perfume making lesson 5


Perfume making: lesson 5 – document how you formulate your perfumes – and always use the same approach to establish a standard of production.

From the beginning it’s important to carefully observe how you move through the process of formulating (the steps of going from a test to a production) and methodically taking note of your system either by hand with pencil and a printed spreadsheet or automate the entire phase in Excel.

I don’t know about you but sometimes, it’s the smallest thing that can throw me off my game. As I’m learning perfumery I realise it’s the math – yes, I’ve said it before, I know.  But I needed a way to avoid stalling needlessly during the creation phase.  The answer for me was to develop a way to formulate, to take a formula from trial to production, and get it down cold – should I use the drops to volume or drops to mass method, what dilution should I use, should I wett my alcohol before or after? These questions and more needed to be answered in the process of production.  Each perfumer will approach these questions in a different way which will then become their personal method.

Grey areas, uncertainty about the motions, when I’m learning something are just a pain in the ass for me, and so I try to eliminate as many of them as I possibly can by establishing a personal process early on. Of course I’m fully aware and prepared for alterations as I deepen my learning and become more sure about my actions.

One can either choose to use the hand-written approach and convert the drops to either volume or mass by hand using a calculator or there is the option of using an excel spreadsheet with the calculations built in which automates the process. For the moment, even though I know I could use the spreadsheet, I like to know that I have a firm understanding of the mechanics behind the automation and so doing it by hand is a welcome exercise that gives me confidence in my newbie abilities.

Trouble is, or rather the confusion arises, when I catch on that there are different mathematical routes one can take to arrive at the same perfumed end result! I had to choose how to set about working through it, a way that would be my way: was I going to choose a volumes (liquid or ml) approach or the drops or the mass(weight or grams) approach? Whichever route I chose I would need to convert the drops to a larger scale.

Until I get a real handle on the technical aspects of formulating, my approach or interaction with the process and the materials will always be tentative. This will take time. The math, the calculations used need to be exact and work every time, not because I’m a perfectionist (well, I am, sort of) but so I can forget about it.  This simple act frees me from doubt and worry so I can redirect my energies toward creating which is where the fun is!

This perfume making lesson is about knowing your formulation process cold so you can forget about it and get on with creating and having fun!




lessons in perfume making #4

By now, hopefully, you’ve guessed that I tend to write as I am, philosophical and inward-looking. I approach perfume making the same way, it couldn’t be otherwise.  Could it?


Being the solitary, introspective craft that perfume making is it tends to generate more questions that it appears to answer.  Freaking frustrating, but such is the nature of this beautiful work.  So here’s what I’ve been struggling with lately and as I haven’t been able to commit to an approach (until today) the result has been table “bottle neck” – that’s right, backlogged vials:  what is a perfumer to do with their “failed” attempts? Pour them down the drain or keep them in cold storage for future evaluations?  There’s something to be said for both choices and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.

coming in for a landing
coming in for a landing

In praise of holding on: I get it, they are our creations, it’s like perfumicide or something.  In all honesty, it hurts.  Simple as that.  I’ve also read that many perfumers keep their trials as a way to evaluate their own educational progression.  And who knows, perhaps that duckling may turn into a swan in 6 months, you never know, so how can you bring yourself to part with a would be, could be, nugget?


In praise of letting go: the sensation is freeing.  You feel unencumbered by the past “mistake” and each time you start a new trial you really feel like you are starting fresh, from scratch but with the knowledge and experience of what didn’t work still impressed upon your olfactive memory.  That’s right, in a way you’re building olfactive muscle memory.  And anyway, if we’ve been diligent with our note taking then we have written proof of what doesn’t work.  Why keep the evidence to mock and taunt us?

it's always better together
it’s always better together

I have chosen the latter, for reasons that are purely personal, individual and speak of where I am now in my journey.  You will probably choose a different approach and that is perfectly perfect.


So, what’s up with the pictures?  Well, spring came really early here in the valley and I’ve been meaning to capture it on camera which is what I did today.  But I see now that it really fits perfectly with my choice to let go of my experiments.  Like Spring I enjoy the beauty and mistakes of every one of my creations and like Spring I know each of them must relinquish their place to another season of wonders, perhaps my masterpiece.  But it won’t come into being for me if I keep hanging on, so today they go down the tube.  Hello Spring!

Tomorrow (or today for some of you) is the first day of spring, make it beautiful!