Incense on the Tree of Life

I’ve written a long article on my other blog based on incense use in the Western esoteric tradition. It might also be of use to those fairly new to incense who want to choose a scent from zillions of different choices. It covers Patchouli, Jasmine, Lavender, Rose, Frankincense, Dragon’s Blood, Cedar, Myrrh, Musk and Sandalwood incenses. Readers are welcome to come over and suggest other incenses if they’d like.

Fifth Anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild

So today marks the fifth anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild, which is a good start. It has come a ways, gone through changes and looks to be in it for the long haul. You can find a list of the different blogs and bloggers at the bottom of this post that are writing something for this event (plus, I think, there are a few other places that will mention something about it).

I have always been attracted to the scented side of things. Making things out of different woods in my Dads shop at home was great because of the smells of the different woods.  The subtle difference in scents between different raw clays and glazes when making pottery added a whole other dimension to ceramics. Hiking, camping, waking up in the mornings in the mountains and taking that first deep breath in at first light were very special moments. The sense of smell adds a huge, but at the same time, very subtle boost to ones sense of the world around them. It’s also so often overlooked.

When using incense it took me awhile to understand that the ones I gravitated to were generally those which used natural ingredients. There is just something that “smells” different to me between those built with woods, resins, herbs, spices and real oils and those that are not. Not that it’s not possible to make odd/bad smelling incenses or perfumes with naturals (as some of my own experiments are examples of 🙂   But for my nose, generally, the naturals just work better.  The incense has lead to perfumes and classes with Mandy Aftel, who has been a great source of inspiration and knowledge and an appreciation of the real Art of Perfumery.

I love to source out new scents and spend hours on the net looking into obscure leads on new places. I am always fascinated at how different the same plant can smell from each place. As I write I can see a box with at least ten different bottles of Rose in it. Each is different and special in its own way. So I find it funny to hear, “It has Rose in it”. Really?, from where? What year? How it distilled and what was the weather/soil/water like in the area where it was grown? Using natural materials can be very tricky, very demanding and an takes an overwhelming passion.

It isalso getting much more expensive  and difficult to obtain many of the key ingredients. The prices for ALoeswood and Sandalwoods have recently gone up around 20% to 30%, that assuming you can find them. The same holds true for most of the oils used in perfumery. Not to mention the many governmental restrictions being imposed or thought up. Its a great time to be into he naturals and at the same time it is a bit scary.

So, when you find them…enjoy!  -Ross

Ca Fleure Bon:   anya’s garden;   Blossoming Tree Bodycare:                             Being Led by the Nose:  Anu Essentials Blog:   Olfactory Rescue Service:               I’m Just Saying:   Providence Perfume :
Bellyflowers:   Ellenoire:    Aromatics International:   Olive and Oud:   Lord’s Jester Inc:   A Little Ol’Factory:     Perfume Journal:
Natural Perfumes:    The Western Cape Perfumery:
Aromatherapy Contessa:    Absolute Trygve:

Mandy Aftel and the 2011 Fifi’s

The Fifi’s are the perfume worlds Oscars and this year, for the first time ever, there is a natural perfumer in the running. Mandy Aftel has three different perfumes on the ballot. If you are interested in seeing a small independent “niche” perfumer win, one who is also directly responsible for the perfume world and the buying public becoming aware of alternatives to main stream perfumes and fragrances, this is your chance to make a difference. Having her perfumes on this year’s Fifi ballot is a huge step forward for all the independents and small perfumers.

You can caste your vote by going here: Facebook Page for FiFi 2011 Consumer Voting, or you can also go through this link, which is sponsored by some of Mandy’s students:

She is asking that people vote for the scent called Honey Blossom so as to not split up the votes.

Honey Blossom was created in a meeting of the minds with fellow niche perfumer Andy Tauer for a project where they both created perfumes from a starting point of two materials (each of them picked one material) and their scent journey is chronicled on Nathan Branch’s blog (which is always a good read in itself). This is a fascinating read into the creative process of two very well thought of artists.

I was lucky enough one evening to go by Mandy’s studio to drop something off and she had just pretty much finished up Honey Blossom. To say she was excited would be putting it very mildly.  She puts her all into her creations and it shows, this is a stunning, very beautiful floral with miles of depth and, on me, lasted about 6 hours or so. Plus it keeps evolving as it goes, what more could one ask for?

You can also check out my piece on being in a perfume class with Mandy here.

Mandy Aftel ..The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells

I love the raw materials of incense and perfume. Many of them tend to have very blurred borders in their usage between one and the other. I have come to realize that I am a somewhat “materials oriented guy” when it comes to this sort of thing and because of all this I started gathering up a lot of essential oils, absolutes, resins, herbs and all the rest of the raw materials that go into creating incense and what has been termed by Octavian Coifan as “The Eighth th Art” or perfume.

There are no schools for incense making in this country, or if they exist they are pretty well hidden. So I decided to try another route and take perfumery classes. I had read Mandy Aftel’s book “Essence and Alchemy” and was captivated by her insights into the worlds of scent and its references to metaphysics. It didn’t hurt that I had studied some of the ideas within the Alchemical teachings and figured I would feel at least comfortable and probably highly intrigued in a class taught by her. It’s also very convenient that her studio is nearby and close to some of my favorite restaurants and coffee shops, how could it not be wonderful?

I still remember my first class, being clueless as to what to expect in such an environment, although I was sure it would not be anything like, say, a Microsoft Network class (amongst other things I am also an IT). So I studied up in Mandy’s Level One Work Book and left for the first morning of class praying that I would not look or act too much like a neo-barbarian or whatever other low life images came to mind.

When walking into Mandy’s perfume studio one is greeted by the sight of what I now always think of as “The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells”, and yes, I do see this with capital letters. It’s done up in light creamy white walls and a stunning amount of polished   wood. There are wooden book cases and shelves everywhere (totally filled) and on one side is a large glass container with at least five pounds of high-grade Frankincense (my eyes went to this very quickly; it’s an incense thing, kind of comforting). But what really just sort of rivets ones attention is the huge wood perfumer’s organ. A quick estimate tells me there have got to be at least five hundred bottles on this thing, all nicely labeled and sorted. My little “materials oriented guy” brain goes into shock – just think of all the wonderful smells in them! OK, I was a little short on how to really use them, but…damn, five hundred bottles!

Now it is my third time coming to a weekend class with Mandy, but it’s almost always the same reaction when walking in. It is a beautiful space to work and study in, well designed for its purpose.

Class starts, there are six other students besides myself and they are from, in this class, from all parts of the US. In other classes I have been in they have been from as far away as Australia and New Zealand. The class starts out by everyone introducing themselves and why they are here.

This is where things become so much more than you could imagine before getting there. Mandy, as the teacher, is incredibly passionate about what she does and as far as I can tell she never really stops being that way. There always seem to be ideas coming up on what to do next. She is really an entrepreneur of the first water with a huge imagination and a lot of focus.  Plus she has that special ability to pass on what she has learned in a manner that is validating and seems to be perfect for the person she is talking to. She has seen or  made most of the mistakes that someone starting out will run into and is not scared to tell you about them on the off-chance that you will then not need to go there. She is also out front about what it can cost in terms of time and money to go down this road, both of which can be high. In fact she mentions repeatedly how many times she has tossed out the test blends, experiments and just plain mistakes. It is amazingly reassuring to the beginner to hear someone who is very high up the perfumers ladder say what amounts to, it’s not all going to work and it does take some real live time, energy and money to make it happen. She is being very truthful as she says this, but there is also a smile on her face. It is a rare teacher who can laugh at themselves and she does have a wonderful sense of humor.

Mandy and feedback to the class

You also get to bounce ideas off of your classmates, which is invaluable. Every one of them has a different way of looking at any given assignment. Each day in the Studio will last about seven hours and you will make anywhere from three to five scents, based on what the class wants to go for or what Mandy thinks would offer the best experience. It becomes a very focused and intense time. You might be surprised at how concerned one can become over what one drop of say, Cade, will do to your blend and the clock is ticking. One DropYou  get to have honest feed back from her on where each scent is at and you also get to hear the same thing about your classmate’s endeavors. She is incredibly good at discovering where the mistakes are and how to correct them. This is invaluable information to the beginner.

As the weekend progresses you find yourself trying many new ideas, not just because there are so many new raw materials to try, but because you get to see and smell what everyone else is trying and then see where you could incorporate some of this into your own creations.

At some point Mandy will create something from selections the class gives her. This is one of the more profound moments. It’s one thing to open a bottle of say, Jasmine Sambac, and just smell it, it is a whole different level to open the same bottle and know what it is going to smell like right now and then in fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, an hour and so on as it dries down. Plus, what happens when you add it to other E.O.’s, absolutes and whatever else is in the mix, remembering that each one of them is also going through its own evolution within the bottle. Being a perfumer is a lot like conducting a large orchestra. It’s really about how all the separate essences (instruments) will mix together (harmonize) and how that scent (sound) is going to be received by the world. So to see someone who has put the many hours necessary to educate the nose and now has a very good idea as to what is going to work with each other and under what conditions is a real treat. Right there you can see that it is really all about taking the time to educate yourself on how the parts can play and harmonize together with each other.Your wrist, a perfumers best friend!

By the end of the class you have seen and done quite a lot. You have a much better understanding of how the materials work together and when to use which ones. You may have meant people who you can bounce ideas off in the future, which will be a great help. You have gotten to play in the “The Room of Many Bottles Full of Good Smells”! You will walk away with many more ideas than when you walked in and a much greater appreciation of the possibilities that can open to you.

Making perfume really is an art and there are many, many ways to go about it, being taught some structure and techniques and receiving honest feedback can go a long ways towards helping one with their goal. This is probably (at least for me) one of the most valuable lessons I learned. Oh yes and Mandy’s opening statement (somewhat paraphrased) “This class is not about making anything good, it’s about spotting the mistakes and fixing them”.

I would like to thanks Mandy and her husband Foster for a wonderful time along with all my fellow perfumers in training (all three seasons worth, you know who you are). I feel honored to have gotten to study with all of you… Also thank you Michelyn Camen at with some editing input and help.

  Hey, anyone know where I can get my hands on some antique Sandalwood oil or Boronia?  One can get very spoiled with access, even for a short time, to Mandy’s collection  😮 )

Cheers    -Ross

Mystery of Musk Pt 4: Verdigris, Musk eau Natural, Temple of Musk (Ross)

Unfortunatly it took awhile for me to get the time necessary to write these up, sometimes life seems to get much too complicated.

Verdigris from BellyFlowers: A somewhat anise like  top note as well as an all to brief hint of cedar, that quickly fades away into a lavender and clary sage blend that is a lot stronger on my skin then the blotter. The name pretty much says it all, green, fresh and upbeat.  To me the musk aspect is very faint and may act more as a fixative then as an attention getter. In this composition this works well and I think it helps to keep the fresh/green aspect more towards the fore front. Nicly done and the scent seems to hang in there for quite awhile

Musk eau Natural from Dawn Spencer Hurwitz: Stunningly nice spices at the start that persist down into at least the heart, there is a beautiful resins accord that mixes well with the spices and in the background we have beeswax giving it all a nicely rounded shape, although I think there might be labdanum in here also. Actually there could be quite a lot of other ingredients as this one has many levels going on at the same time, like a large orchestra where all the many parts make up the beautiful finished piece. I must admit that this type of scent really appeals to me and it also reminds me of many different aspects in the incenses that I tend to use most, spices mixed in with Aloeswoods. Depending on how much was applied one could wear this for a casual time or for the “special” night. It doesn’t hurt that Dawn went for the 30% perfume concentration, I am finding that this can be very important in a lot of natural compositions. Musk eau Natural  is elegant, sophisticated and a touch of wicked. What more could one want?

Temple of Musk from Strange Invisible Perfumes: The citrus notes at the top are very interesting to me, there is no one type of citrus that I can peg, but I found myself very infatuated by them ( why yes, I do walk around a lot with my forearm jammed up to my nose, why?) The myrtle listed in the notes as well as the Black Current seem to dance in and out of the heart notes for another interesting pairing. This perfume seems to have very sharply defined timing. What I do not get is where the musk aspect went. I just could not seemingly find it, which my just be my take on musk.

Sadly the sample from Alfredo Dupetit did not survive its run in with our Postal service, the envelope it can in looked like it had gone Mano e Mano with a fork lift and lost big.

Cravings drawing winner!

The winner of the bottle of Cravings from  Perfumes By Nature” is Dionne. Please send me email with your full name and address and I will pass this one to Ambrosia at Perfumes By Nature. You can find my email in our “About” page, last line on my Bio

The drawing was preformed by a three year old friend of mine who decided this one looked the most interesting. I am still trying to understand how this worked for her.

More reviews coming tomorrow -Ross

Mystery of Musk, The Reviews Pt. 2: Musk Nouveau and Sensual Embrace

There is still time to get into the drawing for “Cravings”. Leave a comment here.

Musk Nouveau from Providence Perfume Co, to me, nails the idea of a musky, deep and intense perfume. I am a big fan of Aged Patchouli and Aloeswoods/Oud’s and this one uses both to good effect.  The light note of coffee supplies an almost caffeine driven high to the low notes and the restrained use of Champaca and Jasmine( which could get overblown very easily) are done with skill, as well as an very inspired touch. This also has a Sherry top note with Pepper. The Sherry is a nice opener for mids and base notes, To my nose the Pepper gets a little lost. This mixture has some staying power as well as some decent sillage (not overbearing but if it’s on ones wrist you get to experience hints of it as you go about your day), and it seemed to last for around five hours on me. As it is going through its dry down it really reminds me of some of the better incenses from companies like Kyukyodo(woods & florals), Tennendo (resins and spices) and Shunkohdo ( serious musk). This one really works for me, plus it goes through many changes, which is always a selling point for me. In incense I would call this a long learning curve, something to be devoutly studied for  understanding.

Sensual Embrace from JoAnne Bassett has a very classic scent to me. The top notes come in with a light citrus burst that fades into a mellow floral( a lot of different florals, to be sure). Down in the dry out stage there is a sort of Sandalwood/Ambery base that holds the whole creation together. I do notice that this perfume actually starts to have a stronger scent about five to ten minutes after applying it. I wanted the middle notes to last longer, which was annoying as I found them very nice. The Amber and Sandalwood finish also blend into a musky  note.

Kewdra from Anya’s Garden is a true exotic, born of a dream somewhere between ancient India and A Thousand and One Night’s. It is potent, sexy, demanding, and sexy. It has great sillage (which to me means around 2-3 feet ) The combination of exotic floral notes mixed with a very out front musk are a stunning combination. Really, this one is an instant trip to far away places, where anything, mostly involving sex, could happen. : )

Perhaps not for the timid or faint of heart, although a spray of this might invest one with courage or at least passion(really not all that different). Great stuff. For an incense that is along these lines one could look at the Pure-Incense line or, perhaps, Mother’s India Fragrances Champa Blends.

Be sure to check out the other blogs involved in this, it’s quite fun to read the different impressions.

I Smell Therefore I Am – Abigail Levin
Perfume Shrine – Elena Vosnaki
The Non Blonde – Gaia Fishler
Indie Perfumes – Lucy Raubertas
Bitter Grace Notes – Maria Browning
CaFleureBon – Michelyn Camen
Olfactarama – Pat Borow
First Nerve – Avery Gilbert
Olfactory Rescue Service – Ross Urrere
Grain de Musc – Denyse Beaulieu

Mystery of Musk, The Reviews (Part 1) Cravings & Graines de Paradis

So, to get ready for the reviews of twelve different perfumes constructed with some aspect of musk in them I decided to assemble a sort of “musky reference materials library”. I pulled out two different small bottles of real musk tincture, one bottle of musk grains, my entire collection of Japanese musk scented incenses( around 25 different ones)(problem with musk, why would you think that?), a good bottle of single malt scotch and some Hakusui Aloeowood/Musk fired BBQ ribs …just kidding about the ribs, although I do have the Hakusui smoldering next to me :). The samples started to come in and I started spraying them onto paper strips or my wrists. People around here got very used to me putting my wrist near their nose and asking the magic question “So, what does this one do for you?” There were a lot of really big  musky floral’s, very classic in style, some had incredible longevity and silage, some seemingly faint, a couple or three that seemed totally different from the others and in general a complete treat of an aromatic ride. I was amazed at how creative and spontaneous the perfumers were. Most perfumers that I have talked to, not to mention incense makers, do not create a finished product in a matter of a couple of weeks( Shoyeido is famous for spending ten years on the Kyara blend Sho-kako). This may, of course, be completely different in a large perfume house where production is all.  That does not even include the maturation time involved. In fact there are a couple in here that I believe will be much smoother in time. All in all the results here were pretty amazing to me. Many of them stayed within a list of “botanical musk notes” that the Perfumers Guild sent with the perfume brief, then again some just went for broke and used some pretty outrageous materials.

Some of these really remind me of incenses, and if possible I will try and note this.

Since it seems that we are giving away a bottle of Cravings from Ambrosia at “Perfumes By Nature” it seemed reasonable to put this one at the start. The name pretty much says it all, most especially if you have need’s, chocolate, for one, not the normal stuff but the really hard core and high end kind, This is very potent with good sillage and is long lasting. It is also very sexy in unexpected ways.  The cocoa is there from the get go and in one way or another continues through out, yet there are so many other notes the weave their way around, through and over it. Somewhere after an hour or so the Aloeswood/Oud notes really come through. In the incense world I would compare it to ShunKohdo’s  Houshou(cocoa plus aloeswood) mixed in with Nefertum Kyphi from Mermade Magickal(deep, mysterious, musky and sacred). A very heady mix with the idea of musk pretty firmly attached throughout. Would you wear this to dinner, maybe not.  But, if you were interested in being dessert….

When the sample ofGraines de Paradis” from Sharini Parfums Naturels came I just stared at the materials list for almost ten minutes in amazement. You can see the list at the link above.  Nicholas obviously goes to great lengths to source special ingredients that meet his demanding standards. This one also has great sillage and can last quite awhile. In that time it holds a stunning floral note but after some time the Oud and musk notes do come much more into play. In the very first few seconds there is a wonderful citrus and ginger note the really got my attention, after this all the floral’s come out and there are a lot of them. It is interesting to me that those all get to shine at some point, very nicely done. This one I got to take up into the mountains with me, huge difference in scent at 6000 feet up.  Much woodier, still floral, but more wood notes.

If you are interested in a chance to win a bottle of Cravings from Perfumes By Nature, leave a comment in THIS posting and sometime around next Friday I will do a drawing and post the result over the weekend.

Be sure to drop in to the other blogs listed below and see all the different observations from the reviewers and for a real time update of postings for these blogs check out Anya’ Garden. — Ross
I Smell Therefore I Am – Abigail Levin
Perfume Shrine – Elena Vosnaki
The Non Blonde – Gaia Fishler
Indie Perfumes – Lucy Raubertas
Bitter Grace Notes – Maria Browning
CaFleureBon – Michelyn Camen
Olfactarama – Pat Borow
First Nerve – Avery Gilbert
Olfactory Rescue Service – Ross Urrere
Grain de Musc – Denyse Beaulieu