Artisan Perfumery in the Cotswolds

My focus is on creating perfume oils and solid perfumes and since budgets are always a consideration, I have found it a challenge as a lone ‘artisan’ to purchase perfumer’s alcohol in the UK.  So when I found out about an artisan perfumery training using perfumer’s alcohol with Essentially me, I jumped at the chance to escape London for uninterrupted skylines and to immerse myself in olfactory heaven.

Fast forward – I’ve just returned from being hot-housed for 5 intense and fascinating days in the Cotswolds, expanding my perfumery skills with perfumer, Alec Lawless, who runs Essentially-me.  We were a small group, just 5 women but all very enthusiastic and lively, Alec would have a job on his hands!

We had assigned workstations, with a fabulous array of materials, beakers and pipettes – the chemistry lab at school was never this inviting.  The course was very structured and hands-on; so practical and creative from the word ‘go’.

Our workstations and a copper still, demonstration only!

Day 1: Topics covered were: understanding our materials; blind smelling, history of natural perfume and extraction.  Day 2: No dilly-dallying around, we had to consider what fragrance we wanted to construct based on our instinctive likes after blind smelling  23 materials.  To name but a few, hay, cumin; tonka bean; pink lotus; mimosa; violet leaf – many of which I have at home but some, alas I do not,  so it was blissful to experience the museum-worthy stock of raw materials that Alec holds.  I already had in mind to base my fragrance around a ‘heart note’ of the beautifully fresh Chinese jasmine sambac, with a ‘fat’, ‘buttery’ gardenia, a dash of ylang ylang and white champac to give a heady, oriental floral, tempered with some fresh, green, honey top notes  and a forest-y, balsam-ambery base – I was salivating just thinking about it!

The remaining 3 days passed in a blur of refining our ingredients, understanding the perfume families; blending standards; odour descriptions; perfume vocabulary and how the essences affect each other in varying concentrations – we were all engrossed in understanding this subtle layering of such unique, concentrated materials in making tangible our fragrant vision.  It was fantastic to share anecdotes, experiences,  knowledge and many laughs with the other female participants; mainly aromatherapists and one actress.  We all created amazingly different concoctions from a sultry, dirty oriental, to an outdoorsy, rosy-bramble; with a watery, fresh, exotic asian floral and english spring bouquet with a twist of hay notes – we were like kids in a candy shop!

fragrance worksheets and precious botanicals!

Having inhaled vast amounts of smelly molecules over the previous days, we were all feeling a touch light-headed when it came to the complex, mathematical excel spreadsheet on which we were to record all our workings out, ingredients; concentrations; dilutions etc.  Alec was very patient and helpful and we did complete them, but suffice to say, glazed expressions abounded – a topic definitely for further home-study!

Once our individual final combinations of top, middle and base notes were decided upon, we then diluted them into the alcohol base and added a botanical musk fixative which would give added tenacity to the overall blend – this was optional –  I thought “why not?”  Creating a botanical musk  is like the holy grail in natural perfumery, so in true ‘Blue Peter’ style, why not try one that is already prepped?  Concentration and a steady hand are pre-requisite throughout!  The final composition then underwent a filtering process.

As pictured below you can see that they possess a different array of colours; this is dependent on the raw materials used, as many absolutes and essential oils range in hues from the palest yellow, through to inky blue, forest green, dark brown and russet; the filtering helps to sharpen up the colour and remove any remaining ‘matter’ that may be present in some of the more viscous absolutes; the colour adds a unique element I think!

final filtering of our fragrant ‘masterpieces’

So, once filtered, bottled, capped and labelled here is the final ‘piece de resistance’… which I haven’t actually named!

the final fragrance – my ‘fresh’ oriental

Having worn it a few times since I returned (it it is very heady), I feel I should be languishing on a chaise longue, resplendent in chinese silk, being fed with the ubiquitous peeled grapes.   I do admit, I now wish I  had not included the botanical musk – a little overwhelming with the ‘animalic’ note.  Hmm, maybe back to those spreadsheets for the re-creation of version No:2 ‘sans-musc’?

Alec is very generous with his boundless knowledge and I greatly respected the methodology and structure in the way we worked. Fundamental in botanical perfumery is attention to detail and using these precious, costly aromatics with care and respect to avoid waste.  Working collaboratively and studiously recording, smelling and measuring at each stage to keep track of materials used, we further developed our knowledge and intuition with attention and focus.. in the most sublimely fragrant way.

‘Essentially Me’ runs various courses in Artisan Perfumery and sells truly gorgeous raw materials, I can’t wait to add to my growing stock.  This was a longer post than I anticipated, a cup of jasmine tea is calling me.

Feel free to add a comment or ask me anything that may have piqued your interest!


About The Perfume Mistress

"If the eyes are the windows to your soul, then the nose is the doorway to your imagination" The Perfume Mistress Hello, by day I am a clinical aromatherapist and tutor, with over 10 years of working with natural materials and essential oils, by night I delve into the art of botanical perfumery, reading and smelling all things olfactory. I have set up the 'Nosetrodami Club' offering scentsory talks, discussions and master-classes on all topics and themes olfactive. I also offer one and two day workshops in the art of natural perfumery, natural and organic body & skincare. My inspirations range from the mundane to the metaphysical, the hum-drum to the hyperbolic which you may see reflected in my posts.
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