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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Meleg

3 Scent Cultures: Japan, France and India

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

Meleg learns from the traditional artisans and perfumers from Japan, India and France to create the most beautiful, handcrafted perfumes in the world.

On Japanese Craftsmanship and Artistry

Japanese work culture and artisanship are unique and revered worldwide, due in large part to a combination of Monozukuri (Craftsmanship), Shokunin (Master Artisan) and the Preservation of Traditional Crafts.

  1. Monozukuri (Craftsmanship): The concept of monozukuri translates to "the art, science, and craft of making things," it captures the dedication to excellence, perfection, and harmony.

  2. Shokunin (Master Artisan): A shokunin is someone who has reached an elevated level of craftsmanship, through years of meticulous training. More than a job; it's seen as a societal duty.

  3. Preservation of Traditional Crafts: Known as "Kyo-yaki" or "Kyoto Ware", traditional techniques have been preserved and passed down generations.

Quality kimono (as pictured below) take 20 artisans and 6 months to complete. These masterpieces start at well over $10 000.

I spent a month studying Japanese Incense in Kyoto this year (2023)

On traditional Indian (Kannuaj) distillation methods

Kannauj, located in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, is often referred to as the "Grasse of the East." This town has a rich history dating back over a thousand years and is world-renowned for its traditional attar (essential oil) distillation.

I have learned to create deeper, more complex perfumes by studying the Kannuaj co-distillation method.

The traditional distillation process in Kannauj, India, particularly the method of co-distillation, is quite distinctive and differs significantly from Western methods.

In Kannauj, the art of making attars involves a unique process of co-distillation where fragrant flowers, like rose or jasmine, are distilled in the same vessel as a base material, typically sandalwood oil, over several weeks. This method allows the floral notes to fuse deeply with the woody base, creating a unique, rich, and long-lasting perfume known as attar.

In contrast, Western methods often involve steam or alcohol distillation and seldom use the co-distillation technique. The Western method is generally quicker and more efficient in terms of mass production, but they may not achieve the same depth and complexity of scent that the traditional Kannauj co-distillation method can produce.

On French classic Chypre

My first love in scent creation will always be classical the pre-IFRA, French Chypre Perfume. In fact, my first real perfume, "Civet Cat Chypre" was inspired by these classic French wares.

Chypre perfumes from the period 1900 to 1980, particularly those pre-IFRA (International Fragrance Association), are renowned for their distinctive, opulent, and complex profiles. In this manner, they are not so different from Kannuaj Attars IMHO.

The era marked a golden age for Chypre perfumes with several iconic fragrances such as Guerlain's Mitsouko (1919),

Rochas' Femme (1944),

Chanel's No. 19 (1971)

These perfumes are characterized by

  • citrus top notes (often bergamot)

  • middle centered on cistus labdanum, woods and florals (not unlike wood floral accords found in Kannuaj attars)

  • oakmoss and patchouli base notes

What makes the classic Chypre so special?

  • Use of Natural Materials: Traditional Chypre perfumes employed a significant amount of natural ingredients. They heavily used oakmoss, they also utilized natural animalic notes (such as musk, ambergris, and civet), which added depth, warmth, and longevity to the fragrances. Such ingredients often have complex scent profiles themselves, leading to a multifaceted and evolving perfume experience.

  • Depth and Complexity: The Chypre structure, with its contrasts between fresh citrus, rich labdanum, and deep, earthy oakmoss, naturally creates a balance and complexity that's captivating and dynamic. The fragrances are multifaceted and often evolve dramatically on the skin, creating a long-lasting and memorable scent journey.

  • Richness and Opulence: Classic Chypres are often associated with a certain richness and opulence, partly due to the use of high-quality natural ingredients and partly due to the intricacy of the perfume accord. The harmonious blend of diverse elements creates an air of sophistication and luxury that many perfume enthusiasts revere.

I will continue to travel to and learn from the Japanese, French and Indian perfumers and artisans for as long as I can.



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