Creating perfumes is definitely an art. Just as a master musician composes a symphony, so too does a perfumer create a harmonious blend combinations with ‘musical notes’ that are pleasing to the senses.
Although I truly adore natural perfumes, (I won’t use synthetics – they are an attack on my senses and is the main reason I started my whole essential oil journey), certain popular fragrances can appeal to me at times, but I still won’t buy them and choose to create my own with naturals.
Throughout history there has been much written about how compositions are created using musical characteristics to describe them. Each essential oil has a ‘note’, whether a top note that dissipates quickly (like lemon or lime), or a heart note (middle note- like rose or jasmine), or a base note that holds a blend together (like sandalwood or patchouli). Did you ever wonder how that came about?
The art of perfumery goes back centuries, and many chemists/scientists and geniuses have used musical inspirations to describe their uses and combinations. I found this great blog post from ‘perfumeconcubine’ and had to share it to give a little more insight:
Just as a musician harmonizes notes to create chords, a perfumer must be proficient in harmonizing scents into fragrant combinations. Thus, the creation of perfume should be pleasing to both the mind and senses. The experience should emulate the composition of an intricate piece of music. For example, a three-part fugue with the olfactory notes being the key signature, the usage of notes identifying the individual elements of the arrangement – as well as describing the perfume and how it smells as it evaporates from the skin. Therefore, it is imperative that the perfumer has vast knowledge of raw materials, and a clear understanding of how they evolve and change.
Dry Down – what does it mean when describing a scent? It’s the “lifetime” of a fragrance; the phases a fragrance goes through when worn.
(LOVE THIS!!! <3)
The first movement begins with what is referred to as top notes. Typically citrus odors, bright and bursting with freshness and, on occasion, is considered sharp. Although quite expressive, they seem to maintain lightness, as well as lending to the initial impression of the composition. They are also the most volatile of the notes, being the first to evaporate. The dissipation of the top notes quickly transitions us into the second movement or middle notes.
Middle notes are predominately floral aromas, and as they unfold they exhibit the true heart of the composition, adding fullness, roundness, and complexity. Middle notes, can be either heady and exotic or delicate and subdued. They emerge as the perfume warms on the skin, escorting us gracefully into the third movement or the base notes.
Not every symphony will be vivacious or sparkle with brilliance. Depending on the composer, the concert may be inferior, lacking life, or absent of character, with tonality being non-existent. On the other hand, a symphony composed by a true virtuoso will be exquisite, giving an accurate exposition on his thematic idea. Every note being smooth and harmonic as they progressively transition from one phase to another, accompanying us gracefully through the fragrance evolution.
Great book about Charles Piesse’s work: The art of perfumery and the methods of obtaining the odours of plants; the growth and general flower farm system of raising fragrant herbs; with … dentifrices, cosmetics, perfumed soap, etc
Other great reading for natural perfumery; Anya’s Garden Perfumes
MORE; natural perfumery books
The most practical way to start describing a perfume is according to the elements of the fragrance notes of the scent or the “family” it belongs to, all of which affect the overall impression of a perfume from first application to the last lingering hint of scent.
Perfume is described in a musical metaphor as having three sets of notes, making the harmonious scent accord. The notes unfold over time, with the immediate impression of the top note leading to the deeper middle notes, and the base notes gradually appearing as the final stage. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process of the perfume.
- Top notes: The scents that are perceived immediately on application of a perfume. Top notes consist of small, light molecules that evaporate quickly. They form a person’s initial impression of a perfume and thus are very important in the selling of a perfume. Also called the head notes.
- Middle notes: The scent of a perfume that emerges just prior to the dissipation of the top note. The middle note compounds form the “heart” or main body of a perfume and act to mask the often unpleasant initial impression of base notes, which become more pleasant with time. They are also called the heart notes.
- Base notes: The scent of a perfume that appears close to the departure of the middle notes. The base and middle notes together are the main theme of a perfume. Base notes bring depth and solidity to a perfume. Compounds of this class of scents are typically rich and “deep” and are usually not perceived until 30 minutes after application.
The scents in the top and middle notes are influenced by the base notes, as well the scents of the base notes will be altered by the type of fragrance materials used as middle notes. Manufacturers of perfumes usually publish perfume notes and typically they present it as fragrance pyramid, with the components listed in imaginative and abstract terms.
The Fragrance wheel is a relatively new classification method that is widely used in retail and in the fragrance industry. The method was created in 1983 by Michael Edwards, a consultant in the perfume industry, who designed his own scheme of fragrance classification. The new scheme was created in order to simplify fragrance classification and naming scheme, as well as to show the relationships between each of the individual classes.
The five standard families consist of Floral, Oriental, Woody, Fougère, and Fresh, with the former four families being more “classic” while the latter consisting of newer bright and clean smelling citrus and oceanic fragrances that have arrived due to improvements in fragrance technology. Each of the families are in turn divided into sub-groups and arranged around a wheel.