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BBC Perfume Series (2011), Episode 2:
Bottling the Memory

Kindness Smells Like Tomato Leaves1

Episode 2, Bottling the Memory, is my favourite episode of the BBC Perfume Series. It tells the story about perfume noses, the creators of perfumes and perfume memories and emotions evoked by their liquid masterpieces:

Perfume is magic worked by science, its job to capture the moment. Fragrance takes us back to good times, past loves...

The moment we realized that mother could smell of more than just mum...

The message is romance but the language is molecules spoken by perfumers or noses. They're artists, scientists and philosophers... There are more astronauts than there are perfumers. They meadow with our memories but their craft is a mystery. Who are they? Where are they? And how do you become one?
∼ Ian Denyer, author of BBC Perfume Series


Throughout the Episode 2 we follow two 'rebel' perfumers in action - creating perfumes: Jean-Claude Ellena, the Hermès in-house perfumer, Christopher Brosius, an alternative (anti)perfumer - the founder of CB I hate perfume brand. Their creative freedom and 'inspirational' independence are in my opinion endangered species in the modern fragrance business, which is more and more profit driven.

The whole episode 2 is also beautifully interwoven with touching scented memories... Memories of first love (the one that dies with us), of mother, of good times past, of kindness - all evoked by smelling perfumes.

In this episode we also enter the Hogwarts School of Perfume Witchcraft and Perfume Wizardry - the legendary Givaudan Perfumery School and learn how the future perfume wizards are selected and trained.

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 2: Part 1/4

Christopher Brosius of 'CB I hate perfume' (Brooklyn, NYC) is my favourite character of the whole documentary trilogy. He's the avant-guarde, the anti-industry perfumer, according to BBC the Proust of perfume and a punk star2.

CB makes perfumes that smell of real stuff such as the new fallen snow (perfume Walking in the air), London streets, roast beef, whiskey and different experiences / memories, e.g. Memory of Kindness, Revelation, Just Breathe, In the Library. I love his perfume names and perfume descriptions, very poetic indeed.

So, in the first 15 minutes of Episode 2 of the BBC Perfume Series we get to meet Christopher Brosius who talks about his scented inspirations, some of his perfume creations and we see him offering to a couple of brave visitors of his perfume gallery the smell of... musky unwashed (human) body!



Part 1/4 of Bottling the Memory (Episode 2 of BBC Perfume Series)


On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, in the quiet pine forests near Grasse (south of France) Jean-Claude Ellena, the Hermès in-house perfumer, creates his masterpieces. The documentary narrator dubs him Obi-Wan Kenobi of fragrance who creates his masterpieces with a few, very expensive ingredients. What I like about Ellena is how he describes perfumes; with colours, texture, with his body, with his fingers - like he was playing some kind of an invisible piano.

I don't try to copy the reality... I don't care a damn about reality, because illusion is more beautiful. It is like a dream and dreams are always more beautiful. ∼ Jean-Claude Ellena

Ellena was the first student and probably also the most famous dropout of the Givaudan Perfumery School near Paris, owned by Givaudan, the largest chemical firm in the flavouring and fragrance industry. The documentary opens the doors of this Perfume Hogwarts; supposedly one third of all fine fragrances in the world are created by former students of this school.

Perfumery school is directed by master perfumer Jean Guichard. We meet the Chosen Ones - a couple of current students. Guichard explains what he's (not) looking for in potential students and what the school teaches their apprentices:

We know in the school how to teach a technique, we don't know how to teach the creativity.

This part of the Episode 2 ends with the woman remembering her first love when smelling a gentlemen's perfume:

It makes me think of first love... and I just assumed when I go close to him and smell him, that this was naturally what he smelled like...

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 2: Part 2/4

In the next 15 minutes of the Episode 2 of the BBC Perfume Series Christopher Brosius, the perfumer of CB I hate Perfume, discusses the connection between scents and memories:

Scent is really about emotion. There is an enormous connection between scent and memory. People smell something and they are immediately flashed on an experience that they've had. This smell actually evokes the emotion that you felt at the time that you were experiencing the thing that became the memory. ∼ Christopher Brosius

Then comes - to me one of the most touching moments of the whole documentary trilogy - when Brosius introduces one of his perfumes, Memory of Kindness, an hommage to his aunt, one of the kindest people he's ever known and who blessed him with beautiful childhood memories (see from 2:50 onwards):

One of the earliest memories I have is of creeping very quietly one summer afternoon... crawled under the tomato vines in my aunt's garden... A lot of people would have scolded a child for going in there but my aunt - I was not her way. She gave me a cookie and I realized you know she is perhaps the kindest person I've ever known. And you know so much of my childhood are memories you know involving her then that's just all pervading sense of kindness, and it all comes back to the smell of a tomato leaf. So that's what that perfume is really all about. ∼ Christopher Brosius



Part 2/4 of Bottling the Memory (Episode 2 of BBC Perfume Series)


Then the story takes to Sean Crowley, a necktie designer and an anglophile, who'll order a custom made perfume from Brosius - he wants Brosius to create a smell of the old England for him, of course! Sean visits Brosius perfume gallery in Williamsburg (Brooklyn, NYC), chit-chats with CB about what reminds him of England (old musty things, tobacco, wet tweed, old books, whisky and scotch) and CB conscientiously takes down the notes.

The students of Givaudan perfume school go with their master teacher Jean Guichard on a field trip to Provence, where they visit fields of lavender and other 'real' plants. To smell the real perfume stuff.

And Jean-Claude Ellena also goes out of his lab to find the inspiration for his next perfume. He finds it in a secret garden on the roof of the Hermès building in Paris. He comes back to his lab, full of perfume ideas which his assistant transforms them to liquid sketches; Ellena can come up with up to 12 tries per day, says his assistant... And what doesn't come to the finals she 'cleans' away!

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 2: Part 3/4

The third part of the Episode 2 of the BBC Perfume Series, Bottling the Memory, is again intertwined with perfume memories. A perfume reminds a younger woman of her mother's perfume:

Before she went out at night, it would just always be this lovely warm smell. It evokes in me associations of glamour, what I associated with when my mum was getting ready. That child's vision of the most beautiful princess and at that point that was my mother. And so I suppose, that scent encapsulated, not only memories of my mother but also evoked feelings of safety and comfort, I suppose...

Back to the school for perfume noses; students have to memorize the scents of about 500 raw materials and they also have to learn learn how to mix them appropriately... We get to see how Jean Guichard, the sorcerer, tests his apprentices if they deciphered the right ingredients, accords and their right concentrations...

London calling! Christopher Brosius visits London to capture and memorize the scents of the old England for his client Sean Crowley. This is also a very intriguing part of the documentary, superbly filmed and full of witty allusions. For example, Ian Denyer finds in my opinion the best possible song to encapsulate the spirit of London (underground): Golden Brown by The Stranglers.

CB is like a scenthound, like Sherlock Holmes trying to snatch the scented essence of the old England, he collects scent trails of London: a taxi cab, a phone boot, the streets, the exhaust of the London doble-decker bus, a pub... Somehow disappointed, CB finds the smells of England (and London) have changed significantly, making it hard to translate to an 'old England' perfume:

It's been a while and things have changed... Now it's really just boring... There are a lot of things that I noticed that are very very different. You know it doesn't smell the same... The problem is, this is not something that is going to translate well into something that can be worn... ∼ Christopher Brosius

But ultimately CB finds a London smell that will forever encapsulate the (old) England.



Part 3/4 of Bottling the Memory (Episode 2 of BBC Perfume Series)


The last minutes of this part of the documentary shows testing of Jean-Claude Ellena's three perfume ideas; the perfumer introduces them to the Hermès executive, Catherine Fulconis. They both sniff their and each other's arms, the camera is very generous with close-ups of their noses, lips, hands... Sensual moments and words, indeed!

Watch BBC Perfume Series, Episode 2: Part 4/4

The last 15 minutes of the Episode 2 of the BBC Perfume Series continue with perfume testing of Ellena's three latest perfume propositions.

Christopher Brosius then meets with his client Sean Crowley after five months in CB's perfume gallery. CB offers to Sean a number of scents and their combinations that he created based upon his scented memories of London. Sean seems to be happy with the development of his bespoke perfume of the old England3, supposedly costing more than $2000!



Part 4/4 of Bottling the Memory (Episode 2 of BBC Perfume Series)


The chosen few, perfume apprentices meet Jean-Claude Ellena, the 'celebrity' perfume nose and the first student of their perfume school - but he also dropped out of this school. The legendary maverick talks about his (unconventional) approach to perfume making, creativity - and (non)marketing... Says Ellena:

You have to believe on yourself and at the same time you need to have doubt, because it means that we are creating things. If you have no doubts, here's start (to) the problems. If you are too sure about yourself, you close your mind and I am sure the customer can feel it, so be sure but in the same time be open, not easy. And I am sure the customer can understand that... I have no brief, no market tests. No market test on perfume, no market test on the bottle, no market test at all. And for me marketing has nothing to do with the art. But I am doing the analysis what I am for me, the signature of the Hermès perfume it's my signature.

The episode 2 of the BBC Perfume Series ends with beautiful perfume memories of an older woman:

Such memories become... flying back to me, as far away as my 18th birthday which was just after the war had finished; beautiful warm summer's evening and this just gently wafting up from the flowers in the night air, oh lots of lovely times... And whenever we used to go dancing, which was quite a lot, it always found its way behind my ears or on my wrist. Promises, promises, I guess... I wore this perfume when I got married and obviously it accompanied me on our honeymoon. No matter what, this is the one. It could only be French, couldn't it?


1 So feels Christopher Brosius (see part 2 of the Episode 2 from 2:50 onwards).
2 Proust of perfume and punk star tags by the BBC.
3 In the interview for the Basenotes Ian Denyer, the creator of BBC Perfume Series described Sean Crowley's perfume by CB I hate Perfume as: "leathery/smoky/sweaty/chocolaty/wooly with top notes of Fairy Liquid. But it was still a work in progress".


Jump from Episode 2 to Episode 1 of BBC Perfume Series (2011)

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