A Perfume Masterclass at Sweet Fern

31 May 2017

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

It’s the middle of Heritage Weekend, arguably one the busiest times of the year for me. I organise the annual Ballarat Tweed Ride and advocate for the many brilliant events on over the weekend in my hometown. I also do an annual photoshoot at the steam train and have previously modelled in the catwalk events. This year I am also juggling a play that I’m in which has rehearsals every Sunday, so half my weekend is taken up by that. I’ve also been vlogging the Fernwood Ballarat 12 Week Challenge and tonight is their end of challenge dinner, but I have to photograph my sister first before I go. Yeah, I do a lot. Like, a lot of a lot. So when Sweet Fern asked me to take part in one of their perfume masterclasses this weekend, you can see how much I wanted to go by how much effort I put in to make sure I had the time in my hectic weekend to do so. I am grateful to my past self for making that decision.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

Sweet Fern is a small boutique perfumery located in a very unassuming street in the Ballarat CBD. Amongst more industrial and barren buildings, its minimalist exterior is adorned with simple flowers. I arrived after all the other participants, slightly late, but still very eager to learn. The table was detailed with vines and candles with delicious snacks as well. I was grateful for the snacks because I rarely get the chance to eat when my schedule is so full. Arriving late is always such an interruption and it often leaves me embarrassed and awkward for some time afterwards, but something about Sweet Fern is like putting on your headphones, letting your mind wander and tuning out the world. I had no sooner sat than forgotten the rush of getting there.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

Lucy, a perfume expert, stands at the front of the group with Kate, the owner of Sweet Fern. She introduces us all to the fragrance wheel that we will be journeying around and asks us all to discuss our favourite and preferred perfumes.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

My life is at war with perfume. Twice in my current career, I’ve worked with brilliant and inspiring women who have a radical sensitivity to perfume. This means no wearing it to work and sometimes, no wearing it out and about. Perfume has gradually moved to the back of my life as cute thing that is worn by people who have the luxury of free lives outside of offices. The times that perfume has featured for me has usually involved travel. As fragrance-free as I am, when I go on a holiday I like to wear a consistent perfume throughout so that I might reconnect with the memories when I smell that smell. If I smell the perfume of my great aunt, I find myself back in Spain immediately.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

Each woman in the group described her favourite perfume and how it had featured in their lives and then Lucy and Kate raised the white paper samplers, much the same as a conductor would raise a baton, and we began. 

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

Fragrance. Smell. How do you describe it? It’s something free of language or translation. Something that cannot be captured by oil paints or water colours. Something more than the textures of a fine silk or wool. And yet it’s all of these. It’s sometimes a Renaissance painting where you are simultaneously seeing the grand picture and every single brush stroke. It’s the ‘ah-ha’ moment when your mind can differentiate the violins from rest of the orchestra and you appreciate the melody anew. It’s an anchor that runs through your mind and sends you back in time to an exact moment, a specific place, a different self and a distinct feeling. It is a shot of genius that will take you places you have never been before, opening doors to new perspectives. Here I was, completely ignorant to perfume, lead on a journey. 

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

And here’s the thing about perfume. It smells different to each person. It smells different on each person’s skin. It connects us to different memories or impulses or feelings. The journey I was having would be completely different to the women sitting next to me. As Conrad captured in Heart of Darkness: 

He was silent for a while.

“... No, it is impossible; it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one’s existence—that which makes its truth, its meaning—its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream—alone....”

Dreams are surely made of fragrances.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

As a person who relies heavily on my eyes and ears to understand my world, it was akin to experiencing the space around me by virtual reality. Imagine that. I’ve been in this world so long and have never considered that my nose had been such a critical foundation stone of my reality.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

And yet it is. It is the moment rain hits hot earth and we get a smell known as petrichor. It is the cinnamon in a cinnamon bun that would smell incredibly out of place in the basils and tomatoes of an Italian restaurant. It is the woody smell of autumn as the leaves change, fall and settle on the earth in damp clusters. It is knowing something is bad in the fridge. It’s been there all my life, diligently cataloguing my world in a library, waiting for me to ask to loan a book. If the eyes are masters of the mind, and ears are masters of the soul, then surely, the nose is the master of the heart.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

In this way, Sweet Fern operates not unlike a Tardis. A small, beautiful shop, but once inside, it is like a doorway to any time and any place. I sat in there, feeling like I could have been sitting anywhere in the world. But I wasn’t. I was sitting in a beautifully decorated and petite shop, on a side street, in a regional city.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

I can say that my war between me and perfume has ended, because I must, I simply must stop ignoring the librarian of my life. I not only want to loan out those books, my classics, my trashy romantics, I want to contribute to that catalogue. I want to ride my bike to the shops wearing a scarf of mossy woods. I want to carry memories like postcards, bringing them back to adore with each spray of a fragrance. As though I’m wearing my heart on my sleeve, figuratively and literally.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat

After this compact two-hour session, I feel a little intoxicated on the fragrances. It’s like they got into my head and whispered me sweet nothings about how anything is possible. About how I create my own world. Like I was bumbling through life, bumping into things in a never ending sleep walk and these fragrances walked in with a brass band, a handful of firecrackers and a freshly cooked breakfast to lovingly shake me to wakefulness.


I was asleep before. I’m not asleep anymore.


Find Sweet Fern on their website, Facebook or Instagram.

Liana of @findingfemme visits Sweet Fern perfumery in Ballarat


- L
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