I’m among friends here, aren’t I? So you’ll all understand how much of a big deal being let loose in a perfume lab with a pipette was for me last Saturday.
Yes, my scented chums, a little dream of mine came true when I attended the 4160 Chypre Workshop and made my own chypre.
With perfume being My Thing, and chypres being My Favourite Genre, it was pretty much an all-my-birthdays-are-happening-at-once sort of day.
So what goes on at a chypre workshop?
There were around six of us and the workshop took place upstairs at the 4160 Tuesdays studio in London. We were greeted with tea, coffee and goodies, and were allowed to fiddle about with the many 4160 Tuesdays purse sprays that were lying around. That would have kept me happy all day, but it was about to get even better.
We went upstairs to the studio and sat around the Big Table, whilst trying not to be distracted by The Wall of Scent: a cabinet full of vintage and modern scents. Some are classics and some are just plain nigh on impossible to find. I had to turn away or I wouldn’t have got anything done.
First of all, Sarah doesn’t so much teach, as blow your mind. I won’t put spoilers in, but just for starters there’s a theory behind the disappearance of the Marie Celeste that may be related to something we handled at the workshop. There’s also a shocking list of chemicals that will make you think twice about natural ingredients. NB I contain zinc, hydrogen dioxide and potassium, but you should see what’s in a kiwi fruit!
Some ingredients cost more than a kilo of gold bullion and tiaras.
There are Mysore sandalwood trees that have armed guards 24/7.
What I learned about the history of “powdery notes” very nearly put me off “powdery notes.”
Cocoa absolute smells and looks like Marmite, until you do stuff with it.
Orris butter will blow your mind in the same way wasabi paste once blew my head off.
The first thing we did was smell sniffing strips. As a perfume blogger of over five years standing, this was a new experience in that there were many ingredients I had never smelled on their own. For example, galbanum, used so beautifully in Chanel Cristalle, smelled much grassier and earthier than I imagined. ISO E Super on its own smelled faint and vaguely ozonic, but lined up alongside say, iris or veramoss (oakmoss substitute) and it emphasises the strength of its surrounding ingredients and brought out the best in them like a great backing singer.
Although my brain didn’t want to leave the studio, my stomach had other ideas and so we all crossed the road and had lunch together.
Despite having unbridled access to granola flapjacks and chocolate cookies, we headed to the divine Paolo’s Café on Vale Road for our lunch. The hardest part was choosing from the delicious brunch menu, and the easiest part was guzzling the delicious chips. there was a brief sleepy time period which my brain had to fight, but I put that down to an early Welsh start. Paolo’s Cafe is worth the trip, trust me.
Making Your Own Perfume
The afternoon session was where we made our own perfume. Several things shocked me about this.
- The lack of uptightness from Sarah when she let six fume heads loose on several jars of the good stuff without saying “Get off my things” as I probably would have. In fact, she was highly encouraging and happy to get stuff out of the cupboard on request.
- Making perfume involves a great deal of trying different combinations of fragrance together.
In case this sounds like stating the bleedin obvious, I’ll explain what this meant to me: I had a preconceived notion of all the perfume ingredients I would use in my dream perfume. When I tried this on sniffing strips, they didn’t “agree” with each other, much to my surprise. So the iris and galbanum that I had initially planned to include, stayed in the bottle since they didn’t get on, at least not on the day they met. I also loved the Jasmine on the smelling strip, but again, it didn’t play nice with its new friends so it had to go. Along with all my preconceptions of how easy making perfume looks
- .There’s an awful lot of maths and a bit of chemistry. I needed help from the teacher with the maths as I’d been up since 5 am. Luckily the teacher was very nice about it.
- You start by making a “mod” in a little bottle. Once you’ve chosen your smelling strips and they smell like they all get on okay, you drop tiny drops of actual ingredients into your mod jar to see if they get on in person, as it were. Mine didn’t make enough noise, so I cranked up the Ambroxan and the violet and added some stuff from a new jar I came across called Karmawood. Thus Mod 2 was created.
- Lisa and I were both shocked that our bottles were topped up with the good stuff. We had both thought that our mods would be added to some kind of suspension agent, but that wasn’t the case. The big pipettes came out and six of us went away with a combined total 300ml of very, very good ingredients between us. There’s no diluting. We used the proper big jars and filled our bottles to the brim.
It is worth noting however, that the ingredients we used were not 100% strength, as I am reliably informed that that would knock you out cold. For perspective, a 5% rose is very, very strong. These are the jars that we used to fill our bottles.
- Here’s the maths. You divide the number of ingredients and proportion of those ingredients into 50ml so you can fill your bottle. Thus: You have say, five ingredients and you want double karmawood and violet, but single doses of everything else and your sheet looks like this: 8ml veramoss, 8ml bergamot, 16ml karmawood, 16ml violet, 8ml Ambroxan, In fact that came to 56ml so I under pipetted and topped up with a “blob of rose”. If you had twelve ingredients you would…nope, sorry, can’t do it.
My very own fragrance in my very own bottle to take home.
I called mine Maenad, which is the name of the handmaidens to Bacchus, God of Wine. Lisa named hers Watson because it has a “lemon entry”. (“Elementary Dear Watson.”) Sarah recommended a spray or three, and then put them to bed for two weeks to mature.
Having my very own custom-made perfume was a deep and gratifying thrill, and trust me, I’m going back to make more. I wasn’t very good at perfume making, but the wonder of it all was the biggest olfactory thrill of my life. Usually, only Sir David Attenborough can make my jaw drop like that.
By the way, if you’re familiar with the 4160 Tuesdays Naughty Cupboard ( sale page), I am here to tell you that it is an actual cupboard and I stood in front of it drooling for a good twenty minutes. ( I also bought stuff, more of which anon.)
I would like to thank Sarah McCartney from the bottom of my heart for a breathtakingly memorable and exciting day. In case you haven’t gathered, I would recommend these workshops as a must for anyone even remotely interested in scent. You won’t be sorry and the thrill of holding your own bottle of fragrance feels amazing.
I also want to thank the wonderful people I met that day Jo, my scent twin and editor of .Cent magazine Lily, Claire the Sit Down Comedian, and Justin. And of course, my darling Lisa who picked me up at 7am, drove to London, found a parking space and drove us back, getting home to Wales at 10.30pm, and stinking joyfully.
How to get on the course
You just book it here on the website. You don’t need to know anything beforehand. I’m going again next year. I might see you there.