It takes many months, sometimes years, to develop a new perfume. When I finally decided to create Brooklyn Perfume Company’s Ambergris, I went through my collection of about 800 odoriferous substances and selected anything that smelled like the ocean or had facets of ambergris’ complex scent. My intention was to underline and to frame the ambergris with similar-smelling substances.
My Ambergris’ most important ingredient is ambergris itself. Once I established what tincture I was using (each has its own nuances), I fleshed it out with substances—artificial and natural—that smell like the ocean. I use a generous amount of ambroxan, justifiably a very popular molecule. It has a subtle, some would say marine, fragrance and while it blends beautifully with other ambergris ingredients, there is at least one successful perfume that uses it alone, as the sole source of its aroma.
With the ambroxan in place, I fleshed it out. Chemicals, when sniffed alone, can be harsh while natural ingredients tend to be more welcoming. Beeswax absolute is a fixative—it makes the perfume last long—and gives it a vaguely animal foundation like that of ambergris.
Immortelle lends a softness and complexity that smooths out many of the other ingredients; hay gives the perfume longevity. Seaweeds—I use a number—contribute their unmistakable scent of the ocean. Opopanax and labdanum bring an earthy complexity and again make the perfume last longer. I add oud which gives a wood note (some describe ambergris as smelling like an old cathedral) and of course makes the perfume more expensive. A trace of porcini absolute adds animal-like notes.
When I’m developing fragrances, I use 10% tinctures, but for the blend I used the pure ingredients. Once combined, the fragrance is aged before being diluted to the appropriate concentration. It is then aged some more.
Some ingredients, especially base notes, are hard to work with. For some of these mixtures I heated the bottle in a saucepan with boiling water to soften them. Other compounds are powders or crystals. The mixture ended up a hopeless ugly mush, but it smoothed out when alcohol was added for the final fragrance.
Once finished, the perfume had hardly any smell, but there was something more worrisome: the blend was black. I had hoped it would get lighter once alcohol was added, but it was still black as night. Will the public wear a black perfume?
After allowing the blend to settle for two days, I found a bunch of black gunk at the base of the cylinder. I poured off the clear (now, very dark green) liquid and filtered it into a clean flask--first with a coarse paper filter and a second time with a fine filter. When I put some in a bottle, the perfume was a beautiful olive green, but ever so slightly murky. This has led to another purchase--a small centrifuge. A centrifuge spins liquids at high speeds such that the centrifugal force pulls down any solids or heavier material. After I spin the perfume--hopefully this doesn't alter the aroma--I will set it aside for more aging, a process during which certain aromas come to the fore while others recede. As the aging continues, I will make more adjustments. In perfumery, very little is predictable.