For fans of fragrance, reaching for your trusty signature scent is second nature. But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, ‘Hmm, how is perfume made?’ Well, it’s an incredibly complex journey laced with passion, expertise and many years of development! Here’s everything you need to know…
HOW DO YOU MAKE PERFUME?
STEP 1: THE INGREDIENTS
All perfumes start life as a list of ingredients. Perfume is predominantly made up of natural ingredients such flowers (very important), resins, leaves, grasses and spices.
Often thousands of flowers are required to produce just a single pound of essential oil (more on what essential oils are and how they differ from tinctures – which are concentrated herbal extracts). Perfumery can become quite a tricky business if crops are ruined, they do not grow properly, they change from one harvest to the next or if conditions alter the quality of the flower. So, there are a lot of things that have to be managed at this very first stage to ensure the quality of the ingredients is consistent.
You will also find more and more synthetic chemicals present in perfumes these days. Synthetic perfume notes can create consistenty if crops are damaged and can be better for the environment. They are used to mimic the scents that are extracted from animals or flowers which cannot have their oils extracted. Which leads us nicely on to step 2…
STEP 2: THE EXTRACTION PROCESS
Once the raw materials have been gathered, their oils need to be extracted. There are several methods of extraction, but the most commonly used are expression and steam distillation.
Expression is where the ingredients have their natural oils squeezed out of them and distillation is where steam is passed through the natural matter to extract the oils. Each method is used to extract different types of scents and oils from different sources. For example, steam distillation is used to extract essential oils from flowers such as roses, the expression method is used for more delicate fragrances like jasmine and tuberose.
STEP 3: THE BLENDING OF OILS
Once all the beautifully scented oils have been extracted from the ingredients, the creation of the scent can begin. The oils are blended with other ingredients, like alcohol (used as a base to help distribute the scent evenly), water (to dilute it and make it less concentrated), and fixatives (that ‘fix’ the scent and make it last longer, like vanilla or musk).
The blending of oils will be conducted by a master in the industry known as a ‘nose’. These are exceptionally passionate and talented perfumers who may take years of trial and error to finally reach their desired scent.
Once the ‘nose’ is happy with their creation, the blended oils are combined with alcohol and left to bind for up to a year. The level of alcohol which is added will determine what kind of fragrance it becomes, as the perfume concentration differs between an Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette and Parfum. Check out our perfume concentration guide for more!
STEP 4: THE AGEING PROCESS
One of the last steps in the creation of a perfume is to let it age – just like a fine wine! It will sit for several months, or even years, until the ‘nose’ has determined the correct scent has been achieved. Once they are happy it can then start its journey from development to packaging and eventually to the shelves at The Perfume Shop and finally, to you!
What does a ‘nose’ actually do?
Answering the age-old question ‘How do you make perfume’, purely by looking at the manufacturing process and the science of it all negates the true essence of perfumery – art.
A master perfumer is a creative thinker who has built up years and years of ingredients knowledge, by committing each individual raw ingredient and its characteristics to memory. They also understand the complexities and the volatility of each oil and how it blends, so they can place it in the perfect spot within a composition. For example: lemon is punchy and hits fast, so works best at the top of a scent.
As you’d expect, with the volume of scent options readily available, many combinations of ingredients already exist and noses can lean on ‘harmonies’ that form structures of compositions (aka fragrance families). But innovation and creativity are what drives the fragrance industry forward and is the goal for most master perfumers – to create something new and unexpected. And that’s how we get some of the most iconic and head-turning scents, like Mugler’s Angel: the first-ever scent to use a high concentration of good-to-eat notes (think chocolate, coconut, cotton candy), subsequently pioneering an entire new scent category – gourmand fragrances. Discover our gourmand perfume top picks…
New perfume lesson coming right up!
Next up: What are synthetic fragrances?
ABOUT ELENA CHOW
Elena is a creative copywriter who’s been around the beauty block for more than a decade, writing for brands and glossy magazines. A self-proclaimed fragrance addict (her ‘open’ collection is at 14 bottles, but who’s counting?), it’s no wonder she loves penning pieces on our newest releases and trending notes. Her signature scent? Elle by Yves Saint Laurent.