More About How I Make Perfume

Sometimes two substances have no affinity and simply clash, but often something comes about that neither of the ingredients hinted at on its own. 

One such example is vetiver and patchouli. Vetiver has a lovely grassy-green, woody quality while anyone who remembers the 60s and 70s will know the warm, slightly cloying scent of patchouli, often reminiscent of leftover wine. 

To balance the two on smelling strips, I had to hold the patchouli strip at arm’s length and put the vetiver almost up against my nose. As I moved the strips slightly back and forth, something unexpected emerged: The mixture smelled like dark chocolate.

Once I find a couplet that piques interest, the next step is to quantify the mixture using larger vials or, what I prefer, test tubes.

I don’t use tiny vials or the amounts will be so small that the results will be thrown off by the absorption of the paper strip. A plastic test tube rack is just a few dollars and a hundred test tubes, scarcely more. Corks (always buy the very best you can find) can be a bit pricy, but nothing crazy. I leave mine out to aerate and reuse them.

I combine my mixtures by weight with a milligram scale I found for about 300 dollars.

When working by volume, which is much more onerous, don’t just count drops—calculate amounts in milliliters because drop size is influenced by the viscosity of the substance, the size of the opening from which it drips, and the temperature of the substance and of the environment. Always use the same funnel or pipette and work in a room kept at a constant temperature so you can pin down how many drops of a given material provides a milliliter of liquid.

Vetiver, for instance, takes about 20 drops to make a milliliter while ethyl alcohol takes 40, under my conditions. Of course, I keep careful notes of my calculations. In this way, I can make much larger quantities without having to count out conceivably thousands of drops.