capturing the ocean

There's something about the scent of the ocean that really captures our imagination. Many a lost soul has stood facing out to sea pondering the waves perpetually crashing against the shore. The bracing salty air intoxicates our senses and has for centuries intrigued and inspired poets, writers, artists and even perfumers.

So when it came to developing an ocean scent for my Sydney signature candle - I decided to delve into how to best recreate this scent memory.

Believe it or not the majority of oceanic scents that you are exposed to fall into one of a few categories the two main being citrus and floral (usually a combination of the two) but sometimes with a woody element added to the base. Or it can veer more towards the masculine - musky and almost cologne like.

While I wanted something veering more towards the side of realism I didn't want something that smelt fishy or like low tide. It needed to be pleasant but still reminiscent of the real thing. Marine or aquatic themed perfumes and fragrances are often reminiscent of clean refreshing bathwater - which is pleasant but the ocean isn't like that. The ocean is musky and salty and mysterious, and in a constant state of flux.

One particular ingredient in perfumery that could be the culprit behind the watery type aquatic scent in perfumes today was invented by accident by Pfizer which they named Calone (Camilli+Albert+Laloue+ketone+=CALone)

Essentially it smells like the rind of a Watermelon and provides the olfactory impression of marine freshness a green, ozonic smell. This one ingredient started a huge wave of aquatic themed perfumes of the late 80's and 90s.

First appearing in Aramist New West but most famously Davidoff Cool water and then in almost ever other aquatic themed scent of the 90's that followed. So prolific was this ingredient in 90's colognes and perfumes that it became a signature scent of the 90's.

Calone as an ingredient can still be purchased from perfume supply companies and is still used in perfumery but it is such a strong scent that it can easily overpower whatever blend you are trying to create. Calone (or Watermelone Ketone) is a nostalgic scent for many people which is fascinating as it's created in a lab and appears in no other context but the perfume world. But this is an example of just how powerful aromatics are to our life but how woefully undervalued they are. A photo can trigger memories that's for sure, but aromas can not only trigger memories but also the actual emotions that are tied to that memory - in such a palpable way.

Then my mind delved into the concept of salt, or sea salt and what that actually means aromatically. Does salt actually have a scent and if not, what fragrances do perfumers use to create the idea of saltiness? When researching salty themed fragrance oil it seems that there's no actual salt ingredient. More so a combination of sharp florals and again a citrus and a herbal element like rosemary or basil or a type of musk. So it's more of a poetic take on the notion of the idea of salt air - which happens often in perfumery. Often ingredients that you would never imagine are carefully blended to trick your brain into making certain connections. Neroli for instance is a flower but it has almost aquatic nuances when blended the correct way.

So this helped me start to eliminate what I did and didn't want in my blend. However there was another element that I had to get to the bottom of - yes the ocean is salty, and musky but there was something else to it that I couldn't put my finger on...seaweed.

In my research it appears that seaweed as an actual ingredient is in fact used in perfumery. It is a certain type of seaweed found only in the Northern hemisphere (fucus vesiculosus) it is harvested then dried out and grinded and then processed in a lab into an absolute into a dark green viscous liquid and has a green, woody, dry seaweed phenolic smell. It can be bought in solid form and diluted or in liquid form - it is highly concentrated and notoriously difficult to work with. Apart from that it is prohibitively expensive - especially for a product that I couldn't find any prior candle making notes for. So a bit of a risky ingredient.

So I was back to square one, I started looking at other seaweed options, Would kelp work? Could I buy seaweed for sushi and grind it up somehow? Then I stumbled across a blog about tinctures.

Tinctures are generally used to make herbal medicine but can also be used to create unique back notes in perfumes. Essentially a tincture is an organic material steeped in alcohol in an airtight jar extracting the fragrance molecules. The exciting thing is you can do this with a huge range of organic matter - the most important thing to consider is that the matter, whatever you choose must be free from water or moisture as water will increase the likelihood of bacteria forming in the mix.

Fast forward to me traipsing along one of Sydney's most seaweed prone beaches, plastic bag in hand collecting the goods while giving sideways glances at passers by.

Weeks later I am now the owner of my own seaweed tincture which is a pivotal ingredient in my ocean blend. My take on the scent of the ocean is certainly unique with nuances of realism while still being pleasant. It is however certainly not the same as the real thing, but perhaps that's what makes the ocean so wonderful as it can never truly be contained.

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