Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ask The Perfumer - Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Click the image of the batteuse that is used to agitate the pomade and alcohol 
to enlarge it so that you can see the details

It's 7:00 a.m., I'm off to get some coffee. When I return I'll be happy to answer your questions about perfumery in all it's aspects - raw materials, sourcing, blending, etc.

Just post your question in this comments section.

Adding this photo of a batteuse in response to a question about pomades.


  1. How does one know if a perfume is good?

    Does it have to age a while?

    I have some artisan perfume that initially always strikes me as "alcohol" because I am so use to essential oils in carrier.
    When I get past the alcohol there are some deep notes and florals, perhaps crisper in nature.

  2. Hello Anya,
    based on your experience, when making an all natural perfume what can be done so it can achieve some of the radiant and lively effects that a synthetic fragrance has. Is it having a larger percent of top notes, a blend of over 20 ingredients, something else?


  3. Hi Ana:

    Yes, perfumes do need to age, so that the chemical constituents can all react with each other.

    It's a common mistake to smell alcohol based perfumes right from the neck of the bottle when you open it. That alcohol blast will get you everytime ;-)

    I open a bottle, let if 'ventilate' for a few seconds, apply to my pulse points (usually the wrists), wave them gently for a few seconds, and then sniff.

    Alcohol is a great carrier, but it does assert itself a bit too much upon opening the bottle, or at first sniff, unless a little bit of time and air are allowed to dissipate it.

  4. Hi Steve:

    First, I'd avoid over 20 ingredients unless you are a very experienced perfumer who knows exactly how to balance the natural aromatics. My most complex perfume, Fairchild, only has 17.

    Natural aromatics are very complex chemicals, and mix too many, and you get the chance of making mud - just too much 'stuff' interacting. There are accords that can top the 20 mark, but again, it takes time and effort to make a perfume that doesn't get muddy after that point.

    About the radiant and lively effects: concentrate on radiant and lively essences - and I don't mean that to be a flip answer! Blending with the intent of achieving a definite purpose can lead the way.

    Alcohol and water help provide "lift" to a perfume, so keep in mind even a perfume extrait strength fragrance can have some water in it.

    There are those of us who are now working with isolates and some of those can provide what you're looking for, just remember to use them as accessory notes, not main notes, and if I can be cautionary, don't use them at all until you master "whole" essences, or you'll be shortchanging your education and practice.

  5. Odysseusm wrote (moving it here from the midweek post):

    Hello, much appreciation for your generosity to field questions.
    My query relates to the use of coniferous notes in scents. If I may squeeze in two related issues... such notes are rare, and are usually a minor element (rarely the star attraction). Yet people love the smells of Xmas trees and pine forests. Further, these scent notes are usually fleeting. I understand that wood essence molecules are relatively large, and yet they don't have the longevity of other wood notes such as cedar or sandalwood.
    Can you comment on these issues?

  6. Coniferous notes are typically accessory notes in perfume for the reason you state, Odysseusm. Very trick to create a perfume with them because of the associations. I'd be happy with a nice room spray to use around the holidays!

    About the lack of longevity in coniferous notes: you state they are woods, but for the most part, they are needles (leaves). Middle note longevity at best. You are correct in stating that wood notes last longer, but fir, pine, tsuga, etc., are needles, not wood.

  7. Hi Anya-this is a great idea! I have a question about enfleurage. I understand how to make the pomade (fat infused w/ scent of flowers) but can you please explain in as much detail as possible how to turn the pomade into an absolute?

  8. Hi Simone:

    My students will begin Module 3 in a few days, and they will learn about enfleurage then, and more in depth in the Bonus Module coming up.

    The pomade is so prized (well, was, since the French industry has pretty much abandoned it for solvent extraction), that the oil from it was labeled "flower oil" as opposed to regular absolute.

    The pomade needs to be "washed" in 190 proof alcohol. Washed means that it needs to be placed in alcohol and agitated to break up the fat clumps a bit so that the scented material trapped in there can be released. There was a contraption called a batteuse for that.

    I have wide-mouth half gallon mason jars I use for this. I open it once a day or so and whisk the contents. I do this for a month or more. Sometimes I just pick it up and shake it.

    So far I have only used the scented alcohol. The true process involves pouring off the alcohol from the fat, filtering it, and then using vacuum distillation to remove the alcohol, leaving only the flower oil.

    The scented fat that remains can be used for soaping and solid perfumes. I us organic unhydrogenated palm oil.

    I just scanned a pic of a batteuse from Guenther, Vol. 1. I'm uploading it to this blog post, check the front page of the blog. The top crank is attached to a motor that keeps it in motion. Oh, the good old days, they knew how to invent stuff!

  9. Anya,

    Thanks so much for doing this. I'm new to perfumery and I've been having trouble working with thicker absolutes (like labdanum, oakmoss, and tobacco). I've had some luck heating labdanum so that it is less viscous, but it is still too thick for my glass droppers. I haven't figured out anything that works well for oakmoss, either. Do you have any suggestions?


  10. Matt, there are a couple of things you can do.

    First off, it seems you know about "heating" them to make them more liquid. That's good. But I would take it a little further.

    Funny how those three essences are what I term "accessory" notes (as do many others.) That means they're so strong they can't typically be used as a main note in a perfume, they'd overwhelm it. Thick, strong, can ruin a blend with one or two excess drops!

    One solution? Dilute them with 190 proof alcohol. I have most of my aromatics, thick or not, in dilution because it's economical to work with them, and the alcohol "opens them up" in advance, so you have a clearer picture of how they'll smell in a perfume.

    Find one method and stick with it: weight/weight (gm/gm - my method), weight/volume (gm/ml), or volume/volume (ml/ml). My fave method means I'll get a dropper bottle (yes I use them), put it on the scale, tare the weight of the bottle, add 1 gram of say, tobacco, then 9 grams of alcohol and I have a 10% dilution. Easy to use! Remember to label the bottle.

    Pick one method, like w/w and stick with it for consistency. Or pick another, but just stick with it, or you'll kick yourself when you mess up a replication.

    If you're not going to dilute them, the second method I'd recommend is that you get a stainless steel tool, like a wax carving tool (I have an inexpensive set of them), and yes, weigh again. You can use the tool to scoop the thick stuff out of the bottle and approximate the weight and c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y add it to a blend.

    See why I prefer the dilution route?


  11. Hi Anya,

    I'm confused about the difference between a green chypre and a fougere. (I ask because I'm wondering how to classify a soap I recently made.) Is there some overlap between the two?

    Thanks again! Sorry to ask such a beginner's question.


  12. A chypre typically contains oakmoss, patchouli, lavender and a citrus top, like bergamot. Skin sensitization for leave on products (not a problem with soap.)

    A fougere (means "fern") is a "fantasy scent" since there is no fern absolute or EO. It's meant to evoke a mossy, ferny forest floor, so sometimes oakmoss is used. Fougeres contain oakmoss, and something coumarinic, like vanilla or tonka, lavender, maybe bergamot, too. They typically differ in the coumarin, and they can also have notes not typically associated with chypre, like basil and other sharp herbs.

  13. Where can I find an expensive looking but affordable (under $5 per bottle) 7.5ml - 10ml perfume bottle? I have been through the listings on the Natural Perfumers group and can find only bottles that aren't glamorous or luxurious looking at that size. The larger bottles on those links can be nice, but I need perfume bottles not eau de parfume bottles.

    There are beautiful glass bottles with glass stoppers from France, but they cost about $15 per bottle with a very large minimum order.

    I ordered crystal perfume bottles from China which were beautiful and affordable, but the perfumer's alcohol dissolved the glue that they used and they didn't have an alternative. Fortunately, I only bought a few samples.

    I have been looking for years and it keeps me from going forward with my perfume line. I know several other perfumers with the same problem.

    Any suggestions?

  14. Sourcing beautiful packaging, especially bottles, is a HUGE problem for artisan perfumers, so you are not alone.

    Have you contacted the European glass suppliers listed on the NP Yahoo group under Links? Sometimes they will have end lots of bottles that they sell at a discounted price. Sometimes Brosse does this, also. Still, you might have to shell out $8/bottle at and take the entire end lot, which may be 1000 bottles.

    I decided to go with a clean, spare modern bottle because that suits my sensibilities. Think the classic Chanel bottle, with a screw or spray top and you'll find lots. Check ABA packaging, too. Their link is there.

    Then don't get me started on boxes. I think I'd make a million if I started a perfume box manufacturing company!

  15. Hi Anya,
    My biggest challenge has been designing using materials that I have in stock, sometimes in quantities of just an ounce or two, then finding I can't source more of a comparable material once I'm ready to scale up production. It's been very challenging because I've found that some differences can't be ideally compensated for just by changing the ingredient proportions. For example, subtle differences in the character of an oil sometimes seem to be amplified once they're used in a complex blend, so substituting with new material can create a difference that may be subtle but important to the end result.

    Can you suggest a better way to approach the design and sourcing processes to avoid this problem? I realize that buying a large amount of materials, at my targeted scale of production perhaps enough to blend several hundred bottles as a limited edition, is a partial answer, but my question relates more to the initial design phases. How can I make sure that blending work to flesh out and test a vision won't turn into a frustrating sourcing experience?

    Thank you, as always, for your insights and help.

  16. Hi Aroma You:

    I just realized it would be nice if folks signed their names. Everybody knows mine, I don't know you :/

    Being a perfumer is an expensive business. I know you want an easy answer, and I'll try to give you an alternative, but realize you might have to invest thousands before you get going.

    Is is possible you buy in semi-bulk and make 16 or 32 ounces at a time? I create liters of perfume at a time, and when I create a new edition, sometimes I have to tweak and try to make the scent "identical" to the first edition.

    When you are intimately aware of the scent profile of an oil, you try to "fill in the blanks" if there is a component of the original oil - let's say rose - that is slightly different in the new rose oil you just got.

    I would either:

    1. Try to fill in that scent component that is slightly different. Let's say it's a woody or lemony aspect of a Rose de Mai. Find a complimentary oil that has that aspect, make a dilution of it, and try to make mods of your Rose de Mai until it was very close.


    2. Explain to your customers that, like wine, natural aromatics can vary from year to year due to climate and distillation practices.

  17. The forum is closed for this week. See you all next Sunday, May 2nd for Ask the Perfumer.

  18. Thank you Anya,
    I apologize for not signing my name in my last post. It's Sharon (Aromatically You), from the NPG.

    Yes, I like to make around a liter of perfume at a time once I have finalized a formula. I also buy in "semi-bulk" as you mentioned, most typically anywhere from a couple of ounces to a quarter or half kilo. How much I order of each essence depends on what I need for my initial targeted inventory of the perfume as well as on the shelf life, expected sourcing stability and price of each specific material.

    I have "filled in" missing scent components as you suggest, and in some cases that has been very effective. In some other cases, differences in materials have been a bit tougher to adjust for.

    In general, I understand that dealing with variances in materials is part of natural perfumery, so I position anything I produce as a limited edition and am prepared to make adjustments from lot to lot when I have changes in materials.

    My question stemmed more from a sense that perhaps I've been going too far in the design process before sourcing material in bulk for an initial production. Is it best to wait until I have a finished formula before I order bulk material and hope for minimal adjustment requirements (as I've been doing), or would it be better to order them earlier in the process? Or is there no consistently better answer?

    Thank you again!

  19. Thank you so much for your answer! That helped me understand conifereous scents much better.
    odysseusm (Steven)


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