When we first featured the work of Ineke Rühland, we shared a deep conversation with the perfumer about her background, classical training in France, and thriving business (see part I and part II). Now, Ineke shares the story behind her Field Notes from Paris, featured in the Olfactif Winter's Cocoon collection and an Olfactif subscriber favorite. She also talks about some other things we love about Field Notes, like that gorgeous packaging that lives up to the quality standard set by the juice inside.
Olfactif: Tell us about the inspiration behind Field Notes. I’ve read that it came from your days studying in France.
Ineke Rühland: Yes, it was based on my days of studying perfumery. I went back to my old study notes, hence the “field notes.” At ISIPCA, the school that I went to, we always smelled vintage fragrances. Downstairs at ISIPCA is the Osmotheque, and this is the library of fragrances by the Société Française des Parfumeurs. That’s where they have their collection of vintage fragrances, and a lot of them have been discontinued.
Our professors would always go down and get trays of fragrances that were relevant to whatever we were studying that day. We had a class that was “The History of Perfumery,” but even when we were studying how to make a particular structure, our professors would get out all the classics in that lineage. So if we were learning to make an eau de cologne structure, they’d bring out this really old 4711 blend by Muelhens, which was one of the first colognes, and Jean Marie Farina, which is a really old one, and more recent influencers like Eau Sauvage. So we would smell all the old fragrances and see how the cologne family had changed.
What I was thinking about for Field Notes was a lot of the vintage men’s fragrances that I had smelled in those years. I was particularly thinking about woody orientals, and I was thinking of men’s fragrances in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. This doesn’t smell like any one of those in particular but it uses a lot of the materials that you would see in those days. For example, tobacco absolute—when I made this in 2009, nobody was using tobacco absolute anymore, although you’ve seen it a lot more in recent years. So to me, that was an interesting material.
Anyway, I wanted to do something unisex, but I wanted it to be something men would feel comfortable wearing. The idea was to take those vintage materials and remix them in a modern way.
O: Field Notes uses a lot of other notes that we weren’t seeing a lot at that time, doesn’t it?
IR: I used some materials that really weren’t being used much at all, like beeswax. Beeswax smells like old furniture. It has that really comfortable quality that reminds me of Paris. I think France is one of the last countries that still use beeswax as furniture polish. And then—this is kind of an odd material—I used a lot of coriander seed oil. I’m just looking at the formula right now, actually, and it’s a huge amount of coriander seed oil, about 10 percent. That’s the really herbaceous top note.
Also, I really love, love, love tonka bean. That was used in a lot of the older men’s fragrances. The fragrances of the 1980s and 90s were using coumarin, which is a constituent of tonka bean, but you don’t get the complexity of real tonka bean. Real tonka bean has a lot of facets that coumarin doesn’t have. Coumarin has that kind of sweet almond aspect, but then real tonka bean is a little bit caramely and hay-like and has even a little tobacco overlap. It’s just a really interesting, beautiful material. So I wanted to use a good amount of real tonka.
O: The tag line for Field Notes is “the sweet scent of Paris afternoons, life measured out in coffee spoons.” Tell us about that.
IR: That’s inspired by a line from T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and I actually know that poem secondhand from a Crash Test Dummies song that uses the line. I changed it a little bit. I went back to the original T.S. Eliot poem, and I just loved the idea of sitting in a café… This is very French for me because in Parisian cafés, you’re not really hurried. You can nurse your coffee over time, and they don’t hurry you out the door. So there are a lot of people who are just hanging out and people-watching or reading a book. The idea of measuring your time out in coffee spoons, drinking coffee slowly, really appealed to me.
O: It’s funny, because that line primes the brain to smell coffee—but there’s none there, right?
IR: This is very interesting. A lot of people are thinking that they are going to smell coffee, and there is no coffee in the fragrance. I have had people say, “Yeah. I smell the coffee.” Tonka bean has a little bit of a coffee overlap, but not all that much. There’s like a little vanilla, a tiny bit, and maybe with the tobacco it might give you a coffee effect? And maybe from the beeswax on the furniture, it might give you a little café aspect, but there’s absolutely no coffee note.
O: I think your brain starts to expect it, and then you look for it and find it where it doesn’t exist. But maybe it has that slightly gourmand feel that a café would have.
IR: The power of suggestion.
O: The packaging is beautiful. The box has your actual school notes on it right?
IR: It does, actually. So anybody who has studied at ISIPCA will recognize that these are the notes from a class that we did called Education Olfactif, where we learned different raw materials.
O: On the bottle we see the little hand-drawn street maps. The whole package feels like a little treasure.
IR: That is a map of a little part of the Marais, which is the neighborhood in Paris in the 3rd arrondissement where I used to live. That neighborhood is a really lovely little neighborhood in Paris—a very happy neighborhood, lots of little cafés and shops and interesting things to do.
O: What has been the most meaningful feedback that you’ve heard about Field Notes? It seems to be a very beloved scent.
IR: I’ve frequently heard it described as “atypical,” unlike anything else on the market, which is always something to strive for, I think. Women tend to like it for its bold personality and the fact that it’s not overly flowery. For women, it seems to be quite empowering, accentuating their presence, but for men it seems to be more comfortable and sexy. I remember one guy described it as “sex in a bottle”!
Learn more about Field Notes from Paris.