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Top Notes: Lemon, Galbanum

Middle Notes: Coriander, Cardamom, Rose, Black Pepper, Saffron

Base Notes: Oud, Myrrh, Olibanum, Benzoin, Tuberose, Sandalwood

Notes: File under Holy shit did I just get a fragrance right? I made this composition last September and since that time the notes have intermingled together beautifully. Especially the Galbanum. That is one tough note to appreciate but, man, I tell you what. This shit is good. I want to jump into the shower right now just so I can apply this juice on unscented skin and inhale myself. This is the kind of fragrance that tells people I don’t need to work for a living because I am being looked after, very well thankyouverymuch, by a very wealthy patron who only wants to breathe me in.

I need to bust out an empty spray bottle and get this juice ready for its eau de toilette debut asap.

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Top Notes: Bergamot, Mandarin Orange, Neroli, Lemon

Middle Notes: Coriander, Sage, Black Pepper, Carnation, Orris Root

Base Notes: Vetiver, Myrrh, Benzoin, Patchouli, Tobacco, Cedar, Sandalwood

Notes: Guerlain Vetiver is considered the classic vetiver cologne for men. I’m not keen on using animal extracts in fragrances but I thought I’d give artificial civet a try…and now I have a small bottle of artificial civet that I should just throw away because I can’t think of a soul that would want it. I omitted the use of leather because I can’t bring myself to buy a synthetic fragrance, and I’m still lacking a few key EOs to create a leather accord. I’ve tried oakmoss on several occasions but I learned the hard way that my skin does not like it. Like at all. I omitted nutmeg as it tends to age a fragrance, and tonka bean is one of those notes that wears me instead of me wearing it. I have a fossilized amber oil but I suspect the amber Guerlain uses is much sweeter (thus my addition of benzoin).

The overall composition is a clean soap. If I remove the sandalwood and cedar from the base then I can turn up the concentration of vetiver. I attempted two previous batches: the first juice had one drop too many of sage, and the second juice had double the orris root and carnation. I also think sandalwood is a better companion to oud. I do like having (just) a drop of patchouli in the juice, if only to keep things interesting.

One more go and then bedtime. My eyes are feeling salty, and that could either be because I’m tired or I’ve been too close to EOs this evening.

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Before our holiday in Paris I never gave much thought to vetiver. As much as I loved the smell of this gorgeous grass on my friend in New York, I always believed myself to be too young to pull off such a commanding scent. Then we went to Paris, and my nose caught the scent of vetiver on every man that passed me. It only took a couple days of heat and humidity before I realized that Parisian men wore vetiver because its scent is stronger than that of sweat. (Having lived in New York, I was all too familiar with sweating before, during, and after a shower. Paris and New York share this trait.) The smell of vetiver also lends itself well to cigarettes; I didn’t mind that everyone in Paris seemed to smoke, because every wisp of smoke curled itself around vetiver’s vapor trail. I would not be so bold as to declare vetiver the official fragrance of Parisian men, but in my mind the two are forever linked.

Currently I own three different varieties of vetiver essential oil: Indonesian, Sri Lankan, and Haitian. I know of two other varieties: El Salvadoran and Indian; the latter is generally sold under the name Ruh Khus, due to the traditional (and labor-intensive) distillation of the roots. Of the three vetiver EOs I own my favorite is Haitian. The oil is thick and sticky, but the true magic reveals itself when it is combined with other scents: it is bright and warm with rapefruit; it is vibrant and herbaceous with violet leaf; it is sweet and green with benzoin. The combinations are endless.

I wanted to capture the quintessential story of vetiver in a fragrance, and for me that was a French man sitting outside a moonlit café, smoking a cigarette, and drinking a cup of coffee made with cardamom. A tall tale, for sure, and a very difficult story to tell in a bottle. In this storied fragrance the French man must be adorned in vetiver, and that fragrance chord has been the most elusive. The infinite possibilities of vetiver with other notes make it difficult for me to say this is the one. What started as a crush on a friend’s cologne became an infatuation with Fat Electrician, and now that obsession has grown into an endless string of affairs. I can walk away from vetiver for a brief time and wear oud, or attempt (with futility) to wear a coffee gourmand, but I always return to this bodacious grass.

I was given a sample of Vettiveru by Comme des Garçons during my heyday of purchasing Fat Electrician online. Vetiver with bergamot, neroli, and white cedar (among other notes). The sillage of the fragrance was uneven on my skin and more often than not I smelled strong floral notes. Despite the sweet layers in Fat Electrician, the majestic strength of vetiver was omnipresent. Etat Libre d’Orange created Fat Electrician using fragrance notes such as whipped cream and candied chestnuts. I’ve done my best to synthesize these fragrances using essential oils but nature and science can only mimic each other to a fault. I recreated two different versions of Vetiver by Guerlain (Basenotes and Fragrantica have different compositions recorded for the fragrance) but both smelled of a bygone era—the use of nutmeg and black pepper in both recipes set the stage for a man of distinguished age. I made my own version of Terre d’Hermès with more vetiver than cedar. Grapefruit makes the fragrance light on my skin – it reminds me of Dalimix by Salvador Dalí – I feel like it’s already spring (despite another 2 months of winter).

I often refer to Guerlain’s Vetiver and Fragrantica’s notes for the composition. I have no desire to use, much less recreate, civet in the base. I can create a leather note using a combination of EOs, but I’m still lacking a few key ingredients to pull it altogether. (Birch also happens to be slightly toxic.) (Maybe more than slightly.) The carnation and orris root with pepper in the heart combined with orange, neroli and coriander in the head…solving for the base and allowing vetiver to take center-stage is where I find myself struggling. And by struggle I mean I ask myself Are we sure this is still a hobby? The humor, of course, in all of this is that I could have simply approached any of the men in Paris and asked them the name of their cologne. But that would have been easy – provided I got the question right in French and understood the answer – and clearly it’s more fun to spend obscene amounts of money on various essential oils for a hobby.

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I loves me some quality chutney. I found a recipe for a peach chutney that sounded divine and it seemed a great way to use a lot of peaches I bought at the store. Now, if you’ve ever made a preserve, you know the cardinal rule never double a recipe. Thinking I knew better than experienced home cooks, I made a double batch of peach chutney that took 36 consecutive hours to cook down. Thus learning a valuable lesson. THE END

¶ I opted for essential oils when I started perfumery because I equated synthetic fragrances with complex chemistry, and I haven’t taken a chemistry class since I was a junior in high school. What little I remember from chemistry is spotty – it was environmental chemistry, the Lite version of chemistry classes – and I was only really good at balancing chemistry equations. I also started this hobby with the notion that essential oils are natural and therefore easier to use than synthetic fragrances.

If I have an absolute (a highly concentrated aromatic) I can dilute it using either oil or alcohol, and I can continue dilution until I reach a concentration that allows me to work with the fragrance at a granular level. Tuberose and Orris Root are two such examples of absolutes that are better served when diluted in perfumer’s alcohol. So far, so good.

I can treat an aromatic compound as an absolute and dilute it with a carrier – usually perfumer’s alcohol, but it can also be jojoba or fractionated coconut oil – until I achieve a concentration ratio of 15–40% fragrance. Commercial fragrances, interestingly, contain very little aromatic compounds—although you’d never know it the way some people use perfume and cologne as body wash.

Top, Middle, and Base Notes are not equal amounts in a fragrance. The Base contains the highest amount of aromatics with the Top and Middle splitting the remainder of the compound in a 60-40 ratio. Creating the overall fragrance is where I spend most of my time using math to solve for ratios and distributions: if the Middle Notes comprise 60% of the fragrance, and I want to use 5 EOs, what time does the train leave the platform at 90 km/h when it leaves Nevada on Saturday?

Making fragrances with essential oils is a little bit like making preserves and a lot like chemistry and math: never double a recipe unless you know how to properly balance the aromatic compounds in high concentrations. Because the fragrance you tried to make with Vetiver, Rosewood, and Galbanum will smell altogether different when you increase each amount ten-fold and find yourself with a concentrate that, well, reeks. (The trick here, of course, was to first dilute the Galbanum to 20–50% of its original potency and then multiply.)

A good rule-of-thumb when working with essential oils is to dilute when in doubt, as an essential oil in its pure form can be equally concentrated as an absolute. You can always build up a fragrance but it’s damn near impossible to do the opposite.

Remember when you were in school and thought to yourself When am I ever going to use any of this in the real world? Hobbies, ladies and gentlemen: where home economics, chemistry, and mathematics converge. And a lot of regret that I didn’t first dilute the Galbanum.

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Top notes: Pink Grapefruit, Pink Peppercorn

Middle notes: Tuberose, Rose, Geranium, Black Pepper

Base notes: Cacao, Vanilla, Tobacco, Patchouli, Amber

Notes: The pink peppercorn is the first to touch the senses. The amber slyly makes its way to the front of the line, which is unusual given how it’s generally so coy in my fragrances. The tuberose, rose, and geranium play nicely together and round out the fragrance well, with the cacao remaining omnipresent without dominating the other notes. The patchouli is a wallflower in this juice, but one more drop and it would be the loudest partygoer at the ball. The vanilla gives everything a nice sweetness without making the composure sickening sweet.

The pink peppercorn, while lovely, softens the fragrance and makes this gourmand more feminine than agender. I’ve yet to make a successful perfume, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Providence Perfume Co. makes a Cocoa Tuberose eau de parfum, however that fragrance contains wormwood as a top note. I do love the smell of wormwood and I know where I can purchase a ½ oz bottle, but I can’t be absolutely certain of the quality. I might try cumin or muhuhu with the next batch to see if I can’t attain a fragrance more middle-of-the-road.

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