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  1. nick dubai beach sunset

    The seaside. A sunset. The scent of fresh air with a hint of seaweed.


    Lists of notes and the traps they set

    Last week I got into two internet conversations, one about snow and one about marijuana - as you do.

    For Doe in the Snow, our icy peach chypre, I wrote "snow" in the list of notes, and often describe is as a peach sorbet chypre as as smelling like it's been stirred with an icicle. Last week I got a question through, "Do you really put snow in Doe in the Snow?"

    I list seaside and candy floss in the notes list for What I Did On My Holidays too.

    Maxed Out was launched and we listed (sightly tongue in cheek) notes of rum cocktails, marijuana cigars, high class escorts, backout and regret. Unlike Grenouille in the book and film Perfume, no humans were harmed in the making of this fragrance. Yet it smells like Max's Ferragamo leather jacket after a wild night out in New York 2003.

    I also specified a notes list that included lime, coconut, rum, tobacco, cannabis, vanilla, musk, cedarwood and coffee.

    One of perfumes biggest puzzles is the notes versus materials conundrum. A professional perfumer will make the smell of a rose from its component parts; individually they don't smell like roses, but they're like a rose jigsaw puzzle; put them all together and the rose becomes clear. Which notes do you list? What does it smell of? Rose. Are there any roses in it? No. The notes? Roses.

    The smell that you put into a perfume isn't necessarily the smell you get out. 

    Perfume works like painting. You can make every colour you need from blending red, yellow and blue pigments, although paintboxes often come with them ready made. Mix red and blue and you get purple. Who'd have thought? Mix grapefruit and patchouli and you get the smell of Terry's Chocolate Orange. 

    So imagine you're in a gallery and a small child points at a still life of a fruit bowl and says, "Did they squash up real apples and oranges and stick them on the wall?" Its parents smile and say, "No, it was a very clever artist who mixes up paint an makes it looks like real apples and oranges."

    Then the small child smells a fruit perfume and asks "Did they squash up real apples and orange and stick them in the bottle?" Its parents say, "Yes they did."

    But no they didn't. It was a very clever artist who mixes up perfumery materials and makes them smell like apples and oranges. Why is the painter appreciated, when the perfumer is not?

    Notes are things that the perfume smells like. Materials are things which are used to make it. There is no point listing the things that perfumes are made of, because very few people know what they smell like. Besides some of them smell of almost nothing, and others smell godawful. They only work when they are blended to produce another note something completely new, like grapefruit and patchouli making chocolate and orange...

    In the notes, do we list grapefruit and patchouli, which are in there but which you can't smell? Or do we list chocolate and orange, which aren't in there but of which there is an olfactory illusion? The convention is to list the chocolate and the orange.

    With Doe in the Snow, I make the illusion of snow and frost by using some lightest of light materials which give the impression of coldness, like the scent of opening the front door and stepping out on an icy morning.

    With What I Did On My Holidays, I use two materials, Calone and Veramoss, to make the smell of seaside rockpools. Most people have no idea what those two smell of individually, and besides I use them together to make my seaside scent, so I list seaside in the notes, and seaside is what people smell.

    As for Maxed Out, it's the cannabis which has caused some of the bother. I've had to explain that marijuana's botanical name is cannabis sativa, and the plant has the common name of hemp - the stuff that string and rope is make from. I used cannabis essential oil which is pungent and herbal. Combined with the cumin in Maxed Out, it really smells quite intense, but it wasn't a smell that perfume fans could identify. It was the smell that dope smokers waft by when they think you haven't noticed that they've put weed in their roll-ups; it's the smell that their clothes have, that they can't smell any more because they've stopped noticing.

    We ended up calling the smell which they were expecting, the "romantic marijuana note". This is a dark, woody, oudh-like smell which usually turns up in any perfume called "noir", but it doesn't really have much to do with cannabis. 

    What we need to clear up is that notes can bear absolutely no relation whatsoever to the materials which make up the perfume.

    Sometimes the brand owners don't know that; their PR companies don't know that and their sales people have no idea. But that's not important. We buy perfumes because of the way they smell, not because of what they are made of. Sometimes lemon perfumes are made with lemons. Sea salt perfumes are never made with sea salt. (It has no smell.) Lily of the valley (muguet) perfumes are not made with lily of the valley; they never have been. Not ever. But there's no point listing Lyral or hydroxycitronellal in the notes because no one outside the industry knows what they smell of. The problem is that perfume companies have been pretending for years that they really do make their perfumes with the things they smell of: coconuts, apples, figs, ferns... all synthetic. Now with the cult of the natural, they are terrified to admit it.

    For that reason, for the last 130 years perfumers have been using their skills to paint beautiful scents in the atmosphere, using materials which were created by both nature and chemists and a combination of the two, and no one has given them the credit.

    Notes aren't the same as materials. Know that and set nose free to appreciate these works of art for what they are.

  2. lavender & bee 2

    That bee just wouldn't sit still.

    Fougère, the French and the Aromatherapist

    The fougère fragrances are a family of “man smells” which came into being at the end of the 19th century, all containing lavender. (Traditionally, anyway.) Fougère is French for fern, but ferns don’t really smell of much. What the fougère is, when you find it in a perfume bottle, is inspires by Houbigant’s original, imaginary version of what a fern ought to smell like.

    As well as lavender, your fern fragrance will have bergamot, oak moss, and coumarin. The French think of lavender as of traditionally male fragrance, and use it in all manner of cleaning products too. The British dismiss it as a granny scent. Naturally this means that it’s due a comeback, like violets, roses, lily of the valley and honeysuckle.

    Fougère fragrances have been around since the 1870s, and were only possible because William Perkin isolated coumarin in a chemical reaction in 1868. You also find it in tonka beans, but natural tonka costs an arm and a leg to extract. Yes, that’s right, every single fougère fragrance ever made for almost the last 150 years has been a mixture of naturals and synthetics.

    Houbigant’s Fougère Royale, Penhalligon’s English Fern, and everyone else’s ferns have coumarin in them, thanks to a Victorian gentleman with a very large beard.

    Lavender oil is also one of the leading lights in aromatherapy. The story goes that René Gattefossé, a chemist working with raw materials to create new synthetics in the late 1800s, burned himself in a laboratory accident. He plunged his hand into the nearest vat of liquid – lavender oil handily enough – and found that the pain went away quicker, and his hand healed far faster than he was expecting.

    Knowing this, one day when I dropped a casserole straight out of the oven on to my bare feet, I doused myself in 100% undiluted lavender oil after running them under the cold tap. I wouldn’t go doing this with any old essential oil because I’ve seen their safety certificates, but in extreme circumstances lavender is the one you want.

    I wouldn’t recommend that anyone puts this to the test, but after two days the scalds had stopped hurting and I didn’t get any scars. I was pleasantly surprised, and I’ve carried a bottle of lavender oil around with me ever since.

    Mind you, up at the Vintage By The Sea festival last year, I met a chap who approached our perfume stall warily. He told us he had to be a bit careful with scent (and at this point he stood back a bit) because he is allergic to lavender.

    He told me that he had mentioned this to an aromatherapist friend and she had scoffed at him, telling him that it’s impossible because lavender is calming. It is not impossible. People can react badly to lavender and I’ve now met two of them. It’s rare, but it happens.

    Anyway back to René Gattefossé. He was so impressed by the effect lavender had on him that he stopped trying to isolate individual aroma chemicals and turned his research to what he called Aromatherapie (he was French) the medical use of plant oils. It was only in the 1970s that aromatherapy began to take on its modern, somewhat spiritual holistic aura, with the rise of the “back to nature” movement.

    There was some recent research on lavender (I’ll try to find the source) to test whether or not the essential oil could calm people waiting for a dentist’s appointment. What happened was that they just started to associate lavender with feeling nervous. Any calming properties that it might have is entirely displaced by the new associations created by circumstances. (I think this is quite funny, but I do have an odd sense of humour.)

    The point is that lavender is complicated. It does appear to do marvellous things to sore skin, burns and scar tissue. However no one is allowed to mention this on their product packaging or marketing materials because the compulsory 10 years of medical research hasn’t been carried out. It probably won’t be because no one wants to invest the money into it if they can’t patent it and keep all the financial benefits for themselves.

    The scent of lavender is a complex mix of chemicals grown naturally. You can get lavenders grown at altitudes that smell different, some species which hardly smell at all, others which are grown entirely for their fragrant properties. It’s tangy and herbal on its own, rather than gentle and floral. There are synthetic lavenders too; never assume that your perfume contains a natural one.

    Yardley’s English Lavender, by the way, used to be a fragrance for men. It swapped sexes somewhere in the middle of the 20th century.

    I use lavender in two of my most British fragrances, The Lion Cupboard and What I Did On My Holidays. The green tint in Holidays comes from lavender absolute which is a deep dark pine colour, a heart note. The lavender essential oil in The Lion Cupboard is much paler, a light topnote. I use the first as a reference to children’s suntan lotion and the second is a reminder of the traditional colognes and aftershaves that my dad very occasionally used.

    I’m about to use it in something new.

    On my way to work, I walk past lavender bushes in the Factory Quarter and front gardens along Valetta Road in Acton. That’s where the photograph comes from. They are always buzzing with bees. This leads me to another point. Whether or not you like the smell in your fragrances, whether or not you like to use the essential oil, if you have even the tiniest spare plot of earth in a plant pot or your garden, give it to a lavender plant. The bees need all the help we can give them.

  3. Last week at 4160Tuesdays we had two completely different bespoke perfume days.

    For the first I made a perfume for Deborah, one of our best customers. Her partner had chosen this as a secret present. We arranged last December for me to send up an empty bottle, with a note explaining that she was to spend a morning with me making her perfume. It only took six months to organise, which gave Deborah time to think about it.

    In the second, two friends arrived at the studio, brought out a collection of bottles and asked me to smell them. They were all basic musks, ranging from inexpensive to excruciatingly costly but made with pretty much the same materials. It turned out that one friend wanted me to make a perfume like this and to start her own business. They were very interested in what it would cost to make a small bottle just like the one they had bought in Harrods perfumery so I tried to explain that it would depend how many bottles they wanted. Basic GCSE level business studies.

    They already had plans for the bottle design – people with dreams of setting up their own perfume companies often design themselves a bottle which will cost £50,000 to tool up before thinking about what to put in it – and for the perfume? The brief was quite simple.

    They wanted a fragrance which would appeal to everyone in the world, and contained the mystery material which everyone thinks is sexy.

    magical fairy dust

    Photo: probably not the kind of magical fairy dust they were thinking of.


    They also wanted me to come in at the weekend to make some as it was urgent.

    Let’s go back for a moment to Deborah. She described the kind of perfumes that she likes (fortunately quite a few of them were mine, so I know how they were made), and the occasions on which she wears them. If you want a bespoke perfume, it’s always a good idea to go to someone whose creations you like already.

    If you love the works of Manet, you wouldn’t ask Picasso to paint a portrait. (I am not likening myself to Manet or Picasso here, just using a handy metaphor.)

    By lunchtime we had created two new fragrances, one for staying in and being herself and one for going out, which she can add to the staying in one, like putting on her coat and hat. I think we both had a great time, then we all went along the road for noodles at CJ’s cafe. I got a beautiful thank you note from her partner. There’s quite a bit of pressure in making the perfect perfume for someone, but I do really enjoy it.


    The two friends wanted to know: would I bottle it for them, would it be guaranteed that everyone in the world would love it, how much would they get for the money, if they wanted a different version would they have to pay me again, would it be exclusive to them, would I promise that it would be exclusive to them, would I promise that no one else could ever copy it, and would it have that thing in it which everyone says makes you irresistible to the opposite sex or the same sex or anyone who happens to be passing?

    When we went upstairs to my workshop, they looked around and asked,

    "Where's the machine?"

    “What machine?” I asked

    “The machine that makes the perfume.”

    “You’re looking at it,” I said.

    They seemed surprised.

    Late on Friday night they were still emailing me about price and volume, about how they couldn’t find the right place on the website to pay me, and if they could pay cash. Finally on Saturday afternoon, when I was already at the workshop, I got an email to say that they were going to have to reschedule. To be honest I was relieved. It never goes well with me when the questions are all about money, and nothing to do with the smell.

    Anyway, what about “that thing”, this magical ingredient that makes everyone smell irresistible?

    For a few years the rumours were that it was Iso E Super (IFF’s trademark), also known as Methyl Cyclo Myrcetone or patchouli ethanone, or “the molecule”. A variation of it was used in Eccentric Molecules’ Molecule No. 1. This perfume was brilliantly sold as working “like a pheromone” (I quote the salesman at Liberty), “You can’t smell it, because it’s a molecule, but you can smell it on other people.”

    In fact, Iso E Super is a lovely velvety woody material, used in thousands of modern fragrances, which makes pretty much everything smell better, including people, bunches of flowers, fresh air… You can smell it, as I tried to explain to the salesman, but the poor chap eventually confided, “but that’s what they told me to say!” so I thought it best to leave him alone.

    The marketing cleverly picked up on what happens to all of us when we become accustomed to an odour. Our brains just stop reminding us that it’s present. After a few minutes, none of us can smell the perfume that we’re wearing unless we give it a good sniff and try harder. There’s nothing wrong with our noses; there’s nothing wrong with our skin; there’s nothing wrong with the perfume. It’s just the way that the human brain interprets scent. Other people can still smell it on us. This can be an issue when we wear the same perfume every day. We think it’s worn off, and everyone around us knows that it really really hasn’t. More about this another day.

    So yes, spot on with the marketing for Molecule No 1.

    More recently, Hedione (also a trademark) has been tipped as the sexy substance. Methyl dihydrojasmonate, to give it one of its many catchier monikers, has appeared in almost every perfume since it hit the headlines with Eau Sauvage. Jean-Claude Elena uses so much of it in his watercolour-esque scents, you could probably fill several Olympic size swimming pools with the amount he used for Hermes. It smells of almost nothing. Seriously. But it breathes air, life and sparkle into flowers and citruses. It can take me hours to talk my workshop students into putting it anywhere near their perfumes. I usually describe it as like putting baking powder into a cake; without it you just have a flat biscuit.

    But does it make the wearer irresistible? Not in my experience.

    Talking of my experience, the best aphrodisiac perfumery material that exists is jasmine absolute. However, you’d have to use it in amounts about 30 times stronger than anything allowed by IFRA these days. Anyway, what works for me might not work for anyone else and I definitely wouldn’t want to wear a perfume that drips jasmine – they are pretty unsubtle. The person you’re trying to attract would probably have been knocked sideways by the strength of it before you got close enough to seduce them. Practically speaking, you can’t put enough jasmine into a fragrance to have an effect, and even if it were legal it would be excruciatingly expensive. That doesn’t stop me blending it with Atlas cedarwood though…

    magical unicorn juice

    So is there a magical aphrodisiac fairy dust we can put into our perfumes?

    We can put ourselves into them.

    Cliché? Maybe.

    You put your perfume on and you’re ready to take on the world. For me it’s like that song, “I put my new shoes on, and everything will be alright,” or the Blues Brothers putting on their sunglasses.

    This is why episode number one in personal perfumery worked out beautifully, and why episode number two was doomed from the moment they told me that they wanted “that thing” in their bottles.

    You can’t decide for other people what “that thing” is going to be. It isn’t something you can spray on; but if you find a fragrance you love so much that you feel naked when you leave the house without it, wearing it can give you “that thing”.

    All together now, “I put my perfume on, and everything will be all right.”

    The appendix:

    The ones I make with jasmine absolute are:

    Midnight in the Palace Garden

    Babylon Sunset

    Raw Silk & Red Roses

    Sunshine & Pancakes

    Sleep Knot

    Pillow Talk

    Iso E Super is in:

    The Sexiest Scent on the Planet. Ever. (IMHO)

    Silk, Lace, & Chocolate

    Sleep Knot

    Pillow Talk

    Hedione you'll find in:

    Ealing Green

    London 1969

    Rome 1963

  4. Cumin, and the cologne culture

    This year I’ve used cumin for the first time in a perfume - Maxed Out. It gives the fragrance is very particular effect, and it’s not something you go pouring into your blend with lavish generosity. It has what perfumers call an “animalic” smell - something quite dirty. Then again,  “dirty” in perfumery is often used as a compliment.

    Cumin smells a bit like a sweaty body. It’s an essential oil made from the seeds, a spice also used in Eastern cooking.

    Allow me to set the scene.

    With Maxed Out, the cumin emerges slowly. I made this fragrance to evoke Max Heusler’s wild nights out New York in the early noughties. It opens with lime, coconut and rum, followed by cannabis and tobacco. It runs through soft musks and vanilla then descends to Atlas cedarwood, cumin and coffee. Watch Max’s YouTube video to understand better - we described the notes as rum cocktails, marijuana cigars, high-class escorts, blackout and regret. I added coffee because I thought he would need it..

    Around eight hours afters spraying on Maxed Out, you start to smell as if you need to get out of bed, go home and have a shower. This is what he wanted, honest.

    You see why I needed to add the cumin. But not much.

    I’d imagined that Maxed Out would appeal only to Max himself and a very tiny number of fragrance fanatics, but it’s going down so well that I’ve had to make another three litres on top of the original one. Men like it, women like it, and the next test is my friend Siobhan’s dog, Ralph, the ultimate arbiter of a successful 4160Tuesdays fragrance.

    So much for dirty; what about clean?

    To back up this next assertion, I‘d have to get hold of market data that I can’t afford. I might be back with stats.

    But I’m pretty sure that there’s a correlation between distance from the equator and perfume use. The hotter the country you grew up in, the more likely you are to use fragrance to help you smell good. This also correlates with the scarcity and cost of clean water. I do know that the Dubai airport duty free shop sells $1,000,000 of fragrance a day.

    There’s also the northern cultural judgement that associates cleanliness with godliness. In cold countries you have to prove your worth by denouncing frivolity and lipstick, scrubbing up clean, buttoning your shirt to the top and smelling of nothing at all.

    Perfume is for tarty temptresses “up to no good”, as my gran used to say. “Jezebel!” she’d add.

    Canada, northern USA, Scandinavia and Japan – places with lakes, rivers and a lot of snow – are the countries where citizens take most offense at a well perfumed passer by. France and Italy were always more relaxed. Going out out? Well throw on some Eau Sauvage and a clean white shirt.

    In colder countries perfume has historically been seen as a sensual vulgarity: warning of vanity, flamboyance, and sexual availability. No decent woman would wear scent, and only a beau dandy of a man would soak himself in cologne.

    More than that, we’re encouraged to scrub off and wash away natural the smell of skin. Since the 1950s, we’ve been encouraged to smell like clean laundry; since the 1990s we’ve been pursuing the scent of water.

    In cold climates we’re not really supposed to enjoy the smell of a stranger’s body. It’s too intimate, too inviting.

    Around the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Arabia, where water is precious and temperatures tortuous, a refreshing blend of rose, woods, lemons, jasmine and balsams, topped up regularly, will get you through the day.

    Here, closer to the equator, you’d need several showers a day to stay as squeaky clean as a cold climate dweller, and you just can’t have them. Water use is profligate and selfish. Perfume is essential. The scent of warm skin mingles with fragrance and the gentle waft is entrancing. I was brought up in the cold, northern culture, to think this was was something to be ashamed of, not delighted in.

    "The great unwashed" was insult directed at the poor. "Perfumed" was an insult for the vain and stupid.

    However did I loosen these shackles and turn into a perfumer?

    Last week, I spent a day at an EU conference on regulations where I talked to a German chemist. He told me that the least green thing you can possibly put in your bath is hot water. No amount of synthetic or natural scent, colours or bubbles can make up for the damage we do by heating the water with fossil fuels.

    So, as well as subsidised solar panels and more wind farms, perhaps it’s time for the return of the stand-up wash and a splash of cologne.

    When heated water was still a luxury in the UK, lots of us got by with a basin of water, a bar of soap and a flannel. When I’m running late in the morning (which is often) I save time, water and fuel by doing the stand-up wash. Fortunately – yoga – I can easily get my feet (one at a time) into the wash basin. I spritz on the Eau de Toilette version of Invisible Ben, which I’m going to reintroduce any moment now because I love it: lime, orange, woods, balsams, cognac and coffee – a modern dandy’s cologne.

    From where I’m sniffing, there’s nothing wrong with the scent of skin, particularly when it’s blended with a beautiful perfume.

    For Maxed Out, I was aiming for man’s skin blending with a high class escort’s soft musk perfume. The cumin, combined with Atlas Cedarwood did the trick. For Invisible Ben it was a citrus topping to a fit body, fresh from the squash courts. Different, but along the same lines. Human, personal, close and pleasing.


    PS In the UK, with our falling water levels, houses built on flood planes, climate change, paved gardens, playing fields converted to supermarket carparks, we’re going to have to get used to using less water. Heating less of it saves money as well as the planet.

    In France and further south, water use in Europe is already heavily restricted. Beyond the Mediterranean it is a luxury.

    At the last count 85% of UK energy use is from non-renewable sources. Encouraging us to use lavish amounts of hot water every day is essential for the multinational energy companies’ profits. Think on.

  5. Vanillin, and the question we dread


    I’ve got a new way to display our scents. 1970s Pyrex picnic cups with ceramic perfumed discs at the bottom. On each cup I tied a brown paper luggage label and listed the notes, the scents that people might pick out and recognise when they sniffed the scents:

    Lemon, orange, grapefruit, raspberry, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, violet, crème brulée, rock pools, earth, cut grass, ice cream, candy floss…

    Last week we had three days at a wonderful pop up department store - chatting, sniffing, trying to pretend our legs didn’t hurt and preparing ourselves for the question:

    “They’re all natural, aren’t they?”

    For years, perfume sales people were briefed to answer this, “Oh yes, ours are all completely natural with no chemicals at all.” Perhaps they really don’t know, and they are repeating what they are told on their training notes. Perhaps the trainers don’t even know.

    But this imaginary vision – that perfume must preserve the mystique of being made the way it was 200 years ago – is all starting to unravel as the EU impose restrictions on both natural and synthetic materials.

    And there are places where perfumers are taking the lids off the secret boxes.

    One is the Osmotheque in Versailles, the French perfume library dedicated to preserving the scents of the past. Go to one of their public lectures, and they will show you a history of the synthetic materials which changed perfumery, set fashions, and make up most of the fragrances we wear today.

    Another is Thierry Wasser, my perfume hero, head perfumer at Guerlain who happily tells everyone about the ethyl vanillin in Shalimar and how Jean-Paul Guerlain created a synthetic narcissus for Vol de Nuit when the 1953 frost took out the entire Auvergne crop.

    If Thierry Wasser’s going to start spilling the beans on how perfume is really made, then that’s good enough for me.

    I try not to get cross at things like a cosmetics review I read recently, “They’re made with essential oils so they’re completely non toxic.”

    This is so not true, but it’s tricky though.

    Natural perfumery materials -  essential oils, CO2 extracts and absolutes - are formed of hundreds of different chemicals manufactured naturally by plants, and they are processed in ways that don’t change them too far from their natural state so we can use them in liquid and solid form.

    Synthetics are made up of chemicals made in factories.

    Toxic materials are banned, or restricted to safe levels. This includes the chemicals made by plants that end up in essential oils.

    Besides, everything is poisonous if you use enough of it. Drink six litres of water and it can kill you. I’m old enough to remember the news story about Basil Brown, the Croydon man who turned yellow and died of Vitamin A and carrot juice addiction.

    Given the choice, what I’d rather see on the horizon are trees and fields, not oil wells and chemical works, but if it weren’t for the factories, no one but the superrich could wear scent.

    Napoleon wore natural violet perfume just to show he was loaded; once chemists started synthesising ionones  in the late 19th Century, everyone could afford the occasional bottle of scent. These days we can afford to wear perfume all day long all year around if we like. And that’s because synthetics and mass production have made them affordable.

    So to vanillin.

    In my studio I’ve got a tub - big enough to sit on - full of vanillin, and I’ve a little 100ml bottle of vanilla absolute. They cost about the same. From the early 20th Century, anyone who’s wanted to make an amber, oriental, floriental or fruitychouli has used vanillin. Guerlain, Chanel, Coty, Houbigant… you name it. Every perfume house bigger than a one man band, they use vanillin. They use vanilla too, when they can afford it. I like to use both together for a deeper scent with soul that doesn’t cost £1000 a bottle.

    But we list “vanilla” on the notes. Why? Because it smells of what we know as vanilla. Natural vanilla from pods smells mostly of vanillin, the same chemical manufactured naturally by the plant. Biscuits, cakes, ice creams… most of them are made with vanillin, not natural vanilla. Partly because there’s not enough natural vanilla in the world to make all the ice cream we eat, and partly because most people can’t afford to pay £25 a scoop.


    When I list “ice cream” as one of the notes in What I Did On My Holidays, that’s the vanillin. It’s a white soluble powder that smells just like Mr Whippy ice cream and the squidgy bit in the middle of Custard Creams. (Everyone outside the UK can put their own brand names in here and use their imaginations.)

    Like all naturals grown in different places, natural vanillas can smell really different from each other. They’ll smell different from plant to plant, island to island, year to year.

    Vanilla Bourbon, by the way, comes from the island of Reunion, which used to be named Bourbon, after the French royal family. Come the revolution it got a new moniker. It’s not called Bourbon because it’s so good it was named after royalty, as I’ve heard one well known perfume expert state out loud.

    One more vanillin point. Perfumers are all told that vanillin will turn your final fragrance brown. I was assured by a chap who’d been to one of the best perfume schools that this always happens, without exception, and everyone knows.

    This isn’t quite true. If you make really unusual perfumes and make accords from vanillin and other things that people have never tried it with – sometimes – it can stay colourless.

    So my answer to the question “It’s all natural, isn’t it?” is this.

    “No it’s not. None of the perfumes you’ll find in shops are 100% natural. But some perfume salespeople will look you in the eyes and lie their little heads off. Most perfumes are about 85 to 100% synthetic. Mine are about 50:50. Here, smell this one.”

    So far, telling it the way it is hasn’t put anyone off.