Photos from the year I spent studying at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery in southern France, January - December 2009.
From top: 1) my very first meal, 2) overlooking Cannes, 3) sunset in Cannes, 4) class, 5) sunrise in Cannes during those first few days when I took the bus to Grasse, 6) overlooking Grasse on my morning walk to school, 7) firewood at a local home, 8) mimosa in February, 9) Chie's socks, 10) Robertet's distillery, 11) beeswax absolute, 12) Robertet perfume lab, 13) making a mosaic, 14) the view outside of the Picasso Museum in Antibes, 15) when José came to visit, 16) my mantle, 17) my apartment in the old Banque Du France building, 18) working on formulas at school, 19) rose centifolia being distilled, 20) rose in the process of steam distillation, 21) a pretty garden, 22) rosé at the Chanel rose fields, 23) swimming at the lake, 24) my mantle later in the year, 25) first drafts of my collection.
216 Buddha faces stare out from 51 towers at Prasat Bayon in Angkor Thom, Cambodia.
We just arrived home from Cambodia yesterday. It was an epic + amazing + life-altering trip. We had a beautiful time. I'll be sharing lots more photos and thoughts over the coming weeks. For now I thought I'd post the image above, of some floral inspiration: jasmine sambac bracelets for entering the temple, a folded lotus flower, and a Spider Lily.
Photo by Meili taken on instagram (@meiliautumn)
Olfactive families are groupings of ingredients into broad categories. There are about 1,500 ingredients that a perfumer can choose from, and grouping them into olfactive families helps to identify, memorize, and understand them.
There are a few different models of olfactive classifications, and the one I learned is by Jean Carles, a perfumer and director of the first big perfume school, Roure, in the 1940s. Jean Carles sorts scents into 26 main categories:
CITRIC / ALDEHYDIC / ANISE / WOODY / SPICY / FRESH / AMBERY / FLORAL BALSAMIC / HONEY / SEA / JASMINE / MINTY / ROSE / VIOLET / ORANGE / GREEN leaves / GREEN aquatic / VANILLA / POWDERY / GREEN / MUSK / FRUITY aldehyde / FRUITY / ANIMAL / MISCELLANEOUS
Under each of these would fall all of the ingredients. For example, cedarwood essential oil, vetiver absolute, cedramber and bacdanol would all fall under Woody. Peppermint, menthol and menthone under Minty. And ambergris, civet, and indole (mothballs!) under Animal. Both naturals and synthetics can be categorized in this olfactive family chart.
Photo of perfumer Edmond Roudnitska from The Perfume Magazine.
When I first got started in perfumery, I set up a mini makeshift lab at home. I really didn't know what I was doing so I guessed at a lot of things. It makes me smile to think back on those days - for the most part my intuition was pretty good. But there were also some big mistakes I was making. What follows is a list of a few tools needed for setting up your own simple lab at home so that with just a few easily found things, you can start dabbling in perfume! Some of these might not make total sense yet - that's okay. Soon I'll do a lesson on a creating a basic mixture and this equipment will come into play.
Pipettes / Though it's not the most environmentally friendly option, I do recommend disposable plastic pipettes. You'll use these when you're mixing a formula. Use one pipette per ingredient. Dipping into one ingredient and then using the same equipment for another will contaminate what are really delicate pure raw materials.
Digital scale / Digital scales are not very expensive and way more accurate than counting drops. I recommend one that has a readability of 0.01g for when you want to be really precise. Ohaus is a reputable brand and is available through Lab-Depot.
Perfumer's Alcohol / Perfumer's Alcohol is very high proof - 190 or 200 proof to be exact. This will give your formula the greatest clarity of scent, and help to preserve it. Though you'll need a special permit to purchase large amounts, Save on Scents offers Perfumer's Alcohol at a reasonable price for the hobbyist.
Glass bottles / Each mixture that you make should be contained in a fresh and brand new glass bottle. For practice, I use clear 1 oz bottles like the ones offered at SKS.
Fragrance strips / To test each fragrance you make.
Raw Materials / This is the technical term for ingredients. I believe there are about 1,500 raw materials potentially available to the perfumer. Gathering ingredients to play with represents the biggest investment into perfume. I recommend starting with 20 ingredients, then building to 50, then 100, then 300, and eventually 500. Don't worry though, as you can take this at your own pace. 20 ingredients is more than enough to start a complex mixture, and anyway, you'll really want to memorize these scents as you go along.
There are natural and synthetic raw materials. Natural ingredients can be steam distilled (essential oils), hexane extracted (absolutes) or CO2 extractions. Synthetic materials can be found originally in nature, or made entirely in a laboratory. Natural materials can be cheap (sweet orange essential oil) or expensive (Bulgarian rose absolute). Same with synthetics.
For your first 20 ingredients, try to think across the olfactive families - meaning choose from florals, spices, green notes, musk, aquatic. Peruse the natural raw materials at Liberty Natural or Eden Botanicals and see what suits your fancy.
Photograph by Robert Brevdad
Found this video of the Rainbow Orphanage by a couple who volunteered there recently. The countdown begins - 3 weeks!
I'm excited about a few shops which will now be carrying MCMC Fragrances. Look out for a selection of MCMC roll-ons in the Soho and 5th Avenue locations of Madewell. Earnest Sewn is stocking the Dude No. 1 beard oil for their denim clad men. I was excited to reconnect with mother/daughter team Mary and Alice, owners of home and garden shop Simple Pleasures in Providence at the Elements Show last month. I worked at Simple Pleasures during high school (!) so it's a special treat to have MCMC sold there.
See our full list of stockists here.
And the winner of our LOVE 40ml eau de parfum is...Cate Kanell!
Congrats Cate. How cute is this for a Valentine's Day story? Cate is a singer, and she wrote her song Simply about meeting her husband on Valentine's Day six years ago (have a listen here). The photo above is her album cover. Um, awesome.
I'd like to start a new section on this blog here dedicated to teaching a bit about perfumery. When I was first becoming interested in the subject I found it so hard to learn about, and it's important to me that it not be such a privately held art and craft. Having gone down the path myself, I truly believe perfumery can be learned, and like painting or cooking, a little bit of talent and a lot of practice can go a long way.
When is the best time of day to smell?
Your nose is most responsive in the mornings, so if you can, try and practice smelling in the a.m. What does it mean to "practice" smelling? Your nose can be developed and trained, and when you smell something again and again, you can start to catch inflections and nuances. Be sure to use words to describe what you're smelling - is there a sensation of hot or cold, is it slightly metallic or flat, or is the smell bright and yellow? Another benefit to just sitting and smelling is that you'll begin to memorize the ingredients. When you begin blending, you'll be able to conjure in your mind the scents of ingredients, and you can reach for them automatically to incorporate into your mixture, rather than pulling out all of the ingredients and choosing (though you should do this too).
Hope this is helpful. If you have questions of your own you'd like answered, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo of Anne smelling freshly picked pink peppercorn in Mexico by Jose Serrano-McClain.