Long and ambitious title for a blog post that comes after a long silence, huh? Thing is, I was carried away by sudden slew of ideas and inspirations as I started reading The Diary of a Nose this morning on the bus, so I thought I should cautiously get back to my blog, maybe writing shorter posts rather than lengthy articles that require time, research and labor limae.
I have not been totally idle, fragrance wise. While I’m still struggling to get my book finished (okay, I promise I won’t mention that anymore, it’s becoming pathetic), I’ve been working in the evenings and in the weekends on a couple of challenging custom projects and on the launch of my own non-custom brand. So, I’ve been busy with design, logo, labels etc., and this is the big news. I am still at pains with the refinement of the concept, as crystallising a whole creative approach into visuals and few words, in a way that is both genuine and commercially appealing, is all except straightforward.
Anyway, I’ve been skipping pleasure reading for a while, but I realised that for some reason I wasn’t reading at all in my commute, not even the pile of academic articles that I keep carrying in my bag for that exact purpose. So, I picked one of the three books I had bought from Amazon quite a few moths ago, intended for leisure reading, and read a few chapters. Inspired by almost every single paragraph, I decided to review it on the blog (1).
But hey, the inspirations were too many to handle, and I thought that my poor weak memory would have better managed a ‘diffuse review’, that is a review in installments – more of a random array of thoughts scattered with no particular order throughout the blog than a proper review.
Jean-Claude Ellena doesn’t need presentation: he’s a perfumery superstar, he’s been around for decades and is the nose behind a number of fragrances that made the history of 20th century perfumery. One name for all, Terre d’Hermès. The Diary of a Nose, as the title clearly suggests, is a journal that Ellena kept across 2009 and 2010, in which the nose breaks through the life, secrets and thought of a maestro of perfumery.
Now, I have only gone through a couple of chapters, but enough to get an idea of the whole vibe of the book. While Ellena’s writing is not immune from the annoying penchant for overstatement so typical of some perfumers (or perhaps of the marketing guys behind them), the book oozes genuineness and passion. There are some elements that caught my attention and resonated with my own approach in making perfumes and talking about them: Ellena, who hails from Grasse and lives in Spéracèdes, a village few miles away from the capital of world perfumery, perched on the hillside overlooking Nice, takes often inspiration from the smells of the area. His trip to a groceries market in Ventimiglia, right on the other side of the border with Italy, the way he let his nose get lost in the alleys and stalls, made me think how removed I am from the primal sources of my own inspiration. I am a Mediterranean guy, after all, and need a Med base to go to from time to time to reignite my instinctual love story with smells.
Now, that’s another element that drove my intention to write about this book. Ellena opens the diary with a reflection on pleasure and desire. I’m not going to review that, as I found it slightly jarred and self-indulging, albeit honest and sincere. But it is when he goes about describing a sticking point in the creative process that his opening with desire and pleasure made sense for me. In talking about a fragrance he was creating, Ellena flashes the frustration arising from the discrepancy between the idea and its embodiment in blending: the work “feels bland, it lacks breadth, presence and identity. I’m glum. I decide to take the afternoon off”. (2) And there he goes to Ventimiglia. You can’t love a perfume that lacks presence and identity and how many time the problem with something you created is not that it doesn’t smell good, but that it lacks identity. It’s there, but it’s not there, and you just can’t love it.
And that’s precisely the point where Ellena seems to be doing what I like to do when I talk about perfumes, smells and fragrances: make love to words. After all, I’mi son un che, quando Amor mi spira, noto, e a quel modo ch’è ditta dentro vo significando.
(1) I intended to do the same with Gianni De Martino’s Odori. However and interesting read to some extent, though, I found it convoluted and off-puttingly self-indugling, and couldn’t finish it.
(2) p. 7.