A Scentophile's Education: Is There Something We Neglect?

    A Scentophile's Education: Is There Something We Neglect?

    post #1 of 4
    Thread Starter 
    Advance Disclaimer: The ideas set forth in this post are my own, and do not reflect in any way on the efforts of others to educate themselves about scent! That having been said, here goes:

    When I think about my own journey into the world of scents, I realize how much time and money people must put into their obsession (use another word if you like!) with perfume.

    And then I wonder again. I think there are those who stop there, and those who don't.

    I mean, time spent in keeping track of new releases and learning about what's already out there, and money spent in acquiring and maintaining some kind of collection: all well and good. And yet, it seems that others take it even further.

    Some people seem to want to spend time learning to differentiate a vast array of perfume materials by scent: nose training, if you will. Others want to learn about perfume composition, or how professional noses do different aspects of their job. Others read books about perfume and the history and development of the tradition and the industry.

    I've done at least some of all those things, and I can see why others want to do them as well. They really enhance one's appreciation of the subject, and above all, of the artifacts it produces and which we gratefully admire and consume.

    But there are two aspects of perfumery which many of the people I have come to know through this interest of mine seem not to share an interest in. (Not all, mind, you; but I would say most.)

    These two things are, first, what I would call philosophy of scent as a branch of the larger area of aesthetics; and second, some kind of rigorous exercise of language.

    Now, I know it is easy to enjoy beautiful things without reflecting too much on the experience. For some people, it seems to ruin the experience to think too much about it, to "intellectualize" (that seems to be a dirty word) about it. To a degree, however, I understand that attitude. In a sense, the experience of pleasure or beauty justifies itself. Ultimately, though, that doesn't satisfy me. To understand a universe of discourse (forgive the academic in me coming out a bit here) takes some idea of the bases of it, that is, the systematics of its foundations. Scientists talk about the philosophy of science; historians discuss the philosophy of history. Why then do I not hear more discussion of the philosophy of the art of scent? There's enough material out there to provide fodder for years of discussion: the whole issue of the biochemistry (or the biophysics, if you believe others, like Luca Turin) of the human sense of smell could occupy quite a long research project. Even for those of us who aren't technically proficient enough to do the spadework, a desire to follow its progress would seem a logical interest of the committed scentophile. Well, not everyone's cup of tea, OK; but hardly anyone's? That seems very odd to me.

    The second great area in which I detect a degree of disdain is the area of the language of perfumery. Yes, I mean (at least in part) the terms of art about materials, extraction techniques, perfume genres, and so on. That isn't all of it, however. The perfumer's project is an international undertaking with a long history, most of it not in English, if truth be told. And there I encounter my own personal frustration with the resolute monolingualism of English speakers and the resultant cultural provincialism of the Anglo-American mind. And you know, I think it is a frustration I share with the whole non-English-speaking world, even though English has been my primary language since all but the first few years of my childhood.

    I realize that my experience of this issue is quite different from that of the large majority of my fellow-citizens. But you know, I'm not the only one on Basenotes who, having discovered the treasure of the Estonian perfume website parfyym.pri.ee, has made an effort to learn some perfume vocabulary in Estonian in order to make use of the riches of information to be mined there.

    I have tried to make sense of perfume blogs in Italian which, while easier for me than Estonian, still required some dictionary time. And I know there is some interest out there in French, if only from the repeated inquiries about the pronunciation of French brand and product names.

    Most community colleges offer fairly inexpensive French classes, you know. It might not hurt to get some first-hand information on the language. The institution where I teach offers French classes. If you know English, a lot of French is not that hard. And think of the fun of finding yourself a good dialect coach to help with your pronunciation probably more fun than spending time trying to figure out these kinds of things online.

    My best experiences of Basenotes have been field trips with other Basenoters in my area. They wouldn't have been possible without the site, of course, but those outings have been the best. A chance to talk, to agree and disagree, to have meaningful and respectful conversations with people face-to-face, where flaming and dismissive talk is clearly not called for; these have been my peak experiences in my recent explorations of the world of scent. And you know, when I get started on my particular dissatisfactions (described in the earlier part of this post), one of two things happens. They either fade (temporarily, of course) into irrelevance in the context of live conversation, or I discover that I'm not alone in caring about them and have the pleasure of exploring them with other knowledgeable and like-minded souls.

    Precious stuff!!

    Anyway, I've had my say for today. I hope it stirred up something to think about for every reader, and if it didn't, then it doesn't matter after all.

    Long live Basenotes! Long live perfume!
    post #2 of 4
    As a linguist and eager learner of foreign languages, I very much enjoyed your "essay" ... - just like you, my interest in perfumes has broadened my vocabulary in many languages over the years- and I think it is amazing how a "thing" many other people consider trivial - i.e. perfume - can lead to so many fruitful and inspring intellectual and spiritual journeys.
    Reading you was a pleasure.
    post #3 of 4
    Thank you for expressing a thought that I've long kept within me for fear of being tagged an "elitist." For me, fragrance is not something I splash on at random or with the primary goal of attracting someone. (I'm not saying I never use it to attract someone but not as an everyday practice.) To me, it is an aesthetic, philosophical, and intellectual experience. As a trained academic, analyzing the world around me is simply part of how I live. I feel, as did Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living. Part of the pleasure of wearing a given scent--for me at least--involves exploring the symbolic and psychological aspects of the fragrance, how it affects moods, how it interacts with my environment, and how it affects others. When I work alone in my home office, I wear what fits with my mood on a given day, but when I am out in public, what I wear has been planned hours in advance to fit the setting and situation in which I anticipate finding myself in and how I feel about it.

    While I doubt that most people feel this way about the fragrances they wear, I am glad to know that there are others who do.
    post #4 of 4
    Great reading Jaime.
    class="

    6/1/10 at 4:27pm

    JaimeB said:



    Advance Disclaimer: The ideas set forth in this post are my own, and do not reflect in any way on the efforts of others to educate themselves about scent! That having been said, here goes:

    When I think about my own journey into the world of scents, I realize how much time and money people must put into their obsession (use another word if you like!) with perfume.

    And then I wonder again. I think there are those who stop there, and those who don't.

    I mean, time spent in keeping track of new releases and learning about what's already out there, and money spent in acquiring and maintaining some kind of collection: all well and good. And yet, it seems that others take it even further.

    Some people seem to want to spend time learning to differentiate a vast array of perfume materials by scent: nose training, if you will. Others want to learn about perfume composition, or how professional noses do different aspects of their job. Others read books about perfume and the history and development of the tradition and the industry.

    I've done at least some of all those things, and I can see why others want to do them as well. They really enhance one's appreciation of the subject, and above all, of the artifacts it produces and which we gratefully admire and consume.

    But there are two aspects of perfumery which many of the people I have come to know through this interest of mine seem not to share an interest in. (Not all, mind, you; but I would say most.)

    These two things are, first, what I would call philosophy of scent as a branch of the larger area of aesthetics; and second, some kind of rigorous exercise of language.

    Now, I know it is easy to enjoy beautiful things without reflecting too much on the experience. For some people, it seems to ruin the experience to think too much about it, to "intellectualize" (that seems to be a dirty word) about it. To a degree, however, I understand that attitude. In a sense, the experience of pleasure or beauty justifies itself. Ultimately, though, that doesn't satisfy me. To understand a universe of discourse (forgive the academic in me coming out a bit here) takes some idea of the bases of it, that is, the systematics of its foundations. Scientists talk about the philosophy of science; historians discuss the philosophy of history. Why then do I not hear more discussion of the philosophy of the art of scent? There's enough material out there to provide fodder for years of discussion: the whole issue of the biochemistry (or the biophysics, if you believe others, like Luca Turin) of the human sense of smell could occupy quite a long research project. Even for those of us who aren't technically proficient enough to do the spadework, a desire to follow its progress would seem a logical interest of the committed scentophile. Well, not everyone's cup of tea, OK; but hardly anyone's? That seems very odd to me.

    The second great area in which I detect a degree of disdain is the area of the language of perfumery. Yes, I mean (at least in part) the terms of art about materials, extraction techniques, perfume genres, and so on. That isn't all of it, however. The perfumer's project is an international undertaking with a long history, most of it not in English, if truth be told. And there I encounter my own personal frustration with the resolute monolingualism of English speakers and the resultant cultural provincialism of the Anglo-American mind. And you know, I think it is a frustration I share with the whole non-English-speaking world, even though English has been my primary language since all but the first few years of my childhood.

    I realize that my experience of this issue is quite different from that of the large majority of my fellow-citizens. But you know, I'm not the only one on Basenotes who, having discovered the treasure of the Estonian perfume website parfyym.pri.ee, has made an effort to learn some perfume vocabulary in Estonian in order to make use of the riches of information to be mined there.

    I have tried to make sense of perfume blogs in Italian which, while easier for me than Estonian, still required some dictionary time. And I know there is some interest out there in French, if only from the repeated inquiries about the pronunciation of French brand and product names.

    Most community colleges offer fairly inexpensive French classes, you know. It might not hurt to get some first-hand information on the language. The institution where I teach offers French classes. If you know English, a lot of French is not that hard. And think of the fun of finding yourself a good dialect coach to help with your pronunciation probably more fun than spending time trying to figure out these kinds of things online.

    My best experiences of Basenotes have been field trips with other Basenoters in my area. They wouldn't have been possible without the site, of course, but those outings have been the best. A chance to talk, to agree and disagree, to have meaningful and respectful conversations with people face-to-face, where flaming and dismissive talk is clearly not called for; these have been my peak experiences in my recent explorations of the world of scent. And you know, when I get started on my particular dissatisfactions (described in the earlier part of this post), one of two things happens. They either fade (temporarily, of course) into irrelevance in the context of live conversation, or I discover that I'm not alone in caring about them and have the pleasure of exploring them with other knowledgeable and like-minded souls.

    Precious stuff!!

    Anyway, I've had my say for today. I hope it stirred up something to think about for every reader, and if it didn't, then it doesn't matter after all.

    Long live Basenotes! Long live perfume!

    6/2/10 at 11:43am

    Guest said:



    As a linguist and eager learner of foreign languages, I very much enjoyed your "essay" ... - just like you, my interest in perfumes has broadened my vocabulary in many languages over the years- and I think it is amazing how a "thing" many other people consider trivial - i.e. perfume - can lead to so many fruitful and inspring intellectual and spiritual journeys.
    Reading you was a pleasure.

    6/3/10 at 10:23am

    Doctor Mod said:



    Thank you for expressing a thought that I've long kept within me for fear of being tagged an "elitist." For me, fragrance is not something I splash on at random or with the primary goal of attracting someone. (I'm not saying I never use it to attract someone but not as an everyday practice.) To me, it is an aesthetic, philosophical, and intellectual experience. As a trained academic, analyzing the world around me is simply part of how I live. I feel, as did Socrates, that the unexamined life is not worth living. Part of the pleasure of wearing a given scent--for me at least--involves exploring the symbolic and psychological aspects of the fragrance, how it affects moods, how it interacts with my environment, and how it affects others. When I work alone in my home office, I wear what fits with my mood on a given day, but when I am out in public, what I wear has been planned hours in advance to fit the setting and situation in which I anticipate finding myself in and how I feel about it.

    While I doubt that most people feel this way about the fragrances they wear, I am glad to know that there are others who do.

    6/17/10 at 9:19am

    Mimi Gardenia said:



    Great reading Jaime.





Loving perfume on the Internet since 2000