Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Nose Knows Best.... a Journey of 3,000 Scents

I smell like I rolled around in fields of flowers all day.  Close actually, I spent the majority of my day in perfume factories. The smell of old lady is slowly seeping its way into my body, never to leave; I will smell like an 80 year old for the rest of my life!!  If said 80-yr-old-trapped-in-a-23-yr-old-body can wear Chanel No. 5, then I'm ok with that on some level.
My entire life I have struggled with smell. Not smelling, but smell... specifically the way I smell. My Mother, with her very keen--read sensitive-- nose (something my brother, Joseph, inherited, not I, thanks Dad!)  has always done a quick sniff check as I walk out of the house in the morning. Don't ask, weird family quirk. That being said, I have never found a perfume that "matched" with my body chemistry until this Christmas. Santa miraculously found a perfume that worked for me. (Estee Lauder Sensuous Nude in case any readers were curious) 
So when a trip to Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, to create our own perfume, was proposed by some girls in the program, I thought "Hey, why not!" After all how hard can developing perfume be? I've only been unable to find one for 22 years. This process requires a lot of olfactory stamina and is not for the weak nosed--aka Mom and Joseph skip out on this one.   Grasse is home to over 40 perfume factories so there was a wealth of knowledge and smells to absorb.  The sky was the most gorgeous color blue when we arrived. Juxtaposed against the mountain tree line, I had to take a picture of just the sky to remember its specific deep azure color.   After schlepping across hills and up mountains and down the beautiful cobble stone streets of Grasse, we ended up at Galimard Perfumes. 
Galimard is the oldest perfume factory in Grasse dating back to 1747.  When you walk in to create your own perfume you are hit by the smell of old woman.  Its not a bad smell by any means, its more powdery mixed with  fruit somewhere with a slight musk in the background. You are guided to the smelling station where I can only say it is overwhelming, from the task at hand and the amount of smells.   

Then comes the picking of scents and measuring the essential oils, like in chemistry class (think beakers and precise measuring). As you sift through the hundreds of different smells, you have to figure out what you like. A perfume newb, like me, didn't stand a chance.  Coffee beans clear the "nose palette" and those were readily on hand throughout the appointment. After a while, I'm not going to lie, I went with my first reaction to every smell (there were so many!) There are over 3,000 scents to pick from! But our little jars contained between 10-15 essential oils already mixed together.  And even then there are over 100 jars to sift through to pick the right scents!

Perfumes have base notes, heart notes, and peak notes. The peak notes are what you first smell right as you spray the perfume.  The heart notes are what is present on your skin after fifteen minutes. Finally the base notes are what is left over hours later. So we started with the base notes and worked our way forward. My perfume has a decent bit of jasmine, bergamot, and lilly of the valley. Apparently I'm floral?  All in all, a must-do experience if you are staying in the South of France for any extended period of time, as the entire process takes a few hours!
A very fun and smelly day overall!! 

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