Communicator explores sense of smell, promotes interdisciplinarity


For Michelle Krell Kydd, the nose knows.

At 10 years old, Kydd stood on her tiptoes to reach over the counter at Alexander’s department store in the Bronx, paying $2.75 for her first fragrance purchase, “Sweet Earth Rare Flowers” by Coty. Acquiring the solid perfume compact was only the beginning.

“I was probably too young to be wearing perfume, but for as long as I can remember, I saw the world through my nose,” Kydd laughs. “I was the kid that was always picking flowers. When encountering something new to eat I would smell it, because I wanted to understand what the flavors would taste like before I ate it. Smell plus taste equals flavor.”

Kydd joined U-M in February 2013 as a communications specialist at the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru), a national organization that advocates interdisciplinary programs, curricula, and research among the arts, sciences and other disciplines.

Before Michelle Kydd joined U-M as a communications specialist, she spent seven years as a freelance consultant in the fragrance and flavors industry. (Photo by Daryl Marshke, Michigan Photography)

Kydd’s position recently expanded to include managing marketing as well as communications for ArtsEngine, a U-M-specific collaboration that encourages students to think about creativity beyond disciplinary boundaries.

 Kydd manages both organizations’ websites, social media efforts, press and public relations, and event promotion.

“Working for a2ru allows me to see what is happening in arts-integrated interdisciplinarity on a national level, which affords a priceless perspective,” she says.

In her career as a communicator, Kydd has been able to link her olfactory passion to art-science interdisciplinarity.

Kydd recalls the moment when she first realized that her lifelong love for scent could translate to a career path. In 2003, Kydd attended fragrance training for the Montblanc fragrance “Individuel.” Over a six-hour period, Kydd was presented with 23 samples one at a time, and told to identify each scent. Kydd identified 20 out of 23 raw materials blind, from jasmine to patchouli to cumin.

“The instructor took me aside and told me, ‘You smell like a professional fragrance evaluator.’ And I said, ‘Are you saying that I smell?’ That was my first reaction,” she laughs.

Before Ann Arbor, Kydd spent seven years as a “nose” and freelance consultant in the flavors and fragrance industry, where art and science intersect. Her projects ranged from writing container copy for the Ciao Bella Gelato brand, to formulating a top-secret fragrance brief for the Clarins Fragrance Group.

Kydd, a New York City native, made the move to Ann Arbor in 2011 and quickly found ways to pursue her olfactory talent beyond the fragrance industry. In 10 “Smell and Tell” lectures at the Ann Arbor District Library, Kydd has shared her passion for olfaction with hundreds in the Ann Arbor community. Her next lecture is on patchouli and is scheduled for Dec. 3.

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Since beginning work at a2ru, Kydd has also appeared as a guest speaker in “A Dialogue of the Senses,” a Performing Arts Technology graduate course taught by Dr. Sile O’Modhrain.

On Oct. 10, Kydd will discuss “Olfaction and the Art of Perfumery” from 4-5:30 p.m. in the Art and Architecture Building Room 2147, as part of the “Mandorla of Life Sciences and the Arts” lecture series.

Kydd graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the State University of New York at Albany, and pursued further education in fragrance training at NYC’S Fashion Institute of Technology. She received additional training from Givaudan, the world’s leading flavor and fragrance company.

 “I feel like I’m walking on air every day at the University of Michigan,” she says. “In a2ru and ArtsEngine we are all about collaboration and arts-integrated interdisciplinarity. I just know that this is who I am. This is my purpose.”



  1. Pedro Castillo
    on October 8, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Thank you to Michelle for bringing the good words, the shrewd ingredients and creations of Mr Laudamiel and DreamAir to Ann Arbor. A rare joint commiment. Fulfills a wider educative mission and personal passion of Mr. Laudamiel of having olfaction join its counterparts vision and audition at the same level of recognition. see

  2. Michelle Krell Kydd
    on October 9, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    Christophe is a visionary and a proponent of the art-science connection that perfumery inspires. It is a pleasure to work with him for the purpose of evangelizing olfaction in higher education. If a student at the University of Michigan wants to inquire about how the olfactory arts can be used in interdisciplinary projects they will find an open door at The Arts Engine/a2ru office. This invitation is especially open to anyone researching neurodegenerative diseases of the brain. Smell is memory and memory is identity. We need to eradicate Alzheimer’s and dementia in this lifetime.

  3. Jacob Fratkin
    on October 13, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    I am a co-founder of the engineering group on the UM campus named FISA (Food Industry Student Association). Michelle has been a fantastic source for motivation and ideation for our goal in getting the food industry – and more specifically the flavor/fragrance industry – a larger role in our curriculum and in on-campus recruiting.
    I attended Michelle’s “Olfaction and the Art of Perfumery” lecture last week along with several other FISA members, all of whom were fascinated with the topic. I know I speak for our 100+ members and other engineers with an interest in the food industry when I say we would love to see a course like this taught as an elective on campus in the near future.

  4. Bea Preece
    on January 19, 2015 at 10:41 am

    This article caught my eye because I am a graduate in communications/PR from UM and making natural perfumes is a passion for me, so Michelle Kydd and I have something in common. I am currently looking for a place in Michigan where I could study perfumery and flavors, since I have a job in Dearborn that I cannot quit to follow my passion in New York City or Grasse, France. Any suggestions?

    • Michelle Krell Kydd
      on February 14, 2015 at 10:28 am

      I lecture on campus and in the community so you can experience some of what I’ve learned in these places. The Jean Carles Method, which is the method used to teach perfumers how to smell so they can compose fragrances, is not taught in higher education across the country and should be as it helps one develop a vocabulary for the invisible. This skill is critical to all disciplines as before a creation becomes tangible (or understandable in theory) it exists in inside the mind only. Being able to transform ideas into tangible things requires other skills such as objectivity, which proves valuable so one doesn’t attach themselves to personal likes and dislikes. You can find the Jean Charles chart (a kind of periodic table of aromas organized by fragrance families) on my blog, Glass Petal Smoke, and use it. It is important to note that the study of aroma molecules made in the lab also supports this process so don’t feel as if you have to avoid organic chemistry as a whole; you’ll miss the experience of smelling beautiful molecules. The “Smell and Tell ” series is ongoing at The Ann Arbor District Library so check the event listings there as there are 4-6 a year. Lectures at The University of Michigan campus vary, though the next one will take place on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 12:00 p.m. as part of the North Campus Sustainability Hour (Johnson Rooms, Lurie Engineering Center). The topic is “The Scent of Vanishing” Trees. I wish I had Rosewood essential oil to demo for this, but alas, over-harvesting has silenced this beauty…

      • Lois Miller
        on February 25, 2015 at 1:45 pm

        I heard you speak last year at the A2 Library, and was captivated by the topic and your presentation style, as was the entire audience. This is more of a genuinely moving sensory experience than we realize. The level of communication that immediately intensified was just brilliant to be a part of – and it happened again today in LEC Johnson Rooms at the sustainability hour. Tell us how we can be advocates for what would be a very popular course combining true and lively human interaction and education.

        • Lois Miller
          on February 25, 2015 at 1:47 pm

          Thanks much, Michelle!

  5. Michelle Krell Kydd
    on March 1, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    Dear Lois,

    Thanks for sharing your positive Smell and Tell experiences. I appreciate your perspective as you have been to Smell and Tell lectures at the Ann Arbor District Library and The University of Michigan, and see that the talks resonate with audiences across age, gender, academic disciplines, and cultures.

    I am fortunate to live and work in a milieu that embraces diverse thinking and interdisciplinarity that is inclusive of the arts. Smell and Tell is an experience worth sharing and supporting. The fact that you and others find the lectures inspirational and memorable says a lot about embedding Smell and Tell in a research university setting.

    Smell and Tell could be housed in one area of campus, but shared across the entire university. What you experienced at the Sustainability Hour is what it’s like when an audience of students, alumni, support staff, and faculty learn that being objective means dropping attachment to likes and dislikes, as well as concepts of right and wrong. This is an important quality to cultivate in life and in research because the space between binaries is where discovery takes place; it is also where the value of interdisciplinarity becomes evident and powerful. This is something all of us need to embrace.

    Olfactory exercises, combined with storytelling and science teach objectivity and compassion. I am happy to be a catalyst via sharing my olfactory and communications expertise because one can be fully curious in an environment where judgment is dropped and our senses are permitted to function and flourish.

    Thanks for being a victor for olfaction and the art-science connection. The presentation from the Sustainability Hour will be posted this month and another lecture will take place in the fall. The turnout was higher than any other talk in the series.

  6. Victoria Neff
    on April 11, 2015 at 7:02 am

    I have been lucky enough to attend three of Michelle’s talks at the library.

    Listening to Michelle, watching slides and videos, and critically smelling everything from the scent of wet earth, to an absolute of jasmine, to complete and complex perfumes is akin being transported to another place or another time. A glimpse into a single ingredient, or to a single perfume, or into the oeuvre of a perfume genius, is like a two-hour sojourn in an exotic land I never imagined existed……

    I had never thought about the dearth of education about olfaction — why not have Michigan be a leader in this neglected area of study?

    ps — Michelle is scheduled to speak at the library again on May 20, 2015. I am looking forward to it!

    • Michelle Krell Kydd
      on April 11, 2015 at 9:31 pm

      The Smell and Tell lectures are multisensory and experiential by design. The fact that they resonate for you confirms that there is something about the art-science connection in perfumery that is meaningful, educational and self-authenticating. ” Serge Lutens: Collaboration in Luxury Fragrance Design,” was a labor of love, so thank you for sharing your thoughts and your kind words.

      I gave a TEDxUofM talk on March 20, 2015 called “Secrets from a Trained Nose”. The talk includes a poignant story that sheds light on smell loss and what this means for all of us. I hope you enjoy it.

      P.S. Two students who were born without a sense of smell, a condition known as congenital anosmia, spoke to The Michigan Daily a few days after I gave the TEDxUofM talk. Acquired anosmics outnumber congenital anosmics, so the fact that these two students spoke up about their condition is amazing on so many levels. Glad they had a chance to make an invisible condition tangible to the university community because being nose blind stinks.

  7. Waleed Al Rawi
    on August 26, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    I had the pleasure of attending a special lecture that Michelle Kydd gave to us MSTEM students this summer. As students here in Ann Arbor spending our pre-freshman summer at the university getting accustomed to classes and all the different opportunities available to us, it was absolutely fascinating to have the experience that Michelle Kydd offers. A lot can be lost when focusing on just academics, but in just about one hour, Michelle gave everyone in the room a taste (or I guess smell) of the magic that can happen when integrating our passions with our studies. Absolutely a fantastic addition to Ann Arbor, and I hope everyone gets to experience her passion with her. I Will definitely attend other lectures, and would instantly sign up for a class if one was offered.

  8. Michelle Krell Kydd
    on September 17, 2015 at 6:35 pm

    Thank you, Waleed! I’m so glad that the summer Smell and Tell lecture empowered and inspired you.

    Another Smell and Tell lecture is being planned for the University of Michigan in Winter 2016. You’ll hear about it via ArtsEngine on North Campus. In the meantime there are two Smell and Tell lectures scheduled at the Ann Arbor District Library (downtown branch). They are:

    9/30 Enflowering the Carnal: The Scent of Fracas, 6:30-8:45pm. Details here:

    10/28 Norell: The First American Designer Perfume, 6:30-8:45pm

    Wishing you all the best this semester!

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