Einmal Ist Keinmal (“Once Is Never”)

It might be fair to say that this is the year I started getting into iris perfumes. I haven’t explored many of them, but I have met some good ones. Inspired by strangelove meltmyheart and Veronique Gabai Le Point G, I wanted to try blending something with orris as the hero.

I was craving an indulgence that would contrast with the feeling of being bogged down with daily demands, and the phrase “lightness of being” came to mind as the name of this would-be fragrance. I had read Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being (in its English translation) when I was maybe 20 years old and still taking most things I read at face value. Realizing that I remembered next to nothing about it now, I looked up the synopsis and discerned that I had also understood next to nothing from it then.

However, from reading the description of the philosophical underpinnings of the novel, exploring the relationship between recurrence and “heaviness” (or, as I interpret it, the significance of a thing being defined by its consequences) and its antithesis, the correlation of singularity and “lightness,” I learned of the German adage “Einmal ist keinmal,” which translates literally to “once is never.”

Apparently the protagonist struggles with the belief that if you live only once, you may as well have never lived at all. I have mostly subscribed to the opposite view—that if you have done or felt something significant, then it counts for all time. Not to say that it doesn’t need to be repeated, but that its own value should not diminish.

More immediately interesting, though, was the ability to capture an idea so profound in a catchphrase with words that rhymed and had paradoxical meanings. So, Einmal Ist Keinmal became the new name for my perfume experiment.

Getting to a desired scent did not come anywhere near as easily.

I started working with orris butter concrete in earnest, blending high concentrations with roasted cocoa extract and Atlas cedarwood essential oil, rounding it out with opoponax, saffron, and musks. Initially, I also thought that pink pepper would give it some brightness, but it seemed to clash, so I took it out. Then I started playing with frangipani absolute, a heady, sweet, tropical floral note that’s almost nutty as well. I found that frangipani tends to want to be the star of the show and that less is more when using it as a supporting character. I also added amyris and Cashmeran for a more balanced woody note. Eventually, ethyl linalool and bergamot were added to provide lift by way of top notes, which helped to make the blend feel less dense.

However, a constant frustration was that even as I kept increasing the amount of natural orris, I could hardly smell it. So, for the tenth mod, I abandoned the orris butter and maxed out the replacer Orris Givco—now we were getting somewhere! The irony.

I should also mention that I tried several musks throughout the mods. I started with Exaltolide and Zenolide, which tend to have fruitier overtones. They were also the longest lasting ingredients of the whole composition, so I often found myself left with only berried musks after a few minutes. Then I switched to Edenolide, which seems to have an orchard fruit tartness. Finally, I settled on Romandolide, which is a more delicate musk that really helps to give volume to a blend.

Happily, when I sniff from the vial, Einmal Ist Keinmal smells very smooth in a matte way and strongly of orris and cocoa. Orris Givco contains a high proportion of ionones, so there is a violet facet as well. The frangipani and ethyl linalool conspire to add a sweet accord, which is kept in check by the presence of vetiveryl acetate to complement the woody aspect. I would like to say that the notes are:

  • Orris, chocolate, bergamot, and rosewood

The ingredients are:

  • Orris Givco, roasted cocoa, opoponax, bergamot, frangipani, ethyl linalool, amyris, Atlas cedarwood, Cashmeran, vetiveryl acetate, and Romandolide

On my skin, the orris-chocolate effect is very brief, soon replaced by the bergamot leading into the frangipani–ethyl linalool duet and some airy woods, leaving behind a shadow of musk. It is fleeting; ephemeral… which perhaps makes it an accurate expression of its name:

Einmal Ist Keinmal

4 thoughts on “Einmal Ist Keinmal (“Once Is Never”)

  1. I also read Kundera’s book in English translation but probably at a more mature age (around 30), and I also remember nothing about it… though, I think it annoyed me.

    I enjoy reading about your experiments, though I prefer the “complete picture,” so to speak, finished product. I don’t think I would be able to keep mixing ingredients trying to get a good combination: I can’t make myself to layer perfumes meant for layering! 🙂

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    1. I found the Wikipedia synopsis depressing, so probably wouldn’t enjoy reading the book again now either.
      Generally I also prefer the finished product that someone with more perfumery training has made, but when the mood strikes, it’s fun to put things together and see what happens. 😉

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  2. This is fascinating to me as I’ve never smelt the building blocks of perfumery or tried to experiment with formulations. Despite being a researcher by nature & something of a science nerd, I enjoy the “man behind the curtain” magic of the perfumer’s craft & knowledge. That Wow moment of the first spray all the way through the olfactory journey to the final wisp of skin scent. I even enjoy the marvel of linear scents that remain the same despite their diminution in volume over time.
    However, I recognise your processes as those I use when I’m creating a new dish or making a favourite dish both gluten & sugar free.
    Thank you for such an interesting read

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    1. I’m still wowed by many perfumes and wish I had the knowledge to tell what went into them just by smelling. I’ve only taken a couple of workshops and would love to do a longer course some time to make better “experiments.” Many essential oils and absolutes smell beautiful on their own but become chaotic when mixed together, which is why natural perfumers work with isolates—those are also “behind the curtain” to me!

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