It’s been a while since I’ve done a perfume making post, and this is a topic I’ve been meaning to cover for some time now. I have read people comment that they have tried a few scents in a line and find a note or an aspect that seems to run in common between the scents. For example, people talk of the Guerlinade base, or the Tauerade base, or the way the Chanel brand’s style is associated with aldehydes. I can’t speak for other brands, but I’d like to address this notion a little bit with respect to my own line.
There is no single ingredient that is in all my scents other than perfumer’s alcohol and a trace amount of purified water. The aromatic ingredients are formulated from scratch for every scent, with no standard “base accord” used in common. In fact, I’ve not made my own accords to use in scents the way many perfumers do; that is, I formulate a new “amber” or “musk” or “sandalwood” accord for every scent rather than blending one standard accord to use repeatedly every time I need “amber” or “sandalwood” etc. It takes more time this way, but it allows me to customize each scent to try to avoid a sameness from one scent to another.
That said, I obviously have some likes and dislikes, so labdanum, sandalwoods, cedars, and musks find their way into many of my scents. The exact ingredients and accords are different, but if you tend to dislike some of those items it will knock out a number of my scents from being possibilities for you. And even if you do like the notes and ingredients, if your sensitivities are radically different than mine, the scents won’t be balanced to your taste. I think part of the reason we have favorite perfumers is because our scent receptors have a lot in common with theirs in terms of our sensitivities.
I’ll give some examples to help you understand a little more where I’m coming from. Let’s briefly talk about ingredient accords for musk, sandalwood, amber, and cedar.
When I add a musk accord to a scent, I can choose between the 11 synthetic musks I currently stock (like muscone, isomuscone, cosmone, ambrettolide, muscenone, velvione, habanolide, etc) plus the many natural ingredients I stock that have musky facets (like labdanum, angelica root, and ambrette seed). I can then add animalic facets to the musk accord with items like castoreum and/or civet and/or para cresyls, etc. I will usually choose several of the synthetics and several of the naturals to include in the blend. Each synthetic musk has a slightly different character and those variations determine which ones I will choose for any particular formula (synthetic musks have different degrees of powder, sweetness, floral notes etc). At first I did not realize how common it was for people to be anosmic to some musks, but more recently I have been trying to make my blends work whether people can smell musk or not. It doesn’t always work, but that’s been a recent goal as I move forward. I’ve not yet found a musk I can’t smell, and even though I’m not anosmic to them I’m also not overly sensitive to them so they don’t cause me headaches or block out the rest of the scent as they seem to do for some folks.
Other accords work the same way. A sandalwood note might be composed of several of the many synthetic sandalwood ingredients I have (things like Javanol, Polysantol, Ebanol, etc), plus several of the natural sandalwoods I have (currently Mysore, New Caledonia, and Australian). An amber accord might be built with a synthetic or two (things like Ysamber K, Timberol, Cedramber etc) plus many naturals (like labdanum, benzoin, tolu, vanilla, spices, woods). A cedar note might come from a mix of natural sources (like Texas, Atlas, Virginia) plus a synth or two (like CedrAmbre, ISO E Super).
I literally have hundreds of ingredients, both synth and natural, so the possibilities for new combinations are nearly limitless. Sometimes one scent will lead to an idea for another, like the plum note in Wood Violet led to the idea of Vintage Rose. If you dislike the plum in one you may dislike it in both because there is some borrowed ground there. A number of my earlier scents used ISO E Super, but I’m using that less often now because it seems to have been overused in perfumery. It is very useful at times though; if we were to give up ISO E we would lose modern classics like Feminite du Bois and Terre d’Hermes. ISO E causes problems for some people, either coming and going or smelling like pickles. To me it is very steady, no disappearing act, and it has facets of cedar, amber, musk, and floral.
I always try to keep an open mind, realizing that no single scent will work for everyone. I try to tweak my formulas to work for as many people as I can, but it’s not possible to have a 100% hit rate. I’m sure that my scent preferences and my genetic receptor sensitivities do set up a certain style that is recognizable, but it’s not because I’m intentionally using some standard ingredients in every scent’s base. I’ve found some people dislike ISO E Super or Javanol or labdanum or certain musks or heliotrope or something else, and I can help steer them away from sampling those scents that contain their kryptonite ingredients. 🙂 And by the way I do have my own kryptonite ingredients too — I can’t tolerate much in the way of ozone, even mild ozone in green synthetic notes and lily of the valley aroma chems, and I don’t tolerate melon notes well.
I also think my style is evolving as I go. I’m trying to use higher and higher levels of naturals, and I’m using less synthetic musk. I’m also exploring some new territory — I’m currently working on my first scent with a noticeable civet note, and I have plans for a couple dry masculine scents. There are always new things to learn, and I hope to keep building and improving as the years keep going by.
Hope that’s helpful background information to some degree! I’ll have a Christmas post tomorrow…
Updated to add:
I forgot to mention that some ingredients function as part of several accords since ingredients generally have multiple facets to them. For example violet leaf adds to the green notes and the leather notes in a scent; jasmine adds floral and animalic notes; Javanol adds sandalwood, musk, and some vague floral notes; ISO E Super adds cedar, amber, floral, and musk-like notes; osmanthus adds floral, apricot, and leather notes, etc. I don’t think of each ingredient as part of just one accord; I tend to think of most ingredients as belonging to multiple accords. I suppose each perfumer has a different way of working though. You could assign ingredients to the note/accord they contribute to the most and just realize they will influence other accords as well, but I tend to view the whole formula as an entity instead. I do sometimes break pieces of a formula out to work on separately for a while — maybe the heart or the base or the floral notes etc. I don’t formulate in pieces that I then try to put together at the end though.
And when I gave the little examples above, those weren’t meant to be exhaustive. A typical sandalwood accord would include other things besides sandalwood ingredients, like ionones, creamy notes, possibly vetiver and cedar and musk, etc. Again, those auxiliary notes are playing multiple roles in the formula. It sounds complex, but it’s more intuitive once you start playing with ingredients, and I’m probably not explaining it very well. I’d have to work on a write-up for a while to make a better organized explanation, and I’ll save that for another day.