Friends — this is Studio Waft 13, the periodic essay which accompanies every Studio Series Set and discusses processes and concepts behind my work. This is the final Studio Waft, as the thirteenth edition of the Studio Series ends this project.
Producing each edition has been an interesting and fascinating journey, to say the least. Starting out as an idea in mid-2017, its first iteration, Studio Series 1, went on sale to the public that December. In sum, it was a great way to connect with the fragrance community and invite them behind the curtains of a perfumery practice, in what I hope was an authentic and transparent way, becoming not a how-to-make fragrances, rather chronicling all that is created before one produces an original perfume.
In essence, the Studio Series has really been a diary of the evolving activities of my studio. The insane. The unsuccessful. The unexpected. The incredible.
I’m glad it’s over, now. It’s been exhausting/difficult just to write these four paragraphs, as trite as that might sound, but epitaphs are much easier to begin when they are not for your own.
Leaves My Body
A perfume about death, but not dying? Une petite mort? The one million traumas that follow the first cut? Eustress? Elation?
First, Leaves My Body is the natural progression any brand follows when it creates a well-received product. Timbre, which was first an EdT and then an EdP, used to be my best-selling perfume until I released After Every Ounce of Joy (Leaves My Body), the forebear to LMB. When Victoria of EauMG reviewed Timbre EdT, it sold out four days later; similarly, when Matt Morris of Fragrantica named AEOOJ (LMB) one of the best perfumes of 2020, it quickly overtook Timbre as my top-selling release.
And I don’t think Victoria’s or Matt’s reviews suddenly convinced people they needed this perfume, per se, but I think that for many people who were perhaps still unsure about a new brand in an oversaturated field, those reviews lent affirmation to anyone who might have feared I was a charlatan, instead confirming legitimacy.
People heard: Yes, it’s high-quality and honest; yes, it does smell exactly like <redacted>. And genuine word-of-mouth is important for any independent business.
Obviously sales alone do not drive what I do, a fact that should be crystalline for most of you, given my non-traditional marketing tactics. For instance, the withholding or masking of note pyramids for both AEOOJ and LMB, make certain consumers uncomfortable and ultimately deflects their interest in making a purchase. But sales confirm legitimacy for me, too: Yes, people want something like this in their collection. As a small, self-funded operation, that’s important to know.
So second, with evident external encouragement, I knew I could take the financial and time-labor risks of expanding the project, which, because of the nature of its conception also carried emotional risks, and the creative risk of subterfuge, namely following up something revered with a dud, defusing some of the magic of the original, should the extrait turn out meh.
Because AEOOJ was made from limited materials that I foraged, I was constricted to a particular production volume for LMB, thus lending to the concept of doing a full-press extrait, something that really pushed the limits of <redacted>.
But if AEOOJ was a sort of elegy for the common world, I wanted to make LMB a paean for transcendence. And similar to how Quasi una absurdia evoked funerary excess with its floral abundances, my working goal with LMB was to make it an explosion of floral <redacted>.
If the resultant perfume seems complex, the derivative concept was incredibly simple. The result, I believe, is rather intense and tenacious. I think, like a memory of psychosis, its meanings are multiple and largely relative to points in time.
But before things ultimately come to an end, as they all must, don’t we ponder the ability to last forever?
Nar (The Ambergris Project)
If your mind operates like mine, you will have thought “narwhal” at some point contemplating this project, perhaps even recently, solely based on the three-letter codename I’ve employed throughout the duration of this project and now shared on the labels of the experimental vials in Studio Series 13.
This project started almost two years ago with a visit to Disneyland, whose picture-perfect Main Street terminates/encircles a minipark in front of Cinderella’s castle, the conceptual nucleus from which the entirety of the theme park emanates, its magical hub to the fantastical spokes. In the center of this rotary stands a brass sculpture of Walt holding hands with Mickey. Creator / creation.
On December 29th, 2019, the first time I ever visited Disneyland, the four flowerbeds surrounding this sculpture were planted with white amaryllis whose blooms perfumed the vicinity like a narcotic field reminiscent of another fairy tale. This little patch of land was highly odiferous on that cold, foggy morning. A slightly chlorine air intermixed with the amaryllis inflorescence, coming from the pools surrounding the castle. I was transfixed. It was indeed a magical moment.
The narwhal is also a somewhat magical creature, a unicorn-of-the-sea. However, its characteristic external tusk is actually a tooth. And after decades of misunderstanding the tusk’s purpose, research now suggests its purpose might be to both interpret seawater and then communicate that data with other narwhals.
But this is not a perfume about narwhals; another brand already has that schtick cornered.
This is a project about ambergris — something that comes from the body of a different animal, the sperm whale — and amaryllis.
Amaryllis in perfume is sort of a white-whale note. It’s incredibly hard to compose, as no absolute or essential oil of the actual flower exists. Its chemical complexity is still somewhat open to question, as few reliable GCMS or headspace analyses are available in the literature. The actual flower is likely as complex as narcissus or lily, considering between them they share similar structural core chemicals as the building block of the actual in vivo scent, not the least of which is linalool, being critically important to innumerable odiferous plant life.
A number of amaryllis perfumes currently exist, most of which seem to rely on vanilla for their base structure since most of the aroma chemicals present in Amaryllidaceae are fleeting at best and vanilla will stick around for days, despite the fact there’s likely scant vanillin present in amaryllis (bulbous), which are distinct from Orchidaceae, the family of vanilla (vine-like). The use of vanilla as a base for amaryllis also probably persists from the accord sketches found in the early formularies of perfume literature.
Ambergris, too, at least the real deal, is also a rarity, given its exorbitant price. In each Studio Series 13 set I included a 3% tincture of gold ambergris that I procured from a trusted dealer. This ambergris originates from the coast of South Africa and its going rate for a full kilogram is around $36000 (I did not purchase a kilogram). This is actually considered cheap ambergris, as its price is lower than the finer and more sought-after white grade, which is said to smell more marine- and saline-like than what I have included, which is a specimen very clearly displaying notes of halitosis, baby diaper, still brine, and a slight but prominent note of violet, due to the presence of ionones and ambrinol, a significant facet to most ambergris odors. White ambergris? Upwards of $100000 a kilo. So, most ambergris notes these days are composed accords: A blend of ambroxan (or its fully synthetic counterpart, cetalox, a portmanteau of Cetacea, the taxonomic order of whales and ambrox) and ambrinol, plus some high-impact amber chemicals that smell like isopropyl alcohol when neat but create intense, minerally diffusion when dosed properly. Attenuated together with intention, a perfumer can craft myriad impressions of skeletal ambergris that, when joined with additional ambergris-like adjuncts, create a pretty amazing replication of the real thing.
Except that most people don’t want to smell like halitosis and baby diapers in their quotidian routine. And given the current wont by mass-market perfume brands (and, let’s be real, indies and niche, too) to overdose amber chemicals in nearly everything, many people are tiring of faded xeroxes marketed as ambergris, too.
So why ambergris and amaryllis?
Look for part two of this Studio Waft in a few weeks. Thank you!
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