While I was looking for the Mariage Freres tea emporium in the Marais in Paris, we ran across a very intriguing-looking perfum shop at 23 Rue du Bourg-Tibourg (Tel: 01 40 29 90 84) called Le Studio des Parfums. I was immediately drawn into the shop because they appeared to have three perfume organs set up, so of course I had to ask about the possibility of blending my own perfume.
I was greeted by Sophie, a perfumer, who told me that it was indeed possible to make a scent. The prices varied by the size of bottle and organ (ie, number of notes), but I opted for the medium experience for aboue 115 Euros. She invited me to sit down at the organ that had about 100 Galimard notes and we set to work.
First, she asked me about the kinds of scents that I liked. I told her that I was a bit of a perfume collector, and so I have pretty wide-ranging tastes, so it is easier to say what I don’t like, since I can find the appeal in just about anything. I told her that I really disliked gourmand scents and too much fruitiness or floweriness. I think my answer, along with the fact that I told her that I was an astrophysicist, led her to take a slightly more hands-off approach with me as compared to other reviews I’ve read online since.
She told me that we needed to pick about 4-5 notes each for the bottom notes, middle notes, and top notes. Instead of guiding me through the various types of notes, from masculine to feminine, we basically just started pulling notes that I knew I liked. I smelled about a dozen bottom notes, then selected 6 and ordered them in order of preference. For the bottom notes in a perfume, I really like a sort of dusty leathery tobacco smell, perhaps a bit like a musty old book shop. My favourite fragrances have this slightly sweet but mostly woody and leathery heart, so that’s what I created, with a combination of sandalwood, amber, leather, tonka, and hint of vanilla.
For the middle notes, I departed from that masculine sort of path, because then I like my scents to tend towards the chypre, with a hint of green or perhaps oriental flowers. To test me, she pulled some gourmand notes, and I instantly said, “Thierry Mugler’s Angel. No.” She laughed and said that I passed her test, and then basically just let me go crazy with pulling notes on my own.
I deliberately chose a lot of aldehyde because I love the softness and slight powderiness it gives to Chanel No. 5, that aldehydic class. It’s kind of old school and melds in with my musty library theme. Then I added some jasmine and hyacinth, to help play up the womanly edge, but tempered it with more tobacco and wood.
For the top notes, I really wanted to focus on tea. See, my dream perfume captures the essence of sipping a cup of Earl Grey tea while reading old books in the library of an English country house in the summertime with the windows open and all the roses and honeysuckle are in full bloom. I guess I sort of want that to be my whole life, but if it can’t be my life, I at least want to smell like it. So, on the top, I chose tea, bergamot, bamboo, and galbanum to evoke that metallic green wetness after the rain. I kept the top simple because of its sharpness, to counter the complexity underneath.
I wrote down all of my notes onto a worksheet, top, middle, and bottom, and then Sophie went through and calculated how many millilitres of each note should be added to a graduated cylinder so that their relative strengths would be properly balanced. This is where her nose training came in, because past selecting notes, I wouldn’t have known how to blend them. She then gave me the cylinder and poured the bottom notes to show me how it was done, then gave me the cylinder and told me to pour the rest. I was instantly taken back to my many hours faffing about in physics lab, measuring things to precision, but it was a nice sort of feeling, of having to really focus on something so that you don’t mess it up.
After I’d poured all the notes, she came back and give it a swirl and then we dipped paper swatches in to give it a test. “It’s good,” she nodded. When I sniffed my paper, I was pleasantly surprised, too, so I put a dab on my hand and let it dry down. “It’s a bit too sharp, still,” I said, “it needs perhaps a little more vanilla at the bottom.” She agreed, so we added some softer notes like vanilla and chocolate, and a few more drops of the jasmine and wood. After another swirl and a test on my wrist, we called it done.
It took me just over an hour, which was pretty quick, but I had my posse waiting for me down the road in the Bar at the End of the World so I didn’t want to drag it out too long. Once the scent met our approval, she decanted it into a glass bottle and screwed in a spray nozzle. I asked if I should name it, but she said I didn’t need to worry about it now, but she saved the formula sheet on record so that I can re-order it if I ever want to. You can see from the photo that it ended up with a pretty complicated formula.
So what is my scent composition like? At the start, it is extremely perfumey in an old-fashioned way that is sort of hard to explain, but not totally unlike Hermes 24 Faubourg. Feminine and powerful and rich, but with a pronounced Lapsang Souchong smokiness to it. As it dries down, the sharpness mellows and the flowers and tea come out along with the softness of the leather. It stays pretty full-bodied throughout, though, and is decidedly not a little girl’s scent.
In light of this, and in honour of our louche weekend in the George V, I have decided to name it Expensive Bitch. For contrast, the last perfume I blended (to a similar sort of idea) was at The Fragrance Shop New York and I called it Moment of Truth. Which one do I like better? The NY one smells a lot more straightforward and has a slight dirty edge to it (too much jasmine?), and doesn’t last as long, so I’m thinking that Expensive Bitch wins. Of course.