eyeliner on a cat

eyeliner on a cat
beauty, scent & style scrutinized for pleasure

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Finally, here's your chance to expose your briefs

Let's say that you are the creative director of a fragrance firm, or a designer. Your job is to compose a brief to hand off to a particular perfumer and hope for the best. What would you ask for exactly, and to whom would you entrust the job of making your creative vision into olfactory reality?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the incredibly varied briefs that perfumers must get handed to them, and it's my fondest wish that someday, some well-known perfumer would write a book compiling all of them. It wouldn't be necessary to name names, just to be able to read them would be a guilty pleasure. I'm sure they would vary from the insane to the sublime and would make great entertainment on par with Turin and Sanchez' The Guide.

Me? Perhaps I would call up Thierry Wasser and, utilizing his strengths, ask him to compose a fragrance of haute vulgarity. Using a blend of high-quality naturals and great synthetics, he would take certain cues from Guerlain's history. I would ask him to create the olfactory equivalent of the outmoded psychoanalytical idea of the Madonna/Whore Complex. It would smell like early twentieth-century violet, loads of coumarin/tonka and whatever else might strike Monsieur Wasser's fancy. It would turn heads, distracting all in its wake to the point of mania in searching out its source. In short, it would be spectacular.

Thierry Wasser- my imaginary perfume husband

What about you? What would be your perfume fantasy? How would your brief read, and which perfumer would you task with it?


  1. Ok, so I have two briefs (although I'm only wearing one pair of underwear today - haha!): one is for a mainstream perfume, and the other is for an indie. Since familiarizing myself with indie perfumery, I've come to find that indies in general tend to be better at creating moods/environments with their scents as opposed to creating something that simply smells wonderful/unique/etc. etc.

    I have two fantasy fragrances in my head - one probably exists, but not to my exact qualifications (I think?). The other is a total pipe dream, and you're going to get a serious laugh out of it (or wonder why you're friends with such a dork).

    Brief #1, for my mainstream: I'd want Christopher Sheldrake (of course, of course I choose him!) to make me a Serge that smells exactly like a Hispanic funeral. Yeah, I went there. I want the most perfect funeral parlor smell ever: top notes of spicy carnations, red roses, and lilies - all at the verge of wilting (so lots of indoles) - combined with a civet and castoreum base, with heavy incense and rum for the heart notes. Oh, and I want a slight chemical overtone. Hispanic funeral: the wreaths, the rot, the formaldehyde, the Catholic Church incense, and the Bacardi. Growing up, I attended so many funerals that I grew to enjoy the smell. I think Sheldrake could do it for me; he can do no wrong in my eyes. Now, I know that there are some funereal scents out there, but I don't know if there's one that's exactly like how I picture it.

    Now, brief #2, for my indie: Oh god, don't laugh Carrie. I want a fragrance that smells like a freshly opened deck of Magic: The Gathering cards. Yeah, weird, I know. Look, my boyfriend and most of my guy friends play, and they always joke that if a girl could find a perfume that smells like a fresh deck, she could rule the world. I want that! Now, a freshly opened deck smells of beautifully lacquered wood with a hint of delicate and airy white flowers. There's also a distinct but subtle earthiness to the smell. As the cards are exposed to air and light, their smell becomes increasingly powdery until it fades away to an ozone-y, clean smell. I'd ask Dawn to do this for me, since she plays with synthetic/natural combinations - I think I'd need a synthetic for that lacquer accord but maybe I'm wrong. I just think she'd understand my desire to recreate a smell that's so important to those I love dearly, and my desire to use that smell to make men fall at my feet! =)

  2. Joey- I think both of your ideas are genius! I don't think your mainstream one exists exactly like you described, or at least I don't know of one. There's a candle you might like though- it's DL & Co Modern Alchemy Dia de los Muertos. I love the idea of the deck of cards scent too, you've got a wonderful imagination!

  3. I love your ideas, Joey, and love that #1 is the mainstream. Heheh

  4. I'd like to be a perfumer myself. I'm not very conceptual today, but enthralled with a place that smells like ambergris soaked leather and a filigree of herbs, lavender, mint, licorice, and frangipani. California. It would be subtle, erotic, heated and an un-perfume.

  5. Cait, thanks! #2 is just too wacky to be mainstream; also, it's too personal a scent to be mainstream. Seriously, the smell of those damn cards is a serious memory trigger for these guys. I want to harness that.

    Carrie, I know that besides De Profundis, there's Cartier Baiser Vole which Victoria told me is pretty funereal. Also, Liz Zorn Flamenco Acousticjus is pretty funereal as well. I need to try it layered with Tallulah Jane Gotham or with Opus DSW and see how close I can get. I just thought that it'd make a good Serge: a gorgeous smell bordering on the bizarre, which I feel Serge + Sheldrake do well.

    I'll definitely check out that candle as well! xoxo

  6. Cait- I'm very taken with your California scent idea. I think you would make a wonderful perfumer.

  7. Carrie, this is such a great post. People often ask me when I'm going to develop my own scent. I still can't figure out what I'd do. I think I'd like to pair up with Liz Zorn. She's really impressing me. Not to mention, I"m not sure how many briefs she's seen and if she hasn't seen many traditional ones, that inexperience might prove to keep my idea fresh. If I went with a mainstream perfumer, it would be Bertrand Duchaufour. I know he's busy and has created quite a few scents on the market but I really liked what he did with Penhaligon's Sartorial and Eau D'Itale's Jardin du Poete.

  8. Hey Barney, thanks for stopping by to comment! I ADORE Liz Zorn's work, and I have often dreamed of a bespoke scent by her. That may well be within my reach one day, that's why I decided to go for the unattainable in this blog post. I feel like we could make an awesome party game out of passing around pieces of paper folded with a perfumer's name on it, and then each person has to come up with a brief for him or her. Oh, you can tell I've never been in the same room as a large number of fragrance enthusiasts before, I'm a huge fragonerd. :)

  9. Carrie, what a fantastic theme, how amazing it would be to read some of these briefs. I can't concoct anything right now, because I am in a silver cloud of Barbara Bui and cannot escape its beauty. Andi has been rubbing up on my neck all day! That kitty is all style.

  10. I love Joey's "Hispanic Funeral" scent then again I expect nothing less from her...and I'm sure if I smelled like a fresh deck of Magic gathering cards it would make his eyes roll back in complete delight...yes, he's nerdy like that, too!

    and to Cait - Being a California girl (NorCal), I would definitely wear that scent - it's sounds fantastic.

    I would love a scent that would recreate the memory I had as a little girl, circa 1978-79 and my mom would leave me to be taken care of by my elder cousins or grandmother, if she was in town, she would leave the scent of tiare flower and musk. To this day, I am still not super close to my mom but I always remembered her style, her makeup and her scent - she was super glamourous. I often try to recreate this type of scent and I fail. When I do wear something super musky she comments on how much she likes my scent so I guess that's something that I luckily wear really well. I guess I would love something that has a musk base but also carries some floral notes - maybe something that would invoke a night of dancing in a discotheque. I know this is not original but maybe with also an exotic element - to reflect my mother's Filipino heritage?

    I know I lack the sophisticated fragrance jargon as I'm a fragrance writing virgin but when I smell certain scents something physical in me stirs.

    Isn't that what fragrance should do?

  11. Great question!

    For a "mainstream" brief, I would coax Jean Kerleo out of retirement and have him re-create the Henri Almeras masterpiece Vacances by Jean Patou - or he could advise me who else would be talented enough to do it. (Perhaps Daphne Buguey, who was able to do that for a few great old Coty classics?) He might not have access to the formula anymore but surely he would know how to do it. It is my all-time favorite perfume and I am still in denial that it's gone.

    From an indie/natural perfumer, I want a perfume that brings back a memory for me - the smell of a garden from my childhood, filled with fragrant peonies in early summer, with breeze-borne scents of meadow grass, nasturtiums, sharply scented sweet fern and a hint of tomato leaves, along with the sleepy aroma of the big stone steps outside the kitchen, hot from the sun, and the sweetness of a house full of well-aged paper; old books, National Geographic magazines and sheet music for the ancient upright piano. I think Dawn Spencer Hurwitz could do it, using just the right amount of synthetics to create the notes not found in natural perfumery. I adore her abstract creation Memory and Desire No. 1 with its notes of ozone-struck wet pavement and sumi ink.

  12. Sharryn- Barbara Bui is a DREAM, I adore it!

  13. Lexi- I love your idea! It only takes a little time and patience, and you will find your perfect scent- or several!

  14. Flora- I'm a big believer in DSH, she can do amazing things. She works intuitively, and my experience working with her on my bespoke scent has been really pleasurable.

  15. Ok Carrie, here's my third brief:

    I think I once mentioned to you that I have a desire for a perfect strawberry fragrance. Every strawberry I've encountered thus far in perfume has been too synthetic, too sickly sweet, and too...candy-ish.

    I want a REAL strawberry: green leaves, rain-soaked earth, and the fresh sweetness of the fruit on first bite. Tarte, bright, sweet but not toothachingly so. I would like a fougere-base, but with added vanilla to bring some warmth to the fruit. A creamy vanilla, to mimic the homemade whipped cream I'd make for my strawberries.

    (Background: I used to make vodka-soaked strawberries and homemade whipped cream for the men I'd see - I'm quite the...hostess. Yeah, hostess ;) haha but yeah)

    The trick for me would be finding the right top note for this scent. I don't want anything overly floral or citrusy. I was thinking maybe just bergamot and bitter orange.


    Top: bergamot, galbanum, and bitter orange
    Heart: Strawberry, clary sage, and geranium (and maybe ylang-ylang to start to transition to the creaminess I'm looking for)
    Base: Fougere accord (oakmoss + coumarin) and vanilla

    and of COURSE I'd ask Mandy to make this for me!