Sunday, August 30, 2009

Perfuming the Edge of the World, Part 11 (Update)

Composing the Notes de Tête

As perfume rises from the bottle, or from a scent strip, or from the skin, the beholder’s first impression will be the top note, which is the “greeting note” of the perfume. This is a short-lived note that quickly dissipates as it also leads the perceiver through the transition into the heart notes. An inviting top note is not the least of the factors upon which the commercial success or failure of a perfume depends.

The goal of today’s perfume exercise is to develop a fragrant and inviting note of perfumed greeting that represents the ethnobotanicals used by the Rumsen Carmel Ohlone, interwoven with environmental fragrances that would have been present and noticeable during their annual stay at their Point Lobos summer village.

I’ve been anticipating a unique challenge regarding this most critical part of the composition, because traditional perfumery typically relies on the contribution of citrus to top notes. The Carmel area lacks any native citrus botanicals, so I must find a way to work without them.

To provide a unique fragrance introduction to the world of the Ohlone natives, I finally decided to try an alternate composition based on fresh air of meadows and seashore, a brief breeze carrying gently woody-flowery, hay and tea-like herbaceous fragrances of native wheat and grasses, interwoven with delicate fresh foliage, nuances of blackberry, elderberry and thimbleberry, spicy red currant, juicy cucumber, and fresh, honey-like hyacinth.

My first attempt, according to experience, reason, and careful blending, should have smelled very pleasant on the skin. It smelled fine in the bottle and on the scent strip. But when I applied to my skin it was a disappointing stink bomb. So I stepped away from the blending room for a few days to re-think the matter.

However, one of the interesting phenomena of perfume making is that fragrance molecules sometimes do unexpected things when given a little time and space. So by the time I returned to the perfume table, the accord had developed into the quite lovely fragrance I had hoped for.

My time out also had another benefit. I was able to think about how the top note could be approached a little differently, since at the time it didn’t seem to be going so well. So now I have a backup plan to try out as well.

Here is the summary of my first pass:

Boronia Flower absolute from Tasmania, genus Rutaceae, possesses the warm, sharp, spicy, dry, and herbaceous effects very similar to native wheat and grasses while also lending subtle fruity elements reminiscent of blackberry, elderberry, wild huckleberry, and thimbleberry. It’s sometimes used in high class chypre and fougere perfumes, and it blends beautifully with the cedar leaf used in the heart.

For the fragrance of fresh foliage, I used a dilution of an experimental concrete of Apple Blossom from Australia, along with the wonderfully diffusive absolute of Violet leaf, Viola odorata, a green leaf fragrance containing a natural, delicate cucumber note that typifies the wild cucumber.

The unique warm and wood-floral note of Cassie absolute, Acacia farnesiana, gleams from a complementary setting in Celery Seed, Apium graveolens, an essential oil from India, provided a warm, earthy-spicy, and rich effect similar to the native wild celery, and Carrot Seed, Daucus carota, a CO2 extract from Moldova, famous for its dry-woody, wet-earthy ambiance.

Elemi oil, Canarium luzonicum, possesses a light, fresh, lemon-like, peppery odor which later dries out into a balsamic, slightly green-woody, sweet-spicy, pleasant note. It was very useful as a freshener in this blend, and paired well with Guiacwood, Bulnesia sarmienti, with its delicately sweet, rosy woody, slightly smoky fragrance. The fragrance of this accord typifies the summer fragrance of the Point Lobos area.

I used a small amount of Black Currant Bud, Ribes nigrum-niribine, an absolute from France, as a substitute for the powerful spicy-woody, and slightly phenolic undertone of the native Red Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum.

A tincture of Kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, from the kelp forests of Point Lobos provides an ozonic-marine, foggy seashore fragrance.

For a natural sweet, hyacinth-honey like aspect, I used a small amount of highly diluted Kewda Flower, Pandanus Odoratissimus, from India, combined with flowery, hay- and tea-like, woody Alaia Flower, Aglaia odorata, an absolute extraction from China, abs extraction.

In the next posting I will be exploring an alternate opening accord.

UPDATE: This project is now completed and I will be posting the summary soon.

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