Alchemy Perfume

Alchemy

I’ve been taking a small break from the Fragrant blending experiments to mix up “Alchemy,” the alcohol-based perfume from Mandy Aftel’s earlier book, Essence & Alchemy. Last week I mixed up the required amber accord and then the base accord. Then yesterday I added the heart and top notes. Even though I haven’t let it mature AT ALL, this is a fun, easy-to-love perfume modeled on the classical amber base-floral heart-citrus top notes model. Here’s what you need to do the job:

Raw Materials*

  • Base accord in perfumer’s alcohol (vanilla, benzoin, and a few drops of the amber accord)
  • Rose absolute
  • Jasmine absolute
  • Ylang Ylang Extra essential oil
  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Bitter orange essential oil
  • Black pepper essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • 1 oz dark glass bottle (already containing the base accord – you will add the heart and top notes to it)
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the essences to the bottle that already contains the base. Use a separate eye dropper for each essence.
  3. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of rubbing alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol.
  4. Cap the bottle tightly and shake it to be sure all the ingredients are well mixed. Label it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
  5. Let the blend mature from a week to a month to let the essences marry and create a smooth blend. Finis!

How did it work? How does it smell?
Sweet amber-jasmine deliciousness! The bergamot and bitter orange give it a zippy, fruity bounce – but what really shines through is the beautiful jasmine, supported by the ylang ylang and rose. The vanilla-benzoin-amber base gives it sweet base that is dense and practically lickable. Yum! This reminds me of something….What is it? I’ve smelled other classical perfumes like this before, but for the moment they are escaping me.  This smells a little retro – fleetingly like a Chanel… No. 5 or one of its family members? – but without any of the aldehydes and angular modern art business. It’s probably the rose-jasmine heart that is common to so many of the greats. This smells simultaneously fresher and denser (if that’s possible) than the more synthetic classics.

I wonder how it will smell when it’s aged a month?

Notes on Notes

  • Rosa damascena absolute, Turkey, White Lotus Aromatics – Rose, honeyed, sweet, soft, med/low intensity, pretty, more vegetable than jasmine, more rooty
  • Jasmine absolute, grandiflorum, India, Eden Botanicals – jasmine, SWEET, narcotic, rich, seductive, round, white floral
  • Ylang Ylang Extra EO, Organic, Comoros, White Lotus Aromatics – harsher than jasmine, sweet white floral, much lower intensity than jasmine with sharp, almost woody top, thinner than jasmine
  • Bergamot EO, Organic, Italy, White Lotus Aromatics – citrus, green, sharp, peppery, light
  • Bitter Orange EO, Dominican, Liberty Naturals – citrus, orange, tart – like this
  • Black Pepper EO, Sri Lanka, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – pepper, phenolic?, eye watering, hot, thin, edge, woody

The top notes link one to the next nicely. Sharpness of the Ylang leads in to the green citrus? My skin seems to exaggerate the sour, sharp aspects of the rose – at least it did at first, while blending, but did not later – even after the blend only matured a day.

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Orange Blossom-Tobacco Alcohol-Based Perfume

This is the alcohol-based version of the perfume Chameleon from Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. I’ve been doing a bit of a “Julie & Julia” thing, blending along with Mandy’s recipes as a beginner’s way to leap into the world of artisanal perfume.

It’s been a fun and funny ride so far. Just pushing forward has already made me bark my shins against problems like: figuring out where to source quality oils, how to measure incredibly sticky impossible-to-work-with absolutes, how to clean glass eyedroppers, and what to do when you accidentally touch your nose with cinnamon bark EO (ow!).

Mandy’s style is nonchalant and does not advertise challenges, so I tend to just stumble upon them and faceplant. Best way to learn! So here I am at Chameleon.

When sourcing the raw materials for the perfume, I overlooked this key paragraph, which is the entire point of Chameleon, and how it earns its name with a nod to transformation:

If you have the materials, you can also explore the effects of a couple of animal essences. After you have completed the perfume, divide it equally among four tiny bottles. Add a drop of ambergris to one bottle, half a drop of costus (dip a toothpick) to the second bottle, and a drop of hyraceum to the third bottle; leave the fourth bottle as is. Smell the four bottles and note the differences between them. Repeat after an hour, four hours, a day, and a week. – Mandy Aftel, Fragrant

Whoops! I should have sourced: costus, hyraceum, and ambergris. Not an easy task. Animalics can be a challenge to find. And more than that: To use ambergris, I actually have to purchase it (expensive!), grind it up, and create a tincture at 10% that takes ~6 mos to mature. (Hear that? That is the sound of me very quietly beating my head against my desk.)

But you know what Mandy? I accept the challenge. I’ll just need a little time. Meanwhile, here’s how to make the Orange Blossom-Tobacco perfume that becomes Chameleon.

Orange-Blossom Tobacco Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating Orange Blossom-Tobacco perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s alcohol
  • Tobacco absolute
  • Vanilla absolute
  • Patchouli essential oil
  • Linalool – a natural isolate from Basil
  • Rose absolute
  • Orange flower absolute
  • Virginia cedarwood essential oil
  • Pink grapefruit essential oil
  • Bitter orange essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 10-25 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Curette (for scooping vanilla absolute out)
  • Stirring rod
  • ½ oz dark glass bottle (for storing perfume)
  • Tiny funnel
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the perfumer’s alcohol to the graduated beaker.
  3. Add the essences one at a time. Start from the base notes (tobacco, vanilla, patchouli) and work your way up to the top notes (cedarwood, grapefruit, bitter orange).
  4. Stir after each addition, and sniff to experience the blend.
  5. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of rubbing alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol.
  6. Using the tiny funnel, pour the finished blend into a small dark glass bottle.
  7. Cap the bottle tightly and shake it to be sure all the ingredients are well mixed. Label it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
  8. Let the blend mature from a week to a month to let the essences marry and create a smooth blend. Finis!

How did it work? How does it smell?
Now that I’ve (mostly) gotten the hang of working with the gooey essences with a curette (I’m looking at you, vanilla), this perfume was relatively straightforward to mix up. But how does it smell? This one is a little more challenging to describe. Unlike some of the other solid/alcohol perfumes – this one smells noticeably different from the Orange Blossom Tobacco Solid Perfume. So far, I’ve let it age only 1 week.

The most obvious difference is the tobacco. The solid perfume is extremely tobacco-forward. This perfume, with its tobacco-vanilla-patchouli base, is more complex and the tobacco is less apparent. The perfume is still very much ABOUT tobacco, but my brain simply doesn’t scream, “Oh hey, that’s tobacco!” Overall, the character of the perfume is intense, woody-earthy, rich and lightly sweet. The orange blossom makes it floral – but it’s a heavy-yet-elegant masculine floral. The green edge to the orange blossom wanders in and out. Sometimes I catch it, sometimes I don’t. The linalool enhances it nicely? (I’m guessing.) Still, this is a perfume that’s about the base notes. The base notes bend the middle floral notes to their will. I get a mental image of a sumptuous men’s club, the old-world kind with deep leather sofas and humidors and a posh dress code. The top notes – cedarwood, grapefruit, and bitter orange – lend the opening a little fruity pizazz, but it’s a very light touch.

Notes on Notes

  • Blond Tobacco Absolute, Nicotinia Tobacum, France, Nicotene-Free, Liberty Naturals – Viscous amber-brown. Clean pipe tobacco. Earthy, dry, only lightly sweet, RICH, thick/powerful.
  • Vanilla Absolute, Eden Botanicals – Vanilla! SWEET. Rich, bitter, dense, boozy. A tar-like chocolate brown.
  • Aged Patchouli, Aftelier -Minty, camphorous, woody, earthy, rooty
  • Linalool Isolate, Ocium basilicum, India, ex. Basil, Liberty Naturals – Pleasant, green, spicy?, peppery, vegetal, clear
  • Rose Absolute, Bulgaria, Rosa damascena, Eden Botanicals – deep red orange liquid, a tomato-soup red. Sweet, floral, rosy, honey, edible, toothsome. Rose has a “rootier” and more vegetal vibe than orange flower or jasmine.
  • Orange Blossom Absolute – Fine, Eden Botanicals – Love! Honeysuckle, green-white floral, a little sharp, intense, refined, sharp green leading edge
  • Virginia Cedarwood EO, Juniperus Virginiana, USA, Liberty Naturals – Faint, hard to distinguish from paper at first. Then, very woody, peppery, and dry.
  • Pink Grapefruit EO, Citrus Paradisi, USA, Eden Botanicals – happy citrus, sunny, sweet, acid, tart
  • Bitter Orange EO, Citrus Aurantium, Dominican, Liberty Naturals – Citrus, orange with the white pulpy bits. Really straight up ORANGE, but with those bitter bits. The whole orange. Not as tart and green as the grapefruit, but still tart. Really like this orange. It’s interesting.

Frankincense Alcohol-based Perfume

Now let’s do the alcohol version of the Frankincense perfume (an earlier post shows how to make Frankincense solid perfume). Whew! We’re on experiment No. 6 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. I adored the solid version of this delicious walk-in-the-forest perfume, and I like the alcohol version even more.

Here’s what you need to create Frankincense alcohol-based perfume:

Frankincense Alchol Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating Frankincense alcohol-based perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s Alcohol
  • Balsam fir absolute
  • Frankincense essential oil
  • Phenyl ethyl alcohol – natural isolate
  • Styrax essential oil
  • Lavender absolute
  • Tarragon essential oil
  • Wild sweet orange essential oil
  • Frankincense CO2

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Curette (for scooping fir absolute out of jar)
  • Stirring rod
  • ½ oz dark glass bottle (for storing perfume)
  • Tiny funnel
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the perfumer’s alcohol to the graduated beaker.
  3. Add the essences one at a time. Start from the base notes and work your way up to the top notes. Start with the fir absolute. You’ll need to scoop it out of the jar with the curette, and swirl it into the alcohol to dissolve it. Once it has dissolved (there may still be some particles), add the other essences using a separate eye dropper for each one.
  4. Stir after each addition, and sniff to experience the blend.
  5. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of rubbing alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  6. Using the tiny funnel, pour the finished blend into a small dark glass bottle.
  7. Cap the bottle tightly and shake it to be sure all the ingredients are well mixed. Label it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
  8. Let the blend mature from a week to a month to let the essences marry and create a smooth blend. Finis!

How did it work? How does it smell?
The fir absolute is a bit tricky to work with, but it dissolves relatively easily into the perfumer’s alcohol with a little stirring. The other essences are easy enough to add. The final blend is mossy green from the fir absolute and a bit cloudy, so it could probably stand some filtering (after it matures, I think?) but I haven’t attempted that yet with mine. So how does it smell? After a week of maturing (it could probably stand to go longer, but is already nice), the opening is sharply green, very “green pine needle sap” and a tad grapefruity – an impression largely created by the wild orange essential oil merging with the frankincense CO2. The sharp green pine/citrus opening serves as reminder that citrus oils contain the same limonenes and pinenes as conifers, and so the two blend well together. I don’t detect the tarragon, but it’s probably adding a green sweetness to everything. This all transitions beautifully to the delicious balsam fir absolute at the heart/base of the perfume – hooray for the edible pine forest! The lavender is only slightly noticeable, and is supporting the fir balsam, making it even softer and richer. I have no idea what the phenyl ethyl alcohol and the styrax are doing! Everything about this scent, similar to smelling frankincense resin, makes you want to inhale deeply and fill your lungs with fresh, clean air. It’s peaceful but joyful in the same way as a walk in the woods. The drydown is gentle, softly balsamic and lightly sweet. Very nice.

Notes on Notes
I have notes on frankincence eo, balsam fir absolute, lavender absolute, and frankincense co2 in the frankincense solid perfume post. Here are my notes on the other essential oils in the alcohol blend.

  • Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol Natural Isolate, Organic, France, Aftelier – This is a natural isolate extracted from Cassia. To my nose it smells simple, sweetish, and fruity/rosy. As an isolate, it does not have the same complexity as an essential oil, so my nose finds it hard to place. The Aftelier web site describes it as follows, “This transparent and warm middle note features notes of honey and rose.”
  • Styrax, Asian, Essential Oil (Liquidamber orientalis), Turkey, Wild Harvest, White Lotus Aromatics – I like this! Sweet, spicy, slightly floral, and musky in a balsamic way. Slightly dirty. Ambery? Interesting. Reminds me of a little of a fresh horse stable, but in a good way, lol! Not the manure, but the hay and the horses themselves.
  • Tarragon Essential Oil, USA, White Lotus Aromatics – Sweet, bright, minty, anise, friendly, happy, cheerful, GREEN. Smells like the fresh herb itself. Very pleasant.
  • Wild Orange Essential Oil, Dominica Republic, Wildcrafted, Eden Botanicals – Citrus. Sharp. Bright. Happy. TART. Dry. Bordering on grapefruit. Like an orange-grapefruit blend. Or orange with bits of the bitter white inner rind left in.

Mint Vetiver Alcohol-Based Perfume

Aaaaaand…now we’ve got the alcohol-based version of the Mint Vetiver perfume (a previous post explains how to make it as a solid). This is experiment No. 4 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. The alcohol makes it possible for the perfume to really sparkle and shine, so this version features a more complex array of notes.

Here’s what you need to create Mint Vetiver alcohol-based perfume:

Supplies for creating Mint Vetiver perfume in an alcohol base.

Supplies for creating Mint Vetiver perfume in an alcohol base.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s Alcohol
  • Vetiver essential oil
  • Benzoin absolute
  • Patchouli essential oil (aged patchouli is nice)
  • Clary sage essential oil
  • Ylang Ylang Extra essential oil
  • Spearmint essential oil
  • Bergamot essential oil
  • Black pepper essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 10 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Small glass of rubbing alcohol for cleaning eye droppers (place them in it upright after use)
  • Stirring rod
  • ½ oz dark glass bottle (for storing perfume)
  • Tiny funnel
  • Paper towels

Steps

  1. Cover your work surface with paper towels.
  2. Add the perfumer’s alcohol to the graduated beaker.
  3. Add the essences one at a time. Start from the base notes and work your way up to the top notes (I’ve listed them in order – start with the vetiver and end with the black pepper). Stir after each addition, and sniff to experience the blend.
  4. When you are done with an eye dropper, place it in the glass of rubbing alcohol, and pump it a few times to clean it, and leave it sitting full of alcohol. This will prevent cross-contamination and also dissolve any EOs left on the dropper to make clean up easier.
  5. Using the tiny funnel, pour the finished blend into a small dark glass bottle.
  6. Cap the bottle and label it, and store it in a cool, dark place.
  7. Let it mature from a week to a month to let the essences marry and create a smooth blend. (I know! The waiting!)

How did it work? How does it smell?
This blend came together very easily. I’ve only let it age a week, so who knows if it’s reached its final scent profile – but right now, it has the same character as the solid perfume, but with more complexity and a more obvious evolution through time. It begins with a heavily menthol-y minty character – I can barely detect the black pepper sharpening it slightly, and then it moves into its clary sage heart. The transition is clever, because the spearmint top note is very similar to a green minty note that is a natural part of clary sage. The tabacco-y facet of clary sage is also present, and bridges nicely to the vetiver base. The patchouli is lightly detectable in the base, supporting and strengthening the woody nature of the vetiver. To my nose, the ylang ylang disappears (though perhaps it is sweetening things?) and primarily serves to round out the blend. Similarly, the benzoin also does not make itself known but instead serves as a fixative (I am guessing?) because the alcohol perfume certainly has better longevity than the solid version. The overall effect is medicinal, herbaceous, and earthy/woody. I like the aged patchouli-vetiver drydown even though I’m not a huge fan of the opening and heart of this one.

A quick note on technique: most perfumers will advise you to blend the essences first, then dilute in alcohol. This makes sense if you are working with prediluted essences. However, Mandy’s recipes call for the undiluted oils. In this case – it’s much easier to add them directly to the alcohol, especially when you’re working with a viscous material such as vanilla, benzoin, or fir absolute. My benzoin absolute is diluted to 50% in alcohol (so I added double the amount Mandy called for in her recipe) – which makes it easier to work with. But if your benzoin is semi-solid, it should dissolve easily in the perfumer’s alcohol.

Notes on Notes
I have notes on vetiver, clary sage, ylang ylang extra, and spearmint in the mint vetiver solid perfume post. Here are my notes on the other essential oils in the alcohol blend.

  • Benzoin, Siam, Absolute 50% in alcohol, Laos, White Lotus Aromatics – Faint on the tester strip. Hint of cream soda. Sweet. Edible.
  • Aged Patchouli, Aftelier – Camphorous? Woody? Pine-y? Definitely WOODY. I mean, it smells like patchouli. How does one describe patchouli?
  • Bergamot, Italy, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – A green orange. Orange, but greener and sharper. Sunny, happy, refreshing, brisk, refined. More restrained and drier than a sweet orange.
  • Black Pepper EO, Sri Lanka, Organic, White Lotus Aromatics – Seering, bright, hot, phenolic?, sharp

Amber Spice Perfume Recipes: Oil-Based vs. Alcohol-Based

So, this is Experiment No. 2 in blending along with Mandy Aftel’s book, Fragrant. Earlier I created her solid Amber Spice perfume, and now I’m exploring those same notes in oil-based and alcohol-based versions.

Amber Spice Perfume: Oil-Based Version

Here’s what you need for the oil-based perfume:

Amber Spice Oil-Based Perfume Supplies

Supplies for creating the oil-based version of Amber Spice perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Fractionated coconut oil
  • Labdanum absolute
  • Cinnamon bark essential oil
  • Rose absolute
  • Lime essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 25 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Stirring rod
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Bamboo ear cleaner (for scooping out drop-size amounts of semi-solid materials)
  • 1/2 oz bottle (dark glass – blue or amber); you can also use a roller ball bottle
  • Tiny funnel

Steps

  1. Measure out the fractionated coconut oil into the graduated beaker.
  2. Add the essences (using a separate eye dropper for each one), and stir after adding each one to mix well.
  3. Use the tiny funnel to transfer the blend to the bottle.
  4. Seal tightly, label with the name and date, and let it age for at least a couple of weeks to let the scents marry.

How did it work? How does it smell?

It was incredibly easy to make the oil-based perfume. After aging only about a week (I haven’t been able to wait long!) it smells about the same as the solid version of the same perfume – an initial impression of “cola” (lime + cinnamon) followed quickly by leathery labdanum. This isn’t very surprising since the oil-based perfume uses the same essences in the same proportions as the solid. The fractionated coconut oil absorbs into the skin relatively quickly and smoothly. Still, I find the projection for both these sorts of perfumes to be relatively weak, and for some reason applying the oil-based perfume – while fine – is less enjoyable than applying the solid perfume. So, if I want to make a skin scent in the future, I’ll probably stick to a solid perfume format. Still, you can’t beat this recipe for ease!

Amber Spice Perfume: Alcohol-Based Version

Here’s what you need for the alcohol-based perfume:

Amber Spice Alcohol Perfume Supplies

Supplies for making alcohol-based Amber Spice perfume.

Raw Materials*

  • Perfumer’s alcohol
  • Benzoin absolute
  • Vanilla absolute
  • Labdanum absolute
  • Cinnamon bark essential oil
  • Rose absolute
  • Jasmine absolute
  • Fresh ginger essential oil
  • Lime essential oil
  • Bois de rose essential oil

*Out of courtesy to the author, I’m leaving off the amounts of each raw material. You can find them in her book.

Equipment

  • 15 ml graduated beaker or cylinder
  • Stirring rod
  • Glass eyedroppers (1 per essence)
  • Spray bottle

Steps

  1. Add each of the essences into the spray bottle, using a separate eye dropper for each one. Start with the bases (benzoin, vanilla, labdanum), then add the heart notes (rose, cinnamon, jasmine), and then the top notes (ginger, lime, bois de rose). Smell after each addition to experience how the blend is progressing.
  2. Measure out the perfumer’s alcohol into the graduated beaker, then pour it into the spray bottle with the essences.
  3. Shake well to combine.
  4. Seal tightly, label with the name and date, and let it age for 4-6 weeks to let the scents marry.

How did it work? How does it smell?

This recipe was *a lot* harder to pull off than the solid perfume and the oil based perfume because it uses two really challenging natural materials: Benzoin and Vanilla. These materials are solid to semi-solid, and very hard to work with undiluted. Fortunately, I had the good sense to purchase Benzoin absolute that had been diluted to 50% in alcohol, so I was able to add it in drops. Still, this left me puzzled as to how many drops to add. Should I double the drops since it was a 50% dilution? I assumed so, and did. But what about the vanilla? It had the consistency of tar – thick, gooey, and totally impossible to get at with an eye dropper. I tired warming it gently by placing it in a bowl of hot rice (you should never microwave essential oils). This made it slightly more liquid – and I was just barely able to use the eye dropper to add it to the blend. Still, I don’t think I added an accurate amount of vanilla – it got everywhere! In the future, I think I’ll either need to buy prediluted Vanilla absolute or dilute it myself by 50% (by weight) before working with it. Which means….I need to purchase a scale.

As for how it smells…well, it only has aged for 1 week, and quite honestly it smells like cream soda. I may have OD’d the benzoin and the vanilla. Sigh. I need to try the recipe again with less of those base notes. Still, it smells delicious (if you want to smell like a cola float!) and reminds me of those Bonne Bell lip smackers from the 70s when I was a little girl. The scent is also much more complex and layered than the oil or solid perfume with better intensity and longevity too – so I think I’m hooked on using alcohol as a carrier medium for future blends.

UPDATE: On Handling Viscous/Semi-Solid Materials in Mandy Aftel’s Recipes

Confused about the dilutions, I reached out to Mandy to ask her how to handle the viscous/semi-solid vanilla, benzoin, and fir absolutes she uses in her recipes. She was kind enough to get back to me, and explained that she doesn’t dilute them. Instead, she uses them at 100% strength, and uses a tiny bamboo ear cleaner to scoop out the material and add it to the blend.