Thursday, January 15, 2009

Learning to match fragrances

Creating a new perfume is about having a vision. But to recognize your vision, skills are required. So if you want to create the fragrance of your dreams, you first need to learn how to "match" a fragrance -- creating a physical representation of your mental or nasal vision.

Matching has long been part of the perfumer's training. After learning how to recognize the smell of basic perfumery raw materials, the perfumer trainee begins to put them together. Trying to recreate a classic fragrance by this matching process is a standard training event. For example, you have a bottle of real Chanel No.5 and you have, in front of you, a row of bottles of aroma materials that are not Chanel No.5. Your challenge is to construct "your" version of No.5 using these aroma materials.

Young perfumers have been doing this for generations. The purpose is not to reinvent Chanel No.5 but rather to (1) learn something about the structure of classic fragrances and (2) to develop your technical skills at transforming a mental or sensual "image" into a physical product -- your own new perfume.

When I first started working with the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course I don't believe I had ever heard of Edmond Roudnitska. When I mixed the simple formulas presented by the PerfumersWorld course, "muguet haute couture" or "classic muguet" didn't mean any more to me than the experience of taking five of the 25 bottles in front of me and mixing 25 drops of this with 10 drops of that, etc. After stirring them for a minute or so, they were left overnight. In the morning I was treated to the wonderful fragrance of "classic muguet."

In time I learned that the concept of "classic muguet" derived largely from perfumer Edmond Roudnitska's Diorissimo (created for Christian Dior) and itself inspired in part by Henri Robert's Muguet de Bois (created for Coty). In time I was able to obtain an older bottle of Diorissimo. This gave me an opportunity to compare the "classic muguet" that I had mixed with the "real" classic muguet -- Roudnitska's Diorissimo. The initial impression was certainly that of a good match!

Don't get me wrong . What I had mixed was certainly no substitute for Roudnitska's creation, one of the most beautiful fragrances ever. In the first place, Roudnitska's CONCEPT was original; my mixture was simply a crude copy of that concept. Roudnitska's materials were richer, more costly; mine were more simple, more affordable, more synthetic. Roudnitska's perfume has all those wonderful qualities of a great perfume -- radiance, tenacity, subtlety, depth. Mine mixture achieved the outline, not the substance. But for me this was an excellent training exercise (even though the formula had been given to me!)

The "classic muguet" formula in the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course was not my creation. I use if only as an example of fragrance matching -- a skill at which I am still just a beginner.

But the road to learning how to actualize your fragrance visions begins with working with perfumery materials -- conducting directed experiments rather than just random mixing. The more you try your hand at matching either an existing perfume or a perfume that exists only in your imagination, the more skilled you become at working with perfumery materials, and the more you begin to appreciate subtle differences between one fragrance or aroma material and another.

Success in perfumery requires discipline and working at matching, over and over again, first to get the right materials and then to get the right balance of those materials.

The more you work at it, the better you become. And, as you become better and better at it, those dreams of a great perfume you have imagined become better and better realized in your own compositions.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Try creating your own "Joy" perfume!

"Almost no perfume is complete without
a little Jasmine in one form or another"

-- The ABC's of Perfumery

Jean Patou's response to the Wall Street crash of 1929 was the creation of Joy perfume as a gift for clients who -- quite suddenly -- could no longer afford his pricey frocks. Advertised as "the world's most expensive perfume," Joy led the way for Patou's perfumes to carve out a successful business of their own during the dark Depression days, a business which continues today.

Joy, in its original, super-expensive version, is a bit heavy, a bit old fashioned, a bit too rich, to opulent for today's tastes. And a bit too expensive. Yet for the student of perfumery, Joy is one of those "must match" fragrances, a perfume that every student perfumer must make an attempt to recreate by nose alone, without access to the formula.

Loaded with costly jasmin, Joy was created for Patou by his long time perfumer, Henri Almeras who, so the legend goes, was appalled at the excess of expensive ingredients insisted on by Patou. In the history of perfumery, Joy is not considered to be a breakthrough perfume, it is not innovative nor is the theme original. But it is considered a legendary fragrance because of its history, because of Patou's daring to insist on excess, bright lights and joy at a time when others could see only darkness and gloom.

How hard is it to reconstruct Joy? Certainly not a job for the faint hearted. To work with the perfumery materials used for the original would be prohibitively expensive. And today the use of some of Joy's original aroma materials would be restricted or banned (safety, environmentalism, animal rights, etc.) Yet the student perfume can get a taste of the structure and aroma of Joy by simply following the highly simplified formula offered in The ABC's of Perfumery or Unit 5 of the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course.

If you were studying perfumery within one of the handful of giant fragrance creation houses, you would not be "given" a simplified formula like this, you would have to "discover" it yourself through your knowledge of raw materials and by using the power of your nose to match, with your aroma materials, the fragrance of Joy. This is certainly an ideal way to learn perfumery.

But for those of us who have other responsibilities, for those of us who are unable to devote all 24 hours of the day to perfumery, for those of us who do not have the good fortune of having been taken in by a major fragrance house to learn perfumery under the daily, personal tutelage of a master perfumer, the PerfumersWorld solution offers strong advantages.

While you might say that giving students a simplified Joy formula first -- before they have become familiar with the raw materials, before they have trained their noses to match materials, and in many cases before they have ever smelled the original -- is the wrong approach to teaching perfumery, I would argue the opposite.

By starting with a hands on project, with a series of small dropper bottles, mixing pots, and toothpicks to stir, the student quickly comes to appreciate (1) the structure of the perfume in terms of top notes, middle notes and base notes, and (2) the concept that a fine fragrance involves blending two or more raw materials together to produce a result which is more artistically beautiful than any of these materials taken alone.

Creating beautiful aromas is an art -- the perfumers art -- and by mixing formulas that are given to you in the beginning, you begin to appreciate the nature of the aroma materials themselves. Some have beautiful fragrances by themselves, others -- which are critical in fine fragrance creation -- you might at first think to flush down the toilet. Still others have little impact at all by themselves but play a vital role when combined with other aroma materials.

Some people say it takes seven years to become a perfumer. Some perfumers would say it takes a lifetime. Steve Dowthwaite has said it takes a single day -- the day you decide to become a perfumer.

But to create perfume you need aroma materials, and some instruction in perfumery basics to get you started. That's why Steve created the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course -- a home study course which provides all the tools needed to start the motivated perfumer-to-be on the path to becoming a mature perfumer.

Here's a footnote. The PerfumersWorld Foundation Course which comes with aroma materials, mixing pots, book, software, and lessons costs less than a half ounce bottle of "Jean Patou Joy Parfum Deluxe" at Bloomingdales.