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.