I started collection essential oils and absolutes in 1966. At the time, I didn’t know my bottles of aromatics were supposed to be arranged on a tiered shelf called a perfume organ. Because I was a botanist, I categorized them by the part of the plant they were extracted from: florals, woods, leaves, etc., and kept them in plastic boxes for storage.
Later, I had a beautiful old wooden printer’s tray, which, when attached to a wall, provided a lovely display for the small bottles, but was impractical for working, and, of course, didn’t hold the larger bottles.
In 1990 or so, I stored my perfume organ in a beautiful Thai display case.
I finally located a man in Kentucky who made the wooden tiered racks for essential oils you’d see displayed in stores. I carefully measured what I perceived I’d need, and sent him the information. He constructed a lovely, modern-looking perfume organ out of pine, sweet and pale yellow and perfect for my needs – at the time.
All my bottles, except the ones that needed refrigeration were on the organ, interspersed with the dilutions I used in everyday blending. The dilutions sat right next to the undiluted aromatics, and that was okay for a while.
Top notes are on the top level, middle notes, of which there are hundreds, are on middle levels, and base notes along the bottom. Why dilute your essences? It saves a lot of money, first of all. Imagine using undiluted pricey oils, like rose otto, for all of your mods. Secondly, now you get the scent of the rose “opened up” by the alcohol in the dilution, too. Two great bonuses!
Don’t ever struggle with trying to use labdanum or tobacco absolutes by the drop again! The diluted essences are very fluid.
Now only dilutions are on the perfume organ. Most are 10%, some higher, some lower. The undiluted raw materials are kept in a refrigerator, with their specific gravity noted on a blending database. You may be able to blend a perfume modification with a diluted essence, but you need the specific gravity to be able to blend any quantity. This is taught in my Intermediate Level Perfumery course. Enroll now in the Basic course, which will prepare you to further your studies at the Intermediate Level.
When you make perfume from flowers, there are several ways to extract the scent. I love to enfleurage rare flowers. Enfleurage is placing flowers on a bed of semi-hard fat, such as shortening, or rendered leaf lard and suet. The next step in the process is to “wash” the fat in alcohol. This post isn’t about enfleurage, except to point out why I don’t enfleurage a flower that seems ripe for the process.
Some flowers, even though they emit a lovely fragrance, shouldn’t be enfleuraged. There are several reason for this. Orange blossoms are fragile, and would fall apart in the enfleurage tray, requiring laborious defleuraging process – picking the petals out, one by one, with tweezers. Tweezers are routinely used to remove flowers from enfleurage fat, but not these, it would be a greasy fiasco, with much fat clinging to the petals, enveloping them.
My golden champaca tree is in full bloom, and I have never enfleuraged these flowers. Why? The edges of the flowers tend to start to ‘brown’ or slightly decay shortly after harvest. They would be a watery, moldy mess in enfleurage fat. I also don’t macerate them, which is place them in heated oil. The French, and before them, ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians, routinely placed flowers in warm fat or oil to extract the scent, but I find champaca so delicately scented, so ethereal, I use alcohol to tincture them.
I have been making my golden champaca tincture for several years now, and probably have about 20 charges of replenished flowers in the menstruum. The tincture is divine!!
This is why solvents are used to extract champacas. It’s quick, and saves the flowers from decomposition. Alcohol is a great solvent, and does the job. I have a glorious extract to work with, a statement every artisan perfumer can relate to. To make perfume with raw materials is fun, and you often get rare plants into the mix that you might not otherwise have access to.
Do you enfleurage? What observations have you made as to the limits of the materials you choose to work with?
PS. White champaca, Michelia alba – same decomposition problem, but to a lesser degree. An added problem with them is their tendency to shatter, thus the same problem as orange blossoms.
Making perfume takes time, and lots of thinking and introspection.
As I work through adapting my textbook for my new website, I am finding many passages that are very helpful for anyone who wants to make perfume, or is already making perfume, whether you stick to 100% natural ingredients like I do, or if you use aroma chemicals. I’ve decided to excerpt some passages on a regular basis, because I believe they can inspire and help others on this path. My first excerpt deals with the fear and indecision that every perfumer faces. If you don’t face it, I challenge you to challenge yourself, you’re too complacent.
Excerpt: Conclusion of Module 5 – Some Closing Thoughts
Although I am an experienced, professional perfumer, I sometimes face creating modifications with a bit of trepidation. For someone like me, a generally positive, self-assured person, that tinge of fear is a good thing. It keeps me balanced, so that I don’t become overly confident that everything I create is a masterpiece, because if I feel that way, I know I’m fooling myself.
Why do I instruct you to re-visit your vertical accords, although you just performed that exercise in the last Module? You might think it’s registered in your head, but I guarantee that, with your new concept or brief, you will be humbled when you evaluate your accords again. Subtle nuances, bits and pieces of it that didn’t seem prominent before, will become obvious now. Why? Because you now realize that you have to build upon the structure of that one simple accord, and you have to engage your scent memory and your artistic passions simultaneously in order to meet the final challenge in the next module – building a perfume.
A perfumer cannot become too comfortable, and the perfumer also cannot be afraid. Mods can humble you more quickly than any other exercise in this course. An accessory note, which is so beloved, so necessary to give a mod or a perfume panache, can begin screaming out its aggressiveness, overwhelming the blend, or just poking out in the drydown in a negative way.
My course is online, a resource in distance learning for those who cannot travel to attend a perfumery course. The 350 page textbook is the first American perfumery textbook, and it is written at the university level. For thinkers. And doers.
If you’re a perfumer, or thinking of becoming one, subscribe to this blog so you receive updates on this series, which I hope will inspire and instruct. There is a place to subscribe in the right column. Your email is private, and will be treated as such.