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Hello perfume/d friends! Studio Series 5 has started navigating through the holidazed halls of the Postal Service and will soon be in your hands. As I do for each new set, I present to you a new edition of Studio Wafts, a quarterly essay I write to spout off about … the smell of things. Enjoy!
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Since Studio Series 4 launched, it's been a very busy time in the studio. I participated in the 2nd Biennial Scent Fair in Los Angeles and there I premiered the completed Sandal/Sambac Project, Bluer Skies (Whenever You're Around). I am now preparing for a Holiday Showcase at Tigerlily Perfumery in San Francisco on December 22nd. And Black Friday happened. So while I did make progress on all the projects-in-motion, it was limited.
What else happened since Studio Series 4 launched? A new embargo was placed on Iran, the primary source of the world's galbanum. Galbanum, a resin, was said to be "the color of green" by early Greek perfumers, evoking green peppers, crushed leaves, and even lime rind. Sadly, galbanum is a crucial piece in the Wood/Yuzu project. First, it's a quintessential fixative for citrus oils. Second, because of both its green and resinous qualities, it's a prime bridge between fruits and woods since it lends the green- or softwood character of new growth. Last, it is mostly made of a type of chemical called pyrazines whose cherished function is diffusion. Galbanum really is a special material.
So, shortly after the embargo took effect, perfumers started freaking out and I, too, found myself needing to invest in a large amount at a price more than double what it had been a month before, lest this whole project fall apart. Mueller? Mueller? MUELLER!
Where does the Wood/Yuzu project stand and what changes will you experience in your vials?
Well, the answer to the former is "I have no idea, actually" because the answer to the latter is "weird stuff." Both Wood 7 and Wood 8 display the effects of different types of aldehydes and alternative fixatives upon the original theme — exploratory iterations, as I call them, to work out or prevent problems, such as poor tenacity or diffusion.
Wood 7 utilizes natural fruit aldehydes in an attempt to enhance the citrus qualities of the top and mid notes.
Wood 8 attempts to use natural floral fixatives to approach tenacity problems while increase florality, or a sense of bloom.
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The great thing about being so busy with the non-creative activities that are necessary to sustain a creative practice is that indecision suddenly becomes convenience via the function of exhaustion: When you're simply stretched too thin, not to decide is to staunchly decide.
In the previous Studio Waft I mentioned how I thought I might take the Chypre Project down a conceptual road of dystopia. And so I tried some things. And so now you get to smell those scant decisions in Chypre 4.
What do I think? I haven't decided yet. But it's a bit difficult to judge something when the conceptual goal is to make something unpleasant, yet coveted.
Too: As previously promised, what were the thematic shifts that were unrevealed in Chypre 2 and Chypre 3?
Chypre 2 introduced fir balsam, a superb fixative.
Chypre 3 introduced musks to enhance tenacity and complexity, and seaweed, to lend the glutamic qualities you might find in condensed mushrooms.
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Amber Oil 1% — an intermezzo
As you might be able to tell, I love writing as much as I love perfume. Two writers in the field of perfume excel at conveying and interpreting the stories and history of fragrance: Rachel Syme and Helena Fitzgerald of The Dry Down.
The Dry Down is a delicious subscription of periodic musings on and reviews of all things perfume. Subscribe! One of their recent essays, "Amber and Incense," detailed the myriad incarnations of the word amber. One sense of the word throughout perfume implies ambergris, a treasured musk. Another sense implies the classic accord of vanilla, benzoin, and labdanum, championed by perfumer Mandy Aftel; it is said to (somewhat) mimic certain kinds of ambergris, but more importantly it's the skeletal accord for most perfumes that fall under the problematically named category "oriental." True amber, however, is fossilized pine resin. When destroyed by high heat and distilled to extract the resulting oil, a truly unique perfume material is made. It's very hard to come by, but this vial is that. Enjoy.
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The world is ripe with dystopia and crisis, idinit?
Let me tell you about two of my least favorite perfumery ingredients before I go on: vanilla and ambergris chemicals.
If you weren't aware, we are still in the midst of a multiyear vanilla crisis. Due to the conditions of climate change and series of catastrophic weather events, the three most recent vanilla harvest yields have been minuscule.
The other crisis is one I see extended from the problem with amber, which is that the industrial arm of perfumery has seemed to really push synthetic ambergris chemicals as a key future of our trade. Note three examples:
1. Molecule 2 by Escentric Molecules is made up entirely of ambroxan, declaring it, by its inclusion in this unique series, as so special that it can be worn unadorned.
2. Not a Perfume by Juliette Has a Gun is — essentially — a copycat of this: a bottle of alcohol and one perfume chemical marked-up at an exorbitant price. There are others that can be mentioned here, too, but I digress…
3. Sauvage by Dior is a known ambrox-bomb, containing well over 7% by most accounts. Plus vanilla! To me it smells of nothing else and I find it vile.
Ambroxan (also called Cetalox) is a beautiful chemical to work with, YES. It has saline, marine, powdery, slately qualities that are unparalleled. But it's almost unwieldably strong and once you begin to work with it in its raw powder form, you truly experience its noxious capabilities firsthand.
And wouldn't you know vanillin, the primary chemical of vanilla, is also a powder and seemingly unwieldably strong, given its sheer dominance in olfaction as the most desired odor.
Don't believe me? Go to a department store and smell anything.
Now, the reason I'm not particularly fond of either of these chemicals is because they both smell disgusting to me. But this is my crisis, not the market's.
So, the challenge I've given myself is to confront my crisis of displeasure, my disdain for Vanilla Musk.
Crisis 1 is vanilla and ambroxan and musk. That's it. I apologize in advance for this horror.
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How many times in cartoons or comics or popular culture in general is something titled "X" to create mystery: Project X — it sounds so scifi, and futuristic, yet also so lame and clichéd.
Well, here's why I am calling this Project X, though: Heretofore each project I have launched has focused on the main material of its base accord or primary theme. Naming this immediately evokes the associational memories of language that we each consciously or unconsciously experience as a result of those words. So at the risk of sounding lame or cliched, but with a certain feeling of science fiction, I present the first two vials of Project X, a project whose concept seeks to avoid both language and natural materials for as long as possible.
No further elaborations for X herein. Ponder!
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As always, thank you for your continued praise and participation with this independent studio. Your vocal support is truly appreciated.