Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How much training does it take to create a successful perfume of your own?

I knew I had done it when my wife started wearing it without being prompted. I knew I had done it when, in the late afternoon, I could still detect the clear aroma of the perfume she had put on that morning. I knew without a doubt that I had created a fragrance that (1) my wife liked well enough to USE without being prompted, (2) that had enough RADIANCE so that I could detect it on her from a distance, and (3) that it had enough TENACITY to last all day. I was even more gratified to learn that several of her friends had ASKED her what perfume she was wearing ... because they liked it too!

How much training does it take to create a successful perfume of your own, on your own? A number of people have asked me where I got my training in perfumery. The fact is that my "training" is quite limited and nothing that is not, today, available to anyone who wants it badly enough and who is willing to read, learn, spend a little money, and discipline themselves to think, smell, take notes, and keep at it.

It doesn't come by magic and it doesn't come overnight. But unless you get started and work at it, it will never come at all.

My starting point was DESIRE. The desire to LEARN how to create perfume. This much I knew: perfume or cologne is a mixture of alcohol and fragrance compound. The alcohol is plain ethyl alcohol, commonly denatured due to tax regulations and frequently sold under such names as "perfumer's alcohol" or some such. In the United States, the approved methods of "denaturing" alcohol are found at the Treasury Department's website. "SD-39" and "SD-40" are the common denatured formulas for the ethyl alcohol used in cosmetics and perfumery.

Once the alcohol and fragrance compound have been mixed and allowed to blend thoroughly, all that remains is to bottle and package your perfume or cologne.

As far as the perfume or cologne itself is concerned, the key to it all is the "juice" -- the fragrance compound to be mixed with the alcohol, and THIS is what perfumers create. This was what I wanted to learn how to create. Getting started was not easy.

For me, the beginning was books. I searched for any books I could find on perfume making. Some books along this line exist. The best are expensive and sometimes quite hard to find. And the books I found inspired me. But what was missing was A FOUNDATION because these books were all written for people with SOME background and experience in perfumery. The fundamentals -- the basics of perfume creation -- were missing from these professional books.

Moreover, while the books talked about many common aroma materials, they made no suggestions as to WHERE these materials might be obtained, particularly in small and affordable quantities.

Everything changed for me when I discovered the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course. Is this just a blatant plug for a commercial product? Yes, I sell it at my website. And yes, I'd like to sell many times more than we now sell. But "yes," also, this home study course is the ONLY course I know of that is available to ANYONE to get you started in a professional way toward becoming a professional perfumer.

Now let me scroll back to the perfume I was talking about at the beginning of this article. It's called "Code Name: 'Paris'" and what's special about it is that, with the exception of a trace of one single aroma material, ALL of the aroma materials that I used to create "Code Name: 'Paris'" are materials that are included with the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course.

For me, this home study course, which comes with aroma materials and supplies, was MY starting point in professional perfumery. Can YOU create your own perfume too? Hey, your nose may be a lot better than mine and YOU might go farther even faster!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Pink perfume? This has to be the reason!

Suppose you are introducing a new perfume -- on an absolutely tiny scale, a scale so small that it would be a real drag on (potential!) profits to order special bottles ... and pumps.

Spray pumps, in small quantities (1,000 or fewer) aren't exactly cheap. Worse still, limited styles are available because you'll generally need a screw-on pump rather than the "crimp style" pumps used by ALL major fragrance marketers (unless you want to shell out about $2,500 for a "one at a time" manual crimp machine!)

But suppose you have -- in your inventory -- several thousand "bulb style" fine mist sprayers. And suppose you hand a generous supply of 2 ounce bottles to which these bulb sprayers will fit quite nicely. Then -- the icing on the cake -- suppose you also have a good supply of screw-on caps that will fit your 2 ounce bottles, to using during shipping as spray bulbs, if attached to the bottle, will leak in transit.

Then the only problem is that ALL of your beautiful spray bulbs are ... hot pink!

Now do you understand the dilemma?

Taken together, my bottles and spray bulbs look quite nice -- and are nicely functional. But what about the image? How do you fight against hot pink? And these hot pink spray bulbs did not take well to dying when I attempted to change the color of one.

Would it be better then to have a pink perfume?

The result is Pink Gardenia. The perfume may not be quite as pink as the spray bulb but at least it suggests that direction.

But perhaps next time I buy a large quantity of spray bulbs I'll be sure to get another color!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

“I have an idea for a perfume”

At lest once every 2 weeks I receive an email with the message, “I have an idea for a perfume.” Usually the message concludes with a phone number and the words, “call me.”

Perfume is a funny art form. If somebody said to you, “I have an idea for a painting” you might respond, “So what? Why talk about an idea for a painting? Just go out and paint it!” Likewise, in songwriting, music composing, and writing poetry or books. You don't talk about your “idea for...” You go out and do it.

But I fear that when someone approaches me saying “I have an idea for a perfume,” they are thinking like the person who has an idea for (1) a new Hollywood blockbuster, (2) a new hit game show, (3) a brilliant new product everyone will buy, ... etc. Their vision is on a pot of gold, not a bottle of perfume. They are looking for 90 percent of the profits on a project where 100 percent of the capital, research & development and marketing will be provided by somebody else. And to think that Coco Chanel only got 10% of the profits on her “No.5” perfume! Going through the process of making “their” perfume is not to their taste at all!

Now if someone comes to me and says, “I have an idea for marketing a perfume, where can I get my own perfume without spending a fortune?” I have an answer. I simply tell them to buy a copy of my book, "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup" and read it. It gives the would be perfume marketer a detailed description of how you can get your “juice” (perfume compound) without spending a fortune and the steps you'll have to go through to bottle it and get it ready to sell. And the less you are hung up on exactly what your perfume must smell like, the simpler the “get it to market” process becomes.

But what about the rare case of the person whose idea for a perfume actually involves wanting to achieve a specific fragrance?

Among those whose serious interest is the fragrance itself, I've seen (and heard about) some pretty far out ideas (which I'll not detail in the interest of potential client confidentiality!) The more far out of these ideas would give a chemist headaches in trying to sort out what combination of molecules just might take the perfumer in the right direction – without burning the skin off the consumer, causing an explosion, or producing such a toxic mess that it could only be transported by a hazmat team.

But suppose YOU have “an idea for a perfume” and you're serious about it, so serious that you are willing to learn a bit about perfume creation, even if you suspect that you may not, on your own, come up with a perfect recreation of the perfume of your mental vision? If you fall into this elite group of artistic but practical people, I have an artistic – and practical - suggestion for you. It's called the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course.

Last spring I had the opportunity to spend a few days with Steve Dowthwaite, founder of PerfumersWorld and creator of the Foundation Course. Steve was conducting a 5-day workshop in New York City and one of the practical exercises involved having students “match” a classic fragrance using just 25 aroma bases (all of these are provided in the Foundation Course kit.)

For one very classic fragrance, some good matches were created. For a second fragrance, no good matches were produced but there was a good deal of discussion – and some suggestions by several chemists – why a credible match for this fragrance could not be produced from our 25 aroma bases. (Later I was told that a number of top perfumers had failed at this same challenge, only they had been using far more than 25 aroma materials!)

The fact is that perfumery today makes use of some very state-of-the-art aroma materials, some of which are held very closely by the companies that created them and are NOT available to just anyone who might want them.

So if you have an idea for a perfume – a vivid mental picture of a fragrance you would like to create – or see created, the Foundation Course might NOT be the answer for you ... unless --

Unless you really have a long-range interest in perfume, an interest that is so strong that you are willing to accept the reality that, at the beginning of your work in perfumery, you will not be able to produce fragrances of the quality you will be able to produce as your work progresses. For example, you can't expect to pick up a guitar for the first time and give a sellout concert. You have a learn a few cords first.

If your interest in perfumery is limited to realizing this one particular perfume that is stuck in your imagination, and if this one perfume idea of yours just happens to be a “difficult” fragrance to match, your best hope is to recruit a perfumer who will work with you although this could be expensive.

So it's all a matter of motivation. Do you want to create just a single perfume ... or do you want to become a perfumer?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Creation of my "Pink Gardenia" Perfume

This blog was inspired by my own work in perfumery which started with the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course, a home study course in creative perfumery which I began in 2005 and which, thanks to my relationship with PerfumersWorld, I now sell at my PerfumeProjects website.

The starting point in the Foundation Course is a set of 25 perfume bases and one non-alcoholic solvent representing the letters "A" through "Z" in the "ABC's of Perfumery" teaching method developed by perfumer Stephen V. Dowthwaite, founder of PerfumersWorld. Using nothing more than these 25 bases, you can "match" a very wide variety of fragrances and fragrance types -- IF you give your nose a bit of training. More important, you can imagine -- and create -- excellent, original perfumes of your own.

Now, while finishing my final adjustments on a men's cologne (Blackberry), I've returned to a woman's fragrance I started last summer. For reasons I'll explain in another post, I've called it Pink Gardenia.

Blackberry was inspired by a black currant base from PerfumersWorld but the formula itself makes use of both a number of essential oils and synthetic aroma chemicals. In fact, the black currant "inspiration note" is the only base I used for this fragrance and it includes none of the "A-Z" Foundation Course bases.

Like Blackberry, Pink Gardenia was inspired by a PerfumersWorld base, "Gardenia Fleuressence." But for Pink Gardenia I decorated, modified, and enhanced the gardenia base using, almost exclusively, bases from my original K-26 Foundation Course materials kit. In fact, of the aroma materials I ultimately selected for Pink Gardenia, only three were single note synthetic aroma chemicals and one of those was simply a swap for a K-26 kit base that I made because my substitution, an aroma material I had used frequently in the past, had "bell sound" (to my nose!) rather than the "gentle melody" of the K-26 base material I had first used in this formula.

Pink Gardenia isn't the first perfume I designed using the K-26 kit bases almost exclusively. Code Name 'Paris' is another example of a sophisticated perfume built almost exclusively from these "simple" aroma bases.

Building a sophisticated perfume using nothing more than 25 bases plus the gardenia base (which is not part of the K-26 kit), may seem a bit simplistic. You can't imaging Estee Lauder's perfumers limiting themselves to just 25 bases to sketch out a fragrance such as Sean John's Unforgivable. BUT here's where the tools in the Foundation Course get really interesting. The course comes with a computer program -- The Perfumers Workbook -- which gives you the power to add enormous sophistication to your fragrances by introducing you to aroma materials that are likely to be entirely new to you.

In the case of Pink Gardenia, I did not make use of this incredibly useful tool. Why? Because my goal was to create a pleasant, simple fragrance, and that's exactly what I had when I finished my original formula. But, had I not been so pleased with what I had created ("If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"), this is what I would have done --

Using The Perfumers Workbook, I would first enter my formula for Pink Gardenia. Then, for each of the K-26 kit bases I had used, I would ask the software to suggest substitutes -- essential oils and/or synthetic aroma chemicals that I might use as substitutes or supplements for each particular base.

Then -- the ultimate "professional" touch -- I would ask the software what I might do to give the formula more complexity and depth. In a few seconds the screen would spit out a formula of its own -- a modification of my formula -- adding small quantities of many aroma materials which, for the most part, would be totally new to me.

Most of the computer's suggestions would be for materials I would not have on hand. This isn't as big a problem as you might imagine. The software allows you to review each of the materials to get an idea of their aroma and characteristics, just by looking at your computer screen. Only when I see a new aroma material that I believe could enhance the aroma or smooth over a rough spot would I start to worry about how and where to obtain a supply.

In fact, most of the materials suggested by the software can be purchased from PerfumersWorld in small, affordable, quantities. And, as you begin to develop your "library" or aroma materials, you learn of other reliable sources, some of which may be more convenient for you. So, if the computer is showing me some new aroma materials that might improve my formula, I'll try to obtain a small supply of those materials and play with them a bit, to see if any of them are helpful. Of course all of this will be detailed in my notebook.

Pink Gardenia came together for me a lot faster than some other perfumes I've worked on (some of which just ended up in the sink!) But, when your nose tells you that you've got what you've been seeking, it's time to stop developing and start bottling ... and start marketing!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

3 Steps To Becoming A Perfumer

Today anyone can create their own perfume, just as anyone can paint a picture or compose a tune. The first step is the desire to do it. The second step is the decision to do it. Then you launch yourself into the exciting work of learning the aromas and characteristics of the raw materials of perfumery and how they can be put together to yield beautiful perfumes.

My starting point in perfumery was the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course and my results from that course and subsequent adventures in perfumery are what this blog is all about.