Welcome to this month’s Scent Semantics! This word for July is “cornucopia”, which warms the cockles of my classicist’s heart (I majored in Classics at university, meaning in Classical Languages & Literature). In Greek and Roman mythology, the cornucopia was a “horn of plenty”, often portrayed nowadays as a basket shaped like a curving horn overflowing with fruits and flowers. It is a symbol of the harvest, frequently seen as a decorative item or symbol of the American Thanksgiving holiday. (Happy Fourth of July, by the way, to all who are celebrating it today).
The cornucopia was associated with a number of Greek or Roman deities, especially those associated with harvests or abundance. The most prominent (or familiar to us) of them was Demeter, the goddess of agriculture and harvest. Sister to Zeus, she was the mother of Persephone, who was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld. The myth tells that Demeter was so grief-stricken and spent so much time searching for her lost daughter, that she neglected her oversight of the fertile earth, and everything stopped growing, which resulted in the death of crops and ensuing famine. Zeus ordered Hades to return Persephone to earth and to her mother, but because she had eaten food while in the underworld, she was obliged to spend only half of each year above ground with her mother. During those months, the earth’s fertility flourished, producing an abundance of flowers, crops, and fruits.
When Persephone had to return to Hades every year, renewing her mother’s grief, the growing season would end with harvest and the earth would be dormant through the winter until Persephone returned, in the spring, to Demeter.
And as many of you know, there is actually a fragrance house called “Demeter” Fragrance Library! From the brand’s website: “Demeter was conceived in 1996, with a unique and ever expanding perspective on fragrance. The original mission was to capture the beautiful smells of the garden and nature in wearable form. The Demeter name itself was inspired by the Greek Goddess of Agriculture. The first three fragrances were Dirt, Grass and Tomato, and were sold in a few stores in NYC. Today, with fragrances from Baby Powder and Pure Soap to Gin & Tonic, Play-Doh, Vanilla Cake Batter and even Pizza, we have radically expanded our olfactory goals and geographic reach. Not only can you now buy Demeter fragrances from Apple Blossom to Zombie, but you can buy them from New York to Beijing, and from Moscow to London.”
Demeter now makes over 300 fragrances, almost all of them linear re-creations of actual scents. They are not designed with that classical pyramid structure of top notes, middle or heart notes and base notes that many of have learned is fundamental to the perfumer’s art. They come in a cologne concentration as fragrance, but also as body lotions, shower gels, oils, etc. The company was founded by Christopher Gable and Christopher Brosius, the latter of whom has won numerous awards for his fragrances and went on to found another house, CB I Hate Perfume, after leaving Demeter in 2004.
Here is some of what Mr. Brosius wrote about Demeter’s beginnings:
I have always loved the smell of things – particularly growing things. I decided to try to capture some of these smells & my first real breakthrough was Dirt. One of my greatest pleasures was digging among the vegetables, herbs & flowers in my small garden on the farm. I loved the smell of the fresh clean earth and decided to bottle it. It was a far greater success than I’d ever dreamed & I suppose the rest is History.
So what does Dirt smell like? Easy. It smells like damp potting soil, but better! Potting soil itself smells quite nice, as it is a sterile mix of shredded sphagnum peat moss, bark, and minerals like vermiculite or perlite. When it’s damp, it gives off a lightly woody, dry, mossy scent. Many gardeners like myself love the smell, partly because opening that bag of potting soil is the prelude to a favorite activity, potting up a desired plant. As some of you know, I have a passion for David Austin’s English Roses, and I grow several varieties, mostly in large pots. This allows me to position them in the best spot for sun and also to give them the best soil I can, free from interference from other plants’ roots. I enrich the potting soil with organic plant food and the microbes that support healthy plant growth, and the roses do quite well!
So I’m very familiar with the smell of potting soil, which Dirt captures so well; but Dirt does smell better, more like something one would actually apply to skin. Like most of Demeter’s scents, it doesn’t last very long, but the whole point of Demeter’s fragrances is to use them as a “pick-me-up cologne.” They’re not supposed to last long, so caveat emptor — but they’re also very inexpensive, and they’re fun. There are so many of them that yes, the website is a veritable cornucopia of options such as Laundromat, Baby Shampoo, Cannabis Flower, Fireplace, even one that smells like those fuzzy yellow tennis balls. It is very entertaining to mix them, and Demeter encourages this by selling sets of “Blending Trios” and bottles in which to combine them.
What’s not to love, in a fragrance house that encourages one to play with its products? Have you tried any? Do you have any favorites? And remember to check out the Scent Semantics posts by my fellow bloggers?