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Friday, May 18, 2012

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)

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….

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello fellow nerdie! I started fooling around with essential oils a few years back when I fancied I could make my own non-carcinogenic face cream. My first effort was astonishing. My face never looked better. Did I write down what I put in it? Hell no! Have I been able to recreate it? Again . . . you get my drift. So along with appropriate storage I emphasize having a journal. Okay, I really am OLD. Record it in your i-phone . . . .sigh. BTW, is that picture for real? If so, that's one phallic flower!

7:14 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is some flower! Has it ever been used in a perfume?
-J in Miami

7:14 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Anon,
Oh, yes, your point is excellent! Write it down, people!! I have a "mystery chypre'" in my mods cabinet that I adore, and I have no idea what I put in it. I made it on New Years' Eve during a lull at the party with my traditional chypre there are only a few drops left!

7:16 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, the flower is for real. And no, I don't think it's ever been used in a perfume. A friend smelled one at a botanical garden and said it reminded her of a 3-day-old crime scene in the tropics. But there are some very adventurous perfumers out there....
"Tropical Crime Scene" has yet to be invented.

7:18 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Marla the article was wonderful. As you know , I too, am a nerd when it comes to fragrances. For two years I have been cooking lily of the valley tincture made from my own lily of the valley plants.
Only time will tell if it worked.
Thanks again for the great article. Take care,Jane

5:03 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, lily of the valley! So many of the synths of LotV are just plain nasty. A natural sounds wonderful. I wish you great success, let me know how it works.

6:48 PM EDT  
Blogger woodgirl said...

Great article. Yes, those Corpse Flowers are potent, just like a decomposing body, and usually make the news since they flower infrequently. Also rather phallic. I used to have a little carrionflower cactus that smelled like that, but not as overpowering.

1:34 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I grow cacti and I've heard of that particularly smelly one, though I've never seen one IRL here. Cacti growing is an obscure hobby on my sand dune!

2:00 PM EDT  
Blogger woodgirl said...

I had it when I lived in Tampa; beautiful 5-point star-shaped blossom, cream to light green with maroon flecks, but when you looked close to see if those were really maggots in the center (they were) you got a snootfull of rotten meat. I live in Myakka now & I lost it to either a freeze or a flood, can't remember. BTW, I'm wearing the africastone tincture today & loving it. Thanks.

2:57 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is a collectible cactus, woodgirl! Perfect to put out on the porch for Halloween trick-or-treaters, too. I'm glad you like the Africa Stone- it's a remarkable material, do you get a minty/camphoraceous aspect from it? Some do and some don't.

4:49 PM EDT  
Anonymous catherine@scentofchoice said...

My favourite growing smelly thing is an osmanthus - I had two but one died. I also have a collection of the obvious essential oils plus a few fun things like birch tar (yum) and blue chamomile. Someone also gave me some botanicals from New Caledonia - Niaouli and Tamanou. Sounds as if you could use them better than me so let me know if you'd like them. I've found Cinquieme Sense in Paris a good source of synthetics - can't get them in Australia but you're luckier in the US. Looking forward to part 2 - Catherine

6:04 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Niaouli is as fascinating as it is difficult to spell and say! It's more of a medicinal, at least in Europe. Love the osmanthus, we call it tea olive here in the Southern US. Hove' Parfumeur in New Orleans makes a very nice soliflore. You have access to some cool stuff down there!

9:45 AM EDT  
Anonymous orlando - juegos said...

very good blog is very interesting

5:21 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Orlando!

6:12 PM EDT  
Anonymous Michael Orr said...

I know it's an older post, but I wanted to say I think you've inspired a new way of exploring my hobby! Never knew it was possible to be a self-perfumer until reading this article. Thanks, I'll be back for follow ups!

4:26 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you'll have a lot of fun, and it's cheaper than buying a bottle of niche perfume, anyway!

5:05 PM EDT  
Blogger Alyssa said...

This is awesome, Marla. I look forward to the follow-up and, when I finally get my effing site up, to linking.

7:17 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alyssa! And good luck with your site, can't wait to see it.

7:55 PM EDT  

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