Okay, you’ve become interested in the art of making perfume and you are ready to start your stash of oils. You are about to enter the exciting world of the collector. I’ll start you out with perfume oils because they are inexpensive and you are learning, so a wrong purchase won’t matter. They are also synthetic and predictable. There’s a good chance that what your mix smells like before you add alcohol will be the same as the finished product.
Essentials are from living material. They have hundreds of parts and once you get them together in an alcohol solution, they begin to interact. All your formulas will need to age, like fine wine, to get the final result, but you can’t imagine how often, after six weeks, I’ve had to pour my masterpiece down the drain because it smelled like cabbage soup.
However, soon synthetics will not be enough and you will want to move into essential oils. You think stamp collectors are obsessed? Wait until you are bitten by the “oil collector’s bug,” and will go to any lengths to get a mere dram of one you don’t have.
We are at my next absolute rule. Write everything down. Every drop. You might think you will remember, but the creative process messes with your mind. If you don’t write it down, and six weeks later you have this to-die-for scent, don’t call me. I can’t tell you how often a distressed beginning perfumer would come into my store and ask, pleading, “What’s in this?” They didn’t write it down and now it is gone forever.
Sometimes a fascinating thing will happen called an accord. When a combination of oils is mixed, they all disappear and become an entirely new scent. When rose, birch tar (smells like tar), and Castoreum (an oil of animal origin—beaver—which smells like caramel, are mixed the result is tanned leather. Francois Coty, the godfather of perfumery, discovered accords. Once, by chance, I made one with lavender and patchouli. It was a heavenly floral that I’ve never been able to duplicate, because I didn’t write it down.
If you search online under “Rare Essential Oils,” or simply Perfume Oils, or Essential Oils, you will find what you need. Some websites will allow a small sample for a price. If you are not familiar with the scent, this is a good way to start. Don’t be afraid to call for advice. Perfumers addicted to the art crave conversation. You will learn that some oils are so scarce they sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars a dram.
There are three parts to a blended fragrance.
· Top Notes – These are scents of short duration. They last about twenty minutes and are what you smell first when you sample a scent. Orange, lemon, lime, some florals, and violet—which is there, but you won’t smell it after a few minutes. Violet is always a synthetic chemical called ionone. You can’t afford real violet.
· Middle notes – this is what you will smell for hours. It will include the bottom notes and, if it is for men, will have woody notes, evergreen, cedar leaf, amber, Frankincense as well as light florals. For women, any flower, vanilla, maybe green tea, or one of the fruits. I’ll include some recipes later on.
· Bottom Notes – these are the heavier resins and fixatives. They are slow to dissipate—sometimes take days to fade. They are called fixatives because they grab hold of the other molecules in your mix and hold them so they linger longer. There are synthetic fixatives, but the natural work best. The problem is they all have odor, so how much to use without screwing up your formula takes practice. Fixatives are: vetiver, patchouli, sandalwood, and some resins.
You’ll need some supplies to start: scent strips, eye droppers, a graduated flask that measures milliliters (you can find this at a hobby store, a beaker that holds about two ounces, and some glass bottles to put your fragrance. For perfume one ounce will do, but for cologne three or four ounces. There are about 15 milliliters to a half-ounce; 30 ML to an ounce. You’ll be working with about 7 ml of oil mix to 1 ounce of alcohol to make one ounce of perfume, or about 1-16 to make 4 ounces of cologne. Toilet Water, which is a European formula usually, is 1-8.
This is a long list. You don’t need everything all at once and expect to take time searching the Internet. I suggest starting with two or three oils from each section of the following list.
I’ve highlighted with a * those you might want to start with.
A beginning list for your collection in usually 15 ml amounts or half-ounce, ES means essential oil, would be:
Bay Leaf ES*
Orange or Bergamot ES*
Middle Notes or the body of the fragrance:
Lavender ES French
Lily of the Valley
Migonette or Reseda (the same thing)*
Tea Rose (greener than rose)
Bottom Notes or fixatives
Sandalwood (very expensive might wait on this)
The next essay will be on how to go about building a fragrance. In my new book, to be released in October, titled, Love in a Small Town, Lindsay, the perfumer, guides Sarah, her young pupil through the process. I’ll quote from the book and suggest some possible formulas for you to try.