gentleman or Monsieur de Givenchy or Pour Homme Blue Label? (Snooze.) Perhaps the super-elegant Very Irresistible Givenchy For Men Fresh Attitude? Or the high-concept Xeryus (xyerusly?) 

And what, exactly, are all the facets of Play?

Well, there’s play, fast forward, and reverse. Timberlake. Music. Play. Get. It

Finally, no launch promotion is complete without a formal reading from the Book of Psalms Ingredient Voice:
Play has top notes of bergamot, mandarin orange, bitter orange and grapefruit; a heart of Caribbean amyris wood, black pepper and coffee flower, and a drydown of vetiver and patchouli.

The seductive potential is in the coffee flower and the modern elegance is in the amyris wood. No, wait. The modern elegance is in the vetiver and the seductive potential is in the black pepper. Oh, the hell with it . . . Ingredient Voice and Imagery Voice always talk right past each other.

Another day, another sadly banal, face-fueled fragrance launch.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


The English have a long and honorable tradition of tolerating eccentrics, but the Baltesz family of Bristol is really pushing the envelope. Together with their teenage children, Mr. and Mrs. Baltesz are peeing into bottles and spritzing the neighborhood with their urine. Why, you ask? To help their lost dog Simon find his way home, of course. They hope he’ll follow the scent trail.

Unlike their less fastidious contemporaries, however, members of the Baltesz family dilute their urine before leaving it in public places. Why, you ask? (What, are you dense?)

Because Jane Hayes, their finder-of-lost-dogs consultant, says that
A dog’s sense of smell is 3,000 times more potent than ours . . .
Three thousand times more potent? Ms. Hayes clearly hasn’t read What the Nose Knows, or she'd know that controlled studies find the human and canine nose are close to parity. In fact, I’ll bet her a warm bottle of recycled Sierra Nevada Pale Ale that she can’t come up with scientific evidence to support her claim.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

It’s Already Tomorrow in Japan

Like particle beams in a circular accelerator, two Japanese cultural obsessions—smell and technology—have collided to produce a sparkling array of new olfactory devices.

Tokyo’s Promotool Corp. began as a cosmetic sampling outfit. When it invented a one-note cinematic aroma generator for screenings of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the company’s management saw the potential of scent marketing. Since then they’ve placed devices that have boosted curry sales (another obsession!) in supermarkets and coffee sales in convenience stores. According to Promotool president Kenichi Inoue,
It’s difficult not to smell something, and it directly sends commands to your brain, so the promotional effect is big.
Hmmm. Might want to soften the rhetoric a bit, Inoue-san; wouldn't a “polite olfactory suggestion” of curry have an equally big promotional effect?

Japan Times writer Kazuaki Nagata also describes @aroma, a Tokyo firm that has been placing scent devices in hotels and stores to create brand-specific ambience.
Then there’s NTT Com’s i-Aroma device which links to your PC with a USB cable. It contains six aromas that can be released individually or in combinations. NTT is promoting the device in consumer trials this summer featuring online content and smells designed by an aromatherapist(natch!) and an astrologer (whuh?).

Gizmag writer Paul Ridden has the story. He’s old enough—or has Googled long enough—to recall DigiScent’s similar iSmell device. Ridden says
Sadly DigiScents failed to attract the investment it needed and went bust in 2001.
Well, that’s partly correct—I know because I was there. Yes, the company went bust in 2001, but it had attracted tons of money. The problem wasn’t technology or lack of money. But that’s a story for another day.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Rearview Aromatherapy

New air freshener line for cars promises to steer you away from road rage.

[photo by Murilee Martin from her Smell Fresh for the Crusher series.]

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Katie's Got a Brand New Blog

She’s doing the Jerk

She’s doing the Fly

Don't play her cheap ’cause you know she ain’t shy.

She ain’t no drag . . .

Katie’s got a brand new bag.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Guerlain’s Other Problem

Having waxed indignant about Guerlain’s ham-handed treatment of fragrance blogger Octavian Coifan, I was surprised to see the brand name in a different context a few days later. Reporter Nedra Rhone wrote a Sunday feature for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on how to find the right summer fragrance. Here’s her local hook for the story:

Six years ago, Atlanta fragrance lover Diane Weissman began decanting perfumes into small vials or bottles that she would sell on eBay to customers who wanted to sample fragrances.
So far so good—people sell all kinds of stuff of eBay. Then comes this:
Two years ago, Weissman and three other decanters joined forces to launch . . . offering samples of high-end fragrances . . . This summer, Weissman designed a sampler that includes fragrances from Hermes, Guerlain, Estee Lauder and Chantecaille. For $45, customers get a little whiff of 16 summer scents in four categories . . .

Whoa! Ms. Weissman and her partners have been re-selling Guerlain perfume in stock bottles for two years. If there was ever a righteous legal target for the Goons of Guerlain wouldn’t be it?

The decanters are directly profiting on Guerlain’s trademarks without Guerlain’s permission. The rationale for trademarks is to assure the public they are buying genuine goods whose quality is backed by the manufacturer. Someone less ethical than Ms. Weissman might fraudulently sell inferior perfume as “Guerlain.” Someone less careful than Ms. Weissman might accidentally contaminate the decanted samples. Someone less sane than Ms. Weissman might deliberately adulterate the “Guerlain.” Any of these scenarios are potentially damaging to Guerlain’s commercial reputation and it would be reasonable for the company to put the kibosh on decanters.

In fact, the murky legal status of selling decanted samples prompted eBay to ban such transactions in April, 2007. The Basenotes site quickly followed by barring sales or swapping of decants. In response, independent decanter sites like ThePerfumedCourt have sprung up all over.

That people are willing to pay for grey-market trial samples of perfume ought to be a big clue to manufacturers that their marketing model needs to change. They’d do well to get ahead of the curve on this phenomenon and do it quickly. Otherwise they’ll end up like the music industry—suing their own consumer base.

In the meantime, I’ll be listening for the legal beagle that hasn’t barked.