News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Thursday, March 5, 2015

How To Create A Fragrance

This is the last of the five part series on perfume making. Please e-mail me if you have comments or questions. The address is at the end of this essay.

The following is a passage from my book, Love in a Small Town, which will be released this October, 2015 by Rogue Press. In this scene Lindsay, the proprietor of a small perfume shop, is making a new fragrance from perfume oils when she is interrupted by a local teenager, Sarah Graham, who is new in town and having trouble fitting in with the local high school crowd. She's taken to hanging out in Lynn's store. Neither one of them is aware that Lynn has met David, Sarah's stepdad, and is very attracted to him. 

       "She laid out a dozen narrow paper strips, about three inches long, on the counter in front of her. Both ends of each strip were bent so they stood straight up when the strip lay flat. Also on the counter were about a dozen small brown bottles, holding samples of fragrant oils.
“Hi, Lynn. What’s all that?”
Startled, she looked up to see Sarah coming into the shop. “Oh, hi. I’m working on a new fragrance. It needs something and I can’t quite figure out what.”
“You mean, like, you’re making a perfume?”
“Yeah, but this will be a cologne. Not too many people buy perfume these days. Too expensive.”
“You know how to do this? I mean, make cologne and perfume?”
“It’s a hobby of mine as well as a profession. If it turns out, I’ll bottle it and sell it in the store.”
“I didn’t know a person could, like, make their own perfume. I thought it happened in a factory somewhere.”
“There’s no mystery about it. It’s all made the same, if it’s Estee´ Lauder’s or mine. It’s like cooking. Instead of tastes, though, you think odor. You know, when you're cooking you taste and decide if it might be better with some nutmeg, or such.
"You decide on the basics first by putting it together in your head; like should it be floral or woody or citrus? When the idea is there, you begin with these scent strips.” She gestured at the narrow pieces of paper with the ends turned up.
“I moisten the end of a strip with one of the oils, and label it. That way I can smell several, in any combination, to get an idea of the finished product. When you have a possibility, you mix a small amount. If it still smells good, you add pure alcohol in a proportion of four to one part mix, if you want perfume. It’s about sixteen to one if you want cologne.”
“That’s it?”
She laughed. “I wish. You have to let the fragrance age in the alcohol, sort of like wine, to see what happens. These are mostly natural oils. When the molecules get together they interact and you might be surprised and end up with an odor like cabbage soup.”
The confusion on Sarah’s face made her decide to take it a little further, enjoying the pleasure of sharing something she loved.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
“Look at these scent strips. Each one has an oil sample I think I might use. See? I’ve marked them. We have rosemary, lemon, rose, cedar, jasmine, and cinnamon.
“Pick up two of them and hold them together, close to your nose. You can tell if it works without actually mixing it.”
Sarah carefully picked up a rose and a jasmine strip, and sniffed cautiously.
Lynn watched her, amused. Sarah was so intent. It would be fun to teach her about perfume. Having an interest might distract her from some of the unhappiness in her life.
“Yuck, that is really sweet.”
“The jasmine is probably a bit too much. Try the lemon with the rose.”
            “That’s better, but I still don’t like it.”
“Well, you get the general idea. In a couple of hours you might work your way through all the bottles I have here and find a combination.”
“It must take a long time to do this.”
“It helps if you’ve memorized a couple of hundred scents. It’s called, ‘having a nose.’ Professional ‘noses’ can identify about two thousand different odors.”
“Could I learn to do this?”
“Sure. Like any other creative art form, it takes practice, but I’d enjoy teaching you. Of course, if you wanted a career working for a lab somewhere, then you’d need a college degree and a lot of organic chemistry courses to get hired.”

That's how you begin, using oils from your collection. Be sure to label everything and take notes if you have a combination you like. I usually start on the back of one hand with the first oil, the major note. Start simple with three drops. Add two drops of the next oil and sniff. Okay but boring? Does it need to be lighter? Add a drop of citrus. Is it too floral? Add a bit of freesia. When you reach the point where you're adding an oil to fix a mistake, start over.
When you have something you like convert the drops to milliliters and mix in your flask add alcohol at the rate of sixteen milliliters alcohol to the total mils of oil in the flask. I'm going to recommend vetiver and/or patchouli as a fixative because you can get away with using a tiny amount that won't change the fragrance. Here is how you do this:
Mix two mil of vetiver or patchouli (or one of each) in 10 mil of alcohol. Mix well. Add two mil of this mix to your fragrance. Now comes the hard part. Let it sit a week before smelling it. It will change. If you detect the fixative, use a smaller amount proportionately in the finished fragrance. If the sample loses its scent in 30 minutes, add more fixative, cautiously and wait some more. You want a fragrance that will last for an hour at least. Can you use the oil without the alcohol? Sure, but add the fixative to fix it, maybe 1 mil to 10 mil of oil.
There is so much more to this, but if you get this far, you are ready to read some books with understanding and, of course, you can e-mail me at with questions, anytime. I love talking about fragrance. 

Here are two suggestions to start: For a masculine type: 4 mil amber, two mil frankincense, 1 mil sandalwood, 2 mil bayleaf, 2 drops cinnamon (start with strip samples, then go to drops before going to the milliliters, or you'll waste a lot of oil before getting it right.
For a feminine type: 4 mil mignonette, 1 mil freesia or Lily of the Valley, 1 mil rose, 3 drops clove. If it needs lightening, try 1 mil grapefruit or lemon.

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