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In the trail of fragrances

Trisha Bhattacharya, Nov 17, 2013 : 10:03 IST

Scents

Perfume becomes the temporal soul of its owner. Emerging from a bottle, this liquid poem elevates not only the mood of the wearer, but also of those around.

It suffuses the air with a delightful scent, softly commanding attention. Women and men find intense ease in leaving behind a trail of fragrance with the people they meet, the rooms they enter or the places they visit.

Perfume is said to have been discovered in Egypt and Greece. The Romans and Arabs too have a hand to play in bringing the art of perfume-making to other parts of the world. Even attar creation in India can be traced back to Hindu Ayurvedic texts.

The processes of perfume-making somewhat vary as wide-ranging perfume concentrates shaped out of varied ingredients need to be treated differently to produce swirling fragrant liquids in ornate bottles. Percentages of these concentrates too vary to differentiate between perfume, eau de parfum, eau de toilette, eau de cologne and others. Forming the base of perfumes from flowers, botanical or plant materials (herbs, leaves, spices, twigs and roots) are extracts like essential oils, resinoids, concretes and absolutes.

Other than natural essential oils, naturally isolated chemical speciality bases are also utilised to make perfume concentrates. Fragrance oils (synthetic creations) and natural products can be combined in unlimited ways to form balanced perfumes. Florals (roses, blossoms and jasmine), orientals (spices, amber and balsam), chypre (a woody-mossy combination), citrus (lime, lemon and tangerine), fougre (mixture of fresh herbs and mossy ferns) are some fragrance types. Understanding myriad essential oils or chemical aromatic preparations that form the essence of perfumes requires clever craftsmanship and knowledge.

Extraction methods of these oils, however, differ depending on the type of raw materials being handled. To these concentrates in set proportions, carrier or diluting oils (such as jojoba), alcohol and water are required. The potions resulting are matured and later packaged.

Perfumes usually consist of three notes: the base note, the middle or the heart note, and the top note. Base notes (sandalwood, oakmoss, patchouli) are more long-lasting; middle notes (florals) may not be as long-lasting as base notes; top notes (citrus fruits) are volatile. Experimenting with these notes coalesce ingredients in appropriate vessels and jars giving rise to new recipes or concoctions, some of which are retained by perfumers.

Secret formulas of all experimentations must be recorded in initial stages because extraneous drops of notes would result in deviation from the exact formula, and the perfumes cannot be recreated. A whole team works behind the scenes for creating such aromas, which are an effort of science, technology (enabling recreation of any essence) and art put together.

Three elegant cities find themselves threaded to perfumes in one way or the other. Grasse, the perfume capital of the world, is only miles away from Cannes, in France.

Numerous perfumeries are situated in this quaint city, and some of the world’s expert sniffers find training here. Bali (Indonesia) is a paradise of raw ingredients used in perfume-making. Yves Saint Laurent and Dior use the best Indonesian essences in their perfumes.

Cologne is one of the oldest cities and the fourth largest city in Germany. Eau de Cologne, a mild perfume — light and airy — was first created here in the early 1700s.

Technique aside, perfume creation is significantly an art because from the apt blending of raw ingredients emerges the first whiff of perfume, and only the one who knows its art can judge a perfect scent.

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