Saturday, April 16, 2016

Perfume and Civilization

I met up with my friend Bas in Midtown after coming from a fragrance line launch. When I pressed him on why he was there he revealed that he is apart of the very small perfume group in NYC, that he had over 80 different concentrates of perfume, and that -in short- he is a scent fanatic. I asked him for more info and he said 'you really want me to give you the background of perfumes?' Please. Perfumes distillation started in Arab countries and mostly involved taking resins and woods and putting them into oil. At the end of the crusades, perfumes came to Italy. Catherine de Medici then married the king of France and helped bring the craft of fragrance to France where it exploded. Europeans are more obsessed with floral distillations while African cultures are still mostly about resins and darker and muskier scents. The original scent of musk is actually from deer sexual glands, aka deer balls. The most valuable ingredient in the world isn't gold or diamonds, but distilled 'oud' from agarwood...which is a type of 100 year old tree that is then infected with a very specific bacteria which grows into a puss that is then distilled into this very pungent oil that smells like dark cheese. But one drop of oud from agarwood is potent and covers an entire room. It's extremely valuable in Asia and Africa. 

Carnal Flower is a type of very sexual perfume from a plant that has the vague whiff of rotting human flesh, which is apparently very sweet smelling and traditionally used by prostitutes and geishas. Bas catalogues smells b/c -for him- it's the most memory-based sensation and like a finger print, in that each person has unique scent. Westerners usually drown their natural scent in cheap and artificial chemicals, but even underneath all the deodorant and perfume there is that individual's totally unique scent. He said the most powerful smell one is instinctively attracted to is usually the scent of one's mother and it's buried in our memories. He noted that when he first met me I had a very pleasant natural skin scent that was a mix of sea salt, dark resins, and light florals. And that is what I learned today about perfumes, the crusades, my mother, and my scent while slurping pasta at a midtown diner.

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