Monday, June 8, 2009


Personally I am not a devotee of immortal perfume. Fragrances that cling and have no ability to decay are rather frightening to me. This is a good example of how an individuals heaven is another's hell. Within the main stream of the modern perfume world the idea of "permanence" in a fragrance is equated with a "good" perfume. A rather antiquated notion, in my humble opinion.

Let's de-construct this notion a bit, shall we? Before man synthesized aroma chemicals the main fixatives (notes that prolong a scent) were that of the animal kingdom such as musk, civet, castoreum and ambergris. In the late 19th century many man made chemicals were introduced to the perfumers palette. This new chemical cocktail horizon eventually brought synthetic components that gave perfumers the ability to create enduring fragrances without animal products. One of those ingredients includes formaldehyde, a carcinogenic that acts to preserve and prolong perfume. Perhaps you remember formaldehyde from the preserved specimens in high school biology class? Is this something you want to be applying to your skin? How about the newly devised chemicals that have been frankinsteined to emulate the animal ingredients mentioned above such as musk ketone? A noted environmental aquatic hazard and human toxin due to it's ability to remain in fat cells and be passed onto infants through breast milk.

A fixation with permanence seems to manifest itself in the mind. The "need" to have a fragrance endure is a notion that has been spoon fed to the public without much rationale. If Roald Dahl was still writing he could probably illustrate this idea in a brilliant children's book like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The idea that a perfume deserves merit based on it's longevity is an outdated belief system that does not fit into an evolving culture.

This weekend at a family function two of the attendees were drenched in a synthetic chemical haze that made one sensitive to scent retreat to the outdoors. To my extreme displeasure the noxious fumes followed us all the way home and still remain in my husband's sweater.

I've become so distraught by these Cling-on perfumes that I am very hesitant to hug or even get too close to those who insist on fumigating themselves. Add to this the scent of chlorinated water and dryer sheets in clothing and one becomes a walking bulldozer of scent molecules.

Salvation has presented itself in the form of botanical perfume which is not made with animal ingredients or man made chemicals. Botanical perfume has the advantage of staying close to the skin whilst avoiding invasion of an individuals odoriferous terrain.

The botanical perfumer has a set of essences deemed fixative notes which on their own or combined into a base accord can last for days. Take Choya, Indian distilled sea shells, when applied to a scent strip the molecules of this essential oil will remain for months on the paper. Patchouli, Vetiver, Cypress, Muhuhu are just a few other essential oils with the ability to linger. By mindfully orchestrating a fragrant concert of top, middle and base note accords a botanical perfume can last on the skin for several hours depending on skin chemistry. The beauty of botanicals is that they are from life, just as we prefer to adorn a home with fresh flowers instead of plastic or silk imitations. When the flowers are spent we put them in our compost heap and go out to the garden where we can refresh our interior with the vitality of nature.

Image at top detail from a painting by Greg Spalenka

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