Behind the Scents: Join me in the Creative Process for Maher Olfactive and Chatillon Lux

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.

Keep checking back here and, more importantly, follow @MaherOlfactive and @ChatillonLux on social media. You can also sign up for both houses’ respective email lists at MaherOlfactive.com and ChatillonLux.com to find out new as it happens.

Scent Notes: Sumemer Refreshment from Agua Fresca by Chatillon Lux

Years ago, I created a scent for a brand. However, during the process, the whole thing went sideways and we had to part ways. This left me with a formula that I liked but had no use for, so I released it as a limited edition called Nonaginta. The name came from its inspiration from my childhood. As someone who came of age in the 90s, it took from those types of unisex citrus and fruit scents that came to define the decade.

Nonaginta became a cult classic in the Chatillon Lux history. I had many requests to add it to the line. However, it wasn’t personal enough. It hit some nostalgic buttons for me, but there was no connection to my life or to St. Louis.

I realized recently, years down the road, how I could change that. My home is close to the Cherokee Street Historic District, which is home to the city’s best and most authentic taquerias (and if you’re local, yes, I added the “city” qualifier because I know the county has some killer joints, as well). And because I really love an agua fresca to help quench the fires of hot sauce on delicious, delicious food, it hit me that this was the direction that this fragrance should head.

The Top Notes

Unsurprisingly, this juice starts off with a melange of tropical fruits. It contains the citrus of a yuzu accord, an apricot essential oil, a lime accord based on the candy-like lime oxide, a melon accord with the 90s-tastic calone as well as the apple-tinged musk zenolide, a strawberry accord featuring strawberry glycidate and cassiffix, and a pineapple essential oil. Both the apricot and pineapple are distilled by Robertet, a premier natural raw materials house.

Halfway Down the Drink

However, this is a watery drink, and so a watery cucumber accord with isoraldeine 95, sagecete, pinene alpha and the watery green-floral materials of vernaldehyde, precyclemone and bourgeonal work in the background to make the scent feel more refreshing.

And of course, since this is the 90s, there was a good dose of the fruity, jasmine-lite material of hedione. It adds a lot of air to the fragrance, making it feel like summer. Very drinkable.

At the Bottom of the Cup

The base notes of this are cream and vetiver. The vetiver is used sparingly, as a weight to the rest of the fragrance, with the strategic use of a Haitian vetiver that’s light and bright, as well as vetikone, a material that emphasizes the grapefruit rind aspect of vetiver so that it would blend in with its surroundings.

Next, a creamy note reflects some of the sweeter aspects of certain agua frescas. This starts with a coconutty gamma nonalactone and is reinforced with the creamy, tonka spice of bicyclononalactone and ice cream vanilla of ethyl vanillin.

Finally, a couple of white musks, helvetolide and romanolide, sit in the background, adding freshness and weight without being noticed.

Now, we have a drink mixed the way I’d like it to be. If you’re a 90s child or just enjoy a fresh, refreshing summer scent, Agua Fresca will be here on Saturday, June 4 with an EdT from Chatillon Lux as well as a shaving soap and aftershave from Declaration Grooming. Cheers!

Notes include melon, apricot, yuzu, pineapple, strawberry, cucumber, vetiver and cream

Red Skies from Maher Olfactive: A Maritime Chypre

From the first time I heard it as a kid, the expression always seemed so mystical and full of wonder. Red skies at night, sailors delight. Red Skies in morning, sailors take warning. For a kid who only knew about the high seas from books and stories, it fed into the larger-than-life idea of life at sea.

And of course, it is a statement of dichotomy and juxtaposition. That idea of juxtaposition is one of my favorite in fragrance: the idea of taking two opposing notes to pull the most interesting parts of each other to the forefront.

So I tried to imagine what type of scent I would imagine representing this aphorism. I kept imagining a chypre, the scent genre named after the island of Cyprus, as a representative of this traditional bulwark of a fragrance. Against that, top notes of ocean air, tropical florals and citrus, bright and delightful, while underneath a storm of moss, leather and vetiver brewed.

I began with a more traditional chypre structure of bergamot essential oil, oakmoss absolute, labdanum and a floral. In this case, not rose, but jasmine absolute, davana essential oil and a ylang ylang accord meant to emphasize the fruity aspects, knowing the base notes would do plenty to pull out the more animalic notes of these two throaty florals. Finally, instead of a spicy note, the woody and citric incense note of elemi essential oil would lend itself to the idea of planks from a seagoing vessel.

On the top of it all was kaffir lime leaf essential oil, both zesty citrus and shimmering, rich greenery. The leaves that shade the boat in the port. Next, an ocean air accord utilized some of the less-common suspects, a more grapefruity and light and airy selection rather than some of the more suffocating choices for what would normally be considered aquatic. I wanted to lean more towards a bright-skies maritime, so I selected precyclemone b, aphermate, aquamate and, to give it a bite, ginger essential oil and green cognac essential oil to offset a touch of the melon-y calone. The result is a crisp and almost salty citrus sea air accord.

This base would include a leather accord, a worn leather, which leans on the labdanum essential oil. It adds a few spices to the mix, dark-aged patchouli for a tanned leather aspect, and beeswax absolute to reflect that warm sweetness that leather has after it has been handled for generations. Finally, a little bit of the traditional isobutyl quinoline gives it that spicy bite. Finally, an ambergris tincture gives it a salty finish while being weighted by the Tonkin-leaning muscenone musk. Additionally, a double-distilled vetiver removes many of the more dirty qualities, giving it a purely rooty quality that reinforces both the oakmoss and seaweed absolute in the base.

The end result is a maritime chypre, something that feels old and new, traditional and contemporary. It truly is a juxtaposition of bright skies and a raging storm. So far it has received a great response from most who have tested it, and so I am excited to release it for Maher Olfactive’s second birthday on April 30, 2022. In the meantime, all purchases until then will receive a sample. Scent notes include kaffir lime leaf, bergamot, ocean air, jasmine, orange blossom, davana, elemi, ylang ylang, vetiver, oakmoss, labdanum, leather and musk.

Sagan Dalya by Maher Olfactive: Fresh, Rich and Resinous

Sometimes, when you smell a material for the first time, everything just clicks. When I first opened the bottle of Siberian rhododendron essential oil, the multifaceted aspect of this amazing material got the gears turning in my head immediately. 

Long-time readers will know that most of these columns begin with me discussing the story behind the scent, some memory or inspiration. However, this time it was simply the material. Sagan dalya is another name for the tea in Buryat, and Tibet is of the cultures that uses it as medicine. It is said to cure many ailments and prolong life.

However, this is perfume and not tea, so I won’t make any of those claims (plus, you know, liability). What I will say, though, is that this evergreen shrub produces a flower that contains many worlds within. 

At the forefront is a crisp, fruity note. It’s not a fruit you could put your finger on, and not the overripe kind, but one that lends itself to a nice counterbalance to the terpenic evergreen undertones. There is also a wine-like richness underneath that, which immediately made the connection to the next material. 

I knew from first sniff that I had finally found a perfect partner for the tagete marigold absolute that I had been holding on to for a while, just waiting for the perfect time to deploy it. This is another fruity flower, with a red-apple-type note and also a slight wine tinge in the ripeness of the fruit note. There’s also a touch of chamomile to it, but I pushed the apple a little bit more to the forefront with a micro dose of damascone delta, a very complementary note and one that is gives an apple touch often to rose accords. 

These two notes needed to be grounded with more weight in the middle, so that is how I came up with the next two materials. First is immortelle absolute, a rich, honeyed flower. It can also be spicy, but I did not want the spice to dominate, simply complement, so I enhanced the honeyed aspect with beeswax absolute. 

To further fill this middle note out and lead into the base, I added tobacco absolute. The absolute can be a bit amorphous and not as full-bodied as I would like. So to give it more of the rich tobacco note that I was seeking, I filled out the tobacco accord with the plummy note of pyroprunat, then with the subtle spices (and a subtle addition) of a naturally extracted caryophyllene beta (which I find to be slightly more mild) and kephalis, a note that really makes tobacco accords feel fresh out of the tin to my nose. 

Finally, the base. I had this one in mind from the jump, as well. First I took a Spanish labdanum absolute, a rich, smooth warm ambery blanket of a resinous note. Then I added a Spanish labdanum essential oil, which obviously shares many of the same qualities, but I find the essential oil to have an almost fruity and balsamic quality that would tie the whole thing together. Both of these notes, however, are so rich that I did not want to risk letting them get muddy, so I added a tonquitone musk, just a touch, to give it a boost that would allow it to be more present earlier in the evolution of the scent. Finally, a cypriol essential oil, one that is often used in faux oud accords, provides a green, woody undertone for the base in order to provide more texture. 

The result of all of this is a very comforting fragrance, one that is thick yet fresh, relaxing yet uplifting. It can feel very versatile. However, I always say my perfumes were meant to be WORN on SKIN, and this is the perfect example. The evolution of this scent requires body heat, worn over the course of the day, just as perfumes were originally intended when they first came about in the ancient times. And I find that appropriate for this perfume, a perfume with the highest natural content I’ve ever made, something that feels timeless but yet with some modern elements in order to help organize and clarify the construction. 

Not only I, but also others in my life, have been wearing this since the batch finally matured. Due to the high level of absolutes and resins, the maturation process took much longer than usual, but I am very pleased with how it has rounded out. 

This perfume will be released on November 19. Siberian rhododendron is not the most readily available (or affordable) material, so I have made as big of a batch as I can. I won’t sell out immediately (or likely any time soon), but if there is ever a gap in availability, please keep this in mind. It is all part of seeking out rare and interesting materials, unfortunately. 

I am very excited to share this with you and hope it brings you as much joy as it has been providing me. 

1904: Revisiting the World’s Fair

In Saint Louis, the 1904 World’s Fair came along at at the perfect time to leave a lasting impact on the city. It was on the verge of becoming a major textile manufacturing hub, leading to a boom in population in the early 20th century.

Forest Park, the largest urban park in the United States, still features a lot of architecture from this event it hosted, including the Saint Louis Art Museum (and Art Hill with its Grand Basin), the Saint Louis Zoo and the Muny Theater.

However, attendees at the time (including my great grandparents) saw things that they could have never imagined in the age before efficient mass communications. Things like ice cream cones, iced tea and other culinary trends are said to have launched, not to mention several Saint Louis coffee roasters, some of which are still in operation today.

Coffee may have been the original inspiration, but in working with it, I realized that I found it worked so much better in tandem with other notes than as the star of the show. With that in mind, I created something that was vibrant, with contrasts in scents and textures to bring out the best in each with this diverse array.

Coffee, Cardamom, Sandalwood and the Base

For the coffee note, I started off with a CO2 extracted coffee bean essential oil, which is rich and full, but it’s a coffee bean scent that does not fully encapsulate a brewed cup of coffee. It’s a worlds away from the Ethiopian coffee bean tincture that I made for Crystal Moon in the Maher Olfactive line. So I added some nuttiness from pyrazine materials. Additionally, I checked out some GC/MS analysis of coffee, leading me to add strawberry furfural (a little bit different than the actual material, but it blended better with the jasmine accord), guiaicol and kephalis.

Since creating a Porch Drinks-inspired scent with Carnavis & Richardson and Catie’s Bubbles, I’ve known that cardamom’s cool spice goes great with coffee. And this note I feel works well with the sandalwood accord, a bacadnol, sandalore, ebanol and javanol accord with methyl octalactone to enhance the creaminess (since cream and coffee go together so well).

Next, I used a big dose of a material called cashmeran. It has a very distinctive texture, a woody note that is so vibrantly textured that you can almost feel it. This fills up all of these notes and makes them positively dance. It’s complemented by tonquitone, a more traditional musk, rich and syrupy.

Jasmine and Lime

This is pretty simple. I used a stripped down jasmine accord that I’ve used before, in part because so many coffees that I love have a jasmine note. However, in this accord, I did add a couple of elements that are found in jasmine in nature, but that I had not included with previous iterations of this accord: fresh, zesty methyl benzoate and the light, airy hexyl cinnamate note (used both due to its nature-identical structure as well as its ability to avoid the sensitivity that cinnamon naturals cause).

Finally, I started thinking about the feeling that cashmeran gave to the base and wanted to give something similar to the jasmine. I used lime oxide, a juicy, idealized lime note that is more stable and does not cause photosensitivity, in order to keep the zesty, electrified feeling throughout the entire formula.

This composition may not be as intricate as others, but the materials were carefully selected to work both in tandem and in contrast. I wanted to reflect that feeling of discovery and realization that the world is bigger and more amazing than you ever could have imagined. 1904 will be released in late September (date TBA) in the Chatillon Lux line, plus Declaration Grooming will be making a soap and aftershave with the scent, as well.

Benton Park for American Perfumer: Evolving Tradition with Tuberose and Vetiver

For the past year, I’ve been working with Dave Kern from on a new perfume. After releasing Madame Chouteau, he and I were talking about perfumes, as we tend to do. Of course, as two guys who adore vetiver, we spoke about the terroirs and the infinite possibilities of this wildly varied root. Maybe it was the same conversation or one in close proximity, but we also spoke about tuberose. It’s a great note, but the absolute always tends to end up in a thick, dense accord, whether it’s a floral bouquet or tightly woven accords, this absolute ends up being staunchly framed, ignoring the uplifting zestiness that one smells when sniffing the air around the flower itself.

I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. So I began researching headspace analysis of tuberose, which determines the molecules in the air around the living flower rather than the absolute extracted from a harvested flower. It gave me the exact inspiration I was searching for, this modern technology finding a way to find a new lens through which to view this traditional note. Not reinvented, but to repeat a word, reframed.

So I hurriedly composed the first version and sent it off to Louisville. We knew we had something special, but we also decided to take our time and fully realize what we wanted to do with it. One year later, and here we are.

We will talk more about that process later. But first, why the name Benton Park?

Benton Park is one of my favorite historical neighborhoods in Saint Louis. It sits between my home neighborhood of Marine Villa and the oldest neighborhood in Saint Louis, Soulard (where my new scent studio is located, as well!). The actual park itself is located just a few blocks north of me, and the name itself pays homage to Thomas Hart Benton, whose regionalist painting style was inspired by our shared river city hometown.

Funnily enough, among the up-and-coming artists that Benton mentored was Jackson Pollock. This metaphor is perfect for the fragrance: the contrast of old and new, traditionalism vs abstract expressionism. Just like Benton Park, where centuries-old buildings, including the Anheuser-Busch brewery, frame an urban revitalization fueled by new ideas and fresh perspectives.

For a fragrance based on a headspace analysis of tuberose complemented by a palette of natural vetiver of various characteristics solely dependent on the region of their origin, the parallels between these juxtapositions are perfect.

Before we dig into the two accords, I must say that the fulcrum of this fragrance lies completely within methyl benzoate. This material, featured in both tuberose and gardenia, is minty but with a texture you can almost feel with your fingertips when you smell it, one that immediately evokes the same feeling that I get from a great vetiver. I’ve also heard that methyl benzoate is also what drug-sniffing dogs seek out when they search for coke, so I guess it’s addicting to sniff no matter what format.

However, the two biggest components of this tuberose accord are limonene, a bright, citrus zesty note, and methyl salicylate, an cold, spearmint note. The minty freshness of tuberose is further fortified by blue gum eucalyptus essential oil, which shares a good amount of its composition with similar molecules in the tuberose headspace analysis, while the piney/citrus floral builder of alpha terpineol works in tandem with the limonene.

To fill out the accord further, I used methyl tuberate (the name should give this one away), and then an onslaught of notes to create the fleshy, fruity body of the tuberose without getting too heavy: gamma decalactone (creamy peach), dimethyl benzyl carbinyl butyrate (plummy), raspberry ketone (a fruity floral note) and benzyl alcohol (fruity jasmine).

While those notes were slightly interpreted from the headspace, where we really got into some fun abstraction was the green accord, from what was found in the headspace (cis 3 hexenyl tiglate) to some of our own expressions (violet leaf absolute and irival, a watery green orris material). Finally, eugenol and methyl diantilis make up the small touch of spicy notes that finished off the entire thing, with just a touch of vanillin pulling the whole thing together.

The vetiver accord, however, is based on three vetivers. A double distilled vetiver smooths out all the rough edges of the vetiver, creating a rich, elegant base. Vetiver from India creates more of a woody, green note, while the earthy grassiness of Haitian vetiver gives it a stronger top note and bridges the gap to the tuberose perfectly.

And finally, a trio of musks ground the whole thing and give it levity. Ethyl brassylate gives a strong body to the floral notes, while ambrettolide accentuates the nuttiness of vetiver and muscenone gives the whole thing an edge. Nothing menacing, but it really makes the texture stand out.

I truly believe this is a perfume lover’s perfume. One that appeals to students of the history of perfume, or really one for those who love vetiver, love pushing art beyond the possibilities of artificial constraints and one that can redefine what tuberose can be, who wears it and how it is perceived.

There will only be 25 bottles released, all of which are only available through American Perfumer’s lottery system. Contact us to be entered into the lottery to get a chance to purchase one of the 25 bottles. And the unlucky 26th person to be selected will win a free bottle. This is one of the few perfumes that I’ve worn consistently since it was completed, and I know Dave has, too. We both are very excited to share this with you and can’t wait to let you smell it.