A super sweet tutorial for you today from Meredith Tucker of Sweet Anthem. You can bet I will be giving this a try when I return from vacation – Jen!
By guest contributor Meredith Tucker
Want to learn the art of making your own perfume? Well, I am Meredith Tucker of Sweet Anthem, a small perfume studio based in Seattle, and I’m here to impart some of my wisdom with you. But before we get started there is one important thing to remember…perfume is an art that’s all in the timing.
The major theme of any perfume composition is that of duration: when a particular smell emerges, how long it hangs in the air, how long it remains on skin, and the distance it can be smelled. Perfumery is, in essence, an art form built on entrances and exits.
The juice of a perfume is called a composition. Perfumers discuss their compositions in almost exactly the same manners that musicians discuss their songs. Each perfume is composed of chords, which are structured by notes (raw materials like jasmine, lavender, etc.). The notes are classified by their volatility, or, how quickly they will evaporate into the air. They are then blended with other notes in their classification to create the layered chords. We’ll be covering a single chord perfume today to get you started!
The classifications of notes are: top notes (the first to appear, usually the selling point), heart notes (the middle tier, often a floral, frequently the inspiration), and base notes (the anchor of the perfume, these notes last the longest in air and on skin and what most wearers will remember).
In more complex perfumes, layered chords are created to give the perfume depth. A head chord, comprised of three notes, contains a primary note and two secondary notes of the same classification. The other chords are composed similarly, keeping like volatile notes together.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3 essential or fragrance oils, one for each classification
- Pipettes or glass droppers (one for each oil, plus one for your carrier oil)
- Tags or labels for your bottle
- Perfume tester strips OR cotton swabs
- Empty (clean!) bottle for storing your creation
- Jojoba oil (or other Carrier oil)
- Optional: Notepad and pens for keeping notes
- Optional: Newspapers or paper towels to keep your work surface safe
For today’s lesson, select three notes: one for each perfume classification. Typically, citrus, herbal, and ginger-type notes (a broad category including everything from anise to yuzu) are top notes. Most floral notes (jasmine, honeysuckle, etc.) are heart notes. And resinous, woodsy, or musky notes (myrrh, sandalwood, and others) are the most common base notes.
It’s a good idea for you first-time perfumes to do a preliminary blending test: dab a bit of each oil you’ve chosen to a single perfume tester strip or a cotton swab, and leave overnight. Smell and take notes every few hours as the oils dry down. This will help you decide your direction.
Today I’ll be working with bergamot (citrus bergamia risso), heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens), and Musk X, my favorite ambrette seed-based musk oil. This was a recent custom perfume request in my shop!
And now that we have our notes, the real fun can begin: blending it all together. This is the part of the process where you get to feel like a mad olfactory scientist. Or perhaps Professor Snape. Whichever is your pleasure.
- Prepare your workspace! Do not be like me and work on your good furniture by any means. Learning to transfer oils can be a messy process and you will ruin your good hardwood if you don’t put newspapers or paper towels down FIRST. Or better yet, work on a card table or in your sanctioned crafting space.
- Mise en place!
Like in cooking, it’s a good idea to line up your notes in the order you want to work with them (base, heart, top, and then carrier). This keeps your workspace organized and will help you keep track of what you’ve blended when, especially when you begin working with more advanced structures.
- Transfer transfer.
Now that you are set up, it’s time to begin transferring your oils. Remove the cap from the note you are working with. Dip the pipette into your oil and squeeze the bulb at the top gently. This will suck the oil into the pipette and allow you to transfer it to your preferred storage container (hopefully) without spilling any. You may have to squeeze multiple times to get as much oil as you need. You can always transfer the remaining oil back to the container if you have any leftover in the pipette. Do not use the same pipette for multiple oils, or you will cross-contaminate your notes!
- Measure twice, drop once. A basic perfume chord requires 2 parts base note, 1 part heart note, and 1 part top note. A typical 1/4 oz formula is roughly 200 drops. Today’s formula looks like this:
Compontent Name Parts Quantity Head Bergamot 1 part 40 drops Heart Heliotrope 1 part 40 drops Base Musk X 2 parts 80 drops Carrier Jojoba Oil 1 part 40 drops
This cheat sheet can help you build out more complex structures when you feel you are comfortable moving forward.
Use your pipettes to drop your chosen notes into your empty container, one part at a time. It is a good idea to do this slowly, smelling along the way. Perfume has a way of changing when you least expect it, and this way you can adjust drops as you go along. If you spill a little oil here and there, don’t worry. Just grab a paper towel and clean up quickly.
- While you were sleeping. See, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Got all your oil blended? Good! Now… walk away. Actually, step back. Cap your container. Label it with the date. NOW WALK AWAY. Go fly a kite. Dip in the pool. Take your boyfriend out to dinner and regale him of your olfactory exploits. And call me in a week. The longer you can allow your new perfume to sit, nature has more time to work its magic, marrying (and perhaps divorcing) all of the chemical compounds in your juice. It will not smell the same when you come back to it in a week. Just… don’t forget to come back. Oh yeah, and if you can put your perfume in a dark medicine cabinet and swear not to open it, the oils will thank you for that.
- Second date.
This is the part of reality TV where they cut to the after shot. Take your perfume out of its hiding place and open to smell. Do you smell that? THAT’S SCIENCE IN ACTION. Cool, huh? Does it smell different? Does it smell WORSE? Well let’s hope not. If you’re satisfied with your perfume at its current stage, now it’s time for dilution! Add 40 drops of your carrier oil, and then… repeat #5. Yeah, the walking away step. Sorry, someone should have warned you that nail biting will ensue. It’s really best if you let your perfume sit for another 3-4 weeks if you can. Your perfume should, nature doing what it does, continue to mature in the same way that wine continues to age. Put it back in your medicine cabinet and glance longingly, sighing romantically for about one month.
- Once the wait is over.
If you haven’t gone completely mad and have reached the end of your grace period, open up! Smell it! Love it! Lather on your new perfume and give the dry down a whirl. At this point, you can decant your new, wondrous juice into a prettier bottle as it so deserves, or simply adorn with a handmade tag announcing its birth date and time, and perhaps give your new smelly child a name. You can even label simple amber apothecary bottles using printer-friendly labels. The possibilities are endless.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is that. Be warned: this is an addictive process and there are hundreds of thousands of combination of ingredients. The instructions in this tutorial are based on On Composing Perfume, a zine I sell in my Etsy shop with a complete do-it-yourself kit. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and continue brewing!
About the contributor: Meredith Tucker is a graphic designer based in Seattle, WA. In her “spare” time, she is the nose behind Sweet Anthem, a small socially conscious perfumery which she runs out of her home-based studio.