Sunday, October 14, 2007

How I create perfume

Sometimes people ask me, what it is that I do, how I make perfume. If I tell them that perfume is alcohol with aromatic materials, a lot of times I hear the same story. They tell me that when they were little they put roses in water trying to create perfume. They tried to create rose water, something I did when I was little as well. Although the product that is sold by the name 'rose water' is not made by soaking roses in water, but a side product of the distillation of roses. The picture that some people have of what I do is that I work with plants like roses, lavender, clove etc and soak them in oil or alcohol to create perfume. Of course sometimes I did things like that, but this is not the same as creating a perfume, this is making tinctures or macerates. I sometimes used a tincture, but mostly they are not stable enough. When I tell them I use essential oils and absolutes, I see that it's sometimes confused by some people with plants macerated in an oil like almond oil. An essential oil is a concentrated oil which is distilled from the plant, many kilos are necessary to obtain a little bit of this concentrated oil, these oils are volatile, not the same as almond oil, jojoba or coconut oil etc. I've seen many times when I show a bottle of an essential oil that they want to put the oil straight on their skin, as it was a perfume based on an oil like almond oil. While many essential oils can't be worn pure on the skin, they are so concentrated that it can irritate the skin. I also explain that these oils and absolutes have all kinds of different molecules all having different smells. That a rose doesn't contain one molecule that smells like rose, but has a combination of hundreds of different molecules, all having their own specific odor, which all combined create the scent of rose. I explain that I not only work with these combined molecules like an essential oil or absolute, but with single molecules as well. These are from natural sources or man made. Which I for example can use to build my own rose, jasmine or other scents.

Of course there are a lot of people who do know a lot about perfume, especially the perfumistas on the Internet. I'm amazed how much they know about it. For example I love to read the blog Bois de Jasmin by Victoria she writes wonderful interesting posts about perfume materials. She loves perfumes, but she is also interested in how it's made, and wants to know more about the materials that is used in perfume. But a lot more people only buy perfumes and never thought about how it's actually made, it's fun to hear from them how they think perfume is made. Mostly they are surprised when they hear how it's made.

On the left you can see my 'perfume organ'. I created a special room to create my perfumes and to store my materials. On the photo you see cabinets that I hang on the wall containing bottles with droppers which are filled with diluted materials. I keep the bigger bottles of the pure materials in a closet protected from the sun. For me it's always a bit hard to describe in only a few words what it is that I do. It's not the same as blending some oils together and the perfume is ready. I don't line up a rose, jasmine, sandal, lemon oil and mix them, and my perfume is finished. It's more complicated than that. Rose, Jasmine or lemon oil all have their own mix of molecules, basically they are a complete perfume on their own, where molecules are combined in a certain way. Some of the molecules of the rose could be found in the lemon as well and some of the molecules of the lemon can be found in the jasmine as well etc. I work with these oils which are combinations of molecules, but I also work with single molecules which I can use to bring out a certain element of a scent. With these single molecules I can create bridges between some stages of the perfume, I can hide some unwanted harsh or other unpleasant molecules. I can use these single molecules to add a similar smelling molecule that normally only occurs in the base notes to bring out to the top notes as well and of course the other way around. I can create a rose that smells more fresh, dewy or more honey like etc, by adding one or more materials made of one single molecule. Basically I work on the different single pieces of the perfume, the molecules, I put some single molecules apart and work on those to bring them out more, to smooth them, to hide some of them or to modify them. I'm not only working with molecules that are grouped/combined in a certain scent, like rose, jasmine etc but I also divide or break down these groups of molecules into single molecules. That means I have to concentrate on hundreds of single molecules. All having their own character. Below is an example of a perfume, I wrote the notes down in a pyramid. In the top of the pyramid you can see which top notes are used, in the middle the heart notes and at the bottom you can see the base notes.

This perfume above seems only based on some oils, which all are compositions of different molecules, which are combined to create a perfume. This phase of creating is the most fun and easy part, but it's only a rough basic of the perfume, it's not finished yet. I still have to work on the different materials to create a perfume that is well structured. The perfume below is an example on how these notes are combined with single molecules to create a nice structure.

I know it looks a bit messy and I didn't have enough space to add more notes. But this is a rough idea of what I do. I try to blend notes in a way that they all combine well together, I 'glue' some notes together, create more silage, bring out some elements that I like by adding more of these single molecules etc. This phase of creating perfumes is the hardest but the most interesting phase, it's interesting and feels satisfying to finish the perfume and try to make it perfect. I have to find out the evaporation rates of the molecules and combine them with elements that has similar evaporation rates to create a logical way of evaporation. I have to study the perfume to find out if there is not an element that is too dominant, which I maybe have to smooth or hide with other molecules. Or maybe I like to bring out an element and will add more of this molecule etc.

The most fun part is to find out what kind of effect some materials have upon each other. It's amazing how one material can change if I add other materials. It's not so that I'm always sitting behind my desk and blend, mostly I'm studying the materials on scent strips or on my skin, I combine these strips and try to find out how they combine with each other. The ideas of my perfumes are starting in my head, I'm always dreaming about perfumes, I think about it most part of the day, it's something I do automatically and mostly I'm unaware of the fact that I'm analyzing everything that I smell. I imagine how I can translate some feelings or wonderful experiences into a perfume. I'm always paying attention on things that I smell around me, I store all these information in my head and compare these with the materials and combinations that I've studied. It's a dreamy fantasy world, I try to recreate a fantasy and translate it into a perfume.

I have a deep respect for perfumers that really studied their profession, perfumers that work for popular perfume houses studied perfumery for 10 years!!! Now that I've learned so much about perfumery I understand that these perfumers had to study a lot of things before they became a perfumer. Things I didn't think of before, simply because I didn't know or realized what perfumery really meant. I always say, 'the more you know, the more you realize that you basically know nothing at all'. If you don't know enough about something, you can underestimate the whole thing, and compare yourself to someone who really knows everything about it. You put yourself on the same level of someone who studied this, I would call that arrogant and ignorant. I would like the people who put themselves on the same level as professional perfumers to take a real perfumery exam and see if they will pass. I know I will never reach that level, I can't compare myself to these perfumers. I create perfumes for 8 years or so now, I've learned from books, the Internet, by communicating with the members of my Perfume making group at Yahoo and by experimenting and again more experimenting, that's not the same as to study the profession at a high level. There was no teacher that forced me to learn things that I didn't feel like, but had to know to become a perfumer. I'm sure I skipped some parts of perfumery that I still have to learn, but I do my best and try to learn.


Andy said...

Dear Jenny
I like the two pyramids, even if the second is not easy to read, but it shows, that we need little helpers. bergamot may be wonderful as an essential oil,but adding a twist Cyclal C brings out a lightness that wouldn't be there, for instance.
A wonderful post, thank you! (and I know, I still owe you something...not forgotten, I am just not ready yet...)

Jenny said...

Dear Andy,

You don't owe me anything Andy. I sent you those samples of my perfumes without asking you first. Don't worry about it, it would be really great if you would like to study them, but if you can't find the time, it's okay too.

Yes, that's how you can call the effect of Cyclal C (Triplal) together with bergamot, it gives a twist. That's the fun part of working with single molecules, you can create a note that normally isn't there but gives a great but subtle effect.

Anonymous said...

Dear Jenny,
I admire the discipline and patience you have to produce your perfumes. I also am interested in this “alchemy” and would like to ask for your advise and views on the following questions:
Do you have your own business? How much is the initial investment and can you make a living from selling your perfumes? I do not have a training in chemistry – I am a journalist – and I would like to start a business in producing perfumes. I don’t expect to be able to make myself the perfumes, but work with someone like you, who has the knowledge – would that be expensive?

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with me. Columbia

Anonymous said...

I'm a freshmen in high school who is doing a huge project and I have chosen to create my own perfume. I've read your blog and realized it will be very difficult but i'm researching the history of perfume and hoping my results will creat perfume fragrances of good taste. Thank you Jenny for explaining the perfume process.

Anonymous said...

Dear jenny,

Thx for the valuable informations you shared with us. I would like to know what is the diffirence between the 3 notes of the pyramide and what should be approximately the % of each note.