Welcome

Featured

Welcome to Evocations, the companion blog to the Evocative Perfumes website. I created this blog for those who are seeking more information about the perfumes on offer or are just curious about the world of an artisan perfumer. I will be delving deep into the creative process and also exploring the amazing universe of oils, leaves, barks, seeds, fruits, flowers, balsams, resins, roots and synthetic ingredients that combine to evoke the wonderment and transport that we all experience when smelling an artistically created perfume.

I hope you enjoy.

To follow this blog, please use the options located beneath the comments block of any post.

There’s rain on the breeze

It may be 40 degrees C outside and the whole of Australia is sweltering, but here in the perfumery it smells of cool, fresh rain on a flower garden. Very calming. It’s because Rain on FlowersI’ve been working on a conceptual fragrance that started off with the same accord as Aquarelle exploring the idea of the smell of water (see here http://evocativeperfumes.com/blog/?p=64). But whereas Aquarelle ended up moving in a bright, fruity direction with smells of ambergris and berries, this new fragrance (still to be named) has a more literal interpretation; that of the smell of rain – petrichor – a smell that universally proclaims the end of a dry spell, the life-giving relief of a downpour on dry soil, the release of signalling chemicals such as geosmin telling all living creatures with its powerful broadcast that there is water present. It’s a smell that I believe we have evolved to detect since the earliest days of life on this planet.

“Beets are deadly serious.”  –  Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

What is it about the smell of rain, particularly after a long dry spell, that is so emotive? In India the coming of the monsoon rains is so welcome that they have tried capturing the smell in an attar oil called Mitti Attar produced from the damp clay soil.

Mitti Attar

In 1964 two Australian researchers (Bear and Thomas) looked into what it is that creates the universally recognised smell and came up with the name “petrichor” (from the Greek words for stone and life blood of the gods) for the smell in their article in the scientific journal Nature. They thought that plants exude oils during dry periods which is absorbed by soil and by rocks. When rain comes along, it releases these oils along with a strong chemical called geosmin which combine to create the petrichor smell.
Now, geosmin by itself smells very strongly (do not try and smell it above a 0.1% dilution) of mold, soil, potato peels, damp and musty. To me it smells exactly like a rich, damp potting mix. That a single compound can smell so rich and complex by itself means that it must excite many different parts of the brain, hinting at its importance in our evolution.

Geosmin Structure

Geosmin Structure

A lot has been written about geosmin recently as researchers are realising just how important this volatile compound (along with other similar ones) is in nature. It is released by several types of bacteria and algae when they die, it’s in blue-green algae, in beetroot, in the 8000 worldwide species of liverworts and is sure to be discovered in many other places.

Humans are incredibly sensitive to geosmin – a million times more sensitive than we are to any other substance. We can detect it at a level of just ten parts in a trillion! So when a breeze carries a little in our direction we can immediately detect it and think ‘rain’s coming’. We can detect minute amounts in the taste and smell of bottom-feeding fish, so these fish are often eaten with lemon which disguises the geosmin – think blackened Cajun catfish or grilled catfish with lemon juice.
Camels can detect the smell of geosmin that had been released by bacteria in wet ground from 50 miles away and track the geosmin to find an oasis. It has been found that flies have neurons exclusively devoted to detecting geosmin and earthworms always head toward higher concentrations.

Water

(The characteristic earthy flavour of beetroot is due to geosmin. It wasn’t known whether geosmin is produced by the beetroot itself, or whether it is produced by symbiotic soil microbes living in the plant. However researchers at Washington State University grew sterilized beetroot seeds aseptically and found geosmin in the seedlings, supporting the conclusion that beetroot is capable of endogenous synthesis of geosmin.)

Geosmin is harmless to life and its only purpose seems to be to signal the presence of life-giving water from one organism to another. My belief is that the first multicellular organisms evolved the ability to detect and head in the direction of higher concentrations of geosmin. If this is true, then it is the first chemical to be detected and acted apon – the first odour – ever. All life literally evolved around the ability to smell this and related  compounds. Could it even be said that we evolved because of it? What a thought. No wonder we find petrichor so evocative!

So, back to my as yet unnamed perfume. As I said, it is based on the same accord as Aquarelle but also contains a little geosmin and smells completely different. I imagine that not many people would enjoy the idea of smelling of potting mix, so the geosmin is only dosed lightly – just enough to evoke the feeling of rain – and combined with fresh floral elements of gardenia and lily of the valley. Taking cues from the chef’s knowlege of how to serve catfish, I tried to use citrus notes to combine with the geosmin and provide the required freshness, however it really didn’t work. It may work in relation to taste, but seems not with smell. So no citrus here, folks. An Australian connection is present in the formula with the use of blue cypress oil grown and distilled in the Northern Territory to provide a woody bridge between the heart and base notes and then there is a wonderful vetiver used in the dry down along with some oakmoss.
Keep an eye on the Facebook page for news on this new fragrance, including what it’s to be called!

Siberian Fir

“(Siberian Fir) is an absolute triumph!”- KerriSiberian Fir Perfume Oil

“Sweetly fresh, dark fruit and wood balsam. Reminds me of the cool shade of a conifer”

Available as a 12ml perfume oil or a 50ml eau de toilette.

Siberian Fir is inspired by my discovery of a unique material that is only produced by a single manufacturer in Russia – a fir needle extract so sublimely beautiful that it needed to have a perfume created around it and hopefully I have managed to do it justice with this creation.

Siberian Fir trees grow across North Eastern Europe, Finland and North America as well as northern parts of China. This extract, rather than having a pine forest freshness as you’d expect, instead has deep, sweet, mellow-balsamic, rich fruitiness with a coniferous undertone. An absolute pleasure to smell.

Fir

The top note of this perfume has been freshened up with some regular fir needle essential oil which does indeed have a fresh, coniferous, pine scent but has been dosed so as not to overwhelm the concept of Siberian Fir, just to add some brightness to the first few minutes of the fragrance.

There are two other main components to Siberian Fir that play a supporting role – poplar bud and Buddha wood.Poplar Buds

Poplar bud absolute is extracted from the buds of North American Balsam Poplar trees. These trees grow close to large bodies of water and at certain times of the year the buds seep with resin and are best harvested early on freezing cold mornings before the resin warms up and becomes too sticky to handle.  Extract of this resin is mixed with a combination of bees wax and a base oil to create Balm of Gilead – traditionally used as a soothing relief balm for comforting minor aches and pains and a chest rub for colds and flus. The smell is green and fruity fresh yumminess.

The Australian Buddha Wood tree is also known as Desert Rosewood. The heartwood oil has a smooth,  woody, oak and sandalwood smell that shows up towards the base note of Siberian Fir.

Roman chamomile and rose oils provide a floral balance to all of the balsamics and woods in the formula. There is a high proportion of botanic ingredients in Siberian Fir – over 90% – the highest of all the Evocative perfumes so far.

How to follow this blog

I finally found out how you can follow this blog! It’s had me stumped for a while. As this is a WordPress blog, but it’s not actually hosted on wordpress.com, things are a bit different. Turns out there are a couple of tick boxes below the comment field of any post (even this one)…

FollowMe

So now you never have to lose sleep over missing out on the next Evocations instalment ever again.

Homemade Green Tea Absolute

It’s so much fun creating your own perfumery materials to experiment with.  Here I’ve taken some photos of the progress of a green tea absolute.  Well, an absolute of sorts, it’s really a highly concentrated tincture. A true absolute would use a lighter hydrocarbon such as hexane to extract the aromatics at the first stage but here I’ve just used an alcoholic tincture.

 

Green Tea Absolute 1          Green Tea Absolute 2      Green Tea Absolute 3

The first photo shows the tea when I’d just added it to the alcohol (the menstruum) – there’s about 300ml of liquid there.

The next photo shows about 250ml of the tincture after it had been re-loaded with tea four times (leaving a few days between each load and discarding the spent tea leaves) Check out the colour!

Then the last photo shows about 20ml of the home-grown absolute where the majority of the alcohol has been evaporated out as quickly and gently as possible (I won’t tell you how as it’s kinda dangerous and I won’t be responsible 😉 It’s almost black.

The result? Interesting. It has a very grassy, dried hay smell which doesn’t last long. A coumarin and tobacco smell but not as sweet and with tea-like overtones. Definitely a top note material which would probably have limited use. I’m going to let it age for a while and see if it improves. A while back I did the same thing with a box of black tea and the result was certainly more useable with a much more pronounced and longer lasting tea and tobacco scent.

Vanille Tonique

For lovers of vanilla!Vanille Tonique 12ml Perfume Oil
Some people love vanilla fragrances, some hate them (I know one perfumer (hi Paul) who refuses to use vanilla at all). Guess which side of the fence I sit on!

Back in 2010 I was browsing around an antique store in the Barossa Valley here is South Australia, when I came across an old bottle of Friars’ Balsam. It was over-priced, locked in a cabinet and the proprietor didn’t seem very disposed toward unlocking it at the time so I didn’t ask. But I was curious and looked up the ingredients on my mobile…

Friars Balsam

 

Siam Benzoin resin
Storax Balsam
Balsam of Tolu
Balsam of Peru
Cape Aloe leaf latex
Myrrh tears
Angelica root

 

Wow, I could just imagine how all those balsams and resins would have mellowed after aging in that bottle for 50 years or so! An idea was born right there – not so much to replicate the smell of this expectorant / antisceptic, (ironically this formula wouldn’t even be legal to sell as a perfume in Europe), but just to create something smooth and mellow, sweet and balsamic, preferably with lots of creamy vanilla.

Four years later, and I have finally arrived at a version that I am happy has fulfilled this brief. Over that time I completely scrapped the project twice (once after actually having sold a couple of bottles of that current version) starting fresh three times, with six months or so break between each attempt. My notes show at least twenty different formula variations each time.  This has not been an easy perfume.

The problem has been trying to use mellow, rich balsamic ingredients without the whole effect becoming sickly sweet or smelling like Le Tan coconut oil. There is also the problem of vanilla turning sour on the skin – I hate that.

Vanille Tonique Notes

So Vanille Tonique contains a refined blend of different vanilla materials, including my own bean tincture blend, vanilla bourbon CO2 extract along with synthetic vanillin and ethyl vanillin, with some dry woods and tropical florals to balance the sweetness of the vanilla. I also discovered that frankincense goes surprisingly well in the top note of this perfume, so there is a select blend of frankincense oils and extracts in there, along with some resin tincture.

Vanille Tonique has become a rich, deep, languorous, exotic fragrance that I’m sure you will enjoy, if you are indeed a lover of vanilla.