My New Sexy Pheremones

 

I’ve read so much about pheromones and, whether I’m certain they exist or not, I do know that certain perfumes cause sexual arousal. This has happened with three of my own perfumes—perfumes that have sent those who smell them directly into the bedroom. One perfumer said that my oud was the only aphrodisiac in his life except the smell of his wife. Erogenic smells always have a little bit of funk. I’ve gotten this effect with oud (which sometimes smells like Roquefort) and various combinations with tobacco. I also use musk, but since artificial musk has little resemblance to the natural product, I’ve added funky compounds to give it animal aspects. There are those who smell it and suspect I’ve put something natural in it.

When using these smelly things, they must be kept just below the level of consciousness. Often the aroma of animal compounds doesn’t show up until the perfume is applied to the skin. In my own experience, there are many natural essential oils and absolutes—osmanthus comes to mind--that smell floral or fresh out of the bottle, but turn animalistic on the skin. In most cases this is ok and may precede the ultimate dry-down—when a product intensifies the smell of your own skin and makes it very sexy.

One of my new pheromones is derived from truffles and makes pigs go wild. Since it seems that pigs and humans have many traits in common (especially in the metaphorical sense), it’s at least worth experimenting with. What I find interesting is the quality of some animal products to enhance the aroma of whatever it is they are with. This is true with truffles in cooking. It’s not so much the flavor of the truffle (although there’s nothing to complain about), but the quality of enhancing the foods it accompanies. An omelet will taste more like eggs, cream more like cream, and chicken more like chicken. It makes sense that truffle-like compounds (i.e. pheromones) also enhance the aromas around them, such as perfume and the skin of those who wear it.

Three weeks after ordering my pheromones, a small registered package arrived from Thailand. It contained three compounds: androstenone (derived from men’s armpits), beta-andrestenol (derived from truffles), and copulins (from female sex glands). They come in dilutions of 1000 parts per million, which is .001%. To use them, they are supposed to be diluted another 10 times, so they end up at .0001%. Higher concentrations are supposedly detectable (although I find little odor when I sniff the bottles) and hence should be avoided.

To test them, I’d need a large sample of couples to smell the stuff and then report their activities afterward. Being that this is impractical, I’m going to have to rely on anecdotal reports.

All of this brings to mind a crazy idea. What if perfumes were designed to attract one sex or another? My oud, for example, has no gender identity, it’s just oud. But, I could add female attractants to attract straight guys and lesbians, and male attractants to attract straight females and gay men. Two versions. And what if I add both?

Base Notes Accords

The other day I was gathering together my various perfume articles, printouts, and inventories, and found an article by Guy Robert, titled Base Notes of Perfumery.

I’m not sure when it was printed, but judging by the compounds called for, I’d guess in the 60s. Since I’m always searching for the aromas that I remember from my mother’s perfumes from the 40s and 50s, his approach looks like it will just fit into my various projects.

He rails about “…the modern and lazy way to obtain the tenacious base notes…,” using modern musks, ambretolide, lyral, hedione, and oxyphenylon (raspberry ketone). He prefers the older products—amyl salicylate, musk xylol, acetophenones and diphenyl oxide. He explains how modern musks have no evaporation curve in that they are too long lasting. Patchouli, oakmoss, and vetiver, on the other hand, while long lasting, do have an evaporation curve.

Robert had access to materials the rest of us are forbidden—natural musk and civet, and ambergris. None of the substitutes for these materials really does the trick—as we all know, civetone does not smell like good civet.

So, I’ve set out to construct some of his accords that he lists in the article.

He doesn’t call for natural musk, but does call for nitromusks, rarely used in contemporary perfumes. Musk ambrette is forbidden (it causes a skin reaction in some people) and musk ketone is bad for the environment. I substituted my own musk, which, of course, is based on mostly modern musks along with other compounds to provide the funk. I don’t know if the results were what Robert was going for, but some very interesting things happened.

He gives the accords, but none of the quantities, so it has been up to me to get everything to balance in a way that does, indeed, produce an accord with its own identity.

My first accord was between musk (my own; he calls for musk ambrette or musk ketone), oakmoss, coumarin, methyl ionone, and jasmin enfleurage (he calls for the absolute). I started out with 10 drops of oakmoss as my reference point. I added coumarin until it came into balance, followed by the methyl ionone. When these were all present without any one of them taking over, I added a drop of my musk and a drop of jasmin enfleurage. A rather amazing thing happened: the combination smelled like it had natural musk in it. I like to think that my musk is somewhat animal in character and as similar to natural musk as it’s possible to get with modern synthetics, but this accord took its muskiness to a new level of magnitude. I did notice, however, that this effect faded after an hour or so as the coumarin aroma began to take over. I’m not sure which of the compounds in the accord reacted with my musk or if it was the accord itself. Further experimentation is called for. I suspect the coumarin and will start with that.

Next follows a floral accord consisting of only four ingredients: oakmoss, methyl ionone, cassie absolute and orange flower absolute. Naturally, the combination is gorgeous. I added a tiny bit of my musk. It sweetened the mixture, gave it a bit of richness, and muted it somewhat. I’d love to experiment with a floral using this accord as the base note.

I enjoy patchouli—although it reminds me of the abuses of the sixties—but find that it easily dominates. So, it was with delight and intrigue that, as per Robert’s suggestion, I combined patchouli with frankincense. Now frankincense could be the subject of an entire blog, but I’ve never really enjoyed it because it reminds me of furniture polish. It wasn’t until I searched the entire globe that I found one that’s less like furniture polish and more balsamic. In any case, I combined patchouli absolute with half as much frankincense and that seemed to do the trick. The accord is perfect and is so monolithic that it’s hard to distinguish the two materials. As per his suggestion, a touch of ambergris has a delightful freshening effect. I’m not sure how I would use this accord, but it might very well work as the base for an oriental.

There are more accords I will address in an upcoming blog post.

Fooling Around with Jasmine

I’ve been playing a new game: I reconstruct flowers, working with a list of essential oils, absolutes, and aroma compounds, that gives no quantities. The challenge is to balance the amounts of these ingredients to come up with a viable replica of the flower at hand. Ideally, you have the real flower next to you to guide you. Second best, use a good absolute to provide a smell comparison. As a basis for my experimentation, I used a list of ingredients, grouped by class, in Perfumery: Practice and Principles by Robert Calkin and Stephan Jellinek.

            Benzyl acetate is perhaps the most classic of jasmine aroma chemicals, used in every formula I’ve seen. While its aroma does in fact resemble jasmine, it is coarse and industrial. Other benzyl esters—benzyl proprionate, benzyl valerianate, benzyl isobutyrate and dimethyl benzyl acetate—are used to modify the basic benzyl acetate aroma. Each has its nuances, some fruity, and some a little funky.

            The second grouping of compounds is based on phenylethyl alcohol with its distinct rose, but chemical, aroma. Phenylethyl acetate smells a little like wine that has evaporated in the bottom of a glass. Other compounds are phenylethyl butyrate, phenoxyethyl isobutyrate and phenoxyethyl alcohol. When combined with phenylethyl alcohol, these compounds contribute to the rosiness while attenuating the chemical finish of phenylethyl alcohol.

            Fool around with the rose compounds until you have a mixture you like and combine this mixture with the jasmine mixture. In the finished perfume, I ended up using equal parts of the benzyl acetate complex and the phenylethyl alcohol mixture, but if you do this at the beginning, the benzyl acetate mixture takes over. I started out with five times the rose mixture to the benzyl acetate mixture to achieve the right balance, but added more of the benzyl acetate mixture as I continued adding other ingredients to the perfume.

            After achieving a balance between the jasmine (benzyl acetate) mixture and the rose (phenylethyl alcohol) mixture, it’s time to experiment with muguet (lily of the valley). Three compounds—hydroxycitronellal, lilial, and lyral—are usually used for the lily of the valley aroma. This light and fresh mixture is added to the jasmin/rose mixture in about equal parts muguet, rose, and jasmine mixtures. The mixtures need to be evaluated to get the ratios right.

            Geranium, which is very rose like, is often used in floral perfumes. Its chemical backdrop is geraniol which in fact does smell like geranium, but without its richness and irresistibility. I used three parts geraniol to five parts muguet complex.

            Eugenol and iso-eugenol are essential to emulate the spicy, slightly clove-like character of jasmine. Be careful, but you may find that the formula calls for a considerable amount.

            Floral perfumes invariably contain linalool. Linalool has a unique freshness that most of us have encountered in hand wipes. Linalyl acetate, closely related, is subtler with an almost pine-like aspect. Be careful when using linalool and linalyl acetate; while they smell light, they can easily take over.

             Green notes come next and we encounter our first natural, violet leaf absolute. Violet leaf is very green with a distinct aroma of cucumbers. Our author also suggests hexenyl acetate as a green note. It’s not as green as the violet leaf, but lacks the cucumber aspect which, if you’re not careful, can take over.

            Many flowers contain cinnamon aspects as well as those of clove. In classic perfumery, the fallback cinnamon compounds are amyl cinnamic aldehyde, hexyl cinnamic aldehyde, and cinnamic alcohol. Amyl and hexyl cinnamic aldehydes are relatively subtle. If I want a distinct cinnamon note, I use cinnamic alcohol.

            Aurantiol and methyl anthranilate (both smell like Concord grapes) add a necessary fruitiness.

            Indol is one of the most important ingredients in jasmine and certain other flowers. It’s stinky at best, but is essential because it draws flies which the flower depends on for pollination. If you smell the indol alone, you’ll have a hard time imagining it in your perfume, but you may find that your formula requires a fair amount of it to bring the flower aroma into focus.

            Jellinek’s next suggestion includes the family of paracresols: paracresol, paracresyl acetate, paracresyl phenylacetate. At first sniff, paracresols smell to me a little bit like creosote, but with an intriguing animal aspect that goes well with florals, especially narcissus. There’s something dark about these smells; they make a composition veer toward a minor key.

            Last, Jellinek suggests using naturals to give vitality, freshness, and to smooth out the composition. Ylang and cananga are both on the list. These have very similar aromas, but cananga (which is sometimes used as a cheap substitute for yang), has a slightly vegetative aspect that works in this formula better than ylang. It should be added in very tiny amounts.

            I carefully sniffed my composition next to a good jasmine absolute and found that the jasmine had a wild non-floral aspect that reminded me a bit of hay. I added a tiny amount of hay absolute to provide these notes. Immortelle (an absolute of helichrysum) has a distinct aroma of maple and curry with a suave background. It added considerable finesse and smoothness.

            My last addition, before reinforcing the jasmine with jasmine absolute and the chemicals with naturals, was mimosa absolute. Mimosa, again, smooths out a composition and rounds out its subtle and complex aroma.

            Frankly, I’ve been amazed by the result. The potion really smells like jasmine. It’s not as voluptuous and hasn’t the same deep richness, but it might very well take someone in.

            The composition is finished with jasmine absolute to fill in the nooks and crannies that the chemicals and naturals didn’t reach. In commercial perfumes, there’s a trace of jasmine if you’re lucky. Vintage perfumes contained as much as 4% of the absolute. 

            If you’re making a fine perfume, you may want to reinforce the chemical aromas with those of naturals: rose for phenylethyl alcohol, rosewood for linalool, geranium in addition to the geraniol, clove with iso-eugenol, and cinnamon in addition to cinnamic alcohol. Be careful with these naturals—they’re very powerful.

            One interesting observation. I’ve always heard it said that chemical compositions of flowers and other fragrances last longer than naturals. That’s not the case here. The jasmine absolute lasted much longer on the strip than did the chemical mixture. 

Marine Aromas: The Smell of the Sea

I’ve always wanted to smell like the beach, not a crowded beach with its overtones of suntan lotion and salt water on skin, but a solitary beach with a scent like steamed mussels and freshly cracked oysters. On top of this irresistible sea-fresh quality I would find complicated aromas of assorted creatures in various states of decay combined with seaweed, and the smell of salt itself. (Salt is odorless. Its smell comes from assorted minerals and organic matter.)

This interplay of smells, constantly shifting, has me searching for information on how to smell like the ocean.

Much of what I have learned has come from my own experiments. I started out by going through my collection of naturals and aroma chemicals to find those that smell of the sea or some component thereof. Before I began combining these aromatic materials, I put each (in a 10% tincture) on a smelling strip and noted the length of time for the aroma to fade. My goal was to create a basic frame that would persist long enough for the final mixture to be considered a perfume while using more delicate materials up front such that they fade at differing rates, leaving the perfume’s final aroma to change and intertwine just like the odors on the beach.

Seaweed absolute is the most obvious material for such a beachy accord. Seaweed absolute is expensive, but goes a long way and is rather divine in that most examples (mine comes from Eden Botanicals) are truly representative of the real thing. The smell reminds me exactly of konbu, the dried seaweed that Japanese cooks use to prepare dashi, the base broth for innumerable soups and stews. The odor is complex and deeply sea-like. It is one of those things you smell on a stroll along the seashore. It smells like ambergris, not the tincture, but the actual material.

Ambroxan (also called Cetalox) is one of the most useful aroma chemicals for sea-like accords. It’s such an appealing substance that a perfume has been made featuring it alone. The molecule is one of the components of ambergris and is reminiscent of ambergris, but not really like the actual thing. It is very popular these days—I smell it everywhere—no doubt because of its austere yet oceanic feel. I use it along with ambergris itself because it reinforces the smell of the natural product.

Grisalva, which I associate with ambroxan, is subtler. Grisalva, too, has a sea-like note, but is also ever so slightly dissonant in that it contains a funky animal aspect. Next to ambroxan it is quite subtle, but provides another note. It reminds me a bit of hot sand.

Nonyl alcohol is a discovery that I’ve never read about. It has a distinct oceanic quality, is powerful and lasts a long time. It also lacks finesse. It has a coarseness which must be attenuated with more delicate compounds. It makes a good base note.

I’ve never thought of the ocean as aldehydic before, but cyclamen aldehyde has not only its own special aldehyde character, but a definite aquatic quality. It gives lift to my various experimental mixtures. It’s very clean and reinforces the impression of saltiness.

Calone is classic in marine accords. It is distinctly ozonic with a clean background. It works perfectly toward achieving the cracked oyster effect. It’s hard to imagine a marine accord without it.

At many points during my experimentation, I ran into situations where the mixture “needed something.” I don’t know how it occurred to me, but I added a trace of oud to my blend. When oud is used in small amounts—high dilutions—I can’t smell it, but rather sense it. It lightens and excites. It awakens the senses, especially smell.

There is, of course, ambergris. I’ve allowed myself to use up to 10% of a 3% tincture in my experimental marine blends. This is 10 times the amount normally used in classic perfumes.  Much is made about ambergris’s persistence—it is indeed persistent, but very subtle—and very little is said about the top notes it provides. When added in even trace amounts, ambergris gives a mixture a special punch right up front. The aroma is strangely like isopropyl alcohol—the classic rubbing alcohol nose—but with a magical finesse and complexity. It’s one of those ingredients, like musk and other animal products, that make it hard to pull your nose away.

One of the most fascinating marine ingredients is Helional. I was using it, with little effect, before realizing that my batch was old and had deteriorated. (Helional should be kept in small bottles with little air in them.) When I got a new bottle, the aroma I remember—the closest anything comes to smelling like water—was again there. It’s a wonderful substance and just what I needed for my blend.

Because so many ingredients come into play, I’m not able to mention them all now. I’ll discuss them in an upcoming post.

After a few months of daily experimentation, I had come up with a beautiful and elegant marine perfume that didn’t last long enough and barely projected. I was either missing a fundamental accord or I needed longer-lasting ingredients.

Frustrated, I looked for aromatic compounds that would last longer. The plan was to make another accord—almost its own perfume—that would stay on the skin as the more delicate and fleeting scents evaporated.  

I went on line in search of anything aquatic or ozonic and came up with a few things. The two most interesting were Azuril and Ultrazure. They both last a long time and have a powerful smell like the sea. Azuril has a slight animal quality while Ultrazure is cleaner. I might say that Ultrazure is like high tide and Azuril like low tide. Like nonyl alcohol, these ingredients lack finesse and must be attenuated with softer and more delicate compounds, perhaps naturals.

I blended my longest lasting ingredients—ambroxan, Ultrazure, and nonyl alcohol—to make a mixture that smelled enough like the sea that it would combine well with my initial blend. When I put the two together, the perfume opens with the ambergris and then comes out with the smell of a lonely beach. Natural compounds such as beeswax absolute, seaweed absolute, a trace of oud, and a drop of helicrysum smooth out the mixture and make it organic and natural smelling. Finally, the ambroxan-nonyl alcohol-Ultrazure accord takes over and the perfume dries down on the skin after about 2½ hours. Not as long as I would like, but the perfume is so inviting that I suspect most customers would put up with it.  

Roses

I’ve been going to various perfume and beauty product events and have found that people, primarily women, want a floral. I’ve been letting people smell rose otto and they go nuts.

So, to the drawing board it is.

I’m starting out using Jellinek’s notes (see earlier entry) about what goes into a rose perfume and how to modify the basic formula.

I’ve started out with phenylethyl alcohol which has a definite aroma of roses, albeit in a chemical context that reminds me a little bit of coal tar. Artander (the best reference for this kind of thing), describes it as “Rose-honey-like of moderate to poor tenacity…” and, later, describes how it is used in concentrations of up to 20% in a formula. Most enticing is this: “…with an apparently weak crystalline fixative/odorant, such as trichlolo methyl phenyl carbinyl acetate…” in 5% solution will make the smell more rosy and also make it last longer. Jellinek doesn’t mention it, but does mention Rosatol (which I don’t have), phenylethyl dimethyl carbinol, dimethyl benzyl carbinol acetate, and dimethyl benzyl carbinol butyrate, these last three which I do have. Experiments will ensue.

Jellinek suggests that phenylethyl esters be combined with the alcohol to give it character and nuance. I looked through my collection and found phenylethyl acetate, phenylethyl isobutyrate, phenylethyl proprionate, and phenylethyl benzoate. My own notes: I detect no odor from phenylethyl benzoate. The strongest smell is from phenylethyl isobutyrate. It’s clearly persistent (it smells on the strip after hours), but not terribly agreeable, at least on its own. I get fruity and nutty notes. Phenylethyl proprionate is similar to phenyl ethyl isobutyrate, but with a fruity aspect. Phenylethyl acetate has a fresh, rosy aspect.

Here’s what Arctander has to say:

Phenylethyl acetate: “Very sweet, rosy-fruity, honey-like odor of moderate to poor tenacity. The fruity notes are mostly peachy with a pleasant leafy-green tonality, the rosy notes are very sweet, almost towards Gardenia.”

Phenylethyl benzoate: “Very faint floral-balsamic odor reminiscent of dry rose leaves and petals with a soft, honey-like undertone and excellent tenacity. The odor of this ester may not impress the observer on the first encounter, but in use it displays very attractive effects, other than the fixative effect.”

Phenylethyl isobutyrate: Not mentioned

Phenylethyl proprionate: “Very warm, herbaceous-rosy, deep-fruity and moderately tenacious odor with a delicately spicy note (warm-balsamic).” “This ester is, in the author’s opinion, one of the most useful of all the derivatives of phenyl ethyl alcohol. Its virtues are often vastly underestimated by many perfumers, and the material is left unused on the shelf…”

Clearly, I must try combining phenylethyl alcohol with each of these to see which will lend itself to my rose.

My attack plan consists of building a basic chemical structure that is both persistent and projects. Once that’s in place, I’m going to add an unreasonable amount of white rose absolute, rose otto, and white rose otto. White rose otto costs about $50 a milliliter. If everything goes according to plan, I’m going to make a white rose perfume that’s going to blow the mind. 

Zeroing In

I’m finally zeroing in on my ambergris perfume. I worked my way through my aroma chemicals and naturals to see what reminded me of ambergris, the sea, the beach, and anything related to the ocean. I rounded up such goodies as nonyl alcohol, seaweed absolute, calone and about a dozen other things ...

Oud again

My oud source has again run out—there seems to be no more aku akira—so I’ve had to reformulate using new ouds. I ordered 14 different oud samples and tested them all for balance and longevity. I’m now using Malaysian oud, a Hindi, and another one of uncertain origin ...

Ruh

I've made a most curious discovery. On the White Lotus website, they offer what they call ruh(s). They have about 5 of them among which are the best known jasmines (grandiflorum, sambac, etc.). I ordered a small bottle of the jasmine grandiflorum and was completely blown away ...