Technically speaking, perfume and music make for easy bed fellows. Both are a construction of notes and accords; however, let’s set that to one side. The beauty of considering perfume through the medium of music as demonstrated by Sebastian Wybrew at last month’s Perfume Lovers London meeting is in the immediate emotional response. Seeing perfume in this way is liberating. A perfume can once again be viewed as a whole and complete work rather than just a sum of its parts or fetishization of ingredients. It brings the act of experiencing a fragrance back to its raw, visceral level.
Legendary perfumer Jean Carles is often compared to Beethoven, who began to lose his hearing in 1796. Although Beethoven gave up performing in public during his last decade, he was still composing music. Some of which would be ranked amongst his greatest works. The comparison with Carles lies in the fact that Carles created Carven’s Ma Griffe and Miss Dior after becoming completely anosmic.
Jean Carles is credited with introducing the idea of “notes” to perfumery. He developed a system of olfactory study that organised materials into two charts – one for naturals and another for synthetics. The Jean Carles Method has gone on to become an industry standard and is the basis for study undertaken by students at Givaudan.
A selection of music was played for us on the evening of the meeting, and each piece was paired with a fragrance based on what they were both evocative of. Have a listen and see if you agree…
While I was researching these pieces, another similarity I came to appreciate is music’s uncanny ability to seep into your consciousness. I find that I get similar cravings with perfumes I have worn. I’ll wake up with its scent on my mind and just have to smell it. After starting to write this, I woke up on more than one morning with a real hankering for Brahms.
Of all of the wonderful selections by Sebastian, the Brahms’ Intermezzo for Parfumerie Générale’s Cuir d’Iris became my favorite. I fell a bit in love with the story of Brahms and Clara Schumann, and when I listen to Brahms’ Intermezzo from Opus 118, there are parts of it I now see as their two distinct voices. I also see their characters in Cuir d’Iris. Brahms, who was often described as having a brusque character, represented in the leather. Clara in the tender iris.
Damn… I’m such a sucker.
Perfume Lovers London resumes on Thursday 24th with An Evening with Perfumer Ruth Mastenbroek.