Monday, 30 September 2013

4160Tuesdays meeting area

We've moved in. It's a big space - might share with other makers.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Scared of scent shops?

Just a few of the many sniffable scents at 4160 HQ

Petrified of perfumeries?

Or why otherwise able and confident people run in fear from sales staff holding atomisers

I've had a few chats recently with professional, educated people with good jobs, who happened to mention that they daren't set foot inside a perfumery. We tried to work out why this is.

It seems that we're all slightly nervous that we'll be bamboozled into buying something we don't want or need. Perhaps the sales staff will use language they don't understand - drydown, sillage, chypres - or talking about oudh, tuberose, and opoponax as if we all ought to know what they smell like.

Or maybe we'll be carried away and buy something only to find out that it doesn't smell quite as good on our skins as it did on the paper, or the touches, as some people insist on calling them.

Or there's the opposite end of the scale, the perfume sales person who doesn't really know anything about their range, and will just point us in the direction of whatever is new, or Chanel No 5.

In the last decade I've aquired quite a few bottles of scent, and now I'm sharing. As well as the final fragrances from many different houses - brands from Madonna to Frederic Malle, Guerlain to SJP - I've got several hundred raw materials. So I'm throwing open the perfumery doors and inviting you all over for tea. 

Our Saturday afternoons are for people who'd love to know a little bit more, to sniff the vanillin, then the Shalimar that contains in, the patchouli, then the Angel.

We've got vintage dating back to the 1920s (some not smelling so great, but others still magnificent) and some of the classiest current niche names. Plus the entire range of 4160Tuesdays of course.

It's going to be friendly, and there's cake. So if you're within travelling distance of London W3, we look forward to seeing you soon.

Come sniffing.


Sunday, 14 July 2013

Perfumery Materials I like - No 5 - Lavender

Lavender, old ladies and The Lion Cupboard

In France, they'll make an ice cream out of almost everything fragrant; lavender does turn into a lovely sorbet. Then again, in France lavender is the default household clearning material scent so that must be a bit like having your desert smell of furniture polish.

In the UK the Elizabethans used lavender to flavour their meals; it was a fashion thing, designed to show off their wealth, but they'd have got the added bonus of its antimicrobial properties so their lavender scented hare stews would have lasted a little longer than normal. And it grew in Surrey, along with violets. Naturally Thinking are supporting a project to bring it back.

In the UK lavender is sometimes seen as an old lady's scent.  In France they see it as a modern masculine, often blended with tobacco fragrance. I'm with the French.

Lavender is in the classic cologne recipe, and you'll find it in fougere scents. (Forgive my blog; it doesn't like accents above French words.) Fougere is French for fern; ferms don't have much by way of a scent. It's another of those perfumery misnomers like amber. This group of scents isn't named after a natural material, but a fantasy concotion from the 1800s. Houbigant kicked it off with his Fougere Royale, mixing lavender with coumarin (and a load of other materials) to make his ideal fern fragrance. 

Coumarin, by the by, was one of the first commercially produced synthetic scents. William Perkin made it right here in sunny Ealing in the 1860s; it's a grassy almondy smell; the chemical is found naturally in tonka beans but Perkin made it affordable. And popular.

Fougeres have been the masculine fragrance of choice ever since.

Myself, I've put it into a whole bunch of scents including The Lion Cupboard. I'd call this one a classic fougere if I had to put it into a well known box. That's not the way it started out, but it's what happened when I used the materials I needed to create the smell I wanted. So a fougere it is.

Lavender for perfumery comes in different forms, there's an essential oil and an absolute, and now we're getting through some light bright CO2 extracts. It's sharper as a perfumery material than the scent you'd get from walking through a field of it. Often people don't recognise it until they're reminded.

Perhaps it's because pure lavender essential oil smells more like a herb than a flower.  When we think of lavender we tend to think floral. That's why we get caught out. With its piercingly clear odour, it hits the olfactory bulb more like freshly harvested rosemary, basil or thyme, than its flowery friends. And the further up it's grown the sharper it gets. High altitude lavender really clears out the nasal packages.

Another reason I like it is that it gets rid of my headaches. So it's one of those materials I'll use not just for its scent but for its magical properties that are undetected by our noses, and felt by our minds and bodies. The herbalist Parkinson said that lavender is:

'of especiall good use for all griefes and pains of the head and brain.'  

Although it was also the favourite scent of the wife of Charles I of England, and her husband got his head cut off in the revolution. It has its limits.

PS If you'd like to make your own lavender scent, you might like to consider one of these.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

 True, this is oak, not oakmoss, but I like the pic.

Perfumery materials I like - 4 -

Oakmoss (Evernia prunastri)

And yet more on EU's regulations and restrictions

Oakmoss is the backbone of all the classic chypre fragrances. For perfume fans who aren't familiar with the techie talk, a chypre is a perfume based on the original Chypre by Francois Coty. Chypre is French for Cyprus, the island, not cypress the fir tree. People get mixed up. 

 Back in the day before registered trademarks and intellectual property rights, the entire perfume industry watched Coty's Chypre scent become a best seller and all made one of their own, many of them also called Chypre. (There were loads of perfumes called No 5 until Chanel hammered them with IP lawsuits. The French are the ultimate trademark defenders, so much for liberty and equality and all that. Don't mess with them.)

Chypre fragrances have things in common, usually patchouli and bergamot - sometimes opoponax and other lovely sticky base notes - and always oakmoss. Whether there's a huge biff in the nose of it, or just a smidgen, you'll always find oakmoss. 


Well it's deep and dark but delicate. (A bit like the picture of the oak tree up there.) It smells like essence of forest. It holds a light fresh perfume together somehow, like grandad sitting calm and smiling at the head of the table while all the children are laughing, playing and exploring the house. Think of Edmond Roudnitska's gems - Miss Dior, Eau Sauvage, Mystere de Rochas, Diorella - and you'll understand. If ever there was a wizard working magic with oakmoss, that was your man.

The moss itself grows on oak trees and makes them look as if they've got excessive body hair. It's the one thing that gives some of the world's most beautiful perfumes - and almost every single one of my favourites - their certain something, their je ne sais quoi. You don't have to be able to smell it to know it's there; it gives a scent a beauty that starts a spinal shiver, in a good way. And it's in danger.

Nope, it's not because the oak trees are being chopped down to make way for a gated community. Nor because they are threatened by a deadly beetle. It's the deadly bureaucrats who have it in for oakmoss. It might give one in 1000 people a rash. 

You might think that the people who get a rash from perfume might avoid perfume and this would be enough. It's not. It's because it's possible that someone who tried a perfume with oakmoss might become sensitised to it, when they weren't before. The EU wants to help people avoid ever getting a rash at all. That's kind of them. It's generous towards the 0.1% of people who might get a rash from oakmoss. They've restricted its use to 0.1% in the final fragrance. It has a certain pleasing mathematical symmetry to it, but other than that, this figure is very irritating. Far more irritating than oakmoss.

Myself, I can wear it at 20% strength with no problems at all. That's 200 times higher than the official amount I'm allowed to put in a scent.

This restriction is why lots of classic scents have disappeared from the shops, or why you can no longer buy them in anything but Eau de Toilette strength, or why they have been reformulated to smell almost the same, but without the spine tinglyness.

So fingers crossed that it isn't replaced entirely by synthetics which smell very similar but are missing the mysteriousness. You can get it from Hermitage Oils if you want to give it a go. Buying it is fine; it's putting it in perfumes you want to sell that's the issue. And that, boys and girls, is my problem.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

A week at the Gin Garden

The Chelsea Fringe Hoxton Hotel Gin Garden Bombay Sapphire Experience, to be precise.

We've just had a whole week making personal perfumes using botanicals that Bombay Sapphire also use to make their superlative gin.

We made a base with two synthetics and two natural materials: bergamot, vanilla, Iso E Super and cedramber. On top of that each visitor chose from a selection of gin flavours and fragrances, including juniper berries, cubeb, coriander, lemon, orris, a lavender violet accord I mixed up myself, almond, aniseed and petigrain.

It's amazing how many different perfumes you can make from such a small selection. (Well, it's not really, not if you know a bit about maths and probability theory.)

A couple of people, including the lovely Katie from The Tatler, fell in love with the base, so it's just possible that it might appear at some point as a standalone scent. OK defintately; we've already got the name.

In the meantime, we've still got a little of of the scent I made up for the occasion. It's called The Gin Garden, named after Jo Farish's pop-up events of the same name, and as well as the materials listed up there, it's got rose, rosemary, peppermint, black pepper and a fabulous new CO2 extract of olive fruit.
Coming to the 4160Tuesdays shop soon. Available until it runs out.

What lovely people we met. Barmen who make ace cocktails, writers, herbalists, historians, bloggers, brand experience consultants and people who just happen to love perfume and fancied a taste of the ultimate G&T. I had several of those, and even a gin cocktail with an infusion of pear drops and grapefruit peel.

Fingers crossed we get to do it again sometime. Soon.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Rose Oxide: The materials I use to make perfume No 3

Rose Oxide: the scent of shiny metal roses

The things I use to make scents: number 3

Rose oxide, also known as Tetrahydro-4-methyl-2-(2-methylprop-1-enyl)-pyran, is one of the natural chemicals* that make roses smell the way they do.
Somes roses have no scent and are bred merely for visual beauty. That seems a shame to me. The ones bred for scent are picked by the million and turned into rose absolute - which is expensive - and rose essential oil - which is even more expensive.

Natural rose oil and absolute are made up of hundreds of different molecules.  Some smell and some don't. Some do other things, like giving you a feeling of calm and peace Rose oxide is one with a very distinctive scent.

The rose oxide I use is synthetic. It's the same molecule with the same smell as the one that comes from rose petals, but it's made in a factory, and it exists on its own. And it really does smell like metal roses would, if you could grow them. You just have to use your imagination.

Each variety of rose contains different amounts of the molecules that make it smell, including geraniol, linalool, citronellol and natural adlehydes.
So in modern commercial perfumery, where scents are made by the 100s of litres, natural rose can be too unpredictable. Batches of rose absolute from different countries, fields, levels of sunshine or rainfall, or years, will all smell slightly different from each other. It's the task of a skilled perfumer to reformulate final fragrances so they smell identical to the previous batches. This all takes far too long for many of the high street brands. The top dogs like Chanel and Guerlain do go to the trouble. Others can't afford it.

That's one good reason why perfumers will choose synthetic materials and recreate the smell of roses from its individual parts. Once they have a formula they can use it forever (regulations permitting) and it will always smell the same.

Rose oxide has a shiny brightness to it. Add a little to a boring flower blend and it will wake up; it brings some life to the olfactory party.

I use it in a light airy rose blend of my own. I also use it in an accord I call Shiny Bicyles. Inspired by the 2012 Tour de France, I developed a scent called Time to Draw the Raffle Numbers, to celebrate the moment Bradley Wiggins (Sir Wiggo) led the peloton into the Champs Elysees to help Cav win the final sprint. I used rose oxide and an essential oil that I think smells like wax polish to give me the scent of racing bikes. 

Next we'll have to make a Tour of Britain scent, the scent of a cloudy day on London's Embankment, the Thames in full tide. It could be called Just Glad It's All Over Really. That's a joke for anyone who was watching ITV4.

*Natural chemicals:
Roses are made of chemicals, as are human beings, everything we eat, drink and use. Some chemicals are synthetic - made in factories - and some are natural - found in nature. They are still chemicals, and as a science geek and proud of it, I'm not going to pretend otherwise. More on this later...

Friday, 5 April 2013

Making perfume - the materials I use: 2 Raspberry Ketone

Want to smell of raspberries?

The perfumery materials I use, and why I use them

AKA Hydroxyphenyl butanone, frambinone 

What's the point of being a perfumer if you can't make things smell the way you want, creating scents which remind you of the things you love? That's why I started anyway. Then I got distracted by making things that smell of other people's favourites, but that's a story you can read elsewhere.

One hot summer, our family spent a holiday afternoon in a Scottish wood where we found the biggest wild raspberry patch in the universe - probably - and ate the delicious pink fruits one by one until we had to go home. My favourite food, free. Only a stream of liquid chocolate would have improved that afternoon. 

So to the scent of raspberries. If you buy the fragrance oil from cosmetics suppliers, it won't have come from raspberries. In my early years I used a bottle of that stuff for dabbling and experiments, but before I felt I deserved to call myself a perfumer, I really needed to know exactly what I was using in my formulas. It's not just for the regulations (although that's important too) but more of an intellectual pursuit, the satisfaction that I'd got to the bottom of the issue, identified what was really going on, and in. I put on my metaphorical Sherlock deerstalker and set off on the trail of raspberry scent.

I'm going to write about raspberry leaf absolute later, by the way. That's a natural material that smells of raspberry jam. Gorgeous, expensive and difficult to work with, so very rarely found in commercial perfumes.

Perfumer, illustrator, writer and wondergeek Pia Long, told me that she thinks of raspberry ketone as the scent of the dried berries. For me it's the smell you get when you snap open a bar of Divine's dark chocolate with raspberry crunchy bits.

You can buy natural raspberry ketone, extracted from raspberries, but it costs a blooming fortune, so I buy the synthetic stuff. If you are a dedicated natural perfumer and insist on using (as close as you can get to) 100% natural materials, it's there for you. But to be honest, by the time it reaches a usable form, you can't really claim that it's natural. Some like to call these things "derived from nature" but what isn't? It's a powder, refined from the original fruits using chemistry techniques.

For me, only using natural perfumery materials is cutting off your nose to spite your face and you really need your nose in this business. More of this later.

So I often use raspberry ketone side by side with raspberry leaf absolute so get the deep jammy note and the lighter dry one; they hold hands and support each other. And I get to smell like summer pudding.

You can smell my simple raspberry accord in Urura's Tokyo Cafe, created with both materials, not to the point where the finished scent smells overwhelmingly fruity, but it has this deliciously tasty, jammy background to the gentle flowers, flightly citrus fruits and dark balsams.

I use it in The Great Randello too. 

Our whole range of scents lives here.


Thursday, 4 April 2013

Making perfume - the things I use: 1 Grapefruit

grapefruit essential oil

perfumery materials and why I use them

I do love making scents, and I like to explain what I do and why I do it. So I decided to share. Here's why I put grapefruit into almost everything I make.

I love eating grapefruits, no sugar, just cut in half. I've developed a method to scoop out the flesh with a slightly pointed teaspoon so nothing gets left behind. I can't bear it when people think they are helping by slicing one up with a knife then handing it to me. Heathens.

Jean-Claude Ellena, that precious being sent to earth to teach us the delights of perfumery, he says that all grapefruit oil smells like oranges in perfume, so he uses a synthetic blend instead. Perhaps it's just because I know it's in there, but when I use it, I smell grapefruits, and when other people ask me what's in my scents, they can smell grapefruit too.

I use both pink and white grapefruit essential oils: pink tends to be a little less sharp, but according to the EU it's all the same. Most of it comes from California these days, a by-product of the juice industry. Which is nice. I hate waste.

As a material, grapefruit oil is fleeting, light and lovely - what traditional and natural perfumers call a top note - a little molecule which will give you a quick hit as it escapes from the bottle, then fade into nothingless. If you want a long lasting grapefruit scent, you do what Jean Claude says and you use synthetics, bigger molecules with similar smells but with longevity.

To make the natural scent hang around a little longer, you add your fixatives then let your finished blend macerate for a few weeks, so the molecules that make grapefruit smell the way it does, attach themselves to the bigger, sticker materials - like vanilla and patchouli. It still floats off first, but less sharply.

Grapefruit oil is restricted in the world of self-regulated perfume so I keep an eye on the levels I use. I've never had to reduce the amount I need for the effect I want just to complay with the regs, so it's not been an issue. (Some people ignore the regulations, particularly those perfumers who mistakenly hold that nothing natural can harm you - to which I say nettles, belladonna and poison ivy - but the regs have been introduced to prevent sore skin so ignoring them is disingenuous at least and potentially dangerous.)

As well as smelling lovely, what else?

It's stimulating, uplifting and reviving  so it's used as an anti-depressant. Just smelling it cheers me up, don't know about you. People use it to treat SAD, depression caused by lack of sunshine. It's squeezed or distilled from the peel, so perhaps the hours and days worth of sunshine in each drop really do reach us as the benefits of the light it absorbed to come into being.

It's supposed to be good for stimulating the body to get rid of cellulite, and for athletes and dancers to remove lactic acid from their tired muscles. It calms stress. 

Can things be calming and stimulating at the same time? Yes. Like a good yoga class, a decent sniff of grapefruit and the other citrus oils wake you up but don't tip you over the edge. It's all about balance.

And that's the reason I use grapefruit, the real thing. It might not last through my scents' whole smell cycle, but a quick sniff puts me in the right mood for whatever the day is set to throw at me. It's in Urura's Tokyo Cafe, Says Alice, and The Lion Cupboard, just for starters.

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Dark Heart of Old Havana: scent story 10

The story

It was 1998, and I went off on hols. Costa Rica first, then Cuba. It was my birthday present to myself, and I decided that the best way to get to know some genuine Cubans was to go somewhere I could learn to dance. Oddly, my bicycle taxi man decided to take me to the Caseón del Tango, not your usual salsa place. I went there every day for a lesson with Ketty Angel and a man called Felix, and at the end of the week I was invited to what I thought was a little party. My Spanish wasn’t all that good, and it turned out that I was performing on stage in front of 200 elderly Cuban tango fans. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done, not chickening out when Iight dawned. Afterwards I was hugged and kissed by all 200 of them, just for showing up and having a go. There’s a picture that goes with it. I’ll see if I can find it.

Havana was intriguing, with a permanent sense of insecurity. People are prepared to do almost anything to part you from your foreign cash. You can try to stay in the tidy bits with your tour manager, or you can stray off the path and visit the darker parts. I ended up one evening in a tiny apartment - built from breeze blocks with another forty like it, stacked up on top of each other inside a former grand villa - eating rice, beans and fresh lobster ($5 each right out of the sea, I paid) with a bunch of elicit ‘banana cigar’ sellers and rent boys. We had a great time, although they’d have been arrested for talking to a tourist without a license if I’d been found there.

They have tobacco, sugar, rum and fruit. They don’t have much of anything else. And there’s ingenuity, humour, fatalism and sweltering heat. And this is the way I remember it smelled, walking through Old Havana to the Caseón del Tango at night. 

There are three versions: ‘tourist’, ‘dark’ and ‘now I’m really scared’. I went with ‘dark’ and its heart is made with the scary version.

The materials

In its intense heart, there are vanilla, tobacco, jasmine, toffee and tonka, with extra added dirty. For the abundance of fruits I went with oranges, peaches and grapefruits. Vanilla, labdanum and synthetic musk bring it back from scary to dark, and I put in some black peppercorn for spice, because that’s just the way Old Havana is.