Suzanne's Perfume Journal

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Linda Andrews is the owner of The Perfumer’s Apprentice, which in addition to its webstore is an actual shop in Scotts Valley, California.  (I’ve never been there but have read glowing reviews of her store, which reportedly she was inspired to open after taking a workshop with master perfumer Mandy Aftel.)  The aroma-chemicals that she sells come from some of the industry giants, such as Givaudan (the maker of the tiny vial of synthetic civet I purchased from her, which forevermore shall be confined in a zip-lock bag swathed with three-layers of bubble-wrap—it’s that stinky!)

When I first began reading perfume blogs and avidly collecting fragrances, one of the greatest mysteries to me was how the bloggers could pick out the individual notes of a fragrance during its top, middle and dry-down stages.  While I could pick out some of the more assertive citrus or herbal top notes, such as bergamot or lavender, once those volatile tops yielded to the complex blend of middle and base notes, I was lost.  It was like trying to pick out the various ingredients in a cream soup of pureed vegetables—not an easy thing to do.  And though I had no reason for learning the notes (at the time, it never occurred to me that I might one day want to write about perfumes myself), nevertheless, there was an intense urge to know exactly what I was smelling and a deep envy at knowing that other perfume-philes knew exactly what heliotrope, galbanum, labdanum and oakmoss smelled like.  I knew only

the most basic of basics—jasmine, rose, lily-of-the-valley—and while I knew that I liked anything that fell under the category of “white florals,” I didn’t know most of the individual flower notes that made up that group.

Enter the Le Labo Olfactionary—or maybe not.  For $490, the exclusive Le Labo perfume house sells what they call the “Olfactionary,” which is like a dictionary for the nose, or in Le Labo’s words “a translation in miniature of the Perfumer’s pipe organ.”  It contains 40 of the fundamental natural essences used in perfumery—each note in its own 2.5 ml bottle, suspended in an alcohol-based solution—along with a set of perfume blotters, and the whole thing is housed in what looks like a very nifty case.  Oh, how I lusted after this thing for months, even knowing I would never buy it for that amount of money.

Enter The Perfumer’s Apprentice—yes!  By doing a little bit of internet research, I found this fantastic website where I was able to order individual bottles of practically all of the same essences that are in the Le Labo Olfactionary for a much more affordable $155.  The essences are actually in bigger bottles than the Le Labo kit (most of the ones I ordered came in 5 ml bottles, and, like Le Labo, they were suspended in an alcohol-base, not to be used directly on skin, but which could be added to a carrier oil if one was interested in making perfumes).  I got the professional perfume blotters, too, for sampling the essences.  Basically, I got everything except the nifty case, which is not a problem as I keep the bottles neatly tucked away in a drawer of my drysink (see photo) and just pull the whole drawer out when I go to play with them.

But for anyone else who would like an olfactionary, here’s the even better news: In the time since I placed my order last summer, The Perfumer’s Apprentice has created several educational kits in a variety of sizes and prices.  As of this writing, there is an "Introduction to Perfumery Notes” kit for $30; a "Perfumery Notes Kit" with 40 different ingredients for $95; an even more advanced "Beginner's Aromachemicals Kit" for $125; and two natural perfumery kits as well.

So, why such a huge plug for someone I’ve never met, apart from the warm interaction I had when I placed my internet order with her last summer?  Because the perfume-loving hobby is heartbreakingly expensive at times, and when you find a great resource for reasonably priced items you want to share it.  Linda’s website is worth a visit for its educational materials too: in one section she has a series of articles written by the late, great French perfumer Jean Carles, creator of the iconic Ma Griffe and the 1947 classic, Miss Dior, free for anyone to read and study.

Please note: I have nothing against Le Labo; in fact, I salute them for having the foresight to create and market the Olfactionary—for recognizing that there are people who want to educate themselves on a deeper level about perfumes.  But I want to make others aware that there also exists this great resource for people like me, who have Le Labo tastes on a beer budget.  (Because, hey, baby cannot live on perfumes alone!)

Images: my own photos.

January 29, 2008:

An Affordable Olfactionary