How Perfume Is Created

Perfume is a mixture of fragrant essential oils or aroma compounds, fixatives and solvents, usually in liquid form, used to give the human body, food, animals, objects and living spaces an agreeable scent. It’s a combination of art, science and personal expression. Understanding the perfumery process, different concentrations and olfactive categories can help you discover the fragrances that best suit your personality, lifestyle and personal style.

A good perfume can be as much a work of art as a painting or piece of music. It’s a multifaceted blend of floral, oriental, woody, fruity or fresh. It may be evocative of a particular place or time, reminiscent of a happy memory or just a way to feel good.

The first step in creating a perfume is sourcing the perfumery oils. The raw materials can be of natural or synthetic origin. Perfumers use steam distillation for many oils and a cold process called enfleurage for some delicate flowers. The perfumer then combines these oils with fixatives which prevent them from evaporating at the same rate, making the perfume last longer. The most common animal fixatives are musk from the male musk deer and hyraceum (a resin from petrified civet glands), castoreum (a wax from beavers) and ambergris (whale vomit).

Once the perfume oil is formulated, a base note or base accord is added. This provides a foundation on which other notes are added and helps to balance the overall structure of the perfume. It’s a complex mix of ingredients and often takes years to perfect.

Many perfumers will also add a range of additives to enhance the performance of the fragrance and to make it more appealing or desirable for certain occasions. These might include aphrodisiac ingredients, such as cinnamon or vanilla; musky notes like oakmoss and patchouli; herbal scents like thyme or sage; powdery or woody notes like sandalwood and cedar; or fresh ingredients such as bergamot and citrus fruits.

Perfume is applied to the skin using a roller or spray, a solid perfume stick or a perfume cloth. The fragrance is absorbed into the pores and released when the wearer moves or sweats. The perfume’s projection and sillage, the distance that it projects and the length of its ‘fragrant trail’ when someone walks past, are important aspects for most people. It is these factors that are usually reviewed in perfume reviews. Reviewers can sometimes be a little subjective, but are usually very honest and can offer a good insight into the characteristics of a perfume. They also often use sensory words, such as ‘crisp’ or ‘fresh’ versus ‘warm’ or’soft’, to convey their sensory experience of a perfume.