04 October 2007

NJ, Part Deux

I have never seen more strip-malls, or more diners, in my life. Luckily I love me some coffee, pancakes, and eggs over easy. There is something charming, something strangely comforting, about all that stainless steel. Or maybe it's just the smell of bacon grease that brings me comfort.

In my spare time before work I crafted some mini-adventures -- I checked out the Laurelwood Arboretum, which has just enough nature to satisfy my craving. I wanted to venture through the entire thing, which could have taken a couple hours, but then I remembered Steve's warning about bears recently entering residential areas. (In New Jersey?? Apparently so.) Being chewed apart by a bear is one of my worst fears. When I realized there was no one else there to help or protect me, I decided to turn around. I was very disappointed, but visions of nothing but a cellphone and a few random teeth left for posterity forced me back to the car.

Then I decided to check out the private lake nearby, and noticed quite a few houses on the market, and found myself fantasizing about buying a little one and living on the water.

At the bookstore I picked out the best maps of Manhattan and New Jersey, and a couple books on day-trips to lead me beyond the strip-malls. One of them said New Jersey is the most densely-populated state in the US, with the densest highways. This actually made me laugh out loud. (No kidding!) I thought about how crowded Japan is and decided that it prepared me well. I'm looking forward to investigating why this place is called The Garden State.

Then I found a dance class and decided to sign up for jazz lessons. Despite my lack of experience, I LOVE taking dance, because you must focus on every part of your body. The hour goes by in a snap and you realize that absolutely nothing was on your mind but jumping and tummy tucks and finger placement and pointed toes, and that it was so much fun.

Back to my internship for one last day...and hopefully a movie or two before I start WORK on Monday! Whoo!

**Does anybody else think that the first two sentences would make a great opening line for a novel in which the main character shoots someone? Or is at least in love with weapons? I mean what kind of person would describe cold gray metal as "comforting"?

30 September 2007

New Jersey Wisdom

When driving in New Jersey, where everyone has forgotten that you pass on the left and use a blinker to signal a lane change, there are only 3 rules:

1. take lots of cash
2. take lots of gas
3. GO!!

23 September 2007


Yesterday my best friend from college got married. The wedding was absolutely beautiful, extremely well-planned, genuinely touching, and even better for a bridesmaid - fun. I had a blast with friends and family of the bride and groom, and the food was delicious. Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Lee.

Also, I have accepted a marketing position with a great fragrance company in New Jersey. It's one of the largest in the world and I'm both proud and excited to be joining them in October. I found an apartment less than two miles (!) from the office and will be settling in shortly. I'll be there at least until December, but hopefully longer, because after all the recent traveling and changes that have taken place, I am really looking forward to feeling "planted." At least for now. :)

17 August 2007

Dear Lauren

If you have questions about perfume, perfumed products, the fragrance industry, brands, anything -- please ask me in the comments. I'd love to test my knowledge and hopefully impart some as well!


I read a quote that went something like, "Announcing your plans is the best way to see God laugh." With that in mind, here I go anyway:

I've more or less adjusted to being back in the States after my two years abroad. It feels great to be back, and ideally I plan to stay in the US. I hope to always look back on my decisions to move to Japan, and then France, as some of the best ones I've ever made -- Japan especially for my personal life, because I met so many amazing people who taught me so much; and France for my professional one, because I always would have wondered what I can now say with certainty: I am passionate about the fragrance industry, and there's nothing I'd rather be doing. So as I continue my job search, I will remind myself that I can't fail if I don't give up!*

Now. Since MOST of the fragrance companies are US-headquartered in New Jersey, I think I should get more exposure up there. I plan to move for a least a couple months while I do an internship with a very small, very young company. I'm hoping to gain some first-hand experience while showing my face and hopefully landing an interview or two. This may take a while (one man told me it took him 4 years to break into this business!), but I'm prepared to find out.

I am so, so excited to now have a car!! Until I make the (temporary? permanent?) move to New Jersey, I'll be breaking it in around Morganton, enjoying time with my family, and our mere 20-minute drive to the lake.

*from "The Last Kiss," just in case

30 July 2007


I fall in love with places the way others can fall in love with people. Once I realize I'm sunk, I worry that I'll get lost in them, or lose them. I used to have nightmares that Paris was bombed World War II - style, monuments and cobblestones blown to dry dust and bits. I wonder if someday in my lifetime Lake James will be all dried up, a yellow bowl with orange fingers beneath blue and gray layers of lacy North Carolina mountains. I worry that the overdue earthquake and Mt. Fuji eruption will happen any minute, boiling the tatami mats in my old apartment and sloughing off the tea fields and fallen-in shack I loved, sleeping in the sunlight on the road that led to my high school. No more 7-11 onigiri or hazy sky with its view of Fuji-Shi down below, outlined by the glowing green caterpillar train. I used to stand on tip-toes on John's balcony, taking a swig of his beer and saying, "That's our city down there," as if the town were my child and mother-protector all at once.

I drank the last sip of my coffee today and what I saw left in the mug was foam. Like the foam from the tea ceremonies in Fuji -- foam that stuck to my lips like wet grass as I tipped the bowl and let the bitter, powdery remnants slide down my throat; foam of Octavio Paz's beach, boy and girl exchanging limes (love), sea and shoreline exchanging salt.

When I love someone I'm afraid that if I say it aloud, it could vanish like one of my cities; be swallowed like green tea powder; or fly away in the wind like the frothy residue of waves. So I hold it inside, with my landscapes, and hope that it doesn't change.

But of course, I know it doesn't really work this way.

26 June 2007

The Jury

Contrary to popular belief, I am still alive and kicking! (Though mixing and smelling is more like it). Wednesday and Thursday we have an end-of-year evaluation, which consists of professional perfumers and evaluators coming in to check out our work. I will present four perfumes and their briefs:
  • my very first one (based on a photograph of a girl in a yellow bikini)
  • a "middle" project (based on a fashion exhibition in Paris), and
  • my two last perfumes (one from a brand my classmate created, one from a piece of music written by a former Takasago businessman).

I'm hoping other people will see a clear evolution in my abilities and choices of raw materials. Looking back on the year, my formulas, and my perfumes, I see many ways to improve, which is extremely satisfying -- if I didn't understand it before, now I know why my perfumes smell the way they do. I can see the mistakes I made, and I feel confident that I could make better ones in the future. So far I've only scratched the surface. It takes years and years to really plunge your whole arms in, to have enough understanding and control of the materials to manipulate fragrances and become a great perfumer. I'm going to miss having access to the lab!!

18 April 2007


In our latest chapter of functional perfumery, we're designing a "lavender" scent for fabric softener. I put that in quotations because this is an interesting part of the fragrance industry: the perfume should not actually smell like real lavender, but instead like something that the general public deems acceptable for a clothing residue. What is appropriate for the market changes depending on the target population, country, and product. (For instance, an American "chocolate" smell contains a lot more vanilla than a French one.) So even though the process of making a functional perfume is academic, our interpretations of lavender are pretty flexible. Mine has a good amount of coumarine (vanilla-like, but with a stronger hay aspect) and some light cedar notes, in addition to synthetic lavender-like products.

The next is unrelated, but despite my ENORMOUS frustrations with the red tape that wraps around all of France, there are some really great things about this country (cliche or not!):
  • Paris in the springtime -- tulips and wisteria!
  • the lack of, and lack of appreciation for, multi-tasking skills (ahhhh)
  • accessible intellectual media: bookstores everywhere, philosophical debates on TV, loads of info about the current presidential candidates, great magazines like La Philosophie and L'Oeil (art)
  • everyday sensuality (watch the part in Amelie where she goes around touching, cracking, and burying her hands in things just because of the way they feel)
  • the amazing things they do with eggs: omelettes, crepes, etc. etc.
  • as a friend so aptly put it, the spirit that is 1/2 refined, 1/2 bohemian. (that may be the best description of France I've ever heard!)

15 March 2007

No Fragrance, No Life!

Sure it's a play on words, but I'm starting to understand how people can become totally consumed by the work they love. Especially when it's challenging. I thought perfumery was a 9 to 5 job, but it's not. If I really want to be good, I have to do a LOT of work (smelling, studying, re-thinking, formulating, calculating) outside of my classroom "office hours." The most striking thing about this course is how monolithic it has become. In college I had study breaks from the work, like student health meetings, campus events, the gym, piano, romance, etc. But for the first time I wake up thinking about one thing, and go to sleep thinking about one thing.

You don't put down your nose when you walk out the door.

13 March 2007

Stock Exchange

Stock, as in, raw materials. Raw materials that we usually use in easy-drip recipes diluted in 10 % ethyl alcohol. Today was a different story. We're in the middle of functional perfumery, which is extremely involved, but in short it goes like this:

1. smell the fine fragrance you want to put into a cream, shower gel, etc.
2. try to recreate the formula in your lab
3. figure out how much each raw material is going to cost, so that you can replace the most expensive materials with cheaper substitutes (We're talking adjustments that go from 80 euros for the perfume formula to 8 euros for the shower gel formula. And remember, it should smell the same as the 80 euro formula. Uh-huh.)
4. reformulate substitutes for the expensive products (this takes days)
5. recreate the cheap version of the fine fragrance, that you will then add to said cream, shower gel, etc.
6. start over with the cheap version once you realize that some products cause allergies, that others will make the shower gel cloudy when the client wants it transparent, or that the spices that form the signature of your fine fragrance will turn it red, or that some of the materials in your substitutes can turn the plastic of the eventual shampoo bottle into mush
7. finish all that, then measure out the correct proportions of fragrance to shower gel and body cream (about .3 fragrance : 59.7 gel)
8. mix and pour into test bottles
9. put some bottles in the oven, put some bottles in the sun, leave some bottles at room temperature...
10. wait one to six months and make sure everything still smells, looks, and functions properly

After days and days of work, today we completed step 9. When we formulate the final fragrances that will go into the shampoos etc., you have to formulate in pure. So instead of using the easy-drip bottles (as I call them), you have to measure out crystals, powders, gels, liquids, sticky crystals that melt into liquid at room temperature...All of these consistencies leave a lot of room for error. (Hah!) Not to mention, working in pure is more expensive than working with dilutions. So everyone had to share the same bottles. We worked wildly to finish everything today, calling out names of products, passing bottles back and forth, and alternately swearing when powders and crystals blew all over the room. And this, my friends, is what sounded like the stock market all day long:

"Citral! Anybody need the citral!"
"Methyl anthranilate at 1%, somebody give me methyl anthranilate at 1!"
"Damnit, there's coumarine everywhere!"
"Be careful, that crystal melts if you spill it!"
"Where's the rosemary? I'm searching for rosemary, people."
"Camphene, looking for camphene, can anybody give me camphene?"

"Limonene, somebody show me limonene."

It was a true team effort and now I am exhausted. But I've got some real stuff to show for myself -- my own lotion, shower gel, and shampoo based on a perfume currently on the market. I just have to wait a month and make sure nothing will melt or turn red, and then I'm good to go!

10 February 2007

Perfume Quotes

"Perfumers are chemists no more than is the painter who manipulates chemical colors." --E. Roudnitska

"Une femme sans parfum est une femme sans avenir." (A woman without perfume is a woman without a future.) --Coco Chanel

* * *

Perhaps a bit extreme, but amusing nonetheless. Perfumery is truly a methodical art. It is really not chemistry. And actually, a woman OR man without any perfume would be totally excluded from society, which could be the same thing as having no future. Consider the perfumes in soaps, creams, gels, sprays, cosmetics, disinfectants, detergents, and other mass market goods everyone buys in order to function in today's world. Even if you buy "unscented" or "fragrance free" products, they are still perfumed in order to mask the unpleasant odors of the base chemical(s). For example, a lot of laundry detergents smell fatty or even fishy before some kind of fragrance is added. Who wants their clean clothes to smell like seafood?

05 February 2007

"Tasty" Accords and More

Today we're studying various "tasty" accords that are used in fragrances (not only in flavors)! This morning we did caramel and chocolate, which have high proportions of a synthetic buttery note called diacetyl. Later we'll do marshmallow, almond, and coconut.

Needless to say, everybody was hungry at 10 am. I made a dilution of one of my favorite products, ethyl maltol, which smells like caramel and red berries (and is in Angel by Thierry Mugler). The pure comes in powder form, so I crafted a funnel out of paper and tape since regular pipettes wouldn't do the job. Unfortunately, I sprayed powder everywhere in the process,including down my labcoat. At least I smell "tasty" now. At least I don't smell like extremely powerful straight melted butter. Somebody else took care of the diacetyl.

* * *
I read a really great book, Buddhism: Plain and Simple, by Steve Hagen. It was exciting because it outlined many concepts I already thought, from my other readings, my own experience, and my time in Japan. Read it and get back to me with your comments!
I can also recommend: My Sister's Keeper, The Glass Castle, Without Remorse (Tom Clancy), and its sequel Rainbow Six, which I just started.

25 January 2007

First Evaluation

Today we had our first project evaluation (of fragrances created from a chosen visual image). I chose a magazine ad of a beautiful woman walking along a rocky beach in a yellow bikini. My final product was subtler (more subtle?) than I intended, but overall I was happy. I used ginger, nutmeg, and bergamote, along with many synthetic materials, to convey the warmth of sunshine, the fruitiness of suntan oil, and the freshness of saltwater spray.

The most exciting part was using little bottles with vaporizers to SPRAY our perfumes onto each other. (How authentic, whoo!) We tested everything on everybody's skin, from my beachy scent to Isabelle's horsey-animalic scent...and it was amazing how different they smelled on each person. The end result, however, is that we now all stink. I'm probably wearing 300 different and UNBLENDED chemicals. Some of us are going out for dinner to celebrate, and I have a feeling we'll get some evil eyes!

In other news, it snowed yesterday in Versailles. The wind is frigid, but the inch of white frosting was quite lovely.

Also, I am really excited about the opportunity to complete an internship this summer in Hamburg, Germany. (Unfortunately, I don't speak German...) but I'll be working with a British perfumer on whatever projects he is doing at the time. I got a tourist guide to Hamburg and it looks like a pretty summer city. There's a huge port for international trade (the town is not costal but was built around 2 large rivers), and a rather large number of foreigners, so I think it's fairly modern and cosmopolitan. Most of the buildings are modern, too, with lots of red brick, after old architecture was destroyed by fires and bombs... Now if I can just find another apartment!

It's cold and windy, I smell like a dying tree on a sunny day, and I'm late for dinner. :)

A plus! (Til next time!)

03 January 2007

New Year's Weekend

...spent in Durham with some of my closest friends from college. It was SO nice to be home for the holidays!!

Here we are after a great round of karaoke. Thanks to Joey for the photo.