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a note on notes



I read an interesting article the other day that talked about how we are genetically predisposed to like certain smells and loathe others. Coriander is a great example of this - some find it very appealing and fresh while others smell and taste soap. This is one of many idiosyncrasies that make the experience of smell (or lack thereof) in humans such a personal thing.

When I first started fragrance blending in London I was embarrassingly literal when choosing fragrance combinations. For instance one of my first ever blends I made was inspired by London summertime. I fell in love with London summers, I guess because it was like a gift for enduring such long brutal winters. And so fleeting that it makes you stop what you're doing and bathe in it. Much like a beautiful perfume that stops you in your tracks.


So I sat down and thought about what aromas I connected with London in the summertime, the jasmine tree in our backyard in Tooting, fizzy prosecco popped open at parties, parks filled with people and barbecues, strawberries and cream at Wimbledon. All very pleasant fragrances singularly, but I wanted ALL the fragrances in the one scent. So I went and bought strawberry fragrance oil (as i learnt that strawberry essential oil doesn't exist) prosecco fragrance oil because well strawberries, parties etc Then despite not being a common London fragrance I popped in the jasmine, and some fresh cut grass..and let it sit for a few days. With no regard to how each fragrance would interact with the other. I read a little into top, bottom and middle notes. But being completely new to fragrance (I barely ever even wore perfume!) although I am a lover of aroma. I equated the notes in a fragrance with the actual ingredients. I gasped at candle fragrance descriptions with these amazingly vivid scent descriptors and wondered how they got ALL of those scents into one candle!



But perfumery is not that linear - it's not like cooking there's a lot more chemistry and artistry involved. The aroma blend will tell a story but in a much more nuanced way. Fragrance notes listed are merely a way of describing the way the aroma unfolds much like a wine. I am no wine connoisseur but I know enough to know that just because a wine smells like there's a blackberry or an apple note in there does not actually mean there is literally blackberries and apples added in. It's the same with fragrance, there may be a note of marshmallow in a fragrance but that is your brain connecting the dots between two other smells to create that note. So there may be vanilla and lemon verbena in the fragrance and when those scents are combined they give you the impression of marshmallow. Or to get even more poetic, an 'ozone' note may simply be a citrus like bergamot but the aromatic effect of the citrus is a clean fresh air smell. The air doesn't smell like bergamot, just as a sunrise doesn't smell like lime but through the power of suggestion I guess your brain will go into your personal catalogue of aromas and connect the dots. Just like your brain connects cinnamon with Christmas time, or pine with Christmas trees or nutmeg with Apple pie and baking.


So, going back to my original London Summertime fragrance, when I finally got around to smelling my jasmine, strawberry, prosecco, fresh cut grass fragrance it blew my head off - literally gave me head spins. It was a total fail!


I've learnt so much since then, by not only smelling different fragrances, but different blends. Studying each component and how it interacts with others. Observing how other blends are created, what scents are trending, what combinations often appear together time and again. And then experimenting within those rules and then once I'm comfortable putting my own spin on it.


If I were to approach the London summertime fragrance again knowing what I know now, I would probably pick one main theme or element around summer in London and then work around that. One place that I remember fondly was the beer garden at the gastro pub down the street from our house. During summer it was brimming with people and the echo of kids laughing, glasses chinking and guitars strumming. So I would keep it light and refreshing like the drinks being served. Cider and gin and prosecco all have a fruity effervescence to them so maybe a fresh Sicilian lemon or yuzu to evoke not only sparkling drinks but also sun drenched tables, blended with cucumber (to remind you of pimms, fresh rain and cool afternoon breezes), and some light spring/summer florals like rose and maybe honeysuckle to remind you that you're in a lovely outdoor beer garden.


Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't - but it's about first learning the language and then creating poetry.


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