Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Quick Way To Test A Perfume Idea

It's almost too simple to mention but it has worked so well for me that I will mention it. A quick technique I use for testing a (very) rough idea for a new scent or accord is to simply drop -- from eyedropper-type bottles -- several (liquid) aroma materials onto a test blotter.

I simply take a "blank" perfume test blotter, select several dropper bottles of aroma materials that I think might produce an interesting accord when blended, and let a drop from each fall on my test blotter.

In doing this you must make sure that the tip of each dropper does not TOUCH the smelling strip, to avoid having it contaminated by the other drops that have already fallen on the test blotter.

The thinner your test blotter is, the faster and better your aroma materials will blend. A cut up coffee filter will work well for this technique. Because the paper is thin and because each aroma material is quickly absorb absorbed into the paper, the aroma materials dropped onto the paper blend more quickly than they would in a mixing pot or test tube.

This is NOT a precise way to create an accord. But if I'm curious as to how a "green" material, a "mossy" material, a "spicy" material and an aldehyde might smell when blended together, this technique gives me an answer in seconds. I don't have to stir and mix; I don't have to wait overnight for the aroma materials to blend properly.

Try this technique as an experiment yourself, if you haven't tried it already.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Getting Started On A New Perfume

Perfume doesn't evolve from a random mixing. Developing a new perfume involves having a plan. The big companies call it a "perfume brief." If, instead of a perfume you were developing a TV commercial, you would call it a storyboard.

This description of your "perfume to be" can involve pictures, video clips, words, maps, foods, even smells and existing perfumes. What you are defining is a goal. What you are avoiding is random mixing -- putting aroma materials together without a plan. Randomness can be fine for experiments; to learn what happens when various aroma materials are combined and to store these impressions and formulas away in your personal memory bank. But when it comes time to develop a perfume, you want to be sure that you have a target -- an aroma goal. You'll be amazed at how much faster you learn perfumery if you direct your work toward well defined goals.

I'm on vacation in Canada and, on this vacation, I wanted to start working on a new perfume. I had some ideas that started coming to me as I worked on advertising concepts for some of my existing fragrances. At present all this planning is still confidential but I will tell you that I sat down with a notebook and pen and started to draw pictures, imagine certain music, focus on a particular geographical area (which I've never visited!) and meditated on what aromas might appeal to a fantasy woman in that (to me) fantasy city. These images suggested to me certain aroma materials to use to get started.

As mentioned, I was on vacation at our house in Canada, traveling light. Today perfumers have access to around 3,000 aroma materials. Top perfumers sometimes limit themselves to about 200 basic aroma materials. My kit consisted of the 25 Fleuressence aroma bases that represent the 25 aroma groups -- not to be confused with perfume types -- used in the PerfumersWorld ABC's of Perfumery teaching method. It is a bit like having a small set of oil paints, yet knowing those paints, mixed in proportions and combinations, can create an infinite range of colors.

So is it too with my kit of 25 Fleuressence bases from the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course in Creative Perfumery.

Now I have my target and I have my materials. Now I am ready to start working on the physical creation. From the years I have worked with these 25 materials I have developed a sense of how to put them together to give me what I want. But I continue to make new discoveries too; to find desirable aromas by blending various of these 25 "paints" in ways I have not blended them before. Each time I work with them, my knowledge is expanded.

The work goes quickly. Four "paints" are blended. One is made dominant. The others modify and decorate. I have achieved my central theme. But there is another theme that must pull against it. I create that separately. Then the work of blending the two themes begins.

Some modifications suppress the central theme. Putting too much into a perfume creates problems. The color becomes muddy. Certain of my "paints" must be cut back or eliminated entirely to clarify the desired theme. This theme must be reinforced rather then blobbed over. Complexity is desirable but extreme moderation is essential. The decorations should draw attention to the melody, not compete with it.

The project comes together. I have my perfume. But... BUT, at this stage, working with my 25 bases, I have only drafted the OUTLINE for the fragrance that is in my head, the fragrance that is suggested by my "perfume brief." It is as far as I will go for now.

I know, at this point, that I want to make certain substitutions. There are effects I want to achieve that I personally do not know how to achieve with my 25 "colors."

When I return home, when I return to my many, many little bottles, I will select certain "colors" and use them as substitutions because I believe some will be more precise. I know already most of the substitutions I want to make. I will try a few experiments too, to see if some "colors" with which I am less familiar might be suitable to help me achieve the final result that I want.

It will be these final steps, these final substitutions and adjustments, that will determine whether my final result will amount to anything great or not.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

My Next Perfume

New fragrances start in the head; they start with an idea, an inspiration, a riddle, a vision -- something that PROVOKES you into developing that new fragrance, going through all that work, worrying about how -- or whether -- you'll be able to sell it. But, if you are a perfumer, that inspiration gets you out of bed, off your duff, and into the lab to start working on that idea.

A recent article in Perfumer & Flavorist (April, 2009) jogged me. It was about the beauty of the drydown, that scent that is last to evaporate -- the basenote. The two perfumers being interviewed described themselves as "drydown junkies." They could not get hooked on a perfume that did not have a beautiful drydown.

Now the sad fact is, many of today's fragrances have a no discernible drydown. Marketers have learned that consumers, at the perfume counter, go for the top note -- the instant gratification -- the quick hit. Try spraying a few blotters, walk around for an hour, and then smell them -- if there's anything left on the blotter to smell!

It's funny how we've come full circle. Early 19th century fragrances required constant application. How many bottles of cologne did Napoleon carry on his person when he went into battle? He had to keep dousing himself because, in the early 19th century, those fragrances just didn't last -- like so many of the fragrances being sold today.

Tucked away in my travel bag I have a really old plastic bottle of an early Ralph Lauren "Polo" fragrance, made when Ralph Lauren fragrances were still under the Warner (as in "Time-Warner") label.

I'm not sure whether the fragrance in my bottle has changed a bit over time, traveling thousands of miles and to various countries, but it sure is tenacious. Use a little in the morning and you can still smell it on your body the next day! You have to wash it off. It doesn't just go away. The drydown is super powered, even if you don't fall in love with the scent.

Here's a second example. We have a house in Canada and go there in the summer. one summer I was working on some tests with Oakmoss, inspired by the writings of the great perfumer-teacher, Jean Carles. I had dipped a bunch of test blotters which, by chance, were left in the house over the winter. The following year when we returned, they still had a beautiful aroma! That's a powerful drydown!

So my current inspiration is to take an idea I've been toying with for a woman's fragrance and see, first, what kind of a drydown I can achieve, without worrying too much (initially) about the top note. To keep this all simple, I'm "going back to my roots" and will start with the less volatile bases that come with the PerfumersWorld Foundation Course in Creative Perfumery. I'll work with the U-Animal, V-Vanilla, W-Wood, X-Musk, and Y-Mossy Fleuressence bases.

Will it work? Will my drydown be not only tenacious but also beautiful? I can tell you this. In the small book that comes with the Foundation Course there are a number of formulas. Some make use of as few as five of the 25 Fleuressence bases in the kit. Those "sample" formulas produce some really inspiring drydowns. So this will be my starting point.