The art of natural perfume blending
Humans have been anointing themselves with aromatic materials in some form or another for thousands of years. In ancient times, scent was used in rituals and often associated with burials, religion, meditation and alchemy.
Before the age of synthetics (late 19th Century) all perfumes were of natural origin. They were made from tinctures, effleurages and distillations of flowers, leaves, barks, and resins, as well as animal glands (musk deer) and secretions (whale ambergris, civet).
Why choose natural?
Today, almost all commercial perfumes are made using mostly synthetic reproductions and concoctions of these precious and complex natural aromatics. Why? Simply because synthetic ingredients are more economical, uniform, linear, and persistent than their natural counterparts. This means easier scalability and higher profit margins for large corporations trying to cut costs in an increasingly competitive marketplace. But If you've ever baked with artificial vanilla extract after using the real thing, you'll know that using artificial recreations misses the mark.
For the perfume wearer, choosing to wear a natural vs. synthetic perfume is a matter of personal taste and discernment. Naturals have a smaller silage (projection) and longevity than synthetic ones. They will evolve on your skin, rather than remaining linear, and will also merge with your skin to create a one-of-a-kind scent. Your skin is the ultimate base note!
The challenge and art of making a natural perfume
The challenge for the natural perfumer is to create a balanced perfume that projects and lasts on the skin. Because natural ingredients are so complex, creating a harmonious blend requires skill, persistence, and patience. Sourcing is important too, as the quality of available ingredients varies drastically. Ask any chef and they will tell you the secret to a delightful meal comes down to simply using the best ingredients available. Essential oils and other materials sold commercially are often past their prime, harsh and unpleasant to the nose, or extracted in a way that doesn’t do justice to the material. The perfumer must always be discerning. Once an ingredient is sourced to the perfumers satisfaction, blends must continually be tested, since the aromatic profile of each ingredient will change depending on its growing conditions and extraction method. Much like a fine wine or cheese, the terroir of each ingredient counts!
All too often, unskilled natural perfumers create unsophisticated or ‘muddy’ smelling blends reminiscent of new age shops. This happens when the ingredient molecules clash with one another. Conversely, some natural perfumes may be too light and dissipate rapidly. But when they are blended artfully, the result is truly stunning. Personally, natural aromatics and perfumes have much more character, depth and intrigue than synthetics. They are vibrant and alive -- you might even notice they have a transformative effect!
Blending with only natural ingredients is a deliberate decision. It is by far the costlier and more restrictive option, and usually results in a perfume with less projection and staying power. So, why limit oneself? I enjoy the creativity, respect and attention that natural ingredients demand, and believe that in capturing the scent of a rose, to use anything but the rose herself is to insult the flower’s very being.
That’s why I exclusively use sustainable plant aromatics and natural isolates in my perfumes. Occasionally I will also use animal aromatics like beeswax, honey, ambergris and africa stone. When creating my perfumes, my goal is to always highlight the lush, rich and vibrant nature of the raw ingredients, so I carefully vet each ingredient to make sure it meets my high ethical and aromatic standards. This gives me a broad palate of ingredients while remaining true to the aromatics' origin.
Tips to spot greenwashing
Buyer beware! Natural products are trendy, and unscrupulous marketers will greenwash their products. Natural and clean are not the same, although the terms are often (and incorrectly) used interchangeably. Clean perfume can apply to lab grown synthetics that are purportedly non-toxic and sustainable. Here are a few tips to help you spot the difference:
- Highly concentrated, quality natural perfumes will never cost less than synthetic perfumes. If they are, the dilution of aromatics will be low (read: low silage and longevity) or the ingredients will be of questionable quality.
- Assume a perfume is not purely natural unless stated explicitly. This is because it is much more expensive to create a natural only perfume, something which a natural perfumer will be proud to share. Read the fine print, and when in doubt, ask before purchasing!
In capturing the scent of a rose, to use anything but the rose herself is to insult the flower’s very being.