Penning Perfumes - The New Poetry and Perfume Project

by Lila Das Gupta, 13th June, 2012

A new book which marries perfumes to poems has been published in London. 'Penning Perfumes Anthology’ was the idea of Lizzie Ostrom, the olfactory entertainer and consultant who goes by the name of ‘Odette Toilette’.

The aim of the project was to create ‘an unusual cultural exchange in matching poets with perfumers to inspire a raft of new literary and fragrant commissions.’ The project was co-chaired by Claire Trévien, the poet and editor of Sabotage Reviews and was supported by the perfumery house Seven Scent as well as IdeasTap. ‘We wanted to unveil the connections between the written word and the sense of smell,’ said the two women.

Twelve poets, which included established writers like David Morley and Valerie Laws, as well as up-and-coming writers such as Amy Key, Tori Truslow and Lindsey Holland were asked to take part. Each was given the task of composing an original poem inspired by an unlabeled bottle of perfume. Each scent was different, and included contributions from Houses such as Caron, Angela Flanders, Penhaligon’s and Andy Tauer.

Additionally, five poets met with perfumers including Kate Williams of Seven Scent, Mike Parrot of CPL Aromas as well as Ruth Mastenbroek and Penny Williams. Each perfumer had the challen of creating a perfume inspired by one of the poet’s contributions. “ We had considered that free from commercial considerations, the resulting scents might be highly conceptual, and potentially even unwearable” said Ms Toilette. "As it turns out, they were all eminently wearable and lots of people wanted to buy them!"

The book was launched last night at the trendy east London bar 'The Book Club' to a full house. A printed anthology, designed by Nick Murray of Annexe, is available to buy and comes with either a 'random' fragrance sample from the book from those available commercially, or a perfume pen which contains one of the new fragrances that was devised for the project. The offer is available only while stocks last. The International Fragrance Association UK (IFRA UK) are supportive of the work and will be showcasing the initiative at their next industry forum in October.

Co-organiser Claire Trévien says: “Scent is one of the most neglected senses in poetry, foiled by taste and sight at every turn, and part of this reason is, I believe, a feeling of ‘illiteracy’ when it comes to scent. Yet, we use our sense of smell every day! By creating these bridges between these two worlds, the poets have faced a difficult challenge, after all, they did not have their usual sign posts to rely on, only an anonymous fragrance.”


Claire Trévien (left), Lizzie Ostrom aka Odette Toilette (right). Picture © 2012 Stephen Hopper




Ms Toilette commented that "one of the most touching things was when the poets and perfumers came together on the stage last night and met each other again. The poets hadn't smelt the results before and they were incredibly nervous, but they wanted to have the magic of smelling them there for the first time before an audience. One of our poets, Lindsay Holland, read her poem - everyone was listening intently, Kate gave her the perfume she had come up with and it was quite emotional really. Even though they didn't know each other very well it brought a really deep understanding between them.


"We have had lots of demand to do a mini tour of events, so we will be touring this in Oxford and Manchester. We'll update what we are going to be doing on the blog, both the poets and the perfumers want to carry on!"


In just two years, Ostrom’s company ‘Scratch and Sniff’ has been involved in an impressive array of olfactory avenues. As well as a regular podcast available on iTunes [Life in Scents], the company has been involved in research with Oxford University, research into smell and dementia and work with children.


Participating perfumers: Kate Williams at Seven Scent, Penny Williams at Orchadia, Mike Parrott at CPL Aromas, Ruth Mastenbroek, Steve Pearce at Omega Ingredients, Nicolette Perry at Dilston Physic Garden.


Participating Poets: Agnes Marton, Amy Key, Charlotte Newman, David Morley, Emily Hasler, James Webster , Lavinia Greenlaw, Lindsey Holland, Nia Davies, Tiffany Anne Tondut, Tim Wells, Tori Truslow and Valerie Laws.


The Penning Perfumes anthology is available at £5 per copy plus postage from the Penning Perfumes Blog.

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    • Mimi Gardenia | 13th June 2012 15:26

      Thanks , Lila. Perfume and poetry to me, go hand in hand ! :)

    • Beranium Chotato | 13th June 2012 19:01

      Ack. The content on their blog is cringe-worthy. That is really too bad because this is such a good idea.

    • OdetteToilette | 15th June 2012 14:01

      I'm sorry that you found it so. Would be interested to know what you found cringe-worthy.

      Bear in mind that the audience for Penning Perfumes is as much those new to fragrance as established fans, and many of the poets involved have had little experience with perfume - so bear in mind that their interviews and thoughts demonstrates this immersion into an alien subject. This, certainly to us organisers, is what made the project so magical.

      The poets are nearly all based in the UK, and there are mixture of some who are fairly well known here such as David Morley and Tim Wells, as well as many newer or younger writers.

      Thanks, OT