Lessons In Perfumery 8


The focus for this month’s Lessons In Perfumery 8 is — plan for inventory BEFORE you start accumulating hundreds of materials.  I learned this lesson the hard way.

If you plan to take this hobby at all seriously and develop it into something close to a profession then it’s important to take inventory now. Doing this saves you time and money and creates a process that can also help your creative process because it’s one less thing you have to think about. The organisation becomes automatic and this gives you more time and energy to create.

Some perfumers start out accumulating materials based on a specific formula they have in mind or that they want to follow so they know the aroma chemicals or naturals they need and that formula forms the basis of their purchase. I chose the other way. I dove in with a beginner’s set of naturals and synthetics that I wanted to learn and become familiar with as my core. But one thing that is common to all perfumers is that our arsenal of raw materials can quickly mushroom to gigantic proportions leaving us with limited space in an unplanned work area and no process for finding what we want instantly among hundreds of materials. Not a very good way to start our education.  Finding what we want in our own lab should be the least of our worries in the creative process.

I started the process of taking inventory, as you remember, in the beginning of January and only just finished now, so that took me about 3 weeks with everything else I had on my plate. It started out as a simple necessity to just get organised but quickly grew into inventory because I thought, okay, I need x amount of caps for my vials, which led to the question, how many, which led to the answer: I don’t know. Well, if I’m serious about what I’m doing at all, that’s not an acceptable answer. And so the commitment became a quest to know everything I had on hand and ultimately this helps me distinguish between a need and a want.

There are many mini questions that I pondered while doing inventory that were important that I wish I had asked myself from the beginning:

  • How do you want to group them in your lab? By family, by genus type, by top, middle or base note?
  • What dilution do you want them to be? There are some perfumers that do not dilute to 10% but have all their dilutions at 20% or 30%. Decide on this ahead of time.
  • Group all original materials together either in trays if you have the space or with an elastic band if you don’t.
  • Label all bottles with dilution percent, supplier, date of dilution. This last, date of dilution, is really important because then you can have a good idea of how long your dilutions have been maturing. Let’s say you start out with 2 or 3 Patchoulis and in a few years you end up with 7 or 8 and can begin to pick up on subtle nuances in olfactory profiles you’ll wonder why one Patchouli smells markedly different than another and realise that the one you had diluted two years earlier is rounder, smoother, with many layers because, hey, it’s more mature and has character.  But how will you know that if you don’t know when you diluted it???

At any rate, those are just some of the things that popped into my head as I was doing inventory. Here’s how I actually went about it:

  2. Click on the row just beneath the one with the column headings and in the Excel menu marked Window select, FREEZE PANES so that when you scroll through all your material the main column headings will always be visible.
  3. Once entered into Excel the undiluted, original bottle got a red tag on the bottom.
  4. Everything got inventoried, including lab equipment, perfume bottles, and base oils and alcohol.
  5. Then I grouped all similar undiluted oils together, eg: all Lavender and Lavandin oils I wrapped together with an elastic band.
  6. Then I grouped all the diluted materials, my working oils, into similar groups. Therefore, Labdanum, Cistus are all together in a little group, one step above are my Myrrhs: tinctures, absolute and oils. Just above that are my Sandalwoods: tinctures, absolutes and oils and then next to that Frankincense: oils, tinctures, concretes and absolutes. And so on.  I began grouping things together on the shelves as they made sense to me in my head naturally.  All citrus oils together in one big group. Next to them the Lavenders and next to those the Bergamots, and next to those the Petitgrains, simply because that’s how I group them together in my head.
  7. During inventory I moved all empty bottles into boxes and then into storage downstairs so now the shelving is: 1st shelf-tinctures, 2nd and 3rd shelf-naturals, 4th shelf-synthetics, 5th shelf-all undiluted materials.

Ahhhh! There is nothing on my desk other than a few loose notes that I plan to get into Evernote in the next few days, my pipettes, smelling strips and one mixing bar with two vials in it that I got an inspiration to try in the spur of the moment.  And all because things are organised in my perfumer’s organ, in my immediate workspace and in my head! But that’s just me, I need that kind of order to be able to create. It’ll probably be a mess again in six months but who cares! For now I can find sh*#! And that makes me very happy :).

Have a groovy day!




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!



making perfumes with veramoss


Some considerations when making perfumes with veramoss: “It is deceptively powerful however and can have a significant effect on a blend. It is an excellent fixative and adds great depth and substance to almost any fragrance…Used alongside natural oakmoss it is possible to create a very effective facsimile of a traditional Fougère using this material, but it isn’t a full substitute for oakmoss on its own.” (Hermitage)  “Evernyl offers the power and tenacity of oakmoss absolute. It is extremely versatile and is often used as an oakmoss replacement. Good substantivity. Great fixative” (CreatingPerfume.com)  If you’re after a mossy effect it can help give it a boost, but from what I’m reading it isn’t a good substitute for Oakmoss.  Chris Bartlett on Basenotes says, “Works very nicely alongside woods and musks.”

Scientific name: Methyl 2,4-dihydroxy-3,6-dimethylbenzoate

a.k.a. Veramoss, Verymoss, Evernyl (Givaudan), Methyl Atratate

CAS#: 4707-47-5, 121-33-5

Supplier: Perfumer’s Apprentice

Note: Base

Family: Musky, Woody

Dilution: 10%

Diffusion: 5

Their nose: “the odour is described as mossy, oakmoss, woody, phenolic and earthy. In truth you have to work to detect most of those notes in this apparently unassuming material.” (Hermitage) Oakmoss, woody, phenolic, powdery, woody, sweet

My nose: from the get go, Veramoss is barely decipherable to my nose, I must slow right down, eyes shut, to really “get” this note. Musky, ambergris, hint of mothballs, a bit dark, austere, foggy day on the marsh sort of note, tawny, dusty, age. 15min and it’s still very hidden, I don’t get much time to sniff this one, yes, still ambergris, decay, ethereal. Haunting and evasive. 30min and my impression is very nuanced, parched, dry, it’s olfactive temperature is warm, pale and tempered. Very much a supportive, background player. 45min and it’s dry almost gone, musty, ambergris, animalic, very reserved, I almost can’t smell it anymore. I do my best not to force the issue and just set it aside. 1hr later and it’s now soft and delicate; I can smell it now again, but you can’t be in a hurry with Veramoss, it pulses feebly with life, obscure and faint. 2hrs on and it has a subtle softness like twilight, fragile, ancient, on it’s own it reminds me of a deconsecrated church, no real purpose but hollow, needing to be used by or with something else, lulling tranquil, waiting. 3hrs and it’s soft and deliberate, it has character, references to the ocean and the seaside, wind, wet, inscrutable, deep. After 7hrs it’s now beginning its decline. Warm, delicate, fragile, earthy, understated, but there is also a sense of isolation. 12hrs into the drydown and I get animalic, very subdued, it really hasn’t moved much just remained quite hidden, a gentle touch.  24hrs later and there is a hint of moss, wet, dark, ambergris, I would definitely use this as a substitute for ambergris or as an adjunct; slightly animalic, lovely and delicate.

Blends well with: woods and musks, but more specifically allspice, ambroxan, damascone beta, geraniol, frankincense, oakmoss, labdanum, etc. (TGSC)

Have a lovely week 🙂  Only 10 more days to go before Christmas!!!



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.




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!




blending perfumes with carrot seed essential oil


Blending perfumes with carrot seed essential oil?  If you’re learning to make your own perfumes and looking for a really unusual element then check out carrot seed oil and get ready for an interesting surprise.

Common name: Carrot seed, a.k.a. Queen Anne’s lace, wild carrot and Bird’s Nest

Genus name: Daucus carota (Umbelliferae) “the name Daucus carota alone signifies, that the source is the cultivated carrot. Oils obtained from wild subspecies should read D. carota ssp carota, the European wild carrot or D. carota spp. maxima, the Mediterranean wild carrot.” (Wild Herbs of Crete)

Supplier: Proxisanté

Note: Heart/Base

Family: Spice

Diffusion: 5

Dilution: 10%

Blends well with: Bergamot, Juniper, Lavender, Lemon, Lime, Orange, Cedarwood, Geraniums, Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Cypress, woody/resinous oils

Chemical components: High in Sesquiterpenes: α-longipinene (9.5%), sabinene (8.6%), β-himachalene (8.1%), β-bisabolene (4.3%), limonene (3.5%) α- and β-pinene (2.6% and 2.5%), terpinen-4-ol (1.2%), iso-bornyl acetate (1.3%), trans-β-caryophyllene (1.3%), trans-β-farnesene (1.0%), γ-himachalene (4.3%), δ-cadinene (1%), β-myrcene (1.4%), γ-terpinene (0.9%), and elemicin, cis-γ-bisabolene, caryophyllene<9-epi-trans>, α-himachalene, linalool, α-terpinene, all around 0.5-0.6% each. (Wild Herbs of Crete). Pinene, carotol, daucol, limonene, bisabolene, elemene, geraniol. (Gritman)

Interesting bits: “Remarkable about the wild carrot is, that each plant develops individually, one by one. We never see all of the wild carrots in a population to be at approximately at the same stage of development.” (Wild Herbs of Crete)

Their nose: “rooty, iris-like note with earthy, raw potato/turnip and woody facets, used to provide an earth note to otherwise airy compositions” (Fragrantica).

“the oil has a deep, lasting sweet smell with flowery undertones.” (Wild Herbs of Crete)

My nose: Like most mornings I do my best to begin sniffing at 9am, but then life happens so I usually don’t get to it before 10. Today was no different. To me every note I smell even if I’ve smelled it 20 times before is like opening a new package at Christmas! The top notes of carrot seed essential oil opened refreshing and sweet, this was totally unexpected for me, it’s curious, earthy, silky soft and not at all distracting, even reserved I would say. 15min later and this note is happy, joyful, it totally puts a smile on my face. Well-grounded and peaceful, comforting and assuring. There is such harmony in this note nothing sharp sticks out too much.  30min and now it’s sensual, warm, smooth, sleek – yeah, it’s all that! I can smell it combined with something smokey. After 45min carrot seed is elegant and satisfying like a hearty bowl of soup in autumn, sweet, it’s captivating and inviting, drawing me in. This is a gentle, warm note as it approaches the heart phase of the dry-down.  It’s been 1hr now, to me the beginning of the heart, and it approaches with boldness, with a bit of a bitter edge, still sweet though, there is a richness about it as it simmers into it’s prime. After 2hrs I’m going WOW! the heart is bold, warm sweet and bewitching, this is a non-conformist note, it doesn’t smell like anything I know or can place, there is an element of greenery that I can now pick up. 3hrs later and it’s simple as it sits on a bed of green grass, it is thought-provoking as it unfolds into the beginning of the base, tender yet at the same time tenacious.  7hrs into the dry-down and strangely it’s sweeter, sharper, clearer, the tone is crisper, more pristine and silvery. Yes it is definitely more luminous. At 12hrs, holy grip! This is like it’s now in it’s prime! Fully alive, blossomed and even though drier it still has warmth and depth and the power to move me. The next morning, 24hrs later, It is still kicking ass! Strong and addictive. I can smell it going very well with the citruses, it’s absorbing and engaging. There is a sort of soapy quality around the edge to it, but just barely a hint.

Musings: The fact that the Daucus carota grows individually, one by one, gives me an insight that this could definitely be an ingredient to consider if I want to highlight uniqueness, singularity and authenticity. Again, I’m really struck by how my nose and brain are working together to make connections between scents that aren’t even there. When I read that Carrot seed essential oil blends well with the citrus oils I was pleased. Though progress is slow, when you can see yourself putting these pieces together intuitively it sure does give you the sense that you’re heading in the right direction, especially when you’re studying independently. So, yeah, there’s a smile on my face right now.

12/24 comparison: the 12hr strip is much bolder, sweeter and inspiring whereas the 24hr strip mainly just gives references to the glory of 12hrs ago but it still invites you to dream of what once was.

Have a beautiful weekend!