Archive | December, 2010


26 Dec

Let’s be clear: I never smelled old-world perfume. The thing is once things start making sense, you have a long series of revelations. You start thinking if a and b are true, then c is necessarily so. Everything starts clicking, and you finally begin to understand “perfumery.” It is a complex art. Also, in some cases, you can tell by smelling certain essences; you figure out what goes into your favorite synthetic perfumes. You can use the pyramids which circulate and name names. The hard part is it’s never as simple as using a particular essence to make a given perfume in the style of your favorite. In some cases, you can get close, but it’s best not to try. Mainstream perfume houses use synthetics, fragrance chemicals (many of which are suspected toxins), which can be made to smell like nearly anything. The three bottles pictured on this page are icons of modern perfume, L’Instant pour homme from Guerlain, Sables from Annick Goutal, and Ambre Sultan by Serge Lutens; I used to adore wearing them.

The best I've ever smelled.

I remember when I first started, I was completely daunted. I remember thinking, ‘How does one become a perfumer?” There are no schools for it. This is why I appreciate Mandy Aftel so much: she tells you how. She lets you know anyone, depending on certain characteristics, can become a perfumer. She makes it seem entirely possible that you could go on to become a great perfumer. When the question came up in my life whether to go natural or not, as a long-time worker at stores which carried organic products, at co-ops, at natural-foods stores, it was, as I said in my bio to get on the natual-perfumers email list, entirely natural that I would be all about natural. You have to do a lot of reading, in books, online; you have to talk about the art with other natural perfumers. Over years, you learn vital information. You are a natural perfumer because you want to be; it takes confidence when you start selling your products, and thank goodness for the Natural Perfumers Guild, who grants a title Professional Perfumer upon submission of packaged (and finished), and good, perfumes. I am a Guild Professional Perfumer.

An immortelle perfume. My new perfume Chronos is close.

How do you know when you’re ready to become a professional? You have to have friends and family smell your perfumes; whether or not then can be honest with you is a question. I can automatically tell by a person’s first whiff, but then I’m particularly perceptive and observant. Some natural perfumers, I would say many, most, never go into business. For others of us, at some point your gumption gets the best of you, and before you know it you’ve got a business. You have to be the sort of person who puts products out there, and so, opens yourself up for criticism. I’ve got thick skin on my face, as the  Chinese say; the reaction to my perfumes has always been excellent, from people who were being honest (I could tell). My mother was particularly encouraging; she really liked what became my new perfume Phoebe, also my solid Anthea which is an ode to jasmine. On the road to becoming a great perfumer….



22 Dec

I realized several years ago that if I aim to continue a Professional natural perfumer, collecting a library of materials is essential. That some are more important than others is without question; I’ve been collecting materials which I deem to be absolutely vital. There is a bunch: benzoin, labdanum, ambrette, rose, jasmine, lavender, rosewood, neroli, pepper, etc. I think of rose and jasmine, ambrette too, as “perfume blood;” it can’t be a sublime composition if there aren’t certain notes. Now, I’ve learned to make complex, intricate perfumes. That’s my own personal take on natural perfume. In Perfume by Suskind, Grenouille implies that the more notes in a perfume, the richer it is; you want to build a dense cloud of scent. You have to train yourself first; you have to make lots of mistakes, sussing out what materials to do what with, which materials have just-the-right effect (or a terrible effect), or make the perfume sublime.

Hibiscus brings ambrette seeds.

The first professional-quantity substance, 32 ounces, I got was pine-needle absolute. I purchased it from White Lotus Aromatics. The thing is, you have PRE-order it. I remember the day I realized this was probably the case, I emailed Christopher McMahon, describing exactly what I was looking for. This stuff is like a solid–you can pour it but takes many hours, and then you have to make sure you have 190-proof alcohol to you can stir it around and make a dilution. To me, this is an important material because it smells like amber out of the bottle. I have a feeling it’s also a good fixative. The thing is, it’s essential to make a dilution. Working with it as it comes from the bottle would be nightmarish, if you could even get it to loosen up. Not easy stuff to work with, but it’s absolutely worth it. Anything which smells like powdery amber is certainly worth any pains you might make to utilize it.

Perfumery is a waiting game; you’re waiting for the transcendent to show through. If you’re not patient, this art is not for you. I have certain rules, that I stick fast too, that I have developed over the past seven years or so. First thing is not to use too much styrax or costus; a little touch is all that is needed (otherwise you’ll end with a stanky perfume). Secondly, no matter how great lavender smells, it will ruin a perfume except in the smallest concentrations (I use lavender in one out of 12 perfumes, Ares). I think lavender is best suited to eau de cologne–believe me, I tried. The third, on the top end, is tagetes (marigold) is good to use when the top has a lot of citrus. That rule I picked from traditional French perfumery; I must admit, that while tagetes does not itself smell nice, it tends to “balance out” citrus notes. I tried and it does succeed.


17 Dec

I’d like to let you know about upcoming changes in the Lord’s Jester packaging; only liquids will change; solids will remain the same. I will now carry one ounce and .5 ounce bottles; in addition, I will still carry the smaller ones, 10ml and 5ml. The ounce and .5 ounce are dead-on cubes; the 10ml has rounded shoulders (but the pictures look identical), and the 5ml are straight rectangular. The idea is that, all things being equal, I can get a person on naturals without too much start-up cost; the 5mls are $20 for an eau de cologne, and $30 for an eau de toilette, and $40 for an eau de parfum. All the way up to an ounce of eau de parfum for $150. A clean sweep, if I do say so myself; and the way you move up volumetrically is perfectly reflected in the prices.

So, as you go from 5ml up to an ounce, prices increase proportionately more. I’m thinking about the following price range: eau de cologne, 5ml for $20, 10ml for $30, .5 ounce for $40, and one ounce for $70; for eau de toilette, $30 for 5ml, $45 for 10ml, $60 for .5 ounce, and $110 for an ounce; for an eau de parfum, $40 for 5ml, $60 for 10ml, $80 for .5 ounce, and $150 for one ounce. The solids will remain the same, at $25 for 7.5ml, $60 for 20ml, and $80 for 30ml; at some point, that may move up, for particularly large concentrations of aromatics, to $75 for 20ml, and $95 for 30ml (the tiny solids will remain unchanged). This will be a good arrangement of prices.

My honeysuckle perfume is totally not shaping up the way I expected. I’m making it at the behest of my girlfriend, Mary, who is my latest test subject, 18 notes altogether, an eau de toilette. We have yet to see, but we’ll get to it soon enough. For the base, I included hay absolute, orris butter, pine-needle absolute, and a sandalwood base note (that’s not all I included); for the heart I included honeysuckle, of course, immortelle, and orange-blossom absolute (more on that later); and, surprise surprise, Mary really liked ginger, fir, and neroli (the counterpart to the orange-blossom absolute). A sublime composition to be sure. We’ll just have to wait and see.


14 Dec

I need to talk about benzoin. At the very beginning I met it as “hard to work with.” I’ve since come to see it as the one essential perfume ingredient. Make a perfume with only benzoin and I’m game (as most of you know, this sort of simplicity is not the way I work). Most of my perfumes (the liquids) have benzoin in them; with the solids, I can’t find benzoin in a form that works. Instead, I use orris butter, as its fixative properties are pretty legendary. People use animal ingredients to fix perfume, but I don’t think that does anything to lengthen the perfume’s effect; it is only to add pheromone activity (I wouldn’t even think of attempting a perfume with no ambergris or Africa Stone). Whereas I started out thinking animal ingredients were essential to fixing perfume, now I see the addition of animal materials as all about pheromones.

How about “amber”? Benzoin is one of three that makes what we think of as the smell of amber; the other two are labdanum and vanilla. The three together make an excellent, sweet, long-lasting fixative. I believe the essence of amber is to serve as an excellent backdrop for perfumes of all kinds, but I have only one amber perfume (out of 12), Ares. In the perfume world, there is a limitless variety of materials to weave your perfumes from. And that’s how I think of it: quite like weaving fabric, with artistic sensibilities, aiming for the lofty, wanting to be sublime. Layer upon layer, carefully woven, with intelligence, experience (you do have to make a few mistakes when you’re first starting out), with insight as to what smells people most enjoy. I do aim to make historic perfumes.

I’m determined to make a honeysuckle perfume; for some reason I think magnolia (both heart notes) might be in there, but maybe not. If I could make a perfume with anything under the sun, I’d use lilacs and lilies. Unfortunately, with the state of things today, that’s an impossibility; you can no more use lilac absolute (I’ve heard tell of some elusive lilac) than you can use natural musk. Honeysuckle is a close second to lilacs and lilies. Orange-blossom absolute is nice, but it doesn’t come anywhere close to the smell of real orange flowers as they float on the air; osmanthus absolute is nice too, but not nearly as vital, gripping, double-you-over the instant you smell it. Honeysuckle is close enough I can live with, and so is magnolia, though I can’t say as I remember ever smelling magnolia (it only seems as if I can, somewhere way back in my memory).



10 Dec
From Beth of Perfume Smellin’ Things:
“Daphne by the Lords Jester himself, Adam Gottschalk, is a very sexy femme-fatale fragrance that is surprising too…not at all what you’d expect from a perfume that includes such lovelies as grapefruit, jasmine, rose and frangipani. When I put it on the scent was immediately lovely and then I found myself completely intrigued. I couldn’t escape the leathery sweet and subtlely smoky base and I was reminded immediately of one of the men in my past. He was devilish, he always smelled of opium (not the perfume!) and he was sexy as hell. I think that Daphne could be worn well by a man and in some cases could be as physically arresting to the senses as Johnny Depp’s masterful gypsy in Chocolat. I enjoy wearing Daphne myself, but if my husband wore it I’d be continuously distracted so I’ve hid the sample!”
My next two projects, which are maturing now, are my osmanthus perfume, Phoebe, and my immortelle perfume, Chronos. Both are complex compositions; they’re not just osmanthus and immortelle. Each contain notes I have determined to add body and depth, 18 notes in each. In examining each of the formulas, one thing is clear: these are very different perfumes, just by way of changing a few of the parts. Ambrette and ambergris? In both. Rose and jasmine? In both. Rosewood and juniper? In both. However, they couldn’t smell more different. They’re both on the darker side, as is my wont, whereas they smell like two sides to the same coin, like honey on the one hand and maple candy on the other. Then again, I do have a rather whimsical take on the olfactory.
Neither of them is as sweet as all that. I’m sure many of you would smell them and be reminded of nothing of the sort. To be quite honest, I think of Phoebe as being an amber perfume, with the addition of osmanthus, and Chronos as being fundamentally dark, like dark at its core. This is not to say you wouldn’t be prompted to recall something entirely different, maybe from summers when you were a child, a forest, or even a beach (immortelle happens to grow on beaches in France). The odd thing is that Phoebe smells anything like honey, or that Chronos smells like anything but flowers; they each betray a sense of something “other worldly,” a feeling of belonging, an idea about what is and isn’t right in the world. Maybe that’s just take on it; in fact, I know it is. Such is the conundrum of those with a “unique” nose.


5 Dec

More great reviews have rolled on in, including Felicia M. Hazzard, who called my eau de toilette Daphne my “legacy and crowning achievement”! Others are, from Gaia The Non-Blonde, “Soon enough Prince Charming will see the walls of the castle’s gardens and smell the roses that grew wild and entangled for 100 years. And there inside there is a beautiful princess waiting, asleep, in all her sweetness. Daphne becomes honeyed and smooth, a rich oriental chypre that is a joy to wear.” I love being compared to fairy tales, a integral part of the fantasy that is perfume. Fantasy is EVERYthing with the olfactory, with what is unseen but highly evocative.

I’ve been thinking of beginning to use Africa Stone (collected from compost piles of African rock hyrax, an environmentally-sound process) in my perfumes from now on, or at least some of the time. (Ambergris, crafted from ambergris floating on the sea, my preferred choice of the animal ingredients, is truly rarefied.) Now that is nothing compared to real natural musk, which I have smelled–I felt like I was smelling ambergris with stardust and magic! Really, that was quite a material when the musk-deer was not extinct–perfume with stardust!

I’ve been thinking of making a “truly outlaw” perfume, using stuff like tea-tree and eucalyptus, which essences I loathe. A light touch would be needed, but I’m almost certain I could turn out something sublime. The antiseptic properties are what turn me off; exactly what odors strike as offensive is hard to describe, but it’s something about the anise and licorice-like attributes, very cold, very sharp, that turn me off (I guess licorice smells round). Regardless, I think I’m up to the challenge of composing transcendent perfume using these materials.