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The scent of bliss

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss — absolute bliss! — as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe? says Bertha Young in Katherine Mansfield's 1918 story Bliss.

To mark 100 years since publication of Mansfield's third collection of short stories, Bliss, Wellington-based parfumier Francesco van Eerd has created a new “literary scent” called Bliss inspired by the story.

Creation of the scent was a collaboration between van Eerd and the people who look after Mansfield's house and garden in Wellington.

Rather than “go too literal”, the founder of Fragrifert Parfumeur aimed to capture in the perfume the sense of the story, he told Radio New Zealand. He concentrated on Bertha Young's “peak experience” — bliss — in the story and used in his creation ambergris, white musk, grapefruit, banana and wintergreen. Although a pear tree features largely in Bliss, van Eerd sidestepped the obvious inclusion of pear, but a fruit bowl discussed in the story inspired a couple of ingredients.

When van Eerd visited Katherine Mansfield House he was told the name of the writer's favourite French scent translated to Flowering Broom.

Asked if Mansfield might have bought the perfume because it recalled for her broom spreading on New Zealand hillsides, the parfumier couldn't be sure. He aimed to invoke a feeling rather than recreate a smell.

“It's no different from musicians,” he told radio host Bryan Crump.

“When Tchaikovsky did Swan Lake it doesn't sound like swans . . . If composers can do it with musical notes parfumiers can do it with fragrance notes. It's no different.”

Any book could be used as inspiration for a perfume, he said. One listener suggested Barry Crump's title A Good Keen Man — “the fragrance of deer shit and bush hygiene”.

WHAT'S THAT SMELL? A scent designed by Wellington-based parfumier Francesco van Eerd to mark the centenary of publication of Mansfield's third collection of short stories, Bliss, has recently been released. Picture supplied by Lady Ottoline Morrell