A fragrance is a liquid mixture that emits a pleasant odour when it is applied to the skin. It can be made of natural aromatic extracts from plants and spices or synthetic perfume chemicals created in a laboratory. Fragrances are used to smell good but also as a means of self-expression and communication. A perfume may be worn for an occasion, a particular mood or to create an impression on a stranger. The most common types of perfume include parfum, cologne and aftershave. Fragrance mixes can cause allergies, rashes and respiratory distress if not carefully selected and applied. Perfume is a specialised area of perfumery and many of the world’s top perfumers have their own studios in which they work and experiment.
A perfumer works with a large number of ingredients to produce the scent for a particular perfume. The concept for a perfume can be constructed from a few basic elements: a head, a heart and a base. A head is the first impression of a scent and consists of one or more top notes, such as citrus, light fruits, flowers or herbs. A heart is the middle part of a perfume and contains the floral or woody elements of a fragrance. A base is the final and longest lasting part of a perfume, often containing heavier materials such as amber or vanilla. A perfumer will usually have a series of blotters on which to sample different mixtures. A perfume can be roughed out on these and then refined once the client has given feedback on a prototype.
The process of making a perfume begins with gathering the raw ingredients from their natural sources. These can be plant substances, fatty animal oils or synthetic aroma compounds. These are then transported to a manufacturing centre, where they are mixed with diluents such as alcohol or water. The final product is sold in various concentrations called extrait, EdP, EDT and EdC depending on the level of perfume oil used. Each perfume will have a slightly different composition of perfume oils as each perfumery or perfume house has its own recipes and the amounts of diluents used. For example, Chanel No. 5 may have a higher concentration of oils in its extrait than an EdT or EdC from the same perfumery.
Once a fragrance is blended, it will be aged for months to years in a dark and cool place. The aging process allows for continuing blending to refine the perfume and to add other ingredients, such as stabilisers and preservatives, to increase its shelf life and stability. During the aging process, the perfumer will continually smell the fragrance on a paper blotter, referred to in the industry as a’mouillettes’.
The term fragnance is often used as a synonym for perfume, but this can be misleading, as the word perfume can refer to all types of fragrances including natural and synthetic chemical ones. The perfumer will also use a ‘depuffing blotter’ to remove excess liquid from the skin after application of a perfume or cologne, before reapplying. This is often necessary for those who wear perfumes regularly, especially if they have an oily skin type.