Sunday, April 27, 2014

How Perfume Saved My Sanity, and Other Supernatural Things

I've begun about four different blog posts while in the middle of what seems to be an onslaught of terrible news, but my better nature opted not to post them. They were depressing and nasty, not who I want to be anymore. Things will get better. The feelings won't be so overwhelming, the depression will lift, and life will go on. Perfumery has been the balm helping get past this grief. It's worth waking up to. Worth continuing to pursue. Keeps me grounded and here instead of sinking.

I will be off the grid somewhat for the duration of this week. Going back home to put things to rest, yet again, so I won't be checking in online for a while, or maybe not as often.

Lots of strangeness has been going on here lately. Weird knockings on the walls when the house is empty but for me and the single cat sitting on my lap. Fascinating dreams invade my sleep. Odd bits of synchronicity evolve to create a lovely outcome. Basil has been prevalent in my thoughts, like a craving, I've been wanting to smell it, eat it, grow it, and it turns out to have been the answer to a perfume question I'd been struggling with. Basil. Of all things. Basil is used in love magic, and is sometimes called the 'witch's herb'. It's also a masculine plant (note), and is associated with fire. The perfume I was/am working on is basically constructed upon a masculine frame with lots of what might seem feminine notes (jasmin sambac, neroli, rose). Once the basil was introduced, it was as if the whole composition locked into place.

I'm beginning to feel like a decent perfume cannot be constructed without at least a little jasmin in its bones somewhere.

While creating the newest collaboration, a take off on a savage perfume, which I have since split and taken my portion and modified (Modhlim), I was once again inspired by the chon tincture Lisa C. gave me back in March 2013. I'm going to make this into a perfume. I have to. Lisa and I set about to 'play' -- the chon was one of the toys, as were a few other elements, and we layered this upon that upon the chon and the result was devastatingly gorgeous. I doubt that I will be able to obtain any more chon, but I have picked it apart olfactorily (word?) a time or two, so I know what it will take to make my own chon-like juice.

Things are going to be different this year. I'm tired of sitting around waiting for something to happen and instead will be going out and making it happen. Thursday is May Day, a day to petition the higher power to help overcome a problem -- this year I will ask for peace, inner, outer, all of it. Peace.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

More Sad News...

It just never seems to stop. Yesterday I received a call from my devastated little brother (he's in his 40's) that his father, my step father, had passed. It struck me much harder than I had gauged it would. We were estranged, step father and I. The dynamics of family never cease to baffle me. Suffice it to say, I was always in a forgiving mood, but he was never in a mood to be forgiven, or felt he had nothing to be forgiven for. Even a truce would have been nice. At any rate, there's nothing for it now.

I'm at a loss for words.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Honeysuckle Enfleurage, Rose Floral Wax (mebbe), Jasmine Sambac Concrete, and Frankincense Absolute in Alcohol

Nice title, huh? Spells things out pretty clearly, doesn't it? The only thing I didn't list in the title was the 'stuff', and here it comes:

So much is going through my mind as I prepare for the start of a new online perfumery course, trepidation and insecurity reign during this time. I pray that a good group of talkative students arrive instead of students more like me, on the fringes, in the background, never speaking, never asking questions, but still plugging along learning, learning, learning, until near the end of the course, then these people begin to talk about how much they've learned and how happy they are to have taken the course. I like both kinds of students, the engaging and the not, but the engaging give me something akin to instant gratification when I see they're prompt in delivering assignments, post comments, and generally work the room. I have to wait for those others, the ones more like me, to find out their time was well spent. I often wonder sometimes if there are still saboteurs amongst us who talk crap about what we do at The Perfume Academy. I know it sounds paranoid, but there has been evidence to that truth, none I will go into here because -- well, because I believe in moving forward, not standing still stagnating or revisiting the past, and I never go looking for the 'evidence', it presents itself, just as the antagonists have designed it to do. You can't get anything worthwhile done if you get caught up in the quagmire of someone else's issues. A momentary flash of "Oh, f*ck! What now?" And then move on.

I went to the optometrist yesterday, the first time I've seen any kind of health care professional in at least 10 years (possibly 12), to have my eyeglass prescription renewed and get a new pair of glasses. Since visiting a health care professional isn't something I do often (ever), I thought long and hard about it, what kind of frames I wanted, what I was willing to spend on the frames, et cetera. So by the time I got there, it was a quick in and out deal, much to the glee of my new optometrist. His assistant, we'll call him The Frame Man, asked me to the back to pick out frames to try on -- 10 seconds later, I was holding in my hand the frames I wanted. After what I imagine was a fairly routine exam (and no pupil dilating drops! Yay!) Mr. Optometrist says, "Well, everything looks good. Your left eye is exactly the same as it was judging by your current eyeglass prescription, but the right is a little off, so we're fixing that. And I must say, you have beautiful skin! Absolutely flawless." Huh? Though I appreciate the compliment, and I do, believe me, it's this level of intimacy that freaks me out with health care folks. I mean, they're looking at parts of your body, and sometimes really closely, that even you don't get to see. That kind'a weirds me out a bit. I realize it's their job to examine and help when a person's ill, and I'm happy they're there for emergencies, but -- well, if we're not going on a date later on, I really don't want you peering down my gullet or looking up my you-know-what. Not that the optometrist was doing either of those things!

On to the meat and potatoes, as they say. I've begun a honeysuckle enfleurage using organic unrefined coconut oil and, of course, freshly picked honeysuckle. I'm doing the inverted thing because I don't want any pollen or picky things in my enfleurage. Basically I've chilled some oil at the bottom of a casserole dish and lowered it over the top of the honeysuckle flowers so that they don't touch. I'm catching headspace, man. I've got 30 feet of just beginning to bloom honeysuckle, so I should get a pretty decent enfleurage out of it. I hope it's better than the evulsion of honeysuckle I made a few years ago. Weak sauce, that. Anyway, it's just day one on the enfleurage. This could take a while.

 Jasmine Sambac concrete, WLA, unknown date, oh, my heavens, what a gorgeous scent this is! Okay, when you open the tin and take a sniff, it sets you back a little. There's a weird tart note that comes screeching out, like the flesh near the pit of an unripe peach, and it comes off more as a flavor than a scent. Told you it was weird. Then there is the typical sweet, heady, intoxicating floral we're all used to -- only better. First, I have to tell you that the consistency of this is like dried jelly, kind of slippery and only very slightly waxy.

I rubbed a bit of it on the back of my right hand last night and found myself holding it near my nose for the remainder of the evening, even settling to bed with my hand lying next to my nose on the pillow. It's intoxicating and so sweet, unbelievably sweet. It lacks the bold, round, decadent, indolic lushness of jasmine grandiflorum, instead going straight for the heady sweet spot. No poopy notes here at all. I would almost call this girlie, overtly feminine and innocent, but there's something in it that makes it impossible to relegate to virginal innocence -- something wickedly narcotic. I don't consider myself much of a jasmine fan. Imagine how surprised I was to learn that perhaps I have a strong passion for the stuff today? I get it! Finally. The light went on with this stuff. Sweet, soft, powdery, heady floral, notes of orange blossom, hints of ylang-ylang, peach skin, tart fruitiness, that's this jasmine sambac in a nutshell.

This is a frankincense absolute from Robertet that's been slightly diluted with alcohol -- perhaps less than 10% of the total in this bottle is alcohol, to thin it out because it's like frozen syrup! This frankincense is floral. Yep. Floral and resinous with hints of lemon and honey. This isn't a bright sparkly frankincense, as the oil tends to be, but a warm, sweetly rounded, expansive and heady frankincense. This is perfume worthy stuff.

Rose floral wax, Bulgarian, WLA, looks more concrete-y than waxy, but smells like a wax. Actually, it smells like pink lotus, so I'm thinking this is a misprinted container. Upon further examination, yep, this is pink lotus concrete. The usual, watery, slightly muddy, powdery, warm, earthy, hint of mint, and leather, and waxy florals. As it dries off it begins to exhibit more floralness, more of the muddy water aspects arise. It's quite nice.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blood Moon. . . 'n Stuff. Y'know There's Always Gonna Be 'Stuff'

This was the Blood Moon just a few minutes before it went all dark and bloody. The fog was rolling in and the sky was obscured by mist, and this was the best shot I got. Sad. About 30 minutes later, after I'd gone to bed, I hopped up to peek out the window and saw the Blood Moon in all her glory, as the fog had lifted, but I was too tired to go downstairs to grab the camera. So you get this fuzzy bulb to commemorate the first Blood Moon of the year. Not impressive.

Today's stinky selections are: cedarmoss absolute, and white champaca absolute in alcohol.

First, the cedarmoss -- heaven! Cedarmoss opens much like oakmoss, deep and earthy and warm with vanilla-like notes, forest floor, wet leaves, and notes of tobacco and woods, but then cedarmoss does something different, it gets sweet and spicy, like tolu, and it lacks the sharp edges of oakmoss, coming across smooth and creamy and edible. It's leathery and sooty, sugary and woody, cinnamon toast and fine cigars. Inside the bottle of completely solid absolute grow crystals -- it's just amazing stuff.  I thought I was head over heels in love with the scent of oakmoss, now oakmoss has a contender -- this cedarmoss is exquisite.

White champaca is lovelier than even the red champa. It's sweeter. Candy-like, with a spicy top note (cinnamon), smells a bit like cananga with a titch of orange blossom. It smells a little like chai tea, with green floral notes and a mere hint of pepper. There is an oily aspect to it as well -- it's fatty smelling, not unpleasant, but bold and round and expansive. Very pretty stuff, this champaca.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Scent Sessions With The Scented Djinn (Me!)

Oh, what a glorious day! The sun is shining brightly, wispy clouds disperse to reveal a clear blue sky, and the sorry state of my back strip plants. While the honeysuckle climbing all along the 30 foot fence is doing quite well, the succulents in the shadow of the vines are a tad wilted. Must water today. Other than that, the day is beautiful. Perfect for a Sunday scent session.

I've begun performing the twenty-a-day exercises again since I feel I've allowed my nose to become rusty over the past couple of years. I've dedicated myself to this -- if I am at home, I exercise my nose. This is imperative for a perfumer, this exercising of the nose. It makes perfume formulating an attainable goal. Good, strong nose, good, strong memory of what the nose knows. Anyway.

Today's scent session includes a nice green cognac oil from Robertet c. 2001, and a lotus concrete from Albert Vielle c. who knows(?).

Cognac oil is a force to be reckoned with. It's a scent you either love or hate. When sniffing, it gets stuck in the back of your throat, the sensation much like swallowing a sip of really strong alcohol. The scent of this cognac has a desire to jet from the bottle, a heady cloud burst of fruit. It smells of the skin of grapes, fermented. When I lived in Fresno, our home was situated about a half mile from the Gallo Winery on Clovis Avenue. This is where Gallo makes their base wine, the stuff that gets shipped off to all the artisan wineries who add this base wine to their special wines to extend them. I'm not sayin' all wineries do this, but a majority of them do. I digress. From September to late into fall, Gallo performs 'the crush', days on end of this sour wine smell is in the air. Some days it was overwhelming, others not so much. When the winery finished with the grapes, the dregs were spread in a field across the street from the main tanks, and this is where the smell originated. Dessicated grape skins fermented and drying in the hot sun. Special, huh? This cognac oil reminds me of the crush, and the smell of the head space in a glass of wine -- white wine, sweet, fruity, mouthwatering, slightly oily. The dry down is somewhat, well, dry. Like parched brown leaves and hot metal. It has that weird tinny feel that sets the teeth on edge, as if you'd bitten down on a piece of aluminum foil. Yeah, that feeling. And there's something like decay around the edges. It would make an excellent bridge through all three accords in a perfume composition -- opening with flagrant headiness, drying to warm, boozy fruitiness, then closing with this dark slightly rotted oily smell. I'm making it sound horrible, aren't I? It's not. Not really. It's actually quite lovely and bright and fruity. What's really special, is that even after it's dry, completely bone dry on the scent strip, it still has a lot of that alcohol quality to it, an airiness, and then another note, beer, slightly musty. Quite nice.

Lotus concrete. It doesn't specify on the tin if it's a pink or white, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say pink. It smells exactly like my tins of pink lotus concrete/wax, with slight variations. While mine smells more watery, this smells somewhat salty and meaty. It kind of reminds me of that bad batch of tuberose I had years ago, the one that smelled like boiled hot dog water. On the skin, the scent changes. It becomes sweeter and less meaty, warmer, like a still pond in summer, algae collecting on the rocks. It's sublime. Smells of skin and leather. It would do nicely in a chypre, or fougere. I'm realizing it has this dichotomous quality to it, like silty, muddy water, and dense wood smoke. What a gem! 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Notes on Life, and Death, and Valerian

Last Saturday my 20-year-old daughter's roommate committed suicide inside their shared apartment. It takes me a while to digest these things, and I wouldn't have mentioned it at all, but then early Thursday morning, an acquaintance of my youngest son committed 'suicide by cop', and now I cannot get these deaths out of my head. I dream about them, how both could have been prevented, but more importantly, how damned scary it is for our kids out there. It's nightmare worthy, and that's all I am capable of saying on the subject.

Can we talk about this stuff?

Weird, huh? If you're familiar with valerian, you're probably wrinkling your nose right about now. Valerian is the stuff that smells like dirty (and I mean rank) feet. I remember once going to the new age store to buy some verbena and the girl behind the counter nearly cried because she thought I was going to make her open the jar of valerian! It was pretty comical to see the relief wash over her face when I said, "No! Not that smelly stuff! The verbena -- verbena." Valerian is used frequently in cases of anxiety and sleeplessness, whether in tea form or in gel capsules. There was a time in my life when I used it quite frequently to alleviate the symptoms of panic attacks. It worked, but I had to hold my nose when raising those capsules to my mouth. Okay, now for this stuff; this stuff ain't like that stuff. Yeah, well, there is a pinch of that rankness in there, but there's so much more that it outweighs the stink by far. In my book, I write about sacrificial perfume materials, things we use to help bolster similar but perhaps more expensive or short-lived materials, like a wee tad of lemongrass to help a nice lemon juice essential oil along, or a pin head sized drop of tonka to hold up a lavender note -- stuff like that. In the book I use valerian as a sacrificial for oudh because there are a lot of similarities between valerian and oudh. Both have a slightly rank scent, both are dark and bold smelling, both dry down to sweetness, however, the valerian opens with that rankness much more loudly than does oudh, but it is brief. This particular tin of valerian extract would do so much more for an oudh-based fragrance than any other valerian I've experienced. This valerian is so sweet, like a smooth blonde tobacco absolute, with fruity notes of linden blossom absolute, and the green darkness of an aged helichrysum, and there are rich, sweet oudh notes as well. It's really quite remarkable. I'm not really into oudh-y perfumes, but I do see a future for this valerian extract in my chon based perfume.

My face is slightly puffy and itchy today. It began yesterday about the time I was working with aromatics bare handed. Safety first, motherfu -- oh, you know.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Stats 'n Crap

I often wonder if the stats provided by FB or here, on this blog, are in any way relevant to what I do. I suppose not. Since a perfumer exists within a bubble of sorts, knowing that one or two people pay attention to us is a small triumph. Seeing the number of likes on our FB pages go up is a thrill -- sort'a. Relating those stats to sales, however ... Still, it's a little bit of a rush when the numbers go up, like winning a video game. Meaningless personal triumphs.

(I just deleted a whole paragraph about people in perfume who crow about their fake accolades. Just so you know, you missed a great diatribe there. See? I do have a filter. A teeny, tiny, wee, bitty one.)

I'm here to talk about smells. Three in particular (today), gems amongst the gray stones. I may be doing this for some time as the haul from the Bay Area is epic. Mostly library pieces, nothing I can use in great quantities, but epic nonetheless.

Marigold concrete ~ in a word, surprising. It smells fruity, like a mish mash of apples, plum skin, and sour grapes, but the surprising part is the leather! Yeah, it has this smooth, creamy leather finish. It reminds me of sleeping all hot and sweaty on a leather sofa, the summer sun peeking through cracks in the curtains, a slight breeze from a fan carrying the smell of dust and sun warmed wood. Calming. I haven't properly evaluated this one yet as it's still in the tin and undiluted. Perhaps I will update this mini eval at a later date.

Cestrum Nocturnum ~ night blooming jasmine! Okay, I'm sure you're expecting a heady, narcotic white floral profile with this oil, but no, you're not going to get one exactly. This is different. Right off it smells of carnations and vaguely of tuberose. Very strange. At 1% it has an airy quality to it, like sea breeze, and a leafy note, green and juicy and not altogether pleasant, like something decaying. It's not an ugly scent at all as all these elements together create a lovely slightly indolic floral and leafy green profile with a hint of clove. A mere hint of clove.

Nerium Oleander concrete ~ hmmmm. This is so much more than what I had been expecting. It's warm and creamy, floral, somewhat heady, vaguely powdery, reminiscent of ylang-ylang. There's a slight mint note, and a weird maple-like urine note in the background. Also, not an ugly scent, but very, very different from the usual jasmine-rose-gardenia-orange blossom dense florals we're used to.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Adventures by the Bay

One of many basement finds
I don't usually go into a whole lot of detail about what I do, who I hang out with, and what we talk about when I go to the Bay Area to play with friends. Suffice it to say, I hang out with natural perfumers, or folks who are in one way or another involved with the natural perfumery world; very knowledgeable, very open, wise, and noncompetitive people. That last bit's pretty important when making friends in this business. Too much wariness and not enough trust has divided this community, and not enough credit is given where it's due. It's an exciting endeavor when I trip up to the Bay Area to hang around with Laurie Stern, Lisa Camasi, and Yuko Fukami. I never know what's going to happen, except that it's going to be a good, good time. I learn so much from them, and I hope they learn something from me as well, whenever we gather together and chit-chat about, well, life. We're friends, so it isn't always about perfume -- but we do eventually get around to that. We talk about the struggles of a natural perfumer, how difficult it is to stay motivated during the rough times, how we often wonder if it's all been worth it. The conclusion is always that it's worth it. Totally worth it. And what makes it worth all the stress of running a business, concocting new perfumes, new products, and keeping our heads above water? The raw materials. It always comes down to the raw materials and how much we all love them and want to share them.

Aged (fermented) oakmoss ~ sweet and nearly floral

Oil of Petit Grain Maroc (trust me, that's what it is)

Creating natural perfume is about transcendence. It's about taking the perfumer from their work bench and sending them to a place of spiritual peacefulness. I know it sounds silly, but it's what all artists do. The creative spark, the essence of the divine within them (us) struggles to get out, through paint or clay or glass or garbage . . . or essence. Our hope as artists is to take those who appreciate our art to that place of transcendence as well.
Oil of Nagar Motha (d'you like leather?)

Late into the night, Laurie and I sat down in the basement, cackling like hens, over bins of aromatics. It was more fun than I've had in a long, long time, digging through those bins, our fingers sticky with spilled oils, finding bottles of the extraordinary amongst the bottles of the mundane -- and a few bottles of hysteria. By night's end, both of us were punch drunk on the scent of these raw materials, and confessed to one another the next day that it took a while for us to both fall asleep, our minds reeling with the possibilities of those discoveries. Our thoughts were fermenting upon the events of the night, so by morning we arose with a new sense of clarity and hopefulness. There is a big, bold future here in natural perfumery, and plenty of room for everyone who wants to go along for the ride.

Decant of red champa

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Staying Motivated In This Mad World

I took a few days' break here. Went back home to drop off the grandbaby and decided to stay over an extra day, just to try to get some perspective. I didn't get any, but I took a lot of naps! Ha! I'm still having a hard time of letting go of old things that don't serve me; mostly old ideas. Someone recently asked me how my business was doing and was it worth it to have spent all the time, money, and heartache (they didn't use those exact words) to learn what I've learned, and if it has served me well. Emotionally, mentally, and creatively, my business has served me very well; financially, not so well, but that's because I haven't ever actually gone for it. When the big breaks come, and they do (and have), I hesitate. I doubt myself, and then the opportunity rolls on past. I know what is is. It's that rebellion thing I've fought with my whole life. If I commit to a business situation, then I'm conforming, I'm being controlled by outside forces (business partners, customers, my bills) and it's always been my knee-jerk reaction to fight back, to find a space I can occupy without those entanglements, to the detriment of my well being, both mental and physical. Why do I do that? It goes all the way back to the dark ages when I was a kid. My step father was a very controlling person. Extremely controlling. Every movement, every spoken thought, right down to how I sat upon the sofa at TV time, or how I ate soup, and a thousand other things, was scrutinized, judged, and punished. I distinctly remember fearing walking past his recliner at night during TV time to use the restroom because nine times out of a dozen, he'd swing out his foot and kick me square in the ass, punishment for spending that split second to dart past him by blocking his view from whatever chest thumping, manly program he was watching. Can you imagine? Well, so, when the time came (puberty), I began to rebel, and rebel in a big way. Now it seems it's just a habit. One I must curb, cut down, and eliminate from my life or I will never achieve the goals I've set for myself.

Cayucos, CA pier, March 30, 2014

I made a batch of soap that I've been beating myself up over. I was trying to be brilliant and creative, making a soap I'd made years ago that was just fabulous, but I made the mistake of putting this soap into those fancy pants molds and now the soap won't come out. Like I've mentioned before, I don't use molds, so I don't know mold protocol. Apparently I have to wait out the soap so it dries and firms up a bit, then freeze it (again) and force the bars out of the molds. Waiting. I hate waiting. This batch of soap has put a small ding in my confidence, which is probably why I'm feeling so low and talking about my crappy childhood. I had so wanted to present these heavily scented, beautifully molded soaps to my customers and now I have to wait. Argh!

Cayucos cemetery angel
I don't know if it's true for all perfumers, but for me, it seems I am never fully 100% happy with my final creations. I always feel there's something else that could be done, a new element that could be introduced to make the perfume really shine. I've found in the past when I go too far, I muddy the waters and have to begin all over, so I try hard not to do too much lest I eff up the formulation, but there's that niggling little voice in the back of my head going, "Well, what if you add a bit of this? Or a pinch of that? Or put a Band-Aid on it?" (Band-Aid = vanilla, because everything's better with vanilla on it). Some of my earlier work, formulations made back in 2005 and 2006, are really knock your socks off gorgeous now, but I don't have the patience to wait five or six years to feel a perfume is finished, and with the exception of a bottle here and there, those perfumes are sold off. So it goes with this newest formulation, the collaboration effort with my dear friend Bella, the cumin-y sweet, dry, rustling leafy, floral we conjured up. I know by 2016 it'll be just fabulous. Ha!

Cayucos cemetery angel and a circle around the sun

The goals are: rebel against rebellion, and be more patient with my creations.

Just saw this on my FB feed ~ "Have no fear of perfection, you'll never reach it!" Salvador Dali. How appropriate.


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