Fragrance 101, with Estee Lauder and Givaudan

In the too brief time that I have been a beauty blogger (can you believe it’s been over 2.5 years, I can’t!), I have developed a (more than) slight obsession with all things fragrant. Candles, perfume, body sprays, I’ve covered them all in my weekly Fragrance Friday features. Imagine my excitement then upon receiving an invitation to an exclusive press event, where I would have the opportunity to not only learn the history and art of fine fragrance, but to also experience firsthand the perfume creation process in the Givaudan perfume house. To say that the fragronerd and science geek in me were simultaneously stimulated would be a vast understatement.

Allow me to use this post to share all, from the snippets I’ve learned, to the impressions they’ve left upon me. Bear with me on this one, folks, for this post is going to be jam-packed and chockfull of info! I am laying it out outline style, for maximum comprehension.

The History of Fragrance

Ancient Greeks are credited with the first liquid perfume, intended for use on people (not tributes). Prior fragrances were waxy, unctuous concoctions.

During the Roman Ages, perfumers were considered celebrities. The people would clamor to see them at market.

Cleopatra was very well versed in the value of fragrance as a tool for seduction. She greeted Marc Antony after sea, with clouds of sensual amber to seduce him.

Avicenna, a Persian scientist is created with creating a process to extract oil from flowers via distillation.

Modern Perfumery

In the 17th century, perfumed gloves became all the rage. The Glove and Perfume Maker’s Guild was formed in 1656.

Perfume became a substitute for soap and water, as the average person bathed four times a year.  (Author’s Note: eww!)

Perfumery reached its peak in England during the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I

Designer Perfumery

With Chanel No. 5, and Shocking by Schiaparelli, fragrance became regarded as a fashion accessory.  Miss Dior further cemented fragrance’s status as a high fashion accessory.

Processes and Methods for Ingredient Extraction- All great designs start from a single, beautiful material.

Distillation- Involves heating large vats of plant matter. As the vapor rises, it condenses into a tube, cools, and forms drops of oil or essence. Distillation is used on ingredients that don’t degrade with heat.

Solvent Extraction- Used on delicate ingredients. A solvent, hexane, leeches waxes and oils out of the plant matter. A treatment to the wax (called concrete) with ethanol yields an absolute.

Expression- Used commonly on citruses, a cold press method to extract citrus oils from the zest.

En Fleurage- A labor intensive method used primarily in olden times, by which petals are pressed into a fat, and the oils trapped in the fat are then separated for use.

Headspace- A modern technique in which scent molecules are trapped from a living plant, and then replicated in a lab. An analysis of the molecules allows for scientists to recreate the scents, without disturbing the plants, or the surrounding environment.

Synthetics- Lab created, these ingredients are Inspired by nature and the imagination.

Construction of a Perfume

Note- A single olfactive impression

Accord- Blend of several notes for a single odor impression

Composition- Blend of notes that define a fragrance


Top Note- The first impression of a scent, usually lasting 15-20 minutes. Generally, these are the volatile notes such as citrus, fresh, green, and light florals.

Middle/Heart- Lasting about 20 minutes to several hours, these are the notes a fragrance becomes defined by. Usually florals, woods, and spice.

Base Notes- Typically musks, ambers, woods, and resins. These are notes that last for the duration of the fragrance’s wear.

Parfum- 20-50% concentration of essence. This is the strongest fragrance available, and wear typically lasts 6-8 hrs.

Eau de Parfum- 12-20% concentration. Wear lasts about 6 hours.

Eau de Toilette/Cologne- 8-12% concentration.

The Fragrance Families

Floral- One of the largest categories, can be based around a single flower, or a bouquet.

Citrus- Composed of citrus oils, can be for him or her.

Oriental- Warm notes, typically a contrast of a fresh top note to a rich base.

Woody- Typically masculine scents

Foughere- A combination of citrus, lavender, moss and wood. Typically a masculine scent.

Chypre- Composed of citrus, floral, moss, and wood. First created by Francois Coty in 1917.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this information and that you all learned something new, as I did. I know that I will never look at a bottle of fragrant elixir in the same way again, and that is a wonderful thing.

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