Never before have I beseeched the lord for the nose of an African elephant. Not for its long, poddy trunk. In Melbourne, I was in desperate need for the tusker’s 1,948 olfactory receptor (OR) genes (humans have only 396 OR genes). I wish I could steal the smelly-superpower of the world’s best sniffer. That frosty afternoon, I was nosing the city. The whiff of waffles near Flinders Street. Of paint in Hosier Lane. Seaweed along Port Phillip Bay. Hint of salt and seagull by the Yarra river. Eucalyptus at Tullamarine. Fresh mocha in the Docklands. By the Block Arcade, the bewildering smellscape and an olfactory overload left me woozy. My scent lexicon suddenly went deadpan.All I needed was smell-shrink and walked into Fleurage, Master Perfumer Emma J. Leah’s scent-den in the ritzy 126-year old Block Arcade. Leah knows all about the scent of the city - in association with Grand Hyatt Hotel she has created a unique experience titled Melbourne Scent Story. She has picked 40 areas of Melbourne, borrowed their individual smells and bottled the scent and lets the visitor create their own scent memory of Melbourne.
Leah knew my nose had failed me. Miserably. I had nosed the city incorrectly. “The dominant scent of Melbourne is wet concrete, earth, greenery, smoke and coffee,” says Leah, a self-taught perfumer who insists that the 40 areas from the city are not only iconic and have historic relevance but also have distinct olfactory profiles. Flinders Street is heavy with the smell of metal, stone and fried chips and donuts; Block Arcade is a combination of strawberry cake, tea, a tad musty like the pages of an old book. Little Bourke Street (Chinatown) is loaded with fragrance of jade, silk, cedar chests, incense, jasmine and firecrackers while the Paris-end of Collins Street is redolent with scented leather and luxury.When Leah started describing the city, I thought she was talking of an elegant woman. “Melbourne is a grand dame with poise, elegance and stories in every laneway, arcade, doorway, brick, road, and area. She is more complex than she appears. History and hidden wonders lie under a sedate facade,” says Leah.
For nearly 30 years, Leah has been passionate about scent and the psyche, especially cross-sensory exploration. For the past few years, she has toyed with the idea of capturing the scent of a city and as a perfumer, she admits “I try to make these memories come alive in a bottle.”What’s the Melbourne scent memory I wanted to bottle? Leah’s question left my mucous membranes muddled again. No overload of coffee. Certainly, no smoke or fried donuts. No musty book page. No museum drab. “Perhaps something floral, light. A daub of luxury,” I suggested. Leah then prepared my Melbourne scent memory one drop at a time. Exactly 20 drops of scented leather of Paris-end of the Collins Street; 15 drops of blossoms/wine off Federation Square; 10 drops of white musk & white tea from Crown Casino; 5 drops each of champagne and linen from Florentino; and roses, grass and earth from the Shrine of Remembrance. All added to the 25 mL base fragrance of Melbourne.
One nose into the bottle and I knew my Melbourne Scent Memory would linger forever.
(The Melbourne Scent Experience is open only to residents of Melbourne Grand Hyatt Hotel for $200).
A view of Melbourne skyline from the iconic Melbourne Star Observation Wheel.
Fleurage’s exclusive Melbourne scent.
Master perfumer Emma Leah.
Preeti Verma Lal is a Goa-based freelance writer/photographer.