How To Make Perfume: A Guide For Beginners

The chances are that you are here because you want to learn how to make perfume. BUT…. you either don’t know where to start or you have started but keep getting overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you need to learn.

This overwhelm means you either don’t start or you end up going around in circles.

Right now you are probably doing one of two things;

  1. Reading and learning as much as possible but not getting started with formulating
  2. Or you’re trying to formulate fragrances and they are not turning out how you want them to smell.

The fragrance industry is secretive and full of smoke and mirrors. I saw so many creative people not having access to the training they needed to get started, so I started teaching them how to make their own perfume.

People who were disheartened by being told “perfumery is only for industry-trained noses”

Times have changed and customers are craving individual artistic products created with heart and soul. People are looking for bespoke signature scents that are individually made for them. Don’t let overwhelm or lack of confidence to stand in your way.

So here are the 3 things I want you to focus on, and keep focusing on:

1. LEARN YOUR MATERIALS

I mean really really learn them, study them, be a detective.

I often get questions from people asking “how do I make my perfume last longer” or “smell stronger”? The answer always comes back to learning your materials. There is no magic bullet or secret ingredient– you will only know how to fix or balance a fragrance if you know your materials inside out.

Now I know you all KNOW that but how many of you are really doing it? Setting aside time every day to study your materials?

So here is your structure:

Start with naturals, break them down into categories citrus, floral, spicy, woody etc.

Get a notebook just for this and set aside time every day to smell 2 or 3 materials.

Write your observations on immediate sniff and then at intervals throughout the day. Carry the smelling strips with you if you have to go out to work. If you need to dip them before you leave the house, write your observations and take them with your notepad with you! No excuses for “I don’t have time”

Once you have a collection of materials you can organise them into fragrance categories and taking 1 from each compare them so you really get to know the different characteristics of the family.

Then once you’re confident take several from the same family – i.e citrus and smell them side by side. This is so you can start to see the differences within materials of the same family.

Rinse and repeat for the rest of your life – haha seriously this bit of the work is never done!

 2. FOCUS ON ACCORDS

This is something I teach all my students. If you try to create a finished fragrance as a beginner you can end up not knowing where you went wrong and unable to learn from it. When you start, all formulation exercises are experiments and even when you have a lot more experience there is still a lot of experimentation in perfumery.

 So what is an accord?

An accord is a harmonious blend of 2 or more materials that when combined no longer smell of one thing or the other but something new.

 

There is such a temptation to just dive in and try to make a complete perfume but if you do this you’ll end up disheartened when things don’t work out and give up. Or waste loads of time and expensive materials.

If you focus on creating simple accords and recording your results and formulas you will start to build up your own library of combinations that work. Accords are the building block of perfume and I would rather you created 10 great accords than 1 shambolic fragrance.

 Try to stick to using 3 materials especially if using naturals in an accord – the more you add the more muddled it can become so keep it simple especially when you first start.

You can create accords from materials in the same family such as all citrus or all woody or materials in different families such as woody/spicy or floral/green and you can create accords with the same level of volatility such as all top note or all mid notes or all base notes. Or you can create accords with a combination of top /mid/base notes

3. CREATE A STORY FOR YOUR PERFUME

When you finally come to putting your accords together or expanding and developing them out into full blown fragrances it is important to have a plan.

In the fragrance industry it would be called creating a brief. What is the purpose of the fragrance, who is it for, how much should it cost all comes into it but what people sometimes miss is the story. You are creating a story without words, a piece of art that evaporates into the air, something abstract and without physical form. What do you want to feel when smelling the fragrance what images do you want to conjur up?

What a makes a fragrance great rather than simply a nice smell is the story behind it.

 In my classes I always tell people to create a based on a theme or story. Often people simply pull together a bunch of materials that they like the smell of and try to shoehorn them into a perfume without having a clear idea of what they want the end result to smell like. This is the surest route to failure.

There is no point in trying to make a fragrance if you don’t know what you want it to smell like. It’s like trying to paint a picture by gathering the paints you want to use and saying “I want it to have some blue and green and yellow but I’m not sure what I want it to look like”.

I know this sounds so basic but so many people don’t do it. 

The other thing I see is people creating a fragrance theme that is not strong or clear. I especially see this with people creating therapeutic fragrances or skincare fragrances. Something a bit like this. I want it to smell uplifting, exotic, and enlivening. What does that really mean? And does it mean the same to everyone or just you? You need to get really specific and spend a bit of time on this before you start creating.

If you are creating what we would call a fine fragrance (a perfume to be sprayed on the skin or into the air), something that is a perfume for perfume’s sake, you are creating a fantasy, a story to take the person who smells it on a journey. Planning that out will help you to choose the materials – not the other way around.

 If you are creating a fragrance for a therapeutic product or a skincare product, then the fragrance should support the claims of the product and add to the perception of it by the customer.

 You need to decide what you want the customer to feel or believe about the product by smelling it. If the fragrance is out of alignment with what they expect from the product, it will have a negative affect.

So to recap:

  1. Learn your materials thoroughly – set up a regular system of study
  2. Start by creating accords – not finished fragrances. This will teach you how the materials interact with each other. You can then start to combine accords into finished fragrances
  3. Start with a story or a theme for your fragrance that supports the product. The story or theme will determine the fragrance and the materials you use NOT the other way round

Tip 1: Make sure you weigh your materials (don’t use drops) – more on that here: https://www.onlineperfumeschool.com/weighing-perfumery-materials-demo/

Tip 2: and to prevent wastage dilute your materials before you start – more on that here: https://www.karengilbert.co.uk/diluting-perfumery-materials

Of course, there is a lot more to learn and a lot more practice needed to become really proficient. But If you really stick to this structure you’ll find you’ll move forward much more quickly and be less overwhelmed.

Every time you get stuck come back to this list and ask yourself: what do I need to focus on here?

If you need some extra help then check out my online perfumery course: The Artisan Perfumery Mastermind  OR if you prefer in-person classes keep an eye on my Perfume Courses page

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