Make your own unique fragrance with essential oils.
If you ever wanted to get a deeper understanding of fragrances or cultivate your sense of smell and create your own perfume blend, then this article is for you!
In broad strokes, I’m about to cover the art of producing your own scents, where to learn and take workshops and the best supply sources. I am also going to share my experience at a recent perfume making workshop in Ojai, California.
So if you’re that person who always wanted to acquire knowledge about the perfume world but didn’t know where to go or who to ask or were simply too lazy to enroll in a class, read on!
Want to smell and tell?
A perfumer or a Nose or Le Nez in French are experts who have a fine sense of smell, and are skilled in producing olfactory compositions. They are artists who have years of training, experience and scientific knowledge and understanding of the aesthetics of fragrances, they can convey and create different abstract moods and compositions with scents we can’t even pronounce! Sounds surreal, eh? It’s truly divine!
I’ve always had a ‘nose’, or at least I like to believe I’m naturally gifted with my sense of smell. I’m the perfume expert for my friends and love to tell them which fragrances will compliment their personalities!
Not only do perfumes uplift your mood, but they are like an extension of your personality. The fragrance you wear says so much about you, it’s like making a sensory first impression on someone. A good scent instantly transports you to another time and place.
Unfortunately, I missed the perfume making workshop there but that trip left me hungry for more! I took the factory tour that takes you through the entire process of perfume making.
The big distillers, the soap making factory line, the storage of thousands of fragrances and the perfumer’s organ where the perfumer creates all the compositions. They have the most charming stores in the factory as you exit, where you can smell different kinds of scents and take home amazing products!
So as luck would have it, my lovely husband surprised me with an early birthday gift when he took me to the Apothecary at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa. Yes, it was to make my own fragrance with essential oils!
Before I get started, I want to familiarise you with a few basics about this beautiful art form.
What’s a fragrance made up of?
All fragrances have three stages of development, which you can detect by how the scent changes after spraying it. These stages are often called ‘notes’ which have their own names. i.e. First/ Top note, Middle/ Heart note and Bottom/Base note. This exciting ‘journey for the nose’ helps you determine how the fragrance will change over time.
First or the Top note – This the first scent you smell after spraying a perfume, it doesn’t linger too long as they are lighter and thus fade away quickly. Citrus and light floral notes usually make the top notes. E.g Bergamot, Tangerines, Oranges, Grapefruit, Basil, Peppermint, Sage, Eucalyptus, Lemongrass etc.
Mid or the heart note – This forms the main body of the perfume and are key central notes that determine how the perfume will smell on you after it has settled on the skin. Usually these are made up of heavier floral scents like Chamomile, Cyprus, Lavender, Rose.
Bottom or the base note – These notes support the middle notes and determine how long the fragrance will last on the skin. This is what remains of your perfume at the end of the day. Base notes are almost the same across fragrances because there are only a certain number of them. E.g Amber, Vanilla, White Musk, Patchouli, Vetiver, Myrrh.
Watch this simple video I shot in Grasse where a perfumer at Fragonard explains the notes that make up a fragrance.
My personal experience at the Ojai Valley Inn & Spa Resort
I was delighted to meet Holly at the charming Apothecary in the quaint setting of the Artist’s cottage. Let me tell you from the moment you set foot on their property a calm, serene feeling takes over and instantly relaxes you. And no, they aren’t paying me to write this! It was such an awesome way to spend the weekend! I love beautiful spaces and the process of learning and creating!
The class is a detailed one and Holly takes her time to go over any questions and explains the process very well.
She’s been an aroma therapist and a holistic healer for years. She has her own lavender farm and makes hydrosols in her backyard. Wow, such a fun life! If you happen to visit Ojai Valley Inn and Spa, you gotta ask for Holly. She’s quite a delight to learn from and makes the whole process a joyful one.
~Three Steps to Making your own perfume~
Step 1– She lets you smell all the possible essential oils without telling you what it is. She facilitates the whole process and lets you grade each essential oil on a scale of 1 to 5. She doesn’t tell you at first, so your reaction to the scent is unbiased. At this stage, don’t try and guess the fragrance or think about wearing it. Simply record your natural reaction to the fragrance. After you smell each fragrance, she reveals the name and asks you to write it down along with your rating for that scent. There’s no right or wrong, it’s all a matter of your personal preference.
Step 2 – After you rate the essential oils, with the help of your instructor, you will cluster the ratings together and smell those essential oils again to check if your nose still sticks with the same rate for each essential oil. Once you’ve cross checked with your nose, the instructor will divide your favorite notes in Top, Mid and the Base notes so you can start working on your perfume creation.
Step 3 – When making perfumes, you always start at the bottom/base note and work your way upwards to the Top note, otherwise the top note will keep flying away and won’t let your nose get to the bottom of the scent! You add a drop of your favorite essential oil from the base notes in a little blue cobalt bottle. You add and blend other oils drop by drop, checking the blend at each stage by smelling your potion in the blue bottle and then getting a whiff of another oil simultaneously while going back and forth to see how they would blend together. After blending the base notes, you add the middle and the top notes, in that order.
It’s amazing how the nose just knows what works for you and what doesn’t. If you’re ever confused, step away and smell coffee beans or get some fresh air. If it’s your first time, it’s very helpful to have an expert guide you through the blending process.
I love the fact that you can learn, interact, create and take your creation home. They even record and store your signature scent in case you would like to order it in the future. They also give you the option of buying the same fragrance in the form of mists, lotions and creams.
~Some interesting facts I learnt at the workshop~
- The limbic system in our body is related to the olfactory senses and is responsible for long-term memory. Ever smelled something and recall a memory or a person from the past? Blame it on the limbic system that stores all that data!
- We have an in built message system in our bodies where the receptor cells respond to smell in different ways. Usually, if we get attracted to a particular kind of smell, it might mean that the body needs it or would benefit from it. This is why essential oils are used by holistic healers, therapists and many others as they have healing properties. The natural oils sort of do the same thing for us as they do for the plants they came from. So if you’re sensitive enough, or attuned to your body, it will tell you what you need and what you don’t. You just gotta listen to it.
- Synthetic v/s Natural oils – This is a good topic for debate, but after some research and my own experience of smelling and blending natural essential oils I realized this –Essential oils are complex and ever evolving with time and different elements in the environment, just like wine, so the fragrances change with time. They also evolve as they come into contact with different elements like heat, oxygen etc and their chemistry changes. Essential oils are potent and therefore always need to be used with carrier oils like jojoba or fractionated coconut oil etc.Synthetics are nothing but the molecular chemistry of the natural oils mimicked in a chemistry lab. They are more consistent, cheap and last longer thus widely used by big brands. But they can’t beat the therapeutic value offered by essential oils.
- I realized how my nose had been ‘polluted’ with some of the perfumes from the mass brands. I love some of them, some of them even uplift my mood and trigger the limbic system with memories, but they do not have any healing properties or benefits, so I’m making a conscious decision to limit those on my dresser.
~ When are you making your own fragrance?~
I’ve sent an intense bombardment of information your way on my favorite subject – perfumes. There’s still so much more to learn and discover in this field. I would love to hear from you all and know what you’re gonna do with your sense of smell! Meanwhile, I will learn more and make my own perfumes and keep you guys updated with all things beautiful!
~Sources and Helpful Links~
Here are a few links that may be helpful if you want to learn how to blend your own perfume, take a class in Grasse or just buy some good essential oils.
For beginners or those indulging in a hobby – If you’re planning on doing a one-of class to learn the basics, make your own blend and dabble in a bit of fun then the one day workshops are best suited to you! There’s no pre requisite to attend them and you get to take your own creation home after class.
In Los Angeles, we have a really good centre for perfume enthusiasts – The Art and Olfaction they have workshops round the year for beginners. Also check out the famous perfumer, Mandy Aftel’s website. When you’re feeling creative, order supplies and try and make your own unique scent at home.
For ordering you own essential oils go to Mountain Rose Herbs. You can also get your own containers there and blend your way to heaven! Trust me, you wouldn’t wanna go and spend those crazy bucks on perfumes in the market after you get a hang of making your own creation at home!
If you’re in South of France, don’t miss the opportunity of visiting Grasse. There’s the Fragonard Perfume house or the Molinard Perfume house, that have regular perfume making workshops. You’re spoilt for choices when it comes to Provence, you can also do the Haute- couture perfume creation workshops at Gallimard. I promise you, your trip will be worth it!
For the advanced folks – If you’re looking to take this a little more seriously while still holding onto your existing job/career you may want to think about a diploma in perfume making. This is more expensive than the workshops but gives you in depth knowledge about working with synthetics and natural oils and understanding your own artistic sense of expression through scents and eventually building your own fragrant compositions or starting a part time business. Diploma from Pratt, Grasse Perfumery
For the serious learners– If you wanna be a ‘nose’ and make this your profession/ career path then consider a real perfume school. Apart from having a degree in chemistry, you need to have a lot of patience. Some of the best olfactory schools take years, they often take you on as an apprentice in their own company after you complete your training. Givaudan, ISIPCA, Mane.
For more information and a comprehensive list on perfume education around the world.
Give me a shout if this article was useful and if you try making your own scent, share your experience with us. If you have any questions, I’m ain’t a pro yet, but I’ll be happy to answer any queries. There’s a lot I could not include in here and may consider doing another post soon on blending perfumes.
Don’t limit yourself, allow your senses to explore and you’ll experience a whole fragrant world open up!