The New Perfume-Making Process That Smells Like Happiness

Normally, a perfume is made by one person with input from others. It’s a lengthy process and at the end of the day, some people like it. Others are less impressed. On September 30th on Instagram, I started a perfume experiment that kicked off a new virtual approach to perfume creation.

It started with a question. What is the fragrance or scent that you can remember most made you happy?

There were so many answers – almond, tonka, sweet orange, wheatgrass, oud, and cassis to name a few. 

Using your answers, I started to experiment with a new way of creating a perfume. What if, I asked myself, I could make a complex scent that – makes everyone feel happy? 

Perfumes are typically created with the input of one or two people in mind.   But, this experiment took suggestions from 17 people’s happy scents! The perfumes I am working on were created with feedback from all over the country. 

I’m looking for new ways to connect when so many of the conventional methods have been restricted by COVID.  So, I want to share this process with you while I create these community-based perfumes. 

But first, some background info – 

How’s perfume made? What’s it like behind the scenes?

“Making a perfume involves collecting ingredients, extracting oils, blending, aging and quality control.” (1)

Let’s talk about how fragrances are generally made. 

I START with small quantities, one ounce of fragrance oil at a time.  I blend them carefully and allow them to sit – this is called marrying – together to create an accord.  An accord is a group of scent notes that smell like a particular object or feeling. 

NEXT, there’s the waiting once the oils have been slowly dropped into alcohol.  (I use un-denatured organic cane alcohol) It takes time for the scents to come together. The smell after one hour is different than the smell after one week. So, you give it some time – this is macerating – to become itself. Once you wait, you smell it, and tweak it. 

It’s sort of like cooking – you mix together different elements in your kitchen, then pop them in the fridge overnight to see how the flavors have melded together in the morning. 

How I make perfume (yes, it’s phthalate-free!)

Ingredients are the first consideration. I use phthalate-free fragrance oils and natural essential oils because a lot of folks are allergic to chemical properties like phthalates found in most commercial perfumes, myself included. There was a long time that I thought I couldn’t wear perfume. Just being near them made me feel nauseous.

Then I realized it’s not the fragrance that’s the problem, but the phthalates. That’s what started my search for "natural fragrances". After all, phthalates are hard enough to avoid as it is – they’re in a lot of household products: fragrances, plastics, detergents and sometimes food (2). We don’t need any more of them.

I use essential oils and plant-based natural aromatic oils along with organic sugar can alcohol. Then I work from feeling and memory. 

What genre of perfume do I want to make? Woodsy? Pungent? Sweet? A lot of times where I start is not where I end up – hilariously similar to cooking. 

I work my notes in groups of three, pairing them based on my knowledge of how they blend. Knowing how they pair, I blend a perfume with a top note – what you smell first and what fades first – that flows seamlessly into the heart of the perfume, the middle note and then the bottom note. 

There’s a lot of try and try again. Sometimes the first spray hits me as "eeh, this is nice, but something's missing” even after a week. So, I tweak it. You never get it the first time. It's not a straight line. The perfume may be too sharp, too flat, too crisp. I go back in and add.

I take notes as I go, keeping careful records of how much of one oil versus another. Once I make it right, I make it again and again and again. By the time I’ve worked it four or five times I’ve got the formula.

How we make perfume in our – virtual – kitchen

For this experiment, I didn’t rely solely on my own memory and experiences. I used yours, my wonderful audience – what you gave me on Instagram were the building blocks of two new perfumes. Looking at all of the choices, I searched for a way to marry your happy scents. Using my knowledge of blending, I separated the scents into groups and then began working away to build them into unique perfume for all of us. 

Kind of like crowd sourcing a recipe. It wasn’t just my kitchen, it was our kitchen. 

ONE is macerating now. It’s an interesting and complex scent that is light, and I'm really excited to see what you think of it. It's got a little bit of everything you all love. 

THE OTHER is a work in progress – I scrapped my first attempt at it, decided to try again, which leads me to something else exciting that’s happening on Instagram…

I’m making perfume live, and you can join me!

I want to continue sharing this process with you. I will be marrying the scents that you choose live on Instagram to make 2 perfumes over the next couple of months. I don’t know what will happen, but I want to invite you to share in the moment with me. 

Real talk - digitally is how we are connected to one another right now. 

Since that’s what's available to us, let’s use it. Get connected with me so you can be a part of the next scent I’m creating. There’s so much to do in a day that you get bogged down with just trying to get it all done. Let’s take a moment to breathe properly together.(3)

I will be working with scents that are connected to my audience's happy memories (4) Together, we will pool all of our knowledge and make something really great. I hope you’ll join me. This is going to be so fun. 

If you’re not following me on Instagram yet @butterbykeba, join me. Connect with me so you will be notified when I go live!  

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

Shop now