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.

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