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  • Odorbet

Installation 41: Everything is Better with Butter - Getting Agrestic in Vermont

Image courtesy St. Clair Scents, illustration by Massimo Alfaioli

Thank you to Diane St. Clair of St. Clair Scents for contributing to the Odorbet! Diane's evolution as a perfumer is nothing short of inspiring. The combination of her environment and her history of dairy farming and urban health care is the foundation for her inspired creative practice. Please enjoy this thoughtful reflection of her practice, in her words:

When I started to study perfumery, around 2015, I was a full time dairy farmer and butter maker and a part time perfume student. As a farmer, I spent a lot of my days smelling, even before I pursued perfume study. I’d sniff the air for oncoming rain and storms. I’d smell the cows’ milk as I skimmed the golden butterfat off the top for any possible “off” smells. If a young cow gave birth and wasn’t eating, I smelled her breath for a sweet acetone odor, that told me she had ketosis, a metabolic disorder. A bout of “winter dysentery” in the barn was obvious from manure, but could also come with a sweet, musty and unpleasant odor. On the bright side, I couldn’t get enough of the wonderful smells of coumarin and tonka bean wafting from the mow after the hay was stacked.

In my younger years, I was always someone who led with my head, not by intuition. As I grew older, knowing that intuition was one of my most undeveloped traits, I leaned into pushing the thinking voice back and allowing the voice of intuition to play a stronger role in decision making. I started telling myself, “what the hell, just give that crazy idea a go.” As more and more of the crazy ideas grew successful, I gained more and more trust in my intuition.

If you’re reading this, you might likely know how closely aligned scent is with the visceral and emotional parts of our brains. What I didn’t know was that psychics, maybe those who go one step beyond intuition into the unknown and unseen, have a word for this in olfaction. As “clairvoyance” means clear seeing (the ability to have ESP), “clairalience” means clear smelling, that is, acquiring psychic knowledge about something that is not physically present by means of smelling. For instance, suddenly smelling perfume, in a room where there is no one present, might represent the odor of a spirit. I guess that we could also call this “clairolfaction” or “clairaroma”. Animal studies tell us that dogs have a keen sense of smelling things that cannot be seen, such as illnesses and diseases, and can warn their owners of events such as epileptic seizures or panic attacks before they occur. Scientists who do not accept the existence of the spirit world, say that the experience of smelling things that aren’t present (known as phantosmia) can actually be a sign of infections (such as Covid 19), brain trauma and other diseases.

As a farmer, I used my nose to enjoy my everyday surroundings and to help me detect what was happening in the environment. These odors would alert me to actions that I needed to take to keep the animals and farm safe (in the case of oncoming storms, disease and possible feed damage). In the context of odorbet, it made me consider how I have used scent as a valuable part of intuitive thinking (“rhinodetection”), even before I became a perfumer.

Diane St. Claire has a Master’s in Public Health from Columbia University. After many years of working in maternal and child health in urban health departments, she bought a small farm in Vermont. Her farm became renowned for its small dairy and creamery, selling artisan butter and buttermilk to three star Michelin restaurants across the country. She started studying perfumery in 2015, learning independently and with mentors, and sold her creamery business in 2022. Her perfume is sold from my online platform and has been nominated twice in the artisan category for the distinguished Art and Olfaction awards.

Phantosmia: A qualitative olfactory disorder wherein an odorant is perceived in the absence of an identifiable stimulus. Although phantosmia is most often idiopathic, it may be associated with nasal mucosal abnormalities, migraines, seizures, and neurocognitive or mood disorders.

Rhinodetection: Using scent in the service of intuitive thinking and exploration.

Clairalience: Clear smelling, like clairvoyance is clear seeing. In other words clairalience is acquiring psychic knowledge about something that is not physically present by means of smelling.

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