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.

Sunrise on LaSalle: Fresh and Unexpected

As the world turns a corner and optimism abounds, it feels like the sun is rising on a new chapter. With that in mind, I have been thinking about bright, pleasant scents, but scents that do not smell like anything that we’re used to. Something new and unexpected.

When I think of bright, pleasant scents, I think about the floral market on LaSalle Ave. It’s one of the oldest in the country and supplies florists all over with flowers. In the morning, the dew coats the plants, while inside freshly cut flowers, wooden planters and other uplifting scents abound. That was the jumping off point for Sunrise on LaSalle.

While the top note of Sunrise on LaSalle is pear, the fragrance begins with a geranium essential oil from South Africa. This is a fruity and piquant essential oil is fortified with fruity, rosey elements that also link it to the pear note: alpha damascone (apple with a touch of mint), rhodinol (lemony rose/geranium) and givescone (spicy fruity rosey). These play a role in supporting the major players in the pear accord (which we will get to in a second), as well as emphasize both the lemony and spicy aspects of geranium that make it pair so well with the pear. Finally, methyl salicylate, a wintergreen/spearmint note, is used in a very small amount to add a crisp freshness to both the pear and the geranium notes.

Next, the pear accord revolves around a material called hexyl acetate, which smells quite a bit like pear. There’s a pear skin-type note called peranat, plus a couple notes to give it a more creamy texture: apritone and nectaryl, meant to make the pear accord more meaty. Finally, leaf alcohol (aka cis-3-hexanol) gives it a richness to anchor the accord, it’s rich green combining with the more biting top notes of the accord to create a juicy pear note.

The jasmine tea note utilizes a jasmine accored that I’ve employed before, while also using a big dose of both hedione and hedione hc to give everything some air to breathe, while clearwood adds an earthiness that one would expect from tea. Finally, the tea leaf texture is emphasized with clarycet, a sage/tea type note, as well as hexyl salicylate, an ethereal green note.

Finally, a Virginian cedar essential oil slots complements the geranium quite a bit, with its spicy top notes and rich, moist undertones, much like a cedar chest. I lighten this up a bit with iso e super, then further round out the base of the fragrance with ethylene brassylate, a great musk for florals and fruit, and galaxolide, to really finish off everything with a big fresh musk note. Finally, an atranol-free oakmoss absolute may not be noticeable, but it brings out so much of the cedar and tea that the fragrance wouldn’t be the same without it.

Sunrise on LaSalle will be released as an eau de toilette, as well as a soap and aftershave from Declaration Grooming, on May 1 at 12pm Eastern. I may have a few samples left from the test batch on the website, but if those run out then I will have more upon release.

Sun Soaked Eau de Parfum: Contemplative Fun in the Sun

I have always loved the phrase, sun soaked. The idea that something was so saturated with sunshine that it would overflow. On a sun-soaked day, the air always is thick with scent, the solar energy causing a vibrant, radiant feeling.

So now, in a season of both springtime renewal and also renewed hope, I composed two perfumes inspired by sunshine, brightness and optimism. One of which, Sunrise on LaSalle for Chatillon Lux, I will discuss soon. However, Sun Soaked Eau de Parfum for Maher Olfactive is unlike any that I have made so far. Bright and fresh, yet deep and complex. It is focused on neroli, but it is supported underneath by elements woven together to form one unified tale to tell with many facets to explore.

As I mentioned, neroli is the focus of this perfume. The blossom of the bitter orange tree, neroli features both bitter orange facets and narcotic white flower aspects all at once, providing it an opportunity for exploration throughout.

I began everything with a neroli absolute from Egypt, fortifying it with a bitter orange (orange bigarade) petitgrain essential oil, which refers to the branches and leaves of the orange bigarade tree. Additionally, in order to make the note pop, I fortified it with small doses of neryl acetate and rhubofix, a sparking, effervescent rhubarb note used in a very small dose to give the shimmering sunshine vibe to the top note. Finally, a small dash of cypriol grounds the accord and acts as a way to connect it to a narcissus absolute, an absolutely beautiful one that is the same that I used in this year’s version of Madame Chouteau. These add a rich, fruity floral yet throaty floral note to add a counterpoint without weighing things down too much.

Naturally, this leads into the orange bigarade note. The foundation for this note has already been laid. In order to avoid the typical pulpy orange overload, I used a delicate hand, simply using corps oranger, another orange/orange blossom note, and a tamarind base that is also green, mandarin and slightly aldehydic. I used a C-10 aldehyde, a citrus orange sparkle, to further enhance these sunshine citrus notes.

Finally, apritone (an apricot-type note) and vetikone (a grapefruit peel/vetiver note) add a creamy fruity note and a citrus peel bitterness to the composition, respectively.

Next, a black currant bud absolute keeps pushing the narcissus to the fruity side, especially when fortified with a bit of cassifix, which enhances the fruity quality of black currant. A splash of damascene alpha, an apple note found in some of the fruitier roses, further softens up the black currant note and adds to the joyful vibe of the top notes.

Now I was faced with how to start to bring some gravity to this composition without sacrificing the sunshine brilliance that I hoped to preserve. I came up with a solution: a chamomile absolute that is far more rich and complex than other chamomiles I have smelled, far less tea-like and more fruity green and almost vaguely syrupy, but more sappy than what you would put on pancakes, as well as a tinge of apple, as well.

Finally, in the base is a Texas cedar, not a huge dose, but enough to add some terpenic aspects in addition to a rich, deep woodiness. And then the final touch, the amber accord.

This amber accord is heavy on the labdanum absolute and light on the ethyl vanillin, keeping it from venturing into the overly thick or powdery territory, but rather adding a sense of fullness and longevity, the idea of air saturated with sunshine. Iso e super also keeps it lighter than the typical amber accord, as well as olibanum frankincense and elemi essential oils. Finally, the accord uses habanolide and ambrettolide musks, to round everything out and add just a touch of bared teeth to it. And last but not least, beeswax absolute adds some sweetness while also further enhancing the sunshine day in the country sense.

I’m excited about this new scent, as it is the first addition to the Maher Olfactive line to be so lighthearted. But I still fully believe that it retains the same fullness and complexity that is the hallmark of the line. There are still limited samples available from the test batch, but when those are out the full release will be available on May 15.

Orris Forest: A Hike to the Meramec River

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.

Tempo Rubato: A Celebration of Timeless, Natural Beauty

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.