Interview with an Aromancer

David PybusDavid H. Pybus may already be known to some of you hardcore ‘fume addicts already as one of the co-authors (with Charles Sell) of “The Chemistry of Fragrances.” His newest book, “Transports of Delight: An Aromatic Journey in Verse From East to West on the Wings of Perfume,” is set to be released… well, today, actually! (Ordering can be done directly through the publisher at Global Oriental.) Outside of writing, he’s busy with all sorts of wide-ranging activities, from perfumery and training consultations, to cruise presentations, to what can only be termed as perfume archeology, uncovering long-lost fragrances from the past. (You can find out more by visiting his websites, pandoraltd.com or pisky.net.) He was gracious enough to allow me to pick his brain and ask a few questions: I’m honored to be able to publish his responses here.

Transports of Delight coverYou are a published author of two books already, the lovely “Kodo: The Way of Incense,” and the well-regarded “The Chemistry of Fragrances.” What was the motivation behind writing your latest book, “Transports of Delight?”

I am an aromancer- a dealer in aromas first and foremost. Whilst fragrances have been my career I am interested in getting the world to stop and smell the roses (or the coffee.) I guess it stems from my old hippie days. So one part of that is poetry which I started in Kodo. I travel the world as a cruise presenter and realised that we are a very vision and hearing dominant species. What I try and do is get passengers on cruise ships to take back aromatic memories with them too and TOD was the creative outcome of that.

I was as a chemist originally a frustrated artist and thespian. Fragrances are the art of science and chemistry expressed in a sensual way. I became a chemist as it was actually a creative form- as a kid I made my own fireworks! I have always loved good English grammar and Literature. It all grew from that melting pot. I’m also a bit of a romantic at heart. My two books (see below) on poetry have taken around three years on and off to put together- in between other projects.

Perhaps you might be willing to name some of your favorite poets in general, outside of just “scented” writings?

That’s a real toughie- I’m afraid as a guy I really don’t go for the “Ode to daffodils” type of stuff, but some work by Keats, Wordsworth and Shelley are very moving. Blake is powerful. I often find each poet has at least one poem that moves me. Cafavy’s though is still my favourite.

What do you find is the hardest part of attempting to transliterate aroma into words? Conversely, what is it that you find the easiest? Why do you think poetry is such a good fit for conveying and provoking the emotions that accompany our sense of smell?

Smell is sensual and as you know linked to our sexual gonads and seat of memory. What better drivers could you have for poetry. To quote Wordsworth:

The Prelude: ‘Spots of time’

There are in our existence spots of time,

Which with distinct pre-eminence retain

A renovating Virtue, whence,

… our minds

Are nourished and invisibly repaired

(Book XI, ls 258-278)

‘Spots of time’ for Wordsworth are past experiences through which he can trace his own development, as a man and as a poet, and which continue to resonate with new meanings many years after the events themselves.

I experience these spots of time with all my sensory faculties including the oft forgotten olfactory sense.

I’ve also grown up absorbing the language of aromas, which of course is stolen from art (hue,colour,vibrancy, texture…) and music (chord, dischord, notes, harmony…)

The phrase “Indiana Jones of perfume” pops up to describe you and connote your willingness seek out fragrances that would otherwise be lost to history. What are some of the more notably interesting perfumes you’ve uncovered? Which one do you feel possesses the most interesting story behind it?

The media describe me as such and it seems to have stuck. But i don’t mind as it’s basically a good description of what I do- except that my archaeological treasure happens to be scent. To be continued. Watch this space… but basically perfumes are transient, ephemeral beings. Open the stopper and they are lost in the arrow of time. They are caught in time by natural disasters. Earthquakes, shipwrecks, volcanic explosions. That and the far ends of the earth are where I seek my olfactory treasures.

My toughest adventure was calling in to Anne Sommers for my Indiana Jones whip!

I see you’ve given presentations on some of your “Indiana Jones” perfumery finds… What has been the most rewarding reaction from your audiences? What has been the most surprising to you?

Basically they queue up to buy and that has sent me down a different more commercial track. The appeal by age (of clientele not perfume) of certain fragrances is also obvious.

How did you become involved with the RMS Titanic, and the salvaging of one of the Titanic passenger’s fragrances? Do you have a particular favourite amongst these recovered perfumes, and could you describe it for us?

I simply worked as exclusive consultant to RMS Titanic and arranged for the transfer of the phials to England. One in particular which we code named “pink” is very like L’Origan by Coty with rose, violet, heliotrope, and mayflower. There was also an appealing male fragrance. However many of the phials were damaged beyond repair, or contained raw materials which would be considered too expensive (or toxic) nowadays! The perfumer who reworked them now works for Chanel. It is unlikely the Titanic fragrances will ever see the light of day commercially for many considerations.

Kodo: The Way of IncenseIn your book “Kodo, The Way of Incense,” you describe a great number of incense materials, but you also include concise descriptions of incense ritual and “games.” What was it about this subject that most attracted you to put pen to paper? What were some of the challenges in trying to explain a traditional custom of Japanese culture to Western readers?

I believe in synchronicity/serendipity- call it what you will- the Universal law of attraction. I wrote a small article on Kodo (not knowing at the time what it really was, but being intrigued by a picture in an old manuscript.) I got an email from a Japanese guy saying I was a very interesting foreigner (one up from being a barbarian) to know about Kodo and would I like to come to Japan to learn. This came from the oldest Incense Company in Japan who make for the Emperor, and the outcome was that having done a little research for them in the UK. I spent some time in their factory in Japan learning to grind the raw materials and then travelling, helping sell them in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. One fun thing was that I worked in the factory all week (it was dusty work!) with a T shirt from my visit to the US - it simply said NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) NOLA in “anglicised ” Japanese means lazy worker! No wonder they all smiled at me. On my last day it was got through to me that Nara (the old capital) was the true end of the silk road - that’s when I got the idea for Kodo- the three ways of incense- the ceremony itself, the raw materials and collecting them along the route and the effect on the brain depending on how they are mixed and matched. Basically incense- the earlier perfume (derived from the Latin per fumum- through or by smoke) is a mind altering drug that just happens to be legal.

How do you incorporate your love of smell into your own life? Do you wear fragrance, and what are some of your favourites? Are there particular incenses (or other home fragrances) that you gravitate towards more than others?


At present Aqua De Gio (sparingly as I do not want it to interfere with my overall appreciation of aromas around me) or Anteaus.

As for female?

  • Youth Dew reminds me of my first love
  • Miss Dior of my ex wife (we are still amicable) and
  • My future lady (if she’s somewhere out there) probably wears something at the moment like Light Blue or Be Delicious.

Any Japanese incense with genuine aloes wood (eaglewood/agarwood) or Sandalwood appeals to me. Sweepings up from the factory floor of India do not.Genuine Nag Champa is also sensational.

It’s astounding to think of all the well-known writings that embrace our other senses - for example, Lester Bangs listening to music, Robert Parker tasting wine, and too many art critiques to even begin listing them. Why do you think our sense of smell is comparatively overlooked so often? It seems almost like our ability to smell gets taken so much for granted that we forget to appreciate it’s even there, let alone take delight in it and express that delight.

Basically its because we relate it to our “atavistic” animal senses and we are of course “civilised” (so called.) After all if we all got down on four “paws” and acted like cats and dogs it would be the end of civilisation as we know it. Indeed Sigmund Freud is quoted as saying that on casualty of civilisation is a diminution of our sense of smell. Our smell acuity drops off rapidly after around 60 (especially males) and like any other “muscle” - use it or lose it- so my advice is to take every opportunity to use your sense of smell - on food, the neighbourhood (and your neighbours!)

The Chemistry of FragrancesTo me, one of the more fascinating portions in “The Chemistry of Fragrances” came at the very end, in the chapter called “The Brief Submission.” The chapter uses the creation of a hypothetical fragrance named Djinni as a device to explain some of what goes on in the briefs submitted when a company wants to launch a new fragrance. It seems almost counter-intuitive to us perfume nuts to begin with anything but solely the notes, or olfactive information. (And in truth, it felt that way in my own limited experience since I have, like, zero background in either fragrance or marketing.) How much do you think hangs on a well chosen name for a fragrance? How much do you feel the image and/or imagery behind a fragrance concept plays into its eventual success, or lack thereof?

Once the juice was the most important thing in the creation. Now it’s the wrappings (including the names.) I’m afraid too many C list celebrities put their names on perfumes and then the “marketing lovelies” get involved with their descriptions. Heard of “living Bartlett pear” - I can just see the poor old pear getting boiled alive in hot alcohol- or “pink musk?” Heard of pink elephants? You see them when drunk- but pink musk? I’m afraid it all demeans the true essence of perfumery. Also of course many are “built” (not created) down to a price and that means more synthetics and less naturals. This in itself is not a bad thing as synthetics (from oil, coal) were of course once natural, and nature identical copies nature too. But in naturals I feel there is an indefinable life force that cannot be weighed or measured, but simply makes all the difference to vibrancy- like everything in life you get what you pay for.

What other projects do you have in the pipeline for the future?

Led By The Nose CoverLed By the Nose is a book of over 100 comic verses written by yours truly again in an attempt to get people to stop and smell the roses. It is not published yet as there are five things wrong:

  • Poetry is not appreciated
  • Poetry which rhymes is doubly not appreciated
  • Poetry which is Comic and rhymes is trebly not appreciated
  • I am not a member of the Royal Family or a footballer (soccer player)
  • Working the publishing industry in the UK is like swimming backwards through treacle (molasses)

Know any good American Publishers- I think we vaguely speak the same language (although spelling leaves a bit to be desired- what’s this “flavors” and “odors” stuff!)

I am so pleased with the artistic work of my co-worker Sergio Lievano on my book that I have taken up a distance course in cartooning. Not in any way to beat Sergio who is fantastic but simply to learn another artistic way of expression. See front cover of book attached.

I will leave you with the title poem (copyright of course) in the hope that your readers suitably enriched will be able to purchase the book later this year along with the more serious “Transports of Delight:”

The Nose
The nose it is a wondrous thing
It lets all kinds of smells go in
And gently warms them in its maze
And probes and checks that scented haze
Then lets you know it’s cardamom
Or aniseed or fruity gum
It sorts the jasmine from the rose
How does it work do you suppose?
Ten thousand odours it can tell
This providential sense of smell
A Nobel Prize awaits the one
Who figures out how this is done!
© David Pybus

13 Responses to “Interview with an Aromancer”

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    Said this on February 14th, 2007 at 5:15am:

    Absolutely fascinating!

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    Said this on February 14th, 2007 at 5:33am:

    Thanks M :)

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    Said this on February 14th, 2007 at 5:55am:

    Wonderful! I wish I had his job. How extraordinary to be able to do something like that every day of your life - I wouldn’t even consider it work.

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    Said this on February 14th, 2007 at 6:11am:

    Flor - I know, right? Sure beats pushing papers around that mean nothing to no one, at the very least :) Happy V Day, Flor!

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    Said this on February 14th, 2007 at 2:48pm:

    Great interview, K, and I am going to look for the new book, it sounds fascinating. Disappointed that Future Lady has to wear Be Delicious or Light Blue, when it seems like she ought to be wearing CdG Kyoto or something?? But can see the point of wearing something light that doesn’t interfere with smelling what is around you.

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    Said this on February 14th, 2007 at 3:21pm:

    Well, it takes all kinds - the CdGs would seem oddly fitting in a way, but I suppose if you\’ve worked hands-on with the real thing then the imitative incense frags probably don\’t hold as much appeal as they do to us enthusiasts! Thanks Robin, hope you and your husband have a great Valentine\’s Day.

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    Said this on February 16th, 2007 at 7:02am:

    Great read, Katie, and I look forward to delving into all his books now.

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    Said this on February 17th, 2007 at 2:36pm:

    Thanks Anya, glad you liked it. I have been having more trouble remembering my sign-in information for Blogger/Google, but since I have your eyes here, I really enjoyed your peanut butter analogy over at Anya’s Garden. That was just a great way to help folks explore the issue. Good essay!

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    Said this on February 22nd, 2007 at 12:20pm:

    Hi Katie, what a strange and interesting character! More interviews please! I’ve just started posting again myself, sorry I’ve been away for so long, but I actually have a point of view now, and plenty to say! I’d love to hear your comments.

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    Said this on February 22nd, 2007 at 1:54pm:

    Hi Qwendy! I’m so glad you’re writing again! I thought perhaps you were about to abandon ship :) Will pop on over to your place soon! I probably won’t do too many interviews, since I’m not exactly possessing any profession skills in that arena ;P He is a very interesting guy with seemingly tons of curiosity.

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    Bob aka Cyberbob from Oriana 2004

    Said this on March 7th, 2007 at 1:28pm:

    He’s just been on Drangon’s Den .. and won !

    Well done and good luck David.

    Bob aka Cyberbob from Oriana 2004

    PS - I really did enjoy his talks and our chats.

    PPS - If you read this David, remember this… http://www.flickr.com/photos/bobasonic/74967420/

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    Said this on March 11th, 2007 at 3:33pm:

    Hullo, Bob! Yes, how wonderful and very deserved! It\’s a wonder that anyone would fail to see the possiblities of such a venture, frankly. So many of us perfume addicts would line up like sheep for an opportunity to smell modern versions of those old historically interesting fragrances. Thank you for sharing your photo in your Flick stream, that is such a nifty picture :) Very, very cool idea for a photo montage.

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    David Pybus

    Said this on March 16th, 2007 at 2:51pm:

    Katie, I can now disclose new information to you. My latest venture having been on TV last night.

    For all info check out



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