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.

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