Saturday, December 16, 2006

Artisanal - Worldwide and Wonderful

This image of perfumed gloves hand-in-hand, as if two friends reaching out and clasping hands in friendship is very evocative of the old Artisan Perfumer and Glovemakers Guild in France. The two guilds used to be intertwined, since Grasse was the center for both the perfume and glovemaking industry, and perfumed gloves were the rage for many years.

Now guilds are spread out all over the world, all with the same credo: help others learn the art of whatever the product is you are making, and work to keep the standards up by finding new methods and helping the apprentices.

The Artisan Natural Perfumers Guild, although only six months old, has 75 members now, from all over the world. This week, if you click on the Basenotes website you'll see photos of a guild member,  Alexandra Balahoutis, who was interviewed by Basenotes, and the guild logo, posted by Basenotes in recognition of the guild naming December Natural Perfume Month. It's a historic moment of our small, growing guild, and a wonderful way to go into the holiday season, as it shows that our members are out there, getting recognition for their fragrant creations and energy in the industry.

We'll all find ways around the roadblocks, eventually, as artists are persistent, we love handmade, small-scale creations, and heck, we want stuff from all over - don't deny us, darlin', we're breaking all the old regulations down.

No longer is France the stronghold of perfume or wine.

It's a no-holds-barred world we live in. The international group that makes up the Yahoo group for Natural Perfumery is able to interact on a daily basis, exchanging information on how to source, blend, or bottle. We chat about the great and mundane ideas that cross our minds as the fragrant muse moves us.

Here is a fun look at some of the group members and where they are:

You can zoom around the world by holding down the left button on your mouse and moving in whichever direction you choose. Don't miss out on clicking on the balloons to see the info and "shout out" of the different members.

If you have any trouble viewing it, go to The Frappr Natural Perfumery page You'll need DSL or broadband to view.

There are only 81 of us who have bothered to sign up on Frappr, but the group is over 1000 members. Artisan natural perfumers who toil from Bombay to Bucharest, Johannesburg to Jamestown. The perfumes being produced are incredibly varied according to style and execution. The old French standards may be acknowledged, but the modern world demands evolution and change, and they're meeting the challenge, creatively and without complaint. Can't get to Grasse to study? Get some books, interact with other natural perfumers, get your act together. It's actually pretty simple - no drama, no great expense, no snobbish attitude -- just do it!

Artisanal winemakers have been doing this for years, and winning blind taste tests against French wines. Don't get me wrong, I love French perfume and wines, but the new multicultural, multicontinental stuff rocks with a fevered heartbeat of a pioneer forging new creations from terroir. Napa Valley was my regular tour destination 25 years ago, now The Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Hudson Valley in New York and many, many more regions are staking their claim as local, artisanal winemakers.

Let's not forget the artisanal cheeses. Heck all this is making me hungry for some artisanal wine, some artisanal cheeses, and while I'm at it, I'll spray on some artisanal perfume. Ah....what a wonderful world!

Friday, December 08, 2006

December is Natural Perfume Month - Follow Up

What a great response! Many perfume blogs posted about this (see original blog entry, below) and I'll be interviewed on Marlen's Perfume Critic blog next week on the subject. The major magazines' beauty editors that received promotional baskets with the announcement were so supportive when I spoke with them - and they've been supportive of natural perfumery in the past, so we're all looking forward to the increased public awareness of the art.

The Guild is taking baby steps, reaching out, spreading the word as best we can. Thanks for Ayala for her amazing work on her blog advertising all the Guild member's sites in association with December is Natural Perfume Month. Thanks to Now Smell This, Bois de Jasmin, Scented Salamander, Indie Perfumes, Coutorture, Blogarithm, and portals far and wide who picked up on it -- and please forgive me if I've forgotten to list your blog, but let me know, and I'll add it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Bad Suppliers Will Scrooge Ya

Don't Get Toadally Scroodged
This will probably be my longest post ever here, but the subject is coming up so often on my group, weekly, in fact, I was urged to go public with it.

We recently had a chat going on my *private* natural perfumery (NP) group about NPers receiving fake aromatics from suppliers they trusted. It's not the first time this has been brought up, and it seems the same guilty suppliers are still selling bunk. Bad news for the naturals industry, since they misrepresent their oils, and we NPers are dedicated to using only natural aromatics.

Con artists, ripoffs, fakery and just plain lying have plagued the perfume industry for centuries. Nothing new under the sun there. When aromatherapy (AT) became popular a few decades ago, many enthusiasts jumped in and started importing oils and selling them to hobbyists and in turn, professionals, as the discipline grew.

I want to bring this discussion out in a more public venue such as this blog, since many newbies enter the field every day, and may not be in the private yahoo group to hear about the dirty side of the industry.

This greed and unresponsiveness of these suppliers is a terrible blight, since many of the hobbyist and beginning business people in NP shell out big money for their supplies. Of course, the bunk aromatics discussed are big money items, although even the rather inexpensive lavender oil can be tweaked by con artists to extend the oil while lowering the cost.

I'm just going to share some short recounts of what has happened to either me or my colleagues over the years. It will give you an idea what to look out for, but by no means offer you protection.

Suppliers Who Just Don’t Know the Product, Or an Honest Mistake?

AT came before NP for most of us. AT suppliers joined AT chat groups and many of us became friendly with them, and believed their spiel. For the most part, many were very honest and upfront, and if they found they were carrying an oil that was tampered with, they removed it from their site.

We also trust the supplier to know their aromatics. One, who touted she had everything GC’d (a GC is a gas chromatograph machine and the baseline test is called a GC)and vetted everything from the source on down, sent me almond oil two times when I ordered Jasmine sambac. Sambac is a darkly-colored, very highly-scented absolute. I called and asked what’s up, and was blown off with the excuse she didn’t like sambac. Well, where’s the GC I asked? No answer? Finally, on the third shipment, I got the sambac.

No explanation, no apology, dead silence from someone obviously caught selling an item she wasn’t familiar with, hadn’t had GC’d, and hadn’t even bothered to read the Arctander book she often said was her Bible to check the description. After that, she avoided my emails and phone calls, a withdrawal from someone that had called me four or more times a day occasionally, especially when she was going through a truly horrible patch of bad health and deaths in her family and that of a close friend. I suppose shame makes folks withdraw, but I’d rather she had withdrawn the bunk oils she was selling (see below for more info.)

The part that saddens me is how many novices ordered the pricey sambac and got the almond oil and never knew the difference? There are many novices out there spending lots of money to sample small amounts of pricey absolutes and Eos, and I’m afraid to think how often stuff like this happens.

Another supplier, not highly respected among AT or NPers because she serves the soapers industry (a nasty, unfounded prejudice) sent me frankincense when I ordered a helichrysum sample. I called, she immediately apologized, and sent the correct item. It was a clerk's error. This person does not post on chats, keeps to herself, never touts she has GCs done on her products, just is a very, very successful businesswoman who does not fabricate.

Another supplier, very big on the West Coast that is known for the uneven quality of the products, sent me saffron abs instead of another oil I had ordered. Called them, immediate shipment of the correct item, no questions asked.

Sometimes it’s a simple administrative error – the person filling the bottle reaches for something on the shelf, is unfamiliar with the oil, and picks up the wrong bottle, ships the wrong stuff. I can see this happening with the bigger outfits, and they were the ones to immediately correct the mistake.

We often have newbies post on my group “I bought some *** for the first time, but it doesn’t smell like the description I’ve read, what does everyone think?” We help them ferret it out, and if it seems like something I’ve shown above, we tell them to contact the supplier. I think it’s the only way a newbie can be sure they’re getting the real thing, and it can really save them money and going down the wrong aromatic road with the incorrect oil.

Another AT supplier who now sells to the NP industry has a disclaimer on her site about an oil that the “sambac” seller was discovered to be supplying the NPers with that was blatently synthetic. They often go in on buys, and had a well-known kilo of fiddled Bulgarian rose otto a few years ago rather ruin their reps, so if you get some sweetly floral, pourable, light colored linden blossom oil, return it. And ask them to stop selling it please.

How the linden blossom absolute fraud came to light: I got a call from a NPer who was trying to obtain some true linden blossom abs for a last minute replacement for a submittal that was due the next week. She had contacted the woman who was the second-tier supplier and headed the blending group that issued the deadline, and was overnighted some LBA. Except this NPer was familiar with real LBA and was full of consternation as to what to do. The woman selling the LBA got it from the “sambac” seller. She thought it was the real deal. Obviously, despite heading a blending group (not being a perfumer herself) she didn’t bother to GC stuff, since she thought the sambac seller had. Whew. Following me? Turns out all the perfumers had purchased fake LBA. She still buys from “sambac” seller, doesn’t GC and well….

…..It’s really a minefield out there.

How Can France Export More Lavender Oil than it Produces?

Well, heck I don’t know. Martin Watt, a well-respected debunker and skeptic recounts the story of how he was visiting a French distiller, and when he wandered off from the tour, and went behind a building, he found 55-gallon drums of lavender oil, imported from Italy, I believe.


I was recounting Martin's story from memory, and I got a lot of the details wrong. It's been years since he related it to me, so please forgive me. Here is what Martin wrote me today:

You got the report on me wrong. The lavender issue was I was told by a
supplier of real lavender in the UK, that when his friend visited this
factory in France, what was in the backyard were barrels of ho leaf oil
for the linalool content, as well as the chemical that converts linalool
into linalyl acetate. That means perfectly genuine lavender was going
in the front door and tourists saw that distilled. What they got in
their little bottles though was a different ballgame. Yet these
tourists would swear blind that they "saw the lavender distilled so they
knew the oil was genuine".
His page succinctly describes many of the pitfalls on a grander scale. Geared towards the AT industry, but very relevant to this article.

Many distillers, brokers and suppliers stretch and tinker with our aromatics. That is a fact of life. ATers will care if the lavender is stretched with linalool, or tweaked to smell better, since they demand stuff straight from the still. NPers are more open to a fiddled oil, since they aren’t looking for therapeutic efficacy, but scent. Still, dumping rose geranium oil into rose otto dramatically cuts the price and extends the oil, and both NP and AT folks shouldn’t accept that, that is blatent thievery:

Hey, This Stuff Doesn’t Smell Very Good/Strong/Similar

Always sample first! You can’t always ask for a GC, but if you are an experienced nose, get samples. Your supplier should supply a batch and lot number for the oil you’re getting. If not, ask for that, for sure.

My buddy in Turkey sold me a Lavendin in 1999. I loved the stuff. When I got back to him two years later, that variety was sold out, and he said a lot of people didn’t like it, so that’s why he was carrying a new lavendin. Heck, stock can turn over much quicker than that, maybe in a few months.

If I had just ordered without asking first about the batch and lot number, I’d have gotten a really different smelling product. He would not have been in the wrong, I would have been in the wrong for not trying to ascertain the sameness of the product.

That said, quality of a product can vary from year to year due to weather, soil or other conditions.
The West Coast supplier who mixed up the saffron is known for uneven quality of the oils. I always sample first and boy, did they have a watery (weak) frankincense, but yowza! their fresh ginger from Indonesia is fabulous. Still, when I reorder, I’ll cite batch and lot number, and get new samples if that original one is sold out.


I’m not even going to address gardenia (Monoi folks use perfume oils, *maybe* are making gardenia absolute nowadays, but I wouldn’t bet the farm on it), violet flower, hyacinth, lilac, freesia and many of the other supposed natural oils that are out there. A NPers started blending with some very pricey stuff purchased from a well-known AT shop in her city, and when questions were raised about these rarely-if-ever extracted scents, sent me samples of them. All bunk. She was out a LOT of money.

Many ask me to recommend suppliers. I do sometimes on my private group. On that group, I also demand that anyone who posts must have first hand knowledge of the deal that went down. It must have happened to them, not hearsay.

Why won't I publish a list of respectable suppliers? Because two suppliers had me fooled for years with their constant claims of GC'd oils, stringent demands from their sources, etc. One once sent a GC to a friend of mine. I had requested GCs from her, but always got excuses. I had the friend, whom she didn't know, request one. It was a generic GC, xeroxed on her letterhead, no date, no lab identified, etc. It would fool a newbie, but not me - I'd want the lab ID'd, the date, the lot and batch number, etc., not a xeroxed dummy GC. I still have it, like I have the GC from an Indian supplier that showed only peaks, no ID on the chem. So strange. The salesperson didn't know what the GC meant, and some of their oils were totally fake.

Get educated, get skeptical, get into a chatty community where discussions can remain private, like my yahoo group (otherwise have proof if the stuff is bunk if you go public – and I have proof about the linden, sambac and other allegations I’ve made here, but I haven’t named names) and remember that the herb and perfume industries are two of the most dishonest industries around. That’s sad to say, but it’s centuries old, and it’s not going to change any time soon. Even Martin doesn’t name names on his site – what’s the use? We all know who he’s talking about, for the most part, and if we don’t, at least we know what to look for.

The internet allows a newbie in Connecticut to hook up with a NPer group and suss out fake hyacinth, it helps a soaper perfumer in Wales learn that her linden and magnolia are very suspect. The AT and NP industries would not exist as they do without the internet, and we’re all very thankful for that. We’re all helping each other source good products, and the community is growing by leaps and bounds, and we’re creating beautiful perfumes made from as well-sourced-as-possible natural aromatics.

Then there's the story about the co-op buy of neroli from that No Cal company --- for another time, although I wonder how the suppliers that bought it passed it on to their customers, if they did so – thousands of dollars were at stake, or they'd suffer a loss. Be Careful, everyone!

Friday, December 01, 2006

December is Natural Perfume Month

December Is Named Natural Perfume Month By Artisan Natural Perfumers Guild

December is Natural Perfume Month When Fragrant Trees and Wreaths Bring the Outdoors In, and Natural Perfume is the Gift of Choice for Many

For Immediate Release

MIAMI SHORES, Fla./EWORLDWIRE/Nov 29, 2006 --- The Artisan Natural Perfumers Guild has named December Natural Perfume Month in recognition of the growing interest in natural fragrances. The first naturally-perfumed gifts associated with the month of December were those given in Bethlehem of frankincense and myrrh. Those fragrant tree resins are found in many natural perfumes today. Click below to see an enlarged picture of rare Hojari Frankincense incense, one of the most beautiful fragrances in the world:

During this month, ancient traditions called for a fragrant conifer tree, wreaths and boughs decorating the home. Today, the wonderful aroma of cooking with sweet spices like cinnamon and clove adds to the ambiance, creating a true holiday atmosphere.

Giving the gift of perfume and fragrant toiletries at the holidays can be made more special by choosing gifts made only with natural aromatics that come from flowers, leaves, woods and other botanicals. Blended artfully by professional perfumers and body care specialists in the Artisan Natural Perfumers Guild, these handmade luxurious scented treats continue the ancient heritage of natural fragrances.

The perfumers in the Guild offer traditional perfumes in an alcohol, oil or solid base, such as beeswax. Some of them also create soaps, lotions and other body care products that contain only natural fragrances, no synthetic scents.

Associate members of the Guild make soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, gift baskets, candles and many home and body care products with essential oils providing the scent. Below is Hathor's Hair Care Gift Set from A Little Olfactory

To make this a special natural holiday season and to celebrate the beauty of natural perfumes during December, Natural Perfume Month, visit links to the Guild members Web sites at Natural Perfumery, the portal for Artisan Natural Perfumers Guild members sites.