Smelly Libraries (Part I)
by Marla, the Nerd Girl
I’ve been perfume blogging for 5 years now. I think that makes me either first or at least second generation. I’ve been through all the stages of perfumistahood, and the Jaded Stage was the worst. Would I finally give up my great love, perfume? Did IFRA kill it? Did Sephora? Nah, I went DIY. I went Nerd.
I started a scent library and grew smelly plants, and after that went on for a couple of years, I started to make my own tinctures and perfumes. ACK! I heard that at some sort of professional symposium in Paris last year (Were they snooty? Were they French?), that DIYers were derided as the scum of the perfumed earth. I’m OK with that. I’m having fun.
What’s a scent library? How do you make one? How can you, dear reader, DIY? Or, confess, are you there already, skulking about the periphery of Perfume World, growing and making fragrant things for your family and friends? (Yeah, and some stinkeroos, too, that’s part of the fun.
I know there’s someone out there who’s quietly growing a Corpse Flower, Amorphophallus titanum, in their backyard….and it’s not me, I swear, but only because I don’t have access to a parent plant. Don’t you want to tell people at parties that you grow Amorphophalli in your backyard?? I do.
Today I’m going to write about scent libraries. In our world, we’re always talking lists of notes. Top notes, heart notes, base notes. So learning the notes is a bit like increasing your writer’s vocabulary. It’s a good idea to know what each note means, and, for the most common, what’s the difference between natural and synthetic versions. How many of us have sniffed a “peony” perfume to find it smells nothing at all like a living peony? Ditto real oakmoss and Verymoss. Both delightful, but they wouldn’t have much in common if they met for lunch.
Fortunately, it doesn’t cost much to set up a good, basic library. There are kits out there, of course, but you can build your own for less-and have more adventures. You can start by dividing your prospective purchases into favorite basenotes, heart notes, and top notes. For example, your first wish list might look like this:
1. Base-benzoin, patchouli, oakmoss
2. Heart- jasmine, rose, frankincense
3. Top- mint, verveine, mandarin
So that is the core of your newly born scent library. I recommend buying at least 1/8 oz. (about 4ml) of each substance so you have enough to play with. For rose, this will cost a bit, but for something like a mint or lemon, you might go ahead and just buy ½ oz. or more, as it’s cheap and won’t be sold in smaller quantitites.
Don’t ignore the synthetics, they are crucial for understanding modern perfumery. I’d recommend a few white musks, Ebanol or Javanol, some Ambroxan, and Iso E Super. They are ubiquitous. The strong may opt for a few aldehydes, but beware, they can overpower the rest of your library no matter how you seal them!
Here are some sources that I’ve used over the years and can recommend. I don’t receive anything free or fun from them for putting them on this list, but I wish I did.
Eden Botanicals (naturals)
Liberty Natural (naturals and raw botanicals)
Perfumer’s Apprentice (naturals and sythetics)
White Lotus Aromatics (naturals)
For storage, I like sturdy portability. The cases that I’ve been most happy with are from Butterfly Express, they’re made in the US, and extremely strong. Again, I get no kickbacks, I’m just a happy customer. I’ve also seen models where the bottles fit upright into foam slots that fit into boxes, so I’d encourage you to think through how you store and use the bottles, then find the best storage for your actual usage. Make sure that when stored, you can see the label. It’s always best to alphabetize!
Part II will be about playing with your new collection….