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  1. The perfumery materials I use, and why I use them

    AKA Hydroxyphenyl butanone, frambinone 

    What's the point of being a perfumer if you can't make things smell the way you want, creating scents which remind you of the things you love? That's why I started anyway. Then I got distracted by making things that smell of other people's favourites, but that's a story you can read elsewhere.

     One hot summer, our family spent a holiday afternoon in a Scottish wood where we found the biggest wild raspberry patch in the universe - probably - and ate the delicious pink fruits one by one until we had to go home. My favourite food, free. Only a stream of liquid chocolate would have improved that afternoon. 

     So to the scent of raspberries. If you buy the fragrance oil from cosmetics suppliers, it won't have come from raspberries. In my early years I used a bottle of that stuff for dabbling and experiments, but before I felt I deserved to call myself a perfumer, I really needed to know exactly what I was using in my formulas. It's not just for the regulations (although that's important too) but more of an intellectual pursuit, the satisfaction that I'd got to the bottom of the issue, identified what was really going on, and in. I put on my metaphorical Sherlock deerstalker and set off on the trail of raspberry scent.

    I'm going to write about raspberry leaf absolute later, by the way. That's a natural material that smells of raspberry jam. Gorgeous, expensive and difficult to work with, so very rarely found in commercial perfumes.

    Perfumer, illustrator, writer and wondergeek Pia Long, told me that she thinks of raspberry ketone as the scent of the dried berries. For me it's the smell you get when you snap open a bar of Divine's dark chocolate with raspberry crunchy bits.

    You can buy natural raspberry ketone, extracted from raspberries, but it costs a blooming fortune, so I buy the synthetic stuff. If you are a dedicated natural perfumer and insist on using (as close as you can get to) 100% natural materials, it's there for you. But to be honest, by the time it reaches a usable form, you can't really claim that it's natural. Some like to call these things "derived from nature" but what isn't? It's a powder, refined from the original fruits using chemistry techniques.

    For me, only using natural perfumery materials is cutting off your nose to spite your face and you really need your nose in this business. More of this later.

    So I often use raspberry ketone side by side with raspberry leaf absolute so get the deep jammy note and the lighter dry one; they hold hands and support each other. And I get to smell like summer pudding.

    You can smell my simple raspberry accord in Urura's Tokyo Cafe, created with both materials, not to the point where the finished scent smells overwhelmingly fruity, but it has this deliciously tasty, jammy background to the gentle flowers, flightly citrus fruits and dark balsams.

     I use it in The Great Randello too, with its strawberry equivalent.

  2. The things I use to make scents: number 3

    Rose oxide, also known as Tetrahydro-4-methyl-2-(2-methylprop-1-enyl)-pyran, is one of the natural chemicals* that make roses smell the way they do.

    Somes roses have no scent and are bred merely for visual beauty. That seems a shame to me. The ones bred for scent are picked by the million and turned into rose absolute - which is expensive - and rose essential oil - which is even more expensive.

    Natural rose oil and absolute are made up of hundreds of different molecules.  Some smell and some don't. Some do other things, like giving you a feeling of calm and peace Rose oxide is one with a very distinctive scent.

    The rose oxide I use is synthetic. It's the same molecule with the same smell as the one that comes from rose petals, but it's made in a factory, and it exists on its own. And it really does smell like metal roses would, if you could grow them. You just have to use your imagination.

    Each variety of rose contains different amounts of the molecules that make it smell, including geraniol, linalool, citronellol and natural adlehydes.

    So in modern commercial perfumery, where scents are made by the 100s of litres, natural rose can be too unpredictable. Batches of rose absolute from different countries, fields, levels of sunshine or rainfall, or years, will all smell slightly different from each other. It's the task of a skilled perfumer to reformulate final fragrances so they smell identical to the previous batches. This all takes far too long for many of the high street brands. The top dogs like Chanel and Guerlain do go to the trouble. Others can't afford it.

    That's one good reason why perfumers will choose synthetic materials and recreate the smell of roses from its individual parts. Once they have a formula they can use it forever (regulations permitting) and it will always smell the same.

    Rose oxide has a shiny brightness to it. Add a little to a boring flower blend and it will wake up; it brings some life to the olfactory party.

    I use it in a light airy rose blend of my own. I also use it in an accord I call Shiny Bicyles. Inspired by the 2012 Tour de France, I developed a scent called Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers, to celebrate the moment Bradley Wiggins (Sir Wiggo) led the peloton into the Champs Elysees to help Cav win the final sprint. I used rose oxide and an essential oil that I think smells like wax polish to give me the scent of racing bikes. 

    *Natural chemicals:

    Roses are made of chemicals, as are human beings, everything we eat, drink and use. Some chemicals are synthetic - made in factories - and some are natural - found in nature. They are still chemicals, and as a science geek and proud of it, I'm not going to pretend otherwise. More on this later...

  3. perfumery materials and why I use them

    I do love making scents, and I like to explain what I do and why I do it. So I decided to share. Here's why I put grapefruit into almost everything I make.

     I love eating grapefruits, no sugar, just cut in half. I've developed a method to scoop out the flesh with a slightly pointed teaspoon so nothing gets left behind. I can't bear it when people think they are helping by slicing one up with a knife then handing it to me. Heathens.

     Jean-Claude Ellena, that precious being sent to earth to teach us the delights of perfumery, he says that all grapefruit oil smells like oranges in perfume, so he uses a synthetic blend instead. Perhaps it's just because I know it's in there, but when I use it, I smell grapefruits, and when other people ask me what's in my scents, they can smell grapefruit too.

    I use both pink and white grapefruit essential oils: pink tends to be a little less sharp and that's my favourite. Most of it comes from California these days, a by-product of the juice industry. Which is nice. I hate waste.

     As a material, grapefruit oil is fleeting, light and lovely - what traditional and natural perfumers call a top note - a little molecule which will give you a quick hit as it escapes from the bottle, then fade into nothingless. If you want a long lasting grapefruit scent, you do what Jean Claude says and you use synthetics, bigger molecules with similar smells but with longevity.

    To make the natural scent hang around a little longer, you add your fixatives then let your finished blend macerate for a few weeks, so the molecules that make grapefruit smell the way it does, attach themselves to the bigger, sticker materials - like vanilla and patchouli. It still floats off first, but less sharply.

    Grapefruit oil is restricted in the world of self-regulated perfume so I keep an eye on the levels I use. I've never had to reduce the amount I need for the effect I want just to complay with the regs, so it's not been an issue. (Some people ignore the regulations, particularly those perfumers who mistakenly hold that nothing natural can harm you - to which I say nettles, belladonna and poison ivy - but the regs have been introduced to prevent sore skin so ignoring them is disingenuous at least and potentially dangerous.)

    As well as smelling lovely, what else?

    It's stimulating, uplifting and reviving  so it's used as an anti-depressant. Just smelling it cheers me up, don't know about you. People use it to treat SAD, depression caused by lack of sunshine. It's squeezed or distilled from the peel, so perhaps the hours and days worth of sunshine in each drop really do reach us as the benefits of the light it absorbed to come into being.

    It's supposed to be good for stimulating the body to get rid of cellulite, and for athletes and dancers to remove lactic acid from their tired muscles. It calms stress. 

    Can things be calming and stimulating at the same time? Yes. Like a good yoga class, a decent sniff of grapefruit and the other citrus oils wake you up but don't tip you over the edge. It's all about balance.

    And that's the reason I use grapefruit, the real thing. It might not last through my scents' whole smell cycle, but a quick sniff puts me in the right mood for whatever the day is set to throw at me. It's in Urura's Tokyo Cafe and The Lion Cupboard, just for starters.