Historic facts and points of interest in perfumery and scents

Why perfumes should be synonymous with Luxury?

 …’Coeur d’Île’ expresses all that the Seychelles islands encompass…

Coeur d’Ile makes you travel to the Indian Ocean islands

As I am about to launch ‘Coeur d’Île‘, the Signature perfume of  the Station Perfumery Seychelles , I wanted to reflect on the reasons why Perfumes seem to have lost their Luxury feel in the last decades.

While preparing Coeur d’Ile, my mind was travelling back to when I was 15 and the Parfum FIDJI and its eternal slogan ‘The woman is an island – Fidji is its perfume‘ was given to me as a gift. My family had then just moved back to Europe after years in the exotic island of New Caledonia;  it was cold and the adjustment to the new life was proving difficult. Fidji became my sunny companion and spraying it in the cold winter mornings was helping me keep warm and happy inside. Its discreet waft of spice and floral notes combined with a powdery and sensual base was making it My Island as a young girl to take refuge to. But above all, its smell was elegant and feminine and this is what makes it such a timeless fragrance.

Perfume should be about Discretion and not imposed on everyone around you. It should only be smelled by those immediately in your vicinity. Unfortunately, modern perfumes with their strong hyper sweet and fruity notes that stick to your clothes like a leech for days – and actually also stick to the cilia in your nostrils, making it impossible to smell anything else for a few days – cannot pretend to be discreet nor intimate.

”Luxury”, from Latin Lux meaning ‘Light’ and later Luxuria meaning ‘deviation’

Luxury is thus an ”indulgence in something refined and sumptuous that provides pleasure, satisfaction, or ease”. Not the modern days scents that are created with cheap ingredients which in my view do not provide any pleasure, satisfaction and even less ease. This is of course, apart from some niche houses, of course, that are making the efforts to maintain a tradition of  Artistry in their creations.

A Perfume should be a piece of accessory that we treat ourselves with at times. For everyday use, a Cologne or Eau Fraiche should suffice. If consumers start discovering what is behind the creation of a true perfume, the lengthy process the Master perfumer goes through to obtain something that’s right,  they might then want to go about their purchase with a more informed knowledge and appreciation. They might also want to figure out which perfume suits them most and better and create the closest intimacy rather than the largest trail!

Coming back to Fidji, it used to be the Luxury for young girls but in modern days, it is more of a woman’s perfume because of its floral powdery and slightly spicy tone.  When we can get hold of one original one that is! It is normal that tastes change with times but shall we say that in the 1960’s to 80’s, teenagers’ choices were not so much driven by the celebrity trend but rather than the memories of their mother’s perfumes or bags’ satin lining impregnated with those vintage scents. Shall we also not forget the fact that the advent of the use of 100% synthetics as seen in the last 2 decades has actually become a major concern for scent allergies and near-anosmia which is the reason given by regulators to suffocate Perfume Heritage and even ban the use of perfumes.

I feel so nostalgic when I see that people can’t smell with appreciation any longer and that we live in a society with no sense of scent which to me equals to no Soul.

I can only hope that the definition of Luxury returns not to something around possessions and lots of money but rather to indulgence and pampering and then maybe true, Classic perfumes will also make their way back to bring ‘light’ to our lives.

‘Coeur d’Île’ is the signature perfume by Isabelle Gellé at the Station Perfumery in the Seychelles. This simple exotic scent from the Spicy Floral family will transport you to the tropical world where the clove of Zanzibar meets the Bourbon vanilla and the patchouli of the Indian Ocean islands, with at its heart a bouquet of white flowers, symbols of these lush islands, including ylang ylang and jasmine. The top notes are composed of a cocktail of Seychelles island citrus: grapefruit, petitgrain bigarade and lime, all complementing the sweetness of vanilla and the spicy clove.  It is 100% natural and has a lasting power on the skin of up to 6 hours.

It will soon be available for sale online. Please visit www.lesparfumsisabelle.co.uk for more details.

Categories: AROMAS & SCENTS NEWS, DISCOVERY, HISTORY AND SCENTS, OLFACTORY DEVELOPMENT, SOCIETY | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

4000 pieces of Perfume Art in a XVIIth century manor in Burgundy…

Nathalie Lancier and Isabelle Gellé at Le Musee du Parfum

When I arrived in Southern Burgundy a couple of months ago, I could never imagine that I would come across one of the most important private perfume collection in the world!

There it is, 5 minutes away from me, nestled in a magnificent XVIIth century manor in Prissé, a place reknown for its white wine – Le Musée du Parfum, a project from Nathalie Lancier, a real lecythiophile* (perfume collector)who has accumulated over 4000 pieces of Perfume Art over 40 years, at a time when people could not possibly know the value of some pieces, some of them going back to 1820! Lalique and Baccarat crystal bottles sit along the first 4711 Cologne bottle belonging to Napoleon I, and next to an important collection of Czech bottles and Russian perfumes.

Nathalie is originally from Hungary and was a hydraulic engineer who at first, was passionate about glass-blowing and glass-making. Rapidly, her interest turned to the Art of perfumery itself and she even created her own brand, ‘La magie du parfum’, offering a collection of fragrances for the youth.

I could not resist taking pictures of some of my ancestors’ fragrances and powders, Gellé Frères but I also bought the latest must-have book by Bernard Gangler, ‘Parfums de collection’ (available in French) in which this expert in perfume collection for auction houses and founder of the perfumery group, Galaxie and Espace Parfumerie in Paris, has listed over 1000 perfume bottles from the XIXth and XXth century with their actual market value. This book is a real bible for collection perfumes and helps the collector browse and look for valuable collector’s items.

Musee du Parfum view

”Never mind the exhilaration, as long as we own the bottle’ – Perfume collector’s quotation

* Lecythiophile: from the Greek word “lêkuthos”, which is a type of Greek pottery in which one put perfumes and precious oils, and “phile” which is derived from the Greek word for love.

Le Musée du Parfum house

As part of the Level 3 Certificate in perfumery Art offered by the Perfumery Art School UK, students will – as of next year – have the opportunity to attend a practical course at Le Musée du Parfum, where they will be able to practise their Art while staying in one of the beautiful character rooms of the guest house, part of the XVIIth century manor.

 This was one of the most exciting and unexpected tours I have had for a long time. Nathalie does not charge for the visits but an appointment is required. The Museum is open 7 days a week all year long.

Baccarat crystal bottles

Old Gellé Frères Cologne

For more information about Le Musée du Parfum in South Burgundy, visit: www.museeduparfum.com

Categories: HISTORY AND SCENTS | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Making perfumes according to ancient French methods: Production process

How a perfume is born…. according to traditional methods?

Now we are going to look at the process from production to packaging of a perfume in the traditional way of master blenders from the House of Grasse… In this section, I will describe the traditional processes of production… 

Perfumes existed long before the Grasse glovemakers corporation decided to use them as a way to reduce the stench from the tanning factories. Among the pioneers, were the Arabs who made popular a distillation system to extract oils from plants called the ‘ALEMBIC’ usually made of copper- According to history however, the first users of  ‘alembic’ were the Hellenic Egyptians. The word actually comes from the Greek ‘ambix‘ meaning ‘vase‘.

The Grasse corporation of glovemakers was the first to use the alembic on a commercial-scale to distill flowers and today it is still the most widely used method of extraction.

The first step of the production : STEAM DISTILLATION

Through distillation, we extract the essence of a flower. This must be done quite soon after the picking up of the flowers when they are still fresh. Here is a drawing of how distillation with an alembic works:

Along with essential oils extraction, alembic also allows the recuperation of distilled water.  Only distilled rose water and orange flowers are used. It takes a huge quantity of flowers to obtain a tiny amount of oil:

– 600 kg lavender for 1 mere kilo of lavender oil!
– 4000 kg of rose for 1 kg of rose oil!
– 7 kg of dried clove buds for 1 kg of clove oil…

Other production methods 


 This is a very expensive process used for fragile flowers such as jasmine, tuberose or daffodil. Due to its high cost, it has been replaced by another technique called ‘solvent extraction’. Nowadays, only artisan perfumers endeavour to keep this traditional process but with a low yield and a lengthy duration, it is not commercially viable.

COLD ENFLEURAGE’ consists of using refined lard, spread on both sides of the glass of a frame (chassis) on which petals of flowers are placed and left for anything between 48 hours and 1 week. The scent of the petals discharges into the lard and they are regularly replaced by fresh ones. The process can last for several weeks and is very delicate. 1 kg of lard can absorb about 3 kg of flowers scent. Once the scent has impregnated, the lard is collected with a spoon and slowly melted then decanted in ethyl alcohol.  The lard is introduced in a centrifuge with alcohol, dissolving the odor molecules.  The blend is then cooled down to get rid of the scented lard through filtration. This costly technique has been abandoned in Grasse in the 1930’s.

WARM ENFLEURAGE’ is a very ancient Egyptian method where lard was being melted in a big pan through the ‘bain-marie’ process (double boiler) in which fresh flowers were added. This was blended for 2 hours. The next day, the old flowers were removed with a flat sieve and replaced with fresh flowers. This process was repeated at least 10 times. When the lard could not absorb the scent of the flowers any longer, filtration was done to separate the lard from the flowers. The result was a scented paste called ‘‘POMMADE” which was then processed in the same way as cold enfleurage.  Flowers such as Rose Centifolia, violet, orange flowers and cassia were dealt with in this way.


This process is used for citrus fruit such as lemon, bergamot, mandarin and consists of pressing the fruit peel to obtain the essential oil. Traditionally, the peel was pressed to burst out the layers containing the essential oil through scraping them on metallic picks. Later on, a new process called ‘through sponge’ was developed whereas the peel was pressed several times on a set of natural sponges attached to a clay pan. The expression was done through a rotating movement of the hand. The expressed blend was collected by squeezing the sponges and then decanted to separate the essential oil from the aqueous phase which also contained wastes from the laceration of the layers of the peel.

New techniques such as CO2 extraction and headspace are now used for so-called ‘mute flowers’ such as lilac and lily of the valley which cannot be distilled and do not release their scent through the traditional processes.

In part III to come soon, you will learn about the CREATION PROCESS of a perfume…

Pictures Fragonard Museum, Aroma Sante
Categories: HISTORY AND SCENTS | 2 Comments

Making perfumes according to ancient French methods…

Many people have asked me: what do you mean by ”making perfumes according to the ancient French methods”? So here I will explain what lies behind the process of artisan perfumery…

But first, let me tell you: we work solely and only by the tradition of the Art of Perfumery… Most of us are self-taught creative perfumers. I  started to blend as a kid while living on a beautiful South Pacific island. Am I a nose? By the definition of a ‘nose’, the mainstream perfume industry means ‘somebody who is able to smell up to 4000 scent chemicals and to create a new scent out of it’. Most so-called ‘noses’ are chemists… So in this sense, I am not a nose… I am just an artist with a sense of smell acquired throughout my life thanks to travelling the world! This is why my signature is focused on ‘exotic‘ perfumes.

From necessity to art…

In traditional perfume making, there was no ‘scientific method’ as such. Like in those days, INSPIRATION is behind all our creations. Needless to say that when inspiration shows up, we are not thinking of calculating ppm (parts per million) according to IFRA controversial recommendations or about the price of the oils we use! In the same way that you would not ask a painting artist to think of how many colours he should use or whether the blend of too much blue and yellow might give a green too intense or to use low quality gouache for his work of art, you cannot ask the creative perfumer to reduce the percentage of oils like oak moss to the minimum… The couple of extra drops DO make a difference in the end result. Which does not mean we do not consider the safety levels. No perfumer would add more of the so-called ‘ALLERGEN oils than necessary!

The ancient French methods did not take into account any IFRA standards or any standards for that matter. French perfumery then was driven by necessity. Actually, the Grasse leather tanning industry actually started it in the 16th century. At the time, leather gloves were the necessary item for the luxury clients. But the strong smells of animal skin in the tanning workshops was making the city stink like no one’s business and the glove makers were desperate to find ways to get rid of this stench. They had the idea to use natural essential oils extracted from the flowers growing in the region such as jasmine and Rose de Mai to perfume the leather skins. This is how the corporation of perfumers & glovemakers (Parfumeurs et Gantiers) was born and this how perfumes made their way into our daily life.

Ancient French methods of perfume making: the basics…

Anybody who has seen the film, ‘Perfumer, story of a murderer’ can understand what lies behind the creation of a natural perfume: the attainment of Perfection, the perfect scent…

To understand better how a perfume is composed, you need to at least know the OLFACTORY PYRAMID that explains the notes we smell as the perfume evolves in time. 

A  basic perfume is composed of 3 notes:

  • top note: lasting power of approx. 0 to 2 hours – ingredients are mostly citrus (Hesperides) notes but also fruit  notes
  • heart note: lasting power of approx. 15 min to 4 hours – ingredients are floral, aromatic or spicy
  • base note: lasting power of approx. 1 hour to 24 hours – ingredients are usually woods, animalic notes and resins



The lasting power will depend on the choice of raw materials used, some being more volatile than others…

 What is the difference between a perfume and an eau de  parfum?

In simple terms, the more concentrated the essences of the perfume are, the more likely it is to have lasting power. Put in figures, a perfume usually averages 24% of essences while an eau de parfum only contains 15%. Of course, if some precious and expensive oils are used such as rose, sandalwood, neroli, Osmanthus, the price will also be reflected. In the old days and until the late 60’s, ingredients such as civet, deer musk and castoreum were used as fixatives. Their smell is fecal or like urine but in lower dosages, they transform the perfume in a beautiful way.

If you happen to smell an old perfume bottle, you will not fail to notice how lingering the smell is. These ingredients have been banned or their use restricted. Although we understand the reasons behind the ban (mostly harm to the animals as far as the extraction is concerned), most of the artisan perfumers using ancient French methods sometimes wish they could access such strong fixatives.

The uniqueness of natural perfumes…

When you start using natural perfumes, the first thing you notice is the lack of STABILITY. The molecules of the essential oils are more volatile than their synthetic versions and the natural perfume will rather tend to grow on your skin, matching your pH. This is why when 5 different persons try the same natural perfume, each smells different. A NATURAL PERFUME IS UNIQUE to the person who wears it. It is a real INTIMATE experience, only shared with the people close to you and not with the whole assembly in a room.

Natural perfume making is like wine-making: the more it macerates, the better it becomes but like wine, there are years when the crops are excellent, and other years when their yield does not produce the same quality…  

In ancient perfumery, the aim was not to market on a big scale. Perfumes were considered a luxury and many were made-to-measure for an elite clientele. Then, at the end of the 19th century,  synthetic and chemicals started to be used to make perfumes. These were not welcomed by the perfumery industry at first. Artisan perfumers said that using chemicals could never produce a pure perfume. But the costs of essential oils and precious ingredients and the market drive over the decades gradually eliminated the use of high quality and pure essential oils to be replaced by mostly aromachemicals.

In the second part to be published soon,  I will explain the traditional process used from the creation to the end product…

Categories: HISTORY AND SCENTS | 1 Comment

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