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Wednesday, 25 September 2013
You are reading part 2 of a series of posts entitled “The Magnificent Perfume Making Experiment!” If you haven’t read part 1 it won’t make any sense, for enlightenment click here.
After much delight tinkering around with pipettes and amber glass bottles (which I find appealing to the point of fetishism), I bring you the encouraging results of my first few weeks of amateur perfumery.
The joy of mad scientist equipment
My olfactory imagination pictured an effervescent sparkling scent, something to offset the grim menace of the upcoming winter. I suffer greatly in winter, being one of those for whom travelling to and from my day job in darkness brings a flattening of spirit. Winter nights often see me curled up in bed with a gruesome thriller and a peaty whisky by 9pm. I’d be fond of the life of a hedgehog. Were it not for the brief romance of Christmas, I’d be quite content to sleep in a deep pile of leaves for 4 months. With this in mind I want to play with natural aromatherapy oils that effect a feeling of enlivenment and happiness such as; grapefruit, bergamot and cypress. I see it essentially as a sharp chypre softened with a comforting woody base, something to bring about a beam to my grumpy November face.
My starting point was to create the base i.e. A pre-mixed solution upon which you can add extra notes. A useful metaphor would be to think of the base as the foundations of a house, the underground layer upon which you’ll add additional floors. This is how I did it:
- Cut vast quantities of smelling strips (from artist’s cartridge paper) and select combinations of notes to dip them into. After dipping 2 or 3 strips each time, fan them out and waft them across your nose. This enables you to make a choice of notes that work harmoniously ‘in the air’.
- Place 5 ml of perfumer’s alcohol into a small bottle and begin to add very small amounts of your notes bit by bit into the solution. For the synthetics you can use a calibrated pipette (with millilitres on). For the essential oils you can simply use the dropper in the bottle. As you add you’ll be able to sense when to stop by closing up the bottle, shaking it, then having a sniff of a strip again. Write down every single measurement as you do it. I really liked the combination of Plush Folly’s slightly floral and very bright Aldehyde 2 with various wood notes so I made several bottle variations i.e. A2 + cedar, A2 + rosewood, A2 + sandalwood etc.
- Stop messing with it and go to bed, leave the bottles alone for a few days somewhere dark and cool.
- Smell them again and consider where to go next, you can repeat the smelling strip fan process now using your favourite of the first blends alongside new notes. Split the blend into 2 bottles and experiment with adding another note or two to each one. Be prepared to pour it down the sink and start again when it doesn’t work (I attempted to add teeny amounts of castoreum to my blend. Just the very tip of a pin dipped into the bottle and added to the base caused it to emit a stench akin to multiple cattle farts).
- Leave it alone again for a few days.
- After some time I found success in the combination of A2 + rosewood + cedar which gave me a wonderfully deep woody vibe. Rosewood has a similarity to oud in that it possesses a slightly rosy sharpness but without the removal of all the mucous cells from the back of your throat. I vastly prefer it to oud. Alongside the cedar (the scent of opening a flat pack box of untreated wood IKEA furniture), it gave a rich gravitas to the blend. It needed a tiny touch of sweetness to counteract the sharp so in went a few drops of synthetic Plush Folly’s Vanilla Bourbon. This is exceptionally strong so be careful with not to obliterate the gentler natural notes.
Smelling it tonight (about 2 weeks into the process) I am delighted with my base. Here’s the current recipe:
6 ml of perfumer’s alcohol (Plush Folly)
4 drops of synthetic vanilla bourbon (Plush Folly)
6 drops of aldehyde 2 (Plush Folly)
5 drops of rosewood essential oil
2 drops of cedar essential oil
My recipe, pictured with the terrible castoreum mistake.
This is a very heavy concentration that will need some serious maths work as future notes are added. I’ll ultimately use Mandy Aftel’s marvellous natural perfume making manual ‘Essence and Alchemy’ to determine what amounts will constitute an EDP or Parfum Extrait.
Buy a lot of pipettes to avoid cross-contaminating your notes. Wash them in warm soapy water, let them dry, swill them in a little perfumer’s alcohol or rubbing alcohol to sterilise them.
Fiddle A LOT to get the right base, it is after all your foundation.
If you detest maths and adore stationary (this might be a female thing), invest in an object of desire for your record keeping. My gorgeous Moleskine notebook made recording measurements a pleasure.
A bizarre thing happened to me when I created my base, I could see clearly where to go next with my notes. It’s as if some sort of intuition occurred and stopped it all being the purely hit and miss testing that formed the multitude of sink fodder in the early stages. I can’t wait to test my ideas this week and see if any of them work.
See 'number 3', my chosen base in it's little bottle. 'Jumbled up' is a few discarded trials mixed together, it smells infuriatingly good and I haven't a clue what's in it..
Keep an eye out next week for an interview with Plush Folly’s Sally Hornsey where she speaks of her own adventures in perfumery.
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Sunday, 22 September 2013
A peculiar event takes place when you pair patchouli with marine notes, it turns into an animalic beast.
We are fond of smelling our patchouli alongside ‘soft’ notes such as an amber accord, vanilla or balsamic benzoin and tonka. No wonder really as it’s strident character benefits from a little gentility. Together with some sweetness, patchouli is a sensual, warming note that evokes a comforting hippy vibe (as in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Patchouli Patch) or a dose of late night glamour (at it’s best in Givenchy’s original Givenchy Gentleman).
Byredo created an unusual (I’m understating here) patchouli beast in M/Mink. By beast, I refer not to a hideous ogre, more to a grand fierce animal. It belongs in the category of ‘very close to human/animal/marine effluence that is strangely beguiling’. It shares it’s category with Maison Francis Kurkdijan’s Absolue Pour Le Soir, mentioned in my last post for it’s notably ‘pissy’ top note. To see the post click here. Alike Absolue Pour Le Soir, M/Mink becomes more comfortable after it’s challenging top notes wear off, leaving you with something quite beautiful.
Very pretty packaging indeed
It reminds me a little of ‘Secretions Magnifique’ by the notorious Etat Libre D’ Orange. However, it doesn’t make me gag or scrub at my wrist with Swarfega industrial gunk remover (which I did after first trying Clinique’s hugely abrasive skin Claryfing Lotion which is best left for cleaning a filthy computer screen or moments of terrible perfume sample application). What it does share with Secretions Magnifique is a veritable ocean of saltiness and minerals.
Back to M/Mink. At first application, you are hit (strongly, in the face) by a gigantic musky and leathery whiff. This often smelt, albeit with less intensity, in fumes that contain labdanum. It’s not the gentle Hermes saddlery leather, more a ‘bag from a market in Tunisia’ leather which still holds a little scented suggestion of the ‘only just about cured’ skin of it’s animal benefactor. This sounds revolting but it’s not. It’s (just) on the right side of animalic, beastly but not deathly. Leather is not listed as a note in M/Mink so I am presuming that the sensation comes from the pairing of a sea water note and patchouli, like an old lost boot washed up shore-side to dry in the sun.
Alongside the animal note is a very clear re-creation of the sea. Unlike polite refreshing scents such as Aqua Di Gio, this ocean is reminiscent of industrial docks, where working ships float in the murky water giving off a faint whiff of diesel, damp ropes and wood varnish.
M/Mink is said to have been inspired by a lump of solid oriental calligraphy ink, something I’ve never had the delight of smelling, but a quick flick through online reviews reveals a shared sense of printing toner arising in the nostrils of many. Again, adding to the connotation of ‘industrial’ scent.
Once you’ve ridden out the magnificently fearsome journey of M/Mink at it’s peak, the whole thing dries down to a very pretty and gentle trail of patchouli as we know it. It’s possibly the most charming dry down of any of it’s genre, the mewing kitten at the close of the bloody toothed roaring lion.
It’s not for me but I admire it’s eccentricity and powerhouse punch. So who would I recommend it to?
- Those seeking a truly niche perfume that will mark them out as unique and adventurous.
- Those who liked the idea of Secretions Magnifique but couldn’t contain their gag reflex.
- Those who frequent leather/rubber fetish clubs or adore German Industrial Techno.
A brilliant beastly marvel.
Sunday, 15 September 2013
I’ve a damn good nose. Or so I think..
Having always been utterly obsessed by the scent of things and places, I imagine that given the chance, I could be a perfumer. This is a dream shared by so many of us, especially after the BBC televised a three part series about the industry several years ago. One episode in particular was enthralling, as Jean Claude Elena was shadowed at work with his fortunate apprentices. No one could forget the sight of this strikingly handsome fellow with his nose pressed to the metallic edge of his patio doors, inhaling deeply and speaking of the conceptual scent of ‘cold and smooth’ in his mellifluous French accent.
JCE at work, sniffing an asthma inhaler?
When researching my article ‘The Scent of British Spirit Part 3’ (click here to read it), I encountered Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays. As a more or less self taught perfumer, Sarah creates a splendid range of quirky but wearable niche fragrances that prove that you don’t need an extraordinary amount of scientific knowledge or years as an apprentice churning out flavours for laundry detergents, to create a fragrant delight.
Think about your existing knowledge, if you’ve been using Fragrantica and Basenotes for years you’ll already know many of the notes that form the top to base structure of a perfume. If you use aromatherapy essential oils at home you’ll have experience of which fragrances blend together harmoniously. The experience of years of sample smelling will have taught you what works and what doesn’t, both in terms of personal taste and generic success.
If we assume that we have a little talent, what we are really only lacking is access to the enormous range of ingredients that make up the ‘perfumer’s organ’ (which appeals enormously to my puerile sense of humour..), the masses of money that pays for endless revisions to our experiments and minutely accurate scientific measuring equipment. There is no way around any of these immense problems so we’ll just have to accept it and try to make something less complex than the professionals.
So, I’ve decided to have a go at making my own scent. As I’m hugely impatient, slapdash and overly optimistic, this could be a pit-falled adventure. It’s already gone dreadfully wrong with the spillage of a little aldehyde C11 on my fingers, queue copious gagging at the extraordinarily tenacious scent of undiluted plasticky whiffed torment!
I’ll be updating you about this adventure roughly once a fortnight as the experiment progress, but for now here’s how I’ve started:
1) Last year I bought a tiny bottle of Agmark Mysore sandalwood essential oil and a bottle of perfumer’s alcohol. I used it to make a pure ‘authentic’ sandalwood scent. This arose out of discussions about the death of ‘real, i.e. Mysore’ sandalwood in perfumery. Priced out of possibility, manufacturers began to replace it with cheaper species from Australia. The blend was magnificent and possessed all the creamy, unctuous, softly wooded qualities that I remembered in Sandalwood scents of years ago. It felt like meditation in a bottle and fuelled my enthusiasm to create more.
2) A few weeks ago I ordered a plentiful wodge of essential oils and absolutes from Neat Wholesale (see listing and link under the ‘shopping tips’ page). I couldn’t afford to buy any expensive florals (though I’d loved to have tried their Champaca and undiluted Rose and Neroli) so I stuck to a few that I have used and loved before such as Rose Geranium and Rosewood and a few small quantities of things I’ve never smelt before such Roasted Coffee and White birch. The sensation of smelling their Lavender Absolute (the purest concentration of Lavender) was extraordinary. This bright emerald green liquid contains so very many notes within itself that it was a stand alone perfume, lavender bright with a musky, mossy warm undertone that I’ve smelt in By Kilian’s Taste of Heaven and Caron’s Pour un Homme.
Some of my little bottles of EOs from Neat
3) I also made an order for synthetics with Plush Folly (again see the shopping tips page) who specialise in ingredients for making perfumes, candles, cosmetics etc. I ordered three types of aldehyde, a sample pack of animalic notes, some ISO e Super (of eccentric molecules fame), a musky ambrettia base and some perfumer’s alcohol. The box arrived at my work address and upon opening, stank out our tiny office. It obviously provoked disparaging glances and wrinkled noses from my co-workers as I ran to open the window. I think a little of the aforementioned Aldehyde C11 might have leaked. It wasn’t pleasant.
Tiny curious bottles of Plush Folly's synthetics
Upon arriving home, I started to mix small amounts of the synthetics with perfumer’s alcohol, to enable me to smell then without overpowering my olfactory sensors. The most exciting of these ingredients were the two musks – Castoreum and Civet. I handed them to my partner for his thought’s.
“This is civet, what can you smell?”
“It’s piss. Defintely piss, and erm.. that one we smelt in Selfridges, the brown one”
“The Francis Kurkdijan? Absolue Pour Le Soir?”
“Yup, think so”
“This is castoreum, what can you smell here?”
“Piss, piss and cowpats”
It was a fairly accurate description of the notorious ‘skank’ note that we enthuse over in it’s purest form. This maybe a revolting association but I imagine that either of these notes would beef up a soppy floral or add some quirk to a strong oriental base. I was impressed.
I was also mightily impressed by the Ambrettia base. My curiosity for this ingredient was sparked by my love of the ambrette note (derived from a plant called the musk mallow) that appears in my beloved Annick Goutal’s Musc Nomade. In actuality, the Ambrettia potion is both enlivening (bright, optimistic, sparkly, slightly floral) and grounding (depth, strength, powder). I’m looking forward to making something with a ‘vintage’ feel with this one.
Of the aldehydes, numbers one and two were marvellous, projecting an airy bright opulence, each with a distinct character. I imagine that these will ‘lift’ compositions beautifully if used sparingly. Aldehyde C11 upset my sensibilities so much that it went immediately in the bin, double bagged for the safety of never smelling again. I surprised myself in that I can cope with the smell of, in Andy’s words ‘piss’, but can’t cope with the smell of ‘plasticky ironing’.
4) I’ve made a beginning with the bases of two scents. The first (a coffee and woods combo) smells so good that for now, I’m keeping it a secret (sorry!). I’ll be splitting the base and fiddling with top notes over the next few days.
In the making of the second scent I’ll be revealing every step and ingredient in upcoming posts here at Odiferess, telling you of the successes and failures that will make this either a good quality, wearable scent or complete bin fodder. We’ll see..
Make sure you check back in regularly over the next few months to follow my adventure.
Friday, 6 September 2013
Have you ever contemplated a link between perfumery and witchcraft? I presume it depends upon what your perception of witchcraft actually is/was. I’ve long held a fascination with the concept of ‘the witch’, indeed hailing from Lancashire, my county was famed for the notorious Pendle witch trials in the early 1600s.
A rather romantic depiction of the witches of Macbeth
Witchcraft was feared as an unholy power, an ability to charm something/someone, enabling it to flourish or to wither, or to cast some personal wish. This was thought to be achieved by some sort of devilish incantation, the aid of a ‘familiar’ (often an animal spirit form such as the ubiquitous black cat) or the use of a magic potion formed from all manner of herbs and voodoo-esque ephemera.
Ancient medicine relied upon the potent power of herbaceous plants to aid recovery. Nicolas Culpeper’s ‘Complete Herbal’ of 1653 gave ordinary folk advice about how to treat common illnesses with easily foraged indigenous plants, a practice that had been going on for many hundreds of years before the book was published. In the Complete Herbal, in addition to treating physical ailments, plants were also recommended to treat ailments of the mind or soul, much in the same way as they are used in contemporary aromatherapy and psycho-aromatic perfumery. Next time you spritz Penhaligon’s Lavandula consider Culpeper’s advice upon the lovely herb:
“Two spoonfuls of the distilled water of the flowers taken, helps them that have lost their voice, as also the tremblings and passions of the heart, and faintings and swooning, not only being drank, but applied to the temples, or nostrils to be smelled unto”
So it doesn’t just smell nice, it can also sort out untimely swoons and histrionics in the presence of your beau.
Equally, as plants could be used to heal, they could also be used to bring about demise. With no such thing as forensic science, a down trodden and abused wife could be rid of her violent husband with the careful administration of a poison over time, “Belladonna apple pie my love?”
Frequently it was the job of a woman to act as the village healer, midwife and general wise sage to whom others could turn to for help. It’s no wonder that during the religious confusion and superstition of the middle ages, she could be thought of as ‘against god’ in that she held the power to give or take life. As Europe was transformed into a superstitious and religiously vehement place during the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s, the practices of a healer would no doubt be under scrutiny as devilish activity.
My own maternal grandmother would have no doubt been tried as a witch with her use of folklore remedies. My mother’s coughs and colds were kept as secret as possible as my grandmother’s primary remedy for this ailment was to wrap her chest in brown paper smeared in goose fat, a grim cure. In her cellar brewed great vats of wines, dubiously created from anything, be it elderflowers or potato peelings. Containing curious detritus and cloudings they were possibly as poisonous as they were intoxicating!
Witches were thought to be able to create a potion, a substance capable of bewitching a person to an ultimate aim such as making them fall in love becoming fevered with amorous intention. Dsquared borrowed this idea to market their line of ‘Potion’ fragrances, suggesting that the wearer become infallibly attractive as if under a spell. Dior of course utilized the idea of a witchy liquid in the creation of ‘Poison’, hinting at the notion of a dangerous seduction, the dark power of a woman. The apple shaped bottle recalls the poisoned apple that bewitched Snow White, the curse of a jealous vengeful hag. It’s glass was of a deep amethyst, a colour associated with spirituality.
Those who’ve read Patrick Suskind’s fictitious novel ‘Perfume’ will remember the protagonist Grenouille’s grand feat of magic as he seduced the crowd of bloodthirsty folk assembled to witness his execution. With an application of his masterpiece perfume (created from the skin secretions of beautiful young girls), he turned himself from murderer to angel, bewitching those who sought his death into a writhing mass orgy of heaven sent love.
Which brings me to my favourite fragrant witch’s brew, Ormonde Jayne’s Ormonde Woman.
Linda Pilkington, Creative Director of the Ormonde Jayne line looks nothing like a fairy tale witch, with her expensively tailored clothes, bright eyes and lush mane of hair, she is a far cry from a hooked nosed hag. However, as a creator of potions she is a fine witch indeed.
Ormonde Woman, is a forest scent, loaded with earthly pleasures. It is reminiscent of being deep in the woods where the sticky saps and resins come forth from trees and bushes to grace the air with a pagan whiff. The dominant note here is grass, softened by a magnificently earthy vetiver. Indeed if Ormonde Woman holds the bewitching power of a love potion, the carnal act will most certainly take place outdoors, there are no satin sheets for the witch’s brew. This is ‘knickers full of ferns’ stuff.
A frolick in the woods
Grassy chypres can be a little cold and astringent but this one projects warmth from it’s ambery base, again adding a sensuality to the already heady concoction. We tend to associate a ‘sexy’ fragrance with the inclusion of grand indolic notes of tuberose or jasmine, perhaps amped up by a dose of animalic musk. This is the opposite. Ormonde Woman’s jasmine is barely traceable, in fact I can’t smell it. I imagine it simply serves to round off a little of the astringency of grass. We don’t need flowers, what could be more arousing than the smell of the forest, where all manner of life abounds in the flourishing vegetation?
The scent is famed for the inclusion of a rare note – black hemlock (or Tsuga). The word hemlock itself connotes witchcraft, as we associate it with ‘poison hemlock’ or Conium maculatum. This herbaceous plant, when ingested in high quantities causes death by paralysis, ultimately leading to respiratory failure, a fine way to see off your accursed enemy! I’d like to see IFRA contend with that one.. Luckily, black hemlock is an entirely different plant, in fact it’s an entirely harmless tree from the conifer family. I couldn’t possibly tell you what it smells like as the woody/grassy notes blend seamlessly into a harmonious brew where nothing ‘pokes out’ as unusual.
So dear readers, what is your opinion? Have you cast a love spell with your fragrance? Or do you use scent to evoke a spiritual meditation? I’d love to hear your thoughts..
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