Sunday, July 8, 2007

Perfume, part one

"Perfumes are the feelings of flowers."
~Heinrich Heine

"When words escape, flowers speak."
~Bruce W. Currie

"To create a little flower is the labor of ages."
~William Blake

Perfume can be defined as both a noun and a verb. The noun refers to a substance or combination of substances which impart a fragrance. Perfume as a verb, refers to the actual aromatic particles that waft from the substance mentioned previously. The origin of the word comes from the latin, per “through” and fume “smoke”, thus “through smoke”. Most likely alluding to the use of gums and resins as incense or herbs strewn over fires to impart a pleasant aroma.Perfume most likely originated in Arabia and/or Egypt, refined later by the alchemists and Europeans.
The substances used to create perfume can be natural, botanical, synthetics or a combination. Synthetic compounds, created in a laboratory, became part of the perfumers palette in the late 19th century with the release of the aroma chemical “coumarin” containing a hay-like fragrance. Thus the perfume industry was born. Before the introduction of these laboratory created components perfumers used materials found in the natural world, primarily animal and plant. The animal ingredients consisted of ambergris (from whales), musk pods, civet and castoreum. Plant aromatics included essential oils, as well as infused and tinctured materials. Natural perfumers today continue in this tradition using both animal and plant based “natural essences”, however, the word natural is loosely defined. The botanical perfumer is a product of our current, modern day culture, choosing to use primarily materials of botanical origins, which are whole and complete, meaning, not fabricated in or tampered with in a lab. Occasionally a botanical perfumer may include materials that come from the ocean, such as distilled seashells, material from the bee kingdom or an obscure tinctured material. The palette of a botanical perfumer consists of whole essential oils, absolutes, concretes, c02 extractions, infusions and tinctures. Beeswax is also included in their apothecary, used for the creation of solid perfumes and balms.
The botanical perfume artist practices integral perfume, working to create beauty through the expression of pure plant extractions within the paradigm of sustainability and health.

The scratch board drawing above is from the days when I worked exclusively as an editorial freelance artist in New York. Every month, during the late eighties, I illustrated the fragrance column for Connoisseur Magazine, never suspecting that one day I would find myself in the field.

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