Amber Spice Solid Perfume

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Experiment No. 1: Amber Spice Solid Perfume from Fragrant by Mandy Aftel. Out of respect for the author, I won’t publish the amounts – you’ll need to buy the book for that. But I will tell you what supplies you need, how to do it, and and how it turned out. What I like about Mandy’s recipes is that they are the perfect “experiment” size. They fit neatly into a 1/2 oz metal tin. No waste!

Raw Materials

  • Labdanum Absolute
  • Cinnamon Essential Oil
  • Rose Absolute (optional)
  • Lime Essential Oil

Carrier Media

  • Jojoba Oil
  • Beeswax

Equipment

  • Fragrance tester strips
  • Cheese grater (for grating wax)
  • Measuring spoons
  • Glass eyedroppers or pipettes (minimum 1 per EO)
  • Tiny graduated beaker or cylinder – smallest graduations you can find
  • Glass stirring rod
  • Lab casserole dish (80 ml size works great)
  • Hot plate (optional – you could also work over your stove)
  • Paper towels
  • Shot glass of Vodka or Everclear for dropper cleanup

Packaging

  • 1/2 oz flat metal tin
  • 1.2″ circle label

Steps

  1. First, I tested each of my raw materials by placing a single drop on a labeled fragrance tester strip. It’s helpful as I’m learning to smell each oil individually – to discover the shape of the material itself, its intensity, longevity, etc.
  2. Next, I set up my work area and laid out everything I needed in easy reach. Paper towels everywhere in case of spills.
  3. I poured the Jojoba oil into the graduated beaker, and then added the essences to it. Be very careful to use a new dropper for each oil, and put used droppers into the shot glass of alcohol to clean them. You want to be extra careful not to cross-contaminate your oils.
  4. I added grated beeswax to the lab casserole, and melted it over a hotplate. Once melted, I added the oil + essences, and stirred together as quickly as possible and removed from heat.
  5. Finally, I poured the perfume into the tin, capped it, and waited 15 minutes for it to solidify. Finis!

Notes on Materials

How did it smell?
Quite nice, actually. It’s amazing how well the scents meld to create a new thing. The top and base notes were most prominent to my nose.  A good strong hit of lime up top that fades fairly quickly, and the labdanum makes a sweet, leathery, ambery base that is apparent throughout the arc of the perfume and into drydown. At first, I had a hard time picking out the cinnamon – where was the cinnamon? But I realized it had been transformed into a sparkling, hot brightness that did not read as “cinnamon.” Nice. I could not find the rose at all. Perhaps it was rounding things out, or perhaps it was simply buried. Overall, it felt unisex – perhaps leaning slightly masculine. Wears soft and close.

My husband (not a fumehead) had an interesting insight. One sniff, and he said, “Cherry coke!” That puzzled me for a minute, then I looked up the formula for the original Coca-Cola – and sure enough, there was a lime-citrus-cinnamon combo.

Coca-Cola Formula

2 drops lime essential oil
2 drops orange essential oil
1 drop lemon essential oil
1 drop nutmeg essential oil
1 drop cinnamon essential oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

– From Fragrant

Mistakes and Questions

  • I spilled the Jojoba. How on earth does one pour out of a Boston round without sloshing?
  • Need to be careful to get all the perfume oil out of the beaker.
  • Cheap hot plate was ok but it smoked unpleasantly – need to clean?
  • How do you clean the droppers?! I got a trace amount of cinnamon oil in the cap of a dropper, and then after bathing them in Everclear, I ran all my droppers and caps through the dishwasher to sterilize. Now ALL of the smell like cinnamon. I curse you, cinnamon!

What Worked

  • 80 ml lab casserole was a great size to work with
  • Vintage 10 ml graduated beaker with 2 ml increments was also perfect choice
  • 1 eye dropper per raw material, with a shot glass to park them in afterward
  • glass stirring rod
  • 1/2 oz tin and 1.2″ circle labels = perfect size
  • OXO grater with attached box = awesome for grating beeswax and storing it
  • Paper towels = unglamorous but vital

That’s all for now!

Beginning with Mandy Aftel

Mandy Aftel's Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent

I suppose I have to begin somewhere, right? The world of fragrance is like a forest – it’s easy to get lost. When wandering, it’s best to have a guide. When I first starting smelling all the smells (sniffing all the sniffs?) I read Luca Turin’s and Tanya Sanchez’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide and sniffed along with the help of samples from Luckyscent, The Perfumed Court, and Surrender to Chance. I didn’t agree with everything that Turin and Sanchez said, and yet – by using their ideas as a North Star, I was able to begin sampling dozens, then hundreds of perfumes (yes, really, hundreds – the sampling habit became rather addictive! not that I’m sorry…), and as I followed along I understood more of what I was encountering.

Similarly, now that I’m dabbling in the world of DIY fragrance, I have to put my toe in the water somewhere, so it might as well be with Mandy Aftel. Aftel is a bit like the Alice Waters of natural perfumery – she takes French ideas, peels them back to their simplest and most essential forms, and make them accessible, natural, Californian, and relaxed. I’d had Essence & Alchemy on my shelf for ages, and never quite made time to read it – and then, when the urge to mix my own scents suddenly hit – I devoured it in a few days, then moved on to Fragrant.

So, I’ll be taking Mandy as my Beatrice, my first guide on what is likely to be a long and circuitous tour. Both books are a pleasure to read – modeled, I’m guessing, after some of the wonderfully hodge-podge alchemical texts Aftel has in her collection. There’s a lot of lore, history, and delicious information – sprinkled here and there with recipes, some old, and some Aftel’s. Fragrant in particular, structured as it is around cinnamon, mint, frankincense, ambergris, and jasmine, lends itself to being a beginner’s cookbook of natural perfumery. For each essence, there is a recipe for a solid, oil, and alcohol-based perfume – so that it’s really possible to explore the nuances of each scent and how it morphs in different carrier media.

I’ll take these as a guide for conducting some of my first experiments…and we’ll see where things go from there.