The perfume smelled fresh, alive, and of orris, but it needed a top note.
Many perfumers add linalool (think of the smell of hand wipes), but I added linalyl acetate, which I find more appealing. I included a trace of rosewood, a natural source of linalool. This combination gave the perfume lift, but the perfume still needed a top note. I added a good amount of ambergris; aldehyde C-11-enic contributed a nervous edge, but I still needed something vibrant, not citrus, to pull people in.
I tried a good chamomile, but reconsidered when it made the perfume too piney. After adding a carefully-balanced combination of black and pink peppercorns, a lively top note came into place. It didn’t cover up the orris. It was evanescent and evaporated almost immediately.
I invited friends over to smell my new creation. Expecting raves, everyone instead agreed that the perfume was too floral, too “girly.” It was too young and innocent. To counteract this, I added a tiny bit of nonadienal. Nonadienal is ridiculously powerful and very green.
This immediately gave the perfume what I might call “spine.” It was still fresh and lively, but had a new dignity. My synesthetic colleague Kate gave it a sniff as I looked on anxiously. Clearly, not satisfied, she proclaimed, “It needs earth—like dirt.”
I knew there were obscure chemicals that smelled like dirt, but I didn’t know what they were. I brought out any kind of loamy or forest floor naturals I could think of. When she smelled my selections—oakmoss and labdanum were a few--she was clear: opopanax. In it went and, indeed, it gave the perfume a new fullness. Not only was the perfume “rooty,” but “rooted,” more grounded, with more gravitas.
When warily I asked Kate to give the concoction a sniff, she no longer saw purple.
My perfume, while brown in the bottle, had become black.