Sunday, 27 October 2013

Make Your Own Perfume - The Magnificent Perfume Making Experiment, Part 4, The Result.

 The view from my apartment at 10am, a very grey Manchester.

Last night the clocks went back, this seasonal shift arrived in collaboration with a morning of grey be-fogged rain. It’s exactly the kind of autumnal gothic horror that I wrote about when I began to compose my first perfume making experiment. It’s timely that today, the day I proclaim it ‘finished’, is a drab Mancunian soak-fest. If you recall my intention, it was to make a perfume that possessed a sparkly top note and a sense of ‘light’ through it, to counteract the sense of entrapment that comes to those who suffer with light depravation in the dark months - the fragrance equivalent of Vitamin D. As a reminder, click here to read the first article.
I am delighted to say that I think it works!

Here’s the recipe to make roughly 35 ml (I know that’s a bonkers size but that’s how it worked out). 
EO = essential oil, PF = synthetic from Plush Folly

6 drops of Grapefruit (EO)
4 drops of Petitgrain (EO)
8 drops of Bergamot (EO)
18 drops of Rhubarb (PF)
15 drops of Aldehyde 2 (PF)

3 drops of Orris (PF)
5 drops of Ylang Ylang (EO)
15 drops of Rosewood (EO)

12 drops of Vanilla Bourbon (PF)
10 drops of Atlas Cedar (EO)
8 drops of Frankincense (EO)
6 drops of Ambrettia (PF)
20 ml of Perfumer’s Alcohol (PF)

So what does it actually smell like? It’s impossible to review my own scent in the effusive manner that I write of the atmospheric effect of others. Though I do know that it smells original. Having experienced a lot of genre mutations recently i.e. amber this, oud that, it smells very different to current trends.  It does however have a slight feel of the Miller Harris creation - Figue Amere if the fig were replaced by rhubarb.

Rhubarb - green, sour and earthy, a delight to smell and eat.

The rhubarb is delicious. It imparts a sourness and earthiness that is recognizably rhubarb. Because it’s used in combination with equal amounts of ‘the green side of’ citrus notes (comprised of bergamot, petitgrain and grapefruit), it has a real sensation of cut sap and oily greenery. The soapiness imparted by the aldehyde softens the zing of the citrus and keeps it from being too acidic.

As the top notes evaporate you are left with a woody, soapy, sappy and (very vaguely) green floral scent where you can’t really pick out the individual notes. I think this is positive as the word ‘seamless’ is often used to describe harmonious scents where notes don’t jar for attention. A base of frankincense and cedar give a little weight to the otherwise flighty volatile quality. Although there is a hefty quantity of Vanilla in here, you can’t really smell it. It acts to ‘smooth’ the scent rather than literally smell of vanilla.

The beautiful (and endangered) tree from which Frankincense is harvested.

In the process of making it, a genuine intuition arose. After many initial experiments, I gained a significant sense of what to drop in next, or what proportions to alter. It was no longer a random trial. This experience has given me a great drive to play at perfumer again, with the next experiment (a woody coffee, as dark as number 1 is light) already sitting in the fridge waiting for my next move. I don’t think Odiferess 1 is a masterpiece. I think it’s a first attempt that’s inspired me to keep going.

The difficulty with creating your own scent is that you are inevitably going to compare it to your favourite perfume. Judged on it’s own merits, I feel Odiferess 1 is a curious and original creation. Hold it up against Mitsouko or Eau de Reglisse and it smells like the pointless kitchen lab foolery of an amateur!

If my experiment has inspired you to play at perfumer, here’s my advice based upon my own experience:

  • Spend money, you can’t truly experiment unless you have enough notes to blend together.
  • Unless you have cash to waste, consider how you’ll use the rest of the ingredients. I burn essential oils at home and make my own candles. My investment will become hand made Christmas presents.
  • Read books. Mandy Aftel’s Essence and Alchemy is practical, informative and entertaining. She writes of the history and culture of scent with grand atmosphere and provides a ‘how to’ guide to creating your own scent.
  • Start with ‘easy’ notes. Notes such as citruses, patchouli and vanilla are really easy to work with. Rare floral essential oils will cost a fortune and be hard to combine unless you know what you are doing, which I don’t. I really wanted to play with undiluted rose absolute and immortelle but managed to reign myself in before committing a frightening credit card transaction.
  • Consider your aim. Are you making it for you and your friends, as a hobby or do you have a real desire to become a perfumer? I came to it from a ‘fun in my kitchen with cool stuff’ perspective so I won’t be devastated if it the resulting perfume is not a ground breaking master work. If you want to become a perfumer there are some restrictive issues to contend with, in particular, finance and EU regulations. You are going to need money and tenacity in addition to a natural ability to blend scent.
Readers, if you have made, or intend to make, your own scent I'd love to hear from you. For those who are inspired to have a go, I wish you a fruitful time!

I’m giving away a small sample of Odiferess 1 to a lucky reader. If you would like to enter the give-away, simply leave a comment below or at the facebook page ( 
I’m so sorry to my international friends but our postage rules here in the UK prevent us sending perfume abroad. Please do join in the comments though!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Review: Olfactive Studio, Chambre Noire - Stand And Deliver!

Last week I delivered to my readers a (slightly bonkers) review of a box. To be precise, a garble of words that spoke of my delight at the Olfactive Studio Sample Discovery Kit and it’s superbly designed kinship with the now defunct photography giant Ilford. To read the article click here. So seduced was I that I negated to review it’s contents. So, here are my thoughts on a sample from the box, the picturesque Chambre Noire.

 The inspiration for Chambre Noire

Olfactive Studio asked perfumers to create an olfactory interpretation of a photographic image. In Chambre Noire, Perfumer Dorothée Piot responded to Photographer Clémence Réne-Bazin’s atmospheric photograph of a hotel room. The photo speaks of: a hushed retreat from the city, the dark interior space reflecting the vibrancy of the view from the window, a luxuriously rarified environment, the absent or hidden occupant of the room, the oddly ordered and barely visible reflection of the unused beds, the suggestion of a liaison about to occur?
Olfactive studio describe it thus:

“A sensual and mysterious fragrance, Chambre Noire reveals itself from the shadows using the spotlight of the vibrant top note. A fragrance to be shared in the privacy of some far-off hotel room. It reveals its character gradually, exuding sensual notes of leather against a backdrop of warmth and opulence.”

In some sense, it could even be evocative of Guerlain’s iconic L’ Heure Bleue, in that it tells a story of the hour when day turns to night, and the possibilities that arise therein.

However, typically of my peculiar fragrant associations, the actual scent of Chambre Noire suggested something far less subtle and much more mischievous to me. It transported me back to 80s uber-camp historic pop romp – Adam And The Ants – Stand And Deliver! If you need a reminder, take a look at the mesmerizing video:

 You’re probably wondering why am I led into this long forgotten memory? Adam Ant was my first gargantuan crush. Though aged only 8 when this video appeared, my young soul had cottoned on the fact that a beautiful man adorned with tight black leather, a tricorn and cape was the stuff of fantasies. If you were unlucky enough to be held up at gunpoint on your journey, you’d hope that the offending scallywag would posses the swagger and sensuous prancing of the enchanting Adam and hopefully rough you up a bit in the process!

My first love

The thing about Chambre Noire is that it smells at once sexy and theatrically camp. It’s essentially a leather fragrance (Adam’s tight pants and ‘puss-in’ boots) with buckets of violet (18th century face powder) and a fruity spice (in the manner of quince, figs and plum wine - the stuff of the feasts of the nobility). Hence why I am transported deep into the world of this dandy highwayman.

I find leather can be a challenging note. At worst it can be utterly feral (as in Etat Libre D’ Orange’s badly cured handbag horror - Vierges et Toreros) or unfeasibly masculine (as in ‘Hummer’ by massive car/tank/idiot-wagon manufacturer Hummer). Leather is rarely what we perceive to be feminine. If it is, it’s feminine in an androgynous or saphic manner, think 'Patti Smith' chain smoking and glowering moodily. What’s so odd about Chambre Noire’s leather is that emits a gentle whiff of gender bending, as delicate and ethereal as Adam’s finely honed cheekbones and glossed lips. Instead of bringing masculinity to a woman, it feminises a man. Add to the leather a rather briny interpretation of amber and you have a subtle suggestion of salty emissions, be they sweat or otherwise. It’s ultimately, a very confusingly sexy smell.

I highly doubt that Olfactive Studio had ever considered a link between Chambre Noire and the dandy swagger of a fantastical highwayman. However, what is certainly true is the fact that scent does collaborate with imagery, so they are pursuing a remarkable concept. In my case, a pop video from my youth made an enduring impression on me that was reawakened by my nose, it is moments like this that make me grateful to smell.

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Thursday, 10 October 2013

Olfactive Studio Sample Discovery Kit: A Review Of A Box!

I’ve recently been researching the trend for perfumers to respond to works of art in their fragrant creations. It seems a natural concept. We already perceive many perfumers as artists in their own right, as they create things of olfactory beauty that offer us a sensual and emotive experience. Two leaders in the trend are Scent on Canvas (who will be featured in a future review) and Olfactive Studio, the subject of this post.

My beloved camera

With a History of Art and Design Degree, I could spaff on for several thousand words on this subject (and might do if you’re ever lucky enough to get me drunk in a pub). As I waited for my sample kit to arrive I readied myself for analysis of the photographic artworks that inspired the collection. I eagerly pondered how a scent and an image could collaborate to create a multi-sensory experience and how utterly this concept appealed to me. Then the box arrived. Before I smelt it’s contents, I fell in love with it.

So here you go, a review OF A BOX!

Here’s the press blurb:

“Olfactive Studio is an encounter between contemporary artistic photography and perfumery; between the eye and the nose. Olfactive Studio is at the crossroads of a photographic studio and a perfume design studio. This is the first time ever that perfumers have teamed up with photographers to draw inspiration from their oeuvres.”

Basically what that means is that perfumers contemplate a photographic image and then create a perfume that captures the feeling of it.

Although my primary essence of geek lies within the perfume industry, I’m also rather geeky about cameras. A few years ago, Ilford went bust. Photography geeks will remember buying superb quality black and white film from Ilford and perhaps even using their developing service. Their black and white prints of your pics came with the tiny white border of the type that seduces Instagram users today. This was of course in the days before digital photography became a mammoth phenomenon. I miss Ilford enormously.

 A snuggling of the two boxes

When my Olfactive Studio ‘Discovery Kit’ arrived I held the box in my hand and breathed out the word Ilford in quiet whisper of sentimentality. For it was almost a replica of the box that Ilford used to contain your developed prints. It felt the same in my hands, it utilised the same paper hinged opening, it even echoed the bold Art Deco inspired typography. I rushed to my cupboard to search for an old Ilford box and found one that I had defaced years ago with the word ‘Samos’ in what appears to be red nail varnish (no, I don’t know why I marked this particular box of holiday snaps with the rejection of a traditional ‘pen’). As I held the boxes side by side I was struck by how clever the design of the discovery kit was. It works almost as a secretive pun, to those old enough to clock the significance.

Deco-a-go-go twins

When I opened the box I was design-whacked a second time by the interior. Each 4 ml bottle was nestled snugly in the type of thick black foam cradle that lines and protects SLR camera kit. By this point I was so joyful that I didn’t bother sniffing the fumes. I just looked on with glee for far too long to be considered normal, occasionally prodding at the foam and feeling the familiar ‘bounce back’ of the protective material.

Foam fetishism

So what about the perfumes? Well, they all smell pleasing. There’s a vibrant fruity/grassy concoction, a sharp natural wood with a silky warm dry down, a spicy chai milk, a luminous sparkly bergamot thing and my favourite (Chambre Noir, destined for a future review) which is especially peculiar and charming, featuring leather, powdery violet and a gourmand plummy nuance.
Enormous 4 ml samples

You should really take a look at, to learn of the fascinating project and gain a much clearer idea of the notes of each perfume, being as I’ve had my olfactive descriptions unusually stolen away from me by a seductive box.

At 35 Euro for 5 x 4ml samples, this ranks high up on the list of bargainous and beautiful sample kits. I’ll be treasuring mine in a display cabinet next to my beloved Leica camera..

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Make Your Own Perfume - The Magnificent Perfume Making Experiment! Part 3

If you’ve read and been intrigued by parts 1 and 2 of the Odiferess ‘Magnificent Perfume Making Experiment’ you’ll be aware of the brand Plush Folly, who I’ve used for my synthetic ingredients purchases. Sally Hornsey, founder of the company, is a certified perfume geek - a worshiper at the fountain of niche perfumery and a creative lab fun maker. She also heads up Plush Folly’s training school where amateurs and craft business owners study fragrance and it’s application to perfumery and toiletries. At the launch of my experiments I asked her a few questions about her experiences:


Odiferess: Thinking about your own experience of making perfume, what were the main notes of your greatest potion and what sort of mood did it project?

Sally: To launch my book, we created a perfume as a panel, partly as a learning tool for the Plush Folly staff to allow us to talk perfume and learn from each other.  The final result was fabulous and we called it Es Belle.  The main notes were fresh - cucumber, grapefruit, lime and green fig. - and we then tinkered around with the formula and did a little experiment by adding Iso-e Super - the results were spectacular.  We asked testers to wear the unadulterated version for a week and give us feedback on the responses of their family, friends, colleagues and anyone who cared to comment.  We then asked them to wear the formula with added Iso-e Super for a week and note the comments they received, as before. The feedback was overwhelming in that the Iso e Super version drew far more attention and received more positive comments, definitely carrying with it an undiscernable feel-good mood with the addition of Iso-e Super's "va-va voom" factor!

Odiferess: Tell us about your animalic synthetics, are they truly skanky? What should we expect if we've never smelt isolated civet or castoreum notes before?

Sally: Yes, skanky is a great word to sum up the aromas of the animalic scents!  They certainly linger - all the staff at Plush Folly wear nitrile gloves when decanting these notes and dread getting any on their clothing since the smells linger in the air like a bad fart. Conversely, Ambergris is rich, sweet and delicious, whereas the Civet and Castoreum are shockers!

Civet Cat, bringing the urine to feline.

Odiferess: Popular essential oils can smell a little 'tie-dye shop' when blended together, can you recommend any synthetics that bring them out of the hippie vibe and add finesse?

Sally: Vanilla Bourbon gives a burnt creme-brulee smell that works well with everything! We love it. If you want something slightly more subtle then Tonka Bean moves you from the tie-dye shop to the Starbucks cafe!  Our Salty Sea Dog adds a fresh ozonic, Whitby Bay, post-hangover Sunday morning walk freshness.  

Sally Hornsey


The experiment continues to enthral me and I’ve had some success with the addition of the notes of Ylang, Bergamot and Grapefruit to my first concoction which have enabled me to progress towards that elusive ‘sparkly’ sensation. I'll be posting details of my ongoing recipe later this week.