Introducing Juke

Hot, humid nights, moonlight on water, night bugs singing, hot jazz in the distance. The air is heady with magnolia flowers releasing their scent into the darkness. Tucked into the bayou is a juke joint, music spilling out. A woman is dancing with a drink in her hand, dangling off of a perfumed wrist. A whiff of imported French perfume conjured with goods collected along the spice route mixes with moonshine and tobacco in the sweaty, humid speakeasy.

 Sweet honey bayou with earthy orris root, tobacco and syrupy balsams compose the bottom chord. Heady floral notes of pink champaca and orange flower concrete mingling with honey absolute create the heart with lime, clementine and white champa leaf (a newly discovered and new favorite oil).


Top notes: lime, clementine, white champa leaf
Heart notes: pink champaca absolute, orange flower concrete, honey absolute
Base notes: tobacco absolute, orris root, peru balsam, majmua udd attar

Beautiful Options for Refilling Your Bespoke Perfume

One of my favorite parts of my job is doing custom consultations where clients come to my studio and together we create their signature scent.  I enjoy working one on one with people to create something truly unique for them.  I've kept all of the notes and the formula from our meeting and am now offering some lovely options for refills of your bespoke fragrance.

Quarter ounce straight sided rectangular bottle, $35

Quarter ounce straight sided rectangular spray bottle, $38

Half ounce rectangular bottle, $60

Half ounce rectangular spray bottle, $65

Half ounce round glass stoppered bottle, $70

One third ounce square glass stoppered bottle, $60

The Garden Escape

I have a wider than average fire escape on the back of my brownstone apartment.  The window is large and fairly easy to get in and out of.  The sill is wide and comfortable to sit on so over the years it hasn't been too hard to assemble a small garden.  I've scavenged for pots for years and have a hodgepodge collection.  I do my best to arrange them so that if there was indeed a fire that everyone would be able to navigate through it into the garden below.                                                                                                                                             I've been doing this for more than a few years now and I've learned a thing or two about tomatoes and beans in pots.  Obviously it starts with the soil. I always set aside a larger pot to be used somewhat as a mixing bowl.  I dump soil from last year's pots into the large one and then mix it nearly equally with freshly sifted compost from 6/15. As other pots are dumped out, the soil is amended and they're filled with fresh soil.
Since it's challenging for me to get to a nursery I have to use my resources to find good plants.  There are a couple of vegetable markets nearby that sell flats of annuals, herbs and some vegetables including tomatoes.  I have a stockpile of seeds plus a trip to my community garden can yield some nice plantings, notably nicotiana, shiso, kale, calendula, mints and whatever else looks like it might work.
It's actually quite a productive little garden.  Every day I pick a few green beans and set them aside. After five days time I've got enough to throw into a dish.  The same is true for the kale (although anyone that knows me knows I grew nothing but kale in my community garden plot so this is a drop in the bucket).  I grow enough basil to fill my freezer with pesto for the year and some to give away. I've also yielded, so far, six beautiful tomatoes.  I still have eight tomatoes on the vine, still green, so hoping for a few warms days to finish those.

Other years I've grown a lot of fragrant flowers, notably nicotiana, a fluffy white flowering tobacco. It's gorgeous during the day but only at night it develops a sweet white flower fragrance.  If I keep the windows open the breeze pleasantly fragrances my bedroom. I can lie in bed and catch a sweet whiff wafting in from the Escape.

Two very large tomato plants in a window box. It needs a lot of water and to be top dressed with compost a few times per year. They grew very long and about once a week I'd have to climb the stairs and loosely tie them to the railing.

I brought back some kale and nicotiana from 6/15.  Whenever I saw a bare spot in the soil I'd plant bush beans. They ended up cascading over the side, dripping with beans when mature.

This window box faces my neighbors, a couple with two small boys. The pole beans do most of the cammouflage and the basil gets bushy and creates a nice screen. It also makes for neighborly-ness as I pass fresh cuttings over the railing.

The purple podded pole beans grew halfway up the windows on the third floor!  They've never been so robust before. They bore a lot of fruit but way up past where I could harvest it so, of course, it all went to seed.  Therefore the plant thought it had done its work and started to wither - thus all of the yellow leaves.  I've planted beans for years, using the seeds from the pods that fall during the winter.  Next year, tho, I'm planting some kind of annual flowering vine, maybe something fragrant for the breeze to blow in.

Cranford Rose Garden on a September Day

I've known forever that roses bloom in June and then, if you're lucky, again in September.  This was a strange season and one sure sign that something was amiss was that there were roses blooming nearly all summer. It seems I was stopping to smell the roses on an almost daily basis.  But after teaching a perfume blending class at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden last weekend I decided to take a walk through the Cranford Rose Garden. Most of it was roped off, probably for some rest and rehabilitation, but the blooms along the path were glorious to see, photograph and smell.

We had just had a talk in class about indole, the molecule of decay, that is present in most flowers. The rose is beautiful in a vase on your desk but it is also decaying so lingering in the background of that gorgeously fragranced flower, maybe not even very noticeable, but there in the back is decay. We're so accustomed to "deodorized" rose that the scent of a true rose absolute might smell dirty, or dank. It also makes it ravishing, sexy and compelling for however emphatically we frown on rotten odors there is a part of us that likes them.

Each rose smells differently. Some are bred for beauty, some for size and some for fragrance, but there, in the deep inhalation of each blossom, is death.

I Bought Some Carnations on the Way Home...

I've made no secret of the fact that I love carnations. I think they're the most underrated flower in the market.  They've been associated with inexpensive florists - mass produced and funereal. It's not deserved.  My mother grew carnations in her big flower garden when I was growing up.  I always loved their luscious vanilla/clove sweetness. Unfortunately the scent has been bred out of them and what remains is either scentless or stinky. Except for these! After a short hospital stay a few years ago a friend dropped by with purple and white variegated blooms that had a lovely fragrance.  I haven't seen them since until one evening this week they caught my eye as I was passing the market. Now these eye-catching flowers are all over the apartment, in a jug on the coffee table and in bud vases on my end tables, desk, bedside table and in the bathroom.  All of this luxury for $5.  Maybe carnations are best kept a secret.

An Ode to the Rose

The roses are blooming again, although this season it seems they never stopped.  I stop, however, nearly every time a bloom extends over a wrought iron gate and presents itself to me.  I am one to stop and smell the roses.

I also stopped to collect those rose petals as they fell.  I kept collecting them until I had enough to create a small amount of cologne.  The scent of rose deepens and becomes a little powdery or dusty when they dry. I'll be making more with the second seasonal blooms. I have freshly dried sweet annie and lavender from my garden for the brew as well.

Along with roses I used vetiver root, lavender, sweet annie and dried orange peel. It has a smokey, sweet, complex aroma, something worth stopping for.

You can see these and other botanical colognes and perfumes on...

Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)

I'm growing a giant mullein plant this year. They usually plant themselves, with the help of the birds who deposit them arbitrarily.  This one is in my community garden herb plot which I tend.  Actually a bird deposited the seed outside of the plot and it's growing out of the stone border.  I could tell early on that it was going to be an extraordinary specimen.  A rule in our garden is to keep weeds out of the paths as well as the perimeter of the plot. Anything growing outside of it is up for grabs by the committee that oversees the annual plant sale.  In order to save it from that fate (mullein doesn't like to be transplanted - plus I wanted it for the herb garden) I set some stones around it to let everyone know that this was to be kept.  Every couple of days when I came to check on the plot the mullein was bigger so I'd adjust the stones to compensate.  It has apparently relished the attention to the point where now there is a big bulge coming out of the plot.  It's quite a spectacle and a source of amusement amongst my fellow gardeners.

Verbascum thapsus is native to Europe, Asia and
North America and is a relative of one of my favorite plants, foxglove.  It can grow in poor soil which is probably why this specimen is so happy growing outside of the plot rather than in the compost rich soil inside.  The flowers are capable of self fertilization (so I'll remember to shake the seed head this coming autumn).  They have a dense mass of thick hairs on either side making them very soft to the touch.  They frequently grow to four or five feet - this one reached seven or eight!

Mullein is a demulcent, meaning that it forms a soothing film over mucous membranes relieving minor pain and inflammation.  It has emollient and astringent properties making it a great herb for dry coughs.  It also has sedative qualities.  A tea can be made of the leaves but be sure to strain the hairs carefully as they irritate the mucous membranes.  The leaves are sometimes smoked to relieve irritation of the respiratory mucous membranes.  Smoking the dried herb can be beneficial for asthma and spasmodic coughs.

I've dried some leaves to prepare for winter tisanes and have tinctured some for sale on Etsy.

Birthday Cake

I took a little time off in August.  Because of my mother's poor health I gave up on the idea of a summer vacation and decided to stay put here in Brooklyn.  At one point in early August my brain stopped working and I struggled to get anything done.  Guilt and worry set in, that good old Protestant work ethic, until I realized that even if I wasn't going away I still needed a break.  I saw a few clients, hosted a private party and filled orders but other than that I've tried to let go and have a staycation.  It hasn't exactly been fun.  I filled my days taking care of things I've been putting off, namely big cleaning jobs and doctor's appointments.

The end of the month, tho, is birthday time.  I have a very good friend who's birthday is the day before mine (we were born mere hours apart) and we've never had the chance to celebrate together. Hers was this past Friday, mine on Saturday.  The plan was to bake a cake on her birthday and make dinner for friends and serve the birthday cake on mine.

After a lovely lunch at a local trattoria on Friday we went to the market (our local food coop) and bought supplies.  We decided on Vanilla Malt Cake.  The recipe we were using called for malt powder but when we looked at the ingredients label filled with preservatives and additives we decided for the simpler barley malt syrup.  This meant doing a little tweaking with the recipe, making sure we had the correct proportions of wet and dry ingredients.

I must confess that the batter was incredibly delicious and couldn't keep my fingers out of it.  Cleaning the bowl was sublime. The cake itself was a little heavy. We looked at recipes for honey cake and most of them were made of multiple layers. I think that would work well for this cake as well. The barley malt made it quite dense.  It was wonderful and everyone had seconds (so I know it was good!).  Still, I'd like to tweak the recipe and try again with more layers, less barley malt, more vanilla and maybe more baking powder.  Cake is a science and experiments are necessary.

We whipped up a special blush colored buttercream and I had a wonderful time playing floral designer and decorating it with flowers. It got quite a lot of oh's and ah's when it was served.  Final recipe forthcoming.

Oriental Perfumes

The idea of the Oriental perfume goes back as far as recorded history.  The people of ancient Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Rome were using the resins, balsams and spices available to them to create sacred incense and unguents.

The first modern Oriental perfume was Shalimar by Guerlain, created in 1921. It was formulated using a relatively new synthetic molecule, vanillin. Combined with labdanum and coumarin it formed the base of the perfume, along with incense and opoponax. The heart is composed of jasmine, rose and iris with lemon and lots of bergamot on top.
Shalimar caught the attention of the public at the perfect moment, when 1920's Europe was swept away by the exoticism and passion of the East.  It set a lasting trend that still intrigues and excites.

Oriental perfumes are almost always built around an amber accord.  There is no such thing as amber essential oil.  The accord is composed of a combination of vanilla and labdanum.  Other resinous notes are added for distinction, some to sweeten such as tonka bean or balsams, and some to darken and deepen like frankincense, myrrh and opoponax.

Oriental perfumes are further classified as Classical, Spicy, Woody, Soft (Incense) and Floral. Classical Oriental perfumes are dark and animalic with heady florals.  Shalimar is a perfect example. Spicy Orientals have a dry, woody base with spicy top note. Woody perfumes have a luminosity characterized by sandalwood and other rich woods.  Soft Orientals are darker and warmer but are less balsamic and animalic that Classical varieties.  They are ethereal and elegant with mysterious notes of incense and amber.  Floral Orientals combine the softness of florals with the warmth of orientals. Sweet spices mix with florals to create a sensual scent with depth and complexity.

To learn more and to create your own you can attend my Amber/Oriental Natural Perfumes class on Sunday, July 19th.


Amber, the fossilized resin.
There is no such thing as amber essential oil.  Essential oils (and absolutes for that matter) are derived from plants.  There is no one single plant that creates the note "amber". Some regard a certain species of fir grown in the Himalaya's as the source of the note but that would be false.  The oils we identify as "amber oil" are really proprietary blends, secret formulas, of oils and resins blended together to produce a warm, rich, caramel-like note. The concept of amber came into being in the late 19th Century with the development of vanillin (a synthetic vanilla) which was combined with labdanum, the exudate of Cistus labdanum.

Amber is a primary ingredient in Oriental perfumes, a classification heralded by Guerlain's Shalimar, which used vanillin, labdanum and coumarin (the principal note in tonka bean) to create a sweet, warm, powdery and erotic fragrance.  Not all Oriental perfumes, however, are ambery.  Opoponax and other balsamic and resinous materials are used as bases as well creating a wider spectrum of Orientals.

There are materials that are often confused with amber. The prehistoric tree, Pinus succinifera, produces a fossilized resin used in jewelry making.  A process called destructive distillation is used to produce a material called fossilized amber, or Baltic Amber. Most of what I've smelled is not pleasing and so not used much in perfumery.  I've sourced out a beautiful oil that is deep, rich and smokey with a subtly sweet and lasting dry down. Ambergis is the waxy secretion of the sperm whale.  It is secreted by the gastrointestinal tract of the whale to coat and soothe it from the sharp beaks of it's favorite meal, the cuttlefish.  The mass is excreted and floats on the ocean.  The synergy of sun and salt water transform it into a sensual, warm and somewhat ambery perfume substance that lasts and lasts. Ambrette is rendered from a type of hibiscus and is referred to as the vegetal equivalent of musk.  It is ever so slightly ambery (but more animalic) and becomes sweeter during its long dry down.

Cistus labdanum
Natural perfumers seeking to create amber accords will most heavily rely on labdanum. As well as vanilla, other balsamic materials are used to create the chord.  Benzoin, from the tree Styrax tonkenensis, is secreted when the tree is injured and is soft, warm and caramel-like with a powdery drydown. Styrax, from Liquidambar orientalis, is another tree resin and smells a little like glue and cinnamon.  Other materials would be Peru Balsam, Balsam Tolu, opoponax and tonka bean.  Other camphorous materials, incense resins, florals and woods are included to add distinction.

Amber Oil
Years ago, after reading about the realities of amber, I attempted to create my own amber accord.  I collected every material I'd ever read might be included in formulating the accord and began to create my own.  It's wonderful - and useful - to have my own formula to use for blending perfumes.  Pleased with my concoction, I made my own version of Amber Oil (available on my website and Etsy store).

On the heels of my recent Spice Route perfume class (and the resultant research I did) I'm teaching a class on Amber and Oriental perfume making in my home studio in Brooklyn on Sunday, July 19th. We'll review the Oriental classification and pass around some examples of established and niche perfumes.  Resins, balsams, florals and spices that were discovered along the Spice Route will be discussed, explored and available to work with to create two perfumes.  For more information and to register look here.

Orange Flower Water

Orange Flower Water in a vintage bottle.
Orange Flower comes from the blossoms of the bitter orange tree, Citrus sinensis.  The bitter orange plant actually gives us four fragrant oils.  The steam distillation of the blossoms is the coveted neroli.  When an absolute is made of the same flowers it is referred to as orange blossom absolute.  The pressed rinds delivers bitter orange essential oil and the unripe green fruit, stems and twigs give us petitgrain oil.

Bitter orange is a peculiar kind of citrus.  It is fresh yet dry and elegant with a lasting sweet undertone.  It's blossoms have a light, dry nature. They produce one of my absolute favorite scents in all of creation, the coveted orange blossom.  I should really live near orange groves.

Orange flower water is the water left over after the blossoms have been distilled to make essential oil. The blossoms are put into a vessel and steam is forced through it. The steam collects in another vessel with the essential oil floating on top. The oil is syphoned off, the water remaining is the hydrosol.

The scent is sublime.  It is floral, fruity with a hint of green, refreshing and very complex. When inhaled orange blossom is antidepressant and a mild sedative, so useful at night to ease insomnia.  It has a joyous, uplifting quality. It stops caffeine jitters and is a great choice for fretful babies. It is known for its supportive qualities during the detoxification process or when quitting an addictive habit.

Neroli is a wonderful treatment for delicate, sensitive and oily skin (due to its astringency).  Use it as a toner and in face masks with clay and honey.  It can also be used as a perfume!

Both rosewater and orange flower water have been used in cooking and baking for centuries.  Indian and Middle Eastern desserts are often delicately flavored with them.  It is what's used to flavor madeleines and prompted Marcel Proust to remember the past.  It's also often used to flavor marshmallows.  Add it to champagne as an aphrodisiac, or if you're not inclined to drink alcohol add it to plain seltzer. One tablespoon in a liter of seltzer would befit a toast at any occasion.  It's one of my favorite summer refreshers.

I've bottled some up in vintage bottles I found on the beach, all one of a kind. You can see them, and other hydrosols, in my Etsy store.

Tools of the Trade: Ground Glass Stoppered Bottles

I truly adore ground glass stoppered bottles.  The good ones have a tight secure fit and don't let air escape.  I collect antique ones for their visual beauty but actually use them quite a bit.  Stronger scented potions tend to ruin good phenolic caps forcing me to toss them into the rubbish (where they end up in landfill).  Here are some gorgeous examples.

Spice Markets

Spice market in Istanbul
My recent Spice Route Perfume Workshop had me knee deep in spices - and research.  Studying the spice route is really studying the history of civilization. Collecting and selling spices is a global trade and tradition.

I'm lucky enough to live in New York City where ethnic diversity is the norm.  I can wander city streets and travel through various ethnic neighborhoods, each with their own cuisine and spice markets. Chinatown has it's herbal pharmacies and food markets but just up the street is Little Italy. Beyond that is one of the city's Indian neighborhoods with fragrant spices spilling out.  My favorite were the Greek markets on 9th Avenue in the 90's with containers of spices piled high into cone shapes. Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn is teeming with Middle Eastern markets with their potent spices.

There are spice markets all over the world, 
each with rich and colorful histories.

Parisian Spice Market
Bzurya Market
Market in Aix-en-Provence
Herb and spice market in Guangzhou

Resins and Balsams

My recent class on the Spice Route has me surrounded by various resins and balsams.  They're a principal ingredient in Oriental perfumes and have been used as a fixative since the dawn of the spice route.  I've looked up the definitions of both, as well as gum and oleoresin, and they all appear to be the same.  

According to Elena Vosnaki :
"The distinction between resin and balsam is one of form, on a fundamental level: Simply put and generalizing, resinous materials come in the form of solidified, gum-like "tears" seeping from the elixir vitae circulating into the bark of big trees, such as the Boswellia Carteri (which produces frankincense). Balsams on the other hand are tricky materials, not necessarily tree secretions, often coming as they do from flower pods or bushy twigs (such as vanilla orchids or the Mediterranean rockrose). But there are exceptions to every rule: Opopanax, though resinous smelling itself, actually comes from a herb, opopanax chironium.
So the real focus when referencing balsamic and resinous terminology is how the materials actually smell and how they're different or common in scent, rather than what their origin is.  Therefore, for ease, resinous & balsamic materials are classified into 3 distinct olfactory profiles according to their aromatic properties first and foremost." 
Styrax from the Liquidambar orientalis tree,
smells a little like cinnamon and glue.

In my mind balsams such as benzoin, peru balsam, tolu balsam and labdanum are sweeter and softer. They're gentler and enveloping and add a fixative quality to florals.  Resins like frankincense, myrrh, oppoponax and styrax are widely used in incense and have a more defined characteristic.  They're usually antiseptic so have a medicinal quality to them.

These materials are the basis for Oriental and Amber perfumes, some of the first perfumes, created since antiquity.  In ancient Egypt, Greece, Cyprus, Mesopotamia and classical Rome resins and balsams were combined with sweet and pungent spices and exotic flowers to create perfume for the gods.

I'll be hosting and Oriental/Amber perfume workshop in July in my home studio.  Email me for more information or to register.
Amber resin

Topiary and Creating a Green Fragrance

Topiary.  What a crazy idea if you think about it.  I was never a fan but during the course of the last year I've realized that it goes way beyond elephants and giraffes on the front lawn.  It's the crazy geometric shapes that confound and delight me.  I just love that people go about trimming their shrubbery into these exotic shapes.  Such folly!

I thought it might be a good idea to create a green perfume as an ode to topiary.  After some research I've discovered that some of the shrubs used to fashion topiary are easily available in essential oils. Unfortunately boxwood is not available (but the most used plant).  However laurel, myrtle and thuja are easily obtained.

The fun part is always ordering new oils to work with.  I found an absolutely gorgeous white champa leaf with green as well as beautiful floral notes of champaca.  Alba michelia leaf is from the common magnolia, another lovely green/floral note. Rhododendron leaf was surprise, very fresh and somewhat citrusy. I found a myrtle and thyme, both high in linalool, an alcohol found in rosewood.   Erigeron, thuja, tarragon absolute, wormwood, violet leaf and vetiver are some other choices.

I've decided on genet, otherwise known as broom, for the heart - which goes brilliantly with rhododendron leaf.  I'm really just fleshing out the bones of the perfume but I'm off to a terrific start with agarwood and africa stone on the bottom and white champaca leaf and petitgrain sur fleurs on top.  As I work I keep trying to imagine walking through one of these topiary gardens in Europe, marveling at the intense green and the whacky, comical shapes.  I really must plan a topiary tour.

Gift Packaging and Sample Sets

People often ask me if I sell sample sets and I usually file the idea away as something I should really get around to and then I just get back to whatever I was doing and forget about it.  This past winter while hibernating I had a little bit of fun with creating gift packaging and sample sets.

I have boxes of three quarter ounce vials of some of the extracts I've been making such as the Tea Collection, the Citrus Collection and the Toasted Nut Collection.  They come tucked in a brown velvet pouch nestled in a matte gold gift box.  To finish it's tied with a slender velvet ribbon.  I think it'll make a nice gift for the foodies out there.

The same packaging works beautifully with my four latest perfumes - Midnight Garden, Sol de la Foret, Flora and Foret de la Mer. To make them a bit more special I've chosen a millinery flower for each perfume and tucked them in the box.

I've also made sets of samples of eight of my perfumes: Aloft, Tourmaline, Midnight Garden, Moonrise, Sol de la Foret, Flora, Foret de la Mer and Garden Walk.

Playing with silk, paper and velvet flowers, pretty boxes and ribbons reminded me so much of projects I would have worked on in my youth.  In fact I've been doing this kind of thing for as long as I can remember, so I'm pleased to be offering work that comes from my heart.  I have more ideas for packaged sets of perfumes so expect to see more. Thanks for looking!

Ready to gift in a matte gold box with a slender brown velvet ribbon.

Set of three citrus extracts from the stormy winter of 2015; Tangerine, Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange.
Foret de la Mer packaged with millinery golden champaca flowers.

Tools of the Trade, Part Two: the Graduated Beaker

Of all of my measuring tools I love my graduated beakers the most. Aesthetically it's the shape and look of them.  I have a hand blown and etched glass one similar to these as well as a few others I've collected along the way.  

In actuality they're very useful and all come with a pouring spout (or beak) that makes life far simpler. After so many years of admiring the aesthetic it's truly gratifying for me that I actually have to use them for my business. I am, after all, an apothecary.

These are my own tools - graduated beakers and a brass mortar and pestle.

I've always thought laboratory glassware made fantastic barware.

In fact, here I am serving cocktails with one here.

I've been making floral arrangements in them since the 80's.

Tools of the Trade, Part One: Mortar and Pestle

Nothing makes me feel more like a "true apothecary" than when I'm grinding something up in one of my collection of mortars and pestles. When I'm grinding herbs for cologne making (or cooking) or powdering resins to tincture I feel I connect with centuries of healers and craftsmen. The word mortar is Latin for "receptacle for pounding", and pestle for "pounder". The earliest use of them was found in 1550BC Egyptian papyrus.  The tools became the symbol of the pharmacy as they were originally used in apothecaries and then eventually pharmacies in the making of medicine.  The act of mixing or reducing materials to particle size is called trituration.

These are some that I covet:

This one is actually mine, grinding up benzoin absolute to tincture.

Perfume Along the Spice Route

No one benefitted more from the Spice Route than the early perfumers. 

Prior to the abundance of materials becoming available from the spice trade, perfumers in Europe were using the materials available to them, mostly herbs and some locally growing flowers, to create the fragrances of the day. The explorations of Africa, India, the Middle East, Southeast Asia and the West Indies garnered fragrant spices, resins and balsams that created an olfactory palette that would create an industry.
I've always wanted to know more about the Spice Route and the Incense Road so took the opportunity when asked to teach a perfume blending class based on the fragrant discoveries of those ancient explorers. I've read that the search for far away treasure goes back as far as 3000BC.  Some of these materials, such as sandalwood and frankincense, have been in continuous use since then.
After a bit of looking into it I discerned that most of the oils in my perfumer's organ were discovered along those ancient routes.  My oils represent the whole world, not only from western countries but places far and wide, all with their own fragrant tale to tell.  I dug a little deeper when it came to purchasing oils for the class. Resins, spices and exotic flowers I've never imagined are all on their way to my studio.

In this workshop we’ll delve into the discoveries of the early explorers and learn about resinous frankincense, rich vanilla bean, piquant saffron and voluptuous sandalwood. You’ll gain a basic understanding of the sense of smell, the history of perfume and learn how to blend these precious oils into your own bespoke perfume. The process harkens back to a time several centuries past when these materials became available (long before synthetic scent molecules were invented in laboratories). Each participant will leave with two bottles of perfume.

Saturday, May 16th, 1-4pm
543 Union Street (at Nevins)
Brooklyn, NY

These are just some of the fragrant oils we'll be using in class:

Black pepper from Madagascar.
Mace, the delicate membrane surrounding nutmeg.
Vanilla orchids
Ground spices from a market in Sri Lanka
Frankincense bark exuding tears.
Bundles of cinnamon bark
Saffron, the fragrant stamens from a certain crocus.

Capturing the Elusive Violet

The Elusive Fragrance of Violet

I've been, along with many others, attempting to capture it's ethereal aroma in a bottle for a very long time. After working on two violet perfumes for over a year it finally occurred to me that I needed to stop everything I was doing and once again focus on creating a violet accord.

The elusive shrinking violet. The chemicals in them that give them their signature scent are ionones, specifically alpha and beta ionones. After having purchased a bottle of the isolated molecule alpha ionone from the talented Mandy Aftel I thought I was all the way there. What I realized was that it was only part of the equation.  I'd been using alpha ionone as the violet note and building around that.  What I needed was an accord (including alpha ionone) that I could use as a single note.

I did a little research on the chemical makeup of the violet and found some formulas for synthetic violet accords.  Once I had that I searched for natural oils that share some of that chemical makeup. Alpha ionone is a tricky substance to work with.  It awards the sniffer with a temporary anosmia after one or two whiffs making it particularly difficult as you have to take constant breaks to allow your nose to catch up.  After many trials I finally hit on something that captures the note in a pleasing way. At least I think I have.  Alpha ionone is the shapeshifter of all time, it changes constantly.

Now I begin working on my perfume again, basically starting from scratch using the accord as a single element. The one I'm working on currently is really a request from a small group of fans of one of my earliest perfumes, The Nethermead, named after a very special meadow in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. You must traverse The Midwood, an original managed forrest, and cross The Ambergill Ravine to get to the violet strewn meadow. The original perfume used synthetics of violet and amber, which I would never do now, with atlas cedarwood on the top. The amber note is being replicated by an amber accord I made a while back which is mostly labdanum paired with smokey fossilized amber. Violet accord will predominate the heart of the perfume along with coffee flower and nutmeg absolute.  I'm playing around with a variety of cedarwoods, primarily Japanese hinoki, and linalool rich ho wood. All subject to change, of course!

Yes, elusive, to say the least.  A plant with an aroma that robs the nose of its abilities is very elusive indeed. Stranger still is the fact that those beautiful purple flowers the plant sends up in the spring are not really flowers at all, they have no sexual parts.  The true flower comes up later in the season, loaded with seeds.

The violets that grow in my area, although lovely, have no particular scent.  The ones that do, viola odorata, are hard to come by.  I've attempted starting them from seed to no avail.  Last week the talented and darling Dabney Rose sent me four fragrant violet plants in the US Mail.  They're now safely tucked away in my community garden plot.  May they thrive and multiply!  Many thanks to Dabney!

My nose should be rested by now, time to roll around in a meadow of violets.