My last addition to this worthy blog was a rant about the “meh-ness” of this year’s avalanche of perfume debuts. I’ve tried about 50 more since then, and still, have only purchased one, Guerlain’s crispy-bitter Laurier Reglisse; I bought this one because it’s refreshing on hot days, because I was at Heathrow and very bored, and because it’s a sister scent to the discontinued Anisia Bella. I was really excited to try Jardin Apres La Mousson, but it should have been called Monsoon of Melons. Don’t like melons. That’s it. Nothing more to write about.
But what’s the use of a good rant if it doesn’t help one look toward a solution? I’ve been using this blah perfume year to learn more about perfume ingredients and have been making a few of my own. In light of Europe’s penchant for making natural ingredients increasingly illegal (bergamot?? lemon?? Get real, Brussels-People!) I’ve begun collecting essential oils and absolutes of forbidden goodies like citrus, oakmoss, and angelica. This stuff rocks! It’s taken about 2 years of experimentation but I’ve finally got about five homebrews that fill gaps in my collection and that I’m proud to wear. If I use excellent ingredients at the highest concentration for eau de parfum, I only spend about $19 per 30ml, or 13 euros for a small bottle. Simpler concoctions without expensive flower absolutes are condsiderably cheaper. And I’ve discovered a fascinating and peaceful hobby that so far has not offended my family (much) or taken over more than half our living space. In fact, they’ve started tinkering, too. So I thought I’d share a little of what I’ve learned in case someone wants to follow in my anarchic footsteps.
First, there are some good groups of people out there if you’re not a lone wolf in the world of DIY. Yahoo has an online gathering in Europe, Ayala Moriel has begun teaching basic natural perfumery, and Basenotes has a large DIY community. Mandy Aftel and Anya’s Garden are great resources, as are the ladies of White Lotus Aromatics. A serious aromatherapy handbook, or licensed aromatherapist, can tell you which ingredients are toxic and should be shunned, and which have caused allergies from time to time. For example, never put cinnamon essential oil on bare skin…you just sort of learn these things as you go along….Easier to get a good book than to learn by personal experimentation! Any of the people or companies mentioned will have loads of safety info for you.
Second, quality ingredients are everything. I’ve found great quality ingredients with Liberty Natural and Eden Botanicals. There are others online. Most larger cities have aromatherapy shops, which are a good place to start sniffing ingredients and learning all those latin plant names. For synthetic aromachemicals, the GoodScents Company has good deals and lots of information for the newbie. Don’t use fragrance oils- just the pure aromachemicals, essential oils, absolutes, and attars. At the more expensive end, Bulgarian Rose absolute costs about $20 for 0.12 oz (this amount will last ages), and at the cheaper end, a fabulous grade of frankincense absolute will only set you back about $7 an ounce, which should last you several lifetimes.
The only equipment you need are glass droppers, small glass bottles, with either caps or sprayers, some blotting paper for testing, tiny funnels, and perfumer’s alcohol. Snowdrift Farms sells several varieties in the US; apothecary and chemist’s shops often sell it in Europe. Buy some basic essential oils and absolutes in small quantities at first. Absolutes are generally more expensive but mellower, longer-lasting, and smoother than the EOs. A good example is frankincense (boswellia carteri). The EO is sharp, medicinal, bracing, and makes a good top note, while the absolute is pure church and lasts about a century. I like to use them together.
Try simple recipes first, maybe combining just one top note with one heart note and one base note. Take notes on your combos as you may get unexpected results. Your concoctions will change over the first few weeks, as they mingle and age. Sometimes, as in the case of a promising fougere I was working on that turned dill pickle on Day 8, this is not a good thing. Sometimes it works, though! If there’s a combo you love in your existing scented products, such as orange, vanilla, and patchouli, try a few drops in about 5ml of alcohol and see how it works for you. You might find you like your own version better than the commercial one. I love L’Artisan’s Safran Troublant but something in it turns skanky on my skin. I made my own version using natural ingredients and I’ve had no problems. If you love a certain type of scent but wish it had more (fill in the blank), try making it yourself. A girlfriend loves orange with bitter chocolate, so I made a perfume for her with bitter orange, tonka, frankincense, and cacao absolute.
If you’d rather not wing it at the beginning like I did, try Amazon for some beginning perfumery manuals, or sign up for an online class, or a real-world class if you’re blessed to live in a megalopolis that has those sorts of things. And the ratio of successes to failures is about 1:10. Really. And some failures will be truly spectacular. So just make 3-5mls of a good idea before making up a whole bottle! I guarantee that DIY will not only banish the perfumista blahs you will encounter from time to time, but that you’ll also be able to drive your friends and families nuts after dabbing them for the gazillionth time with your latest experiment. And hey, what’s wrong with that?
The drawing is by Marla.