Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Make Your Own Perfume - The Magnificent Perfume Making Experiment! Part 2

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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  1. I'm liking the sound of your formulation-in-progress - am a big fan of rosewood, and have been known to use a few drops of the essential oil in the bath. Your IKEA image made me smile. I have used analogies with tea chests and 'plankiness' to describe that sharp note you get with cedar. In extreme cases you can feel you are actually trapped inside the tea chest - or in your case, the flat pack. Which of course is a very real hazard, especially if you can't find the Allen key.

    1. Tittering, my first reading of an IKEA gag..
      I'll definitely send you a sample when it's finished Vanessa. I was really excited about it yesterday, then my new and latest bottle of Mitsouko EDP arrived and I smelt it and thought, "What's the point? How can you improve on Mitsouko, ever, apart from going back and buying one with a time machine!?" Still, good job I'm able to appreciate other whiffs or Odiferess would be no more!
      I too love Rosewood in the bath, it's very full and complex for a wood isn't it? I like it combined with Rose Geranium.

    2. That's very kind of you - I'd love to try it. We need other whiffs in the fumisphere! I think my bureau may be made of rosewood, come to think of it, though I detect no smell. ;-)