This is a success story about anticipation.
I had been looking forward to this full-day perfume-making workshop at 4160Tuesdays for quite some time, and a few weeks ago, during my visit to London, I finally got to join 7 other students in a structured day of scent indulgence and creation at the original studio in Acton. We ranged from repeat customers to someone “reluctantly” accompanying a friend, and I may have been the nerdiest one in the group. (Spoiler: it was well worth the anticipation.)
Sarah and Nick were wonderful hosts and we were treated with gourmet chocolates, fruits, coffee, and tea ad libitum. We sat around an array of bottled 4160Tuesdays perfumes and chatted about the popularity of fig in niche perfumery, the tailoring of ingredients to skin chemistry (use less sweet ingredients on sweeter-smelling skin), and solving the problem of skin chemistry variation altogether by wearing perfumes on clothing instead.
Part 1: Making perfume—in theory
The “formal” learning started with smelling commonly used ingredients one by one on blotter strips. Each was already diluted in perfumer’s alcohol to the concentration that it would be used in a mixture. We would sniff, sniff some more, write down our impressions, be enlightened or astonished or triumphant when Sarah told us what it was, and repeat.
We learned about fragrance families and the importance of ingredients that don’t smell very much on their own but lend a much-needed “boost” (eg, Iso E Super®) or carry the other, desired aromas in various ways (eg, Hedione®). (Sarah and I had a side conversation during a break about why all my attempts at perfume thus far seemed to disappear within about an hour after putting them on, and it turns out I have been making them way too concentrated and definitely without enough of those types of ingredients.)
A key aromachemical discovery for me here was Cedramber®, a woody base that to me also smelled peppery and cold. Some other aromas of personal interest:
- Dorinia (by Firmenich): A honeyed, synthetic rose—beautiful and reminded me of my beloved shiso
- Oakmoss: Although I have my own oakmoss absolute, I had not perceived it as garlicky or antiseptic before. We also learned that it can be allergenic and will become illegal in the UK very soon
- Osmanthus: When Sarah asked me at the beginning whether there were any particular ingredients I wanted to smell, I named osmanthus and she added it to the repertoire for the lesson. I found the scent a bit confusing the first time, as it seemed citrusy-floral, a bit moldy (like a petal starting to wilt), and a bit like tea
- Orris Givco®: Before this, I thought I didn’t like any iris perfumes, as they were mostly too powdery. However, this was quite inviting—very woody, and reminded me of sawdust or Hinoki wood. Natural orris butter is even more lovely
- Amber Xtreme™: Even diluted to 1%, I could not stand this. THIS must be that irritating ingredient pervasive in so many loud perfumes, that prickles in my nose and makes me want to avoid it at all costs…
- Amber accord (two-thirds labdanum and one-third vanillin): A more vintage amber, which I found powdery and did not like after all—so much for the false nostalgia I thought I had
Part 2: Making perfume—things get real!
After lunch, we got to roll up our sleeves and start making our own perfumes. The 8 of us navigated our way deftly around each other at the end table, sleuthing for ingredients (which were arranged mostly in alphabetical order as in an index, à la black tea and green tea both filed under “T” and not “B” or “G”).
Well, I had set out to explore osmanthus, and it was already reminiscent of tea, so I got to it. I layered my desired ingredients on a blotter as instructed:
- Black tea note
- Green tea note
- Iso E Super
- Pink pepper
- Virginian cedarwood
- Orris Givco
Sarah took a few sniffs and suggested relative amounts of each, which worked quite well. I had to go outside to reset my nose several times to give it a fair assessment, both on the blotter and on my skin.
The tea and cedarwood notes seemed a bit astringent, so I added some peach (gamma undecalactone) to round it out. I was mostly satisfied with it.
Still, something seemed to be missing. Was it too bland? I asked Sarah this, and after another sniff, she declared, “The potential for ruining it now is quite high,” and advised me to keep it as is if I was pretty happy with it. A whole day of smelling new things can make some perfumes seem bland, she reminded me.
So that was that!
I scaled up everything to make my full bottle except the pink pepper, which I kept to a minimum, and dialed down the osmanthus as well.
All in all, it was a very educational and enjoyable workshop and I highly recommend it to anyone curious about making perfume.
(I’ve only written a fraction of what I learned here!)
I also bought a bottle of the gorgeous Red Queen while I was there.
Epilogue: A perfume by any other name…
And what of naming my new perfume-baby?
Well, that took a while. I didn’t come up with a name until almost 2 weeks later, when it had had a chance to macerate and tell me who it was. (It seems to think it’s a descendant of some kind of fuzzy stone fruit.)
May I present… Tea on a Dreamy Afternoon! ♥
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