In Part One of this post, Creating Karatta Perfume, I wrote about the inspiration for the perfume I made at Fleurage Perfume Atelier in South Melbourne, during my Create Your Own Perfume experience. You can read that post here.
To quickly recap, the notes I wanted to capture in the fragrance were my scent memories associated with Karatta House, a wonderful old dilapidated mansion that my family owned when I was a child. The smells that I was keen to recreate in this perfume were:
cedar / honey and beeswax (the bee hive)/ leather / smoke / mulberry / salt / orange / chocolate / fig
Along with these notes, from Emma’s list of 80 ingredients, I then chose a few more that I thought would complement the composition and the concept. These notes were:
forest / earth / seaweed / ambergris / resins / amber / sandalwood / warm wood
My Create Your Own Perfume experience was a one-on-one experience with perfumer Emma Leah and took about two hours. The session took place in the Atelier, which is a combination of workspace and shop. Fleurage is a gorgeously decorated old shop, very stylish with vintage and Art Deco accents. The store was closed for business the day I was there, so I had the space to myself, which certainly felt luxurious. The work bench was set up on my arrival with all 80 ingredients lined up in racks according to scent families (Fougère, Chypre, Oriental and Floral) and in groups of top, heart (middle) and base notes.
As I mentioned in Part One, my session didn’t follow the usual process as I had a concept for the perfume I wanted to make and some knowledge about perfume already. So, rather than familiarising myself with all of the notes and scent families as is usually done in a Create Your Own Perfume session, Emma had me pull out and sniff all of the ingredients I’d chosen to use, and I smelt them one by one. Then began a process of elimination. Did I like the note or accord? Did it remind me of Karatta House? Did it smell how I thought it would smell? I eliminated a few that I didn’t like or that I thought wouldn’t work, but kept many of the notes I chose before the session.
Some smells are tricky to replicate in perfumery, which often uses synthetic ingredients to replicate natural smells. And sometimes natural essences, while extracted directly from the raw ingredient, don’t match up to our conceptions or memories of how things might actually smell to us in nature. From the group of smells I was trying to recreate in Karatta, salt, the bee hive and mulberry fell into this tricky area. Emma explained that we could create illusions of these particular scents by combining multiple notes or accords. So, mulberry was created from raspberry, a touch of lime and geranium; the smell of a beehive from a combination of beeswax and warm woods; and salty and beachy smells from seaweed, ambergris and an accord called seaforest.
Once these notes were chosen, Emma suggested a few more heart and top notes to round out the composition and these were used discreetly in the final formula. The extra notes and accords we decided on were:
metallic / cinnamon / ylang ylang / dryspice / champa flower / chypre accord / pepper
Emma explained to me how top, middle and base notes interact, and how each of these categories literally have a different molecular weight to one another. Base notes are the heaviest, so when you make a perfume in a bottle, as we did, they literally sink to the bottom of the formula, the heart/middle notes hover in the middle, and the top notes sit up top. When mixed with perfumer’s alcohol and left to mature, these notes combine, rather than staying in their separate layers. The different kinds of notes also evaporate from the skin at different rates – the top being the most volatile and transient, evaporating quickly, but most apparent when we first spray a perfume. The middle or “heart” notes create the body, or main character of the fragrance and last a moderate amount of time. The base notes provide support for the whole composition and last the longest.
After deciding on our notes, Emma devised a formula for the fragrance. She worked out the relative proportions of base, heart and top notes that would work well, and then the number of drops of each ingredient that we would need to use to achieve both a balanced fragrance and something that represented my vision of Karatta perfume.
Once Emma had all the numbers worked out, it was my turn to add the various notes and accords, drop by drop, directly into the perfume bottle. You can see a photo of me doing this at the top of the post. It takes quite a bit of time and concentration to make sure you get the correct amount in the bottle and don’t make a mess!
We added the notes in a specific order too, effectively building the fragrance from the bottom up, and testing the formula along the way to ensure it was progressing well. Starting with the list of base notes Emma had entered into the formula sheet, I added ingredients in groups of three or four at a time. After each group, Emma dipped a fragrance blotter into the liquid and we would smell the result. As I added more and more ingredients, we kept testing and sniffing the new results on blotters, both on their own and in combination with each other. It was a fascinating, additive, creative process and we continued this method right through the middle and top notes, until I had added all our ingredients and we had our final creation.
Emma advised me to leave the fragrance to settle for 24 hours before testing, to allow the notes to properly combine and give a more realistic effect of how the fragrance would smell. It was hard waiting those 24 hours, but well worth it.
So, what does Karatta perfume smell like? It is a wonderful and unusual concoction, and is very rich, strong and complex. Each time I sniff it I smell new ingredients that I haven’t noticed before. At first spray there is something green and vegetal mingling with the dominant heart notes of mulberry and seaweed; this is probably fig, but it also reminds me of cut grass, pine needles and crushed leaves. It’s a very curious and fascinating fragrance, and like nothing I’ve ever smelt before. The beeswax note is strong, adding a warm, sweet and animalic smell to the composition. The woody/resiny notes, so evocative of Karatta, with its polished wooden staircase and floors, is very much apparent, becoming even more so as the fragrance develops. All of the base notes that I chose combine to form a solid, complex foundation for the fragrance and are complementary to one another. But it is the overt combination of mulberry and seaweed that really grabs me: it’s edible, it’s odd, warm and sweet, salty and sexy all at once. This is the heart of Karatta.
I would recommend Fleurage’s Create Your Own Perfume experience to anyone – it was such a fun, educational and enriching creative activity and it would appeal to both perfume aficionados and to those with no prior knowledge of fragrance. I had such a wonderful time making my own fragrance with Emma from Fleurage; it was a really magical experience and a wonderful way to make a tribute perfume both to my father and my own childhood scent memories.
You can read more about Fleurage’s Create Your Own Perfume experience here.