lessons in perfumery 7


Of the many lessons in perfumery that are part of our never ending training I think this one is one of the most important, especially when one is self-taught: our life is our classroom – if we allow it, and we continue to learn about perfumery even after we finish evaluating or composing for the day, the boundaries are set much, much wider.

I get the sense that my formal perfume training is making me a better cook, (yes, I can almost here you saying, ‘no, duh!'”).  But honestly, it was not something I expected, not at all.

The other day I made an appetizer for dinner of octopus and potatoes (and no, LV is not undernourished), some tuna on the side, yummy bread from our favourite local baker and a luscious green salad.

What I began to notice was a growing confidence as I threw in a bay leaf (LV’s suggestion – I thought he was comatose in front of the tele but then he chimes in with that!), some lemon juice, a bit of salt from Cervia, potatoes, parsley of course and voilà! But the real surprise was this was all done with nary a taste of the spoon! I made a dish with my nose and instinct alone, something I would never had had the belief in myself to do before. A few days agoI had also managed a ravioli filling (brasato, lonza and mortadella) all without tasting it that even my mother and sister-in-law and LV (the official family taster) said was near perfection – oh, the goosebumps.

Wowwww. I stood there in wonder like a child on Christmas day, inwardly ogling my gift. This gift was nothing I could actually touch but it was precious just the same:  my success in the kitchen had brought me to a new level of awareness and application, confidence really, with my nose. One tiny step at a time I am becoming a perfumer, it was an awareness that descended upon me like a gentle spring rain, that I was beginning to trust and make use of the connection between my nose and my brain.

Let yourself be taught by everything around and within you. As a perfumer in training the only walls we encounter are those created in our mind when we fail to find words that adequately describe our olfactive experience in the moment. Therefore, to move beyond those restrictions it’s important to let life teach us all that we need to know about the olfactive arts.

With this I pose a Christmas challenge: over the holidays, try to see how many smells you can train your nose to remember that are specific to this particular holiday season then, in January let’s see how many we can actually remember!  Leave a comment if you want to join in.

With one more post coming before the new year, have a wonderful weekend!




musings on making scents


These musings on making scents are often such a look inward.  Making perfumes is so personal and intimate and I was thinking about how learning the art — any art — changes me, changes us.

I chose this quote because I’m going through a phase of personal growth in composing the perfume for my final project while following a brief.  The growth of letting go of the ego and following the rules.

About 18 months ago I made my very first perfume.  I call it a success because every single person I’ve had smell it loves it out of all the other six that I did together as a variation on the theme of Vetiver. I followed no brief or guidelines other than my imagination. But, having to build based on an olfactive blueprint for the project is creating conflict and it’s changing how I perceive things. It’s making me grow as a perfumer. It is the stuff of mastery and it’s freaking hard.

My ego months ago led me to believe that I could accomplish the project successfully from brief to perfume, without following the rules or at least being able to seriously bend them to my will. Wrong.

It is my belief that if what we choose to do (anything, be it great or small), to create, doesn’t change us in some small way then we are not benefited by it.  It’s like perfume creating, if adding a drop of Myrrh doesn’t nudge the perfume in the intended direction, then what the hell is it doing in there?

To know that I am a different Maxine than I was 18 months ago before starting my training is vital for me, it’s what feeds me.  If from the beginning learning perfumery didn’t threaten to knead my Soul into gentle compliance I would have embarked on a different creative journey.

If there is to be any finished perfume at the end of this training there will be no rule bending, no short-cutting on the way home, the road is long and learning the profile of each material we have in our lab is tough. Period. There will be no changing the brief to fit the level of my (at present) miniscule knowledge and skill in composing. I must stretch, pull, reach, mould, cajole and loving pry open doors of understanding and perception within myself that age and character had begun to seal shut were it not for the calling of art.

This is an invitation to consider your art, muse upon making scents, contemplate and meditate on how it’s changing you or how you’ve allowed yourself to be moulded by it.




this scented week in review


This scented week in review:

CALENDAR – so I finally took the bull by the horns, sat down and planned out 13 months in advance, of course in pencil because shit happens. Now that’s done.

ASPIRINA C – actually, I should have put the Aspirin C beside the calendar because that exercise in itself was enough to give me a headache!  Not only, but I’m battling a cold. Again.  My own damn fault because I could be eating better and getting more exercise. Thank goodness for all the tomorrows of our lives.

ACCORDS – two are a Fougere and three are based on Black Spruce absolute and they’ve been maturing since August. Have I narrowed them down yet? Right! Think again. Some of them are fabulous all on their own and I am always hesitant to compound them. This is why I think I’m more inclined to follow a building block approach to composing, one drop at a ponderous time.

UNDILUTED – black spruce and tiare absolute undiluted. Divine!  I’ve been sniffing these together to get a sense of a possible fit. Also because I’m still not sure at all about the heart.  I think I’m aiming too high. Maybe I just need to build a heart that simply (there’s a charged word!) reflects my initial intention.

NOTEBOOK – I’ve been furiously accumulating thoughts, ideas and insights for the blog for 2015. Lots of interesting things to come!

CALLIGRAPHY PEN – for as long as I can remember I have been in love with calligraphy. I honestly think I will never own enough pens. Ever. Ink is something that gives me goosebumps. Writing is part of my DNA. For years my friend and I would be on the lookout for calligraphy workshops in Toronto but never were able to find any. Imagine my joy when I rediscovered it online! I found tools, and templates and everything and have begun practicing drills – circles and lines, lines and circles.  I feel the rush of love and it’s a wonderful compliment to my perfume making – thoughtful, flowing, introspective.  Perfumery and calligraphy.  A match made in heaven, I’d say.  This pen I bought about five years ago in Amalfi during our very first vacation together.

NIBS – found a whole load of nibs stashed away and thoroughly enjoyed pulling them out and playing with them again!

FOUNTAIN PEN INK – this I bought for my fountain pen but it’s a great ink for the calligraphy pen too.  Let the love affair begin!




what’s new at her two scents?


It’s been quiet in the studio for a while, and when it’s quiet I start thinking…a lot. Yes, I usually write about perfume making and aroma profiles but I realise I don’t share much about what’s going on with me. You’ve probably seen a few changes in the last month, so let me share with you what’s been happening in my corner of the world and give you an idea of what’s to come.

New digs – for some time now I’d been mulling over the pros and cons of moving the site from the basic WordPress site to a self-hosted platform, the .org environment. There are a lot of things you can’t do or use on your site if you’re using the WP.com platform so, I made the decision to sign up with InMotion hosting – so far so good – and take matters into my own hands (typical).

New site design – I thought the template I had purchased through WP.com was mine (it wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t free), that I could do with it what I wanted and be able to transfer it to, at the very least, another WP environment. Nein! So. New template (again!). New design. I had to find a new template. Fast! And that brought with it some more changes like the sidebar with a brief intro about me and the search bar, category and archives search that’s sort of hidden, well, you have to click on the little plus sign over to the right to make it visible. At some point I’m going to have to make it more clear that it’s there, but that’ll have to wait.  For now, just a heads up that it’s there.

New pages – you may or may not have noticed that I’ve added two new pages to the menu, one where I’ve put all the sites that give me inspiration and motivation, the thing they all have in common is that none of them have anything to do with perfumery at all. The other is the Perfume DIY page and this is where I’ve posted links as a resource to industry blogs, forums and websites. Also, I’ve updated the page to include a list of links to perfume making suppliers from all over the world – from essential oils to bottles to scent strips.  Hopefully this helps you in the beginnings of your exploration into the world of scent and perfume making!

Not getting email updates? – I hope you’re still getting your blog updates, because the move made that an issue as well, now I’ve got to ask new people to sign up in different ways.  So if you’re not getting the posts regularly, please fill in your email only and I’ll add you to the list.

Preparing for the holidays – The Christmas season is by far my favourite of all and here at our house we go all out dressing up both the inside and the outside of the house, it’s a real team effort, but it’s a lot of work so forgive me in advance if I miss one here or there between now and mid-January.

Projects! –  Of course there’s still studying for the course that takes up a great deal of time. Then there is the final perfume project which is a constant work in progress of building and stripping down and re-thinking the approach. It may finally be clear to me that my preferred approach may not be that of building by combining accords, but building my perfume one component at a time, thoughtfully, methodically, researching each chemical component and finding common threads. It’s the way I built my very first perfume 18 months ago and perhaps it’s my personal style. But I won’t know that until I give the accords approach a serious try.  Also in the works is a collaboration of interviews that I’m planning for 2015 to be a regular part of the blog. Oh, and lest I forget, during the holidays, sometime in January I have to do some inventory. I’ve been dreading it and putting it off but it’s got to be done. Next year there will be more vials and bottles and materials to order and it’s vital to know how much of what I still have on hand so I’m not wasting precious dollars.  Phew! That’s a lot! And as if that weren’t enough, hang on there’s more, a whole lot more but I gotta keep something back for a surprise!

Hope your week is beautiful!


Credit: image by Angelika Mirocha!


perfume making lesson 6


Perfume making: lesson 6 when you’re done experimenting or formulating for the day, bloody well, stop! Not one more drop, no, not right after this last ingredient, leave your curiosity exactly where it is drop it and leave.  Why? Because if you push the process (experience speaking) what usually ends up happening is a mess. Everyone has their own limits and you, the perfumer, are going to have to find yours.

I typically start at 8:30/9am and go till around 5 or 6pm. But there are times when I’m just so inspired by a new combination and I want to rush off in sorts of olfactive directions and that kind of creative energy (in me at least) needs discipline.

So, the other day when I told myself I’d call it quits and didn’t, “just one more ingredient!” I ended up adding Neroli eo to my Iris accord instead of to the cologne vials where I should have added it!

The next morning I had to reformulate the whole lot from scratch!  And from that moment I have made it a rule that whenever I get the nudge to stop that I stop and don’t push myself beyond my limitations because of impatience.  Tiredness in my case makes me do stupid things and it’s only lately that I recognise it as exhaustion.

It may not seem like much but being in a studio, all day, smelling chemical compounds even if they’re natural and even if you love it, does have an effect on you after a while and that effect needs to be taken into account.  It’s different for every perfumer, some reach it sooner, others have a higher tolerance, and maybe the tolerance level builds after years of being exposed to concentrated smells, but they exist.

So to make sure you keep the love intact and don’t burn out. Set boundaries. Go out and o other stuff completely unrelated to perfumes and live life!






I am going to have to double back and map each of the single note profiles that I’ve written about to a perfume family: Citrus, Woody, Chypre, Fougere, Floral, Spicy, Aromatic, Powder, Gourmand, Green, Leather, Ozonic and Amber.  Aye, carramba!

Why? Because it helps to fix it better in my own mind and helps me get in the habit of doing it every time I profile a new raw material.  From now on this facet will be included in the profiles I do.

This made me realise I needed to reacquaint myself with the perfume families, their notes and odours. And that’s what I did, I went over them again. In doing so it seems that, although not by huge amounts, but I have gained in understanding of NOTE vs ODOUR vs FAMILY.  I know a little better now what they are.  I’ve also learned while writing this article that there is no such thing as doubling back over something learned.

Knowledge is like a spiral upward, it’s not linear, and nothing is lost.  Every time we go over or revisit information we do so from a more elevated perspective, we circle it but from a higher vantage point, based on new understanding, new experience, new olfactive memories, deeper, broader vocabulary and skill making what we’ve learned clearer.

Our odourscape becomes our landscape with familiar places we visit all the time but always gaining new experiences.  Hmmm, think I’m going to escape to Mastic today.

Enjoy the gifts of the day!

perfume making with a process


Process and perfume making go hand in hand.

The other day I was listening to a video clip on YouTube with Christopher Sheldrake, perfumer for Chanel, and he used the apt metaphor of an ink jet printer to illustrate the vast possibilities of perfume creation available to the perfumer.

He reminded me that the ink jet printer has only four cartridges of colour and yet from those cartridges we can get a range of up to 16 million colours!  When I consider that my current perfume palette has over 300 raw materials the creative possibilities can be mind boggling.  Think of all the variations we can create with just four materials let alone 300! So how do I as a perfumer choose? How do I narrow the field?

Focus and a process.

For this reason I found I needed a process, as I’m sure other perfumers have their own, some way to go from inspiration to trial to production with a fair amount of continuity, precision and repeatability. Part of that process, and it’s something I am still working on, is how to narrow the field among materials, how to create and maintain focus throughout the composition.  Sometimes I realise it will be the brief or the vision that will act as a natural selector and eliminator.  Sometimes the natural restriction or boundary of creation is the limit of my palette; other times it is the chemical composition of the raw materials that will create the intuitive path forward.  And other times it will be an olfactive memory that strikes an imaginative spark which will lead to the first choice of materials, which as a result will both guide and limit me to any successive choices.

However it is that our process develops as perfumers, it all starts with the most intimate relationship and profound knowledge of the odour profile of each and every one of the raw materials at our disposal.  Nothing, I am learning, is a substitute for that relationship, it can not be rushed.  This then, is the work out of which creations will be born.

Have a happy day!


the chemistry of rain

Image credit: Compound Interest http://www.compoundinterest.com

I love, love, love rain.  Everything about it, the smell before, during and after, the way everything feels so clean after a rainfall — there’s just nothing I don’t like about it.

So imagine my surprise when I found out that there’s an aroma chemical, Geosmin, that captures a facet of rain that gives it that earthy aroma. OMG!  You’re thinking, gotta have it, right?  Me too! Done like dinner. Got it from Hermitage, not cheap, but it is a totally cool olfactive experience.

Of course I had to find out more about Geosmin and in my research I found a site that explains chemistry in a really, really understandable way, for me at least (told you I’m thick in the head about chemistry and math).  More importantly, it keeps all the synthetic vs natural tug of war stuff going on grounded in basic, clear to understand, information which to me is much better than remaining in ignorance.  The site is called Compound Interest and there’s a well-written article on the Chemical Compounds Behind the Smell of Rain.  How cool is that?!

To my surprise, the smell before and after a rainfall is due to plant oils, bacteria and ozone and that particular combination of those three elements is known as ‘petrichor’.  He goes on to break down those three aspects in greater detail. For example, did you know that “Soil dwelling bacteria called actinomycetes secret the compound geosmin, which has an earthy aroma, when they produce spores.  Rain can disturb the compound from the soil. Human noses can detect it at less than 5 parts per trillion — equivalent to a teaspoon in 200 Olympic swimming pools.” (Compound Interest)

Love this site! See, told you chemistry can be fun!

math muddle

math-muddleVolume, mass, density, formulas, calculations! God, it’s enough to make me reconsider — almost.  The mathematical wisdom of the placement of these spore cases on the back of every fern leaf lets me know that if nature can accomplish such wonders, so can I.

During the creation phase a formula can go from drops to millilitres to litres for the final production formula.  And, did you know every essential oil has its own specific density which is important to know for the calculation of the final blend which may or may not be stated on the MSDS that accompanies your purchase?  And even if there is an MSDS the density may or may not be listed.  Of course this only applies to the small quantities the typical perfumer in training deals with.

Math never having been a strong subject for me, this is of course on of the monsters I am wrestling with — consistency or the lack there of.  Math is hard enough on its own without me having to wrestle with the lack of any real hard and fast rules that is a fundamental part of the art of perfumery. For people like me it becomes a recipe for confusion.

Thankfully our school provides an automated perfume formulation excel spreadsheet that does most of the calculations for you, but not before having you go through all the calculations by hand!  This is all very necessary of course because one needs to know how and why to make a calculation based on concentration and final volume — what’s really going on in the back end, what it affects and what is affected by it. And so this is the drudgery part of the course for me, but also the one that I am most determined to fully grasp.

I remain undaunted, however, even though for the moment, it’s still as clear as mud.

rose apprehension

Continuing in the philosophy of avoiding to describe scents as LIKE vs NOT LIKE, I must be careful how to put this: I am simply not immediately attracted to rose as a raw material — it just does not speak to me … yet.  When I think of rose I get silence.

Rose to me is an olfactory no man’s land.  It is everything to everyone and at the same time it is no (one) thing.  Everyone has their opinions about rose and everyone’s right.

I want to be captivated by a raw material, especially florals, for my nose being captivated is a pre-requisite, probably because florals are so defining, polarizing even, and those that do attract me seem to be the in-your-face florals like Tuberose, Osmanthus and Ylang Ylang.

A floral must captivate me the way Oud did for Mona Di Orio here in this article:

“So in the morning, when the alarm clock was ringing, I smelt something…not a smell… I smelt a presence.  I had the feeling that someone was in my bedroom…and I turned my head, and I opened my eyes, and I saw the blotter. And I had a shock.  And I said, “This is it! Wow!  Okay, I want to do it!”

When I read this description about how she was transfixed by the scent of Oud after not really wanting to work with it, I knew I had unconsciously set a marker for myself with regards to florals.

I find floral notes challenging because they deserve the utmost consideration, a gentle hand and a wise heart.  They are after all the heart of a perfume.  And, is there anything more important than the heart?

To date, whenever I have been tempted to make a purchase of rose essential oil or absolute, my finger pauses perilously over the ENTER button like some sort of suicide victim teetering on the edge of a precipice. On the edge. Completely unsure and afraid. Slowly, oh so slowly, gently I am drawn back to safety by an olfactive wisdom of rose that tells me I am not yet ready for this note.

I am still in training and so I succumb to its wisdom and wait.

(olfactive) exchange program

A fellow student, living in France, and I have agreed to exchange our experiments as a way to train our noses on more than just our own trials.

Hers was a wonderful idea and I’m so glad she suggested it for so many reasons: first off perfumery is such solitary work, sometimes you feel like you’re creating in a bubble. Feedback, especially in an online course such as this one, is so very important to the process because often times we just don’t have the necessary detachment or distance from our creations and we run the risk of becoming married to our art, whether it works or not.

It also gives me a bit of  thrill to know that someone other than the teacher will be sniffing, evaluating and judging my creations.  Yikes!  This heightens the awareness and raises the stakes, even though gradually and that’s really important since we don’t have a classroom environment.

And finally, it’s a great hands on way to experience the logistics of getting my perfumes into the hands of a perfume lover.  Believe me it is no simple task in today’s world!  I found out that my 1.75ml sample bottles are too small, they leak easily and the labels don’t stick to them properly. Damn! I am currently working on a solution for all of these issues. Truth is if I don’t face them now I’ll have to later when the risks are greater, so this is a great way to experiment — on so many levels.

Let’s hope our respective postal services co-operate!

my first creative brief


The main project of this two year perfumery course is our personal perfume created around a vision which must, to the best of our abilities, be articulated and handed in during the first module.  This will be the defining structure of our perfume.  I got it done and handed it in finally last month and I learned so much from the process of articulating a perfume vision. Bloody hard!

Of course the materials are limited to those offered by the course and nothing else, so you’re already starting off with a limited palette to choose from.  Ah, the reality of restrictions!  This is exactly what most perfumers working for big perfume companies encounter daily or what a perfumer can expect when working one on one with a client or building a saleable perfume around IFRA restrictions.

I knew I wanted to formulate around an image, a photo of something that inspired me so I bought a 70cm x 50cm piece of bristol board, chose a photo and pasted it in the middle of the board.  Around this I tried to connect on a visceral level with the top, middle and base note(s) that instinctively seemed to be attracting themselves like filings to a magnet to this project.  Then I wrote a brief storyline about the ghost of the perfume, the impression that should live on and finally I was inspired to pull out my water colours and slap three of them as a colour representation of the whole.  And before I knew it I had my very first creative brief!

What I’m discovering so far from the process is that less and less I am inclined to judge a raw material or one of my formulations as “like or don’t like” but rather by the answer to the question “how closely does it resemble or surpass your original intended vision?” and for me this was a monumental aha! moment that I am really proud of.