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).



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