Mηδέν ἄγαν (i.e. nothing in excess)
~oracular statement inscripted on the wall of the Delphi oracle in Greece, 440 BC
"We have exiled beauty; the Greeks took up arms for her."
'I was born in Grasse, and yet I do not feel Grassois by nature, nor Provençal, for that matter. [...] My attachment to the place is due to my paternal grandparents, who were of Italian descent and who set up home there. [...] I love the sea and its horizon, where my gaze gets lost as the blue of the sky and that of the sea merge. I appreciate the beautiful bodies, the drape of light clothing, the discreet elegance and restraint. I have never been able to truss myself up in suits; their restrictiveness denotes a rigidness of mind and disenchantment with life. I believe in happiness, in man, in a lay spirituality; I do not trust religions. I would rather have eye contact for a long time than chatter for a long time. And, although I like to seduce, I have a sense of propriety with words. As I write this, I am reminded in particular of Camus, who wrote in L'exil d'Hélène:
"Greek thought always took refuge in the idea of limits. It pushed nothing to its full extent, not the sacred, nor reason, because it denied nothing, not the sacred, nor reason. It took everything into account, balancing shadow and light".I have never sought to impose anything. My research is driven by a constrant desire to find a balance between what can be felt with the senses and what is intelligible to the mind. I am Mediterranean. '
~Jean Claude Ellena, Cabris 26 August 2010
The thought that Ellena represents the Mediterranean prototype to a T (in itself a Classical prototype of meaningful, deceptive simplicity) has been at the back of my mind since forever. I had even posed the question to the man himself, to which he had smiled. I now see why most clearly.
"The Diary of a Nose" from which the above Ellena quote originates is the USA edition of the original French title "Journal d'un Parfumeur" (Sabine Wespieser Éditeur), printed by Rizzoli ExLibris, with the official launch date for the USA being 22 January 2013. As I was sent an advance copy I was able to gauge the differences with the French original which kept me engaging company for months on end. The main difference is right there on the cover itself: the odd usage of the word "parfumeur", as in "A Year in the Life of a Parfumeur" (as well as "exclusive parfumeur for Hermès" underneath it) in what is otherwise a 100% English-speaking tome threw me off a bit. It sounds tortured and odd. But that is the only flaw.
If you had only read Rachel Cooke's Observer review of the UK-edition of Diary of a Nose last summer, you might want to reconsider your impressions. Not because this new US edition of the Ellena-penned tome (with its fuschia jacket) is any different than the British version (with the beige-peach jacket), but because Cooke missed the point entirely, much as she should have known better, being an awarded journalist with lots of experience. But such are the perils of being a journalist in general rather than a fragrance writer per se. You get all in awe of the perceived authority of Turania (because you don't know any better yourself, I presume? what gives?) and you spend more time discussing them and their views (missing some of the praise they give Ellena too!) instead of focusing on the book and its author at hand! Not to mention that if this were a real life situation it would be exceptionally rude and inappropriate to describe someone only by way of comparing him unfavorably to someone else! How is that OK in a book review?
Lucia van der Post's jacket description of Ellena as the "Mozart of perfumery" in the Financial Times is quite apt, even though those of us who are musically trained might feel the "too many notes" of the ethereal musical garlands of the classical composer are contested by Ellena's adherence to "less is more" and the laconic simplicity the perfumer aims for. But the comparison is totally understood nevertheless: Ellena makes everything seem effortless -the prime constituent of elegance- even though reading the book one realizes that the process is anything BUT effortless! Like a "Cahiers du Cinéma" auteur, he chooses the word "author" to denote that perfume composition more than anything else is an intellectual work that requires thought behind each step and one which is uniquely personal to the creator who oversees everything about it.
Ellena takes the opportunity to show how ordinary situations form his creations: a standard air flight, when he recognizes one of his creations on a passenger whose smoke remnants surface beneath it; observing the Italian language teacher's way of scheduling his day, slow, observant & dreamy; discussions with friends and people in the field or business meetings (visiting growers of raw materials in Italy, appraising the heritage at Hermès) or more sophisticated/sensuous encounters (a purposefully arranged chef-guided dinner filled with gourmet appreciation or a Japanese Kodo ritual he attends).
All these occasions provide the stepping stone into pondering (instead of pontificating) about scents and of their artistic merits in a way that defies classification, but which indirectly draws upon the extensive body of western art criticism.
The final chapter "Summary of Smells", an index where the author reveals a few of his tricks into producing odors from combining two or three simple raw materials, isn't meant as a chemical cheat sheet into how his perfumes are composed, nor to be parroted by bloggers and writers; it's a game he beckons us to play so as to gain insights and prompt us to experience things anew.
His entry for OLIVE for instance reads:
"This smells describes the Mediterranean single-handedly. From black olives to olive paste, via olive oil, my nose and palate find endless connections: smells of truffles, castoreum, human smells, smells I am drawn to.
To which you can add styrax resinoid and thyme if you want to produce the taste of olive paste."
Ellena's prose is tender, unpretentious, ethereal like Giono's stories or Japanese ink calligraphy, and deeply personal. Because, beyond the "search for beauty", art is defined by the purposeful will to communicate something from creator to public, and that something can never be non personal. The more impersonal and all-encompassing that message tries to be, the less artistic the end result becomes. And this is the gist (and gift!) of Ellena's diary...
As the oracle would say "make your own nature, not the advice of others, your guide in life." 
The Diary of a Nose: A Year in the life of a Parfumeur
by Jean Claude Ellena
Rizzoli ExLibris, an imprint of Rizzoli New York
 oracle given to Marcus Tulius Cicero by the Delphi oracle in 83 BC
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