adventures in tincturing: jasmine & elderflower

Today I tinctured Jasmine flower. I have high hopes, it smells very promising already.

Yesterday Elderflower. LV went out and picked me about thirty flowers and I cut off the heads and steeped them in ethanol.  It really is humbling to have your hands covered in pollen, something so alive and pregnant with potential life. For the moment all I can say is, meh, not as impressive as the flower in its natural state. I’ve got some more that I will add to the alcohol when I strain off this one tomorrow. Below are my first efforts at fresh flower tincturing:

“The benefits to using tinctures as the alcohol base for botanical perfumes are numerous.  Notice I stated “as the alcohol base.” I recommend using tinctures as the perfumers alcohol for blending a perfume.  …. we are not creating a tincture to replace an essential oil or absolute (although one can tincture vanilla beans very successfully and use them as a replacement for vanilla absolute) we are more creating a subtle back note for the perfume by using the tinctured alcohol to blend.”  – Charna Ethier of Providence Perfume

This is a very interesting idea. Just a few months ago I started formulating for the first time and I’m using drops just in the test phase and haven’t yet made any full versions of my testers. So, this approach really interests me from a purely artisanal standpoint, the uniqueness of each one would be amazing!

As an aside: my package came and and with it the natural isolates and essential oils that I’ll need for the chemistry course, yeah!  I was at the door before the delivery guy could even ring the door bell and literally tore into the box when I got it into the studio. And the smell that met me when I opened the box was divine, heady and optimistic! I can’t wait to deepen my understanding of these wonderful gifts of the Earth.

Have a wonder-filled weekend!


aromatic profile: costus root CO2 select

costus root co2 select


This too came from White Lotus Aromatics.  Even though their EOs don’t currently come with GC analysis their oils are high grade, their service is top notch, and I always get a sense that I’m dealing with people of the highest integrity whenever I have dealings with them.

Costus root at 10% dilution. Get ready for this one because the aroma is anything but subtle.

The immediate impression is animalic, wet fur, dirty but not at all unpleasant, deeply natural, slightly fecal and a bit hypnotic, I say this because I just kept sniffing even with the sort of “strange” note, I couldn’t put it down.  I try to stay away from note descriptions that could be negative because the more I hang around perfume ingredients the more I realize that what may smell “bad” as a first impression is only the result of an untrained nose, we’re just not used to smelling it at all or in a certain combination.

1 hour later it still has a very strong presence but has lost its fecal edge and its soooo much more appreciable!

3 hours later it’s not so pungent but remains noticeable, holds together very well, remains integral although it seems more one dimensional now. I definitely like this effect more than that straight out of the bottle.

After 1 day, still strong, maybe even more so now that the alcohol has worn off, much less intrusive and more like a soft caress.

It has a fine tenacity and superb fixative value. Soft, delicate and warm precious woods/orris root odor. Surprising radiant tenacity for an oil which has a fairly low key odor impact. A buttery/fatty note appears shortly after one detects the precious wood/orris root odor. It lends the entire olfactory texture of the oil a very smooth feeling. – White Lotus Aromatics

Keep in mind he’s describing the essential oil and I the CO2, Select.


getting started

Getting started
Getting started

Above is a snapshot of some of my tinctures, essential oils and synthetics…and they just keep growing. Almost all are at 10% dilutions some of the more stronger synthetics are 3%. You’ll also need some plastic, disposable droppers and some smelling strips.

Here are the lists that I’ve compiled of all of the raw materials I am currently working with that I said I’d post. My Raw Materials List  and The Language of Perfumes.The first gives you a look at what I’m working with.  I’ve also printed them out for myself for a quick glance at what I’ve got without having to go rummaging through the actually bottles themselves. The other list is a starting off point to prime the creative pump while working on training the nose when smelling the scent strips.  Sometimes words can escape us or what I’ve found as a beginner, is that I just don’t have and am not comfortable yet using certain words to describe the impression a scent is making on me.  This list I find really helpful.

Feel free to download.



what’s in your organ?


Before I began I knew I needed to have some raw materials and spendt untold hours deciding which ones to get first.   I found some great starter lists, such as Chris Bartlett’s list of important synthetics and naturals that he believes is a good starting place.  Most of what he suggested I did add to my own starter list.  Then of course there are so many suggestions offered by the members of Basenotes DIY forum like this one.  The answer is first decide on what approach you want to take… slow and steady or full immersion? I, true to my nature, opted for the full immersion approach and after much hand-wringing about whether to invest in naturals or synthetics finally settled on a list (I’ll post it as a link to a PDF tomorrow).  There are many places online that sell beginner kits like Perfumer’s Apprentice in the States or Olfactik here in Europe; these are great starting places.

How much to budget for in the beginning? This was answered for me when my husband, who I will refer to henceforth as LV, offered to get me a new iMac for my birthday last year and seeing as we already had a (dying) PC I chose to forego on the new computer and use the funds for a start up kit instead.  So opportunities are everywhere to follow our dreams.

I can’t remember where I read this anymore but it strikes me as a fundamental part of making great perfume, start with the best: no matter what the budget, whether we have $100 or $1,000 to invest, start with the very best raw materials money can buy.  If that means we end up starting off with 10 essential oils instead of 50 then so be it. I’ve kind of adopted it as my purchasing mantra and whenever I have to drop something from my list because of budget constraints I console myself knowing that the ones I did choose to buy are the best quality I could source at the time.

In the end what ended up in my organ, before I started training my nose, was a mix of months of research and personal preference, what I feel really drawn to, what speaks to me.  And as I grow in this craft others call me to them for exploration – and  of course I will answer.



what’s it all about anyway?


By no stretch of the imagination am I a master perfumer so please forgive any implied expertise in this blog, I’m just learning.  That being said, I do have a clear intention for this blog – not unusual as I’m generally someone who likes to have a clear idea of where I’m going (and then Life happens, a voice whispers.  I know, I know!) So, here it is:

I intend to go on a journey from zero experience to developing a line of niche perfumes that people are drawn to in an personal way, that they want to wear as close to themselves as their own skin, perfumes that people feel passionate about, that they feel is a part of what defines who they are.  Journeys like this will inevitably include long stays in marketing land, necessary detours into regulation guideline territory with the eventual reformulating of formulas pit stop, as well as setting up shop online and everything in between…I’m thinking first an Etsy shop, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Typically the art of making perfume has been a very solitary one and quite shrouded in mystery, unless you follow a path of formal education quite early on, but how many of us really know what we want to do when we grow up, by say the age of 18?!  Over the last year while allowing this dream to take root I trolled some useful sites like the Basenotes DIY forum, many perfume blogs like Andy Tauer’s blog, Fragrantica, Perfume Shrine and a couple Yahoo! Groups, and, while practical, they provide informal training in bits and pieces, leaving many questions unanswered like holes in the formation process and for me as a beginner I find this quite frustrating.  Questions like: so, now that I’ve gone from testing formulations at 10% dilutions how do I take that and make a full fledged marketable perfume, one that adheres to IFRA guidelines?  Or, how do I colour my perfumes to convey softness or brightness etc.? Or, where do I get nice looking bottles without minimum orders of 1,000?  What about crimping vs. screw tops? Is it worth it to invest in a course or go it alone like the founders of Kerosene or Heeley and if so, is an online course better than one conducted in person, and just what are the current choices out there?  Just to name a few.

Last year I was inches away from taking the GIP 2 week summer school in Grasse, France seeing as we’re quite close but I came to the conclusion that I just wasn’t prepared enough to begin at that level, I needed to get my feet wet a bit more on my own before investing 1,990 euro. So, I’ll enroll next year and, dialling it down to the basics, decided to start with a home study course on the Chemical Components of Essential Oils. The benefit of being self taught is that you can choose your approach and being that I am drawn to composing perfume formulae base on researching the chemical components of single notes and finding commonalities and then marrying them, this course seemed a natural starting point.

If you plan on following along, here’s what the next two years could look like:

1st 6 months

  • Building your perfumer’s organ.  At the moment my collection looks something like this: 69 synthetics, 49 naturals, and since I’m always tincturing something, 18 tinctures. I’ve got a list that I’m always adding to of the next raw materials that I want to get when the money is available.
  • Single note explorations. This is basic training to develop the nose. We’ll be taking 3 different raw materials and sniffing them through their stages of evaporation at various intervals: 20 minutes x 3, then at 2 hours, 4 hours and 1 day
  • Language of perfumery. Of course at the same time we’ll be developing our perfumery vocabulary in order to express the feelings or images these notes evoke in us.
  • Making 10% dilutions
  • Tincturing
  • And of course I’ll share my thoughts of the chemical components of essential oils course with you

2nd 6 months

  • Building on the basics. Looking at the basic groups like Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fresh and building simple formulae of these groups.
  • Continuing our single note exploration
  • Blind note testing
  • Simple 2-3 note accords
  • taking our chemical components research further and putting it in context
  • research our 10 favourite notes and find out everything we can about them: soil, weather, the people where they grow, history of the land, any and everything
  • if all goes well, it will be time to sign up for the GIP summer school course

3rd 6 months

  • learn about IFRA regulations
  • I’ll be looking into EU funding options or funding options in general
  • getting the name registered
  • looking into suppliers
  • taking the GIP course

4th 6 months

  • building more complex accords
  • playing/working with more notes and accords in a systematic way to build full scale scents
  • making a full fledged formula in various strengths
  • business plan

There you have it!  These are my intentions for the next 2 years.  I avoided the word “plan” because I didn’t want God to laugh!



creative tension


creative tension in artI’m 47 now and in musing over what it is that I really want to do with my life energies in the next, say 10 years, I’ve allowed myself to be led by, more than push, mold or orchestrate, a dream.  This new way of approaching the “white space” in my life, those moments in our lives when we go through whole chunks of time not knowing what to do with ourselves, led me to something that has always defined the muted outlines of my family growing up – smelling good!  For most people their first memories of scent are linked to their mothers, and although every one of the six members of my family love perfume, it was my father’s interpretation of scent that I remember most.  You couldn’t go into his car, pick up one of his shirts, sit in his chair, or enter his musical lair without being hit by his olfactive signature.  In scent my father was everywhere and this desire to make our mark through scent has touched each one of us — right down to my daughter.

And so in this “white space” the desire “I want to create great smelling stuff” came through.

I’ve already got a name and a domain name and in between working on new formulations I pull up Illustrator and doodle at designing a label and other marketing bits (ass backwards, I now, but I am motivated by the whole and not just the parts).

For over a year now I’ve been researching the umteen pages of forums like Basenotes, sniffing out other blogs and other niche perfumers’ sites trying to get an insight into how to go about developing a nose for this craft.

So why are you writing a blog instead of making perfumes? Simple.

Right now a fair chunk of my change goes into sourcing good raw materials, both natural and synthetic, bottles for my tinctures and dilutions, alcohol, scale etc. and I’m fine with that, but I got to a point where the pressure was building, impatience really, it was a familiar tension that I’ve lived with for most of my creative life but now I am learning to channel it better, master it, because I’ve learned that that kind of impatience doesn’t help but hinders my process.

Sitting down one day in absolute frustration over the fact that my flow was somehow obstructed — the bottles hadn’t arrived yet, my next paycheque to purchase more EOs and bottles was 3 weeks away — whatever the reason the endless waiting was creating mounting frustration and I thought I’d explode that day when it struck me. The problem here isn’t a lack of funds or not having supplies, the problem is outflow.

How can I outflow, this creative energy, while still learning and building? Because that is the naked truth: I’m still very much a beginner.  Yes, with a passion and motivation, but a beginner.

The answer: write!

Write about the process – my unique creative process – my feelings about going through the process, the bumps and hurdles (especially living in Italy where regulations are stiff and the amount of red tape makes you want to give it all up), the baby steps, triumphs and absolute failures, it’s all important and it’s all part of creating.  Actually, I feel mighty lucky to have writing as a form of expression that I feel quite adept at while I’m still learning a new craft; I can channel that anxiousness into something like this blog that allows me to instantly manifest.

We get inundated with so many stories about artists that have already arrived (where we want to be, that is, we all know there’s no such place), have already built the successful business, created a line of 12 perfumes, studied at the school or alongside perfume (insert here whichever art you’re pursuing) masters of our dreams, developed the fantastic e-commerce website and given spectacular interviews left and right, it can all seem so defeating, like, why even try?!

We try for the simple, very basic need to create, express our unique essence in the world.

The creative tension created by the struggle between our desire, vision, and the current reality, how things truly are is absolutely essential to creation.  Or should I say the ability to master creative tension is essential to any artistic endeavour.

And so I blog.