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 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.


(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.


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.

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.

Jasmin Tabac Perfume Oil

Jasmin Tabac 12ml OilI love the smell of good quality pipe tobacco, don’t you? Although I’m not a smoker (a surprising number of perfumers actually are) I can never walk past a tobacconist without popping in for a sniff under the pretence of choosing one of the huge, exotic cigars lying in the humidifiers.

Of course, a lot of work goes into flavouring and scenting tobacco and the ingredients used are the same as those used in perfumes and flavours – linalool, vanillin, alpha ionone, bergamot oil, orange oil, heliotropin, coumarin, phenethyl alcohol, peppermint oil, even orris root and mimosa absolute, to name a few. As you can imagine, flavouring tobacco is a highly specialised and well paid occupation.

A realistic tobacco note in perfumery can be made up by using these same sorts of materials and then adding a little real (nicotine free) tobacco absolute for a dose of naturalism. Imagine doing this and then boosting the whole thing further into pleasure mode by overdosing its floral, sweet and fruity aspects.

Now, if you will, imagine couching this fantasy tobacco in a bed of bright white and green jasmin sambac flowers and then adding a good dose of rose and vanilla and iris and spiciness and bright ambergris and musk and then you have Jasmin Tabac!

I don’t deny being inspired by Jasmin et Cigarette by Etat Libre d`Orange for this perfume.  Whereas Antoine Maisondieu’s amazing creation has a constrained Gitanes scent supporting a beautiful, though artificial jasmine, I wanted to take an alternate path and to create a pipe tobacco fragrance that is supported by jasmine, rather than the other way around.Jasmine Sambac

It was important to get the jasmine just right here as I didn’t want the fragrance to start off with the almost tutti-fruity banana that some jasmine bases have. So I went with a blend featuring mainly jasmine sambac which has more of a green note than the grandiflora and then also adding a good dose of the real sambac absolute, sourced from France, for good measure. The result works well and is supported with a little orange oil in the top note, rose and some spiciness in the heart and musks with sandalwood in the base.

Jasmin Tabac is a unisex perfume, tending toward the feminine side. I hope you find it interesting.

Evelyn’s Rose

The Evelyn Rose – pure and simple.  A soliflor for rose lovers.Evelyns Rose Perfume Oil

The Evelyn Rose flower itself is a David Austin English rose named in honour of the Crabtree & Evelyn company that used this rose in a range of their products. The rose has a wonderfully cottage garden, antique rose smell with hints of peach and apricot.

This perfume was created in honour of my Nan as she loves her roses and has an Evelyn Rose growing in her back garden. After smelling the blooms one day I vowed I would reproduce the scent as best I could as a perfume for her. Her name is also Evelyn so the title just fitted perfectly.

I am quite proud of the fact that I didn’t use any pre-made rose bases in this perfume. The rose accord was made myself from first principles.