Top notes—the most volatile and evanescent compounds in a perfume—give an immediate impression and help sell the product. Whether you like them or not, the top notes in today’s fragrances are incredibly smooth.
However, the top notes may not smell like the heart notes, which may cause disappointment once the customer gets the perfume home. To prevent this, I avoided most citrus for the Black Iris top notes, and looked for substances that wouldn’t clash.
To create top notes that lead right into the beautiful heart after some seconds, not minutes, I started with an accord of pink pepper and grapefruit. Grapefruit is, of course, citrus, but it’s subtler than say, lemon, and it forms an accord with the pink peppercorns that smells hardly of citrus at all. Pepper in a perfume acts almost as it does with food—it immediately heightens our perceptions and magnifies the flavors, or in this case, smells.
The top note combo is great, but it still isn’t smooth like a modern perfume. I tried helvetolide, a musk that works in the top notes, and while it did smooth the surface, it was almost as though the perfume was coated with something foreign—like a layer of polyurethane—that muted its effect.
A trace of saffron gives a tiny spicy accent that livens up the entrance a little. I added a trace of Aldehyde C-11 enic which gives sparkle and sophistication.
In another attempt to smooth things off I added cabreuva oil, which seemed to work. I tried coronal, which master perfumer Arcadi Boix Camps loves, but smells like every perfume out there. Koavone, on the other hand, gave the top-note-complex a touch of wood and smoothed it. I suspect it will help the head notes meld with the rest of the perfume.
Next, how to add my pretty top notes to the perfume without ruining everything