The Elements of Scent-Florals, The Mother Of Scents

floralFloral perfume was probably the very first sort of fragrance there was. Man has loved the smell of flowers forever and has always wanted to preserve it.

The first floral perfumes must have been created long ago, and we don’t have records of how they were made. But we do know that herbs were used as a scenting device, especially lavender (which was prized for perfuming sheets in Roman times). On a more exotic note, rose attars from the “mysterious East” were a wonder when they hit Europe, and they still remain very expensive, sought-after elements of perfumery.

But we live in an artificial world which insists on things like: consistency, low price, and many novelties. Enter the man-made floral elements. Among the first of the group were the ionones which were made from paper making byproducts! Ionones smell like violets and are perfectly charming. You cannot actually get the scent of violets out of violets BUT you can simulate it to a great faithfulness by the judicious use of ionones in a blend. You can make a dandy rose scent out of the skilled manipulation of ionones, and it does sneak into the scent of sweet olive with a bit of coaxing.

There are others: eugenol (the scent of carnations), amyl cinnamol (jasmine), and more. The things they have in common are that they are very predictable in every way and very cheap to produce as a rule. However, that does not mean that they are inferior to the scent of the real thing, in many cases they are downright superior! Since they are controlled, things like impurities and levels of components are strictly under control; so a rose scent which is supposed to have a lemony edge to it does have that lemony edge and not a more grapefruity edge.

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our listing for flotals. Don’t stop there, there are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. Http:www.possets.com

Orris Root, Scent of Florence

orrisrootoilA part of my job which I dearly love is the sciency aspect, made even more fun when I am working with 100% natural ingredients. Today I got to make a blend with orris root butter. Friction is a 100% Natural which sports: Bulgarian rose absolute, aged dark patchouli, palmarosa, and a very generous dollop of the divine orris.

Orris is an extract of an iris, and one of the symbols of the Italian city of Florence. An image of its flower appears on many mementos. Orris “butter” is quite costly and to be used only by those who know what they are doing in perfumery. It has a scent something like violet and  earth or stone; it’s famed for its staying ability and is considered a basenote and fixative.

Today I had to take 1.8 ml of orris butter and prepare it in oil so I could use it in a blend I needed to remake, Friction, a 100% Natural which had a good run during Yule. You have to be very careful when you handle orris, if you prepare it incorrectly you have just made a very costly mistake. I need to turn the lump of “butter” into a liquid, and like real butter I had to melt it and then combine it with a pure and inert vegetable oil. You don’t just put the jar of orris in the microwave and turn it on…no no no! You have to put the jar into a bath of hottish water and let it melt at its own pace. I use a beaker within a beaker for this job like a tiny bain marie. Fill the first beaker with hottish water to a level well below the opening of the little orris container, put in the container of orris and then immerse that in a larger container filled with very warm water. Cover it and prepare the oil carrier in the same way just using the oil container in a bath of hottish water. Both the oil and the orris should be very warm when combined.

Take the lid off your orris container and you will see that it has turned into clear liquid (just like real butter). Take the container out of the water baths and put it in the warm oil. Stir and enjoy.

You have to limit the amount of orris you put into the oil as it might precipitate out and form “crystals” because you have supersaturated it. You don’t really want that, you want to get the oil to hold as much orris as it can, but not too much. This is a trial and error thing.

Now it’s time to enjoy your product. I keep the little orris container and put it in my lingerie drawer to give a lovely fragrance to my things.

Possets is famous for its wonderful 100% Naturals. Yes, we start with excellent ingredients, but we have had more than just a bit of experience, and it shows. Come on over for a visit and take a look for yourself. There is a “scent by note” link you can click on the left hand side of the screen and bring up all our delightful blends. I think you will be pleased. Http://www.possets.com

The Lady and the Baby Unicorn

ladyunicornWe have a special guest here at the Cincinnati Art Museum, The Lady and a Baby Unicorn. Painted by Raphael in the 1500s, and now hangs permanently in the Borghese Gardens in Rome, we were exceptionally lucky to have her for a while here. The picture is a blonde young woman holding a little baby unicorn who is bleating. She looks somber, almost hurt. The inclusion of a unicorn in her lap fairly screams that she is a pure and virginal girl. There are a few mysteries associated with this painting, it’s not just a pretty portrait of a young lady and her identity isn’t totally agreed upon to this day, though experts think she is Giulia Farnese, related to the evil Borgia Pope Alexander, in some way or another. Here are a few salient facts about her, though:

  • The unicorn was originally a little dog! They found this out through x-raying the image and finding a dog underneath. Since this is thought to be a wedding portrait, the dog was to symbolize faithfulness.
  • The unicorn was added later after some speculation about the bride’s virginity/purity. She may have come from a family reputed to be pretty hot blooded and so the unicorn was put in her arms to show off her goodness.
  • Years later, this picture was repainted to turn the woman into St. Catherine of Alexandria. She acquired a shawl, the palm of martyrdom, and the Catherine wheel symbol which identified her.
  • The pose was heavily influenced by daVinci’s Mona Lisa.

I looked at this painting and wanted to make up a perfume which would represent it and its multiple meanings. I chose a vanilla/vetiver combination for the bulk of it, the reason why is because vetiver is such a dark, earthy, sexy scent, and vanilla is a virginal fragrance. Putting together the two would cause a dichotomy of sweet foody and damp sensual. The rumor about Giulia Farnese was that she was not as pure as she wanted others to think she was, and tongues wagged she was a lusty girl. So the painting has a disapproving look and the unicorn is protesting loudly that the sitter is entirely pure. In my perfume you will find both the divinely pure and the divinely dirty. I think they belong together.

Just for fun, check out the Posset Lady and a Baby Unicorn at Possets Perfume. It is a portrait in itself.

The Elements of Scent-Dry

dryDry is a word we don’t often associate with perfume and it might mean something different to different people. I mean that it is not flowery, it is not candy sweet, and it is a slightly bitter scent. Hatshepsut comes to mind from my collection, it is a scent based on galbanum, an element which I think of as the soul of dryness. It is beautiful but you would never be tempted to put it in your mouth. Boozy note add a dry element as well mostly because of the sour/bitter thought they conjure up.

A huge component of the idea of “dry” is that the scent has no sweetness of flowers (i.e. honeysuckle, rose, lily, lilac, or any of the sweet flowers). It can have no aquatic/ozone notes. There should be no hint of the gourmand scents (like candy scents) or fruity notes. I also think that a crystalline musk is a very dry element.

In the current collection, Mona Lisa is a great example of a dry perfume.

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com

The Elements of Scent-Chypre/Fougere

chypreA well loved classic which few people know anything about, the blend called Chypre is actually named after the island of Cyprus where the original idea emerged. Europe went wild for a new perfume they had never smelled before and it came from dealers on Cyprus. It was a combination of bergamot, labdenum, and oakmoss and smelled ever so much better than the straight up essential oils which the good people of Europe had been using as perfume. Complex, dark and elemental, Chypre took the West Countries by storm and soon they were producing their own version of this item.There is some magic which happens between the two foundation elements in a good chypre, and a lot of it depends on the quality of those ingredients. I have tried chypres which just did not make the grade even though their elements were of the best sort, and I have tried chypres which were divine with great elements, too. Depends on a lot of factors, if the perfume works or not.

Chypres can be dressed up quite a bit, with citrus or leather top notes, floral tops, resins, patchouli, or amber. It is a very versatile category.  Out of all the places which are renowned for chypres, France has to be the most famous. They were the source of such blockbuster perfumes as: Bandit, Cabochard, Mitsouko, and Femme.

A hallmark of the 20th century, chypres fell out of the public preference when aggressive musks and candy sweet scents came along. With the simulacra of fragrances, novelty made chypre seem “old fashioned” and quaint. That started in the 1980s and here, about 40 years later, chypre is re-introduced to a new generation which sees it as being a break from the oh, so expected sharp musk and fruity scents. Chypre does deserve its place among the perfume families and so it is back with a vengeance. I say hooray. One of my favorite chypres is a blend I made and named Sorrow; it’s a classic into which I have inserted a good deal of galbanum. It’s named after a character in a Thomas Hardy novel.

Fougere is a member of the chypre family, too. A fougere is the combination of oakmoss, lavender, and coumarin. I think there is a similarity between that and chypre due to the oakmoss base which is uncommon in other sorts of perfume blends. One of the most famous fougeres (which you never knew was one) was Gillette Foamy shaving cream’s fragrance! It was a beautiful fougere and highlighted the fact that it is considered a man’s sort of scent.

Fougere Royale was first made by Houbigant and it was rumored to be the first perfume which used artificial ingredients as the coumarin (vanilla scent) in it had been manufactured in the lab! It was said to have been presented to the French Empress Eugenie, who was the supreme taste maker for her generation. Her approval signaled the beginning of the rage for artificial scent which persists to this day.

And, the term fougere means fern in French, and refers to the fact that this fragrance is very much like the scent of dried ferns. My perfume, Landscape in Suffolk is a fougere and one of a modern type which still carries the unmistakable traces of the genre.

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com

The Elements of Scent-The Aquatics

The Aquatics

The Aquatics

Few people are neutral about the classification of perfume known as “aquatics”. They have a sea-like tang about them which might not be what you expect from a perfume.They are usually “cleaner” and not at all spicy/resinous/sweet. So, this is a group of perfumes reserved for mavericks in general.

They were practically non-existent until Issey Miyake came out with his blockbuster, Eau d’Issey. It was the soul of aquatic and became the darling of taste-makers everywhere. This was the 1990s and overnight the “old” perfumes became out. This strong and slightly aggressive type was in every collection from Guerlain to Demeter, everyone wanted to smell like the sea.

And what gave the “aquatics” their characteristic fragrance base? In most cases it was the use of  a compound called calone. Calone is supposed to be the scent of the pheremones of the brown algae. This makes perfect sense. I am sure that our ancestors perked up when they smelled the mating “call” of one of the most common of all plants. Must have signaled food and comfort. Calone is frequently described as having a melon odor and I think an argument can be made for its having a cucumber fragrances. Think about it, both of those vegetables have a very high water content.

I have a great deal of fun coming up with aquatics, mainly because I never liked them and decided to create a form of aquatic that I did like. Maryland (one of the perfumes “about” an American state) is a classic aquatic from Possets, but I managed to bend that prim seashore edge until it was much more interesting and merged with a true perfume vibe. It’s one of my favorites, and I never thought I would say that about an aquatic! I have done that with Michigan, Custance, and The Shipman. All of them have been VERY successful, and that is in a collection which features loads of vanilla (that perennial top-seller).

Pick of a sample of one of my aquatics and see for yourself. You could even write in the comments section that you want a sample pack of 6 and you want me to pick them out for you!

Hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com

The Elements of Scent

meltbabyYou have heard of the Elements of Style, I think we are due for a tour around the Elements of Scent. We have not evolved a scent vocabulary or grammar yet, and I think that is a pity. This might be because everyone smells things in a different way, or that scent is not as easily classified as color is. But I suspect that no one really tried to make scent into a logical progression of things in an orderly way, like the Periodic Table of the Elements based on atomic weight.

There are a lot of ways we could approach this task: by sweet to tart, from natural to man-made, from old to new. I think that doing it as a family might be a good way to approach this initially. I don’t mean to be weighty about it, and there is no chemistry test you are going to have to take at the end of it, but let’s take a trip through the scent neigborhood and see what is where. It might surprise you and you might find out a thing or two. I am going to follow the Possets “Scent By Note” list on my website. And the first one of the families is: Aquatics. Stay tuned, this is going to get interesting.

In the meantime, hop over to Possets and take a look at our brand new Yule listing for 2015. There are representatives from each of the scent families and it’s just fun going through the list of perfumes on offer. This year our Yule theme is Portraits and we are offering free shipping on all orders through December. Now is the time to stock up and give your gifts (we always have a great presentation, perfect for gift giving right out of the shipping envelope! Http:www.possets.com

Bad Lavender Is Bad…

janusangelsWe all love lavender, but for the love of Pete…PLEASE stop with the amateur lavender blends made by professionals. Please. There is nothing in the world as cloying as a badly made lavender blend, and it is subtle and revolting. Let me explain.

Two nights ago I was at a Black Friday sale at about 11 p.m. I was standing in line by a display of Obsession and all its spin-offs. There was one for men and I thought I would try it out and see if my husband would like it. I sprayed it on, and here is the “magic” of bad lavender. At first I was charmed, but this sensation was quickly followed by stomach turning revulsion. I wiped my hand off and hoped I would not get the nausea I usually get when I encounter Bad Lavender. This was Bad Lavender.

Most people think of lavender as being one of the eternally upbeat and healthy elements of smell. No, it’s not. If you are using a substandard type of lavender (and there are a million grades of it from a plethora of places) it can be just about the most disgusting stuff you can smell. So, inferior grade is a big culprit, probably the biggest one. Counter intuitively, I find that the lavenders which tend to cumarin (vanilla) scents are the most tolerable, and those which tend to the middle area (between vanilla and turpentine) to be the least.

There are times when I have smelled someone’s earnest attempt at perfumery, especially Natural perfumery, and they are always experimenting with lavender and they always seem to make the same perfume. It carries the same characteristics: really nice at first followed by a ghastly turn off. It can be great mixed with: pepper, vanilla, sandalwood, and the like but look out….it can go bad really quick. To be fair, as I have alluded to, even the big perfume houses make a dreadful concoction at times, and I suspect that it is due to inferior ingredients or even using artificial lavender scent/simulacra. Ew, just ew.

So, I am convinced, lavender is one place you don’t want to skimp. Actually, perfumery is not the place for bargain basement things which twist your hard won recipes into a mess within 2 minutes. It is 100% about how your brain perceives it but the goodness of the components have a lot to do with that.

Possets is famous for its wonderful lavender blends. Yes, we start with excellent ingredients, but we have had more than just a bit of experience, and it shows. Come on over for a visit and take a look for yourself. There is a “scent by note” link you can click on the left hand side of the screen and bring up all our delightful lavender blends. I think you will be pleased. Http://www.possets.com

Going Back To The One You Love…

Madame X of course. Recently I got a yen to smell a favorite perfume of mine from long ago, Or Noir by Pascal Morabito. Much to my delight I found that a site sold it. With some fear, I paid my money and ordered it. The bottle looked legit and it arrived last night from France.

I opened it up and the bottle was indeed right, I took of the top and sprayed it. Here is where the strange things happened. It was Or Noir, all the notes were there and the whole thing but it was now composed of several accords which came and went with some pleasure and some puzzlement. That never happened with Or Noir before, which was as tight as it could be, no accords peeling off and commanding your attention for 10 seconds before they turned into something very ordinaire. Then I had to say that it was Or Noir, and something insinuated that it was something far better than Or Noir, and I must believe it! For a moment I chased that thing, it was beautiful in a cheap and modern way, in a contrived way. Then it vaporized and I was left with something like a uni-dimensional Or Noir, a changeling which looks like the original but you know in your soul it is different.

This stuff was strong and it’s life cycle is tremendous. I think that to get it out of my jacket, I will have to burn the jacket! I reeked of Or Noir all night long, through my sleep, and as I staggered in to drink my coffee this morning. It had gone from an imitation of my old friend to an acquaintance who had vastly overstayed their welcome.

What went wrong? The European Union has waged war on perfumers. Some of the most benign ingredients have been declared off limits by the EU and cannot be used by perfumers, one of those is patchouli (thought to make the wearer more sensitive to sunlight…thought to be, by whom I do not know), and there are lots of others. In order to make up for this ghastly loss, there are several “green” chemical companies who are trying to simulate or duplicate the smells which are now “off limits”. Good luck with that. It never works. Honestly, you can get close to duplicating something like patchouli, but you are not going to make it exact, and even if you do, the resulting mix with anything else is at best unpredictable. So, if patchouli mixes well with a Bulgarian lavender, fake patchouli might not combine so well because it is not the same chemical mix.

Then, there is the ugly reality that when an perfume first comes out, the maker is glad to add expensive ingredients to it as the sales will be brisk. It’s new, it’s fresh, it’s different and so money is lavished on it! But once it is new no longer, the cheapskates march in and substitute more cost effective fake jasmine for real, rose for real, and whatever special accord now becomes something far more bargain priced.

Alas, that is why we are bereft of some of the best perfumes ever made. My greatest loss is Mitsouko by Guerlain. I tried it, it’s hot asphalt now. I will never buy it again.

These are the things which force a woman to become a perfumer, my friends.

Oh, and the voting is over at Possets. Zombie, Min-Min, and Ouija are the winners. The others stay around for a short time, so catch them now! No overlap. See for yourself.

Coming Blog Post

sample6blackI am going to be writing a very difficult blog post about one of my most deeply felt points in perfumery. I hope you tune in for this. I recently bought a bottle of Or Noir by Pascal Morabito and realized something quite profound. It didn’t make me happy but it certainly sobered me up. So, stay tuned. The piece does have something in it for everyone.

Fondly, Fabienne from Possets Perfume