lessons in perfumery #3


It’s the first day of Autumn as I write this (happy Autumn!) and here’s something key I’m learning: very, very, very important to have all raw materials at the same strength! Okay, save the odd ultra diffusive naturals (Galbanum), Nature IDs (Acetic Acid) and synthetics (Safraleine) for example.

When I first started with this adventure I read that the best, well the most useful, dilution is 10%, and while after two years I can’t argue with that because I evaluate best at high dilutions (e.g. 1% – 3%, that’s just my nose) 10% suited me fine.

Until…I had to move to formulating. The thing is when you formulate you dilute down not up, what I mean is, it is assumed your raw materials (other than your absolutes, synthetics and Nature IDs) are at full strength – 20%, 25%, 30%, 100% – whatever you have established as the perfumer. Therefore, I was facing a gap when wanting to make a perfume extrait. Yikes!  What now? Am I going to have to go back and re-jig all my raw materials???

What I didn’t realize is that the 10% dilutions are really only for evaluation and testing purposes but that when you move from trial to formula you are going to use your essential oils at 100% and your absolutes at extrait strength. Lightbulb moment! So when this batch of 10% dilutions finishes I’m going to make sure all of my absolutes are at my chosen extrait strength.

The interesting thing in perfumery is, you won’t get it till you gotta use it!  Said another way: you won’t have it figured out until you establish it as a process. When you can repeat it exactly again and again and again, then it works, then you have your process. Until then everything is pure theory and you can’t make perfumes with theory.

Besides that, we just came back from a two week holiday in Provence where I visited the Perfume Museum in Grasse, so lots to share in the next few weeks.  Hope you had a wonderful summer!


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.