As the snow falls gently on ice-riddled branches, I’m reminded that day washes out the night, and winter melts into spring. There is an impermanence to each moment. And even though things don’t seem to be moving forward, they are, in fact, changing – even on a microscopic level – constantly. 

Change can be flighty. Some gladly push it away, not wanting any of it – annoyed at the moments when “a change” will be needed. Others reject the notion of tradition and court change at every turn.

While tradition can have a certain amount of same-oldness to it, there are nuggets of passed-down knowledge and a purity of thought that comes from knowing how a thing was made decades, if not centuries ago. 

That’s where I started my education in the art of perfume formulation (and I use the term “art” loosely). It’s not that I don’t believe perfumery has some artistry to it. In fact, each nose has a unique way of formulating. Anyone can mimic Robert Capa’s photographic style, yet only Capa could have taken the pictures he took. What and who he was, informed every click of the shutter. And with each advance of the film, he evolved, changed, and was emboldened. 

I began by scratching the surface of contemporary perfume thinking, then quickly broke my rigid little nails digging towards the bedrock, riddled with veins of tradition. By the aching end, I became a student of long-forgotten methods which better suited our small lab. 

In more traditional methods, I identified a softer and less aggressive approach to blending sensitive absolutes and natural concretes. Giving the experiments time to rest seemed to have been forgotten in our go-go-go, twirl-twirl-twirl machine mixing era. But tradition can only get you so far. I needed some modern techniques to help expand my thought process. I was to take the rapid prototyping approach I’d so often used as a designer and apply it to formulating with ultra-modern aroma ingredients. This contrast between old and new suits my style completely.

la 1e en excès eau de parfum

So how do I approach each line of the formula? Quite innocuously, it kicks off in the coldness of the lab. Or if I bring it back to the microscopic, it lies on the thick paper test strips we see in so many “nose’s” headshots – in those countless bottles of raw ingredients dominating every free inch of shelf space.  

My days are drained going from one bottle to the next, strip to strip. Notes are taken, looking for the Tetris pieces to flip and flop in place. I write my first line. The starting point: an arrangement of aroma ingredients at the heart of this particular experiment. I give it a name – the theme of the hopefully-soon-to-be perfume. The other blocks fly into place, changing or dropping off – stopping myself before the game becomes too complicated. I wait a few days, edit the lines, trimming the fat. Next, it’s into the lab to blend. I hit pause. 

The cap is wound tightly. I wait; impatiently pacing, as the elements in the bottle start changing – on a microscopic level – ever so constantly.