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Feb 02.11

Ingredients of Note

Perfumes are compositions, using fragrant material as the instruments. Perfumers are just like composers, choosing specific ingredients to hit particular notes at different times. The way the ingredients unfold adds drama to the experience.

A perfume’s ingredients can be grouped into “notes” categorized as Top, Middle and Base. These groups of ingredients are enhanced at different times in the perfume experience, bound to one another, but with solo performances throughout. Quality perfumes are crafted with this unfolding experience in mind, and how the ingredients interact in the air, on the skin and with one another.

When perfume is applied, lively Top Notes hit first, and finish first. Top Notes burst right out of the bottle due to how tiny their molecules are. These small, light molecules add an instant pleasure, but are really just the opening act. Classic examples of Top Notes are found in the Citrus Family, from both rind and blossom. The rinds of the fruit on Limes, Lemons, and Bergamots, for example, produce their essential oils, which are highly valued for their initial burst of happiness they provide. When you peel an orange, and a bit of spray is released from the unfolding rind—you are seeing a burst of its Essential Oil. Top Notes can also be known as head notes, and are carefully selected due to the first impression they give. They play an important role in nabbing attention. Take for example another popular Top Note, Neroli. Scientists have observed increased serotonin production in the brains of people introduced to the scent of Neroli. It’s extracted from the blossom of a Bitter Orange tree common to the Mediterranean, and highly prized for the pleasing rays of sunshine it lends a perfume.

As time passes, the symphony continues—and once the Top Notes fade, Middle Notes, or heart notes, take the spotlight. Middle Notes’ medium-sized molecules come from fragrant herbs and flowers, mostly. It is here that Rose may raise voice. Rose is a queenly ingredient, and quite costly. The petals that produce Rose Absolute are harvested at dawn to preserve their delicate scent. One kilogram of Rose Absolute might take up to a million flowers to produce. Like all Middle Notes, it harmonizes all of the other notes into accord. Middle Notes take the scent deeper, and carry it further. They also conspire with Base Notes, concealing them until fully mature.

In the third act, Base Notes barrel in like a tippany drum. The larger molecules of Base Notes take a while to settle into the skin and provide the finale to the perfume. Examples come from the wood of trees like Sandalwood, as well as resins like rare, precious Oudh. Oudh comes from Laos, where the resin is formed as a protective response of the Agar tree to a particular kind of mold. Relying on a delicate process of nature, this is not easily obtained. Oudh, and Sandalwood both tend towards rarity and sky-high prices, so great care is paid with these treasures. With the right mix of ingredients, however, the entire perfume is wound round itself and the wearer over time. Base notes seal this contract and provide the lasting impression of the perfume.

When selecting a new perfume, consider spending some time with it first. After applying, note your response. After 20-30 minutes, check in again. An hour later, how is it now? Giving the Perfume time to perform will reveal its true nature. Spritzing it onto paper testers and doing the same thing—wait and smell—will show the scent’s evolution, based on the molecules’ evaporation. But the key ingredient—your skin—is missing in that equation.

Perfume shouldn’t be a Buyer Beware situation, but rather one of Buyer DO Wear—so you can fully appreciate a symphony harmonized with you, at the center of it all.