Friday, May 22, 2015

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.





Monday, May 4, 2015

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.

Friday, May 1, 2015

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.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

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.



Monday, April 27, 2015

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.










Tuesday, April 21, 2015

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.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Fougere Workshop

Create the scent of the forrest floor.
There has been some interest amongst a small group of students in doing another Fougere Workshop.  I'm so happy to teach this class again on Sunday, April 12th, 1-4pm.

Fougere is a fragrance family that came into fashion towards the end of the 19th C.  The word means fern, which makes it a fantasy category seeing how ferns don't really have a fragrance.  Fougere's are meant to smell like the forrest floor and, to my understanding, must have three ingredients:  lavender, oakmoss and a coumarin note (found in tonka bean, hay, sweet clover, etc.).  Often herbs like geranium, linalool rich rosewood and more assertive notes like patchouli are added but it's the careful consideration of the other ingredients that makes the fougere your own.

In class we'll explore the genre and sample many perfumes including the original Fougere Royale and Jicky - the vanguards of the classification -  along with samples from some of the best natural perfumers working today. You'll be choosing from materials like tonka bean, sweet clover, concretes of lavender, geranium and clary sage, several lavender absolutes and essential oils, cedarmoss, cassia and ho wood.  You'll have the opportunity to create two perfumes.  $25 extra to make a third, time considering.

Sunday, April 12th, 1-4pm.  You can register here.

You can see the coumarin crystals forming on these tonka beans.
Once oakmoss is harvested it rests for seven years to develop it's wet forrest scent.
Clover also contain coumarins.
Lavender, one of the key ingredients in a fougere, also contains coumarins.