Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Distill-o-Matic

I have a copper alembic. Pretty little piece of frivolity. Shiny, hammered copper, long goose neck, cute little receiving cup.

After months of contemplation, I finally decided to use it. My herbage of choice was Balinese long pepper -- a fragrant, sweet/hot pepper that apparently grows on the 'ancient earthen walls that ring the traditional homes of Balinese compounds', as well as everywhere else, I imagine. Long pepper is often used in dessert dishes because of its sweet character. I've occasionally dropped long pepper into chai tea blends, and it's delicious. It isn't bad in a perfume, either.

So, anyway, I gathered up my packages of long pepper and crammed them into the steaming chamber of the alembic, attached it to the water pot and sealed it with the traditional rye flour paste -- um, or would have if I had any rye flour paste. I used old-fashioned pancake and waffle mix paste with a pinch of salt. Hey, give a girl credit for ingenuity, eh?

And here is where things begin to surprise. It's always been my thought that steam or hydrodistillation was a sort of set it and forget it kind of thing. Yes, I live in the world of Ron Popeil, spray-on hair, chop-o-matic, veg-o-matic and pocket fisherman -- did you know he won a Nobel Prize for 'consumer engineering'? Geesh. He just didn't invent a distill-o-matic or a pocket distillation kit. Glory be to the heavens if he had. I'd give him the alternative perfumer's award for making my life easier! Did you know that distilling two cups of long peppers with about a liter of water takes all -- frickin' -- day?! No kidding. All day.

I didn't have the right set up for the cooling/condensing coils (imagine that coming from Ms. Pancake Paste), so I had to attach a draining hose for the warmer water and constantly drop ice chunks and cold water into the coil container. What a pain in the butt that was. Anyway, this went on and on, from about 10am until 9pm, and all I got out of it was a liter of stinkin' hydrosol. And my house smelled like an exotic pudding for the entire day.

I will prevail. I'm going to have a go at it again soon. This time I'm buying a bag of ice and a bag of rye flour. Maybe I'll get more than hydrosol with an oil slick on its surface. Maybe I'll call Ron Popeil.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Readin', Bloggin', Studyin' and Thinkin'

Reading ~ I'm a voracious reader. I've been reading since I was three-and-a-half-years-old. My mother used to call me a 'wonder child' because there wasn't anything I couldn't read. I learned to read in pre-school, and one day on the way home from school, I shouted out the 'F'-word. Mom nearly had a stroke. She pulled over the car and asked in a stern voice, "Where did you learn that word?" to which I replied, "That word is drawn on the wall back there." I could, and did, and still do, read everything.

Mom thought I was on my way to genius. But alas, now she often asks, "What the hell happened to you?!"

So reading, the current interests: whipped through 'The Mystery of Perfume' by Rita Schnitzer in about a minute and a half. Three minutes to get through 'La Dolce Vita Perfume'. 'The Idiots Guide to the French Language' is in the bathroom -- I'm on chapter two. Started the graphic novel '30 Days of Night' after having seen the movie. The book versions are always so much better than the movies -- and I'm a shameless vampire buff. I occasionally open 'Cool Gardens' by Serj Tankian -- inspiring and sad. The style is much like William Saroyan's 'Daring Young Man . . .' -- so very, very sad and real. Except that Tankian's is poetry and he uses the 'C'-word, and Saroyan's is prose and uses sexual innuendo. Just started 'The Roots of Romanticism' by Isaiah Berlin (this is where the thinkin' comes in). The 'Global Cosmetic Industry' magazine is still sitting on my reading stack, unread and lonely. It's one of those 'get to' things. I'll get to it later. Also started reading a piece of fiction called 'Immortal' by Traci L. Slatton. The fiction books are my escapes. The most tragic thing I've read lately is the article in the January 2008 edition of Vanity Fair about the double-suicides of Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake. I remember reading Theresa's blog, The Wit of the Staircase, and thinking this woman is so brilliant and talented, if not a little odd. Then it was over.

So the reading bit is covered.

Blogging ~ I've got two blogs. This one and one for raw food. Yeah, I'm a struggling raw foodist. Struggling. Really struggling. Ha! Someone recently told me to stop blogging and start putting all this perfumery stuff on another project I have going on, Le Parfumeur Rebelle. I just can't. I don't feel that LPR is just mine. There are other, much more talented people behind the curtain on that project whose voices must, and will, be heard -- soon. So watch for it. Blogging -- the raw food blog has lain dormant for a while. When I'm not being strictly raw, I feel like such a hypocrite writing about it there. I've got my mother going raw, one of my cousins, one of my sons, a few cyber friends -- I mean these people are inspired by me and I'm not even doing it right! Did I say I was a struggling raw foodist? And the perfume writing stuff isn't easy either. I walk a fine line between being who I am and trying to be interesting, too. I am what I am, and you're reading it right here. My husband recently commented that my writing is different from the way I speak. I told him that was because I'm in a different gear when I talk but that I think the way I write. Lack of confidence? The result of talking to toddlers and young children most of my adult life? Dunno.

Studying ~ Never. Freakin'. Ends. Arctander is on the top of the stack -- always. Sadly, I shipped my antique three-volume Poucher to a friend for study, but I never really reference it that much anyway; 'Une Vie au Service du Parfum' is still a dream study -- struggling with the French in the way of the idiot here, but I'll do it. I work on at least two perfume-related projects a day as a rule. Some days I'll work on scent profiles, some days it's working and reworking a future perfume. Some days I just play around. I put in no fewer than four hours a day, four or five days a week at a minimum. I treat it like a job and I find it's so much easier to make the time. Yeah, my refrigerator hasn't been cleaned out in a month and there's some double occupancy cobwebs dangling in the corners of the livingroom, but mah house smells goooood.

Thinking ~ Well, I do do that. Sometimes.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

My Sin is Shocking


Yeah, I'm still a dork.

I've been collecting, sporadically at best, miniature vintage perfumes. I've got an entire collection, a coffret, of drugstore perfumes from the 50's, used to have minis of the entire Guerlain line, but couldn't get into the Guerlinade that's used in nearly every single one (I think it's a vanilla thing), and more recently purchased eensy beensy bottles of 'My Sin' and 'Shocking'.

My Sin is classified as floral/aldehydic -- well, duh. The aldehydes come screeching out of the bottle like banshees on broomsticks. Scary. The drydown is much nicer than the beginning, taming down to a scent very reminiscent of AquaNet hairspray, which, I suppose, if you grew up in the 60's or 70's, and depending upon whether your mum let you stand in the overspray of her toilette ritual, could be pretty comforting. Otherwise you get to smell like hairspray and ylang-ylang. While applying this stuff onto a scent strip, I accidentally dribbled about a quarter ml onto the last three fingers of my left hand. That was four hours ago. And three scrubby hot-water-'n-soap washes. Still there, shrieking, "I belong on your hair!"

Shocking is, well, pretty frickin' shocking! But I didn't faint or anything like that. It's a chypre/floral and the initial sniff reminded me of that old shoebox in Grandma's closet, the one filled with half-full bottles of whatever the hell struck her fancy. Really overpowering stuff, which was probably just an amalgam of stench created from mostly Avon products and one or two 'classics'. Shocking is just stinky -- like a big, wet, warm blanket of flowers and powder and musk getting whacked up the side of your head. Yeah. Just like that. The drydown, however, is lovely. Musky and sweet. Possibly has civet.

It's been a few hours now since I opened the bottles to test them, and the room is still filled with their essence. I'm trying to be nice here. I may have to take out the trash cans that I threw the scent strips into. And burn off my left hand. My home smells, as my granny used to say, like a whorehouse (and I do wonder how granny knew that).

Monday, February 18, 2008

The Blender

Natural. What is it?

This is the debate. Always has been, it seems, in this business. Much splitting of hairs goes on in the explanation of 'natural'.

I am no expert in this debate. I don't know all the facts or figures. I suspect my lack of rabid involvement is partially due to not wanting to load more on my plate than what's already on it. And it's a migraine waiting to happen. And I feel it puts limitations on the creative process. As an artist, specifically in this art of botanical based perfumery, I feel the need to expand the natural palette, to bring in more and more that is rare or new to add umph to my finished perfumes; as a conscientious consumer, I try to curb this desire. This brings me to natural isolates in perfumery, something which I have no first-hand knowledge of, and no information on, except that they're derived from nature, plants, and a lot of 'natural perfumers' use them. This is where things get a bit fuzzy. Isolates are isolated molecules derived from a natural, plant-based component, like geranium oil. They are used to add a single scent element to a perfume without adding all the chemical components in the mother plant/oil (my example is geranium). Ok, like I stated earlier, I don't know jack squat about this stuff, this is just my understanding of these things. My question is: Is this natural?

How far from the original source does an element have to be to become 'unnatural'? Let's look at petroleum. It's organic. Dead plant matter, dinosaur bones (I'm being facetious) ~ synthetic perfumery ingredients are derived from the by-product of petroleum oil production. This is decidedly far, far away from the original source, is it not? A few million years, at least. And is that what makes it 'unnatural'? Hair splitting happens here.

Maybe I'm just being lazy not delving into natural isolates. Maybe they scare me. Maybe both of those and more are what is keeping me from venturing beyond essential oils, absolutes, concretes and the lot. Maybe I see the potential of this newest (really, it's quite old) idea in perfumery and want to be a part of it.

Blended ideas ~

A non-meat-eating friend of mine once said that it was ok to wear leather because the cows used to make her boots weren't killed for their skins, they were killed for their meat. So in her eyes, as a by-product, the leather was completely ethical to use. This is a similar comparison to the production of rosewood oil -- some of the plants are being clear-cut for farmland, with the oil being a by-product of the clear-cutting. This is only part of the story, however. The rest is more political than I care to involve myself with. I leave that up to the pit bulls in this business. But it begs the questions: Do we still buy rosewood oil in indirect support of clear-cutting forests? And do we use it with a clear conscious because otherwise it would go to waste? Or to someone else?

The ethical issues in natural and botanical perfumery are mind-boggling.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Hyacinth


The hyacinths are in bloom. Everywhere I go, the hardware store, nursery, past the WhoMarts -- everywhere are hyacinths. And the scent --- aaaahhhh! Gorgeous. Floral sweet heaviness invades, then blends with a cinnamon-like spiciness ~ gawd! The hardware store was having a sale -- $1.98 per bloomin' hyacinth, so I bought -- um -- I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 18? I left one on one of my son's doorstep so he could enjoy it when fumbling for his keys in the dark. He did, of course, calling me up and serenading me with 'What are they doing in the Hyacinth House? What are they doing in the Hyacinth House to please the lions this day? I need a brand new friend who doesn't bother me . . . ' -- yeah, the Hyacinth House from The Doors. Have I mentioned my kids are a little wonky? Wonder where they get that from?

I have two planted on my front porch in an elevated planter -- a pink and a blue. I much prefer the scent of the blue hyacinth over the pink. There's just something that ain't right about that pink one. The rest are sitting on the porch bench, most with their flowering heads snipped off.

I'm on the second time (2X) tincturing the flowers of the blue hyacinth in organic grain alcohol. The juice looks like liquid amethysts and the scent is very close to a 1% hyacinth absolute dilution. Very close. The tincture has more green notes. Faint, but there.

What will I do with my hyacinth tincture? I'm not sure. I may bottle up a bit and give it to the boy who lives in the Hyacinth House.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Let's Get On With It, Shall We?

I've been very lax in writing on this blog of late, for many, many reasons. Part of it has to do with karma. I don't want to attract karma of the negative persuasion, so I've left off making snarky comments about others making snarky comments online. I'm coming to realize this makes my blog somewhat boring if I'm not being nasty to someone else who's being nasty in general. But that's the way it's going to be. I'm taking it with a smile and moving on in my own direction. So all you gossip mongers, go somewhere else for fodder.

Besides! -- I've been busier than a cat covering poo!

Someone recently asked me what my inspirations were, who, or what, inspired me to do what I do RE: natural and botanical perfumery, and the dorkiest answer ever came flying out of my mouth -- people! I didn't even think about it -- I paused before answering because my brain was screaming, 'People! People! People!', then I blurted out, "People!" Gawd. Here I was all this time thinking I didn't even like people ~ ha! I had an epiphany in that moment -- I don't hate people, I love them, they just frustrate and mystify the hell out of me, but they do so inspire me regardless, to become a better person, a better perfumer.

So which people are my inspirations? Lots, and here's the shortlist, the current top five: Lisa Camasi because she's the most intelligent, honest and open person in this business. And she's been burned. And she's moving on. And she's one of those people who you can ask and you shall receive -- advice, information, goods. She knows of which she speaks, basically, and that's a lot when you consider the absolute crap people are saying out there in cyberland. Ylva Rubennson because she's funny and quirky and about a thousand times more talented than she allows herself to believe, and she thinks with her heart, and doesn't give a crap what anyone thinks about that, and her generosity is beyond anything I've ever encountered before. Andy Tauer (not a strict natural perfumer) because he doesn't have an ego and he should. Because he's doing what so many of us want to -- building a business from the ground up with pure talent fueling the rise. And he's just a nice dude, man. Sara Phillips because she is snarky, and intelligent and talented and human, and a little bit prickly -- but therein lies the magic. This woman thinks. And, finally, my father. Glen Miller. No, not the big band player whose plane went down in Europe! Glen Miller the biker. Glen Miller the Gypsy Joker. Glen Miller from Highway City, CA by way of Clovis, NM. Yeah. The guy who spawned this rebel perfumer. He was afraid of nothing, not even Death when he came knocking on his door. He always had a smile on his face, like the Cheshire Cat, and a twinkle in his eyes. He fought for what he believed in. He was loyal, spiritual, funny and kind, but he was also hell on wheels when crossed. And he backed me up in everything I ever did. He's still got my back.

Anyway, like I mentioned at the beginning of the list, that's just the shortlist. There are dozens of people in this business who inspire me, encourage me, laugh with me, laugh at me. And that's ok. Like I said, I'm smiling and moving on.

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