I’m writing this as much for myself as for you the beginning perfumer to bring clarity to form within the process of building a scent from the ground up.
I’ve been trying to reconcile in my head the difference between a note and a family of notes. Here’s why: sometimes when I research the two I find much overlapping and this creates confusion especially when perfumers freely interchange them.
But then I came to the conclusion that much of my confusion was caused by my inexperience. In trying to create better links throughout the site that do a better job at informing it’s been necessary to go through the older posts from 3 years ago and either re-write them or eliminate them altogether.
What’s becoming clearer is that a family of notes is quite distinct in having characteristics of its own that have been pre-established for the purpose of marketing the finished product; take Chyphre , Oriental or Fougere for example.
You might already have this figured out and not be struggling with this, if so just ignore this post, but for the purpose of clarity and organisation of the blog and as a way to establish my own process, I felt the need to create these distinctions in a way that I can better understand and faster create in my mind.
All this to say that from now on I’ve decided to make a change to the order of the information and instead of Note and Family it will read PYRAMID NOTE and ODOUR NOTE simply because I believe that PERFUME FAMILY is a marketing term and, really, I don’t want to be concerned about that at this stage of evaluation as that classification is better left for the finished product. You’ll find all three available in the drop down menu under PERFUME PROCESS.
Of course, one should have a sensitivity for what one is creating all the way through the process and, yes, if you’re following a creative brief, having a solid understanding of these families helps guide you, but as I said, that’s not where I am yet and my focus is more on the notes.
What I have decided to do is write a page on the various families, which you’ll find here; a page on the various odour notes, which you’ll find here and and a page on the pyramid notes with some examples, which you’ll find here.
Please do keep in mind that these are only meant to be guidelines, suggestions, a possible path for you to follow. At the end of the day the responsibility is yours to make it your own and find your own way through the work.
It’s bloody 25° C out here! Highly unusual, even for Italy, and signs of Spring are everywhere. There’s a magnificent Magnolia tree I must capture, probably will get to that tomorrow.
Since this post is about the Fougère, or Fern in English, family, here’s a picture of a fern in our yard. This one is a bit dried out because it managed to survive the winter being close to our pond and because the winter was very mild. It really isn’t time for the ferns to be up yet, way to early, so I’ll take what I can get, beggars not being able to be choosers and all. But I did want an image to represent this family as I love ferns.
Fougère is a highly versatile family of notes made up principally of Geranium, Lavender, Coumarin, Vetiver and Oakmoss; it’s the bread and butter of perfumery giving structure to many a great perfume. I needed to get better acquainted so chose three we haven’t covered yet:
Vetiver: this note is grassy, deep and thick like molasses! You can almost feel it sticking to your nose hairs. Its presence is comforting and solid. It’s grounding, winter-wet, damp, I sense my heart beat instantly slow down, my solar plexus seems to just ground itself, and I am calm, less anxious. After 6 hours it dries down into an intoxicating odour for me! It’s gripping and I have to struggle to break free; still warm and dry, early fall, bottomless, an anchor. Volatility: very low as it is still imposing.
Geranium: begins its journey smelling like Lychee fruit to me, juicy, sweet and rosy; thrilling, exciting and bountiful. Clean, crisp, light, joyful and the sweetness of life I would call it. There is a hint of citrus weaving in and out to add a gauzy brightness making it engaging, teasing the sides of your mouth for a smile. It dries into a lemony, citrus coolness, strangely carnal, but somehow clean and uplifting — wait, I can smell tobacco too! Volatility: low
Hay Absolute: green and damp, the way the earth smells early in the morning, inviting you to take a nap. This note lurks! It has an unpleasant opening similar to something rancid, clouded and heavy. Hay only begins to open up, really, after a full 2o minutes! There are definite olfactive similarities to Vetiver. After 6 hours it’s much more sombre, serious, pensive, I feel like this could be paired easily with Tobacco or Osmanthus. In the dry down it’s much more mellow, with amazing depth — you just don’t want to put it down! Volatility: low
Not sure what will catch my fancy to chat about tomorrow, but write I will! Tomorrow is dedicated to perfumery, no housework, maybe a pic or two, and then Friday is the Exsence event in Milan!
I’m a native of British Guyana (now just Guyana), South America and grew up with spices. Curry, black pepper, hot peppers, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, we used it all and more. Spices were an integral part of our food, our drinks and our moments of celebration. Spices even permeated our clothing both from cooking and in our sweat and as new immigrants it created what seemed like an ocean between “us” and “Canadians” that had been living there for generations . In the beginning, even more than our skin colour, smell separated “us” from “them” until we started eating more of the same food and smelling more or less the same.
Hmmm, I think I need to write more about this so I’ll save it for another time. My own experiences with this phenomenon is a topic definitely worth exploring.
For me spice means home, celebration, closeness, fun! So of course it was a joy to explore this family of odours in greater detail and from a different perspective other than the culinary.
Black Pepper: this opens with a punch, windy, sharp and cool. It’s also clear, exciting, it gives me the impression of a splash of cold water on the face in the morning, take a plunge on a hot day, mom’s cooking, dry, quickening, speed, gives me a sense of height. Whoa! That’s a mouthful!. The dry down is fleeting, it’s almost gone after 6 hours, very dry now, something in common with tobacco? Volatility: high.
Cinnamon Leaf: candies, piercing, happy, light, red, playful. It’s a colourful note with lots of joy and warmth but at the same time it’s light, there’s a quickness to this one too, like a fast flowing river, active, dancing. The dry down is beautiful, still warm, sweet, shares things in common with clove, I can pick out the Eugenol, spice, with woody edge to it, the character is still integral even after 6 hours. Volatility: mid-low.
Clove Bud: sweet, soft, familiar, uplifting. Bursting, exciting and enchanting. It’s warm like a winter blanket, a soft rain in the fall, it’s surrender. The dry down is still sweet, warm, woody, spicy of course, like a familiar room in the home, the kitchen, it’s like coming home, family, belonging, acceptance. Volatility: mid-low.
Nutmeg: similar to black pepper but more, more something, just can’t narrow it down. It’s like my mind is having a hard time making connections with this one. I get baking cakes, images of a forest. It’s a very persuasive note, bold, but soft at the same time, with a golden glow, the colour of liquid gold comes to mind. After 6 hours it dries down to a woody, coconutty(?) smell. It is almost gone at this point, but still more present than black pepper and drier. Volatility: mid-high.
Wow. Who knew the spice family had all that wrapped up in it and more! More and more I’m discovering that you can’t say, “yeah, yeah, I know that smell”, and dismiss it as commonplace. No matter how many times you’ve approached it consciously in the past. Each time must be, will be, new. There will always be new facets revealed based on the level of awareness of the perceiver.
It was hard coming up with an idea for the accompanying photo. I finally decided on an image of a talc that’s quite well known here in Italy but have to put off setting up the studio and taking pics because there’s just too much to do. So the pic will either have to be inserted later (probably not) or this will simply have to be a post sans pix. Sometimes you gotta prioritise.
Notes in the powder family that I’m going to be evaluating are: cedarwood, vanilla, ion one blend and benzyl aldehyde. Let’s dig in!
Cedarwood: the opening is soft and tender, impressions of wood, a forest, faintly green. I’m noticing an impulse to force an association but I have to resist it and allow myself to willingly accept this note for what it is. Soft, gentle and powdery, I would describe it as plumes, tendrils that waft through the air, but there’s definitely a softness there that could be described as powdery. Towards the drydown there is also a hint of spice, oddly enough I think the powdery aspect lasts longer than the wood facet in cedarwood. Volatility: low
Vanilla: it starts off with that tell-tale raisin quality that is unmistakably vanilla for me, fruity, soft and round. I also get cognac, woody, casky, complex and a bit animalic. In the drydown it’s still very fruity and rummy, but now starting to fade a bit. My nose is beginning to lose the powder trail, it’s drier now, less sweet but very warm. Volatility: low
Ionone blend: (we were instructed to evaluate this for no longer than a second and not to inhale but to waft!) soft, powdery, magical! Hints of floral, soft, much less perceptible through my right nostril for some reason. Floral, with fruity nuances, gentle, cool. Drying down it is fruity and floral with a woody nuance, much more noticeably powdery now, billowy, and still pronounced on the strip. Volatility: low
Benzyl aldehyde: opens with a bitter almond impression, marzipan, with a bite. Sharp, bitter, gourmandy, desserts. Sharp, warm, almond extract, baking pleasures, cherry and coffee come to mind. In the drydown it’s still very almond, vanilla, but not too bitter, warmer. Volatility: mid-low
And that’s a wrap of the powder family. Coming up this week: Spicy and Amber families. I’m off now to test my nose on the chemical components in common between Jasmine grandiflorum and Ylang Ylang extra. Class is definitely getting harder.
Of course with my love of Eau de Colognes it’s obvious that I would gravitate to this family. Some well-known family members are: coriander, lavender, immortelle, carrot seed and spearmint (can not wait to experiment with this one!) Heeley parfums did two versions of this that totally inspired me at Pitti Fragranze: Esprit du Tigre (think Tiger Balm), and Menthe Fraiche. Oddly enough Lavender is an aromatic not a floral and at first that classification stumped me but the more I deepened my exploration of this single note the more it made sense in this family. It’s sharp, piercing, uplifting even herbal.
Because of the vibrant, pungent, even aquatic nature of the aromatic family you can guess that it’s much used in the creation of men’s fragrances, which I adore.
Coriander: love this note with it’s lemony, herbal, minty undertones. I could pick up the smell of twigs, a dry, green scent and it felt light like a sunny day of lazing about; cicadas, a breezy, woody and camphoraceous. After 1.5 hours I could pick out a spicy, anise-like smell. After 6 hours the lemony aspect was faint and the herbal aspects were drier, thinner almost lifeless because the impression that defines coriander is gone. Volatility: high
Clary Sage: herbaceous, light, green, slightly medicinal, minty, and strange, but after about 15 minutes I can smell lemons! There are definitely aspects shared with lavender and the citruses. The note remains whole throughout the dry down, not really decomposing just changing becoming deeper. Volatility: medium
Lavender: fresh, clean, vibrant, pungent, exhilarating, exciting, but also pure, cold, crisp like snow, bracing like the shock of a fall wind hitting your face. Lavender also has a very delicate side to it that makes it enduring. I can pick out the linalol and geranium as chemical components – HURRAY! – yes, this is partly what success looks like during the learning phase of perfumery. It dries to a woody, herbaceous, dry quality with most of the bite gone out of it. Volatility: medium
Proprionate (Cis-3 Hexenyl Proprionate): this is a natural isolate which occurs naturally in mango fruit. I found it bitter, pungent, dry and celery-like. Definitely it has a green aspect to it, sweet like peas, and it is powerful. It dries down into the ghost of green smell, and it’s only here, now, that I get the fruitiness, that pear-like scent coming off it. Volatility: high-mid.
Hexenal C6 Aldehyde: also a natural isolate which occurs naturally in artemisia, ginger root, guava and rose otto. This note opens up green, leafy, crisp and my thoughts interrupt the process with “excuse me but, how is this an aromatic?!”; it’s like a green jungle. Yes, it’s green but it’s a wet, mossier, damp green. A few minutes after dipping I get a whiff of something sweet, almond, vanillin? a drier, leafier note that is a bit floral. After 6 hours it’s still very green but more hollow and very present. Volatility: mid-low.
Okay, done! Moving on tomorrow to update you on the powder family.
I am not naturally drawn to florals, never have been, unless they are very exotic which usually translates into very expensive. I don’t know, there’s just something about the florals that screams commonplace; whenever I see Rose as a note ingredient, I roll my eyes and think, “Oh, God, not again!” And yet I must explore, even though my mind wants to convince me that I already know what Rose smells like, that I already know everything about the olfactive landscape of Rose, I must recognise it as a prejudice that does not work in my favour, push it aside and let curiosity lead.
My favourite floral notes, two of which are not part of the course, are: Osmanthus, Tuberose and Jasmine. The florals on my future “To Buy” list are: Frangipani, Blue Lotus, Jasmine Sambac and Gardenia.
On with the evaluations:
Ylang Ylang III: sweet, floral, a garden. Out of the right nostril it smells even sweeter, warm tender and creamy. I even get a soft green note hiding there. Ylang Ylang III dries down to a soft green, warm sweetness. I can smell tobacco together with this! Volatility: mid to low.
Ylang Ylang Extra: this note is much more piercing, almost medicinal and herbaceous in quality. Strong, green impression, more complex than the Ylang Ylang III, sweet. It dries down into a much softer version than the III less green although it retains its floral outlines; it is much more floral in the dry down. Volatility: mid to low.
Jasmine (grandiflorum): opens with a heavy, rich, sweetness; feminine and flowing even though a bit dark. Lighter and more penetrating, summer soft and happy memories, kindness, round and voluptuous, comforting. I love this note! Creamy and deep. 6 hours later it is still warm, bodaceous, sensuous, thick, creamy and rich. Jasmine is a woman with curves, it’s the Monica Bellucci of florals. Volatility: low volatility.
Geranium Bourbon: opens sweetly, sharp, thin and light. That’s interesting, I assumed that all floral notes were thick in quality. Slightly herbaceous, light, Lichee fruity, fruity, floral, creamy, trance-like quality, it pulls you in. It dries down to a much brighter feeling than the other florals, green, fresh floral, vibrant! Volatility: mid to low.
Phenyl Ethyl Acetate (PEA): a natural isolate of ylang ylang, narcissus and champaca and occurs naturally in narcissus and jasmine sambac. It opens thin and metallic, light and to my nose a hint of mint. Peppermint, floral petals, vaguely rosy and sweet. 6 hours later and it’s still soft , still metallic in quality, sharp, very present. Volatility: mid-low.
Rose Absolute: enters like an “O”, round, dry, sweet but only with a faint gesture of rose. Thin, garden, grass, green, rummy(?), gentle, soft, downy, creamy. The dry down is definitely rose heavier now, even woody and it has an intoxicating quality. Volatility: low.
Aldehyde C14: a natural isolate of peach which occurs naturally in fruit and fermented products. Opens creamy soft but to me, one dimensional. Bright, powdery, floral, I only get a few sniffs of this and then it becomes invisible to my nose. The dry down is much more floral but still singular, not complex, softer a bit heavy. Volatility: low.
Linalol: a natural isolate derived from citrus but naturally occurring in citrus, rosewood, aniseed and geranium. Opens light and airy, summery and breezy, lavender. Fresh pungent, green, transparent and lemony. After 6 hours there is a vague scent of lavender, and vaguely herbaceous. Volatility: low.
This has got to be the most used group in perfumery, the most versatile and the most instantly recognisable and since my interests and tastes veer towards either perfum extraits or colognes (rarely does my character take me down the middle of the road) these materials capture my attention driving me via an intense curiosity to figure out how to make them last longer.
As often happens when I am more in synch with my life, Life meets me exactly where I am to send me messages, gestures of support and inspiration and it didn’t miss a beat today. While evaluating the citrus family LV picked a lemon from our lemon tree for me and of course it became the willing model for my photo session and the Lemon Lady images above are the result. So…
Petitgrain bigrade: opens the conversation with a sharp, fresh, clean quality. Out of the right nostril I can barely get a sense of it after many waftings, but finally the fruity aspect, the dry quality comes through. The softness comes and goes, lemony. After 6 hours it is still quite dry, present, with a faint lemony dusting, weak impression. Volatility: high. (***as an aside, when I began this exercise in the morning I drank an espresso and it blocked my sense of smell for a bit! Oh, the fool things I do! But I have to find out what my olfactive limits are with certain foods. I figure it’s best to enter into it with a heavy dose of consciousness rather than blindly.)
Citral (extracted from Litsea Cubeba): a strong, lemon, fresh odour breaks the ice with this Nature Identical raw material. Reminds me of Pledge. It’s clean, lemon woody, summery. 6 hours into the dry down and this is still strong, lemony, but softer. Volatility: Medium.
Mandarin, red: begins fresh and light, zingy, zesty, “zaftig”, fruity, bright and green. This note is tempting playful and cajoling. After 6 hours it’s still there, smells like mandarin, not as fresh, a bit stale. Volatility: medium.
Bergamot: I love this note! Earl Grey tea has always been a favourite tea and when years ago I found out that Bergamot is what gives it its odour the attraction was complete. This note opens with facets of lavender, sharp and citrusy, it’s happy and sunny and if it were a colour it would be yellow. Reminds me of linen, fresh, light, lime. I notice I have to slow down my breathing to get a full impression of this note and I am once again thankful for my years of yoga classes. After 6 hours this is soft, almost spicy warm, still citrusy, definitely noticeable. Volatility: medium
Grapefruit: in the beginning it has a very light grapefruit impression, airy, free and citrusy of course. I get a very light impression of citrus, it doesn’t knock me over, more lemony than grapefruit, soft citrus. This note I have to approach gently, quietly, it’s another I have to slow right down to perceive. Volatility: very high.
Lemon: this note is a punctuation mark, it’s penetrating, uplifting, clean and goes straight for my gut. Does my nose actually perceive commonalities with Cardamom or is it another layer of my consciousness telling me that they could be a very good pair??? Light, sunny, bright colours, summer-liscious, a balm, clears my thoughts. After 6 hours I can barely smell lemon, just a faint citrus odour. Volatility: very high.
Next to the resins this has got to be my favourite perfume family. These are the notes that ground, guide and instruct me, not just in my daily life but also on the importance of constructing a perfume upon a solid base – firm and lasting. This in essence is what I extract from this family.
Some favourites that I have in my collection that are part of this group but are not part of the evaluation are: Davana, Oakwood CO2, Birch Tar rectified, Rosewood and Himalayan Cedarwood.
Myrrh: this opened with a freshness that was surprising, strangely I couldn’t smell it out of the left nostril. Faintly woody, dry and brittle, reminiscent of paint somehow. It was light, citrusy even and vaguely camphoraceous. The dry down 6 hours later presented a warm, woody, bark, cinnamonish, drier than before but still present, almost seemed imbedded into the paper. Volatility: mid-low.
Cistus Labdanum: oh, my God, I’m in love! Resinous, penetrating, sharing aspects in common with citrus for me, woody. Light, warm, reassuring yet sharp (that’s gotta be the camphene I’m detecting). There is a dark side to this, it’s moving and has the ability to stir the soul, touches the belly, ancient and balsamic. Drying down reveals tendrils of smoke wafting into the air that are still distinctly resinous, ritualistic, conjuring impressions of an orthodox church, comforting in its permanence, captivating, earth-bound, recalling sounds of Gregorian chants; medieval. Volatility: still very impressive, so low-mid volatility.
Patchouli: how do I love thee, let me count the ways! Patch equals inner peace for me. Dark and woody, mysterious and creamy in quality. It expresses the woman I aspire to be at my core. Ritualistic, lush, narcotic, dense and bold. Reverent, true to itself, mature, like an anchor, raw power, untamed and unorthodox. After 6 hours it is still vibrant, but in a much more contemplative way, still creamy, devout and evocative. In a word: sultry. Volatility: very low-mid volatility.
Vetiver: reminds me of citrus, dry and woody. I can pick up an animalic note, fecal even, but so soft. Grassy, cabin in the woods, damp, wet sensation, a feeling of deepness, character, dense, expansive wilderness. I get the ghost of an impression of Iris root, with a sense that these two could blend very well together. This note is very persistent, whenever I leave and re-enter the studio I can smell it above all the others I’m currently evaluating! In the dry down it is still very powerful. Grassy, beige quality, like a blanket. Now it is very warm. Volatility: very low volatility.
Oakmoss: opens clean, fresh, soggy and wet, earthy. Out of the right nostril I can barely detect it only an impression of “clean”. Wet woods, green forest sparkling after a warm rainfall, a bit sweet, somewhat dark and leathery. After 6 hours it has faded to a sweet, balsamic quality, thicker than in the beginning. Something I hadn’t noticed when I first evaluated this months ago is a faint smoky quality in the dry down, almost of tobacco. Perhaps it is this sample that has that facet. Volatility: low to mid volatility.
Cedarwood: awakens with a resinous appearance, soft, clear, clean, crisp with a touch of sweetness, balsamic. I get an impression of the outdoors in the middle of winter, snow, exciting, white! Shortly after I am struck by a sense of majesty, immenseness, a bit sticky, sharing common elements with Birch Tar rectified, leather! Could be a good marriage. Volatility: after 6 hours this dries down to a zingy bite, a touch citrusy, sweet, almost balsamic, similar to Davana, sort of spicy! Low to mid volatility.
Sandalwood: brighter than Cedarwood, woody, I can barely smell it out of my left nostril and it’s almost invisible through my right. With both I get soft, dry, a bit sweet, exotic, graceful and delicate, creamy, impressions of the Middle East. Hushed. This note lurks in the shadows! What other mysteries is it leading me to? In the dry down it reminds me of an Indian store I used to work in as a teen. I get wooden jewellery boxes, filled with treasures. The gem of this note seems to be coming out now after 6 hours with a distinctly round, soft character. Sandalwood is unapologetic in its nature. In one word I would describe this note as: Ageless. Volatility: very low to mid volatility.
Next up is the Powder family and a class experiment. Finally some mad scientist stuff!
UPDATE FEBRUARY 02, 2014:
Myrrh: 48 hours later still soft, I have to get up close but it’s more intimate now.
Labdanum: 48 hours later it’s very present, less incensey, now just a very lived in feeling, smokey leathery.
Patchouli: 48 hours in and it’s more leafy, comes and goes, softer, more powdery, less noticeable somehow.
Vetiver: 24 hours after and to me this is sort of soapy, still dry and very much out there! Clear and decisive but tamer though.
Oakmoss: 24 hours later and I still get tendrils of tobacco, plumes of leather, less of an impression but the impression it does leave is darker if that makes any sense.
Cedarwood: 24 hours into the dry down and if this were a colour it would be yellow/green now with a light citrus edge, hints of similarities with African Bluegrass, and still quite perceptible.
Sandalwood: 24 hours on and this note is much more powdery, softer, talcum soft, reminds me of a talc I used to have as a pre-teen with a puffer. It also brings to mind embers in a hearth early the next morning.
Photo credits: whenever not mentioned the images are taken by me. Door handle image credit goes to our friend: Luca De Nale.
Today I’m evaluating the Green Family: galbanum, rose abs. (yep, believe it or not it’s also got some pretty cool green aspects to it), hexanal C6 aldehyde & proprionate for class. I have other raw materials within this family but these are the ones that came with the study materials so I have to stick to these within the context of the course.
Don’t get freaked out by the names, they’re just natural isolates. The course I’m following only uses naturals or natural isolates, no synthetics.
The first stage of evaluation was just about getting to know all of them, getting the nose acquainted with a new scent. The objective this round is to evaluate them with 3 criteria in mind: Volatility, to further imprint the olfactory impression upon the brain and to get to know the chemical components. Here are my impressions:
Galbanum: starts off green, piercing, bright, golden, light, summer, innocent, paper undertones, crisp, clean, honest, it sort of jumps up and slaps you in the face, doesn’t even ask permission.
Proprionate: this is a natural isolate found in mango fruit. Off the top I got rose (!), floral, bright, limpid, pink (this could be the way my nose interprets the fruity aspect at this stage in my olfactory training), lush, sleek, almost abstract. I did get, the green aspect too, laced with an edgy, aggressive quality.
Rose absolute: started off light, greenish, floral of course, like a spring garden, delicate and creamy.
Aldehyde C6: a natural isolate of Angelica seed, but also occurs naturally in artemesia, ginger root, guava fruit and rose otto. I got fresh, green grass, pungent, pear, leafy, watery, water(melon), cucumbery.
I’m letting each dry down for 6 hours before evaluating for volatility, but these were my first impressions.
The scentual collage I included sort of looks like an exclamation mark and though it was not intentional it is so fitting. The green notes for me are like an exclamation mark, used to exaggerate another note, I can see these really needing restraint.