One Week Perfumery Course with the Jean Carles Method

Continuing the Professional Perfumery series, in which I explain how perfumers are trained, how they create fragrances and how you can use their techniques to improve your sense of smell, I will talk about the Jean Carles method. This method is used to learn perfumery raw materials. When I was studying at IFF Perfume Academy, we didn’t use this method, but I applied it to my own practice, and I found it helped me to memorize smells better. It also helped me to learn the nuances of materials, since it’s based on comparing and contrasting them.

Once I finished recording the latest episode, I decided to create a one-week study plan for those who are serious about learning perfumery. I followed the Jean Carles method, but I modified it to the home environment. It means that I reduced the number of materials studied each day. I also selected materials that can be easily obtained as essential oils or can be used in their natural state. It’s appropriate for complete beginners.

Before you start, prepare a set of blotters and a notebook. Take notes on every material that you smell. Note the time on each blotter and re-smell them at different time intervals.

Ideally, you should use essential oils diluted to 10% in perfumer’s alcohol. If that’s not possible, dip only 1-2 mm of the blotter into the oil. Don’t use too much or else you’ll overload your nose and become quickly fatigued.

If you are using fresh materials, like rosewater, fresh lemons, spices or coffee, crush them slightly to release their scent. Put them in small covered containers to concentrate their scent and take short sniffs.

For the purpose of this exercise, the materials you use are not as important as the order in which you smell them. Start with the lightest, most effervescent scent. If you don’t have lemons, you can use limes. If you don’t have cinnamon, use cloves, etc.

Monday

Citrus: Lemon

Wood: Cedarwood

Spice: Cinnamon

Tuesday

Citrus: Orange

Anise-Spice: Fennel seeds

Herbal: Lavender

Wednesday

Balsam: Vanilla

Floral: Rose

Spice: Black Pepper

Thursday

Herbal: Lemongrass

Spice: Cumin

Herbal-Cool: Mint

Friday

Herbal: Basil

Wood: Coffee

Herbal Camphorous: Rosemary

Saturday

Review all of the materials you’ve smelled over the week and test yourself blindly. Can you describe them?

Sunday

Rest your nose. I recommend skipping perfume altogether.

Extra Reading:

Jean Carles Method (original article)

More about Jean Carles and a tool called the “perfumer’s organ”

If you end up following this guide, please let me know what you think. You’re also welcome to share your notes on materials, and if you need any help, I will be glad to assist you.

Photography in the Youtube video is by Anna Kozlova at the Grasse Perfume Museum. Photography in the post by Bois de Jasmin.

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24 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    Thank you for another interesting post and video.

    I look forward to trying the exercises, once I can assemble the ingredients. I’m fortunate that I still have perfumer’s alcohol from Perfect Potion.

    I have a couple of questions. Is there any type of paper that is typically found in the average home that could be used as a blotter at a pinch, e.g. a standard business envelope? Perhaps I should buy a spiral book of thick, white drawing paper of the type that I used for art classes in high school. I could cut that up. I know that the paper I use has to be the same for all the samples, so that they have the same base paper scent.

    Also, do you have any suggestions for where we might find cedarwood? Would cedarwood moth balls have the right scent, or would they have been treated? (I don’t have any, but have considered buying some.)

    I recall several years ago buying a tub of Peters ice-cream that had three flavours – musk (pink), banana (yellow) and bubblegum (purple). One night, when I was eating one of the three flavours that were in my dish, my attention was momentarily directed elsewhere, and suddenly I wondered what it was that tasted like lemon. I realized that I was eating the supposedly bubblegum-flavoured section of ice cream! It did also have a bubble-gum flavour, though, and I realized that, for me, the classic bubblegum flavour has a lemon aspect to it. It had been the action of clearing my mind of the flavour name and the purple colour of what I was eating that had allowed my own assessment of the taste to occur. I expect that this is what will be involved in the exercises.

    I shall let you know how I get on! January 18, 2021 at 9:05am Reply

    • Victoria: It should be paper without any smell. Either you can get blotters online or just experiment and see what works best given your options.

      Cedarwood balls or shavings can certainly be used. January 18, 2021 at 9:33am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thanks, Victoria; I shall buy some blotters online.

        Great, that’s another reason to buy cedarwood balls! January 19, 2021 at 6:12am Reply

    • Victoria: Also, I just checked on Ebay and I see that the sets of blotters are quite affordable. So, that’s another option in case you don’t have the right paper around. Sometimes the same shops that sells essential oils also offer blotters, but they tend to change something exorbitant. January 18, 2021 at 12:37pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thanks for the tip; I’ll try Ebay. January 19, 2021 at 6:14am Reply

        • Qwendy: Hi there, I make my own from watercolor paper 😊 January 27, 2021 at 4:45pm Reply

          • Victoria: That’s a great tip! January 28, 2021 at 4:36am Reply

    • Anne: I read someplace that pencils are made with cedarwood. Or used to be. I remember the scent of pencils from school. January 19, 2021 at 12:50am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Hi Anne,

        Thank you for that information. I remember that scent from primary school as well!

        I looked in the following link and read that incense cedar trees are indeed the most popular trees for making pencils.

        https://www.artistsnetwork.com/art-mediums/drawing/how-are-pencils-made/

        No wonder I’ve always liked the smell of pencil shavings! January 19, 2021 at 6:26am Reply

        • Victoria: Cedarwood actually is described by perfumers as “dry, pencil shavings,” so both you and Anne are correct. If you don’t have cedarwood balls, cedarwood pencils will do. 🙂 January 19, 2021 at 10:02am Reply

          • Tourmaline: Ah, thank you! That’s convenient. January 20, 2021 at 6:30am Reply

      • Victoria: Yes, that’s why the smell of cedarwood is such an emotional scent for many people. It evokes childhood, school, or college, and all of these periods have a rite of passage element. So, the emotional effect of a scent is strong. January 19, 2021 at 10:00am Reply

        • Qwendy: I always associate it with Hamster Cage! January 27, 2021 at 4:46pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria. The more that you share the intricate training steps, the more I can appreciate the professional perfumer.
    I’m glad that Tourmaline is taking up the challenge. It will be interesting to read about her discoveries. January 18, 2021 at 11:14pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Peter,

      Just give me 20 seconds…

      Or a month or so.

      Once I get all my items together, it will be fun! January 19, 2021 at 6:30am Reply

    • Victoria: One of my students once said that she liked learning about perfumery, because it made her appreciate how complex of a craft it is! But smelling exercises aren’t difficult and anyone can try them. The most important part is to smell with full concentration. January 19, 2021 at 9:58am Reply

      • Peter: Mahalo for the encouragement. I’ve put together 5 ‘live’ samples (including a cedarwood ball). I’ll attempt the exercise on a smaller scale. January 19, 2021 at 10:20pm Reply

        • Victoria: Great! I’d love to hear what you think of it.
          Starting with 5 “live” samples is very good. January 20, 2021 at 4:30am Reply

  • Anne: It sounds wonderful. I can imagine that smelling like this must be meditative. January 19, 2021 at 12:48am Reply

    • Victoria: It can be! It can also be quite intense. January 19, 2021 at 9:59am Reply

  • Aurora: Thank you so much, Victoria for offering a post so rich in content. It will take me a little while to assemble materials, although I already have a small collection of my favorite essential oils. My cedar is Virginia cedar, will it suit? January 19, 2021 at 11:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, that’s perfect. January 20, 2021 at 1:38am Reply

  • Qwendy: This was a perfect post for me this week, Victoria, fascinating and so useful! I have been reorganizing and evaluating my home up-in-the-bedroom perfume lab so I will get right ro it, thanks so much! Xxx January 27, 2021 at 4:49pm Reply

    • Victoria: Sounds great! Please update us on your progress. January 28, 2021 at 4:36am Reply

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