Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Making Stuff

I’m a painter, and have just moved my studio from the “bonus room” in my house to a space at a new arts center. For the first time in years, I have room to work. I’ve played around with making room scents before, but it helps, a lot, to have a good-sized space.
Like many of you, I’m in a strange position regarding perfume reviews. The mainstream fragrances coming out now are deteriorating in quality. Just as perfume bloggers predicted a couple of years ago upon hearing about the new IFRA regulations, much of it is purely synthetic, and in spite of that, it doesn’t last long. Niche perfume, once the alternative, is often priced in the stratosphere now. Sure, I can order little tiny samples (.7 mls, something of a new standard). I don’t think these do a scent justice, though. They’re certainly not enough for a proper review, in which one experiences the scent for at least a few hours. So I’ve become more resourceful, trading and buying splits, and swapping.
Lately I’ve become more interested in essential oils. I’ve been mixing custom blends with them. I still have the vexing problem with botanicals; they don’t last on my skin. But these are ambient scents that can be used as hair or body oil, in a room diffuser, and so on.
Most people I know who “do” essential oils wear one or the other. It might be patchouli or lavender -- the two most common I’ve seen -- and they stick to that one. It might be an aromatherapy concept, like the use of lavender as a relaxant. They buy them already mixed, usually at health-food stores. 

I began to wonder about mixing custom blends. That’s what I’ve begun to do, combining botanicals I already have and even some aromachemicals for longevity, with jojoba oil, and testing the mixes in a small diffuser. Mine is about the size of a doughnut, with a warming element that plugs into an electrical outlet and a shallow well for the oil. It takes awhile, but I can scent a good-sized room this way. (In the case of orange blossom, a good-sized house!) When it’s time to leave, I’ll often pick up a few drops of the mixture on my fingertips and apply it to my hair or skin. Or I’ll wipe the well out with a paper towel, and crumple it to put into a drawer as a sachet, or just leave it on the entryway table as a sort of room sachet.
I’ve experimented with making a chypre base from the classic chypre ingredients -- landanum, oakmoss and bergamot, with a drop of patchouli. Or ambers, using the resins, and vanilla. Rose-based scents. And so on. It’s fun. It feels like play. 
There are all kinds of references and resources available; recipes, discussions of the ingredients and so on. There are botanicals companies who will sell you a sample, sometimes just a drop, for a couple of bucks. Since these are pure and can be mixed with quite a bit of perfumers alcohol or oil, it’s an economical way to learn. (I can’t imagine paying the going rate for quantity on orris butter, but I can afford a drop of it!) I think it also teaches you what professional perfumers have to go through, with their tiny ingredients budgets. 
I suspect that I’m not the only perfume blogger who does this. Once you get used to a life surrounded by fragrance, exploration just happens. 
How about you? Do any of you mix your own?

Resources for botanicals and essential oils: (there are many, these are just the ones I’ve used): Eden Botanicals, Anatolian Treasures and Snowdrift Farms (for perfumers alcohol) and The Perfumer's Apprentice, for just about everything. 
The photo is from the classic Mel Brooks film "Young Frankenstein."


Ines said...

I don't mix oils for my own blends to wear but I do put them in my body oils/lotions/creams in order help my legs feel less heavy and to make my skin healthy.
I suppose eventually I'll get to the part where I'm mixing something for me to wear. :)

Melissa said...

I started making my own blends years ago for the same reasons you mention. Some really sad commercial releases & high priced niche.
I just made a lavender blend for my sister that has Peru Balsam in it that seems to help take the medicinal edge off the lavender. And I made a
Chypre that has an infusion of Vanilla bean in it. I also use single note Fragrance Oils in mine. For the Chypre I added a teeny tiny bit of peach.
I find that the FO's help the fragrances last on my skin. I know those interested in Organic Perfumes would never do this but I'm just interested
in making something wearable. Plus, essential oils are so darn beautiful! Good luck on your creations!!!

Olfacta said...

Hi Ines -- Which oils do you use for that?

Olfacta said...

Hi Melissa -- I'm not opposed to using aromachemicals if it makes sense to do so. I wish the purely botanical scents lasted longer -- if they did I would use only them. I have a learner's kit I got awhile back from Perfumer's Apprentice that has samples of most of the majors -- linalool and hedione and so on. I haven't made many things yet, and the ones I have are still meld-ing, so I don't know if they would have longevity on skin -- guess I'll find out!

Rappleyea said...

Oh goodness! That picture made me spew my tea! I needed that after a long day at work.

You know that I'm an aromatherapist, so I do plenty of blending, but mainly therapeutic blends - I can cure insect bites, bruises, aches and pains, regulate cycles, etc., etc. I've only done a few fragrance blends though - two that I'm quite proud of.

lang said...

I don't mix my own, but I do layer once in a while. During the heat of last summer, I wore Calandre and At the Beach 1966. It was actually pretty interesting...

Ines said...

Olfacta, well, I experiment but usually go with those that have a diuretic/anti-cellulite function, grapefruit, lavender, cedar, cypress, lemon, sage, eucalyptus, rosemary, thyme. I usually combine 3-4 of those I find first. :)

Olfacta said...

Hi D. --One of the funniest movies ever made. We watch it a couple of times a year and it still cracks me up.

I got some catnip EO, and made up some kitty perfume. The cats, predictably, hate it and run when they see the bottle in my hand. But catnip is supposed to be a good insect repellant, and God only knows we need it down here, so I'm going to try it for that soon. It won't be a very scientific test, but we'll see.

Olfacta said...

Hi Lang -- something tells me that those of us who layer will someday end up mixing...it's that "what if?" thing.

Olfacta said...

Hi Ines -- Very interesting! Will have to try that.

brian said...

I've been going to a place here in town for a week and a half straight mixing my own oils. They have a wall of oils and let me go back there behind the counter and mix to my heart's content. Some of these are essential oils, some fragrance oils. They have oakmoss, vetiver, benzoin, coriander, cardamom, and all the usual suspects. It's addictive, when I can get my hands on it and do it myself. I made something very close to Habanita with vetiver, vanilla, orange blossom, jasmine, and ylang. And several big messes as well. Somewhere in the middle of this phase I realized that I go through this once a year right around this time. The oil thing. This time it's sort of sticking, and I suspect it's for some of the reasons you mention. What I want in fragrance is exciting discovery. The ability to discover on my own is pretty tempting. And for a lot less money. We'll have to go when you visit.

brigitte said...

Wow! I stumbled across your blog today and was especially happy to read that I am not the only perfume crazy person playing around with essential oils! I love Eden Botanicals and have in the past two months already placed three seperate orders. I saved my empty Pacifica bottles which can unscrew and fill them with vodka and various essential oil mixtures. To date I have blended about 10 different scents. And you are correct, it is much easier to purchase fragrance because you don't always know what the outcome may be! If I don't like the outcome I try to "tweek" it. For example, I made a blend of saffron myrrh, frankincense, spikenard and sandalwood which was so awful I was scrubbing it off my arm. However, once I added some sweet orange to it, it became a completely different scent. I am trying to not spray as I read somewhere that natural perfumes need to cure for 2-6 months. I have found that as the oils are blending together the scent begins to smell much better (this was true for a juniper scent I made).So far I am having alot of fun playing around and it is definitely cheaper that any of the niche perfumes (and I refuse to buy anything that's been reformulated or endorsed by a celebrity!).