Sunday, July 23, 2006

White Light, White Heat

Deceptively fragile and innocent looking, the white flowers are the secret nose bombs of the perfume world. The tuberose pictured here, from my garden, is capable of scenting the air for many meters, and the essence of the tuberose, in a perfume does the same. Diffusive, narcotic, wildly sensual, these Mexican natives hold sway over many a garden and many a lover. If you right click on view photo the larger version will allow you to see the thick waxy surface, oil cells and pollen of this lovely flower. UPDATE: I'm getting use to the blogweirdness. If you just double click the photo, it will enlarge.

The Grasse Jasmine officinale var. Grandiflorum looks like a tiny innocuous, almost boring flower, but it is the most esteemed in the perfume world. The indolic nature - has a bit of decaying funk to it - can turn some off, but its power to turn everyone else on is its secret.

The requirement that it must be hand-picked during an optimal time window each day, quickly transported to the processing plant for extraction, and has a low yield of fragrant essence per kilogram of flowers makes it an expensive, albeit crucial part of every perfumers' palette.

The Orange Jasmine isn't really a jasmine, nor an orange. It smells like jasmine, and the flowers look like orange flowers. Since I don't have a picture of orange flowers in my personal files, I'll discuss it here, blended, as I like to do in RL, with the essence of jasmine. Neroli, the distilled essential oil of sour orange flowers celebrates romantic love and purity, quite the opposite of the tuberose and jasmine already discussed. Fresh and clean smelling, neroli invokes smiles and a bit of giddiness, and is know to relax those agitated by stress or anxiety. There is also an absolute made from the flowers, and an absolute of the orange flower water. I like to combine all three in a blend for a rich, full accord.

Here is a rare photo of the legendary "night blooming jasmine". Again, another flower that smells like jasmine, but completely unrelated. This photo is from my garden, where I am often found at night, harvesting the tiny blossoms. Like the "orange jasmine" above, there are no commercial producers of the essence. I have tinctures of these two that I use in my perfumes, and they contribute a lovely, fresh, round finish to the jasmine accords.

Gardenias are up there with tuberoses with their ability to almost close off the oxygen from the air with their blanket of richly-scented molecules that can permeate the atmosphere. Gardenia absolute is practically non-existant, since synthetics have taken over the industry. Unlike jasmine and tuberose, gardenia scent is easy to synthesize. For that reason, no natural perfumers use this scent, although I am sure there are some out there to create doppelganger accords with other natural raw materials, or perhaps create their own enfleurage, infusion, or tincture.

Until a few years ago, most perfumers in the West, and this includes France and Italy, and all natural pefumers, did not use white lotus. The French and Italians perhaps (and I'm speculating here) because they were not keen on the heavily redolent Indian-sourced aromatics, the same reason Jasmine sambacs weren't seen in their perfumes. It was perhaps the natural perfumers who discovered this beauty via the internet suppliers from India who have popularized it in natural perfumery. There are still few, if any mainstream perfumes that contain this rich scent. To be in an enclosed courtyard with white lotus blooming, no breeze and the scent laying heavy, like a silken satin cloud is truly like being close to heaven.

The Michelia alba blooms are like a piercing whistle, if the tuberose and lotus are like a violin. The sweet, almost candy-like floral white champaka brings instant delight to all who approach it on my garden path. When you view he picture full size, perhaps it will remind you, as it does me, of a comet hurtling forth, a white heat white light energy flying at a fast speed -- right up your nose. It's very dynamic. In perfumery, it has to be diluted way down to take the sharp edge off, and then it reveals itself as a toned-down whistle, a soft pursing of lips, a come-hither whistle that is seductive and alluring.

Scientists have proven that most white flowers attract night-pollinating moths with their scent, and the color makes them stand out in the dark so the moths have it rather easy. The heady scent of these blooms also attract humans, bringing joy to their heart, and often a lusty response from their lower chakras. There is no denying the pull, the attraction they have, drawing others closer to you. I'll never forget an offhand remark from a neighbor, a native of Punjab, a Sikh scientist usually not given to reverie: "Everybody knows that wearing jasmine makes people come closer to you." That being true, tuberose enmeshes them in a hypnotic net, and orange blossom makes you unforgettable, a dear, sweet memory that is cherished and desired.

On a hot, sultry summer night the white light, the white heat is created, then, through the magic and alchemy of perfumery, captured and made real again, from Anchorage to Ankara, any day, any night, any season of the year.

This post wafts its fragrant path through the internet on the 80th birthday of Bob Marley's mother, Cedella, a lover of jasmine. Happy Birthday, Mother B, and may you continue to enjoy the scent of the night-blooming jasmine under your bedroom window for many more years. (I met her 10 years ago today, on her 70th birthday, and you can see a pic of that, and some subsequent b'days here: My Music Page )

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A New World

  • Perfumery photo by Peter Kaminski

  • Last night I was on the phone with another natural perfumer, and the talk turned to when we first got turned on to perfumes. I was fortunate enough to be exposed to glorious perfumes in the first big heyday of post-WWII perfume. From what I understand of history, before that, women only received perfume as gifts, but after the war, demand for the beautiful juice was prodded by returning soldiers bring lots of perfume gifts back, and the newly-liberated Rosie the Riveter types deciding they were going to snag a lot of this stuff for themselves with their new paychecks.

    So, by age 2, in 1952, I was the happy recipient of nearly-empty bottles of great perfumes, given to me by my mother, relatives,and my mother's friends. A cousin in Paris modeled for Dior, and I'm sure some of my stash came from her (she was 25 years older than me, not a child model ;-)

    So here's my funniest story: I'm about three years old. I'm sitting on the floor, lovingly evaluating two of my most precious bottles. I have no idea what they were. They were two of the most glorious scents my little nose had ever experienced. Sigh. Love. I decide, in some Germanic, efficient way, that it's better to have less bottles to clutter up, and so I'll also pour the two together and probably have an even-more-glorious perfume.

    Disaster. I can still feel/smell the shock. Horrible swill resulted from the combo. Immediate recognition that I couldn't undo the fiasco. Eyes wide, mouth hanging open, I burst into tears. I think. Maybe not. Maybe I was in too much shock. I felt like crying, I know that. The stun that Ayala (click on Ayala's blog link in the blogroll) felt the other day with her patchouli/cocoa/vetiver = dung scent - magnify that 1000 times in the nose of a child, and have the child regret the disaster, knowing she did it. Boo hoo.

    OK, so what a new world it is. The rise of perfumiastas communicating amongst each other via the internet, the wrestling of the mysteries and Closed World of perfume study away from the Biggies ensures that a new, fun, educated population of perfume lovers will forever change the scent world.

    Although I studied perfumery on my own via books from age 25, it wasn't until 1991 that I launched my first line, simple 'fumes, packaged simply (no access to "great" bottles due to the lack of internet, local suppliers, etc.). The kids in this picture, if they love perfume, should have a line out by, oh, age 15! LOL. Heck, if the kids can grab on to the computer at age three and be programming soon after, why not perfume? If they have the knack - the nose - they're off and running.

    I love it -- that's all I can say -- I love it!

    Thursday, July 06, 2006

    A Guild for Modern Times and Modern Natural Perfumers

    The Artisan Natural Perfumers Guild opened its doors on June 1, 2006. It's a Guild for the modern age, uniting artists by the internet rather than the village in which they live geographically. You can click on the Guild website to read the necessary background and glossy stuff, but in this blog I can get more personal as to what the Guild means to me, how it evolved, and how wonderful it is to see this community develop. I'm the Founder and Owner of the Guild.

    A little history: Mandy Aftel started another Guild in 2002. After problems managing the Guild, and rancor with local members, Mandy closed that Guild in 2003. Mandy came to know of my work hosting a huge - now almost 1000 members - Yahoo group on Natural Perfumery, and after a phone call last June to inquire how I was doing when the group hit a little bump in the road, she suggested I open a new Guild.

    Mandy admitted the main reason she closed the Guild was that she didn't have the knack for managing a group, and that she recognized I did.

    For any Guild, the professionals are the key. They, and their products, set the tone of the organization. I reached out and contacted professional natural perfumers to be the core of my Guild.  The natural perfumers in the Guild are not only lovely people, they produce gorgeous perfumes. The Guild suppliers are, for the most part, known to me for years, friends from many aromatherapy and herbalism chat groups. Their oils and essences, bases, alcohols and other supplies are of the finest quality.

    An extraordinary number of Enthusiasts have joined the Guild, many perfumers-in-training, honing their skills, perfecting their art, getting ready to launch their businesses. This is the true spirit of a Guild -- apprentices. We are setting up a mentoring program for them, made possible by the wonders of internet communication. They, as everyone in the Guild, also benefit from the discounts offered to the members.

    I added a new category to the Guild recently - Associate. Several producers of body care products had applied as Perfumer. When I noticed they did not produce a liquid or solid perfume, I noticed there was only the Enthusiast category, really not appropriate for them. The only criteria is that a member's products contain natural aromatics.... UNLESS...
    and I'd like to clear this up here.....if someone, a perfumer or supplier or associate... produces some products with synthetics in them, they can still be in the Guild....IF...they segregate the naturals onto their own webpage, and only display the Guild seal on that page, not on any with synthetic products. We want to cast as wide a net as possible to those who use natural aromatics only, if even only in some of their products. We all have individual tastes and preferences, and that is not an obstacle to supporting the Guild and its philosophy.

    The Guild already has a newsletter out, and another one in the works, and a private chat group on Yahoo where we can get to know each other and exchange ideas on the growth of the Guild and our art.  Viva la Guild!

    Tuesday, July 04, 2006

    Peppery, Rosy, Citrus-Drenched Memories in a Bottle

    A river in a desert is a precious thing. Parched rock and sand support few people, plants or animals. When a river or water body is found in a desert, an Oasis develops. The perfume Riverside that I have created is an homage to the botanical garden and citrus research station of the University of Riverside, California, where I received my degree in Economic Botany. It was as they say, the "salad days" of my youth, involved passionately with my studies, with my husband, dog, cats, environment, and learning how to think, since UCR was a think tank for upperclass and grad students, and the faculty there..

    Most of the time, I "worked at" having fun and playing with essential oils and attars, as I was still a few years from discovering concretes and absolutes. As often as possible, I took the UCR bus into UCLA to visit the stacks of the library where ancient herbal books were kept, and to visit a shop in Westwood, The Magic Dragon. There, the owners would draw the shades, lock the door, light up a spliff, and we'd go through their awesome supply of oils and attars from India. Four hippies owned the store, and at any given time, one of them was in India, buying stock. This was in 75-77. They had about 60 oils, all gorgeous, from the common to the extraordinary, like musk root, Ferula sumbul, and chameli and juhi attars.

    During this time I found William Kaufman's book Perfume, with its essays by Roudnitska and Carles, and I followed Carles' method of comparison and contrast in studying my oils and how they interacted. I also got Roy Genders book Perfume Through the Ages and Jeanne Rose's Herbs and Things. What fun! But how could I dream of being a perfumer? You had to go to France and that was out of the question. Besides, I cared about the environment, and was determined to follow my studies in sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, companion planting, organic farming, appropriate technology, and herbs and fragrant plants. I figured I'd settle for having "perfume parties" where I'd pull out my stash, clean toothpicks, and carefully dip each one into a different bottle and dab everyone. I also used some essential oils to flavor food and drinks, often with orange blossoms floating in the punch bowl.

    UCR is one of the premier citrus research stations in the world. Over 1200 varieties of citrus are grown there, and I took several citrus labs, where I first saw shaddocks as big as small watermelons, Thai lime leaf with its "brain fruit", and every oddity in the Rutaceae imaginable. We crushed the leaves, examined the flowers and fruits, and deconstructed the plant to know how and why it grew. I also did an internship at the UCR botanic garden and produced a booklet for them "Landscaping with Herbs". The garden had over 160 varieties of herbs, and my ethnobotany professor assisted me in the research into their history, folklore and uses.

    One event stands out clearly in my memory. One of the campus boulevards was lined up the median with the sour orange trees that produce "neroli" blossoms. Early one morning, my husband and I, armed with buckets, worked our way up the median, stripping off the blossoms. Back home, I put the blossoms in big jars and covered them with vodka. That "splash" lasted for years, decanted off into smaller and smaller jars. We also hit the Riverside city rose garden early one morning (if I recall correctly, these raids were always early on Sunday mornings), and yes, stripped the roses. What's the statute of limitations? LOL.

    At home, they were spread on the bed in the second bedroom to dry, truly a "bed of roses", which Lenny da PussyCat jumped on for a nap.

    Fast forward to my homage perfume of Riverside. There was a huge California Pink Peppercorn tree in our yard. I used to strip the peppercorns, smash them into a steak to marinate, and grill the steak. Yummy. My inspiration for the Riverside Perfume includes that pink peppercorn, roses and citrus. Bees, soil and vanilla also figure prominently, since I was always dodging bees there when I went after citrus blossoms, my husband studied soil science, and I saw my first vanilla orchid vine there.

    It's a fun, romantic perfume, and the illustration captures the desert atmosphere of Riverside, the mountains that form a backdrop, the Oasis of water and study, and the fragrant path I followed, two paths that converge out of the frame, decades in the future. Now Riverside fills the air, caresses your body, floral and citrus and sweetly vanilla, a lovely oasis of scent.

    Sunday, July 02, 2006

    Anya's Garden/Anya's Garden

    There is another Anya's Garden. It exists as a reading assignment in California schools, and reportedly comes from an old Indian folktale. I found it last year when I was googling the term Anya's Garden in anticipation of registering my website. It's a sweet little tale, made modern by the CA teachers and their pragmatic worksheet, which gives me a good laugh.
    Edited to add: If you click on the boldened phrase Anya's Garden in the first sentence you will be transferred to that site. I don't know how to make links more noticable with this template.

    Narcotic, Salty, Mossy, Fruity, Smokey, Marine

    The wild Fairchild just had to be.......overpowering, intoxicating, narcotic, sweet, sassy, sensual, foodie, wet, mossy, oceanic (in the *natural* sense) startling, and have long legs, like the botanical garden it represents, ancient by Miami standards, yet always renewing. Originally mostly swamp, it sits on the edge of Biscayne Bay, 80 acres of wonderland, from brakish flats to a slight escarpment with long axis views, open meadows, towering trees, the largest palm collection in the world (I think), sunken gardens, fruits, and yes, the flowers. Fairchild is not known for showy flowers, but due to demands of some of the board, designing floral displays into the garden is coming.

    It's the scent of the hidden flowers that gets you. The magnificent ylang ylangs, the huge pandanus (there is a Pandanus Lake there, ringed by the Screwpines), the jasmines, champakas, white and gold, the citrus... on and on. A visitor not used to the sometimes smothering effect that tropical flowers can have at night in the tropics can experience it with the perfume. A secret: not all of the hidden flowers are in the garden itself. The garden is set in the middle of a residential neighborhood, and the fragrant molecules all dance in the night air, often washed along by the salt smell of the ocean, primordial source of the land, barely thrust up from the ocean, oak mosses dripping gracefully, wild escaped herbs mistily competing with the sillage that exists few places on earth.

    I broke some perfumery rules with this one. Yes, it is balanced and well-structured, but few perfumers use such odor-intense materials. Few perfumers live in the tropics, so there! This perfume can easily make the leap from what some believe natural perfumes should smell like to commercial perfumes, partly because I broke those rules and cranked up the base and drenched the middle with sweet herbal saltiness. The topnote can vaporize in five minutes, because that is the nature of the beastly-looking flower I chose, the wild and crazy pandanus. Pandanus has two sides: a fleeting topnote and a long-lasting middle that goes on and on in a cockeyed rosy manner. It's a lot of fun!

    This perfume is a lot of fun, and not for the faint of heart.

    Artwork by me on a lazy Sunday morning.

    Saturday, July 01, 2006

    Toot that Flute, Pimp that Breeze

    My Pan is surprisingly gentle and universally rustic. No citified scent, this Pan. Green and herbal and fruity, he's the non-Metrosexual man/god. A nod to the base of male scent, the "in-heat", rutting or wild animal clamboring over rocks, frolicking in a field, dancing through a forest, playing the pipes, leading the ladies on his merry way. A humanized view of Pan from Jitterbug Perfume, made volatile and vaporous, softly clinging to the skin, almost too tame, in a way, but not if you recognize as Tom Robbins did, that Pan has lost a lot of his power, strength and yes, funk - in the modern world.

    He played musical notes that seduced and caused others to be drawn to him, and is recognized as the basis of the Pied Piper of Hamlin story. I played with aromatic notes in his honor, notes of botanicals associated with him, his woods, herbs, grapes, and flowers, and I am very happy with the green juice. This perfume for men draws you in, with the subtle pheromones of the tinctured hair of a rutting billy goat the magnet. I do believe I am the first perfumer to use this substance in a perfume. Like most animal substances used in perfumery, it is rather revolting in it's pure form. Like those essences, once diluted, it transforms a perfume into something sublime, softening all the edges, helping the notes slide up and down the scale, and adding the right touch of animal power.

    Pan will frolic around the world soon. Samples will be available the end of this month, the bottled juice soon after.