This is the current Studio Waft, for Studio Series 7.
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Hello, perfume friends! Summer is upon us and Los Angeles, as of this writing, is still in its customary June gloom. This is to say that we haven't burned down from a wildfire yet, a fact many of us dread with the winter of rain that begot serious fields of brush and kindling, waiting for ignition. Will my studio be aflame by Studio Series 8? Who knows. Carpe diem, though! Studio Series 7, as you can see, comes with ignitable pleasures (and some disappointments, nevertheless).
The San Bernardino National Forest (SBNF) sits due east approximately two hours of Los Angeles, above and around its eponymous Southern California county known frequently for its violent air pollution, rampant income disparity, and, recently, a horrible mass murder that made world headlines. San Bernardino, like everywhere else in California, is a Place of Specificity — a place of unique urban sprawl abutting vertical mountainous encroachment toward the heavens, a place of stunning atmosphere and stifling oppression, a place like no other while just like everywhere else. San Bernardino is often written-off as a SoCal wasteland, which is ironic because it's encircled by a halo of incredible wealth, a recreational playground of coveted real estate, and ripe natural resources.
San Berdoo is really something.
Having lived just outside SBNF in Lake Arrowhead, a posh-ish yet strange/weird mountain city of bro-ey speedboats and stunning forest landscapes, I was already familiar with the joys of camping inside its demarcation before readying for a weekend of tent sleeping spent celebrating one of the original gay men's motorcycle clubs that formed after the war when ships landed at port in Los Angeles and released its seamen onto a freeway urbanity, ready for liberation and subculture. Our weekend camping in San Berdoo was another year in a decades-long series of celebrations marking the joys of homosexuality, motorcycling, leather, and nature. It's an older community, obviously, one that each year seems to have died a little more as members age and motorcycles give out.
I am not a motorcyclist, but my boyfriend is, and despite his numerous tries to get me in a helmet and on the back of his ride, I drove to the campsite in our truck and spent my time hiking while those on two wheels went for a mountain run that Saturday.
I was thoroughly okay with this because it gave me six hours of quiet, restful hiking time, entirely to myself.
On my hike I had the great fortune to suddenly come upon a half-felled, dying Coulter pine, thoroughly discharging its entire stock of resin in a theatrical slow weep beside an angular mountain sun. It was a matter of perspective, really, standing on a triangle slope perpendicular to the tree's actual rise, so that its entire planar circumference, pockmarked by marbles and spitballs of dropped spherical resin embedded across the dirt, sparkled like a sequined picnic blanket underneath a Tannenbaum.
It all felt a little too perfect, but it was perfect.
It was perhaps a moment where I, indie perfumer, felt for a short second what the hysteria of the early California gold rush might have imbued inside one's chest. Crimson rubies and lemon-drop candies, an acid fantasy of palpable fragrance, lay there in waiting for a foraging hand. I had two.
Foraging in National Forests is not against the law, unlike National Parks, where even a grain of sand smuggled out inside one's shoe would be considered illegal. In fact, National Forests exist to steward special lands for the enjoyment of recreation and industry alike. Hear hear! for preserving our federal inventories. So, this opportunity felt special, in that I could, in conscientiously, scavenge this tree's viscera for the greater good.
Upon returning to my studio, I sorted and graded the resins by quality and color, reserving the best of the lot for tincturing, to be used in perfume projects now underway. Your vial of tinctured resin (warning: incredibly sticky!) at a 2% dilution is its approximate use percentage in a working perfume project. This is a tincture of the most amber-colored goo, the one I find most olfactively rewarding.
The balance of the take was then frozen and ground up into a powder, and I have shared several grams of that here in each set. It is exceptionally fresh, harvested on June 15, 2019. This is the best incense resin you will possess unless you go forage some yourself, so I encourage you to enjoy it soon.
I have posted a one-minute video demonstrating a DIY incense burner using a ventilated votive candle and doubled-over heavy-duty aluminum foil, on my Instagram account. There, you can also see more pictures of the part of the SBNF in which the resin was foraged, as well as pictures of the entire lot before and after grading.
I hope you enjoy this special treat.
The Crisis Project began as an attempt to address a two-pronged concept:
1. To work with materials which are being affected by ecological or economic crises, and address the problems therein;
2. To work with materials which have thrown my pleasure centers into utter crisis.
Specifically, vanilla and ambroxan. These two ingredients, the former which needs no elucidation, the latter which is a powdery/minerally/saline chemical that helps constitute natural ambergris, were my prime suspects.
While you can read earlier Studio Wafts, linked at the top of this page, for more context on my relationship with these materials, in short, by working with them I began to like them. Quelle horror! And now I'm fascinated with them.
The basic somersault happened like this: How do I reconcile my relationship with materials that are crucial to my practice, but with which I feel so much dissonance. The immediate strategy I took on was to find the best materials to counter the negative sensuality I felt, and in the end this strategy helped — like salt on premature watermelon — to bring out a better experience.
During this process a lot of experimentation happened, particularly thinking about materials which can cause harm while causing pleasure, namely tobacco.
As intimated, but not explicitly revealed in Studio Waft 6, I integrated a "gargantuan" glug of a material to counter the ambroxan: black peppercorn. These two materials, from a perfumer's standpoint, actually harmonize each other blissfully, because ambroxan is a fixative for terpenes, of which black peppercorn is mostly made.
During the process of brainstorming ways to counteract the ambroxan, I began to realize that what I was doing was working in a very either/or, black/white Kierkegaardian way of thinking, in that neutralizing extremes with extremes leads to a sort of existental emotional maximalism. In fact, my sponsoring beef with ambroxan is that it is used to extremes in most mass-market perfumery. What I found in experimentation, instead, was that an extreme (and it is extreme) amount of black peppercorn helps create a sneeze which clears the palette of ambroxan's otherwise forceful presence.
Similarly, I thought about this project in terms of color theory, how complimentary colors neutralize to grey (or, in painting actuality, browns), and became curious to see if there's an extension of that in olfactive art.
Stick with me for a second: vanilla is a psychologically and lexically white-hued ingredient, despite being made from black-brown plant matter, its dried pods. Ambergris, at its best, is also white, despite having started out as a blackish mass of whale excretion only to have been sufficiently sun-bleached into something for which perfumers pay upwards of $100 a gram.
But black peppercorns are black. When ground, at worst, it goes greyish. But peppercorns, as such, is psychologically black-hued.
So, there has been a definite, if not unconscious, color association game underway here as this project pans out.
For me, the next natural progression in a white-black-white- sequence would be black licorice, a candy which cause crises for many, which is the next material integrated into this project.
In the course of all this, I similarly became fascinated with bringing color into the concept, more specifically to turn this into a resplendent floral project. That material, present in Crisis 3 but then disappearing in Crisis 4, will return in Crisis 5 at a later date.
Note: Crisis 4 seeks to reset some of the foundational material in order to better support the floral note while balancing out the rest, so the numbering might seem confusing, but is chronologically accurate from a studio perspective.
I'll leave this newly added note an unspoken mystery until the next Studio Waft, as I am often wont to do.
Lastly here, Crisis B 1 is a branch of this project, as I found the aforementioned tobacco note utterly perfect here, and feel as if this olfactive idea needs to be developed, presently, separately, but perhaps to unite again at a later iteration. Is this a bifurcation to a new project? Would love to hear your thoughts privately, if you wish.
My guiding hope for the Rose Project is a notion of sour fluorescence.
For me, the floral note in perfume which feels the most plastic, the most synthetic, the most unreal is rose, whereas the experience of smelling a rose bush is nothing of the sort.
Rose notes often come across as a singular facet of what we recognize as a wholly incredible and entirely complex floral gestalt: primarily metallic, or rosy, or green, et cetera. And is rose not one of the more violent offenders in terms of making something smell grandma, or soapy, or perfumey in its most pejorative sense? Hallmark potpourri, even, anyone?
Rose, when in fault, is terribly connoted, but even when done well is still so, so far from the in vivo experience.
In any case, my fascination with it lies in its anti-grandma potential, which is to say in the plastic-masculine. And so the more I have thought about rose qua rose, the more I am enamored to find margins for perverting its idea. What about an extremely sour rose? What about an extremely plastic rose? What about an extremely fluorescent, malfunctioningly buzzing, flickering rose?
Rose 2 builds upon the originating iteration with musk and aldehydic supports, in an effort to found and lift the whole, creating volume and space to color-in different idiosyncrasies of the flower while carving into that recesses for synthetic embellishment. A difficult project and definitely long-term.
Chypre Project & Project X?
Yes, you might notice the glaring absence of these two projects from your set, if you've been a dedicated subscriber who's been excited to see the next iterations, as have I.
Yes, you feel the disappointment of new IFRA restrictions about to be imposed upon the industry, which suddenly create a void of forward-availability for certain raw materials used in these projects, like I do.
Yes, you taste the frustration on your tongue after wasting hours chasing down and screaming at salespeople who can get you access to materials at 1/16th the cost of what you've been paying, and in quantity!, but then wait five months to fulfill your order (for serious, wretched salespeople, you), thereby torpedoing any real progress on your projects underway, because you ran out of workable stock, as have I.
Yes, you crave the development of creative ideas which heretofore have had an exciting amount of momentum, but now feel like the imago of it all has fleeted, like I do.
I promise you, I'm trying to get these back in gear, but for now they are both backburnered, with regret.
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