We have a wonderful (and very funny!) guest contribution this month from 15 year old fragrance fanatic and wannabe perfumer Honor Dodd. Honor recently completed a weeks work experience with a fragrance distribution company which prompted her to write this fabulous post charting her love affair with perfume…
Hello. I’m Honor Dodd. I’m 15 years old and have wanted to be a perfumer since forever! I’m a corporal in the RAF Air Cadets and have never broken a bone. Without trying to sound like a dating profile my hobbies, pretty much since I could walk, have been mixing together whatever plants I could find in the hopes of making something resembling perfume. My nerd side is frequently visited as I enjoy science and aeroplanes very much (I know right?) almost as much as I love Harry Potter. I dare you to tell me something about Harry Potter that either myself or JK Rowling herself doesn’t know #ravenclawpride. I also took a GCSE in German a year early if that counts for anything? So onto the main attraction, the thing you’ve all been waiting for: the time I fell in love with perfume and never looked back*.
When I was 12, I went to Galimard in Grasse with my Grandma for two days. A little bit of context: my Grandad and Grandma (Pépé and Mémé) on my mother’s side retired to France about 20 years ago. And almost ever since I was in the womb, I knew I wanted to be a perfumer (and still do). I thought the job title of ‘nose’ was really cool, but then my dad told me to aspire to be a big toe, so I was put off for a few months!
Anyway, since I knew that was what I wanted to do from such a young age, my Pépé suggested that I go to Grasse while I was visiting them, even if only for a few hours (including the journey there and back but more on that later). Obviously with Grasse basically being the home of modern fragrance, I was spoilt for choice as to which fragrance house I wanted to have a look around, so I told my brother to pick one and, him being only nine, said he wanted me to go to the one that started with the letter G, as his name is Gabriel!
So, we were headed to Galimard. A family-owned fragrance house that once served the likes of the French royal family (before they lost their heads). I can’t tell you much about the journey there as I was asleep for the most part, even though my grandparent’s house was only 3 hours away. I do however remember the drama involved in trying to find the hotel. I was woken up by my Mémé shaking me saying that the satnav had lied to her and that we were now lost. I looked around us and saw nothing but lavender on one side, and grape vines on the other. The hotel was nowhere to be seen. As we retraced our steps to the nearest road, we discovered the satnav did not in fact lie, it had just got confused with the absurd amount of 3rd exits on the roundabouts of which there were far too many. Turns out, we had actually passed the hotel via the lavender fields, only my Mémé had dismissed it, as not ‘looking French enough’ (it was an Ibis).
We got set up in the hotel and then promptly made our way to the factory, where we would be going on a tour. As soon as I set foot in the lobby, I knew that that was where I wanted to spend most of my life. The terracotta floor tiles perfectly reflected the rows upon rows of bottles stacked from the floor right up to the double-height roof. Each bottle was perfectly positioned so the light streaming down from the conservatory windows would refract in the fragrance, causing individual rays of light to create a mesmerizing display on the nearby walls and floor. So mesmerizing in fact that I completely ignored the lady at the front desk asking me if I was French, in English. I was so entranced by the bottles that I blurted out a ‘Si’. I don’t speak Spanish.
As the tour (thankfully in English) began, we started by looking at the copper urns in which the fragrances are matured. They were ginormous compared to 12 year old me. I remember looking up and the only thing I could think of was how wonderful I would smell if I went swimming in them. As the tour progressed, we moved onto the enfleurage. A method used to extract the scent of petals from flowers by ‘soaking’ them in fat or wax, and then evaporating the fat or wax to leave the essential oil. I found out that one ton of petals would only create 10 ml of essential oil. I figured I could get more out of less when I grew up.
After a couple more hours wandering around this labyrinth of a factory, it was sadly time to depart. My first insight into the career I wanted to pursue was over and it was time for a ten minute drive through the lavender fields we so famously got lost in. As we drove through, my Mémé began to slow down. I had wondered why, whether it was the car breaking down or Mémé dozing off. I didn’t realize until after she got out of the car, that it was just to take a minute or two to appreciate the beauty. The simplicity of the lavender fields, with their shades of purple, lilac and violet piled one on top of the other, was a display that I felt was personally made for my eyes and my eyes only. The gentle breeze lifted the delicate scent of the lavender flowers up across the rolling hills, almost as though I was calling it to me. That was the moment I knew that I loved lavender and its violet sprigs, and Grasse along with it.
The next day brought a whole new adventure: making my own perfume. I had even woken up especially early so I could go to the lavender fields and pick the best flowers for my perfume, before the best ones were taken by the other visitors. It doesn’t quite work like that, I discovered after I was comfortably positioned behind my organ. To this day, I still have lavender from those fields, from my grandparents back garden, and from the kind lady selling factory rejected soap outside of the reception (although the soap was actually citron scented, not lavender – but she gave me lavender anyway).
Needless to say, my perfume was not quite Chanel-grade, bestselling Versace. It smelt like ice cream. Sweet ice-cream as the assistant said, not that French ice-cream needed to be any sweeter. I was and still am forever tainted as a consequence of what the assistant said. I was going for something more citrussy, a fresh yet also sandalwood-y smell. Not ice-cream. Definitely not vanilla. Despite this, I was still fascinated by the whole process. A process of elimination, fragrance style. We were told to smell each of the six base notes. Each colour coded so we could continue with that thread. When I chose one I liked, I would then go to the same colour which for me was blue. I then followed the blue scents through; floral, citrussy, but somehow, probably through the witchcraft of the ever-so-slightly over passionate instructor, I ended up with a product that smelt almost nothing like lemons. I was thrilled! I had everything written, measured and precisely drawn to the correct amounts and values. Just the right amount of science for future nerd Honor on her summer holiday. I had discovered my forte. I was playing an instrument like I was born to. Hitting all the notes, quite literally, that satisfied my need to create something of my own, not shop bought from duty-free (although this tradition of buying something from duty-free has continued but again, more on that later**). 3 hours later my masterpiece was completed. Done. Finito. It even had its own sticky label in the Galimard typeface with its name on. ‘Sweet Ice-Cream’. Original. I know. I was and still am proud to the bones of my new creation. It was mine. All mine. Plus the assistant said she could put glitter (or shimmer) in it for free because she liked my skirt. That was the proverbial cherry on top of the hypothetical banana split. My adventure in wonderland had drawn to a close.
My holiday ended with a flight back home and the perfume stuffed in multiple socks in my suitcase – it had to go in the hold as it wasn’t allowed through in my carry on and I wasn’t going to take any risks. I was given a beautiful glass decanter for my birthday the year after, especially for my perfume. I excitedly unwrapped it, nearly breaking it in the process.
Sadly, due to a change in taste, I no longer wear my sparkly handmade perfume but it will forever remain on my bedside counter in the blue decanter, next to the sprigs of lavender, reminding me of why I want to go into the perfume industry; a chance to go back to those lavender fields and bottle those exact memories for everyone to share.
* Oh how profound of you, Honor.
**My Mum and I have a long standing tradition whereby we will go into duty free before our flight, spending an hour or so perusing the perfume department trying to find a new fragrance for my mother to wear on holiday. A current favourite that was discovered last year before our trip to St. Lucia was Elie Saab’s Parfum intense. Mum said it was exactly how she wants to smell when she is sitting on a warm tropical beach after a swim in the sea.