lessons in perfumery #2


Figuring out whether to keep all my trial vials or throw them out is a really gut-wrenching decision to make. I mean, on one hand there’s so much that I could learn from my failures at some future point when my skills are more finely tuned; also, who knows, they could mature into something beautiful. Couldn’t they? But on the other hand they are a constant reminder of what a long road I still have ahead of me and they take up a crap load of room, room that could be put to better use, like storing new supplies.

I couldn’t find a way around this dilemma which left me feeling like a dog chasing its tail. My answer came in the form of a list of criteria. Yeah! I love lists!

You will no doubt end up developing your own set based on different values but here, for the sake of sharing and learning, is what I’ve discovered to be my own personal set of criteria for judging whether a trial stays or goes:

  1. Parameters: how closely does it come to my original intent or brief on a scale of 1-10?
  2. Profile: does it have a recognizable profile? can I distinguish if it’s an amber, a chypre, a fougere or a leather?
  3. Character: does it have a distinct personality?
  4. Power: does it have the right potency for the desired effect?
  5. Longevity: how long does it last on paper and on the skin?
  6. Touch: does it touch a secret place in the heart, strike a chord or a special note?
  7. Unforgettable: do I find myself coming back to it again and again both physically and in my mind – am I haunted by it?

What criteria do you use to judge whether a composition is a keeper or not?



lessons in perfumery #1


The first “oh, my, God, that stinks!” is really hard to “swallow”, I don’t care what anyone says. I got mine last week when LV smelled one of my modifications and his reaction was like being slapped in the face. Ouch!

How not to get discouraged when creating is as important as creating itself and of course making a lot of duds is part and parcel of any sort of training.  But how do you get past it? Those less than pleasant reactions to formulas we sweat and agonised over for weeks, months even, are what help build our scent files about what doesn’t work for others because sometimes as artists we can be too close, too protective and not objective enough about our work.

One solution that combats these blues that seems to work for me is lots of experimentation.  By lots I mean anywhere between 5 -10 versions of a theme or an accord.  Something good, something unexpectedly wonderful, is bound to reveal itself. Doing it this way makes it much easier for me to accept and let go of the failures when I know I’ve got one or two mods I can run with.  Those one or two are what give me the inspiration to keep going.  I tried formulating one at a time but found myself getting way to invested and attached to the formula. For someone else it might be the perfect solution, but definitely not good for someone like me.

As perfumers we will instinctively create our own processes picking up pieces of how to work until the whole process becomes custom made like a bespoke piece of clothing.  I’ll share how I approach multiple formulation in the next post.  Have a wonderful Monday!


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.