My latest experiments

Sometimes I end up frustrated when I start out in the morning to work on my perfume exercises. This is because I don’t know exactly which direction I want to go in. I’m now working with florals which I’m finding much more difficult than working with woods and resins. Of course, price is the central issue since it’s impractical to use more than 10% of naturals without the perfume being insanely expensive. Even this percentage is unheard of in a commercial perfume.

Meanwhile, as I train my nose, I found a list of accords in Tony Curtis’s and David Williams’s excellent book An Introduction to Perfumery. So, I’ve set out, attacking the accords one by one to see what I come up with.

One accord that I found particularly amazing was vetiver combined with a trace of aldehyde C-11 (I use a .2% solution). I’m not very experienced with aldehydes (a nice way of saying I don’t know what I’m talking about) but was amazed how the aldehyde brought out the vetiver and gave it a little pizzazz. This put me on the track of experimenting with more and varied aldehydes with florals, woods, etc. I have yet to follow up on this as I became distracted by the next accord.

The next accord was again with vetiver, but this time with isoamyl salicylate. I’m very fond of salicylates and find they give an ineffable lightness to compounds, especially floral combinations. In this case, I found that the salicylate attenuated the aroma of the vetiver—perhaps gave it a bit of finesse?—rather than heighten it.

One of the fun ones was thyme oil with bergamot. The thyme oil is strong (I use a two percent solution instead of my usual 20%) such that I figured it would knock the bergamot out of the water. In fact, I used six drops of the thyme with 10 drops of bergamot to come up with a fresh accord in which neither of the two took over.

Further experiments have ensued—estragon with lavender; tagete flower with bergamot, and coumerin with lavender.

While these accords were interesting in themselves, they led me to a central insight that most perfumers have already grasped but is new to me: One can neutralize aromas by using these accords. For example, if vetiver is too retiring, then add a little C-11; if it’s too strong, add a little isoamyl salicylate. If lavender takes over your blend (something I’ve done more than once since the stuff is so strong) then you can add estragon to come up with a nice accord in which neither one is “visible.”

Last, I fooled around with tagete flower. I think my batch has aged (I’ve had it about three years) because when I used to smell it, it smelled of marigolds. Now it smells like something much more intriguing and harder to identify. Following my accord list, I combined it with bergamot and ended up with six drops of tagete to 14 drops of bergamot to get them balanced.