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  1. There are so many conspiracy theories bouncing around the internet about how perfume contains some dreadful  secret ingredients which are going to murder them in their beds. Usually they are started by brands who want to sell something new, and think that the way to do it is by spreading fear about their rivals' products. 

    It never seems to cross those people's minds that everyone who works in perfumery wants their customers to be safe and happy, and to live long, healthy lives. Nor do they bother asking if perfumers - who work with these materials every day - are mysteriously dropping like flies from unidentified ailments. (We aren't.) But yet, they spread silly stories about "chemicals" and "toxins" when we're all made of chemicals and toxins are made by plants.

    So Arthur and I made a film full of facts, and some opinions too, which you might like to watch when you've for a spare moment or several.

  2. The first part of this post is the scientific "we're doomed" bit and the second part is the "mustn't grumble", let's make the best of it and crack on with the new arrangements. Feel free to skip straight to part two.

    We're doomed!

    It's all very well our leaders telling us that it's fine to go outside now as long as you stay alert. It's not. That's like telling us it's fine to go tightrope walking if you like, as long as you try not to fall off, when the people holding both ends of the tightrope can't be relied on not to let go.

    I'm a fully fledged paid up nerd. I studied applied maths and statistics at A Level and I know what an R level is. I also know that it's only below 1 because lots of us stayed indoors for two months. As soon as we all go out, it's predicted to go back up to 5.7. Everyone I know who was shielding is staying shielded. (In my other life, we're probably going to be doing online yoga until at least 2022.)

    It's still not safe, and the more people try to do things the way they used to, the less safe it gets; we need to consider that 4160Tuesdays will never go "back to normal" so we're looking at this constructively, and planning ways to go "sideways to different", or "forward to unusual". It's just not going to be back to normal because there is no normal and time can't go backwards.

    The big picture is that this won't be the only pandemic, and probably not even the only coronovirus. The more the human race digs up rainforests and encounters animals we've not met before, the more likely we are to catch and spread previously unknown diseases. Unless we stop that, there's going to be another. That's not speculation; it's probability.

    The practicalities are that our studio is small; we could in theory have four people in for a workshop while social distancing, except that this doesn't really work over time. If you're in the same room for four hours, it doesn't matter how far apart you sit. We couldn't serve you tea, you coudn't touch any shared spaces or objects, and we'd all have to wear face masks. You can't wear a face mask and smell a perfume. It's not possible.

    If someone who had been there turned out to be carrying the Covid-19 virus, then we'd have to close the building for 14 days, keep everyone isolated, contact all the visitors and get them (and their families) to isolate for 14 days too. 

    Someone asked this week when we're going to reopen for events, saying they don't think there will be a second wave. It must be lovely to believe that, but there will be a second wave and we're not going to be part of spreading it it we can help it.

    Mustn't grumble!

    We've spent the last few weeks making films, bottling materials and rewriting our workbooks, so that all our perfume making customers can have their classes at home instead of our upstairs space at 42A Raynham Road.

    If you've been to one of them you'll know that our workshops are interactive, chatty, enquiring and creative. You use our professional quality materials - the ones we use to make our own fragrances - and you find out exactly what's in what you make.

    Unlike some perfume-making experiences, we don't restrict you to ready-made blends which will all combine easily to make a pleasant aroma. We set you free to have an adventure if that's what you want, and guide you towards making something beautiful and usual. We don't have a strict "three from the top, three from the middle, three from the bottom" structure because that's not what happens in real perfumery. I'm tempted to think that some of the Grasse perfume houses who developed this method did it to bury the secrets of perfumery even deeper under layers of obfuscation.

    This means that getting ours together online has been much trickier than the highly structured versions, but I think we've cracked part one. It's a collection of 11 materials including citrus and woods with vanilla and neroli, as these are by far the popular materials used in our classes. Each kit contains enough to make three x 15 ml of fragrance, so it's good for a small group get-together. The second one up will have materials to make 6 x bottles of perfume, and plenty left over to practise your smelling skills.

    First we're offering the kits to people who had already booked workshops, and next we're letting them out to people who were planning to book, but then had the rug pulled from under their feet.

    We're also running Brick Walls & Flaming Hoops online, for people who are planning to set up their own perfume brand. I'm even taking to Zoom for that one. 

    I'm sorry to say that it doesn't look as if we'll see you in person for a while, but I hope you'll join in with one of these. We also have our Scenthusiasm online scent community on Patreon, of course, for people who want to learn about perfume all the time.

    I hope you're all looking after yourselves. Waving you fragrant wishes from Hammersmith.

    Sarah & Team Tuesdays


    PS Our dad went to school in Barnard Castle in the Bowes Museum, because Middlesbrough High School was evaculated there during the war. All the same, I'm not planning to visit any time soon. 

  3. About "clean beauty".

    This needs to be debunked before it takes a stranglehold and murders all rational thought.
    I'll be writing more about this in the Scenthusiasm community, but I saw this and wanted to put something in writing that everyone can read.

    The "clean beauty" brigade claim to be bringing transparency to the secretive world of perfume. They are not being transparent; they're as cloudy as a wet Bank Holiday. Let's look at some of the sheer daftness which is circulating at the moment.

    There are companies aiming to terrify customers into buying their products either by deliberately lying, or by being ignorant of the truth. Neither is justifiable. It's fashionable but it's not right.

    Toxins are natural. 

    A toxin is by definition derived from nature. Botox is a toxin; the clue is in the name. I'd be willing to bet that some of the faces of "clean beauty" are fans of that particular toxin, but let's not dwell there.

    Collins Dictionary:
    "A toxin is any poisonous substance produced by bacteria, animals, or plants."

    They can be synthesised, so you can get what the beauty industry calls "nature identical" toxins, but they're mostly made by the military and aren't really supposed to be allowed out.

    They are not used in perfume.
    No cosmetics companies want to harm people; they are our customers. Why would we do that?

    Of course toxins are chemicals; everything is made of chemicals; they're made by nature. Human bodies are made of chemicals; the oxygen we breathe is a chemical.

    Natural essential oils are made of chemicals. Of course they are; everything is.

    Plants make chemicals; they make what we extract and call essential oils in order to help them to survive, to fight off bacteria, mould and nibbling animals or to attract bees with their aromas. But essential oils of seeds, tree bark and citrus peels could be considered as insect repellents at concentrated levels.

    Let's take lovely natural lemon, orange, grapefruit, bergamot and lime as an example.

    All natural citrus essential oils are restricted materials in the cosmetics industry. They contain allergens, and many of them contain phototoxins. In the sun, phototoxins change the nature of the skin. That's why there are regulations to keep them at safe levels.
    The citral, limonene and citronellol you'll see listed in citrus fragrances can be synthetic or natural. In ours, they are from the citrus fruits we use. Include bergamot and you get linalool too. There's linalool in lovely calming lavender; it's natural and it's also an allergen. Linalool smells lovely, but as it's an allergen, it's listed on the label by responsible perfume makers when it's in a perfume.

    Nature is powerful, and it's not always nice.

    If the "clean beauty" people want to avoid toxins and allergens then they have to avoid natural essential oils. But they don't.

    About "parfum" on the ingredients list:

    Perfumes are not protected under intellectual property law, they can't be trademarked or copyright. That is why formulas are kept secret; it's to make it more difficult for rivals to copy us.
    We are not deliberately hiding things from customers; we're hiding it from other perfume companies. (It's not that easy to get a complete true formula from a GCMS.)

    "Parfum" is the secret recipe. It could be made from naturals and it could be made from synthetics. All of these are chemicals; some are completely harmless at 100% strength. Some, like jasmine flower absolute, are restricted to amounts of 0.7% in a perfume because flowers can contain irritants and allergens.

    As we keep our formulas secret, we are open to criticism and accusations of "hiding something". Yes, we're hiding our valuable formulas that we've spend a lot of time developing, and in the case of the huge companies, their financial investment too.

    I am not excusing the bunch of pillocks out there whose fragrances are probably 95% synthetic but still insist that all their products are "completely natural", "all made of flowers" and keep on spouting total lies that they think customers want to hear. Those who earn a living by training fragrance sales people to say "There are absolutely no chemicals in our perfumes" are just as bad as the "clean" marketing people.

    But unfortunately chemophobia exists. People imagine that chemicals are harmful, and assume that when someone says chemical they mean cleaning products, or pollution, or something that kills wildlife. Lack of understanding encourages obfuscation.

    "Clean" is the new "Natural". They are both now meaningless when applied to cosmetics, and seek to wheedle cash from the well meaning but easily persuaded.

    If these "clean beauty" companies don't make their perfumes with any sensitising materials or allergens they they cannot use:
    orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarin, tangerine, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, geranium, carnation, orris, clove, cinnamon, rosewood, lavender, rosemary, basil or hundreds more natural essential oils and absolutes.

    I can't respond to all their claims right now but finally let's take on the pointless concept of gluten-free perfume.

    Gluten is the name for a group of proteins which occur naturally in wheat, barley and rye.
    People with coeliac disease must have a gluten free diet because theirs is a serious medical condition, and there are other gluten intolerances which affect - possibly - up to 10% of the population. But this is from eating wheat, barley and rye products.
    No one puts gluten in perfume, and even if they did, it wouldn't have an effect unless you drank it.

    Asking a perfumer if their fragrances have gluten in them is - for us - as daft as asking if they've put paperclips in there.

    We just think, "Why? Why would anyone ever do that? Why would you even ask?" But while more companies are making meaning-free statements about their gluten-free products, more customers start to think that it must be important. It's not.

    Hands up. When I launched Our Modern Lives in 2017, I hashtagged some my my Instragram posts as #cleanbeauty to get their attention. Guilty. I made two fragrances which were 100% synthetic but with no restricted materials or allergens to declare, and I made seven which were 100% natural because I got bored with explaining that just because I'm an artisan perfumer, it doesn't mean I'm only using essential oils. I did it to make a point; that if you want a fragrance with no allergens, you're better off with synthetics. I love my naturals, but I'm not going to romanticise them, nor will I lie about what's in them.

    Maybe I'm fighting a losing battle but I do like to think that out there somewhere there are enough of us nerds to push back.

    P.S. I set up my Scenthusiasm community for everyone interesting in knowing how perfume is really made, and what we use to make it, is on Patreon at

  4. take me to the river wash meHighRes

    A couple of weeks ago at we spent a day shooting our newest fragrances, and me.
    Sam was styling, Jessie was editing the feed, and @billmurraythedachshund was helping. Here's Take Me To The River with Wash Me In The Water.

    Unlike big brands, we launch backwards. These two came out last year as a crowdfunding project and they sold out, so now we can afford to have their pictures taken and make another batch. It's daft for a small company like ours to launch a fragrance spending shedloads of money on the marketing, then to find it's not popular. None of ours ends up in landfill or a big bonfire, or shipped off to India for a few pence a bottle because they didn't sell enough to stay on the shelves. (Yes those things all happen.)

    I used to teach management information systems for marketing decisions at London Metropolitan University, and I know that you've got to work to your budgets. Despite perfume industry norms and beliefs, I know that it's a mortal sin to spend more on evaluation (which is what our industry marketing calls research) than it actually costs you to launch a fragrance. So I have developed my own test methods. Go small, and if it sells out, go slightly less small next time.

    Which brings me on to a shiny British brand which has recently been sold. If you have read the story in The Times, you'll have seen that this company was sold four years ago to investors who weren't involved in the perfume industry, lost £9 million ($13 million-ish) in those four years, then the investors decided that they couldn't take the losses any longer and got out. A press release spun this as a major success for the shiny British brand by missing out the part about the -£9 million. 

    This is not a wonderful new time to launch a niche brand, but it can appear that way. I already had hopeful dreamers message me the day the PR piece came out, asking about making perfume for them. I try to wake them up gently.

    The huge cosmetics companies have already done their shopping for medium sized niche brands, and are beginning to sell them on. Be realistic, aspiring brand owners. Backers are pulling out, especially from British brands while the UK appears determined to make overseas trade a whole lot more difficult for companies here.
    If you're in it for money not love, and that money is someone else's, it's best to have a plan B.

    Fortunately we're in it for love, and we don't have backers. Maybe we don't come over as sleek and smooth as niche brands. We're not, we're true indie. We have no safety net, but at least we own our trapezes and tightropes. Backers would want us to triple our prices so they'd post more profitable annual accounts.

    We're asked quite often why our fragrances don't cost more; is it because the materials we use aren't as expensive as posher brands? That's not it; it's because we stay small, and sell directly to our customers or to the small number of specialist shops which sell our scents. We trampoline over the importers, wholesalers and distributors. Plus we're not that interested in having crystal bottles and ebony boxes. Sometimes it's not easy being small, but we're more flexible and we can be more adventurous. We love working with big companies (we've worked with Hyundai, Tinder, Google and Waitrose) but we're not planning to become one, or to get bought by one. Just so you know.

    We'll stay tiny, not shiny.

    #keepitreal #wemakeperfume