Monday, November 23, 2009

Try, Try Again

When two knowledgeable friends gave me the thumbs up on "Manama", I felt perhaps I had "arrived," finally reaching the stage where my fragrances were actually admired. This made me want to abandon or rework some of my former efforts, one in particular that for now I'll just call "G".

"G" was a fragrance that I had never felt was really finished. There had been some technical problems. First I thought I had overcome them. Later I realized I had not. But I had reached a point where I had stopped working on "G" and was just going to let it be so I could get started on a fresh project.

Now I began to attack "G" again and soon I had made a dramatic improvement by leaving out about one third of its original ingredients, and swapping around a few others. Now I liked it a whole lot better.

So after giving a bottle to my wife (with no particular urging to use it), I put the "G" project back on the back burner, out of sight, out of mind. Actually I was delighted that she had started using "Manama" -- unprompted -- and I loved the way "Manama" softly lingered on her from morning to afternoon. (Most fragrances you buy at the mall won't do that!) Then last weekend I noticed she was using "G." "G" is now a lighter fragrance, quite contemporary, and yes, I did enjoy standing next to her when she was wearing it.

This went on for two days. My nose was evaluating. It was good but, by Sunday evening, it struck me once again that it still could be better. The fragrance had more clarity now and because of that clarity I could "smell" something that wasn't there. So I had more work to do. It was on the "good" side of mediocre but with additional work, I felt it could be a classic. So today I'm back at the drawing board, not ripping it apart but trying to feel what it needs to take if from "good" to "excellent."

The reason I tell you all this is simple. If you want to grow as a perfumer, you have to strive for excellence. Excellence comes at a high cost. Before you can expect to achieve excellence you have to "just get out there and do it." You have to start making perfume. You have to overcome the fear of putting your creation out there where it will be criticized -- or, still worse, totally ignored. You have to create bench marks that will give you a standard on which to improve.

When I created "Incantation," my first perfume, I thought I was brilliant. I thought others would praise my work, I thought I was on my way to becoming celebrity perfumer. My wife gave it a polite reception but wasn't reaching for it in the morning. Friends who I gave it to were polite in their comments, but I never noticed them wearing it. In time I realized that I still had a long way to go and today, while I still kept a few bottles of "Incantation" around and give it an occasional sniff to remind myself of how crude and inept my first efforts were, today I know the difference.

Yes, when you create something you get very involved with it and it is hard to see it as others would see it. If your goal is to create something others will enjoy you need to be able to see through their eyes.

For me that has meant producing -- for it you don't produce, there is nothing to critique -- and then putting a bit of time between yourself and your creation, time that allows you to see it more how others are seeing it. And time for you to see it through a fresh nose -- to smell without being swayed by what you expect to smell or hope to smell but rather what you really DO smell, just as if this fragrance had nothing to do with you.

To grow as a perfumer you have to keep creating, even if some of what you create it junk. But you also have to develop the ability to stand back and recognize that which is junk and that which has potential -- and then keep working on those themes that have potential until they rise from "good" to "excellent."