A perfume creation and discovery workshop, or, indulging my nose

Over the previous few weekends I had the luck to come across and attend a local perfume creation workshop series, Nose Who Knows’ Discovery Program. It’s a series of 2 or 3 half-day sessions where we learned about the history of perfume, the composition of perfume, and created our own scent as well.

Setting up

A few years ago at the peak of my perfume oils obsession, I was looking for a workshop or seminar like this but couldn’t find any, so I was very elated to come across the Discovery Day program. My interest in perfume is mostly on a “scent experience” basis–I know next to nothing about commercial perfumery and until last week, did not know what the popular and iconic perfumes smelled like, such as Chanel No5, Shalimar, and others. I know a passable amount regarding perfume oils, but that’s pretty much it.

I’ve since seriously dialed down my perfume hoarding, though I’ve always felt that interest and urge to continue my sniffing and not abandon my scent journal.

(That sounds…kind of wrong.)

Day One

The first day we went through the basics–how our sense of smell works, the different kinds and types of raw materials used, the different extraction methods, and so on.

Session 1

There were a couple raw materials available for smelling, which was really interesting for me, to actually have a better sense what all these different notes I’ve become accustomed to smelling in BPAL was. I have new appreciation for oudh, vetiver was suprisingly not distasteful, and maybe this time I will stop thinking of galbanum as a brown scent but rather green? I mean, seriously. The name evokes brown, deep tones rather than the bright piercing green note it is.


Raw materials in perfume creation

We also had exercises on telling which raw material is synthetic vs natural, which led to a newfound appreciation for natural and high-quality ingredients. That vanilla note I love so much that sometimes go absolutely flat? When it goes flat, it must be vanillin, then.

After this session, I’d gone home and tested some vials of perfume oils I had bought a long time ago but never got around to test. I missed the sensory experience, but realized that over those 2-3 years that I was into BPAL, I must have flexed my olfactory nerves quite a bit–because when I used to be able to test up to five oils a night, I called it after two.

Day Two

This was the most exciting day of the series! The whole session geared up towards the creation of our own perfume, by going through each of the perfume facets we could use in our creation. We smelled, discussed, and learned how each facet would affect the evntual perfume, as well as went through examples of commercial perfume where each facet is notable. The latter was not as useful to me–the only perfume I used prior to becoming full-scale obsessed with oils was CK Eternity Moment–but having sniffed through hundreds of BPAL oils, well, I could imagine.


We had three trials for perfume creation, and I ended up making two different perfumes–I used two trials to “perfect” the first one, which was an ambery floral something along the lines of BPAL’s The Girl. It’s not as sweet, and not as “deep” and nuanced as the latter, certainly–but well, for me it was a passable alcohol-based substitute, definitely. Truth be told, I did not set out to copy The Girl; I just wrote a formula for what notes I was interested in, and then realized after some time how similar the drydown was to The Girl.

The third trial, I went in a completely different direction. Well, not completely–I didn’t want to get go of vanilla–and went gourmandy/woody and while not quite a “big bottle scent”, felt interesting to me even though it was more of a masculine scent in the end.

Perfume Trial #1
Perfume Trial #2
Perfume Trial #3

Day Three

Not everyone attends the third day, which is optional, so we were a much smaller group on the last day, but personally I found a lot of interest in the third session. We talked about the history of perfume, with a lot of focus on the industry in the 1900s and after, when it really grew into what it is today. My trivia-loving brain loves this part.

We also were able to smell a lot of the iconic perfumes throughout the ages on this day, which interested me since going to a dpartment store’s perfume section to sniff at different perfume isn’t really my idea of a fun outing–pushy salespeople? No thank you. But I’d been terribly curious about these different perfumes, since you just can’t escape hearing about them.

So I learned that Chanel No5 might be wildly popular, but I kind of like Shalimar more. Or Chanel No19, for that matter, even though it almost didn’t get made. I learned I could get my lily fix with Diorissimo. I noted a few commercial perfume that I think is worth a revisit, maybe a small amount of, just to round my collection out and make it more mainstream.

Our parting activity was to get matched to one of the perfume industry consumer styles. I ended up as a “romantic with a dash of playfulness”, which I initially resisted, but after coming home after an impromptu shopping spree with three new dresses, um, well, maybe?

A worthy peek into the world of perfume

I’m very pleased that I signed up for the workshops and I certainly felt that each session was worth going to. Each session is with a small group, at a maximum of 8 participants, and each day there was something new to learn and smell. I walked away with a perfume I could call my own, and since I also purchased a set of the facets we worked with, I could play with them to my heart’s content.

I’ve done a little dabbling with oils and turning it into “perfume”, but since they were expensive and I had no idea exactly what I wanted, I didn’t really get a significant amount of different oils, nor could I get a nuanced blend from the half dozen oils I had. Having the wide variety of facets is so much more fun to work with than just going by guesses, and I’m really glad I went.

Now excuse me while I go open my stash of perfume materials and sigh in bliss.


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