by Claire Trévien
Penning Perfumes is a creative collaboration between perfumers and poets organised by Odette Toilette and myself. It will culminate in an evening of readings and sniffing at the Book Club (100 Leonard Street, London, EC2A 4RH) on 12 June and in the publication of a gorgeous poetry pamphlet. As part of a series of encounters between poets and perfumers in the lead up to the event, we brought a cluster of poets to specialist perfumery Les Senteurs’s Marble Arch branch on 5 March. The poets were Nia Davies, Emily Hasler, Amy Key, Charlotte Newman, Tiffany Ann Tondut, Tori Truslow, James Webster and Tim Wells.
This was a brilliant opportunity for the poets to experience a ‘blind’ test of various perfumes from the Editions du Parfum Frédéric Malle: What did they remind them of? What colours did they conjure? What time period did they evoke? Answers varied from: the powder room of a thirties’ music-hall dancer, to the inside of an incense-heavy catholic church, to the halls of a hospital with the packaging reality occasionally jarring with what the scent evoked.
Guided by Les Senteurs’s Nick Gilbert, the poets then had an opportunity to discover the full range of scents at the perfumery. ‘Do you have a perfume that smells of gin?’ I asked him. With barely a second’s hesitation, Nick reached for Angéliques sous la pluie (also by Frédéric Malle), a gorgeous woody ephemeral scent. To the sea-air challenge, he found us Bois Naufragé (Parfumerie Générale), a salty fig scent that beautifully captured the Breton seaside to me. In the name of experimentation, poets even tasted Parfumerie Générale’s peppery perfume (Coze) after it had been sprayed to their skin.
At the end of the session, the poets received a mystery flask containing a scent. They do not know anything about its name, its ingredients or even its colour. Their challenge is to write a poem in a month in response to it. Hopefully, as a result of their session at Les Senteurs this will have been made easier.
We will also be pairing some poets (Lavinia Greenlaw, Emily Hasler, Lindsey Holland, Amy Key, Valerie Laws and David Morley) with perfumers on one-on-one collaborative exchanges, from which a new raw scent, inspired by one of the poet’s poems, will hopefully emerge. We hope to showcase the new scent alongside a reading of the poem that inspired it at the event. These meetings will be recorded and written up on our tumblr so you can keep track of our progress!
Visit Les Senteurs website.