Tuesday, August 26, 2008

maDAME by Jean Paul Gaultier

art by Trenton Doyle Hancock.

  • "Dude! Lets make a smell!"
  • "Wouldn't it be punk to just throw some random stuff together?"
  • "Lets make it totally androgynous!
  • I've got some orange zest, fresh rose, and what the hell, a splash of grenadine..."
  • "Dudical!"
  • "Wait, it needs something else. How about a synth-musk, extra bilgey?"
  • "Perfect! Gag on that fascists!"

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ageless Fantasy by Harvey Prince

Mr. Wilde, author of such works as The Portrait of Dorian Gray and The Yong King, a short story who's illustrations played a large part in my own potty training.

The Cut directs us to WWD with tales of the "world's first anti-age perfume." Apparently Ageless Fantasy, the "ultimate youth perfume" is extra science-tastic because it is "inspired by clinical trials".

From the site:
"Research proves that men around women who used the perfume thought they were on an average 8 years younger! The Essence of Youth, this precious youth elixir is a blend of pink grapefruit, mango, anti-oxidant rich pomegranate, jasmine and musk."

They left out the links to these clinical trials. A quick search of PubMed turns up some articles linking the scent of grapefruit essential oil with sympathetic nervous system activity.

In a double-blind study, the scents of mango, pomegranate and musk were frequently mis-attributed to "bongs, thongs and sarongs."

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Jacques Garcia Silver Home Fragrance

Interior of the Rothko Chapel, Houston, TX

On on of the medical school secondary applications, there is question "If you could have three people of your choice (living or dead), over for dinner, who would you invite and why?"
Now is this just a silly question, or is this preparation for a career raising the dead? There's a great unmade Roger Corman movie about two slacker med-students furiously filling out their residency applications. Heres my ONE MILLION DOLLAR script:

  • Students bring back dead luminaries for dinner date.

  • Luminaries annoyed to be raised just for a dinner.

  • Dead luminaries form zombie army demanding their promised food.

  • Ramones reunite, play theme song as zombies take over school.

Dave points out that this movie has actually been made. I point out the differences between my genius concept, Frankenstein and Dr. Faustus. He directs me to the work of H.P. Lovecraft. He got me, the new DVD even comes with a matching highlighter!

Back to the scent:

I had expected Jacques Garcia, in it's heavy black glass bottle to be proper, perhaps even trite. Instead, when I sprayed it on my skin, I got a quick cool blast of the crypt. Wintergreen and lilies combine into something utterly necrotic. The opening is a little bit like the Frankenstein opening of JAR Bolt of Lightning.

After a few minutes, the creature rises and her breath is soft and warm. Apricots and tuberose compose this new life among us. It's one of most unusual examples of narrative perfumery, and I've never smelled anything quite like it. The art direction is by Rami Mekdachi who also collaborated on the fabulous collection for the Hotel Costes. The nose is Pierre Bourdon who has played with hot/cold flashes in Cool Water and Parfums Frederic Malle's French Lover. There is an excellent review of Jacques Garcia's sister scent Gold at Perfume Shrine and a wealth of information on Rami Meddachi at Aedes. Silver is available at LuckyScent and Bergdorf Goodman.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Chaos by Donna Karan

Flame fractal by Roger Johnston

After the Non-Blonde's review comparing the old and new versions of the Dona Karen scent, I knew I had to give ot a sniff at Bergdorff's. As luck would have it, yesterday was one of their celebratory launch days, so the sniff was accompanied by Veuve Cliquot and little canapes of delicious meat pastes on tiny vegetables. Oh my!

Prior to the review, I had assumed Chaos would be a dark incense scent like Back Cashmere, but in reality it is a beautiful glowing thing. Red fruits, citrus and woods explode in bright shades of red and amber and then slowly collapse so that after an hour, the scent is a soft gray ash of incense and woods. It's the first olfactory reconstruction of the big bang I've ever smelled. Like Lovely Prism, the name conveys the broad spectrum of composit notes, and Chaos begins with a glowing fizzy note which reminded me of Demeter's Ginger Ale.

I love this narrative quality in perfume, and experienced it again with JAR Bolt of Lightning. Mr. Branch had spoken highly of it with a caveat that the first minutes may be stomach churning. The sales associate actually apologized that he had applied too much too my hand and asked me repeatedly to give it some time before "scrubbing" it off. (I was shocked that he used that word - perhaps he has seen someone describe it on a blog as a scrubber.) The initial thunderclap is represented by camphor, wintergreen, sharp green notes and something buttery. It reminded me of Cy Twombley's ancient-Rome-rendered-in-toothpaste-impasto work.

Cy Twombly, "Leda and The Swan" 1962

After the lightning comes the ozone, and the scent mellows to a warm green fog. I don't know how "warm" is rendered in scent but it smells like eating breakfast in the mountains - warm oatmeal and green grasses. It's very beautiful, and lasts for hours.

Back to the subject of chaos, it reminded me of the first bouquet of flowers Dave ever gave me: a romanesco, or as I called it, fractal broccoli. Such a wise Mr. Mandelbrot who linked our concepts of chaos and order through a vegetable.

Those fractally inclined bight like to listen to the Sweet Child o Mine at the Self-similar GNR midi synth.
Q: Huh?
A: They used recordings from GNR albums, speeded them up, and used the resulting tone patterns to re-compose the songs. More detail is available on their website.

Fractal chaos? Perhaps you prefer intellectual property anarchy in the form of unlicensed sampling. That references social chaos and turbulent weather? Well then the K-OTIX have what you need.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Hot Lavender Boobs!

Do you want big lovely boobies? I credit my Avalon Organics Lavender Nourishing shampoo with one of the finest compliments I've received. When asked about my role in our band, Viki said "Duh, you're the one with the fine rack!" Awwww!

An article in the New England Journal of Medicine from 2007 suggests that Lavender and Tea Tree Oils may be just what the doctor ordered. Or if you are a pre-adolescent boy with gynecomastia it may be just what your doctor has told you to stay the hell away from.

The article includes case reports of three pre-pubescent boys:

"The patient's mother reported applying a compounded "healing balm" containing lavender oil to his skin starting shortly before the initial presentation. The gynecomastia partially resolved within 4 months after application of the healing balm was discontinued..."

"In Case 3, the patient was exposed intermittently to various over-the-counter personal-care products containing lavender oil. His twin brother used the same lotions but not the scented soap, and gynecomastia did not develop in him."

They also followed up with in vitro studies examining the role of lavender and tea tree oils in activating estrogen receptors, and inhibiting androgenic activity.

I love lavender, and love wearing lavender based scents, but this is enough to ensure that I refrain from ever using the oil at full strength, (which is a good idea for any essential oil, really). As for the boobies, as a caution to those seeking bodacious tatas, estrogen is a well established cancer promoter. Sigh, you win some and you lose some. Just one more example of how "natural" isn't necessarily healthier.

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Robert Mapplethorpe, Leatherman II, 1972

This is what cops smell like?

With official notes of citrus, verbena, jasmine, thyme and leather I was expecting Mapplethorpe, and instead got Ryan McGinley.

On my skin I smell a little citrus, then a fragile fresh hay. After a few minutes, medicinal phenol and toothpaste notes creeps in, and the composition smells like the pale teal image of a future hospital. Perhaps our gendarme is a fresh faced young resident, blanched by the surgical lamps, chewing hay and carefully washing his hands. This is somebody's kink, but not mine. I'm even embarrassed to find it a little creepy. This is one of the weirder interpretations of masculinity, and like McGinley;s work it eloquently expresses fragility and vulnerability, but brings in an antiseptic quality that turns my stomach. I'm curious what it smells like on other people.

From Ryan McGinley's website.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

L'artisan Fleur de Liane

Henri Rousseau. (French, 1844-1910). The Dream. 1910 at the MoMA

When the Scented Salamander described the new vine based Fleur de Liane I was intrigued by the concept of "eternal feminine" embodied in the moist embrace of a jungle plant. Or as I like to call it Green Vajeen.

Georgia O'Keeffe
Jack-in-the-Pulpit No. IV, 1930

Well I just got to smell it at Barney's and it is fabulous, the scent of the Tropical Pavillion at the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. It was only a quick sniff, but I wanted to share these first excited impressions. Of the "green" fragrances I've smelled, this is the first to capture the lush foliage of that jungle greenhouse. The official notes include guava, and though there is a slight sweetness it is not a fruity tropical concoction, but rather a dense and soothing forest that will be a great joy to wear in the cooler months. It captures jungle rain without calone or the mysterious molon notes of Apres la Mousson, instead relying on what seem to be moss and cut stem notes to conjure up the rain.

If you need a reason to consider research training at the National Museum of Natural History, I can give you two.

1: Viki worked in their Hall of Insects for a summer, and observed that in April the bee hive produced fragrant yellow honey from D.C. cherry blossoms, but that by July the honey had become foul smelling and black, as the bees discovered the much closer ice cream wrappers and spilled sodas at the entrance of the museum.

2: This young scientist in their program is the first thing that comes up when you search for "butt nut". (Lodoicea maldivica) And doesn't he look like John Kratz?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The New York Academy of Science presents a podcast: What the Nose Knows by Avery Gilbert

On-trend perfume concepts for the fall of 2008: 90's revival

Dewberry Chalk
CK1 & Diet Peach Snapple
Crushed Necco Wafers at the bottom of a Jansport backpack

Hear me now, smell me later

From a very cool 2007 review of current findings in olfaction: The scent of life. The exquisite complexity of the sense of smell in animals and humans
(EMBO reports 8, 7, 629–633 (2007) doi:10.1038/sj.embor.7401029)

CO2-sensitive neurons expressing Gr21a (green) and Gr63a (red), proteins that together are necessary for CO2 detection in Drosophila. The neurons target a specific region of the fly brain, which is dedicated to processing the smell of CO2. Credit: Vosshall Laboratory, Rockefeller University. Reprinted with permission from Macmillian Publishers Ltd [Nature, Jones et al, 2007].

Participation in the Vosshall lab's study on the Physiological Effects of Androstadienone Exposure is open on the RUCares site. I haven't had a chance to participate in any of her experiments but they sound like a great way to get in touch with one's own olfactory perception.

The scent of life
article offers an excellent summary of the controversy surrounding Luca Turin's controversial model for understanding odorant receptors.

The major model is the odotope theory where the shape of the odorant determines the selective binding to the receptor. Only a small portion of the odorant binds so it is possible for different odorant molecules to activate the same receptor, and potentially for a single odorant molecule to activate multiple receptors depending on the contact point.

In contrast, Luca Turin's model proposes that when an odorant comes in contact with a receptor with a congruent vibrational pattern, the electrons jump to a higher energy state activating the receptor. I confess that I don't know much about electron tunneling, the main phenomenon behind his theory, but I have never heard of it as part of a biological phenomenon. Electron tunneling offers extremely cool applications in bio-imaging, and electron excitation is the physics behind modern fluorescence microscopy, but I have never heard of it as part of a biological system - which doesn't mean that it's not true, but it's significantly more complicated than the predominant model and does not seem to explain certain biological phenomena. For example, it doesn't seem to explain why the chirality of molecules would have such a large impact on our perception of their odor.

R Carvone smells like spearmint, S Carvne smells like carraway.

For example, let's look at Carvone , a simple ring structure that's frequently used in Organic Chemistry texts as an example of chirality or "handedness". When a molecule and it's mirror image (or enantiomer) cannot be superimposed, they are said to be chiral. For example, looking at your left hand, your right hand would be it's mirror image or enantiomer, but you can't superimpose them. Right hand sure looks like the left hand, but they are not conformationally the same as anyone who's ever tried to jam their left hand into their right glove will attest. And this can at least in part explain the difference in odorant receptors - if you have a left glove shaped receptor protein, it's going to be activated preferentially by left hands, though as the jamming experiment dictates you might have some success trying to force a right hand in there.

So this is my simplistic understanding of odorant receptors - that we can smell thousands of scents based on the activation of only 400 types of odorant receptors because the specificity is low enough that many odorants activate multiple receptors. It's this pattern of activated receptors that is translated by the brain into what we understand as smell.

No discussion of science is ever complete without a picture of Jeff Goldbulm (or possibly Alan Alda. In this case, his role in The Fly is an homage to the humble Drosophila who have assisted the Vosshall lab in illuminating the neural anatomy of olfaction. Any and all tributes to Erik Kandel will feature Mr. Goldblum's famous line from Annie Hall: "I forgot my mantra."