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Synesthesia

Perfume & Flavour Translations

The Process

Notes between the perfumer & historian June - August 2021

Perfumer's note:

 

Nicolas and I had some back and forth on painting no. 4: 'Garden Scene' as the flowers were not obvious to me. Nicolas pointed out the red and pink poppies in the furthest register of the image and some purple-hued irises among the greenery in the forefront. The fragrance-palette in our view was green but for obvious reasons we found it challenging to communicate our ideas for the perfume. Midway through our process, I sent him samples for paintings 1, 2, 3 and a fougere fragrance I proposed for this landscape. Our following conversation then focused on what the scent should not be: minty, eucalyptus-y, herbaceous, that the proposed perfume sample was missing a floral quality.

 

Iris has a very subtle scent and in perfumery, this is a fantasy note, meaning that it is constructed with synthetic aroma chemicals as the flowers are too delicate to be distilled for their scent. 'Orris' (rhizoma iridis) is the highly prized root of Iris germanica and Iris pallida that is harvested, dried for upto five years, then put through extraction process to yield "orris butter" that possesses a pleasant violet-like scent.

Apart from Iris, Nicolas imagined a sweet floral-citrus note that I asked him to expand on: Did citrus mean mandarin, lime, lemon, grapefruit, bergamot, petitgrain, neroli/ orange flower; On a scale of one to ten, was the palette warm or cold, floral or fruity? While Nicolas specified the sweetness of citron fruit (I could not locate/ source the extract for perfumery), the rest of his responses to these prompts had us settle on prominent notes of iris, orange flower and jasmine atop a silvery cedarwood.  

glass workshop

Floral: poplar buds, rose aldehyde (for that fresh floral-citrus note), faint jasmine, iris, petitgrain, neroli, honeysuckle, hedione

Heart: orange flower absolute, frankincense (has a tangerine like opening note), iris, orris, a light touch of frangipani, champaca, tuberose, gardenia, violet, lily, galbanum, hedychium and calamus (Himachal)

Base: Sandalwood, costus root, hiba wood (cedarwood, Japan), cedarwood (Himachal), moss, copaiba balsam

Historian's note on Citron:

 

Citron (Citrus medica), which appears as turunj in Indo-Persian sources and as bījapūra in Sanskrit ones, has a lemony aroma, but sweeter and more perfumed, and without the chemical cleaner-like edge of Meyer lemon and some other "sweet" lemon-like Citrus. It appears to have been widely grown in South Asia throughout the medieval and early modern periods, even though in more recent times it has become rare compared to various types of limes, sweet oranges, and mandarins.

 

Various other bitter or sour types of Citrus are often erroneously identified as citrons in India today, such as the calamansi (Citrus x microcarpa), which bears small round orange fruit and is often grown as an ornamental, and the narthangai used in Tamil cuisine, especially for making pickles, which appears to be a strain of makrut lime (Citrus hystrix). In comparison, true citrons produce large, usually oblong and often very bumpy fruit that turn golden yellow when ripe.

"...and I consumed the garden whole!"

 

The Synesthesia elements of Painting 4 took form towards the last week of August. Nicolas suggested the use of figs while I pondered over the construction of a flavour and scent composition that could deliver the experience of eating a garden whole: Jammy sweet overtones of plump figs, green milky sap-notes of ficus leaves, delicate orange blossoms and jasmines floating their scent over a dewy morning breeze. I sought to communicate this atmosphere mainly through the medium of edible perfume, tea, and incense.  

Edible Perfume: This component centres the scent and flavour of the trees and fruits in the garden: figs, citrus fruits, marigold flowers, jasmines and cedarwood. The perfume-sugar prepared with a tiny green cardamom,  tonka bean, and extracts of myrrh, sandalwood, Hemidesmus indicus (false vanilla), marigold, jasmine grandiflorum, and cedarwood. This pre-fixed sugar is mixed into a bitter citrus fruit marmalade sourced from Himachal, then coated around slivered figs. Stored for over a week, the sharpness of cedarwood recedes as the floral notes take over to accentuate the sweetness of the fruit. 

My experience tasting this perfume can be best described as if I were eating the entire garden - I inhaled "orange blossom", but chewed on figs that were still attached to their stems, branches, and tree trunk. This sensation prompted my direction for the incense and tea. 

Incense: I created a botanical musk accord from mainly calamus, cedar and hedychium to spray over agarwood incense in order to evoke the scent of ancient trees. 

Tea: The Nilgiri tea blend I selected for this painting accentuates the sensation of a cold mountain air with a hint of eucalyptus in its crisp notes. A tiny piece of fig from the Edible Perfume can be brewed along with the tea leaves to heighten the floral facets present in the tea.

 

iris edible perfume

This perfume gives the sensation of being in a shady, wooded garden in spring bloom - lush, moist, woody yet also floral. A certain sweetness pervades the scent profile throughout, but the dominant aroma changes continually, like the different whiffs of fragrance that hit the nose when one explores a garden. In the beginning there is a delicate, warm, violet-like floral note, which quickly merges into the sharper, fresher sweetness of orange blossoms, which are in turn followed by fruitier and then woodier notes.

 

The corresponding edible perfume picks up on these elements beautifully, with a strong emphasis on both the florality of orange blossom and jasmine and the rich fruitiness of citrus fruit and figs, conveying both the ornamental and productive aspects of a garden that is just as much an orchard. Perhaps the most brilliant aspect though is a slight woody, resinous note, not so strong as to detract from the deliciousness of the composition but enough to express the distinct herby milksap aroma of fresh fig foliage, wood, and unripe fruit.