how many hands touch your bottle of perfume: 10 posts

How Many Roses Does it Take to Make a Drop of Essence?

Here is a bit of perfume math: 4 tons of roses = 1 600 000 rose blossoms = 1 kg of rose oil. No wonder rose oil is one of the most expensive essences, and a kilo of golden liquid will fetch around $7000. The cosmetics company Lush uploaded a terrific video about the rose harvest in Senir, a town in the Turkish province of Antalya, and it shows all stages of rose oil production, from handpicking the blossoms to turning them into the essence. The video also helpfully explains the difference between rose oil and rose absolute.

Update 2021: The video is no longer available, but I suggest searching YouTube for other videos of rose harvests in Turkey, Bulgaria, and France.

How Balsams are Harvested for Perfume

Peru Balsam is one of the workhorses in a perfumer’s palette providing a solid base note and voluptuous drydown. It’s a resinous material that, depending on the extraction method and provenance, can smell either warm and ambery or smoky and spicy. When you enjoy perfumes like Hermès  Elixir des Merveilles, Serge Lutens Amber Sultan, or Yves Saint Laurent Opium, you’re admiring the complexity of this interesting note.

I have enjoyed experimenting with Peru balsam ever since my early days in perfumery school, but it was only last year that I discovered how it’s grown and collected. The process hasn’t changed much since antiquity and it’s fascinating. I had been meaning to write about it when I discovered something even better. A company, Nobs Naturals, uploaded a video on Youtube showing how Peru balsam is gathered and you can see for yourself what it’s like.

Nobs Naturals provided the following explanation:

“A piece of bark measuring about 36 by 6 inches is removed starting from the lower part of the tree trunk. The tree can be harvested at all heights of its trunk, which can have a height of over 30 meters. The exposed area is then burnt with a torch, and then a piece of dry cloth is placed on the wound to absorb the oleoresin produced by the tree in response to the treatment. After a month and a half the cloth is recovered and the oleoresin is extracted from it by boiling in water for many hours and then passage through a rustic wooden press. The bark removed from the tree trunk is subject to a similar process.”

Styrax, benzoin and many other balsamic-resinous materials are collected in a similar manner.

Extra: Tolu Balsam, Benzoin, Styrax and Other Oriental Balsamic Notes

How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : Perfumers

The first article in this series described the process through which the perfume brief goes before it ends up on the perfumer’s desk (Brief). Then, my perfumery school classmate and former colleague Lauren gave you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a perfume evaluator (Evaluator). Today, I will describe the role of the perfumer.

If you’re new to this series, I recommend starting with Part 1: Brief.

Ever since Frédéric Malle highlighted perfumers by adding their names on the fragrances created for Editions de Parfums, these actors, traditionally consigned to ghost writing scents, have become more prominent. We can find out which nose created our favorite perfume, read about perfumers’ work, and even hear them explain their metier. Names of houses that employ perfumers–International Flavors & Fragrances, Givaudan, Firmenich, Symrise, Mane, Robertet–even show up in the traditional media. Magazines call noses rock stars. Fans queue to meet them at store events. Isn’t then the perfumer the most important person in the process of creating a perfume?


Yes and no. With the exception of those who direct their own brands, most perfumers are only one of many groups that influence how a fragrance will smell. Today, it’s hard to speak of a perfumer’s fingerprint on a big brand launch because many fragrances are created as a collaboration among several creators, marketing reps, sales people, and evaluators. In most cases, an individual perfumer may not have a say in the matter and simply has to follow the given direction.

Continue reading →

How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : The Evaluator

Today we have a special guest writer Lauren Salisbury. Lauren and I met as students at the IFF Perfumery Academy, and we’ve spent many hours smelling together.  A life-long lover of perfume, Lauren has worked in the fragrance industry for nearly a decade, developing fragrances for many popular brands around the globe.  She now works as an evaluator for ScentAir Technologies, Inc., and writes her blog, The Little Nose. Lauren will give you a glimpse inside a perfume lab and introduce you to a very important person–the fragrance evaluator.  

How Many Hands Touch Your Bottle of Perfume : Brief

In recent years, the media has focused on the particular talents and tasks of the perfumer, and we are fascinated. They are admired as artists, respected for their finely-tuned, highly-trained olfactory abilities and their knowledge about fragrance materials.  But few of us are aware of the perfumer’s trusted sidekick: the evaluator.  Until recently, perfumers remained completely anonymous, but today you will still rarely see mention of the evaluators in the press. Despite their work behind the scenes, not only does the evaluator help the perfumer complete the project, but also, she can significantly influence the final fragrance.


First, let me explain where the evaluator fits into the process.  When the brief, or fragrance request, arrives from the client (and by client I mean a fragrance house like Calvin Klein or Christian Dior) via the sales department, the evaluator starts her work. She reaches out to one, or several, perfumers, communicating the desired fragrance goal, as well as all the project specifications, such as the maximum cost allowed for the fragrance, material restrictions, target consumer details, and due dates.

Continue reading →

Designing a Fragrance : From Idea to Scent

More on how perfume is made. The International Fragrance Association of North America (IFRANA) has recently released the first in a series of several short documentary-style films.“Designing a Fragrance: From Idea to Scent” features interviews with perfumers like Carlos Benaim, Christophe Laudamiel,  Steven Claisse and Mark Banwer. It’s a short 3 minute film that outlines how a scent concept takes shape.

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