Wednesday 13 April 2011
Interview: Odette Toilette from Scratch+Sniff events
Scratch+Sniff events are "Purveyors of Olfactory Adventures". Odette Toilette (Lizzie Ostrom) is their founder and arranges their meetings once a month at The Book Club in London's Shoreditch. The events are designed as a place to celebrate our sense of smell and explore scent, whether you are a novice or an aficionado.
I've loved the evenings I've attended so far and asked Odette to answer some questions about Scratch+Sniff and her love of scent more widely:
1) Have you always been a scent lover?
Yes since a very young age. The Avon lady coming by was a highlight of the week for my sister and I when we were about 7! I remember being obsessed with those fairy fragrances which probably smelled of very fake peach, but which to me were the height of exoticism. My mother used to say: "I can go without new clothes, as long as I have perfume and lipstick, that's all that matters."
It kind of grew from there, but I'd say the interest really started growing about 7 or 8 years ago, and a huge part of that I think is the internet - discovering a whole world of cultured and fascinating fragrance discussion. I remember the day I found makeupalley and spending far too long in general reading perfume reviews.
2) What gave you the idea for the Scratch and Sniff events?
Well, professionally my background is in events and communications, and I started Scratch+Sniff because the gatherings I wanted to go to didn't exist. I had seen from the sidelines all the great perfume safaris and tours being organised though boards and online communities, but was (stupidly) too intimidated to join in. In a separate incident, I discovered that a friend who I'd known for years was also obsessed with perfume, yet we'd never talked about it. I find with friends, we'd all say 'oh you smell nice', but never going further in the conversation.
And I would definitely call myself adventurous in the kinds of cultural pursuits I attend - I love experimentalists in the UK like Bompas and Parr, Coney, Shunt or The Last Tuesday Society, who push what an event can be, or the subjects it might explore, so really it all came together in a serendipitous moment. An opportunity was presented to trial a quirky evening shindig, I jumped at it, and the rest came from there.
3) I like the fact that Scratch+Sniff is a mixture of different medias, some speaking by experts and audience participation; was it hard to devise the events?
No I wouldn't say it's hard and I think that's because I play to my strengths. I'm not a perfumer (nor do I think I'd be a very good one, though if anyone would like to fund a course I would be happy to oblige), but what I do know how to do is engage people imaginatively, and I love an unusual format. Scratch+Sniff to me is a bit like a sandpit - so far people have come along for the ride, which is what makes this so rewarding.
4) I think the internet has really opened up people's eyes to scent. Events like yours, the publications of more scent based books and the increasing interest in individual perfumers have all been effects of the internet I've found. Do you find the people who attend the events are not necessarily hardcore scentaholics?
Completely. Though I'm delighted when perfume addicts come to the events (and I love meeting bloggers in person), what really excites me is that Scratch+Sniff attracts those new to this whole world. They read about the event as an alternative night out, think it sounds intriguing and don't really know what to expect! That they leave with their eyes opened to olfaction is the best thing ever. I really do think perfume is entering a very exciting time, and the old ways of doing things are going to get rather left behind.
4) You have looked at scent and the movies, scent and travel and men's scent to name a few so far. What upcoming themes have you got planned for Scratch+Sniff?
Oh there are loads, I've probably got 3 years worth of events up my sleeves. We've got scent and music coming up which will be fun, and in general there's lots of potential in events that explore crossover with other art forms. Visual arts is one I'd like to do, ideally in collaboration with a gallery. Often an event run on a more general theme, like A Scented Journey Around the World, brings up a plethora of new ideas where we can drill down a bit more into a topic. So I'm currently looking at a Moroccan Special. Grant Osborne at Basenotes has also suggested a Scents of Childhood event as a riff on the teen night we're running, which I'm very keen to do. So many ideas, so little time etc etc.
5) Do you have a favourite perfume?
Errr do I have to pick one? Currently the scent I'm wearing nearly every day is Frederic Malle's Une Rose, after years of being blasee about florals, on which note I'm also loving Carnal Flower. For sentimental reasons I'm going to go with Premier Figuer from L'Artisan, because I have very strong memories of turning up at their shop in Chelsea at a ridiculously young age, and having a cheeky spray. When I finally got a bottle I was ecstatic, only to find the coconutty edge gnawing away at my love of it one week later. Oh well. And I shall always love the old Diors especially Diorella - a favourite of my mum too!
6) And (or if the above is too hard... which it certainly is for me) is there a scent you wish more people were aware of- and why?
I'm a big fan of Tauer perfumes in general, and the way he shares his whole creative process. His perfumes really tell an imaginative story and they always challenge. I think that's important - there should always be something not quite right in a scent, in the best possible way, otherwise it gets BORING.
7) Is there a historical figure in perfume who you would like to have met- or had a sniffing session with and why?
Oh yes - to continue my Dioraptures (can that be their new perfume??!), Edmond Roudnitska. I would have loved to sit with him quietly while he took in the scent of Lily of the Valley. I'd have also liked to have a cup of tea with Marie Thérèse de Laire who quite possibly concocted Caron's famously outrageous house base, Mousse de Saxe. Though I know very little about her, I've the feeling she'd be a laugh. And finally and perhaps most of all, a fictional character - Sugar from Michel Faber's novel The Crimson Petal and the White, whose marketing savvy turned around the fortunes of her lover's perfume empire, Rackham's.
You can find out everything you need to know about Scratch+Sniff here, including information on upcoming events and booking tickets. You can follow the lovely Odette on twitter and read the Scratch+Sniff blog here. If you can't make the events you can follow basenotes who live blog/ tweet them.
The BBC have made an adaptation of the Crimson Petal and the White; I confess I have recorded the first episode but not watched any as yet so I cannot recommend it or not- but it's definitely worth trying.
The Wellcome Collection are currently showing an exhibition about Dirt which should appeal to anyone who interested in smells- the good and the bad.