scent . music . culture

  • 30th September
  • 30
  • 18th July
  • 18

Raw Materials: Ambroxan

I could possibly go into the chemical properties of this aroma chemical. I could tell you how much it costs and all that sort of thing. But I’ve decided to share my love and admiration for it instead. The scent of Ambroxan is unmistakable.

The first time I smelled Ambroxan, I was sitting in my Synthetics class, surrounded by all my classmates who seemed to have the same reaction to the ingredient.

"Whoa! This is goooooooood!"

We were doing the Ambery family that day, and let me tell you, it’s not easy learning that family, only because there are quite a few that smell similar yet different (Cetalox for example.) At one point, my professor Laurence Fauvel said: “the difference between Ambroxan and Ambrox DL is that it is finer

What?? How can you tell something smells finer? It made no sense to me at the time. In my defense, it was still the beginning of the year. By the end though, I understood what she meant, it was a matter of quality. When you smell a great perfume, with carefully chosen ingredients, all from a reliable and enviable source, it smells better. Quality is something you cannot replace and it is definitely something you can detect.

Ambroxan is one of Firmenich’s babies, related to Clary Sage (sclareol is a by product which is used to synthesize Ambrox if I’m not mistaken) and was first created to replace Ambergris (not in terms of exact scent, but in function), which was becoming rare and exceedingly expensive at the time.

  (courtesy of

If you’ve smelled Olivier Cresp’s Light Blue, you’ll smell Ambroxan. You will also find it a great deal (that’s the association I made) with Armani Code for Men. The general consensus was that it has a sexy man smell. Really! It’s clean, crisp and has a mysterious depth that is very attention grabbing. It is fresh, woody, long lasting, with a hint of powder. It has a subtle ambery sweetness that changes because it is very non-linear, so it changes with your skin, very much like Iso E Super.

It is used as a base note in many perfumes these days and is quite strong in formulation. Remember when I mentioned Geza Schoen’s Molecule 01? Well, he also made Molecule 02, entirely centered around Ambroxan. I’ve been wearing Escentric 02 for the last month now, as it gets hotter and more humid in Montreal, it just seems to be the perfect fit for whatever mood I’m in.


It’s been all the rage to focus on one or two ingredients in perfume, which is a strange concept considering that perfume is generally ‘supposed’ to be built out of many harmonized ingredients. Schoen has done something new. With that said, many other companies, including Juliette Has A Gun have decided to hop on the bandwagon and do the same (Not A Perfume, using Cetalox instead) I think that once it is done, it shouldn’t be done again. If only to avoid risking over-exposure.The thing is, in perfumery, understandably, imitation is the best form of flattery. But people these days need constant change, so if there is a great idea out there and you find that you want to do something similar, you have to find a way to still make it different. You HAVE to, otherwise, the work will always be comparable.

Ambroxan is used in so many perfumes, more than we think. So don’t hesitate to stop someone in the street if they grab your nose! Ask them what they’re wearing! Also, get a sample of Molecule 02, it’s delicious!  You’ll get to experience Ambrox at it’s finest.

  • 27th April
  • 27

Raw Materials: Jasmine

I have had a major crush on Jasmine for as long as I can remember. Everything about this flower intrigues me and I never get tired of her scent. What’s great about our sense of smell, is that it goes right to the roots. It is primal in it’s effect, warping you back into a memory, and Jasmine seems to be one of the scents that has been a part of many of mine.

In the Middle East, there is a greeting made in the morning that goes something along the lines of ‘a morning filled with ful and jasmines’ (ful as I have recently found out is Jasmin Sambac.) I’ve always loved that, it brought the sunshine out, and the people who said it were always people of the land who would say that with unforgettable sincerity. 

The Jasmine flower holds great meaning for many cultures. It is the national flower of India, Pakistan, Tunisia, among others. It is talked about in songs, worn almost every day in some parts of the world, has healing properties and is the epitome of beauty. 

In perfumery, this flower is undeniably treasured. It is not easy to cultivate Jasmine because it has a low yield, meaning you need a lot of it to make a small batch. The most common process of extraction is solvent extraction, mainly using hexane (an organic solvent) to create the concrete. Alcohol is then added to the concrete to separate it and make an absolute. An essential oil is made by steam-distilling the absolute. Both types are used in perfumery and both are damn good.

Also, enfleurage is another process, one which I prefer, because it lets the petals steep and get absorbed by the wax they are placed in. It does take some time though.


You can get Jasmine absolute and essential oils from India, Egypt, Morocco, Grasse (very rare, but if you get a chance to smell this stuff, you will be blown away) and sometimes China.

Indian Jasmine is the sweetest for me, it is slightly more fruity and has a beautiful earthy quality to it as it dries. Egyptian Jasmine is a little sharper, more indolic, (2.5% of Jasmine is made of Indol.) It has a natural green note in the beginning, it is very powerful and very very good. Moroccan Jasmine is more green in general, and has a great spunk to it which I enjoy. Jasmin de Grasse is expensive to cultivate, but is used by Chanel for example. It is rounder, more floral, and has a subtle, delicious honey note. It takes around 700 kgs for 1 kg of absolute, and 1,400 hours of loving, hard work to get it done.

Hedione is in the Jasmine family, an aroma chemical used to enhance floral accords and generally adds volume to a perfume. Many perfumers use it, and a lot of it. I don’t blame them because it does brighten up most accords (it’s also fun to work with because it’s so versatile) Check out the classic, first of its kind (but unfortunately a now-overused accord) Eau Sauvage by Christian Dior originally made by the master himself Edmond Roudnitska.

The Different Company has a beautiful Jasmine perfume called Jasmin de Nuit, which was created by Celine Ellena, the daughter of Jean-Claude Ellena. (Keep an eye on her, she has also created Côte d’Amour for L’Artisan Parfumeur)

Serge Lutens has A La Nuit which features Jasmine as its main diva. Bringing whole new meaning to ‘Queen of the Night’.

It is incredible how beautiful this flower is, girls all over the world have been named after her, lovers swoon at the very thought of her, and memories are made with her in mind because she makes life so much more colourful.  If you were wondering why I keep capitalizing our darling Jasmine, it’s because that’s the respect she truly deserves.

                                                                p.s. There is an annual Fête du Jasmin in Grasse, usually held in August. It’s a wonderful feeling to be immersed in the culture, the whole town smells like it!

  • 19th April
  • 19

Raw Materials: Iso E Super

Is this the coolest name for a material or what?

I have loved Iso E Super right from the get-go, and yes, the name totally sold me; I was curious (apparently it’s because its chemical name is so long.) It’s not the most fragrant aroma chemical out there, but when blended, it does wonders.


IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances), one of the top 5 perfume companies in the world, created this material for use in both fine and functional perfumery. It is considered to be a part of the Ambery family, and sometimes classified in the Woody family.

It smells fresh, fine, with a hint of amber. It is dusty, at times floral, and long lasting (it’s a base note), and it’s true, it does have a velvet-like quality that’s tough to describe.  It can be similar to the scent of cedarwood and that is why it used to refine and freshen woody accords. It can be used for both masculine and feminine fragrances, and works best at 20% dilution (I quite like it at 10%)

It also works in waves, it reacts to the skin so well. At first it is light, but depending on the heat of the skin, it comes back, making it a very reliable and well known skin scent. It’s been said that this material acts a pheromone because most, if not all people, tend to be attracted to it.

What’s great about Iso E, is that it can be used in many different ways, making it that much more special. By that I mean, that most of us at school used it in our creations, because it is a great shape-shifter, it works with almost everything to make it better. Jean-Claude Ellena for example used it to its maximum effect with the charming Terre d’Hermès.

Perfumers such as Geza Schoen have taken the minimalist approach with Molecule 01, The concept is simple; take a material that isn’t usually the most obvious ingredient in a perfume, and play around it. Without adding too many other ingredients to distract, thus enhancing it enough to make it a main player. So in this case, Iso E Super is King.                                                             

There’s been talk that this beloved material could possibly be restricted in the future by IFRA, here’s hoping that it’s not true, since it’s almost used in everything, and I guarantee that its absence would be felt!

  • 13th April
  • 13

Raw Materials: Cassis Base

I want to bring about more awareness to the individual materials used in perfumery. It’s important to understand the level of skill it takes to create a perfume. Every ingredient is there for a reason, and things change once you drop something else in the mix (

Cassis Base (345B) is my all-time favourite material. It cannot be found in nature in its entirety as it is a base (although you can find natural blackcurrant absolute in it.) This means that it was man-made, a specialty by Firmenich to be exact, there are a couple of others: 345F, 345L. It has medium tenacity and is usually a middle note when used at 10% dilution. It’s often paired up with Bourgeons de Cassis/Blackcurrant Bud Absolute (or as we like it call cat pee; this stuff is strong, but with one drop, the whole blend is different.) It is also used for tropical and/or fruity accords and blackcurrant reconstitutions.

To me, it smells like sunshine. I instantly perk up. There is a hint of guava; something tropical. It is strong, slightly green, and fresh.

I’ve found the perception of this particular ingredient funny because most people smell black currant right away. I don’t. I smell mangoes. Wonderful, fresh, slowly softening green mangoes. That scent takes me back to my grandparents’ garden in Egypt where my grandfather grows mangoes almost every year. It’s the scent of vivid parts of my childhood.                                                                              As soon as I discovered this, I started using it everywhere, and I mean everywhere! My fellow students at GIP would always know something was mine because they could smell the Cassis Base. I figured if I loved it so much, I could somehow do everything with it. ‘Maybe it could be my signature!’ I thought to myself.

It was even fun to play around with. I would get excited when I knew it was coming up next in my formula. You know that feeling when you’ve just heard a song, or you haven’t heard that particular one in a long time, and all you do is play it on repeat? Yeah, that’s it; Cassis Base was and probably still is a delicious addiction. But alas, the time came to learn that I needed to branch out, and so I now look fondly at my last vial, trying to savour its last drops, so I can use it for something that will knock everyone’s socks off!

I believe Jean-Claude Ellena used Cassis Base in YSL’s In Love Again, a fruity-floral. And it smells fantastic!! It’s fun, it’s bodacious, and it’s sunny! People loved it too, it did very well around the time it was launched in 1998, as a limited edition fragrance. Apparently the same juice has been brought back to the market as of 2004, but with a different bottle. Surely due to it’s gorgeous scent and its undying popularity. Baby doll was released afterwards to sail on its success, using the same top notes (pink grapefruit plays a big role here) but in my opinion, it paled in comparison.                                                                   

Every time I smell this material and this perfume, I feel good. Perfect outlook for the upcoming spring/summer months if I do say so myself!

  • 24th January
  • 24

Back to Basics

So, I’m going to start something new here. How many of you have heard of the so-called ‘notes’ in a perfume?  A bunch of marketing inspired lingo that, sure, lets the imagination go wild, but serves no purpose to what is actually IN a perfume.

For those of you who don’t know what a note is, the current classification of raw materials  in perfumery is based on evaporation time for the most part. (There is no universal classification, each perfume house has their own, this is based on comparisons between perfumes, themes etc..) So the top note is what you smell first, what attracts you to the fragrance (mostly citrus notes, disappearing quickly.)

The heart/middle note is next (florals), this includes raw materials that give off the main characteristics of the fragrance. A perfume can be classified by its heart notes. For me, that’s where the soul of the fragrance is.

Lastly, the base notes (mainly woods) are the memory of the fragrance, what lasts the longest and blends into the skin.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that perfumers create their fragrances that way, some start from the bottom up, some just make a list of ingredients they think will go together. Each creator has their own process.

 It takes at least six months to create a perfume, and that doesn’t include the marketing/branding aspect of the process. A perfumer invests a lot of time and energy in the work, a great deal of thought is put into making a perfume that isn’t the same as others, but that isn’t too different that people will immediately reject it.

Getting back to the concept of notes; what you see in a perfume campaign is almost always not what is actually in the perfume. This doesn’t mean that you are being misled, it’s just the fragrance industry puts great emphasis on the power of imagination. The whole point of these marketing campaigns, and the basis of most perfumers’ work, is to take you somewhere else, to create an image, a space in which you can transport yourself to another world.

So, just so you know, there is no such thing as a cotton candy note (that’s called Ethyl Maltol/Veltol+), and it’s a super cool aroma chemical. It’s in the Vanilla family and has a hint of burnt sugar to it: delicious.

And the smell of freshly cut grass? That can be recreated with one ingredient, called cis-3-hexenol, it’s found in the green leaves family, and it works perfectly in men’s fragrances or when you want to create a springtime effect.

Each ingredient in perfumery has a purpose, there are infinite possibilities. Playing with raw materials, combining them, creating a memory, that’s what we do (fun fun fun). The sense of smell is the hardest sense to describe, so it’s almost impossible not to associate raw materials with images, sounds, textures etc.. It helps people relate, understand and connect.