Vintage perfumes

The more I experiment with perfumes, the more I realize that I’m trying to emulate the perfumes of the past. I remember the smell of my mother in the 1950s as she’d get ready to go to a party–the smell when she was leaving and the smell when she got back. By the time she got back, the top and middle notes of the perfume had disappeared and the only smell was that of natural musk, an aroma most people, even perfumers, have never smelled. So, it is emulating these perfumes (sans the natural musk) that draws me deeper into perfumery. I’ve had some success, particularly with a natural floral blend fixed with some special balsam I got from a supplier in India. I think it smells divine, but it doesn’t last long enough–a couple of hours at most. I know there are things I can do and add to help it last longer but I don’t want to attenuate it too much.

I’ve been playing around with para-cresyl acetate, which has a strong phenolic aroma with a strong animalic component. I’ve combined it with synthetic musks to see if I could emulate natural musk. I got into the ball park but no home run. I added civet and that helped but of course that’s another forbidden product (I don’t want to participate in the torture of the civet cat) that I won’t be able to use.

Everyday, I have a smell training session. I take 20 or so aroma chemicals and smell them on smelling strips. I then try to identify them blind. It’s not as easy as it might seem. Right now I’m working on a bunch of chemicals that start with P. These means a lot of phenyl this and phenyl that. Phenyl means that the aroma is probably going to be phenolic–sort of tarry and burned and really like phenol, but most people these days don’t know what that smells like. But it does mean that the chemicals are somewhat similar which makes distinguishing them all that more difficult. I figure when I can identify all 250 of my aroma chemicals that I’ll be partly on the way to becoming a perfumer.

I’ve been working on an artificial narcissus. I would never have known how to create one myself without the help of Jellinek’s The Practice of Modern Perfumery. He uses a number of para-cresyls, ylang, hydroxycitronellal, petitgrain, indole, heliotropin, terpineol, natural geraniol, linalool, isoeugenol, benzyl isobutyrate, and phenyl acetaldehyde. It’s not bad but of course it’s more aggressive than narcissus absolute. I’m going to add narcissus absolute to it to see if I can tame it and make it more natural seeming.

So, I’d been experimenting along these lines, when a chic perfume boutique opened around the corner. After chatting up the owner on several visits, he said to bring in some samples of my “creations.” So, with much trepidation, I sat with him as he slowly and silently sniffed the 7 vials I had brought in. When done, he looked it me–I was preparing myself not to be crushed–and said “You have a line here.” “You’re very talented.” Well, I left the store floating on air. He not only praised them but said he would carry them in the shop (apparently the place is very hard to get into being high-end and niche) once I got the packaging together. After much experimentation, I finally figured out the packaging but it turned out not to be slick enough to sell these rather expensive perfumes. So, I’m back to the drawing board and have been in touch with numerous suppliers in China trying to get someone who will make an order of fewer than 10,000 bottles. It’s very hard to get something simple and elegant.


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2 Responses to Vintage perfumes

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