Lost In Scent Space ~ Part One

Lost In Scent-Space

Making perfume often feels a circuitous process at best. We have an idea, or are attracted to a material and want to showcase or position it, and lo, the olfactory ramble begins. Occasionally when I have an idea, “writing” a composition’s structure comes quickly and easily. However, mostly it begins with something paralleling a sketch, marked on mouillettes in dabs of aromas.

I mull one arrangement, then another, subtracting and/or adding notes. This initial stage is often exhilarating, intuitive and full of hopeful expectation. Committing materials to the menstruum, trialing ratios and building accords is where the nitty-gritty rigor enters, and for me, includes a bit of existential terror. Can I do it? Will it be good? unique? a dud?

There are many hundreds of aromatic substances populating my perfumer’s organ: sometimes differing extraction methods, varieties or sources of one material. Frankincense, a classic resin product, can be obtained in many different forms. There are essential oils, resinoids, absolutes, tinctures and infusions. Sometimes very potent hydrosols are employed.

Generally, an absolute, with its lower volatility rate than an EO, will linger longer. Resinoids offer a true capture of a resin’s scent; tinctures & infusions are most ephemeral. Citrus notes evaporate rapidly, certain woods, resins and animalics can take days to diffuse. Of course, an ethanol tincture is the most fleeting in contrast to an oleo-extraction, more plodding as well as more subdued, generally lacking bright top notes. Both tincture and maceration make good bases, rather than notes, adding subtle dimensions the commercial aromatics don’t possess. Here I will also remind that natural perfumes often disperse much more quickly than those made with aromachemicals. Naturals usually have less throw, less powerful sillage and longevity.

Science measures volatility by molecule size, with larger ones being the slowest to evaporate. You could more simply say that some materials have a denser physical constitution. These also register, both scent and subtle sense wise, at a lower frequency, a lower musical note on the scale.

Returning to the frankincense example, this aromatic, boswellia species, has many names, depending on its country of origin: oliban/luban/ and hojari/hojary ( referring to b. sacra sp.). It also appears in diverse varieties throughout its growing range in Western & Northern Africa, Oman, Yemen, & India. Some of these varieties are: b.papyrifera, b. dalzielli, b.rivae, b.serrata, b. elongata, b. frereana, and b. sacra. Within the sacra varietals are brown, white, green, plus grades named “royal” and the highest, “Sultani”. Each one has distinct scent characteristics and best purposes, whether as a player in a perfume composition, an incense formula, cultural tradition, or, as medicine.

Most people however, are familiar only with boswellia carterii, the most commercial frankincense, and also, one of the most abused and in decline. Harvesting frankincense not only must be done with careful technique, and not exceeding more than is good for the health of the trees, it was always traditionally done within a spiritual context. When capitalistic goals disregard these parameters, nature speaks up!

Now, I didn’t intend such a long tangent from my main topic, but you see even with one scent material, it’s so easy to go down a gopher tunnel. Imagine contemplating then, the inclusion of a frankincense note in a perfume and working to decide which one, where it will live, what percentage of a dose and how it might behave?

In the next part of this article, we’ll take a look into the composing process itself.

Thanks for reading!


©️all material copyright of Donna La Pré/ Tender Flower. No portion may be reproduced without written consent of the author

8 thoughts on “Lost In Scent Space ~ Part One

  1. Kristina says:

    What a delight to read about this process of creation and all the intricacies associated to it. Truly fascinating! You write in a way that is equal parts poetry, art, rich vocabulary and science. I’ll stay tuned for part 2!

    • Donna La Pré says:

      Thank you so much for reading, Kristina, and for your especially nice comments on the writing quality. ♥️

  2. Anna says:

    That was so exciting to read, Donna! In my mind I picture you making perfumes in your tiny lab every time I smell your wonderful creations. To get closer to this, to look behind the curtain and see what it feels like to you, what are your thoughts and experiences in the process – it’s a gift! Thank you so much for sharing! ✨✨ I’m so looking forward to the part 2!

    • Donna La Pré says:

      Anna, thank you!It was fun writing it, even more pleasurable to hear how much you enjoyed it.♥️♥️

  3. Kim says:

    One really gets a concrete sense of this being a very complex art, full of minute details. Fascinating!

  4. Rachel says:

    A sweet glimpse into the artist process. The process is as complex, whimsical and hardworking as the ingredients themselves and how they are coerced from the natural source. Thank you for highlighting that creativity does take courage. This is perfect timing for me as I’m just now beginning my journey into the natural scent / formulating world. Thank you for sharing With us

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