get up early.
look around & pay attention.
keep your habitat clean, clear your mind of the clutter & weight of your possessions.
get o u t d o o r s
don’t be afraid to talk to people you don’t know.
s t i m u l a t e your mind.
“Ninety million years ago, give or take twenty million, there occurred two events that should be of interest to all perfumers. It was then, toward the end of the Cretaceous Period, that the flowers wiped out the dinosaurs. Science knows that the disappearance of the dinosaurs and the appearance of flowers occurred simultaneously, yet, strangely, it has never drawn much of a connection between the two events. It is up to perfumers to correct the oversight.
Vegetarian dinosaurs dined on ferns, floating water plants, and the palmlike cycad. They were not very intelligent, and certainly not very French, having developed a limited, strictly specialized diet. When the great mountain building took place during the Cretaceous Period, seaways drained and swamps dried up. First the aquatic plants, then the ferns and cycads succumbed. Insufficient surface water. Some new plants had been gradually moving in, however. These plants were inconspicuous at first, and neither the dinosaurs nor the swamp plants paid them much attention. Ah, but they had plans for the future. They began to grow their roots longer and longer, sink them deeper and deeper, until they could reach the moisture trapped beneath the surface, and when their stringy little exploratory organs hit the water table -POW! They exploded in a scandalous display of sexual invitation.
The old claw-and-fang world of drab, predatory, reptilian repression had never seen anything like this. Lasciviously colored, scandalously scented blossom after blossom flaunted its genitalia openly, enticing with visual and heretofore unknown olfactory charms any who might be inclined to sample its pleasures.
With their appalling genius for adaptability, insects responded enthusiastically to the outbreak of sensuality. So did the smaller birds. Dinosaurs, however, were repulsed. Although their reproductive equipment must have been monumental -the penis of a Brontosaurus would have been only a couple of yards shorter than the thirty-foot organ of the great blue whale- it was kept out of sight and infrequently used. The dim-witted, thin-blooded dinosaur was not a hot lover, another way in which it differed from the French. It mated once a year, barring headaches. So put off was the prudish dinosaur by the sexy smell of flowering plants that it starved to death and went extinct rather than eat them.
I shall not ask you to believe that an evolutionary intelligence developed flowers for the specific purpose of ridding the world of dinosaurs (and incidentally, the carnivorous dinosaurs quickly joined their vegetarian relatives in oblivion since, with the plant-eaters gone, they had nothing to dine upon), or that that intelligence was trying to teach our planet a lesson, to wit: it is better to be small, colorful, sexy, careless, and peaceful, like the flowers, than large, conservative, repressed, fearful, and aggressive, like the thunder lizards; a lesson, by the way, that the Earth has yet to learn. That is not really my point. Nor is it the point that the largest, most terrifying animals that ever lived were eradicated be fragrance.
No, the point is that the aroma of flowers, from which we have borrowed our perfumes, while extremely powerful, has been from the beginning entirely seductive in its intentions. A rose is a rose is a rogue.
Perfume, fundamentally, is the sexual attractant of flowers, or, in the case of civet and musk, of animals. Squeezed from the reproductive glands of plants and creatures, perfume is the smell of creation, a sign dramatically delivered to our senses of the Earth’s regenerative powers -a message of hope and a message of pleasure.
Small wonder that the Church came to equate perfume with sin, stench with holiness. It is said that certain saints so completely neglected the normal requirements of personal hygiene that Satan himself fled in terror when approaching them from downwind -thus, their reputation for sanctity. The Church periodically favored incense and oils. LeFever purchased its original perfumery from an order of Catholic monks in 1666. Fragrance has long been an important element in ceremony and ritual. Overall, however, the Church has had to oppose perfume because it could not escape the conclusion that perfume is an implicit invitation to forbidden sexual license. As perfumers we must face up to that reality, as well.
There is little difference between the Zulu warrior who smeared his body with lion’s fat and the modern woman who dabs hers with expensive perfume. The one was trying to acquire the courage of the king of beasts, the other is attempting to acquire the irresistible sexuality of flowers. The underlying principle is the same.
What we are really talking about, then, is magic, is it not so? In the anthropoligical understanding of homeopathic magic, perfume is the medium by which the lady magically usurps the sexual powers of the blossom. As with the warrior’s lion fat, there is also more than a little fantasizing going on, for however undetailed, a potential result of the use of the magical medium is being projected onto the wearer’s screen of consciousness.
Since the perfumer is dealing in sexual magic and romantic fantasy, he or she is operating in a realm that is both deeply primitive and highly exalted. This realm has its rhymes and reasons, and they are not quite the same, I regret to inform you, as the rhymes and reasons of the marketplace.
Now, I wish to call your attention to yet another prehistorical event. About two hundred thousand years ago, the human brain tripled in size. Science has been unable to explain this relatively sudden enlargement, since beyond a certain size, a size that the brains of our ancestors had already reached two hundred thousand years ago, intelligence does not increase with brain volume. What evolutionary purpose was served, then, by tripling our cerebral real estate?
I submit that the brain was enlarged in order to store more memories. We have learned in recent experiments that memory is stored not in specific neural centers but, holographically, throughout the brain. As the human mammal came to live longer, and to widen the scope of its intellectual activities, it had more to remember. It needed more closet space, so to speak. But the interesting thing is, the increase in memory capacity was far beyond what was needed at the time. It was, in fact, far beyond what is needed today, although we now live on the average more than three times as long as our prehistoric ancestors, and the range of our activities has increased geometrically. Could it be that evolution was preparing us for a time in the future when we will live considerably longer than we do at present? Could the mushrooming of memory space have been long-range longevity planning? An immortalist ploy?
We may only speculate about such matters. We do know, however, that of our five senses, the one most directly connected to memory is the sense of smell. Although man has become increasingly visual in his orientations, although his olfactory receptor has shrunk until it is no larger than an American dime, sight simply cannot compete with smell when it comes to the ability to awaken memory. Memories associated with scent are invariably more immediate and more vivid than those associated solely with visual imagery or sound. Psychiatrists have begun, in fact, to use perfume to aid the patient in recreating the suppressed memories of early childhood.
Scent is the last sense to leave a dying person. After sight, hearing, and even touch are gone, the dying hold on to their sense of smell. Does that sharpen your appreciation of the arena in which we perfumers perform?
Fragrance is a conduit for our earliest memories, on the one hand; on the other, it may accompany us as we enter the next life. In between, it creates mood, stimulates fantasy, shapes thought, and modifies behavior. It is our strongest link to the past, our closest fellow traveler to the future. Prehistory, history, and the afterworld, all are its domain. Fragrance may well be the signature of eternity.
There is a longstanding argument about whether perfuming is a science or an art. The argument is irrelevant, for at the higher levels, science and art are the same. There is a point where high science transcends the technologic and enters the poetic, there is a point where high art transcends technique and enters the poetic.
A perfumer, of course, is neither a quantum physicist nor a painter, but at his best, when his purposes are high purposes, when his imagination is liberated, his choices inspired, he, too, enters the poetic. And it is revealed to him, then, what the ancients meant when they said with conviction that the soul receives its sustenance via the sense of smell.
I have spoken to you this afternoon of poetry and of sexual magic. Not too many years ago, the names of our perfumes bore testimony to such things. There was a popular scent called Tabu, there was Sorcery, My Sin, Vampire, Voodoo, Evening in Paris, Jungle, Gardenia, Bandit, Shocking, Intimate, Love Potion, and L’Heure Bleue -The Blue Hour. Nowadays what do we find? Vanderbilt, Miss Dior, Lauren, and Armani, perfumes named after glorified tailors, names that evoke not the poetic, the erotic, the magic, but economic status, social snobbery, the egomania of designers. Perfumes that confuse the essence of creation with the essence of money. How much sustenance can the soul receive from a scent entitled Bill Blass?
Vanderbilt and Bill Blass are what the marketing people have given us.
Vanderbilt and Bill Blass, alas. But you know, you perfumers, in the deep unfolding rose of your hearts, you know that the fragrance is no automobile or table setting, no insurance policy, no Preparation H. Attempts to reduce perfume to a predictable product with which cost accountants can safely deal; attempts to own it, control it, and make it happen when the mysterious spirit is not there are fated to end in crude failure and coarse farce.
Perfuming is most unlike manufacture. And perfumers should be proud to assume our historic roles as enchanters, soul feeders, sacred pimps, and alchemists. ‘Marketing people’ are fine enough when it comes to peddling wares, but let us remember always that it is the perfumer, the flowermaster, the guardian of the Blue Hour, who can charm the birds and bees in the human spirit -and destroy its dinosaurs.”—
Marcel LeFever’s speech to the Eighth International Congress of Aromatics in Tom Robbins’s Jitterbug Perfume.
I’ve got the rhythm if you’ve got the time.