One of the most frequent questions I get is,”Do you make custom blended perfume?”
“Oh, what a pity. I was hoping you did! I do so very very very want a signature scent!!! Perhaps one for my mother and my daughter!!!!”
I look around for the Exit sign. My palms are sweating.
“Are you SURE you wouldn’t make this small exception? It is one of the things I do so passionately want in life!!!”
I now understand why Daphne begged to be changed into a tree.
Before you write me off as an artistic crank, let me explain what the problem is.
Nobody really wants their signature scent, the one they will wear forever, the one they had a hand in making. We want what the Declaration of Independence says we want: the PURSUIT of happiness. It is all in the chase, the experience, the quest, the desire that we find our joy. If you are confronted with the hideous possibility of finally catching up to what you have been rushing after and trying to outwit for all these years, you will dissolve in a fit of disappointment. Alas, human nature.
There are real reasons for this sad state of affairs. First, the average person doesn’t know very much about perfuming materials. Even if you are an affectionada, you still don’t know all of the accords, notes, essential oils, short cuts, long cuts, trials, and “cousins” that you get to know so well through experience. Humans are far too complex for a simple explanation, and we are in love with all the complexity of scent that we have been indulging in for decades, centuries!
So, plop a lady down in front of a “perfumers’ organ” and watch her go nuts! Make your own, darling, have fun and experiment. Then sit back and feel the magic…the kind that The Sorcerer’s Apprentice conjures up. The first thing they will reach for is their favorite element. Grab the vanilla and splash it in. Heavy on the musk. Oude? Did someone say Oude? Then lard on the sandalwood, please! Smell it! There must be some mistake.
No, the problem here is that everything that you love does not necessarily go together in the same formula. You can end up too confused (smells like everything all at once and so like nothing at all), old fashioned (we all know what things smelled like in the ’80s), homemade (mmmmm, smell the lavender, smell it nao).
You need to know how much of what to put in, where it balances out and what goes with what. There are some ingredients which just do not go together at all. Like basil and tarragon (a cooking disaster which I have never been able to resolve). There are some lovely ingredients which have been turned into a cliche for un-lovely things (lemon is furniture polish, pine is floor cleaner, lavender is turning into drier sheets), so many things are being ruined by what you find in the supermarket.
Then there are the genius ingredients that you don’t have much familiarity with. Things that you could be sitting right in front of and you would never think to add just a touch to your formula, and that small act would make them all sing. I have made some fabulous perfumes with great and airy delicacy using vetiver (!!!!!!). Just a kiss of it, and of only some particular varieties grown in some places. Most people think of vetiver as a dark, earth-like, musky, assaulting thing. It is if you have a heavy hand, but light light touch will tease out its wings and let it fly. Basil will do the same thing but it is with the utmost care and only some kinds of distilled basil will work.
What normally happens with people trying to make their “signature scent” is that they become exhausted struggling with all that fragrance information and give up. They leave the “atelier” of the perfumer, flacon in hand, lighter by far in the pocketbook, secretly disappointed and exhausted.
Moreover, there is the element of mystery which has to go with perfume. If you make your own, you know every thing which is in it and so there is no tantalizing unknown element which is nibbling at the frontiers of your consciousness and laughing because you just can’t name it. Once I was wearing one of my favorite fragrances and it just occurred to me out of nowhere that one of the ingredients was lemon; after that revelation I had fallen out of love with the blend. The secret was revealed and there was nothing left to titillate me.
And, with the help of a friendly perfumer, you compound the struggle. It’s their word against yours and the aspect of knowing too much comes up against “Ew! Don’t add THAT! I just hate THAT!” A drop of celery seed oil might have made all the difference between meh and wow, but if you are dead set against it, you will end up with meh. Alas.
I have heard stories of some famous perfume houses which opened their doors to the enthusiastic novice only to have a secretly unhappy client walk out clutching a bottle of totally confused liquid.
But, what do you expect? Can you write a symphony because you love Mozart? You might think you can, but it is a lot harder than you may have reckoned. You may be yearning more for the pursuit than the perfume itself.
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