My Favorite Books II

While ThePractice of Modern Perfumeryoffers a number of formulas, it’s the incidental stuff I find most exciting. 

Author Dr. Paul Jellinek categorizes aromas into four groups: 

1  Animal (fatty; waxy; sweaty; putrid)

2  Flowers and balsams

3  Terpenes and camphors (menthol-like; resinous; green)

4  Vegetable materials excluding flowers (roots, seeds, branches, and leaves; characterized as resinous, green, or acidic. Spices are also considered stimulating)

He discusses how each of these groups affects us and arranges them in a diamond showing how they interrelate. 


In the classic French tradition, perfumers use aromatic substances from all the main groups, each represented at a point on the diamond. Anti-erogenic compounds, at the top of the chart are known as fresh, minty, piney, or calming like eucalyptus. These compounds are the main ingredients in eaux de cologne. Erogenic compounds, at the bottom of the chart, are funky animal things like ambergris, civet and musk. They are aphrodisiacs and pheremonic. These two contrasting groups are often used together, with the anti-erogenic compounds balancing and disguising the erogenic aromas, which seem disgusting to us if too strong.

Contrasts also occur between narcotic and stimulating compounds. Narcotic ingredients are usually flowers, but various balsams and balsamic compounds also fit this description. These ingredients dull the senses and create a general sense of relaxation. Stimulating compounds include spices, burnt smells, roots (such as orris), seeds (such as Angelica), leaves (such as cinnamon), and branches (such as petitgrain). 

Between each of these main odor categories are sub-categories with their own odor effects. Honey-like odors, for example, fall between the erogenic and the narcotic. These aromas are characterized as sultry. Fruity smells are both anti-erogenic and narcotic. These are referred to as soothing. Minty odors have both a narcotic and stimulating effect. Smells that we describe as “powdery” (dusty, choking), are between stimulating and erogenic. They are considered exaltants, ingredients that enhance and bring others to the fore. 

It’s quite an amazing book and I’m certainly not done writing about it....

A New Blending Method

When I began blending perfumes, I added ingredients, drop by drop, into small vials. The results were getting skewed because the test strips were absorbing too much. If I were starting out with only a few drops, the absorption of a single drop was enough to shift the balance. I now blend larger amounts, usually by weight, in test tubes.

Until now, I’ve blended by beginning with an ingredient central to the perfume. I’d then add a second ingredient until the two come into balance or, ideally, form an accord. I continue adding compounds, bringing them into balance with the ingredients already there.

However, the ingredients and the accords formed at the beginning become diluted as new liquids are added; those substances added early are likely to be obscured. The ratios change and the relationship of the ingredients shifts.

Now, in a test tube, I combine two ingredients, balance them, and, hopefully, get them to form an accord. I choose a third candidate but, instead of adding it to the first mixture, I take a second test tube and combine it with still another, fourth, ingredient to form a new balance or accord. I continue in this way, making balanced sets of ingredients in fresh test tubes until I run out of ideas.

I may end up with two test tubes or twenty, each containing two ingredients, balanced together. I combine the test tubes, two at a time, and bring them each into balance to form a new mixture of four ingredients. I continue with these sets, combining and balancing a third time to create a balance of eight ingredients and so on, eventually ending with a blend of them all.

There’s no foolproof method, but at least now all the ingredients should be present and perceptible. The ingredients are coordinated, increasing my chance of discovering a new fragrance.

Tectonic Shifts

Brooklyn Perfume Company released its line of four eaux de parfum in 2014. The reception, was enthusiastic. Several who reviewed the perfumes said they were “original.” One said “I’m at a loss for words” and declared there were two aphrodisiacs in his life: BPC’s Oud and the smell of his wife. Another found them “odd.” My 94-year old mother-in-law wears the musk. A friend, who swore he would never wear scent, puts a different one on each day. A friend’s wife hates them all. 

I sent samples of all six scents—including the new Black Iris and Ambergris--to three important bloggers. One, again described the scents as original, and gave the oud a four out of five rating. From another one, someone took the time to write a full-page letter. The letter was devastating. The third blogger stopped communicating—emails not returned, nothing.

These are people whose opinion matters enormously, not only in determining Brooklyn Perfume Company’s future, but as critiques of my work. I am thinned-skinned. 

While this has been difficult, it forces me to sit back and take another sniff. 

I think I’m being objective, but then people come into my lab and say “Oh, it smells so good in here,” when I smell nothing. This “background smell” cannot help but influence how I perceive aroma. 

The four original scents—Musk, Oud, Amber, and Sandalwood are what they are. I’m not going to change them. But the new scents, my beautiful Black Iris, hated by all, and Ambergris, smelling like chemicals, must be reevaluated. 

To learn, I smell others’ iris perfumes. While I have not found one that reminds me of orris, they all have top notes, some lovely, that pop out immediately. They pull you in. At the risk of sour grapes, I like none.

I shall continue my search for a convincing top note. For now, the heart and base seem ok.


Para Cresols

Para cresols smell like the creosote painted on pier supports. While this sounds weird, cresols are essential for some flower scents, especially narcissus and lily. I sometimes use para cresols along with another funky compound, indole, which in many flower fragrances provides the needed dark notes.

Don’t be too perplexed by the use of both “cresol” and “cresyl.” There is a difference—it seems that cresyls are derived from cresols—but I’m not certain how important it is; I just smell them on their own merits. 

While there are many cresol derivatives, I only use four. Para cresol, the starting point for the others, smells like a medicinal cross of creosote, phenol, camphor, and coal tar. When diluted 100 or more times, it smells floral.

Para cresyl acetate—while clearly related to para cresol—has an almost fruity aspect and a bit of licorice, along with the dissonant tar quality. If you hold the top of the bottle far enough away from your nose, you can imagine it as part of a flower. The traditionally recognized aroma is of horse urine, which I don’t get, probably because I don’t hang around stables. It’s more powerful than para cresol.

Para cresol methyl ether has an almost peppermint aspect, but is pungent and powerful. Again, it gives nuances to florals such as jasmine and lilac. 

My favorite is para cresyl phenyl acetate. When I stick my nose into the jar of pure powder, I get a relatively mild, funky, almost natural musk quality, and a general animal smell. I like combining a trace of para cresyl phenyl acetate with artificial musk. This brings out a natural funk that reminds me of real deer musk.


My Favorite Books

Whenever a new obsession strikes, I get online and buy every relevant book I can find.

In perfumery, this isn’t easy. There are a million aromatherapy books, but there aren’t many on perfume to begin with and those that do exist are often outdated or too technical.

These books are expensive. I paid very dearly for Stephen Arctander’s book, Perfume and Flavor Ingredients of Natural Origin, now in a new edition for about a 20th of the price.

Since many of us don’t have these books or access to them, I want to discuss them in upcoming posts.

My earliest books are from the 19th century, more curiosities than anything.

My first important book, The Practice of Modern Perfumery, acquired for $150, by Paul Jellinek, was published in 1949. For those eager to make vintage-style perfumes or who want to recreate the classics, this is a boon.

First, there is a discussion of smelling technique, compounding technique, and methods for matching, but the book doesn’t get exciting until we reach, “Tables of Perfume Complexes,” formulas for mostly floral perfumes. At first glance, I’m struck by the percentage of naturals, sometimes up to 60%.

Narcissus, one of the simpler formulas, has only 14 ingredients of which only two are naturals, petitgrain (“Grasse”) and ylang ylang. It contains many of the classic synthetics, still used, but, nowadays, in conjunction with modern compounds such as hedione. Hydroxycitronellal, with its muguet notes, makes up 20% of the formula, while heliotropin (cherry pie) contributes 10%. Funky indole makes an appearance at 1%. There is also phenylacetaldehyde (hyacinth) and the usual suspects: terpineol (woody/green), geraniol (geraniums/rose), linalool (handwipes), benzyl isobutyrate (fruity/floral) and isoeugenol (cloves).

But the aroma of narcissus cannot be made with these compounds and naturals alone. It needs para-cresols, strange and dissonant substances that can lend a minor key.

More about these to come.


Blending Black Iris: Part II

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.


Blending Black Iris: Part I


Blending Black Iris: Part I

Iris flowers have very little scent. The secret is in the roots, which must be aged for five years to bring out their aroma. Once ground into a fine powder, the roots are distilled to yield a small amount of aromatic “butter.” Perfumers call this “orris butter.”

Orris butter contains up to 22% irones. Irones—there are many isomers—provide the distinct and complex orris aroma of violets and roots. This juxtaposition is a combination so compelling that it’s hard to take one’s nose out of the bottle.

There exists one problem: orris butter costs $600 an ounce. Clearly, the aroma must be extended and modified. This requires naturals and aroma compounds.

I started out with an expensive bottle of alpha irone, but it didn’t have much smell—certainly not as much as the butter itself. (Don’t confuse irones with ionones. Ionones are inexpensive and, while they smell of violets, are less strange and intriguing than real orris.) Alpha irone, the most common form and the only one I had, is insufficient; an exact combination of isomers, most hard to find, is needed to recreate the smell.

Giving up on the alpha irone, I began with the butter itself. My plan was to build up both the rooty and floral aspects without obscuring the orris. I added a tiny amount of angelica seed and a trace of carrot seed to bring the root facets into vivid focus. This left the floral aspects obscured. I restored them with a little heliotropin, forming a stunningly beautiful accord. But the perfume still lacked power and was a bit too somber.

I added some aroma chemicals—boisiris, dihydro ionone beta, orivone were a few—to underline and intensify the orris. Next came some of my own musk as well as indole, with its peculiar and rather disagreeable aroma designed to draw insects, and isoeugenol, which smells like cloves.

Wanting a wood component, I added kephalis, one of my favorite wood molecules, and a lot of fixamber, a woody/violet compound, to lead into the orris. I also added oud for mystery.

We will see if it was enough.

Blending Day for Ambergris

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.  



Our Own Animal Smell

We are tropical primates and we smell like them.

We each have an odor our own. Some fragrances suppress our smell, others heighten it; the best merge with it and bring about a personal scent, a scent that endures and becomes indelibly associated with whoever chooses to wear it. Such a perfume is powerfully seductive. 

What smells strong to some on their own skin may seem mild on someone else’s. I was amazed when one industry influencer said that my musk wasn’t very animalic when I find it the most animalic musk I know. It is true that fragrances on me become musky while on some people they dry down with the clinical predictability of a blotter strip.

Of course, our culture contributes to how we respond to odor. When I lived in Paris in the 1970s, the metro stunk of dirty hair and much worse. I won’t comment on anything more intimate, but I had two close friends who both worked 12-hour shifts at a dumpy hotel in Châtelet, then known for its whores. Because they worked with the owner for their entire shift, they knew that after two months, she had never taken a shower. 

At one time perfumers used natural musk and civet, glorious smelling ingredients that nowadays are considered unethical. Castoreum is an incidental byproduct of beavers killed for fur and most perfumers avoid it. Today, smelly and animalistic ingredients must be disguised. People shouldn’t know that they’re wearing indole, which in the plant kingdom, draws flies. The odors will be there, just not consciously.

But don’t get depressed—there are still a lot of good funky things out there.

Ambergris, the subtlest of the animal aromas, reminds me of isopropyl alcohol, but one that has been made super complex and beautiful. It is ethical to use because it washes up onto beaches where it is harvested, usually by dogs. It gives perfumes a certain joyous enthusiasm and heightens their aroma. Beeswax absolute is another natural compound that adds an animal component to a composition. It increases the complexity and richness of artificial musk. Ambrette seed, while not terribly funky, is musky despite being a plant. Added to funky compositions, it adds another facet. 

While most perfumers include little or no oud in their oud perfumes and certainly not as a backup ingredient in other compositions, oud adds funk. Ouds come in many forms, imparting anything from barnyard scents to ethereal almost transcendental aromas. They are almost always sexual stimulants. One perfumer on an online perfume forum ( said that he knew two aphrodisiacs in this world: the smell of Brooklyn Perfume Company’s Oud and the smell of his wife. 

I experience this erogenous effect, even when oud is used in trace amounts. I perceive the effect not by smell, but by a peculiar vertigo—oud literally makes my head spin. 

Perfume should merge with our natural smell. To decide what smells good, try fragrance on your own skin. But be careful, it may bring the beast out in you.


My New Sexy Pheremones


I’ve read so much about pheromones and, whether I’m certain they exist or not, I do know that certain perfumes cause sexual arousal. This has happened with three of my own perfumes—perfumes that have sent those who smell them directly into the bedroom. One perfumer said that my oud was the only aphrodisiac in his life except the smell of his wife. Erogenic smells always have a little bit of funk. I’ve gotten this effect with oud (which sometimes smells like Roquefort) and various combinations with tobacco. I also use musk, but since artificial musk has little resemblance to the natural product, I’ve added funky compounds to give it animal aspects. There are those who smell it and suspect I’ve put something natural in it.

When using these smelly things, they must be kept just below the level of consciousness. Often the aroma of animal compounds doesn’t show up until the perfume is applied to the skin. In my own experience, there are many natural essential oils and absolutes—osmanthus comes to mind--that smell floral or fresh out of the bottle, but turn animalistic on the skin. In most cases this is ok and may precede the ultimate dry-down—when a product intensifies the smell of your own skin and makes it very sexy.

One of my new pheromones is derived from truffles and makes pigs go wild. Since it seems that pigs and humans have many traits in common (especially in the metaphorical sense), it’s at least worth experimenting with. What I find interesting is the quality of some animal products to enhance the aroma of whatever it is they are with. This is true with truffles in cooking. It’s not so much the flavor of the truffle (although there’s nothing to complain about), but the quality of enhancing the foods it accompanies. An omelet will taste more like eggs, cream more like cream, and chicken more like chicken. It makes sense that truffle-like compounds (i.e. pheromones) also enhance the aromas around them, such as perfume and the skin of those who wear it.

Three weeks after ordering my pheromones, a small registered package arrived from Thailand. It contained three compounds: androstenone (derived from men’s armpits), beta-andrestenol (derived from truffles), and copulins (from female sex glands). They come in dilutions of 1000 parts per million, which is .001%. To use them, they are supposed to be diluted another 10 times, so they end up at .0001%. Higher concentrations are supposedly detectable (although I find little odor when I sniff the bottles) and hence should be avoided.

To test them, I’d need a large sample of couples to smell the stuff and then report their activities afterward. Being that this is impractical, I’m going to have to rely on anecdotal reports.

All of this brings to mind a crazy idea. What if perfumes were designed to attract one sex or another? My oud, for example, has no gender identity, it’s just oud. But, I could add female attractants to attract straight guys and lesbians, and male attractants to attract straight females and gay men. Two versions. And what if I add both?

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.

Fooling Around with Jasmine

I’ve been playing a new game: I reconstruct flowers, working with a list of essential oils, absolutes, and aroma compounds, that gives no quantities. The challenge is to balance the amounts of these ingredients to come up with a viable replica of the flower at hand. Ideally, you have the real flower next to you to guide you. Second best, use a good absolute to provide a smell comparison. As a basis for my experimentation, I used a list of ingredients, grouped by class, in Perfumery: Practice and Principles by Robert Calkin and Stephan Jellinek.

            Benzyl acetate is perhaps the most classic of jasmine aroma chemicals, used in every formula I’ve seen. While its aroma does in fact resemble jasmine, it is coarse and industrial. Other benzyl esters—benzyl proprionate, benzyl valerianate, benzyl isobutyrate and dimethyl benzyl acetate—are used to modify the basic benzyl acetate aroma. Each has its nuances, some fruity, and some a little funky.

            The second grouping of compounds is based on phenylethyl alcohol with its distinct rose, but chemical, aroma. Phenylethyl acetate smells a little like wine that has evaporated in the bottom of a glass. Other compounds are phenylethyl butyrate, phenoxyethyl isobutyrate and phenoxyethyl alcohol. When combined with phenylethyl alcohol, these compounds contribute to the rosiness while attenuating the chemical finish of phenylethyl alcohol.

            Fool around with the rose compounds until you have a mixture you like and combine this mixture with the jasmine mixture. In the finished perfume, I ended up using equal parts of the benzyl acetate complex and the phenylethyl alcohol mixture, but if you do this at the beginning, the benzyl acetate mixture takes over. I started out with five times the rose mixture to the benzyl acetate mixture to achieve the right balance, but added more of the benzyl acetate mixture as I continued adding other ingredients to the perfume.

            After achieving a balance between the jasmine (benzyl acetate) mixture and the rose (phenylethyl alcohol) mixture, it’s time to experiment with muguet (lily of the valley). Three compounds—hydroxycitronellal, lilial, and lyral—are usually used for the lily of the valley aroma. This light and fresh mixture is added to the jasmin/rose mixture in about equal parts muguet, rose, and jasmine mixtures. The mixtures need to be evaluated to get the ratios right.

            Geranium, which is very rose like, is often used in floral perfumes. Its chemical backdrop is geraniol which in fact does smell like geranium, but without its richness and irresistibility. I used three parts geraniol to five parts muguet complex.

            Eugenol and iso-eugenol are essential to emulate the spicy, slightly clove-like character of jasmine. Be careful, but you may find that the formula calls for a considerable amount.

            Floral perfumes invariably contain linalool. Linalool has a unique freshness that most of us have encountered in hand wipes. Linalyl acetate, closely related, is subtler with an almost pine-like aspect. Be careful when using linalool and linalyl acetate; while they smell light, they can easily take over.

             Green notes come next and we encounter our first natural, violet leaf absolute. Violet leaf is very green with a distinct aroma of cucumbers. Our author also suggests hexenyl acetate as a green note. It’s not as green as the violet leaf, but lacks the cucumber aspect which, if you’re not careful, can take over.

            Many flowers contain cinnamon aspects as well as those of clove. In classic perfumery, the fallback cinnamon compounds are amyl cinnamic aldehyde, hexyl cinnamic aldehyde, and cinnamic alcohol. Amyl and hexyl cinnamic aldehydes are relatively subtle. If I want a distinct cinnamon note, I use cinnamic alcohol.

            Aurantiol and methyl anthranilate (both smell like Concord grapes) add a necessary fruitiness.

            Indol is one of the most important ingredients in jasmine and certain other flowers. It’s stinky at best, but is essential because it draws flies which the flower depends on for pollination. If you smell the indol alone, you’ll have a hard time imagining it in your perfume, but you may find that your formula requires a fair amount of it to bring the flower aroma into focus.

            Jellinek’s next suggestion includes the family of paracresols: paracresol, paracresyl acetate, paracresyl phenylacetate. At first sniff, paracresols smell to me a little bit like creosote, but with an intriguing animal aspect that goes well with florals, especially narcissus. There’s something dark about these smells; they make a composition veer toward a minor key.

            Last, Jellinek suggests using naturals to give vitality, freshness, and to smooth out the composition. Ylang and cananga are both on the list. These have very similar aromas, but cananga (which is sometimes used as a cheap substitute for yang), has a slightly vegetative aspect that works in this formula better than ylang. It should be added in very tiny amounts.

            I carefully sniffed my composition next to a good jasmine absolute and found that the jasmine had a wild non-floral aspect that reminded me a bit of hay. I added a tiny amount of hay absolute to provide these notes. Immortelle (an absolute of helichrysum) has a distinct aroma of maple and curry with a suave background. It added considerable finesse and smoothness.

            My last addition, before reinforcing the jasmine with jasmine absolute and the chemicals with naturals, was mimosa absolute. Mimosa, again, smooths out a composition and rounds out its subtle and complex aroma.

            Frankly, I’ve been amazed by the result. The potion really smells like jasmine. It’s not as voluptuous and hasn’t the same deep richness, but it might very well take someone in.

            The composition is finished with jasmine absolute to fill in the nooks and crannies that the chemicals and naturals didn’t reach. In commercial perfumes, there’s a trace of jasmine if you’re lucky. Vintage perfumes contained as much as 4% of the absolute. 

            If you’re making a fine perfume, you may want to reinforce the chemical aromas with those of naturals: rose for phenylethyl alcohol, rosewood for linalool, geranium in addition to the geraniol, clove with iso-eugenol, and cinnamon in addition to cinnamic alcohol. Be careful with these naturals—they’re very powerful.

            One interesting observation. I’ve always heard it said that chemical compositions of flowers and other fragrances last longer than naturals. That’s not the case here. The jasmine absolute lasted much longer on the strip than did the chemical mixture. 

Marine Aromas: The Smell of the Sea

I’ve always wanted to smell like the beach, not a crowded beach with its overtones of suntan lotion and salt water on skin, but a solitary beach with a scent like steamed mussels and freshly cracked oysters. On top of this irresistible sea-fresh quality I would find complicated aromas of assorted creatures in various states of decay combined with seaweed, and the smell of salt itself. (Salt is odorless. Its smell comes from assorted minerals and organic matter.)

This interplay of smells, constantly shifting, has me searching for information on how to smell like the ocean.

Much of what I have learned has come from my own experiments. I started out by going through my collection of naturals and aroma chemicals to find those that smell of the sea or some component thereof. Before I began combining these aromatic materials, I put each (in a 10% tincture) on a smelling strip and noted the length of time for the aroma to fade. My goal was to create a basic frame that would persist long enough for the final mixture to be considered a perfume while using more delicate materials up front such that they fade at differing rates, leaving the perfume’s final aroma to change and intertwine just like the odors on the beach.

Seaweed absolute is the most obvious material for such a beachy accord. Seaweed absolute is expensive, but goes a long way and is rather divine in that most examples (mine comes from Eden Botanicals) are truly representative of the real thing. The smell reminds me exactly of konbu, the dried seaweed that Japanese cooks use to prepare dashi, the base broth for innumerable soups and stews. The odor is complex and deeply sea-like. It is one of those things you smell on a stroll along the seashore. It smells like ambergris, not the tincture, but the actual material.

Ambroxan (also called Cetalox) is one of the most useful aroma chemicals for sea-like accords. It’s such an appealing substance that a perfume has been made featuring it alone. The molecule is one of the components of ambergris and is reminiscent of ambergris, but not really like the actual thing. It is very popular these days—I smell it everywhere—no doubt because of its austere yet oceanic feel. I use it along with ambergris itself because it reinforces the smell of the natural product.

Grisalva, which I associate with ambroxan, is subtler. Grisalva, too, has a sea-like note, but is also ever so slightly dissonant in that it contains a funky animal aspect. Next to ambroxan it is quite subtle, but provides another note. It reminds me a bit of hot sand.

Nonyl alcohol is a discovery that I’ve never read about. It has a distinct oceanic quality, is powerful and lasts a long time. It also lacks finesse. It has a coarseness which must be attenuated with more delicate compounds. It makes a good base note.

I’ve never thought of the ocean as aldehydic before, but cyclamen aldehyde has not only its own special aldehyde character, but a definite aquatic quality. It gives lift to my various experimental mixtures. It’s very clean and reinforces the impression of saltiness.

Calone is classic in marine accords. It is distinctly ozonic with a clean background. It works perfectly toward achieving the cracked oyster effect. It’s hard to imagine a marine accord without it.

At many points during my experimentation, I ran into situations where the mixture “needed something.” I don’t know how it occurred to me, but I added a trace of oud to my blend. When oud is used in small amounts—high dilutions—I can’t smell it, but rather sense it. It lightens and excites. It awakens the senses, especially smell.

There is, of course, ambergris. I’ve allowed myself to use up to 10% of a 3% tincture in my experimental marine blends. This is 10 times the amount normally used in classic perfumes.  Much is made about ambergris’s persistence—it is indeed persistent, but very subtle—and very little is said about the top notes it provides. When added in even trace amounts, ambergris gives a mixture a special punch right up front. The aroma is strangely like isopropyl alcohol—the classic rubbing alcohol nose—but with a magical finesse and complexity. It’s one of those ingredients, like musk and other animal products, that make it hard to pull your nose away.

One of the most fascinating marine ingredients is Helional. I was using it, with little effect, before realizing that my batch was old and had deteriorated. (Helional should be kept in small bottles with little air in them.) When I got a new bottle, the aroma I remember—the closest anything comes to smelling like water—was again there. It’s a wonderful substance and just what I needed for my blend.

Because so many ingredients come into play, I’m not able to mention them all now. I’ll discuss them in an upcoming post.

After a few months of daily experimentation, I had come up with a beautiful and elegant marine perfume that didn’t last long enough and barely projected. I was either missing a fundamental accord or I needed longer-lasting ingredients.

Frustrated, I looked for aromatic compounds that would last longer. The plan was to make another accord—almost its own perfume—that would stay on the skin as the more delicate and fleeting scents evaporated.  

I went on line in search of anything aquatic or ozonic and came up with a few things. The two most interesting were Azuril and Ultrazure. They both last a long time and have a powerful smell like the sea. Azuril has a slight animal quality while Ultrazure is cleaner. I might say that Ultrazure is like high tide and Azuril like low tide. Like nonyl alcohol, these ingredients lack finesse and must be attenuated with softer and more delicate compounds, perhaps naturals.

I blended my longest lasting ingredients—ambroxan, Ultrazure, and nonyl alcohol—to make a mixture that smelled enough like the sea that it would combine well with my initial blend. When I put the two together, the perfume opens with the ambergris and then comes out with the smell of a lonely beach. Natural compounds such as beeswax absolute, seaweed absolute, a trace of oud, and a drop of helicrysum smooth out the mixture and make it organic and natural smelling. Finally, the ambroxan-nonyl alcohol-Ultrazure accord takes over and the perfume dries down on the skin after about 2½ hours. Not as long as I would like, but the perfume is so inviting that I suspect most customers would put up with it.  


I’ve been going to various perfume and beauty product events and have found that people, primarily women, want a floral. I’ve been letting people smell rose otto and they go nuts.

So, to the drawing board it is.

I’m starting out using Jellinek’s notes (see earlier entry) about what goes into a rose perfume and how to modify the basic formula.

I’ve started out with phenylethyl alcohol which has a definite aroma of roses, albeit in a chemical context that reminds me a little bit of coal tar. Artander (the best reference for this kind of thing), describes it as “Rose-honey-like of moderate to poor tenacity…” and, later, describes how it is used in concentrations of up to 20% in a formula. Most enticing is this: “…with an apparently weak crystalline fixative/odorant, such as trichlolo methyl phenyl carbinyl acetate…” in 5% solution will make the smell more rosy and also make it last longer. Jellinek doesn’t mention it, but does mention Rosatol (which I don’t have), phenylethyl dimethyl carbinol, dimethyl benzyl carbinol acetate, and dimethyl benzyl carbinol butyrate, these last three which I do have. Experiments will ensue.

Jellinek suggests that phenylethyl esters be combined with the alcohol to give it character and nuance. I looked through my collection and found phenylethyl acetate, phenylethyl isobutyrate, phenylethyl proprionate, and phenylethyl benzoate. My own notes: I detect no odor from phenylethyl benzoate. The strongest smell is from phenylethyl isobutyrate. It’s clearly persistent (it smells on the strip after hours), but not terribly agreeable, at least on its own. I get fruity and nutty notes. Phenylethyl proprionate is similar to phenyl ethyl isobutyrate, but with a fruity aspect. Phenylethyl acetate has a fresh, rosy aspect.

Here’s what Arctander has to say:

Phenylethyl acetate: “Very sweet, rosy-fruity, honey-like odor of moderate to poor tenacity. The fruity notes are mostly peachy with a pleasant leafy-green tonality, the rosy notes are very sweet, almost towards Gardenia.”

Phenylethyl benzoate: “Very faint floral-balsamic odor reminiscent of dry rose leaves and petals with a soft, honey-like undertone and excellent tenacity. The odor of this ester may not impress the observer on the first encounter, but in use it displays very attractive effects, other than the fixative effect.”

Phenylethyl isobutyrate: Not mentioned

Phenylethyl proprionate: “Very warm, herbaceous-rosy, deep-fruity and moderately tenacious odor with a delicately spicy note (warm-balsamic).” “This ester is, in the author’s opinion, one of the most useful of all the derivatives of phenyl ethyl alcohol. Its virtues are often vastly underestimated by many perfumers, and the material is left unused on the shelf…”

Clearly, I must try combining phenylethyl alcohol with each of these to see which will lend itself to my rose.

My attack plan consists of building a basic chemical structure that is both persistent and projects. Once that’s in place, I’m going to add an unreasonable amount of white rose absolute, rose otto, and white rose otto. White rose otto costs about $50 a milliliter. If everything goes according to plan, I’m going to make a white rose perfume that’s going to blow the mind. 

Zeroing In

I’m finally zeroing in on my ambergris perfume. I worked my way through my aroma chemicals and naturals to see what reminded me of ambergris, the sea, the beach, and anything related to the ocean. I rounded up such goodies as nonyl alcohol, seaweed absolute, calone and about a dozen other things ...