Monday, April 14, 2014

Five Flowers

One Year Passed

Sweet Dark Ambergris 20%
I promised a post about ambergris, yes? After a year of waiting to see how it turns out, I'm ready to share the results. My ambergris 20% has aged beautifully, and I'm very pleased with the results.

The raw, dry materials for Sweet Dark, Sweet Tobacco, Marine, and Antique were more fecal than I expected -- what a surprise to the nose! It was hard to work with, too. The pieces were dry, and pulverizing it was tricky as some pieces were too big, a small amount powdered just right, and the rest was sticky and resinous, forming thick plaques on the mortar and pestle. With great care I made sure to capture every tiny granule for the tinctures, and took extra time to work with only one over several days or weeks, to get to know them individually.

Even after dissolving in pure (undenatured) EtOH, it retained the strong odor for many weeks and I was a little worried about the investment. Time, however, was all it took for them to become gorgeous additions to the perfume organ. The sediment is an incredibly fine black sand and mica flecks. I won't decant them.

The Antique is a heavy, musty sweet -- emphasis on musty. Marine is true to its name, salty and metallic but not overtly so... my tincture most resembles the supplier's "Silver," which is my favorite of their preparations I've sampled. My Sweet Dark is very close to their Sweet Dark 20%, but it took more than 6 months of aging to achieve that. My favorite all-around is the Sweet Tobacco--- I've had to force myself to not add it to everything. (Everything needs a little tobacco note, no?)

Ambergris has become a must for every blend I've attempted over the past year, if only in trace amounts. Not to dominate, but to take the blend to the next level of sublime on delicate musk/animal notes not possible with ambrette and africa stone, both of which easily overwhelm a blend without binding and enhancing the head and heart notes as long and as sweetly. Tenacity is that quality so elusive in natural perfumery, ambrein and muscone being those large molecules so desirable for binding the other essences in a blend-- and ambergris is tenacious.

This seems especially important in blends that do not rely on rich but dominating base notes like amber/labdanum, or earthy patchouli and vetiver; or on the familiar citrus top notes, all of which tend to define the story of blends containing them. Same for blends without a prominent heart note such as ylang ylang, which has good tenacity on its own.

Most of my trials from the past year were complete failures, but one is a keeper: patchouli jasmine, based on jasmine sambac. Nothing is subtle about this perfume! Warm and exotic, perfect for the winter months, I hope it ages well. It has good sillage, as I found out when I wore it to work one day and got called out for the patchouli. As for the citrus family, also great for winter doldrums, I finally exhausted my infatuations with yuzu as the perfect citrus, and for the yummy neroli notes in Aftelier's Chef's Essence Petitgrain Sur Fleurs.

Well, not quite-- I still have ideas for using them with infusions from fresh herbs (added to peppermint and lavender waters for linen water), and the petitgrain for recipes made with produce from the garden.

In a natural place, perfumer's grace

What a great year has passed, since we moved to Bliss Haven Farm! This is our first spring on the land and it has become a changing landscape of wild flowers, butterflies, and native grasses and herbs. This week the wild persimmon is blooming, with it's delicate scent not too different from lilac. Last month the agarita was in bloom, with its narcotic honey scent.

Winter was longer and colder than usual, for us as well as the rest of North America. The humidity was so low that some of my blends evaporated out of the bottles with atomizers on them. My nose sense gave out on me - dry membranes, bleeding, and unable to smell fine things.

But it had its own reward. On warmer days the bees came to the recycling bin for the soda cans, so I offered instead a nectar of sugar in rain water with apple cider and a drop of Aftelier's Chef's Essence Petitgraine whenever I could. Buzzing and swarming around and on my body when I replenished the dishes, they left me alone while among them-- as long as I didn't wear natural scents on my skin. It was a highlight of the winter. I used oregano and wild verbena leaves to catch their attention in the dishes.

The delicate scents of wildflowers are taunting me to create a blend that is equally ethereal.
At #BlissHavenFarm, when the air is still and the sun begins to warm the earth, the scent of wildflowers so soft and sweet is a gentle balm for a weary body and mind.This fairy nest, gathered by the hand of a child, is magic just enough to waken the mind of my own innocence, that lays covered by a busy life.
That happy inner child has taken to "catching" butterflies with the iPhone. At my age it's a process not of skipping merrily through the meadow but stumbling and fumbling around. (They say 'dance like no one is watching.')

As I witness this tiny theater of the natural world, I imagine the sweetness of the nectar in each floret as tasted by butterfly and bee and take delight in their freedom of flight. But I also realize that we are touched by the same breeze and rays of sun, guided by the same moon, and are intimately connected in a moment shared, even if only I have awareness of that moment. It's inspiring.

I made a blend today that contains no citrus or heavy base notes, trying for a soft floral. Nutty ambrette and an insensible touch of tonka and cocao form the base; fruity poplar buds and tea-with-honey immortelle matched 1:1 give a well rounded, smooth heart; the head is soft and light with cabreuva to keep it moist and cool but enough pink peppercorn to lift it up.

On its own, it is rather bland. So I divided it among five bottles, added a scant drop of ambergris Silver to each bottle and chose Five Flowers to star in each: champaca, jasmine grandiflora, neroli extra, morrocan rose, and ylang ylang extra.

Now at three hours, the champaca is holding its own warm, sun tea fragrance extremely well in the dry down. The jasmine opened up loud, but is giving way to the softness of the basic blend and is a perfect component at this stage. Neroli, which gave up its bold citrus voice at about two hours and now is yielding to the basic perfume, almost undetectable as a soliflora. Rose was gorgeous at the beginning and still gorgeous. I think this blend is a strong support for rose of any variety - Bulgarian and Rose de Mai are two that I can try in comparison, head to head with the Morrocan. And no surprise, since it has its own prominent tea and honey notes. The ylang ylang is also borne well on this blend, and of the five I liked it best from the beginning. Ylang ylang suggests youth and freshness most of the five.

Aside from these Five Flowers, recognizable and among most loved, what else is there? Heavy orange flower, sharp kewda or osmanthus, green linden blossom, lavender absolute, or geranium? Fruity chamomile, tagates, rooibos, black currant? Probably not as soliflores but could result in a fine composition.

If I get good feedback on these five sorta-solifloras, then I think I'll keep playing with the basic blend and try linden and rooibos, as both have common notes. If not, something is sure to inspire a different approach.

Friday, February 15, 2013

a Rose is a Rose

Rose de Mai


Rose de Mai

About the Cultivar

From Wiki: "Rosa × centifolia (lit. hundred leaved/petaled rose; syn. R. gallica var. centifolia (L.) Regel), the provence rose or cabbage rose or Rose de Mai is a hybrid rose developed by Dutch rose breeders in the period between the 17th century and the 19th century, possibly earlier. It is a complex hybrid bred from Rosa gallica, Rosa moschata, Rosa canina, and Rosa damascena (Huxley 1992); its exact hereditary history is not well documented."
 The oil I use is from Eden Botanicals:

Rose de Mai Absolute

  • Botanical Name: Rosa centifolia
  • Origin: Egypt
  • Process: Solvent Extracted Absolute
  • Plant Part: Flowers
  • Cultivation: Cultivated
  • Grade: Fine Perfumery Grade
  • Note: Middle Note
  • Aroma: Distinctive, smooth, with the soft, delicate sweetness of a fresh bouquet of roses. Excellent tenacity.

These are the roses you know from a warm spring day, when the earth is still cool to touch and the grass soft under bare feet, the sun touches your skin and the breeze lifts a lock of hair, and all you're wearing is a little sun dress and a big smile; as time slows, with your nose buried in the petals, you can even hear the pulse of butterfly wings overhead.

You stopped to smell the roses on the way to pick peas for dinner, but are now inspired to cut a bouquet to place next to the bed for a little afternoon delight, because you're both a little sweaty from morning chores and he smells like smoke from the BarBQ.

This is my favorite rose note - it is fresh and vibrant, the breath of Joie de vivre. It brightens blends that are sultry and maybe a little too deep, lifting them up and making them just right for day-to-day enjoyment. 

Rose damascena 

Rose damascena

About the Cultivar

From Wiki: "Rosa × damascena, more commonly known as the Damask rose (Arabic: الوردة الدمشقية‎), the Damascus rose, or sometimes as the Rose of Castile, is a rose hybrid, derived from Rosa gallica and Rosa moschata.[1] Further DNA analysis has shown that a third species, Rosa fedtschenkoana, is associated with the Damask rose.[2]
The flowers are renowned for their fine fragrance, and are commercially harvested for rose oil (either "rose otto" or "rose absolute") used in perfumery and to make rose water and "rose concrete". The flower petals are also sometimes used directly to flavor food or to make tea and are considered safe for human consumption."
This is the rose absolute and otto you see named Moroccon, Bulgarian, Turkish, Egyptian, and so forth. The qualities of the product from these growing regions are varied and distinct, even though it is the same cultivar of rose. Although I don't have the experience or ability to sample many essences, the oils I have seem to be consistent with other reviews and monographs. As for what makes them so different, there are probably factors like weather and other local conditions that vary from year to year, such that each crop will have distinctive features, much the way weather and soil conditions contribute to the qualities of a crop of grapes and the wine that is produced from year to year.


  • Botanical Name: Rosa damascena
  • Origin: Morocco
  • Process: Solvent Extracted Absolute
  • Plant Part: Flowers
  • Cultivation: Cultivated
  • Grade: Perfumery Grade
  • Note: Middle Note
  • Aroma: Warm, sweet with soft spicy undertones. Excellent tenacity.

You keep your Moroccan rose oil in a cut glass stoppered bottle near the soaking tub, and while your skin is still flushed and damp from a steaming soak, you massage a few drops onto softest skin. Even if you stay at home for the evening, the heady scent suggests a clingy dress and skinny heels with a strap around the ankle. Irresistible!

The subtle spice and warmth of Moroccan rose absolute insists that you reserve it for those blends designed and intended for up close and personal moments -- this is not your grandma's rose. Moroccan rose can be exulted with a tiny touch of exotic jasmine or ylang ylang; add a little spice to the floral blends to keep them warmer and bring out the rose's own spice. Moroccan works for him, too, when blended with earth and wood notes, broadening and smoothing them without being too sweet.


Bulgaria Otto & Bulgarian Absolute

  • Botanical Name: Rosa damascena
  • Origin: Bulgaria
  • Process: Steam Distilled Essential Oil
  • Plant Part: Flowers
  • Cultivation: Cultivated, Certified Organic (NOP, EU)
  • Grade: Therapeutic Grade / Fine Perfumery Grade
  • Note: Middle Note
  • Aroma: Extremely complex, sweet and full-bodied, a fine quality oil from the region best known for producing the world’s most premium roses.

The weekend at the shore was short and sweet, but now your skin is a little chapped and there are a few places where the sun penetrated too deeply even though you spritzed with rose water and stayed in the shade. Every morning and evening for several days you apply cool, sweet rose lotion to those tender areas, restoring suppleness and health quickly and naturally.

This is indeed your grandmother's rose -- the rose of tea parties and lady fingers, deep bosoms and plump babies.

But it's also the rose of antiquity. Rose water, Turkish Delight, rose flavored tea and classic perfumes have sung this rose's song for many centuries. This is the rose that ornaments embroidered lace and fine china teacups, portraits and upholstery, coins and architecture. Don't discount this proud note, because it will lend dignity and refinement to sassy, sophisticated, and smart blends alike.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Challenges for a new perfumer - sourcing and blending

Natural Appreciation 

Lucky for me to be a teenager when I first encountered natural perfumes.Jasmine was my first passion - in steamy Key West in the mid 1970's we wore it neat, day and night. Patchouli blended with sandalwood took a very close second. There was real magic happening when the perfume oil and flushed skin came together in that tropical humidity. 

Though my mother loved commercial scents like Estee Lauder Youth Dew I never smelled one I really liked, so in my young adult years I owned maybe three or four bottles of perfume; of what, I couldn't say except Jovan Musk. There were rare opportunities to wear them since perfume is strongly discouraged in medical settings as well as in group gatherings such as meditation and other studies.

Amber finally woke the sleeping dragon of two decades of olfactory languor, though I cannot remember how I first got a whiff. It brought me to full alertness, penetrating like a brilliant torch in a deep dark cavern, a scent that I instantly recognized but could not place and the enigma would not let me rest again. Never mind that it took years to fully appreciate what "amber" really is and is not, it did the job. I still hoard little boxes that I acquired in the 1990's from Auric Blends  and that amber is a potent reminder of an intense period of personal growth and transformation at the turn of the millennium. 

Follow the scent trail

My search for genuine rose oil for personal skin care -- just rose and not other oils -- compelled me to make my own products in 2007, and finding a good source for "amber" was part of that quest. Eden Botanicals had great information and materials for their amber products although they discontinued their amber soap making line in 2011. They are my go-to supplier for rose absolutes and otto, orris butter, ambrette, plus many more ingredients. Their orders get to me faster than any other supplier, no matter how big or small the order is ($$-wise, that is).] They always provide sample vials that helped broaden my palate, if not flat out tempt me to get out that credit card again, and with Eden I began a small collection of common oils and absolutes.

When I read A Scented Palace, given to me as a gift from a stranger in 2010, I exited what probably would have been the end of the scent trail for the potential perfumer in me. The book was a real stretch, definitely nothing like it in my library; if it had not been such an unexpected gesture from the universe I might have simply used it to decorate. At first I didn't get it at all; but slowly it dawned and I had the epiphany - "perfume" was only made from natural ingredients in the past, many of which I already had, therefore I could also make perfume. The myopic perspective on scents and natural essences I possessed up to that point, suddenly transformed from a clinically linear representation of (molecule-> olfaction-> limbic system) into a holistic, if not romantic, appreciation of the aesthetics of perfume and everything associated with perfume. 

So began the quest for building a complete collection of perfume making ingredients.The past two to three years have been a boon for indie and home perfumers, others like me who started off using essential oils therapeutically and have started blending natural perfumes. Looking at blogs I can see posts from 2005 until now where we all ask the same questions - where can I buy xxx?? 
Here are some new spray and roll on bottles I got from Nemat

Here is a list of suppliers: 

Absolutes and essences, plus much more
Quality, but small and limited quantities
Absolutes and essences; wooden containers for amber
Fast, reliable, high quality
Absolutes and essences
Their Kailash is an blend, was a generous sample; many informative monographs and recipes. Also Lapsang Souchong CO2 select, "Smoked Green Tea" – most incredible but now OOS
Absolutes and essences; copper distillation equipment
The source for Palo Santo
Absolutes and essences; supplies for bath & body products
I purchased their last 4 oz of Linden Blossom CO2, now OOS
Essential Oils
Another source for Holy Basil (tulsi)
Absolutes and essences
Source for cape chamomile
Perfume bottles of all kinds
They don’t like to do “one-sies” but OK with small multiples and also have incredible Indian perfume line
Droppers, vials, jars
Never questioned the size of an order and they give 1 free sample of almost everything offered, just select
Animal and Ambergris La Via del Profumo   Ambergris Essentials Both suppliers are easy to work with

My perfume organ is nicely filled in with at least a few drops of most notes, but there are a few things I have not been able to acquire as samples yet, such as boronia, perilla, tea (green and black, not smoked).  Perhaps someone will chance upon this and give a girl a hand... And if I find new sources I'll update the chart and repost.

Learning the notes

Natural Perfume is a very different scent experience from smelling commercial perfumes and perfumed products. Mandy Aftel talks about the way natural perfume is best experienced in this linked article. Sandalwood is one of the few notes that stays true throughout its dry down; the notes change as they diffuse, so Mandy teaches the beginner to take a single note and examine it thoroughly, then follow its evolution over time, attending to how the scent changes in time on the skin.  In her Level 1 Workbook, the steps are carefully laid out and one has to record all the impressions, a precise method of learning some basic notes. Another way that I become familiar with the notes is to select one before going to bed, apply it to my wrists, then smell it as I'm going to sleep. This eliminates much of the judging, categorizing, and labeling that goes on in the other method, in a way that deeper aspects of perception can form a relationship with the essence.What I'm finding with this method, however, is that I don't have a way to describe the note, just that I can recognize it more readily.

There are a few twists to learning to appreciate even a single note, more for an accord or a final perfume, because everyone's nose is different. How sensitive is the schnozz?  According to my husband, I have a very sensitive nose and can smell far more than anyone else he knows; but the more I do this, the more I suspect that I don't have "a NOSE." I suspect I'm one of the 50% who cannot smell musk ketone, for instance.

There's also a limit to olfactory endurance, both in how many scents the apparatus can handle and for how long. Mine is only reliable for about 6 notes in a session, 90 minutes to 2 hours, even with rest breaks and coffee sniffing, although I almost always push beyond (and without any benefit whatsoever). In contrast, my daughter Rachel kept going for hours and seemed to be able to sample everything without any apparent olfactory fatigue.

And finally, we don't all smell the same thing. I absolutely adore Aftelier's Poplar Buds, straight up, in the bottle, on skin, however I can get it. To me it smells like a juicy new piece of bubble gum, and I've drooled on occasion. Yum yum yum! It's so wonderful to me and I couldn't wait to share it with my sister Carol. On that special day, though, she told me she smelled --- wait for it --- sauerkraut. Yes, that's what I said!

Blending is --- risky

There are many great musicians who don't have perfect pitch; in the same way, I'm sure many great perfumes are made by semi-deaf schnozes, too. As soon as a newbie has enough material to start blending, the possibilities for blending are endless. It's beyond temptation, the urge to get crazy and try every idea. Fortunately, though, the cost of many of the ingredients is so high that we have to really sit with those precious drops for a good while before we're willing to take risks. I have to like an accord or blend very much before I'll add Organic Bulgarian Rose Otto (~$34 for 1.8 ml, almost $1 per drop).

So when it comes to blending, you might think that good ingredients means a good end product by default. So not true! It only takes one drop of the wrong ingredient to ruin a perfectly good blend. So say the experts, and so Rachel and I discovered when she was here at the first of the year. Our first 5 ml accord was "perfect," until we added the little bit of bergamot "it just had to have," to top it off. Gak! Like many of my discards that are too precious to toss (this has ambergris and jasmine CO2 to name just two pricey ingredients) it will most likely scent an overnight lotion, since I go through quite a bit of lotion. And I will like it.

A few weeks ago I went through all the little bottles of "mixtures" that I've concocted over the past few years (I don't even want to call them perfume or accords, some were so bad). Only a couple are keepers - one is a blend that Tu says smells just like a Saigon evening. To me it smells like something with green olives, but it has enough merit to play with it more. (Even though it has tansy in it and tansy and I don't get along.) One mixture had to be flushed down the toilet, it was so wrong. No amount of aging can fix a blend that sucks from the start.

Pleasing Harmony

Sometimes it's worth it to take risks and just go for it. I hastily made a blend as a gift for a friend (DPR) a few months ago, and while it opens boldly with a pungent blend of citrus and smoked green tea, it has a short if not intriguing and sweet floral middle that captures the imagination and a long musky ambrette dry down. It's an olfactory feast, even if it is not a perfume, per se.

One of the perfume samples from Nemat is a blend that the perfumer is said to have worked on for 18 years. It's exquisite on so many levels and sets the bar for what I can strive for, for my own creations.

There's a lifetime of blending pleasure ahead with that as a goal.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Artisans Alive!

In the Shop

Today was memorable indeed. Jason Bedre delivered this exquisite hand crafted (yes, with hand tools and all-wood joins) mahogany perfume organ we designed. Jason is a true Renaissance Man,  a patented chemist who is passionate about maintaining the art of traditional wood working.

I can only say that it turned out exactly as I envisioned it. This shows some of the richness of the grain.

Please allow me to show you (I apologize for the poor images from my scratchy iPhone, better to come).
Installed on top of desk

 The drawers glide like silk over skin.
Loaded and ready to PLAY
And play we did. Shari G came by to sample the blends I've been working on for Charm School. We may end up with something totally different in the end, but what fun to explore the realm of scent and natural perfume making together! 
She's my muse, and I have to push myself out of my comfort zone to imagine what will enchant the Charm School Fashion-Perfumista.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Perfume ORGAN

The nose is not the only organ used in natural perfume making!

In Progress

Jason is working on the drawers now, all hand mitering. All my bottles are sitting lined up, ready to take their places on this gorgeous mahogany.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ambrette Seed

Musk. The ultimate attractant?

And you can see why! Isn't muscone a gorgeous macrocyclic molecule?
Musk is a must-have ingredient for a natural perfume designed for seduction. We are always looking for aphrodisiac qualities in our food, drink, odors and environment... yes? We think of muskiness as sexiness. It's attractive, sweet, sultry and many other things for both men and women -- even fresh and clean.

My current project is an ambitious effort to develop a perfume for women who are confident, inspired, and romantic. My friend wants a custom fragrance for herself and her clients, one that will work with their own chemistry to enhance their feminine natural scents and entice their object(s) of desire. It should be transformative -- "for a better version of you." These are vivacious women who are close to and comfortable with their bodies and who prefer natural everything over synthetic anything.

It shouldn't be a sweet floral, though - no rose or old lady flowers. Not soft or powdery. Citrus, but no household cleaners. It should open with bergamot and feature honey, tea, and tobacco notes -- and suggest much more! It should, of course, include musk. This perfume will be simply irresistible, just like sex and candy...

How musk molecules work

Musk is a key ingredient in both natural and commercial perfumes and perfumed products because it holds ephemeral essences, which may last only a few minutes, much longer than they would last by themselves. It's a perfume fixative, allowing the wearer to enjoy rare and precious essences for hours rather than moments. Because of this property, the use of musk or other fixatives is a key principle in all perfume making. It's especially important in natural perfumery because of the sublime nature of organic essences. They are as fragile and brief as the plants from which they are derived.

You can almost imagine the large molecule above as a big basket with space for dainty little flowers, herbs, fruit, and other delightful molecules. Holding them, so they won't diffuse away too quickly.

Synthetic fragrances and synthetic musk ingredients are used extensively in every day products. Macrocyclic musk molecules can only be perceived by 50% of humans, yet synthetic musk is used in most perfumed products and in many commercial perfumes. It's definitely in your typical laundry detergent and fabric softener, because it prevents that "fresh, clean scent" from washing and drying away.

Based on my experience, the scent of a pure synthetic musk molecule (white musk, musk ketone) is very soft. Musk ketone does not smell "musky" though. The pure synthetic lacks any character at all, so I found no use for it. Perhaps one day it will find its way into one of my blends, one that cannot afford even a hint of animal notes but requires a bland, strong fixative. 


Musk in nature

All subspecies of the musk deer are endangered because of how greatly desired true musk is, as it has always been desired by humans. Little Moschus here is a solitary and territorial creature, very shy and very quiet. The only way other deer know he's there is by his scent. Every drop of his secretion has to adhere well to branches and rocks, and linger there a long, long time. How else can he let the girls know that he's in the neighborhood, and tell all the other guys to get lost? All animal musks are thick, waxy, tenacious, and potent.
If you or I were to smell true musk from the gland of the endangered and protected musk deer Moschus moschiferus, we would most likely find the scent offensive. We would not like the fatty, fecal, urine, and deer pheromone scents that are carried by the underlying sweet musk molecule, muscone.
In my collection of natural essences I have small samples of tinctured civet, castoreum, africa stone, and ambergris. These are sources of animal musk found in nature, and they've been exploited for thousands of years for their properties. The mystique surrounding them drives natural perfumers to great ends to get samples. But what a surprise! Without question, sniffed out of the bottle these are nothing short of nas.ty. Each of these compounds smell vile-- undoubtedly fecal with varying amounts of urine, "stank" and other animal funk. But to be fair, they have their special charms and I'll address them in more detail here one day. Each has a subtle underlying scent that is sweet, enticing, and compelling.

Vegan musk? Yes, in Ambrette seed!

Musks fall into four main categories: 1) nitro musks; 2) macrocyclic musks; 3) indane musks; and 4) lactone musks. Ambrette seed oil contains the macrocyclic compound omega-6-hexa-decene-lactone. While all animal derived macrocyclic musks are ketones, the macrocyclic musks extracted from plants consist of large ringed lactones.

Ambrette seed is considered to be nature's closest equivalent to musk from the musk deer. The plant is also called musk mallow and is very closely related to okra. I could have mistaken this picture to be an okra plant growing in my father's garden!

One grower in India characterizes it this way:  

"Ambrette (Abelmoschus moschatus) is a tropical hibiscus with beautiful bright yellow flowers, and its distinctive seed pods look so similar to okra that the plant is sometimes referred to as “musk okra” or “ornamental okra.”  Ambrette is native to India, where it is known as Mushkdana or Kasturi Bhendi.  The plant grows to just over a meter in height and is an evergreen shrub.  When mature the pods split open to reveal kidney-shaped seeds that have a sweet, flowery, heavy fragrance.

Ambrette (seed) oil is pale yellow, with an enchanting aroma described variously as sweet, rich, warm, musky, fatty and nutty, with floral overtones.  After a short period of aging, more complex notes can emerge, such as wine, brandy, fruit, and tobacco."

Ambrette seed is one of the newest additions to my collection. When I first smelled it out of the packaging on arrival, I was put off by it. But the packaging was heated from sitting in the mail box and I didn't want to wait for it to cool (surely it was 110 degrees or hotter). I've seen other natural perfumer reviews also describe it the way it first hit me -- oily.

Today's experience was different and more pleasant. The first impression I had was "liqueur" followed immediately by "nutty." Looking closer, much more comes to the surface. It is rich and complex, with a twist that I can only describe as "oily fruit." For those of you familiar with Asian delicacies, jack fruit and lichee come to mind; both of these pungent fruits have distinct floral notes which is why I enjoy them so much.

The Ultimate Attractant - your own skin

On its own, ambrette seed doesn't do anything for me. I genuinely dislike it on the scent strip. However, something happens to it on skin, blending with my own odors. Some perfumers even describe it as smelling like skin. This actually makes sense, now that I've worked with it a little. Because ambrette doesn't contain any animal secretions, its musk molecule can capture and hold the wearer's own scent, as her oils and natural fragrance blend with the ambrette seed. Perhaps it acts as a skin scent magnifier or enhancer.

Being a medical acupuncturist, I have training and experience in detecting and characterizing the five main types of human skin odors. These are Water - putrid (rotten eggs), Wood - rancid (soured), Fire - scorched, Earth - sweet, Metal - rotten (musty). Ambrette seed can be said to possess, of the five choices, musty sweetness. However, on my skin I perceive it as tin or metallic with sweet undertones, not musty. And I find this intriguing, that I perceive it to transform itself to express its elemental quality on my skin.

Ambrette has, in theory, all of the qualities I need for my client's perfume -- a musk fixative, plus floral notes but not too sweet, with tobacco, fruit/candy, "and more." I worked it into a blend today with a tiny bit of africa stone, a little vanilla, tobacco, jasmine, and rose to achieve a very warm and luscious accord with a smooth dry down. The primary heart and top notes are undetermined but there are a few strong candidates. Will keep you posted!

Sunday, August 19, 2012

i sit and examine
and i'm changed by the looking.
my own mystery 
& pure perception are revealed.
in this most excellent realm
a scent
--this formless essence--
pervading sense & consciousness. 

 here imagination stirs 
 memory's deep,
then urges on, to
fresh awareness & expression.

the first blog post