Archive | January, 2011


30 Jan

My first impression of the first iteration of Zeus is that its top section is too sharp; I added geranium and fir, which can be sharp. I removed them for the next iteration, and really tried to make the amber scent shine. I used jonquil, rosewood, and petitgrain for not-very-odoriferous body, to flesh out each section of the perfume. The base is a simple amber accord based on Mandy Aftel’s formula from Essence & Alchemy, benzoin, labdanum, a small amount of vanilla; I also used ambrette for body and Africa Stone for pheromones. Without sharp top notes, I’m sure Zeus will be much better. The hard part is letting the amber scent shine through while fleshing out the rest of the perfume; I have not had luck in the past making perfumes with no top section–it’s almost as if such “perfumes” are dead on the skin (so much so, if a perfume has no top section, I wouldn’t call it an actual perfume). So, you need each section; depending on your goal, it can be tough not to mess up the scent you’re going for, in this case, amber.

Jonquil. A not-very-odoriferous note to add body.

One thing I plan on (it’s sort of a novelty) is to make a blue perfume, with no color/dye. The main inspiration is blue cypress, which is the bluest I’ve ever encountered, true, deep, rich blue, almost neon in effect. Green cognac is also slightly blue green. The key is not to add any other highly-colored aromatics. It just so happens, aromatic vendors have been selling clear labdanum lately. This would be key to maintaining a blue color (labdanum is usually brown). I will think of other clear aromatics; sandalwood is an example, petitgrain is another, rosewood too. The goal is to make a unique perfume–that just so happens to be blue. I think green cognac, clear labdanum, sandalwood, clary sage, petitgrain, and blue cypress has the makings of something unique, and not just blue for the sake of being blue.

Spikenard. A delightful, wine-like heart note. I use it in Dionysus.

I need to be clear about something I touched on in the last installment: you’ve got distilled, expressed, and enfleurage-based aromatics, absolutes and essential oils. The CO2 versions of these often work better in solids (concretes de parfum) than regular absolutes work in alcohol. For example, vanilla CO2 works better in solids than regular vanilla absolute works in alcohol; vanilla absolute is very difficult in alcohol–it never really dissolves. Vanilla CO2 works perfectly in solids, no problems with dissolution. Each form of a given aromatic has its own best use. I haven’t yet used a concrete (yet another form, basically a solid/paste) of an aromatic; it seems to me very imprecise–it’s very difficult to reproduce a perfume exactly if you start with a concrete. I suppose you could weigh the aromatic in question to be precise. It seems to me to be a very messy prospect.


24 Jan

I recently added a new item to the Lord’s Jester Product page; there are links for samples, liquid perfumes, solid perfumes, custom perfume, and now a “Donate to the National MS Society” link, which takes you to “Adam Gottschalk’s MS Fund,” hosted by the National MS Society. I reckon I’m a perfumer disabled by MS, so I might as well invite my fans to participate. A recent wheelchair-bound MS rough patch is partly the reason for this option; I mean technically donations to the MS Society are not one of my own Products; I figure people who care about me, and care about my perfume in particular, might be convinced to donate to my fund; they make it easy: you go to my MS Fund on the National MS Society web site; you can donate with Visa, Mastercard, Discover, even American Express (unfortunately, you can’t donate using Paypal). If they really wanted to make it easy to donate, they’d offer a Paypal option; I may email them and ask if Paypal could be another donation option.

Benzoin liquid resin. Difficult stuff to work with no matter what form you use.

Some years ago I realized CO2-extracts are perfect for solid perfumes because they’re essentially fatty; makes sense they would work well in an oil/wax solution. In general, I use distilled and “enflowered” and expressed oils for alcohol perfumes; in some cases CO2-extracts work in alcohol, but you never know, so I reserve them for solid-perfume use. I’ve tried regular “absolutes” in solids (oil and wax together) too many times, and had the whole process fail, that I’ve learned my lesson. Absolutes are for alcohol; CO2-extracts, well, the perfect place for them is in solids (otherwise known as concretes de parfum). Orris CO2 is the perfect floral fixative for concretes de parfum. Vanilla CO2 works better in solids than vanilla absolute works in alcohol; the absolute is sticky and never really dissolves, even in 190-proof alcohol (no matter what heat you apply–once it cools, vanilla drops out of a perfume). Benzoin, while being the perfect balsamic fixative, can be difficult in both alcohol and solids both, whether you’re using an absolute or a “liquid resin,” indispensable though benzoin is; it has the potential to be a difficult material to work with. I don’t ever use benzoin in solids; I use Orris CO2 for an excellent floral fixative (balsamic? No, but a great fixative nevertheless).

Orris root. A great floral fixative for both alcohol and solid perfumes (the CO2 for solids).

As some of you know, I recently released two new perfumes, Phoebe eau de parfum and Chronos eau de cologne; I’ve listed them on my site as “limited editions,” because they’re not perfect so I still want to work on the formulas. I’ve been working on Phoebe for years; it was one of my very first successful perfumes, based on osmanthus and an “amber accord.” But it’s still not perfect. I’ll keep working on the formula. Chronos is my immortelle perfume (and an homage to Sables from Annick Goutal); it too is almost finished, but it needs a little more work. (My very favorite synthetic perfume, L’Instant de Guerlain pour Homme, sexy and oh-so powdery, well, the closest I’ve gotten is my own powdery Selene eau de parfum, not that I would ever aim to duplicate L’Instant; I’m not sure it would even be possible with natural materials.) I’ve also got a honeysuckle formula I’m working on (Aphrodite); and Zeus, which I intend to be strong and simple amber perfume (Ares eau de cologne is quite nice, one of my favorites in my entire line, but that’s a spicy amber); and as Anthea is a successful solid ode to jasmine, I’m working on a rose-esque perfume called Persephone. I might try Persephone as a solid, but then I’d feel obliged to do an alcohol version of Anthea; I might try them each as both solid and alcohol.


19 Jan

More about my views on proper natural-perfume construction: notes intended to add only body must not be not very odoriferous. Orris is an example; patchouli is not. Jonquil is an example; jasmine is not. Petitgrain is an example; ginger made from dried roots is not. I’ve found orris etc. are good at adding body without mucking up a perfume. I don’t think of making accords/chords; instead, I think of each perfume as a distinct entity. It’s not the accord which concerns me; it’s the whole formula, bottom to top. And I’m happy thinking that way; that perspective makes for base-heavy compositions. In this way, I’m quite prosaic in my approach to perfume; no snippets, the whole evocative shebang. I aim to make bowl-you-over perfumes, like good prose, affecting you in ways you aren’t quite aware

Patchouli. An extract with a high odor intensity

Of course the ultimate test of a perfumer’s skills is how well he can make custom. I think custom perfume takes a lot of imagination. I believe, from experience, that I have excellent custom imagination. In the end, most of us/all of us have sorely lacking olfactory vocabulary. What a perfumer does with a custom client is usually a fair amount of translation and interpretation. This is another artful part of perfumery: one can feel free to make assumptions; if a person says they don’t like mint, they probably don’t like basil either. My very first custom client, wife of an old, old friend, told me she didn’t like tea-ish or vegetable-y smells. Another artful part of custom perfumery: a perfumer gets to interpret what is said by a custom client. No rules; only experience guides you. It turns out there is actually an olfactory category of green/tea, but I remain uncertain quite what she meant.

Vetiver. Another extract with high odor intensity.

I think imagination is a big part of natural perfumery. If you can imagine your way to a successful formula using only what a client says, you’re half way there. Make an informed guess here, and experiential leap there, and I guarantee you’ve nearly got your formula. One problem you might run into has to with our lack of olfactory education: a client might say woody when she means balsamic. None of us has a very good stock of actual, traditional olfactory terms. Words like balsamic (as in balsam wood not balsamic vinegar), agrestic (rustic, relating to the countryside), and green/tea are useful terms we all should use more. There is a big wheel out there, put out by Mandy Aftel; it’s divided in little sections for each category of scent, earthy, fruity, woody, etc. At the edge of the wheel are the names of various exemplary extracts. For example, at the edge for the category edible/sweet are listed cocoa, vanilla, tonka.


11 Jan

I’m really torn about my two new perfumes, Phoebe and Chronos. I was prepared not to release them in the end, but I sent them to my friend John Reasinger (who’s reviewed all my perfumes and is a real champion of Lord’s Jester) and he and his mother really liked them; at some point in a chat, John wrote, “Wait a minute–Phoebe rocks!” To me, neither one is full of enough character. They both have odd undertones; Phoebe smells intensely floral, but there’s a little bit of funk/stank underneath (from stinky costus-root absolute); Chronos smells to me at first a little like rubber, and not until well into the dry down does it begin to smell like the telltale “maple candy” of immortelle flowers. I’m torn: I don’t think these are as good as my other perfumes, but John assures people will love them. Do I release them or not? I think I’ll decide in the next week.

Benzoin. The first and most important ingredient in amber.

They’re already bottled, in all four sizes. I listed them on my site as “limited editions.” That way I can change the formulas; no one will expect the same perfumes. The main problem here was this: I made several test batches (with Phoebe over several years), but in both cases, there was a big disconnect between the odor of the test batches and, in turn, the full-size batches. That’s happened before with other perfumes, but it was because I changed certain aromatics; I don’t change aromatics anymore. The test batch must use exactly the same aromatics as the larger batch. That’s why I’m a bit confused; perhaps we have to be even more precise with amounts of each aromatic. I’m thinking, on smelling the final products, “Oh! That is SO not what I smelled in the test batches.”

Vanilla. Another important ingredient in amber.

Perhaps, in the end, certain aromatics need to change non-uniformly in making the bigger batches. I know with Phoebe, I detect a slightly funky undertone. I know why: because of costus-root absolute. Costus is a little stinky. When I went to make the bigger batch, I just multiplied the weight of the test batch to figure out a weight for the larger batch. With stinky things like costus, I should adjust the weight according to what I suspect will happen in the larger batch. I tried for a while to use lavender in perfumes; no matter what I did, I ended up with something stinky. The only place it appears in my line is Ares eau de cologne; a cologne is light enough you can’t really detect lavender. The point of Ares is to be a kind of spicy amber cologne. I plan to make a “real” amber perfume, eau de parfum. It will be simpler and let the amber smell really shine through. I think I’ll call it Zeus; the smell of amber is sort of ancient.

Copal. I think Al-Kindi used copal.

An Arabian apothecary and philosopher, Al-Kindi, in the ninth century, was the first to make “amber perfume” (I think); it quickly spread through the ancient world. I happen to think amber is a good backdrop for perfume in general; a perfumer can play around with proportions of the three ingredients, and even add other layers. I use tonka-bean (in addition to benzoin, labdanum, and vanilla) in Daphne, which is a twist on amber (tonka smells similar to vanilla). Amber is a lovely smell. I want Zeus to be a simple amber; I want it to be robust, so I might make it an eau de parfum. I don’t think anyone will object if you walk into a room smelling like amber. I think of Zeus, king of gods and ruler of Mount Olympus, when I think of glorious amber. It’s not a masculine scent; I prefer to think of it as unisex, like all the rest of my perfumes.


7 Jan

On my web site, you can now order samples with ecommerce; also I lowered the price for custom perfume, to $350 for a basic, sublime perfume, and $700 for a high-end perfume, with more rare, esoteric, and expensive extracts, extracts like orris, boronia, honeysuckle, etc. I have limited experience with custom perfume. I’ve made a few; they’ve all brought waves of delight, after one or two trys. I have good imagination for making custom perfume, but I don’t have all that much experience. I need some clients to give me a chance. I would say that with my experience thus far, I’m excellent at custom perfume. I am able to take what a client says about certain essences, pull it all together, and figure out what a person is actually trying to tell me about the perfume they’re hoping for. Your average person is painfully unable to talk intelligently about what they smell.

Petitgrain. A top note that I believe helps give a perfume body.

My first client said she didn’t like “tea” smells; I had to do a lot of assuming about what she meant by that. Her perfume was a smashing success. What’s the main reason for our inability to talk about smells, intelligently, accurately, with insight? A lack of olfactory education. At some point modern philosophers decided the sense of smell was somehow lower than the other senses (I think it has to do with rank/foul smells; how could a sense which picks up on the “disagreeable” ever be higher?). We perfumers know in fact, with the location of the olfactory nerve in the same location as memories in a person’s brain, it’s actually one of the highest senses, if not the highest. I know I’ve succeeded when a person takes a whiff, their head cocks back, and they start to moan as if they were smelling something which is an integral part of their consciousness. Those who push for, say, olfactory education in grammar school or high school, are looked at like they’re crazy. I know a fellow in Italy who created this really cool contraption meant for olfactory education (actually modeled on work GW Septimus Piesse did in the 1800s).

Rosewood. Another top note that lends body.

Piesse envisioned a large keyboard connected to an array of essences. When you played certain notes or chords, the various essences would be sprayed out in front of you. (He spent much of his life attempting to correspond musical notes to particular essences; I think he got four octaves.) This is a great way to test “accords,” which are like musical chords. It’s amazing to think about the parallels between music and the practice of perfumery. You have bass (base) notes, you talk about accords (chords), my perfumes feel like the music of a bass or cello (one blogger says, and that’s fine by me–I much prefer bass-heavy music to treble-heavy). If we got even just a bit of olfactory education in school, we’d talk about agrestic smells, or anisic, or sharp herbals. Instead, it’s like we’re inside of a bag, and just can’t come up with accurate vocabulary. Please push for early olfactory education!


3 Jan

How do I know I’m right, with all my very strong opinions on the art of perfumery? The first thing people notice about my perfumes is that they’re very long-lasting; I figure that has to be a sign. Most folks say they haven’t come to expect “long lasting” from natural perfume; to me, it’s a simple matter of composing perfumes correctly. I had one client who said she wore a sample of Dionysus eau de toilette and it lasted all afternoon; that’s surprising to most people. I had one man who reviewed my perfumes and he was impressed that Ares eau de cologne lasts as long as it does. Of course, it takes some experimentation with different materials; I’ve found benzoin, orris, and ambrette (the first time I smelled ambrette I immediately thought of concrete/cement; I guess it’s a good fixative), among others, make for long-lasting perfumes. Pine needle, hay, and tobacco I think work too.

Made from dried roots of iris, orris is one of the best fixatives.

Boronia is a heart note but it helps a perfume last. Then again, there is a number of heart notes, and top notes, I frequently add. Chris, owner of the Perfume House in Portland, Oregon (the only store of its kind in the whole country: they sell only high-end perfume), said to me many times that there are three things in all perfumes: sandalwood, rose, and jasmine. He was talking about synthetics, but I’ve found the same thing with natural perfume: I don’t use much sandalwood (a little), but I definitely use different kinds of woods; rose and jasmine I do believe should go in every perfume, rosewood and petitgrain too. This is to put meat on the bones of a perfume, to add complexity, and depth, and power. I worried at first that all my perfumes would, in this way, smell the same. Not so. The odor intensity of each different aromatic is each vastly different, and so you end up with different, distinctive, and unique perfumes (if you know what you’re doing), no matter how many notes are the same.

Boronia. Smelling, to me, like lychee fruit, it might also be a good fixative.

I decided I should do a big give away. Fragrantica, that huge perfume web site, whom I wrote for, on the subject of natural perfume, is going to help me with it. Check out to enter; it will be coming up soon. I will give full sets of my perfumes to five people. A number of others will get smaller packages. This is great PR; my perfumes are pretty profound and delightfully fragrant (I would say powerful), but it’s hard to get people actually to smell them. That’s why a free give away is so great: folks don’t have to visit your web site; it comes to them by mail and for free. If they love your perfume, you’re sure to have repeat customers. I’m also planning to go to Henri Bendel, a fancy department store here in the city, to ask if they’ll carry my line. They carry Mandy Aftel’s perfumes. If I explain that I studied with Mandy, that I’m a certified Professional Perfumer, and that everyone who smells my perfumes loves them, I have a chance; of course I’ll bring all my perfumes. My friend John Reasinger, who reviewed my perfumes, says my perfumes deserve to be sold at Henri Bendel. John is a great champion of Lord’s Jester.