One of my favorite parts of releasing a new perfume (after the actual composition process) is writing my Scent Notes column. I love pulling the curtain back and explaining my creative process. I believe in giving people credit for being intelligent information-seekers rather than trying to build a shroud of mystery. In all the art I love, there’s nothing that really enhances my appreciation than getting a direct conduit into the artist’s creative process and inspirations.
However, now that I have split the Chatillon Lux Parfums line into a new luxury house that caters to my desire to stretch my creativity to its fullest, Maher Olfactive, I wanted to create a place that I could not only keep my Scent Notes columns for both houses in one place, but also allows more more random musings about the world of perfumery. That will be both written and, hopefully in the near future, video blogs.
Growing up, my grandmother lived south of Saint Louis close to the Meramec River. As a child, I loved hiking out in the woods behind her house down to a creek that was a tributary to that river. There were fun hills to climb, and the smell was so fresh, green and vibrant.
As I was composing Tempo Rubato and contemplating the multifaceted scent of orris butter, especially the watery green nuances. It suddenly made me think of those hikes. So I composed this with those memories at the top of mind to create a nouveau fougère of sorts.
In order to complement this aspect of the orris, I used violet leaf absolute, irival and orivone in conjunction with hinoki for a watery green, woody note. Then the sparkling note of helional makes it shine even more, with a raspberry accord and a spearmint note (methyl salicylate) act as players in small doses, not noticeable on their own, just to affect the occord. Finally, cypriol adds some dark, green lush weight to the accord. Finally, I use gamma nonalactone, a creamy coconut note that ends up giving a fig leaf effect to this part of the scent. Finally, ambergris and ambroxan finalize the watery green aspect.
In order to give the impression of the flowers that were blossoming throughout the hikes, I used cassie absolute (aka frangipani), Bulgarian lavender, jasmine grandiflorum absolute (complemented by high-cis hedione, a fruity jasmine note), neroli essential oil from France, bergamot from Italy (rectified to remove sensitizing elements) and amyl salicylate, a clover-type note.
Finally, the woody, spicy and mossy notes. First of all, piñon pine essential oil, juniper tree essential oil and iso e super give a bright, green conifer note. Then an IFRA-compliant oakmoss, coumarin and amyl salicylate (a clover-type note) give it the fougère feel, complemented by dark-aged patchouli (supplemented by clearwood), coriander, black pepper from India and romanolide, a fresh, white musk.
The result is a fresh spring day with blooming flowers, shimmering green notes with dew drops, the wet rocks of a creek and spicy, mossy undergrowth. This will be released along with Tempo Rubato on December 8.
Notes: cassie absolute, violet leaf, orris butter, fig leaf, piñon pine, juniper tree, Bulgarian lavender, coriander, oakmoss, coumarin, dark-aged patchouli and Indian black pepper.
Recently, I have become fixated on orris butter. This is quite the legendary material in perfumery, known for both its beauty and its expense. It is associated with the iris (the official flower of Saint Louis, no less, due to its association with the fleur de lis and the namesake of my city), but with a more rooty nuance.
Additionally, orris is the epitome of two of my favorite materials, irones and ionones. In my composition for Chatillon Lux, Weinstrasse, my iris accord played a big part that scent. I love ionones of all types, often found in florals like iris and violets, but also in peachy notes, as well, many of which came into play for Lamplight Penance and Eau de Treget.
This was the first of what became two compositions featuring orris butter that will soon be released, along with Orris Forest, the inspiration for which came during the development of Tempo Rubato.
However, Tempo Rubato, in large part due to the inspiration for the perfume, spared no expense in trying to achieve my vision for it. I feel that it would do it a disservice to submit to a budget by exclusing the raw materials that hold so much beauty.
And so I want to highlight this message up front, because I will be sending a link to this article to anyone who emails me, comments on social media or puts out any diatribes about the price of this perfume. Yes, it is costly. I apologize, but the raw materials cost per bottle is over double of what is currently my most expensive perfume, Santal Auster. If it is out of your price range, I totally understand, but that is the unfortunate thing about an uncompromising vision and also trying to run a business. I have to set prices that reflect what it costs to make it.
I wish I could afford to lose money on releases, but I simply cannot (especially as small of an operation that I run). And the fact of the matter is that orris butter, rose otto absolute, narcissus absolute, galbanum resinoids, neroli essential oil, jasmine absolute and civet are amongst the most expensive things that I could add to a formula. It was in part the inspiration behind Orris Forest, a composition that could feature the beauty of orris butter at a more accessible price point.
And, as is always the case, I am sure there will be some who will not be satiated by my response here or anything that I could tell them. I do not understand the anger towards someone charging a price based on what goes in the bottle, especially since I do not even make enough money to work as a perfumer full time, but such is life. And so I will prepare to weather the ensuing outrage of a perfume that costs $180 for a 50 mL bottle.
But with that out of the way, let’s talk about the inspiration and the composition.
Billie Holiday and Tempo Rubato
The idea of tempo rubato is one that is often used in jazz. It translates to “robbed time,” referring to the use of playing off-tempo in a way that adds some tension and feeling to the melody. Much like natural materials used in perfumery, the beauty is in the “imperfections” and the natural feel. Not flawed, but not uniform or robotic, either.
Billie Holiday’s powerful and entrancing vocal style is a perfect example of this style. It’s difficult to define, but tempo rubato isn’t just singing off beat. Far from it. It has to be done skillfully, artfully and in an indefinable manner. Miles Davis said, “A lot of singers try to sing like Billie, but just the act of playing behind the beat doesn’t make it sound soulful.”
And of course, this style is on full display in her masterpiece, “Strange Fruit.” This powerful, gripping dirge remains as relevant today as it ever was and sounds as fresh as it ever did.
However, we’re here to talk perfume, so I would refer you to read more about tempo rubato in this wonderful academic paper you can read here. Additionally, the excellent podcast Throughline did a podcast on her tragic life, and I would highly recommend listening to it (again and again, it’s so good) here or on whatever podcast platform you prefer.
Composing the Perfume
Some perfumes come together in a snap. And some really make me work for it, digging and refining until I finally uncover what I’ve been looking for. By far, Tempo Rubato was the latter. It was important to create something as rich and vibrant as Billie’s vocal styling.
The Floral Bouquet
Like both the upcoming December 8 releases, this idea began with orris butter. The rooty part of the iris flower (the official flower of Saint Louis with its association with the fleur de lis), it is rich, decadent and elegant. The perfect material for the intention of this scent. It is reinforced with a few different ionones and irones, elements of this family, as well as carrot seed essential oil, which has some of the same ionone and silky green charactaristics.
In addition to the silky smooth floral aspect, orris has a watery green aspect that leads very well into galbanum. Galbanum, grown in the Persian region, is a bit of a chameleon, reinforcing floral accords with a springtime freshness, and I used a combination of a supercritical CO2 extract that eliminates some of the bitter aspects of a distilled essential oil with a resin that adds a richness and weight that keeps it from becoming too sharp.
Then that leads to narcissus absolute, also rich, also with green nuances. It also has a throaty nature that feels perfectly in line with the powerful, rich vocal stylings of Billie. Additionally, a rose otto absolute, a species heavy in the fruity, bright damascones that make these roses so vibrant and rounded.
Accompanying that is jasmine grandiflorum absolute from Egypt, which has a meaty, fruity weight to it. This is amplified with a plum accord that plays off the ionones of the orris as well as the fruity benzyl acetate found in jasmine grandiflorum, in addition to prunella and two materials that I use so often: pyproprunat and dimethyl benzyl carbinyl butyrate. Finally, an orange blossom absolute adds some brightness to the white flower/stone fruit note while its woody, bitter counterpoint, petitgrain mandarin, and a more floral neroli essential oil from Egypt add some liveliness and zest to this part of the accord. Finally, an apricot accord using natural apricot and a material called apritone add some more brightness to the featured fruit.
Leather, Musk and Benzoin Base
Underneath the beauty of the florals, a base of leather, musk and benzoin shows the tenacity and grit that I wanted to represent. Benzoin adds a sweet counterbalance to this take on a traditional leather accord.
The accord begins with some of the most trusted materials in an old-school leather accord: castoreum, birch tar, isobutyl quinoline, vanillin, labdanum resin and civet (a synthetic representation called civetone in order to keep this perfume cruelty-free). Then there is a twist, with black currant but absolute, dark-aged patchouli, a smoky vetiver from Java and cypriol (aka nagarmotha, often used by perfumers as an “oud” in perfumes). Then to give it a creaminess, gamma octalactone, mysantol (a creamy sandalwood note) and tonquitone (a cruelty-free Tonkin deer musk substitute) finish off this accord that appears seamlessly from the white florals in the middle of the composition.
This extrait de parfum, released in conjunction with Orris Forest Eau de Parfum, will be available on Tuesday, December 8. The official notes include apricot, plum, neroli, petitgrain, orange blossom absolute, rose otto absolute, narcissus absolute, jasmine grandiflorum absolute, galbanum, orris butter, benzoin, leather and musk.
Here in Saint Louis, the word “confluence” is used for many reasons. Of course, the easiest connection is the meeting of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, which was the reason why Pierre Laclede Liguest and Madame Therese Chouteau chose it as the location for their trading hamlet. But it goes even beyond that.
Additionally, due to its origins as a trading hamlet, many nationalities and backgrounds had to come together to trade, work and merge their cultures to work together. Our city flag represents this, with both rivers represented, along with the colors of the French and Spanish flags, to represent the city’s heritage as a French territory that eventually became a Spanish territory.
Unfortunately, much of our historical buildings were wiped out by a fire (which is why you’ll see so many red brick buildings in the city). Even more were wiped out by interstate highways and the Gateway Arch Park. However, one of the oldest buildings, a chapel, still stands. And it made me think of, of course, the person who I find to be the most enduring character from our history: Henri Chatillon.
The man who lived peacefully at the confluence of cultures, of nobile French heritage who lived as a member of the Oglala nation. So the idea of incense and coniferous trees together, with their shared trait of terpenic citrus notes as their own confluence.
Incense and Wood
In the incense accord that is at the heart of this fragrance, it of course begins with frankincense. Specifically, a combination of two types: boswellia serrata and olibanum serrata. These are reinforced with (and given a bridge to the woody elements of the composition) elemi, then on top of that some palo santo essential oil, which also throws a brighter, citrus vibe into it.
I further help bring out these citric, terpenic ntoes with grapefruit terpenes, vetikone (which you might remember from La Petite Prairie), claritone and blue gum eucalyptus. To further add some zest, fresh ginger essential oil really makes it bubble up. Then this element is finished off with the fresh, green zest of clarycet and the cold, green spice of cardamom.
Finally, a deep, rich base of benzoin anchors the composition and gives it a rich, semi-sweet and spicy base.
Conifers and Resin
At the top of the woody, coniferous accord is juniper. And not just the berries. It also includes the branches and all in a mélange of essential oils. Additionally, black spruce essential oil gives some more depth to it, with the atlas cedar essential oil giving it a light, cedar shaving tint to it. Finally, a piñon pine essential oil helps really bring out the terpenic character inherent in coniferous notes and tie it in with the incense.
However, in order to add some weight to it, I added a fir balsam resin and labdanum resin, giving it a full body. And as a counterbalance, iso e super adds a great deal of texture that feels right at home with the fuzzy texture of frankincense.
This might seem like more of a simple composition than others I have done, but I think like many people in history, it is more complex than it might seem at first sniff. However, it still can be easily wearable while always offering something new to learn the more you get to know it.
This scent will be available as an EdT for the Black Cyber Holiday Event this year on Friday, November 27.
Notes: Frankincense, palo santo, benzoin, elemi, cedar, black spruce, atlas cedar, juniper and fir balsam.
While there will be a full Scent Notes column written soon, my writing work has been so busy that I’ve been finding it hard to squeeze any more words out of my fingertips. For now, watch the video to learn more about my two upcoming Maher Olfactive releases.
Hey everybody, as you probably know, Scott and the wonderful team of Declaration Grooming have taken over production of all grooming and shaving products with Chatillon Lux scents. And it’s been great! We’ve revisited the first scent he ever used (Champs de Lavande) and have a lot of great plans for the near future. However, with a new batch of 88 Chestnut Street coming out, we wanted to give you a heads up about the scent.
Basically, it boils down to natural materials. In this case specifically, neroli. Neroli is the blossom from a bitter orange tree. In 88 Chestnut Street, I use a neroli essential oil, which is awesome. Like many florals, it’s a bit pricey due to the difficult extraction process. And like all naturals, the product is subject to fluctuations due to harvest conditions and, very often, the increasing number of natural disasters that growers must deal with as an effect of climate change.
For this latest batch, we sourced some new neroli essential oil out of necessity. In using it, it feels much better in the blend, making it more harmonious and giving it a richer neroli opening. However, it is different, and so we’ve got to embrace the change. Mainly, because we have no choice.
While many naturals are very beautiful, they are subject to the whims of Mother Nature and also the market demand/supply. So please keep that in mind with the new 88 Chestnut Street batch of soap and aftershave. The EdC formula remains the same (and uses more complex accords that add more safeguards) and it is the same batch that I made at the beginning of the summer. And there is a ton of that batch left.
In the future, I will let you know about any changes that effect the final composition of a fragrance. While I love using natural materials (at least the ones not restricted in their usage, as natural materials are often the culprits of irritation and have their usage restricted more often than synthetically derived materials), it was already an issue even before economics, pandemics and nutso weather affected the supply chain. But in this case, at least, both Scott and I feel it is a change for the better. Maybe unexpected, but good news nonetheless!
When working on this newest perfume, I wanted something comforting. My development began in the cold months of fall and winter, starting in 2019, but the final stages of development came during a stay-at-home order during the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was lucky enough to have not been as directly affected as many are (luckily working as a perfumer and a writer means that I am perfectly conditioned for isolated conditions and working alone), but it does wear on one’s mind to know that so much of humanity is suffering.
So I finished development of the perfume right as the pandemic began to take off in the United States, right before the launch of Maher Olfactive. I considered delaying the launch, but instead know that many could use perfume as a comfort much as I have been, exploring new ones and revisiting the comforting embrace of old favorites.
When naming the perfume, I considered the notes – tobacco, pipe tobacco, vanilla absolute, sweet almond, cocoa, whiskey, saffron, spices, davana and berries – and how these items are very tangible part of many of our everyday lives, but much like the famous painting by René Magritte, The Treachery of Images, states that “this is not a pipe” next to the image of a pipe, the same idea of the symbolic representation of an item created through olfactory art is not truly the item itself.
So I decided that the perfume would be called This Is Not a Pipe. Brilliant! So brilliant, of course, that Demeter had already released a perfume under this moniker. The Treachery of Images is a bit of a handful to fit on a label, so I moved to simply Treachery. And this made a lot of sense.
Many of the things that bring us pleasure also can bring harmful consequences. Smoking a pipe, pouring a couple fingers of a fine single-barrel bourbon, or even indulging in an exquisite meal. However, in moderation, these pleasures are worth the risk because our lives are finite, and what is the purpose of a life lived without pleasure? Would the extra time gained be worth it if completely devoid of pleasure? And with a pandemic reminding us of our own mortality, this idea of the treachery of hedonistic pleasures really resonated with me.
With that out of the way, we can discuss the composition and execution of this idea.
Tobacco, Vanilla, Bourbon and Cocoa
The idea began with this familiar combination of items. Nothing groundbreaking, but in part that is why it is so comforting. I wanted to begin with the familiar and make it new. So the perfume is centered around a big dose of tobacco absolute and vanilla absolute. The sweetness and booziness of the vanilla absolute made it a great bridge from this accord to the whiskey accord, which begins with a big dose of oakwood absolute, a scent of fine, barrel-aged bourbon, then is fortified by methyl octalactone (also known as the whiskey lactone) and guaiacol, a very boozy note in its own right. To add some more depth and fortify this bridge, I used Vanilys, a dirty vanilla note that makes me think of the stories of selecting the dirty vanilla absolute in the composition of Shalimar, along with ethyl vanillin.
In order to push the tobacco absolute into more of a pipe-type tobacco, I used the sweet almond and cherry-tinged notes of an accord headlined bypara toualdehyde. Then, considering the coumarin-type sweet hay notes of tobacco, I employed tonka bean, Coumarex (a richer coumarin note), then underneath that, an accord featuring natural ambergris and fortified by small doses of ambergris-type materials, ambrocenide and ambroxan. Finally, to give some weight and resinous depth to the accord, I used labdanum absolute, a Peru balsam accord, beeswax absolute and dark-aged patchouli.
Finally, notes of natural cocoa, cocoa aldehyde and chocovan added the powdery chocolate and cocoa sweetness to the accord. Not a thick, syrupy chocolate, but rather a crumbling bite of decdant dark chocolate or a comforting powdered cocoa.
Saffron, Spice, Berries and More
I really love a berry note with a rich, sweet note. It blends so smoothly. So I began with a variation of a berry and apricot accord that I originally made for Chatillon Lux’s Lamplight Penance, then added berryflor to give it some more vibrancy, then folded all of that into a big dose of davana essential oil, a fruity/berry floral that works well with tobacco notes in my experience. Finally, I used small doses of apricot essential oil and Cassifix, a cassis-type material
For the spice accord, I began with Kephailis, a spice that complements tobacco very well. However, that did not seem sufficient, so I began thinking more deeply on what kind of spice would work well. I realized that the leathery, rich spice of saffron was an ideal note. So I created an accord with Safranal, Safraleine, and Pyralone, among others. To help balance it, the cool spice of cardamom essential oil added another bridge to the main accord to offset the contrasting saffron accord, and then added some rosey, floral spice notes of pink pepper essential oil and red champaca absolute. And finally, tiny little sprinkles of Indian black pepper, black cumin (far more well behaved than the regular cumin I’ve experienced), cinnamon leaf essential oil and laurel leaf essential oil.
At this point, the composition was very, very dense. And the final composition is still one that I would consider perhaps the most dense composition that I have made. However, using Iso E Super, Clearwood and Hedione, I added some airy notes that would support the tobacco and berry accord while creating space in which to really allow the scent to develop and bloom on the skin. And while this is not a scent begs to be worn on the skin, like Crystal Moon, it does unfold delightfully when reacting with body heat but also would be decadent when sprayed onto a scarf, coat or shirt. It also works great as a nice, fragrantic hug while staying at home.
Treachery will be available on Saturday, January 18 at 12pm Eastern through not only Maher Olfactive, but also American Perfumer, a retail shop featuring the best independent perfumers that work to further the new American fronteirs of perfumery, but also Sealed Essence, a retailer that curates perfumers worldwide who use the most exquisite and carefully selected raw materials.
As much as I love perfume of all types, especially the experimental or wholly unique compositions from the wealth of modern independent perfumers, there are certain time-tested classics that I’ll always reach for. Whether it’s Eau Sauvage by Dior, Terre de Hermès or Vetiver by Guerlain, there’s a perfect balance in these between fresh notes and a vetiver underbelly that make it sing in harmony. With this type of classic structure in mind, I set out to find that perfect balance in my own signature style.
The result was a fresh prairie scent inspired by the roots of my little part of South Saint Louis City.
In the early days of Saint Louis, beyond the main part of the city, there were many hamlets. One of those included Carondelet, which would evolve into South City and the history of which has inspired many of my compositions. However, Soulard is another historic part of this city’s history. The farmer’s market from the 18th century still thrives today, but it was the surrounding fields and farms that are now populated by my favorite restaurants, watering holes, concert venues and art galleries that are at the heart of this.
Long-time followers of my work might remember Catalan’s Prairie, one of the first scents that I ever composed now almost six years ago. Catalan’s Prairie was the adjacent prairie and farmland to Carondelet, while La Petite Prairie was the farmland and prairie adjacent to Soulard, the French settlement just south of St. Louis proper. Soulard, which is right by the Anheuser Busch brewery, the Chatillon DeMenil mansion and, most relevantly, Chatillon Lux headquarters. It’s a beautiful, historic neighborhood that hosts the world’s second-largest Mardi Gras celebration. But more relevantly, the agricultural history and rolling prairies provide the perfect backdrop for this scent, created on the land where they once existed.
Laying the Foundation of Vetiver
First and foremost, this scent began with the construction of a vetiver base. I started off working with vetiver from Java, which is a little bit smoky and more on the woody end of the spectrum, alongside vetiver from Haiti. The Haitian vetiver is earthy, rooty and very tenacious. I enjoy using it in trace amounts in certain compositions (it’s a secret weapon in 88 Chestnut Eau de Cologne), and so in this vetiver base I used less than half the amount as I did the Javan vetiver.
However, that was just the beginning. In order to smooth out the rough edges of vetiver and make them seamlessly connect to what was meant to be a fresh, bright perfume, there was some work to do. I used a few materials to accomplish this, all analogs of a vetiver-type scent. I used vetiveryl acetate, both a Javanese-type and a Haitian-type, to emphasize the woody aspects, then combined them with Vertenex HC and vetival. However, the final touch was a material that I absolutely love, Vetikone, which has a vetiver and grapefruit type of aroma. Perfect!
And in order to fill out the gaps and add a touch more weight to the base, I used myrrh, styrax and elemi essential oils. These are deep and rich incense notes, perfect to supplement the facets of Javanese vetiver that I wished to bring out to anchor this composition. Finally, I also used the old standby, Iso E Super, to give some texture and air to the woody notes.
Florals…But not a Bouquet
When filling out the middle notes of this composition, I immediately sought to bring in the two classic floral notes for these types of perfumes: geranium and carnation.
In the carnation accord, I, of course, used a heavy dose of both benzyl salicylate, a balsamic note that goes very well with this type of vetiver base, as well as eugenol and dihydro eugenol. These notes are essential for these types of spicy floral accords, and many would perceive these as clove-type notes. However, I didn’t want to make this overly spicy, so I kept the eugenol low and added some laurel leaf essential oil and caryophyllene beta to make it a more subtle carnation accord. Finally, I put in a little touch of anisyl acetate and benzyl benzoate to help give it a more silky feel.
I began my geranium accord with my favorite geranium essential oil for use in a subtle way: South African essential oil. I also microdosed petitgrain sur fleur essential oil, a more woody version of the sharp petitgrain note. However, I also created a supplementary geranium accord that celebrates the fruity side of it, led by geraniol, citronellol, linalool, alpha pinene and geranyl acetate. However, I wanted to make this a fresh, crisp scent, so I dug out the more minty notes of geranium, specifically with methyl salicylate, a wintergreen-type note, in a small quantity. Finally, a bit of blue gum eucalyptus essential oil finished off the fresh, minty note that I was searching for.
Finally, in the tradition started with Edmond Roudnitska’s Eau Sauvage and carried on through countless fragrances in this vein, I used a big dose of hedione. That breezy, light note that is almost like jasmine, but a jasmine note in the same way that sparkling water has fruit flavoring. It’s definitely there, but it’s very transparent.
Finally, I used the fresh laundry musk of Galaxolide and Mahoganate, a fresh woody note, to ensure that fresh, breezy feel that I wanted to work in spite of the minty, spicy notes. To further that feel, Sichuan pepper essential oil worked out very nicely in the way that it adds a sparkle and bright spice, as opposed to its more staunchy black pepper counterpart.
Finally, the top notes. A citrus note works so well with vetiver already, especially with the grapefruit tinge that Vetikone brings out of a vetiver accord. However, I wanted to balance it out, so I began with Rhubofix in a large dose. This rhubarb note has a strong grapefruit type undertone and really works to make the top notes almost tea-like. Additionally, a mandarin accord and green mandarin essential oil keep building the subtle citrus, while Amarocite adds a juicy punch of biting into a slice of pink grapefruit with the juice dribbling down your chin. It’s a small dose, but important.
Next, I added a natural pineapple essential oil from Robertet. It is not like the candy pineapple used in so many fragrances, but a natural, juicy note that smells like the entire fruit. Very natural, but not overly sweet.
However, I wanted to keep with the prairie vibe so I made a little bit of a green undertone with some green citrus type notes. First of all, litsea cubeba essential oil has some lemongrass and citrus notes, but it also has a rich, herbaceous undertone that adds some gravity to a citrus accord. Additionally, stemone added a watery green leafy note to the accord, French lavender essential oil a silkiness and oakmoss absolute (IFRA compliant) gave it an anchor.
The result of all of this is an immensely wearable fragrance that will appeal to fragrance aficionados and those who want an easy perfume to wear alike. It’s office-friendly, but also versatile enough to wear on a night out, a day in the sun or even a formal event after this pandemic passes.
I am proud to put my own stamp on this grand tradition of perfumery and excited to share it with you. The fragrance will release on June 13, but the shaving products will be more tentative due to supply chain and labor issues related to COVID-19. I also hope to have a limited amount of the EdT samples available shortly, so keep an eye on social media or sign up for the mailing list to stay up to date on all the latest news.
I am not much for being on camera. At all. But since we’re all stuck at home and many of us, including myself, are enjoying perfume as a way to bring beauty into these difficult times, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk.
Hopefully I will make some more and get better…and remember to pick up that bag off the floor while not accidentally revealing how old I am. There’s only room for improvement. But without further ado:
When I was composing the initial new release for the Maher Olfactive launch, I wanted it to be the most indulgent perfume that I could imagine. Something that was both daring and familiar, luxurious yet imaginative, comforting yet kind of cold.
This led to the initial inspiration, a material that I’ve long wanted to put at the center of a perfume, but one that would require my utmost creativity: osmanthus absolute. There were two obstacles for me to overcome. One was creating a surrounding perfume as interesting as the material itself, which is quite complex. It’s simultaneously warm and fuzzy while also being bright and uplifting. A floral with facets of stone fruits and tea, but also with an almost leathery note.
And while I do love osmanthus perfumes that so often emphasize the leather, warm aspects of the material, I challenged myself to go in the other direction. Find the bright, fruity and tea-like aspects of the material to both exalt and complement.
As I was working on some early accords for this perfume, I was researching osmanthus in culture. I found a legend that really helped me finalize the feeling that I was trying to reach. That is where the idea of making this feel like living on the moon in a crystal palace.
There was a legend of Chang’e, a princess who was banished to live on the moon in a crystal palace. Also living there was a type of Sisyphean character named Wu Gang, who worked continually trimming a giant osmanthus tree from overtaking the palace. No matter how much he swung his ax, the tree kept healing.
Giant, uncontainable osmanthus combined with a shimmering palace in the soft, lunar light? That did the trick.
Priming the Osmanthus
First, in order to bring out the aspects of osmanthus absolute that I wanted to highlight in this perfume, I added a few modifiers meant to not be noticed, but rather guide the spotlight. The rooty, orris notes of irival and sweetness of heliotropyl acetate, and just the slightest tobacco-flower touch of liatrix absolute added a backbone to the floral tea aspect of osmanthus.
To enhance to stone-fruit aspect, I employed a small dose of peachy gamma-undecalactone (see Guerlain’s Mitsuko for reference), apricot essential oil and a fresh, clean berry accord of mine that is also used more prominently in Lamplight Penance, strawberry glycidate, dimethyl benzyl carbonate (a dry plum/tobacco note) and a blackberry tincture that I made from dried blackberries. Finally, I created a raspberry accord that began with raspberry ketone so it would not be overly tart, but a deferential sweetness that blended seamlessly with the fortified osmanthus.
Finally, to round everything out, elemi essential oil and galbanum resinoid create a sticky incense undertone just below the surface, while anisic aldehyde and aurantiol pull out the rich, blossomy notes of osmanthus.
Finding Complements to Osmanthus
While I so often try to find stark contrasts in my perfume compositions, Crystal Moon relies more on complementary notes. The first and foremost is the use of lavender flowers. This is an essential oil made solely from the purple flowers of lavender with none of the green stems or leaves. This eliminates the camphorous, spicy green notes of lavender. What remains is the smooth, silky and sweet lavender notes that add a plush vibe to the osmanthus.
Next, jonquil absolute pulled the rich, fruity notes out a little bit more while adding a deeper anchor to the overall floral composition. To add a counter balance, I found that juniper berry essential oil staked its ground firmly between the sultry sweetness of the jonquil and the velvet sweetness of the lavender, finding common ground but adding some uplifting light to each. This airy, cosmic bent was further ratcheted up with hinoki wood essential oil, a Japanese cypress plant that is a soft, green resinous wood that adds to that ephemeral quality.
Finally, I had been looking for a way to create a bridge from these notes to the base notes. It finally hit me one morning as I was enjoying my favorite way to start the day: a meticulously brewed cup of coffee from my neighbor and (in my biased opinion) the best coffee roaster in the world, Sump Coffee. This was from the Yirgacheffe region of Ethiopia, known for fruity, floral and juicy varietals of beans. From a processor called Mystic Valley, no less, which fit in perfectly with the thematic elements of the scent story. This coffee featured notes of juicy stone fruit, jasmine and other florals. Perfect! So I created a coffee tincture to add an acidic coffee note, far different from the rich, roasty and chocolate notes of the dark roast coffee you may find at your favorite doughnut store.
The Lunar Base
When thinking about movement on the moon, it’s slow, deliberate and weightless. So with the base, I worked to do the same. I create a resinous amber note that included vanilla, bicyclononalactone and beeswax absolute with a lot of labdanum absolute and even more clearwood, a light, woody note slightly reminiscent of patchouli without the earthiness adds a ton of space to what would be a very dense composition. This accord is more noticeable in its effect than to the nose, creating a very long lasting base note that extends the fragrance and really smooths everything over, creating a hazy lunar surface glow to everything.
The floral composition was further anchored with ethylene brassylate, as well, creating more depth and stateliness. At the same time, a dose of vetikone (think of the more citrus-y elements of vetiver) emphasizes the fruity tea notes.
I believe this is the type of perfume that really both tells the story and creates a true reflection of the story’s setting. The subtlety required is often much more difficult to pull off, especially with a material like osmanthus absolute. But I believe this is a worthy chapter in a storied note in the history of perfume: osmanthus.
Crystal Moon Eau de Parfum will be available on April 28, 2020, when Maher Olfactive launches. I am very excited to share this story with you.