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.

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.

Comparative Study: Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

Confederate Jasmine

For a formula I’m trying out, I need a single drop of jasmine. Just one! But which jasmine?

My favorite jasmine is the one that grows wildly over my back courtyard wall – Confederate Jasmine (also called “Star Jasmine” or “Chinese Jasmine”) – which loves hot climates and flourishes all over the Southern US. It has an aroma that’s honey sweet, fresh, and narcotic. At the height of blooming season (late April-early May) just walking out into the garden is like walking into a humid blanket of scent. The intoxicating fragrance brings an immediate smile to my face, and a quickening of the senses – while at the same time making me feel lulled and drowsy. Meanwhile, my ears fill with the thrumming buzz of the honeybees. The combined effect is nearly hypnotic, and I often find myself drifting over to smell the blossoms like a sleep-walker.

Still, this is a fresh jasmine, and the scent of a living flower is impossible to capture perfectly in the natural raw material. When we smell a flower, we are actually smelling the volatile molecules in the air around it. The air around the flower has a different chemical makeup than the essential oil, concrete, or absolute once it’s extracted from the plant – so the flower extracts can never smell the same as the living flower on the stem. Perfumers are forever using their noses and intuition or more recently, fancy headspace technology and gas chromatography to analyze the “living scent” of a flower and try to reproduce it.  The late, hilarious Alec Lawless of Essentially Me UK created some videos explaining how gas chromatography can be used to fake an extremely expensive rose otto. The whole thing spoofs the clandestine nature of the perfume industry through an “interview” with a masked man whom I suspect is Lawless himself. Anyhow, it’s informative and funny, and worth watching if you’re curious about gas chromatography.

ANYWAY. Back to the matter at hand: Choosing a jasmine.

Eden Botanicals conveniently offers a jasmine sampler pack – so I purchased that and began sniffing my way through it to compare the scents and pick one for my blend.

Eden Botanicals Jasmine Sampler Pack

Eden Botanicals Jasmine Sampler Pack

  • Jasmine Absolute, Grandiflorum, India – Grandiflorum is the classic jasmine. This one is beautiful, white floral, narcotic, extremely sweet with great longevity. There is no plastic-y note that I sometimes detect in jasmine. This one is rounded, rich, and voluptuous. It’s so sweet there is almost a boozy-quality to it. The liquid itself is dark yellow-orange.
  • Jasmine Absolute, Sambac, India – Sambac is typically a spicier jasmine than Grandiflorum, and this one is true to character. A gorgeous jasmine that is spicier, greener, and less sweet (though still very honey sweet!) – fresher even? – than the Indian Grandiflorum. Reminds me instantly of honeysuckle and sparks a flood of childhood memories. Lots of character. Intense. Perhaps my favorite of this set. Liquid is dark amber color.
  • Jasmine Absolute, Grandiflorum, Egypt – This Grandiflorum is very similar in character to the one from India, but to my nose of lesser quality. Less sweet? Less fresh? Still very pretty and nice though! It just doesn’t elicit the silent “wow” of the other. Drydown is very soft and pretty, and less intense/strong than the one from India.
  • Jasmine Grandiflorum Organic Extract, Egypt – This jasmine was altogether unique – very different from what I am used to. It’s extracted using benign solvents, so it’s certifiably organic and very safe for aromatherapy. Neat! It is a green color, with some particles. The scent itself is soft, very slightly medicinal?, cooling, sweet, a bit spicy/tangy – almost with a hint of Anise? It’s very hard for me to describe, and doesn’t read as classically jasmine, but is a beautiful, tranquil, and very calming and pretty scent.
  • Jasmine Grandiflorum CO2, India – This would be hard to work with for the beginner (moi!) it’s a waxy yellow concrete paste. Might be good for solid perfume? At first, I did not like the scent of this one very much. But I noticed that it lasted a long time on the scent strip, and lingered pleasantly.

Ultimately for my blend I chose the Jasmine Grandiflorum from India. It’s voluptuous, rounded quality might work well to bring together the spicy notes I will be working with. Still…the Sambac and the Organic Extract both piqued my curiosity – and I’d love to work with them in the future.