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

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Iris root powder, my first love…

ImageMy current stay in South Burgundy feels like a pilgrimage to my childhood… pre-exotic travels abroad that is!

Enjoying the spring scenery of the multitude of beautiful iris flowers with their Royal violet colours, lining the vineyards and their gorgeous smell when they blossom was enough for a flashback to an attic in a farmhouse in the Pyrenees where aged Iris root powder had been stored for decades…

The farmer’s daughter and myself used to sneak in there and help ourselves with a (tiny) handful of this powder which we instinctively sprayed on our (long) hair! My usually very dark hair had turned powder-white and all we were thinking about after that is what our parents would say…. And how to get rid of the beautiful powdery smell in our hair and on our arms and face! But the parents were only pleased to see that their little girls were showing early signs of feminity and coquetry…

The smell of iris powder is very specific of grandma face and body talc powders. When I started to create my own perfumes, I then realised how important this short-lived flower is for perfumery. Its roots are the most important as, once dried and turned into powder they become the best natural fixative around that adds the special touch to the perfume…

I fail to grasp how such a beautiful, sensual and feminine flower and smell can be associated with grandmas. I would rather associate it to young and elegant ladies who understand sensuality. Its scent is close to that of violet and indeed is used to create violet scents since the violet itself does not release its scent from extraction (apart from the leaves that give a green smell and not a powdery one).

Touching its petals is like touching soft velvet. You really want to stroke it, bury your nose into the beautiful  lining…. The ultimate pampering dream would be to plunge into a bath filled with those magnificent flowers.

While walking around the vineyards of Burgundy and observing those flowers, all I could think about was harvesting them, distilling their roots to create my own Iris butter! And it did remind me that Iris was my first aromatic love!

More info about iris pallida>>>


Iris Pallida in Pouilly Fuisse by I. Gelle

You can read about other first fragrance loves from the Natural Perfumers Guild members by clicking the links below.

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From the vineyards of South Burgundy: when wine and perfume are a marriage of Principles…

This is the view I will enjoy every morning for the next 6 months from the apartment where my partner and I are staying in a small rural village on a hill in the heart of the famous ”Pouilly Fuissé” South Burgundy wine region!

There is a good reason why I am here: it is just inspiring and for me to be able to deliver the accredited Level III perfumery course I have put together, inspiration and quietness were needed… Plus it was just the good opportunity to reconcile with my French roots but above all, to proceed with one of my strong interests: the traditional wine-making process or Terroir wine-making! And I could not find a better place than Pouilly-Fuissé in South Burgundy to look  more into how wine and perfume are a ‘Marriage of Principles‘!

” Terroir”- From the French word ‘terre’ (land)*

The concept of terroir is at the base of the French wine ‘Appellation d’origine contrôlée‘ (AOC) system that has been the model for appellation and wine laws across the globe.

Terroir’ is originally a French term in wine, coffee and tea used to denote the special characteristics that the geography, geology and climate of a certain place bestowed upon particular produce. Agricultural sites in the same region share similar soil, weather conditions, and farming techniques, which all contribute to the unique qualities of the crop. It can be very loosely translated as “a sense of place,” which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product.

* Source: Wikipedia

Naturally, I wanted to learn more about  similarities between perfume-making and wine-making and in the short 2 weeks since I have arrived in South Burgundy, I had the chance to meet Roger Saumaize, one of the  most reputed wine makers and growers of white grapes for Burgundy superior quality wine. He is a practitioner in ‘biodynamic wine‘, a holistic and ecological form of agriculture based on a spiritual/practical philosophy, called ‘anthroposophy‘, which includes understanding the ecological, the energetic, and the spiritual in nature.

I prefer calling the likes of Roger, Natural Winegrowers… And like Natural perfumers, their methods which are basically Ancient and Traditional methods going back centuries are controversial. One of the aspects I learnt about the ‘biodynamics’ principle is that the alcohol in the wine is created just by adding sugar in the grapes! After having crushed and pressed the grapes, the mixture is transferred into a drum and sugar is added. During the fermentation process an every other day, the blend is BEATEN UP with a special stick (bâtonnage process) because the stirring of the fine lees (sediments) remaining in the barrel of unfinished wine enriches the wine flavours and gives it this ‘animalic’, ‘earthy’ taste while ensuring that the fruity aromas are equally present. In other terms, this very traditional and painstaking process is the equivalent of stirring your perfume everyday for several weeks, allowing the sediments of natural essential oils to blend and impregnate the scent before you start the decanting process.

I was stunned when Roger showed us blackboards on the barrels in his cellar in which various acidic levels were written including ‘lactic acid’, an acid derived from milk! Who could have known that this could come from grapes! But then Roger explains that it all comes from the way they treat the soil (the Terroir). Because lactic acid comes from a bacteria  and this very bacteria creates the FERMENTATION process! And in biodynamic growing, the focus is not on adding chemical fertilisers but on digging deep in the soil to extract the minerals and bacteria and brings them up to the grapevines who will ‘feed’ and ‘grow’ organically.

 Another similarity between wine and perfume-making is adding ‘new’ on top of ‘old’ where the old takes over the new. In the traditional Art of perfumery, and because the essential oils can be altered year on year by the quality of the crops, we always keep a good percentage of the old recipe from a fragrance and add the new blend on top of it. This mainly allows for consistency in the smell because the ‘old’ blend that has been sitting for much longer will tend to impose itself over the newly added concentrate.

During my visit in the cellar, I learnt that the white wine-makers are faced with a similar ordeal: how to achieve balance and ensure that the wine does not taste too powerful? New wine is added into old wine barrels! It is worth noting here is that the oak-tree wood from the barrel will also exude into the wine and give it its Terroir taste. In traditional perfumery, if you want your perfume to smell woodier or to fix more, one of the method is to let it sit in an oak-tree barrel… This is how a Grand Cru wine can be accomplished. In perfumery, this is how a VINTAGE perfume will be achieved!

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Bottega Veneta and my love at first sight! (or nearly)…

Encountering a new fragrance can be a really unusual experience particularly when the fragrance takes you back to your childhood – more exactly to the silk or satin lining of Mum’s leather bag after the bottle of Ô de Lancôme or of a Coty Chypre had slightly leaked or just impregnated the fabric!

It’s even more of a treat  as the encounter takes place when  perfume is the last thing on your mind!

Last week, I was flying back from Bordeaux to Manchester via London Gatwick! This is after having caught a train (luckily there was no strike!) and a shuttle to the airport. Landing in Gatwick, all I wanted was to catch my connection flight to Manchester. After going through the UK Border Agency passport control, I had to check-in again at another departure gate, about 3 km away!!

And here it was!! Winking at me: a simple but elegant bottle of Bottega Veneta

In my run to the departure gate and before being asked to smile for the camera, scanned through the body and searched by a lovely London custom officer who was wondering whether my bottle of Sauterne wine  was a liquid bomb and why I was carrying a French baguette in my bag, I went past the World Duty Free perfumery!! 

I was literally sweating under my coat and I needed to freshen up… And here it was- like winking at me, standing exactly where the marketing people knew everyone would go first i.e. on the side shelf, on the way to the departure gate,  a simple but elegant bottle of  BOTTEGA VENETA, a brand I had never heard of!

Mind you, I might have forgotten it all together because I quickly sprayed my neck and scarf and my wrists and run to the plane… I had forgotten to  note the  name and back home all I could remember was some words like VENDETTA  in the name…

 Time stopped!!

I could swear the smell that was developing on my wrists and scarf was Coty! And it was like the silk lining impregnated with a Chypre perfume in a leather bag!! No wonder! Bottega Veneta is LEATHER itself!! The company started to produce artisanal leather goods in 1966 and since 2001, is in the hands of Gucci. Bottega Veneta means ”Venitian Atelier”….

 This leather bags and accessories Italian house went for the full Monty on its first fragrance. Thomas Maier, their creative director  turned to Coty and Robertet for the creation of this Chypre-Fruity fragrance with Leather as its theme. The beauty of it is that because Bottega Veneta is about craftmanship, the fragrance has not lost the philosophy of the craft and this is why it is such a beautiful fragrance, reminiscent of the lost vintage perfumes.

On the first spray, you get bergamot and pepper (pink)!! I could swear it’s a CO2 extraction because it’s light. Exactly what I needed in my rush through Gatwick airport! But nothing really special at first glance! The spice continues through the fruity heart of prune. This Prune smells natural (maybe a blend of cedarwood + rose?) butI read somewhere it was a blend of osmanthus and violet. It’s not sickening at all because it blends with the jasmine (a natural isolate of jasmine to tone down its green aspect) and very quickly develops to give place to a powdery Venitian leather created through  a combination of patchouli (natural isolate giving a less mouldy smell), oakmoss (the derivative version of it, Evernyl )and leather note (its smokiness evokes birch tar). You start falling in love with Bottega Veneta when you realise that the first impression of vintage and classic scent gives place to a velvety leather seat on which you share a kiss with your lover in a Rolls-Royce! But it’s a soft, reassuring and warm leather that makes you feel like cocooning.

It’s been a week and the smell is still lingering on my scarf in which I plunge my nose every time I wear it. I close my eyes and I see Mum’s bag when I was 10!! Its price is affordable: £60/$90 for a 75 ml bottle but if you want the Murano bottle version, you’ll have to spend $395. It is definitely one I will treat myself with in 2012!

Bottega Veneta leather bag

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Are designer fragrance houses finally getting back to senses?

 I am rarely – if ever – enamoured by any of the fragrances created by designers, at least those created after the 1980s and the advent of EU regulations!

Usually, when I venture into sniffing designer fragrances, it takes me days to get rid of the awful synthetic smells lingering on my skin even after showering and I always feel sickened by the smell!

So when I was invited by a friend to discover the Collection Privee of Arabian scents by Giorgio Armani, I did not expect any thrill nor excitement. But as an Artisan perfumer, I confess I can sometimes be set in my mind and be too critical about designer’s fragrances.

My discovery of the Woody-Oriental Trio collection by Armani first introduced me to OUD ROYAL, a fragrance which -as its name clearly states – is composed mainly of Oud (or Agar wood) from Cambodia…

The Oud Royal composition is a classic one so it is not unique.  My own Arabian oud perfume, Escapade à Oman has very similar natural ingredients i.e. amber, rose, sandalwood, myrrh and incense but Armani has enriched his Oud Royal with saffron, his sandalwood is obviously an expensive Mysore one and he has added synthetic animal notes.  Oud Royal is designed to be unisex and it works. The whole scent is voluptuous, sensual, animalic and highly sexy. Its lasting power is incredibly powerful! Even after the shower, the oud is still lingering and the sexy smell still teases your nostrils but in a nice way. You want to revisit it again and again until it disappears completely and then, you want more!!  You will have to fork out a hefty £180 for the 100 ml Eau de Parfum though. Originally, the Armani Trio-Collection Privee was launched for the Middle East market which explains the Black and Gold bottles… and the price tag!

I then tried AMBRE D’ORIENT– a woody oriental perfume , that starts with a strong note of thyme, so strong that the first impression is that of a failed attempt of a natural perfume that smells medicinal. Oud is equally present in this one with a strong hint of vanilla. A bit too much for my Westerner sensitive nose,  definitely more Arabian. It did not do it for me but maybe it’s my skin that did not take it.

The last fragrance of this Trio Collection is ROSE D’ARABIE. Here the oud is accompanied by a beautiful Rose de Mai, classically blended with dark patchouli and a base of ambergris. The Rose is definitely powerful, topped by the spicy notes and wrapped by sandalwood. This is a nice Oriental Rose attempt and again, even though I believe many of the ingredients used are probably isolates rather than essential oils, I must recognise that Armani has raised my expectations that designer’s houses might actually come back to their senses and understand that creating perfumes according to traditional methods is -after all – what perfumery should be all about…

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Happy 50th wedding anniversary Mum and Dad!

 …To my beloved Mum and Dad, on your golden wedding anniversary…

11-11-11, The perfume of your life

 For you,

A Special perfume made of white roses & ylang ylang 
Because your love is True & Pure,
Ginger for your life has been so full of spice
Peach to tell you how grateful I am you are still here with us And for us
Vetiver because of your inner strength I admire so much
Hibiscus as you always fought with courage whatever the obstacles on the way… 

I love you with all my heart!
Je vous aime de tout mon coeur!  

Categories: AROMAS & SCENTS NEWS | 1 Comment

Online perfume micro-business: struggling to make ends meet…

It is not easy to be an artisan entrepreneur! It always strikes me to realise that most governments in the world do not consider micro-businesses in their reforms for entrepreneurship. Although on 1st January 2005, a new definition for ‘micro-small and medium-sized enterprises’ has been incorporated in the EU legislation , advocating the Member States to use it as a reference and make the measures taken to support such enterprises more ”consistent and effective”, I still fail to see how this acknowledgement fulfils my needs as a business-minded woman with plenty of ideas for creativity and expansion and running a micro-business

” A microenterprise is an enterprise which employs fewer than 10 persons with an annual turnover and/or annual balance sheet total not exceeding EUR 2 million”

This is according to the EU definition. In my quest for support through such government bodies as Business Link and other similar useless schemes, I was received with indifference and at the most, despise. In order to bring my perfumes on the UK market or export them, I need to join a scheme at a cost of £1000 and in exchange, I would be able to accompany delegations in countries of interest against meeting 50% of the costs!!

As an artisan perfumer whose mission statement is to help people ‘rediscover the essence of Nature and travel through scents’, £1000 will be spent on costly and precious essential oils (some of them worth the price of gold!). What I need from these so-called ‘development and business support agencies’ is financial support. In all my discussions with the various advisors, this aspect seems to be a taboo topic. You see, when you run your business however small it is, people you talk to think you are successful and making plenty of money so the money aspect is not something to discuss. The advisors are here to advise: and they do so by advising me – well – to spend more money in packaging, lab testing, marketing. No wonder why only the major corporates can impose their products in the economy!

 Lets take a look at such costs in the UK (these are minimum costs quoted to me so far):

– Rebranding and redesigning: £3000
– Blending and bottling of the natural perfume in factory (2000 bottles) ex-raw materials costs: £2250
– Packaging (recyclable): £5000 for 2000 units
– Marketing: to place perfumes on the shelf for 3 months  in departments stores such as Boots: £15 000 (publicity to be carried out by the business)
– Laboratory testing to comply with EU regulations: £500-£1000 per product
– Hiring a public relation agency to promote your products in magazines such as Marie-Claire: £1500 per month i.e £18 000 for a year

So in total and at the minimum, I need to raise about £45000 if I want my natural perfumes to be more visible and in my crusade to bring a 100% natural perfume product on the shelves. Like many hundreds perfumery micro-business owners, I have not been able to pay myself a salary for my hard work in the last 5 years; every penny is reinvested in freshly extracted raw ingredients, needed to keep the ethics and business integrity alive.  I must say that I am loosing heart at being an entrepreneur in view of the lack of support out there… If to the financiers’ mind, I am a small potato, what about the VAT I pay on each order of raw materials I buy and what about the dozens of suppliers for whom my regular small orders allow them to carry on with their businesses…. There is no small profit, is there?

”In the 1960s up to the 1980s, starting without capital was a real possibility”

I am questioning the essence of ‘entrepreneurship’ and whether rather than a global economy, we are not going to be left with the 1% catering for the 99%, just like what’s happening with the banks mergers at the moment. Besides, whereas in the 1960s up to the 1980s, starting without capital was a real possibility when new products were not popping up every day and anything new or not trendy could make its way on the shelves, since the end of the 20th century, many brands have been acquired by the likes of L’Oreal, Estee Lauder to name but a few with the founders’ original philosophy being truncated and compromised in order to cut costs on quality and increase profit margin.

So far, I have been able to carry on thanks to the Internet. My business revenues are mostly generated from online sales which means I have cut a lot of costs such as physical and marketing ones… But running a perfumery with a computer screen as a shop window can turn out to be restrictive. And it does not remove the issue of storage place and production which involves an injection of capital…

So I am left with the decision of whether I want to carry on trying to make ends meet with my passion, how I can expand by setting up a more ‘small business’ structure or if I should go back to perfume-making as a hobby only…

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are solely the opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions of businesses or institutions affiliated with the author. 


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Becoming a natural perfumer…

How does one become a natural perfumer?

This is a question I am often asked and each natural perfumer has their own personal story to getting there; from Trygve Harris  and her quest for Omani frankincense to Alec Lawless and his passion for oenology and so many other colleagues all over the world, one common denominator is that we are all contributing to making people discover or re-discover the Scents of Nature with the main driving force being PASSION for NATURALS…. So as we celebrate the 5th Anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild, it is the opportunity for me to reflect on my own personal path to becoming a Natural perfumer.

Natural perfume is in my DNA!

I believe we are good at maths or we are not as much as I believe we are creative or not. It has all got to do with which part of our brain is more active and in my case, it is obvious that my rational/logical part has never been favoured by the stars!

On the other hand, my senses – particularly my sense of smell – have developed very early. It is probably due to my ‘melting pot’ origins! Born in the very capital of Beaujolais wine, Beaujeu… from a Mauritian /Madagascan father and a Belgian / Polish mother, it would be difficult to deny that my DNA was not printed with variety and scented genes! Yet, I probably fell in the Beaujolais wine pot because to this day, Beaujolais has never left me with any great memory nor taste! But it did leave me with a sense of appreciation of Nature and it is probably no coincidence that one of my sources of inspiration are the vineyards.

The few first years of my childhood that I spent in the Pyrenees and Basque country made me discover the smells of old school fireplaces, farmhouse animals smells, fields of daisies and forests of chestnuts and mushrooms and the powerful smell of tranquility but strangely enough, I remember more the smells of VETIVER and VANILLA  brought by our family visiting us from Madagascar.

A golden childhood in a Pacific island…

But my early passion for perfumes undoubtedly started at the tender age of 7 when I first set foot in the tropical island of New Caledonia. Each stop of the 34 hours journey in a DC-8 plane on the way to the island had been marked by memorable smells of some kind: petrol smoke in Bahrain; strong leather skin in Karachi; exotic flowers in Colombo; gunpowder in Saigon (our plane was the last one to be allowed to land there at the peak of the Vietnam war); humid and damp earth in Singapore and finally the smell that I will never forget upon getting out of the plane: NIAOULI essence! I can remember breathing that smell in deeply during the 70 km journey to Noumea, the capital city where I will live for 8 years.

First flowers, first perfumes!

First flower, first perfumeMy Tahitian friends and I were producing Monoi of New Caledonia!…

Those golden years in Paradise were spent with Nature in all its aspects: beautiful sandy beaches with the smells of coconut, mangroves with the smells of roots, rainforests with the smells of niaouli and sandalwood, woods with the smells of guava and passion fruit! One could not experience more exotic smells at one time than when visiting New Caledonia! It was not long before my Tahitian friends showed me how to macerate tiare flowers in coconut oil. As kids, we were doing this on the beach while the parents were preparing the local meal ‘bougna’… After experiencing the production of Monoi, I saw no reason why not to continue with other plants. My next successful trial would be the infusion of sandalwood, niaouli and camphor wood! I used it as a wax for my desk in my bedroom. That gorgeous smell still is strongly imprinted in my memory today… It goes to show how strong the memory of a scent can be!

Leaving New Caledonia and arriving in Africa!

My teen years were spent in a totally different environment and culture yet a fascinating one: West Africa. Once again, I will always remember the smells during the journey from the airport to our house: those smells were a blend of all kinds of smell that are difficult to describe and that anyone should experience at least once in their lifetime; alongside the roads in Togo, were small stalls run by women – the scents were composed of anything from resin woods for burning to Brazilian nuts, peanuts, grilled maize, charcoaled cassava, spices and herbs and the scent of SHEA BUTTER (slightly smoky) which – in its raw and unrefined version – is most commonly used in cooking meals and as a skin moisturiser… The smells were enhanced by the beautiful and vibrant colours of the fabrics and of Africa: earthy, yellowish, green! A real dance of the senses takes place when you visit Africa.

First sight at arrival in Africa

Those smells are so addictive that it is very difficult to get rid of the powerful grasp Africa can have so, after my graduation in France, I decided to return there. And guess which sector I worked in: SPICES AND AROMAS! For 3 years, working for a Japanese food & spices company, I travelled all over West Africa, covering 16 territories, from cities to the bush, to source,  negotiate, buy and sell spices, green tea and herbs. These remain the most memorable years of my life, with so many tales and adventures that they could easily be contained in a book… But above all, this very intensive experience of the senses did set the basis for the perfumery path I am now on…

It is also during my years in Africa that I learnt about the essential oil and shea butter extraction processes in the bush! I also became the Secretary General of the Coffee/Cocoa/Pepper farming association in Togo and learnt a great deal on organic botanicals and farming. This explains why I do not accept to join any organic certified association in Europe or the West… Real organic farming using natural plants for fertilising should be learnt from developing countries!

Welcome to green England and back to the DNA theory!

I left Africa eventually as I felt I needed some Western professional experience in my career. I arrived in England where I lived for 4 years before embarking on more international travel from the Canary Islands, Spain and Mexico to the Indian Ocean islands of Reunion, Madagascar, the Seychelles, South Africa and eventually returning to Africa before ending up in France, Belgium and finally back to the U.K.  Even though the weather is so different to most of the exotic places I lived in, there was always something attracting me about England in particular…As I said, perfumery to me is in my DNA…

A few years ago, I did try to put together my family tree and discovered that one of my distant ancestors were Jean-Baptiste and Auguste Gellé, soapmakers and perfumers in the end of the 18th century in Paris… I also found out that another direct ancestor was a persecuted noble Huguenot who run away from France to England where my great-great-great grand father was born. He eventually left to Mauritius island as a trader on behalf of the Queen! Talk about DNA eh?

My family coat-of-arms

I am a self-taught perfumer and hold a diploma in aromatherapy from Oxford College, U.K. as well as an Indian head massage diploma. I also am a qualified lecturer (Hull College and University of the Arts, London) in the lifelong learning sector and regularly run perfumery and aromatherapy workshops and courses throughout the U.K.

Having always lived with and around pure Nature, I define myself as a true environmentalist and I believe in a holistic approach to the Beauty in general.


Adam Gottschalk – Lord’s Jester
Alec Lawless– Being Led by the Nose
Anu Prestonia– Anu Essentials blog
Anya McCoy – Anya’s Garden Perfumes
Charna Ethier – Providence Perfumes
Christine Ziegler– A little Ol’factory
Dawn Spencer Hurwitz – DSH Perfumes
Denise Smith – Perfume Journal
Elise Pearlstine – Belly Flower Perfumes
Emily Pienaar – The Western Cape Perfumery Blog
Ida Meister – Ca Fleure Bon
JoAnne Bassett – JoAnne Bassett Perfumes
Karen Williams – Aromatics International
Laura Natusch – Olive and Oud
Lise Abdul-Quddus  – Blossoming Tree Bodycare
Noelle Smith – ElleNoire
Robert Tisserand – I’m Just Saying
Ross Urrere – Olfactory Rescue Service
Susan Stype – Aromatherapy Contessa
Trygve Harris – Absolute Trygve

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Forget Grasse! The future of perfumery is in India…

Herbs and spices of India

2 years ago, I exchanged communications with Anya McCoy, President of the Guild of Natural Perfumers about the future of perfumery and Grasse. My belief was that Grasse would eventually lose its reputation as the capital of perfumery and one would have to look somewhere in Asia (China and India) to bring perfumery back to the future!

The main reasons that led me to think this way were mostly the tightening of EU regulations and the madness of IFRA (International Fragrance Association) standards that have killed the Art of perfumery, transforming artist perfumers into nothing more than bureaucrats having to fill tons of documents to attain distribution’s status… Octavian Coifan, the Paris-based perfumer and historian of perfumery qualifies the actions of IFRA as being ‘a cultural genocide’ in his post entitled ‘Is fragrance Art social?‘ while Roja Dove, the British fragrance guru and French independent perfumer, Serge Lutens have all joined the condemnations  of the restrictions dictated by IFRA in the name of ‘Health & Safety’… 

But  2 events I read of recently, make my prediction even  more real. First, the leak of aluminium toxic wastes in Hungary despite the approval of the EU! Who can trust the EU when their scientists, toxicologists and other experts are so biased that they refuse any kind of independent reviews? It seems obvious that they have closed their eyes on the potential dangers of this obsolete factory in Hungary and I would not be surprised to hear that some independent scientists had warned against this danger…

Back to IFRA, the restricted or prohibited materials such as essential oils of oak moss or costus are natural but yet, IFRA promotes the use of aromachemicals to replace them! Once again, IFRA is only the puppet of a consortium of lobbyists protecting the interests of the major chemical and cosmetics conglomerates thanks to whom IFRA has its raison d’être. The madness of this association goes as far as wanting to ban the use of citrus or basil… However, nobody prohibits their use in food. Not to mention the poor bergamot which has now been so deprived of its furocoumarin that its use in perfumes is equivalent to adding kernels of olive without the olive in a Greek salad!

Grasse has not been spared by the murdering of the Art of perfumery. In fact, going to Grasse nowadays is like visiting Pompei in the aftermath of the volcano eruption… The past jasmine and lavender landscapes are being replaced by luxury property developments; the rose de Mai (centifolia) is becoming a rarity and the plantations are reduced to a few such as La Bastide du Parfumeur (now know as ‘Museum of International Perfumery’)with a meagre 2 hectares of cultivated land left and the only landmark of Grasse being the mostly obnoxious odors of the fumes from the 100s of laboratories synthesizing raw materials…  Small artisan perfume studios that used to work from the back of their garden or their garage outside Grasse, in the Valley of Vesubie have all closed down because they cannot comply with the diktat of Brussels both financially and technically…

One of those traditional artisans explained to me that he is closing down because he has been asked by H&E to replace the rose petals he used for his rose Eau de toilette by synthetic equivalents that are supposedly safer and more stable (during the laboratory tests!). The problem was that his eau de toilette had a shelf life of no more than 1 year because of the fresh botanicals he was using! Distributors want long shelf life and huge profits and using ancient methods such as enfleurage or distillation are costly… Quality has not been the name of the game for many years in most of the Houses of Parfums in Grasse. Of course, the city has not yet lost its reputation as the place to go to for learning everything about the history and the making of perfumes but this is about to disappear as well.

View of Grasse – Where are the fields gone?

Because the second event that tells me that Grasse is on its way out, is the creation by Symrise of a Perfume Academy in India… Now, to me any corporate of this size that invests millions of dollars in an emerging country is basically saying  to industrialised countries that they have gone past the sell-by-date and that it is time to go ”back to the future’‘…

It has always made sense that a country like India should become the place for perfumery. After all, it has a young and dynamic population, a growing emerging middle class that will want to spend more and more on luxurious goods but above all, its access to all the plants and flowers for essential oils and botanicals is unlimited… For sure, plantations in India are more than the tiny 2 hectares left in Grasse!  Flowers are used for every occasions: Buddhist festivals, births, weddings and any rituals… Spices of all colours and sorts are added to yummy and scented meals and herbs are used in Ayurveda medicine… Nature and botanicals are part of the Indian way of life! Besides, the links between India and Africa have been established for many years and Indian perfume and flavours laboratories are already setting up in countries like Nigeria : they extract the wealth of botanicals available in Africa (I recommend you read the blog African Aromatics by Sophia for an expert opinion on these) and develop fragrances adapted to both markets

But in my view, the main reason why India is set to become the next capital of perfumery, the next ‘cosmetics valley’ of this world is that maybe (just  maybe), it will allow old or vintage perfumes formulations to be recreated and relaunched in order to be sold in the growing markets of Asia and the Middle East WITHOUT any regulator on your back telling you that synthetics and GMO are the best options! Because India is a sovereign country and does not bend to any diktat but their own… Their closeness to Nature will probably make them realise that regulation kills industries like ours!

As small artisan perfumers, we are unlikely to be able to compete with the likes of Symrise but I see an opportunity to position ourselves by helping smaller communities to develop and produce essential oils. Symrise and the other big ones are only interested in big scale production and in chemistry graduates… These companies are miles away from restoring the Art of Perfumery as they will carry on producing synthetics and creating  new odours to fulfil the demand of the industry and  keep up to date with modern technology.

Our objective should  then be to focus on rural farming communities, helping them set up essential oil extraction plants for smaller scale yields and ensuring they gain from the rise of perfumery in their country through education about the traditional Art of perfume making, sustainable agriculture and social enterprise. 

Rural life in India/Photo courtesy of Gautam
Link to Gautam pictures
Categories: AROMAS & SCENTS NEWS | 16 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

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