News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Psychology of Fragrance

     When I began to create custom fragrances in my store, I learned early on that people have an emotional reaction to fragrance that has nothing to do with the presence of essential oils in their bloodstream. There are three sources of odor for perfumery: essential oils, aroma chemicals, which have no counterpart in nature, and perfume oils, which are laboratory made. The latter are the main ingredient in most fragrances today because of the vast variety of scents and the low cost. If a fragrance is listed as 'perfume oil,' or 'fragrance oil,' that means it is synthetic.
      Humans have an acute scent memory. They can remember odors from years ago that affected them emotionally. An odor that made them sick, the perfume worn by a favorite relative or someone they disliked intensely will get the same reaction from them today as it did years ago. They remember odors that indicate danger, like something burning in the house or spoiled meat. They are calmed by pleasurable food odors like chocolate, vanilla, or warm bread, and these scents have become marketing tools for restaurants and bakeries. There is a reason why the perfume counters are at the front of a department store. The pleasant odor relaxes patrons and makes them willing to stay and shop.
     Once I experimented with fragrance in a theater, very successfully. Our local theater group was performing Belle of Amhurst, a one-woman play about the life of Emily Dickinson. Upon entering the theater, the audience sees a living room set. Emily enters apologizing for being late because she was taking gingerbread out of the oven. For three days I simmered spices behind stage so that the audience would enter the theater smelling gingerbread.
     Can people be manipulated psychologically by fragrance? Absolutely. I did a room fragrance for a divorce lawyer that he used in his conference room to calm distraught clients. It was lavender, mandarin orange and a bit of cinnamon.
       One of my male clients was a union organizer, dealing entirely with men. I recommended he wear Old Spice, or AquaVelva, because they were blue collar fragrances accepted as manly by his probable clients, and therefore, he would smell acceptable. On the other hand, I advised my female career clients who spent time in boardrooms with difficult men to wear sandalwood. I warned them that under no circumstances did they want to smell like someones wife.
     Haarmann and Reimer, an international fragrance house, once commissioned a study to discover which male personality type was attracted to what fragrance. They discovered six distinct personality types with very different preferences. They intended this as a guide to creating fragrance for their manufacturing clients, but imagine if men and women, hunting for a sexual partner, could decide who they wanted to attract and wear the proper scent to get the job done. Perhaps include a whiff of testosterone or copulin.  We're not aware of these hormones, but our body still responds to their presence. I describe this phenomenon in my book, Accidental Alien. Interesting.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Perfume Industry- How It Started

These short essays on fragrance are meant to give you a basic understanding of the importance of fragrance and get you started toward making your own. There is so much to learn, and when you are as passionate about fragrance as I am, simplifying it into a few short discussions is almost impossible.I want to make you aware of what is around you, and the role scents play in your life. And a little history couldn't hurt.

When the dark ages descended on Europe, bathing was rare, and considered dangerous to your health. Probably because of polluted water.  A class culture developed; the working classes, because they worked, smelled worse than the leisure classes, so prejudice developed. In the time of the plagues, disease smelled bad and the odor was associated with poor, dirty, and diseased. Since unpleasant body scent was associated with the lower classes, if you wanted to raise your class, you had to smell better.  The search for pleasing odors became an obsession, especially among upper class men. They reeked of musk. Since patchouli was a moth repellant, their clothes often smelled of wet dirt. They bathed in cologne water, considered safer than plain water. Journalists of the day commented that the odors in some gala affairs became so oppressive, what with the perspiration, unwashed clothes, and musk from perfumed leather, that one could hardly stand to attend.
Women, on the other hand, contented themselves with flower waters they distilled at home. As alcohol distillation spread throughout Europe, and oils became readily available, local alchemists took advantage of the opportunity to blend perfumes.

The first recorded cologne, Aqua Hungarica, or Hungary Water, was made in 1370 for the Queen of Hungary. It was a concoction of rosemary, orange, lemon and lime, and the rumor was that it kept her so desirable that she received a proposal of marriage at the age of 72. Being Queen might have had something to do with it. Napoleon Bonaparte's fondness for violets is well documented. He took cases of Parma Violet Cologne Water to Elbe when exiled. 
There was only one problem remaining before perfumery could become a full-blown industry. There were only two was to get essential oils: distillation and pressing, in the case of citrus oils, because the fragrance was in the oily skin. So far, the oils produced were from herbs and woods. The most exquisite oils from jasmine, gardenia, cassie and tuberose would not survive distillation. It was left to an Italian, Count Orsini, to revive the ancient art of enfleurage; that of packing petals in sterile fat and allowing the fragrant oils to transfer to the fat, which was then distilled. He succeeded with Orange Flowers (neroli) and produced a cologne, he named Farina, which became the rage. It is the world's oldest cologne, commercially produced. The formula is owned by Roger & Gallet and has undergone changes, but it is still marketed under the name Vielle. The fragrance became the inspiration for 4711, and Caswell-Massey's Number Six, famous for being George Washington's favorite. That mix of orange, lavender and musk is known in the industry today simply as cologne.
Enfleurage is still used today for jasmine and tuberose, but is forbiddingly expensive, costing more than a thousand dollars a pound (pint).
Next time: The Psychology of Fragrance

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Quest For Immortality

     When man as a mammal first emerged after the last mass extinction (for this see my Kindle Book, Accidental Alien, you'll get the whole story) the sense of smell was protection against danger. A bad body odor was also protection from predators looking for lunch. By the time our story begins, man perfume had become a source of pleasure and new fragrances were being sought for incense and body enhancement. Ancient scholars also believed that scent was the last and most important element of living material because it contained the essence of life.
     Our story begins in the Middle East as a quest to find the secret of life, therefore immortality. Scholars reasoned that all living material begins with this spark of life.  Isn't it amazing that thousands of years ago they weren't that far from the truth? If living material were distilled down to the final essence, all that would be left is that spark, which could then be utilized to bestow immortality--hence, the term, essential oil. That was the idea, and when men discovered simple distillation by boiling plant material in a closed pot, the search began. Everything was subject to distillation. The results yielded oils with not only healing properties, but pleasing fragrance.
     Egyptian records from 3,500 BC describe massage with aromatic oils to relieve many ills. An extraordinary Egyptian named Imhotep, probably the first recorded genius in history, and a physician, was credited with this practice. He was also a scribe, an architect, mathematician, astronomer, and the engineer who designed the first pyramid in Saqqara, Egypt. Thus the practice of Aromatherapy began and with it the desire to include fragrance as part of everyday life. The Egyptians and Romans were crazy about roses. Cleopatra loved incense and cornered the world market in myrrh at one time. The problem was that essential oils would not mix with anything but another oil and the technique for distilling alcohol from wine had not been discovered yet.
     Our story moves to a Benedictine abbey in Italy where an Arabian monk by the name of Avicenna was experimenting with distillation. He discovered alcohol could be separated from wine by cooling the distilling apparatus rapidly. The first recorded cologne in history was made there in the 1500s using lavender oil and alcohol so, although the French have received much credit for the development of perfume, it was actually the Arabians who deserve the credit.
The next chapter in our story will deal with the beginnings of the perfume industry.

The Healing Benefits of Plant Oils

When I published my latest book on Kindle, The Accidental Alien, my main character, Daniel, was a plant in human form with all the characteristics of a plant, including being able to produce essential oils from any plant material. He uses this talent throughout the story to heal and sometimes change behavior. 
Well, the story generated a lot of interest in essential oils, so, since I was an aromatherapist and perfumer in my recent life, I decided to post a few articles on scent and what it means to humans.

   I've studied plant essential oils for twenty years and believe humans are more closely connected to plants than they are to other animals. I absolutely believe that when the Earth began again, after the last mass extinction, when most life was destroyed and mammals made an appearance, plants were created to nurture the planet. They act as healing agents to mammals, they provide nutrition, they clean the air. For every ailment that afflicts man, there is a plant to heal. We simply haven't found them all.
     I finally decided to write a book about an alien who appeared human, but was actually a plant. He was accidentally left behind by a space expedition, in his early form as a seed pod, and he hatches 40,000 years later.  Daniel, has no hope of returning to his home, so he has to learn to live in a human body and learn human attitudes. Luckily, he has an Artificial Intelligence embedded, which knows everything earthly, and explains the human ways that confuse him, and there are a lot of them. Go to  to read about Daniel.
     Here is more information on these relatively unknown substances that are hundreds of times more powerful than ingested herbs because they go directly into the bloodstream instead of being processed by the liver. Essential oils, meaning those distilled from living plant material, affect humans both physically and mentally when they get into the bloodstream through the skin, (bathing, massage, simple application) or inhaling. Once in, they migrate to the site of their intended use, and we have no idea how they are guided. Some kill bacteria, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and repair tissue damage. (Camphor, eucalyptus, cassia, lavender) Some go to the brain and either excite, (all the mints), or relax by releasing the hormone, serotonin. (lavender) Some of them are downright poisonous, like turpentine, wintergreen, or Poison Ivy. In my book, Daniel uses them to heal John of the bacterial pneumonia that is killing him. He heals a mortally wounded cat and helps a friend with her love life by giving her some Champaca oil, an aphrodisiac.
     This is a mere taste of the marvel of plant oils, and someday I'll write a book about how to make perfumes and colognes using them. Until then, I encourage you to read more about plants and marvel about how we are all connected on this planet.