Question Time with The Smelly Vagabond


I’ve been sorely lacking in inspiration to write in the past few months, which I suppose comes along with having to write an economics dissertation and a sociology essay about the art critic, the latter of which I’m trying to bring in something perfume-related: What is the role of the critic in the production of art? How did the critic come about in the first place? What is the interaction between the critic and the artist? How have technological advances changed the nature and content of criticism? The essay is coming along fairly nicely, albeit nowhere near complete, but when I do finish it I’ll probably rewrite it for a perfume audience (at the moment, it’s just about art critics in general), and maybe even get it published somewhere 😉

I’ve just returned to New Haven from a weekend trip to New York, where I got to meet perfumer Hiram Green at Twisted Lily as well as attend a macaroni and cheese takedown competition! More on them at a later time…

In the meantime, though, how about some Q&A? Since I’m lacking in inspiration, why not you help me out by asking me some questions, and I’ll answer them as best as I can? It doesn’t necessarily have to be perfume-related. I’m hoping it will be fun, and I’ll update this post as we go along so that the questions get featured in the post. Time to get creative with the questions!

You can post your questions in the comments of this post, on Twitter, or on Facebook. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

1. The first question is from my dear friend Sabine, who writes over on Iridescents, where she illustrates her olfactory journey with “colorful postcards”. So here’s her question: “Many people say that their interest in perfume was triggered by reading Luca Turin’s book. If you have read it – what’s your favourite review from it? If you haven’t read it – tell us why.”

I think it would be foolish and ungrateful of me if I were to say that Luca Turin and Tania Sanchez’s book didn’t feature in my perfume journey. I can’t say it “triggered” my interest in perfume, since I would not have picked up the book if I hadn’t already been vaguely interested in perfume to begin with. However, it most definitely opened up my eyes to a whole new world of experiencing perfumes because of the exquisite (and sometimes snarky) writing. For me, it taught me that one can be expressive about perfume beyond stating that a perfume “smells nice”. I must confess to buying in to many of their reviews when I first started becoming a true blue perfume lover, seeking out the perfumes they had given four or five stars to and giving them a go. People call Perfumes: The A – Z Guide THE PERFUME BIBLE for a reason: Turin and Sanchez write with an air of authority, and when first starting out, it’s very easy for one to defer to their authority. I did find myself agreeing with most of what they wrote. Over time, however, after plenty of sniffing and discussions with fellow perfume lovers, I found myself developing my own voice and learning to form my own opinions on perfumes without falling back on the views expressed in their book. I find myself agreeing more with Turin’s assessments than Sanchez, and share similar tastes with him, although of course I do disagree with him on multiple occasions. Even so, I still pick up the book from time to time to see if there’s anything that’s possibly worth trying, although I usually corroborate the views in the book with other perfume reviews out there, on blogs and on forums.

As for my favorite review, it has to be what Turin wrote for Iris Silver Mist. The way he described it was poetic and beautiful, while informative at the same time:

Long before everyone started doing irises and (mostly) pseudo-irises, Lutens had commissioned an iris to end them all from Maurice Roucel. The story goes that Lutens pestered the perfumer to turn up the iris volume to the max, and Roucel in his desperation decided to put into the formula every material in his database that had the iris descriptor attached to it, including a seldom-used brutal iris nitrile called Irival. The result was the powderiest, rootiest, most sinister iris imaginable, a huge gray ostrich-feather boa to wear with purple dévoré velvet at a poet’s funeral.

Iris Silver Mist has since been reformulated – even if official sources haven’t reported anything about the matter, I’m pretty certain it has. I had the opportunity many years back to try the ‘old’ Iris Silver Mist, and it was really like Turin described it: gray, powdery, rooty and funereal. These days it’s more carroty and green (I suspect less irones are used now, since they are more costly) than earthy and gray. Reading Turin’s review of it helps me to recall what it used to be, and for that I am grateful.

2. This next question is from Lisabelle, who tweets over on: @r0semonkey. Her question is: “Wot do u think of pumpkins?”


I love pumpkins! I love cooking with them, and make a pretty mean pumpkin and minced pork bee hoon. I’ll try to make it for you when I’m back in Singapore. I love how we carve them on Halloween, and have made really cute pumpkin carvings. I also love pumpkin as a note in perfume – my favourite perfume that features pumpkin as a note is Etat Libre d’Orange‘s Like This, where they collaborated with Tilda Swinton, who is one of my favourite actresses. The name Like This comes from a Rumi poem that Swinton was inspired by, and you can hear her reading it in the clip below:

Like This by Rumi, read by Tilda Swinton

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness
of the nightsky, climb up on the roof
and dance and say,

Like this.

If anyone wants to know what “spirit” is,
or what “God’s fragrance” means,
lean your head toward him or her.
Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image
about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,
slowly loosen knot by knot the strings
of your robe.

Like this.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don’t try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means
to “die for love,” point

If someone asks how tall I am, frown
and measure with your fingers the space
between the creases on your forehead.

This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.
When someone doesn’t believe that,
walk back into my house.

Like this.

When lovers moan,
they’re telling our story.

Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.
Stare into this deepening blue,
while the breeze says a secret.

Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,
light the candle in his hand.

Like this.

How did Joseph’s scent come to Jacob?


How did Jacob’s sight return?


A little wind cleans the eyes.

Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,
he’ll put just his head around the edge
of the door to surprise us

Like this.

Needless to say, I’m in love with the poem!

~ The Smelly Vagabond


2 thoughts on “Question Time with The Smelly Vagabond

  1. I’m very interested in your art critic essay, hope it will get published sothat I can read it. And my question is inspired by it, in a perfume sort of way: Many people say that their interest in perfume was triggered by reading Luca Turin’s book. If you have read it – what’s your favourite review from it? If you haven’t read it – tell us why.
    Good luck with the exams my dear…

  2. Pingback: Diptyque – Olene | The Smelly Vagabond

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