We all know how powerful scents are in terms of memory. Who among us hasn’t caught a whiff of pumpkin pie and recalled our beloved grandmother, or a Fraser fir tree and thought of happy holidays long passed? The smell of tomato leaves can instantly transport us to the summertime tomato sandwiches of our childhood, while the aroma of freshly baked croissants takes us back to a bakery we once frequented. For those interested in the science of how smell and memory are in a perpetual dance, check out this link. In short, add a scent to the mix and you’re pretty much guaranteed memories for life.
My upbringing was characterized by very specific fragrances. To me, my youth will always smell like my mother’s signature scents, either Nina Ricci’s L’Air du Temps or Calvin Klein’s Eternity, my father’s Chanel for Men and my maternal grandmother’s Youth Dew by Estée Lauder. Those fragrances comfort me beyond description, even though they don’t speak to me for my own personal use. As a woman who is interested in making things and who has a profound love of natural scents (I’m always burning candles and incense and essential oils at home), I thought I’d try creating a signature scent of my own. Today I’m happy to share with you the results of my sleuthing. With a few simple ingredients, you’ll be whipping up bespoke blends of your own, creating enduring olfactory memories for years to come. — Ashley English
The full post continues after the jump . . .
To build your own fragrance, it’s essential to first understand the way they’re structured. Using either essential oils or fragrance oils (which may be synthetically or naturally derived), distinct scents are created by blending top, middle and base notes. These “notes” are essentially three different levels of scent, each with varying rates of evaporation.
Top notes are those scents you first notice, but they are also the most volatile oils, dispersing and disappearing the fastest. Middle notes are the moderators, linking the top and base notes together, determining which sort of fragrance family a scent becomes — earthy, floral, spicy, woodsy, etc. Lastly, base notes, or fixatives, impart the longest, fullest scent and are sourced from balsams, roots, resins and woods. An ideal ratio to aim for when creating custom blends is one containing 30% top notes, 50% middle notes and 20% base notes. Here are a few examples of scents from each note:
- Base: Cedarwood, Cypress, Ginger, Patchouli, Pine, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Vetiver
- Middle: Black Pepper, Cardamom, Chamomile, Cinnamon, Clove, Fir Needle, Jasmine, Juniper, Lemongrass, Neroli, Nutmeg, Rose, Rosewood, Ylang-Ylang
- Top: Basil, Bergamot, Grapefruit, Lavender, Lemon, Lime, Mint, Neroli, Rosemary, Sweet Orange
This list is hardly comprehensive. There are so many scents, each falling into different note categories. To see what note classification a specific scent falls into, check out this helpful link on Aroma Web. If you have a commercially prepared fragrance you particularly love, check out this link to see what notes are used, and then experiment with re-creating it.
Owing to their different rates of evaporation, it stands to reason that a perfume’s fragrance will change over time. The more it is exposed to light and air, the more quickly it will deteriorate, which is why proper storage is essential. Here are several suggestions for maintaining the integrity and quality of your essential oils and fragrance blends:
- Store your fragrances and essential oils in dark-colored bottles out of direct sunlight.
- Put the cap back on the oils as soon as you’ve removed the drops needed. Heat, light, oxygen and moisture will compromise their quality and cause them to degrade.
- If you are prone to skin sensitivity, test a small amount of your blend on your forearm for allergic reactions before using it liberally.
- Essential oils are highly concentrated and some can burn the skin if applied directly, so always use a carrier oil such as jojoba, sweet almond or grape seed.
- Always use glass or ceramic vessels when mixing and blending oils.
- If stored properly, essential oils will retain their integrity for one year once opened.
- 2 Tablespoons carrier oil, such as jojoba, sweet almond or grape seed oil
- 6 Tablespoons good quality vodka (I like Rain)
- 2 1/2 Tablespoons distilled or spring water (not tap water, though)
- coffee filter
- essential oils for blending (you’ll need separate oils for base, middle and top notes, totaling around 30 drops)
- two dark-colored glass bottles, one for curing, one for storing (you don’t need both right away, though)
- decorative perfume bottle, for gifting (optional)
1. Begin by cleaning the bottles, either in your hottest setting in the dishwasher or with hot, soapy water.
2. Place the bottles on a rimmed baking pan and dry in an oven set to 110ºC. Remove from the oven once they are completely dry. Put a lid on one of the bottles (the one you’ll be using for storing) and set it aside until you’ll need it, which will be anywhere from 48 hours to 6 weeks later.
3. Place the carrier oil into one of the bottles.
4. Next, add the essential oils in the following order: the base notes, the middle notes and finally the top notes. The number of drops used for each note is up to you, so it’s time to play! Just remember the ideal ratio of 30% top, 50% middle and 20% base notes. Shoot for around 30 drops total given the amount of carrier oil and vodka called for here.
5. Add the vodka. Place the lid atop the bottle and shake it vigorously for several minutes.
6. Allow the bottle to sit for 48 hours to 6 weeks. The scent will change over time, becoming strongest around 6 weeks.
7. Check it regularly, and once you’re happy with it, add 2 tablespoons of spring water to the blend.
8. Give the bottle a good shake for one minute. Place a coffee filter into a funnel and transfer the contents from the curing bottle to the other bottle, which will become the storing bottle. Label your blend.
9. Your eau de perfume is now ready to wear. If you’d like to gift it, put some in a decorative bottle. Be sure to advise the recipient, however, to keep it out of direct heat or sunlight. Ideally, though, the best place for storing your creation is in a dark-colored bottle.
- 6 drops cedarwood oil
- 15 drops clove oil
- 9 drops lavender oil
- 7 drops sandalwood oil
- 14 drops rose oil
- 9 drops bergamot oil
- 7 drops pine oil
- 14 drops lemongrass oil
- 9 drops orange oil
What about you? Have any experiences mixing custom scents you’d like to share, or particularly powerful olfactory-based memories you recall with clarity? I’d love to hear about them. Otherwise, bespoke fragrances are fantastic concoctions for gifting or for making a little special sumpin’ sumpin’ for yourself. Either way, gifted or kept, fragrances will stay with you long after the scent wanes.
Photos and styling by Jen Altman.