Here’s a scenario for you: it’s years hence. Fragrance as we once knew it is harder and harder to find. Supplies of the banned substances have dried up -- why produce, say, real jasmine if you’re not allowed to sell it? Some of the niche companies have survived by quietly hooking up with the big boys. Others are gone, or working under the radar. Watered-down “vintage” perfumes are sparking insane bidding wars on the auction sites. Oh, you can still get the good stuff, but it’s gone underground, as have the materials used to make it. You have to know somebody, and be prepared to pay big bucks.
Or you can go down to the perfume counter and get the screechy synthetic pinkish water with some celebrity’s picture on the box. Meanwhile, a supermodel is slithering around in the back seat of a limo in the advertising. Wear this, she purrs: you’ll look like me, smell like me, be like me, have my life.
It’s this dim future that makes me want to hoard. I’m resisting the impulse with mixed success. I mean, c’mon, the collection I have is quite enough, thanks, to last me the rest of my life and, by perfumista standards, it’s a small one (collection, not life). But I still think...what if. What if I can't get any more of it.
So when I saw an interesting post on Perfume Shrine about making’s one own scents -- not trying to be perfumers, we know we’re not, no need to get the knickers in a wad fellas -- I thought “sounds interesting.” Because you can walk into any well-stocked natural food store and find a fine array of oils, designed for aromatherapy, and I’m sure it has occurred to you: what if I bought some of that, and some of that, and put them together? What if I added a drop or two of a favorite scent to that, and used it to scent my hair, or bath or pillow? I bet you’ve been doing it already.
Before I got into this, I owned a little cache of essential oils, and used them in a room diffuser. Upon becoming a blogger, I got an olfactionary to help me identify “notes” in commercial perfumes, so I wouldn’t show my ignorance in quite so obvious a way. Right away I had a brand-new chemistry set to replace the one I had in second grade (which contained stuff to make gunpowder, fergodsake, and guess what I’m still here; how did we ever survive our helicopter-parent-less childhoods)?
The general gist of this event, which was birthed by the new and somewhat rad ‘fume blog Under The Cupola, is that maybe we can do a decent job cooking up some homebrew. Let’s try some and do one of those name-drawings where everybody gets the name of a complete stranger and sends them a gift of same. I mean, we have a pretty good idea of what this is all about, right? None of us is expecting to make the Next Big Thing, but we could make something nice, something we would give ourselves (and probably have).
My own previous experiments turned out decently. A classic floral, a green floral, a spice souk, a dirty, leathery musk. (They don’t have much longevity, but I’m working on that.) Carried my cache of essential oils up to my studio and began, with the vials and the droppers, to concoct some more. It’s kind of fun. I’m working on a dirty floral, a violet rose and a chypre base. Some lucky recipient will get a largish vial of the best of my efforts, come December, and I’ll get one from somebody else.
We know this territory, maybe better than we think. Can’t stop what passes for progress, but we might have a little fun making something decent, and sharing it with a like-minded new pal.
If you haven’t read Mandy Aftel’s classic book “Essence & Alchemy -- A Natural History of Perfume,” well, why not?! (Actually, I just recently got around to it myself, which is such a shame.) It’s a perfect guide to concocting, and a wonderful read too. It’s out in paperback, reasonably priced, and the ISBN is 10:1-58685-702-9.
Photo composite by Olfacta from photo used under license from Dreamstime.com.