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.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Capturing the Fragrance and Flavor of Winter

Nut Extracts
The spring thaw is upon us.  The icebergs are melting, the sidewalks are passable again and the smell of thawing earth and sap rising are in the air. This time of year is always a little melancholy for me. I love winter, no matter the cold and snow, I love it. I'm a big fan of warm and cozy.  I love the holidays, love snow days, thick blankets, warm stews and soft cashmere sweaters (and socks, cashmere socks are the best). I'm going to miss it in the long warm, muggy, glaring, big, fat summer ahead.  Most people talk about capturing the flavors of summer to be used during the cold, lean months.  I do my share of that, mostly so that I can enjoy the winter that much more, but just to turn things on their ear I've been trying to capture the flavors and fragrance of winter to be enjoyed during the summer.

What are the flavors I love most in winter?  That's easy.  Juicy, fresh citrus fruits, roasted nuts, and cups and cups and cups of milky black tea.  So that's what I've attempted to capture. I've made extracts of tangerine, blood orange, meyer lemon, vanilla/orange, toasted almond, hazelnut and pistachio and peach, blackcurrant and vanilla black tea.  Thinking ahead to chocolate ice cream with blood orange extract, or pistachio ice cream amped up with a bit of extract and glasses of cold seltzer with carbonated bubbles popping peach tea extract.

Drying orange zest
I've also started zesting my citrus before I peel them and drying the zest.  It's nice to have home cured rinds for recipes.  You can zest any type of orange, lemon or lime - or anything else you can get your hands on like yuzu or buddah's hand.  I lay them on parchment covered wicker trays but even laid out evenly on a dinner plate works. Leave them at least a week, depending on humidity, before you put them in a jar to keep. Make sure they're absolutely dry before you do, any hidden moisture could cause your rinds to mold.  On the other hand don't leave them out too long or they'll lose their potency. Don't forget to label them, you'll want to remember which is tangerine and which is blood orange, especially as they dry and their flavor concentrates.

Straining Meyer Lemon Extract
So, while it's still winter take advantage of the fruits of the season and keep them for the warm seasons to come.  If preparing them seems too mind-boggling and time consuming check out the selection of extracts in my Etsy store.  Everything is made in small batches so there is a limited supply. I love to tinker and experiment so expect some new arrivals.

To read more about making extracts at home look here.

Tea Extracts
Nut Extracts Sample Set
Tangerine Extract


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

New Perfume! Foret de la Mer, a Fougere for Men

Fougere's have been my passion for the past couple of years and the last time I was in California I was inspired to create one based on the expansive coastline rimmed with forests. This is a bolder and more voluptuous fragrance than I normally create but I was so moved by the drama of the natural surroundings that I wanted to try to capture it in a bottle. I became haunted by the smokey, maritime essence of choya nak, a destructive distillation of roasted seashells, and was compelled to use it in the base which gave it a definite masculine feel. I personally love men's fragrances and have been wanting to make one for some time. The result, Foret de la Mer (Forest of the Sea) is a mossy, maritime fragrance with luscious florals and fresh citruses.  It's more bracing than what I normally go for, and sometimes the smokey seashell seems nearly too much, but I'm always glad I stayed with it.  It really changes in the drydown and that smokiness turns sweeter.  It's weird, and that's partly what appeals to me about it.

The traditional fougere ingredients, tonka and oakmoss, sit at the bottom with ambrette seed and choya nak. Champaca absolute and orange blossom concrete mingle with French lavender absolute to create a sumptuous floral heart. Wild lavender essential oil blends beautifully with bergamot and wild sweet lavender to greet the nose in a tangy floral welcome.  It's bracing at first but gives way to sexy champaca and a surprisingly sweet dry down.


Foret de la Mer

Top notes: bergamot, wild sweet orange, wild lavender

Heart notes: champaca absolute, orange blossom concrete, lavender absolute
Base notes: tonka bean, oakmoss, ambrette, choya nak
5ml, 1/4 ounce, 15ml and sample sizes available.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Interview in the Park Slope Food Coop's Linewaiter's Gazette

Laugh if you want but my food coop is badass.  We have 16,000 members working cooperatively to run a store based on good politics, good value and great food.  We members of the Park Slope Food Coop all work a two and a half hour shift every four weeks and with the help of our paid staff we run the coop. We are a model for cooperation and sustainability.

The coop has its share of critics.  There are people who think there are too many rules and find it punitive.  There are only two rules I'm aware of.  One is to show up for your assigned shift, or at least call and let them know you're not coming.  That seems reasonable considering we're trying to run a store.  If you don't call in you have to do a second make-up shift.  This is also reasonable - there has to be a deterrent to not showing up or finding someone to cover your shift.  The other rule is don't shop in line. That just seems like common courtesy.

Every time someone from The New York Times writes about us they always make fun of our organic food and "all of those rules" and the way we check out or the long lines.  Every article is the same, let's make fun of the vegan hippies.  I'm waiting for someone to write an article about what a miracle it is that 16,000 people can work cooperatively to provide ourselves with sustainable organic food at reasonable prices.  There's the real story.

Poet and playwrite Pat Smith was kind enough to invite me to be interviewed, I'm chuffed by his kind words.  Check out page four of the March 5th, 2015 Linewaiter's Gazette to read the full article.

Friday, February 27, 2015

March Studio Classes

Natural Perfume Blending Workshops 

Coming in March 

I've been thoroughly enjoying teaching out of my home studio. The classes are more intimate and I have all of my materials at hand for every need.  


Saturday, March 7th
1 - 4pm
In this first workshop we will take a closer look at the artisanal art of natural perfumery. Students will gain a basic understanding of the sense of smell, the history of perfume, the advent of synthetic ingredients and the return to naturals.  Perfume ingredients and formulation will be explored and each participant will leave with two bottles of their own bespoke perfume.


Saturday, March 14th
1 - 4pm
For those students who have taken the first Natural Perfume Blending course and would like to study further I'm now offering Perfume Blending, Part Two. The original kit of 50 or so oils will be added to with some rare and precious oils such as hay absolute, magnolia flower, yuzu and pink pepper. A more in depth look at formulation and structure and becoming more intimate with your materials will be explored and there will be specific assignments to deepen your understanding of blending and perfume creation, as well as sharpen your sense of smell. 

To register visit herbalalchemy.net


Fougere Workshop

There has been some interest from a small group of students in doing another Fougere Workshop. You'll be choosing from tonka bean, sweet clover, concretes of lavender, geranium and clary sage, several lavender absolutes and essential oils, cedar moss, cassia and ho wood.  I also have samples of many perfumes in that category, including the original Fougere Royale and Jicky, along with many samples from some of the best natural perfumers working today.  We'll discuss the genre and explore the new materials and you'll create two perfumes.  $25 extra to make a third, time considering.

If you're interested email me at info@herbalalchemy.net.  The price will be $150.  If there's enough of us we can pick a date that works for everyone.  I could do it either Saturday, the 21st or 28th of March.  I hope it comes together, it's such a fun class.  Smells amazing, too.

Monday, February 23, 2015

My Etsy Store Gets a Scripted French Facelift

I've seen other Etsy stores using vintage letters as a backdrop for their products and I always thought they were really beautiful.  I've been wanting to change up my product photos so I went searching on Etsy for some antique letters.  I found two stores that sell letters from France from the turn of the last century.  One was Oscar Naylor in Canada.  The letter came gorgeously wrapped in vintage letters, the most beautiful package my mailbox has seen in a long time.  I struggled to open it and keep it intact so I could save it.  The other store was French Manufacture in France.  From them I bought two packages of several letters.  They're all written out in script with pen and ink, a harkening back to a a time when quite a lot more effort went into correspondence



MIDNIGHT GARDEN



Samples of Eau Who and Noir