Yes, I will confess – I have smelled Tony Conigliaro‘s organ. No, not that one – the one known as a perfumer’s organ which, like a Nez du Vin, comprises dozens of phials of keynote smells in perfumery from sexy, filthy base notes up to zingy, transient citrus top notes. And it was a revelation. That was about 18 months ago, and ever since I’ve been growing more fascinated by the world of perfumery, reading blogs, books, attending workshops and smelling random strangers on the tube with a newly-awakened nose. And me and Tony C aren’t the only ones – I happen to know whisky writer Dave Broom is a perfume nut too. And it makes perfect sense, as booze and perfume came from the same root after all: distillation.
Understanding more about how aroma works has vastly improved my tasting abilities. And as a gin lover, it’s particularly fascinating to read about how many ingredients the two worlds have in common, where they come from and how they’re prepared – did you know the price of orris shot up last year after Chanel bought a job lot? That nugget came from Sean Harrison at Plymouth gin (who knows a thing or two about perfume too). And if your tasting vocabulary has run dry, read a perfume blog – they have a totally different language where aromas develop in figures of eight, concentric circles and leave wakes like a ship (called ‘sillage’). And not all perfumes smell like the Body Shop – there are scents created to smell like airports and the seaside and dusty cabinets and men covered in axle grease.
Most recently I spent a fascinating afternoon with perfumery demi-god Roja Dove, who has been working with Macallan to develop a series of aromas to help people understand whisky through a prism of perfumery. And at the same time, Tony C has uncovered evidence that bartenders of the 19th century used to make cologne – something that will inform at least one of the drinks at his hot new Clerkenwell bar ZTH, opening this April. And gastro made scientists Bompas & Parr have something up their sleeves which could feature a perfumery giant coming soon too…
So in preparation, may I urge you to go and get your nose into gear with some of these:
–The Essence of Perfume by Roja Dove- includes tonnes of fascinating info on the history and techniques used in perfumery and distillation, as well as the ingredients, many of which you’ll recognise from gin
– Perfume by Patrick Suskind – a weird and completely compelling work of fiction about a man with an exceptional sense of smell – an essential read for any epicurean and inspirational when it comes to describing smells
– do some nasal research at the Roja Dove Haute Parfumerie hidden away at the top of Harrods (that’s where you’ll find the airport perfume along with a host of more iconic scents, and the staff really know their stuff) or Les Senteurs in Belgravia
And on that (base) note, I’m off on holiday where my poolside read will be a copy of The Perfect Scent by the New York Times scent critic Chandler Burr…