Alchemists in the middle ages were some of the early perfumiers. Their motto ‘Solve et Coagula’ means dissolve and combine. It is a beautiful saying of mystery and exploration. It is voluptuous and divine. Solve et coagula, the words feel beautiful on the tongue.
When I am blending natural essential oils, resins and tinctures to make perfume I keep these words in my head. I have found that the best way to start blending is to surrender to them and let the heady scent of jasmine, the warm bite of black pepper, the golden light of frankincense, the woody earthern bliss of vetiver and the fleeting flash of bergamot carry me off into the fragrant ether.
Making perfume is like taking a journey. It is an exquisite form of meditation. A gentle process of familiarisation with a plant, its essence, its synergies. It is like digging your hands deep in the soil or swaying at the tops of trees. I love introducing people to this experience on the Archeus Natural Perfumery Workshops. The workshops are an introduction into this world, a peek through a door into a world that is totally bewitching.
Top notes are like sharp and brilliant flashes of colour. A kingfisher wing through willows. They catch your attention like a flirtatious smile in a crowd. Many are the tang of citrus. I think of them as quicksilver or the seductive nymph that beckons you further into the woods.
Middle notes are the caress. They follow the fleeting top notes. They linger, playing with your emotions, conjuring memories. As your skin warms them, they start to reveal themselves as the floral heart of the perfume. Scent of rose, the devilish aroma of jasmine that is at once beautiful and diabolical. Middle notes are gardens of delight, the divine essence of a fragrant flower captured and made beautiful on your skin.
Base notes are the deep fragrances that come from the earth as root, or bleed from trees as sap and resin. They are grounding. They fix the other notes so they do not fly away too quickly… they are the rope that tethers the hot air balloon. The anchor that stops the boat from drifting out to sea. They linger, gathering on your skin like the sweet smell of autumnal decay that gathers at the base of trees. Fecund. Gorgeous.
When I make perfume I feel truly connected to the natural world. I feel like a time traveller on silk roads and spice trails gathering unguents from exotic lands. I feel the ways in which the plants grow from resin, root and leaf, to fruit and flower, their spirit captured in a bottle. Their fragrance reminds me of the brilliance of their design; how their nature is reflected in the habitat they grow in, the medicine they make and the perfume they offer up as a gift to be revered and respected.
Today I have been pondering the beauty of frankincense and even with just that one note, the words have just poured out, inky notes dripping from my pen. Now I am offering myself up to the joy of a top note….