Wednesday, December 1, 2021

My Cultural Path: The Making of a Perfume Historian


I suppose it was all pre-mapped out for me in a way, but like Indiana Jones famously said “there’s no X marking the spot.” I found the way to being a perfume historian while enjoying myself.  

Thus begins my autoethnography article for The Autoethnographer, a new publication which focuses on how I mapped out a path for myself combining historical and archeological studies with perfumery. Dr.Marlen Harrison invited me in an interview to describe my fragrant beginnings and the cultural axis on which my olfactory impressions were formed.

In narrative inquiry we come across subjects shaping the matter through their own “digestion” of facts, so to speak. It’s a very interesting approach to fragrance especially, because beyond the scientific facts, which can only be unlocked with gas chromatography and a mass spectrometer, personal tales give a more telling and more engaging sense of what any perfume is about.


Personally, and I might be wrong, I do not believe that it is even possible to entirely exclude one’s own approach to inquiry. There can be no author-evacuated history, because the historian is a product of their own times, they belong to a school of methodology, etc. This is why history is not an exact science like chemistry, but it is also what makes it fascinating; it’s different reading different books.

One is always in motion with history, events of the past are in a constant interaction with the present. 

 These lived experiences are hard to shake off. And they do tend to come up whenever I think of smells, because they inform my perception, so in that sense they become autoethnographic. When I smell a purely “American” perfume I tend to expect something clean and impressive in terms of claiming an area of a square foot around the wearer. When I think of Far Eastern scents I expect the woody and airy incense of the temples of those regions, or of the humid jungle seeping into the mix. Sometimes the final impression is juxtaposed with those primal expectations, so the aesthetic approach in writing follows two paths, one of fruition and one of refusal.

Please read my entire piece here on the Autoethnographer. 


  1. Anonymous13:58

    Congratulations, Elena! What a wonderful article. As I was reading, I wished it were longer. Thank you so much for your contributions to our knowledge of perfumery, history, and culture! You are a gem!

  2. Glad you enjoyed and honored by your kind words! :)


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