September 2, 2007


Recently I received a selection of absolutes from two sources, Anya's Garden, and Nature's Gift. It was almost overwhelming because each one is so intensely dimensional and requires time for development and reflection on the experience. From Anya's Garden I have Kaffir Lime, two Lavenders -- Haute Provence and Seville (at opposite ends of the spectrum) Vanilla Planifolia, Agarwood, Orange Flower Water, Atlas Cedar, Rose de Mai, Jasmine Grandiflora and Atlas Cedarwood. From Nature's Gift I have three Jasmines -- Grandiflora, Auriculatum and Sambac, and Osmanthus all in 10% dilutions, and Tobacco Leaf.

Absolutes are solvent extracted from the plant materials, and this method results in a very dense concentration of the fragrance and properties of the plant. They are far more concentrated than essential oils. There are distilleries all over the world, each specializing in their own particular absolute, and it takes a lot of skill and experience in the process and subtle understanding of the specific plant, along with enormous quantities of the raw materials to produce an absolute. They must be diluted in order to render the scent recognizable at all. Once diluted to about 10 percent (some, like the the Lavenders requiring far more dilution) either in an alcohol or oil base, you have what most closely resembles the actual true smell of the flower or other material in all its dimension, as it would be alive in nature, that is possible to obtain and preserve for use as a fragrance.

I think anyone really interested in perfume would benefit by obtaining some sample sizes of absolutes because the direct connection to the natural power of the fragrance is so strong. If you want to use them as wearable perfumes, get them in 10% dilutions, because otherwise you will have to dilute them yourself, in a carrier medium such as jojoba oil or vodka, measuring out into a separate container yourself. Two or three drops in about a teaspoon of a carrier substance will work for an immediate try. As in a blended perfume, these single substance absolutes have top, middle and base notes that are revealed over time on the skin.

In the Jasmines from Nature's Way, for example, I found my initial preference was for the Sambac, because the initial top notes are seductively narcotic and mysterious, but I can tell the Grandiflora with its sweeter lighter more transparent, joyful character is beckoning. I would say Sambac is for evenings and the Grandiflora is a daytime fragrance. This is basically the schedule of their blooming; Sambac emits its scent at night and the Grandiflora in the morning. Sambac is associated with Eastern, especially Indian culture and Grandiflora with Southern France. I have written recently about Jasmine and the festival in Grasse at harvest, when the parade-goers are pelted with the fragrant flowers (click here).

The two Lavenders from Anya's Garden are also in contrast to each other in the same way, Haute Provence possesses the quintessential cleanliness and uplift of classic Lavender, while Lavender Seville has a dense deep green woodsiness that is so concentrated it must be diluted to practically homeopathic levels to get to the floral.

Tobacco Leaf absolute made a deep impression on me, the mellow caramel/leather/sweet tobacco tones seem like they would be an excellent olfactory decoration for brunette hair, especially if combined with Vetiver. The attractions of the blonde tabac scents such as those from Caron and Aftelier are for me entirely contained within this absolute.

Both sources obtain their favorite versions of high quality absolutes from all over the planet and it's interesting how different the resulting aesthetics are. Sort of like two different editors of anthologies that have their own individual take which results in two very different books on the same subject matter or genre. It is true that every production of an absolute will vary because of the differing weather conditions borne by the crops each year, and the changing fertility of the soil, and the style of the distiller. It is also true, as beautifully said by Christopher McMahon in his essay on Absolutes, that the more you know about the culture and background and production of each material, the more profound, dimensional and true will be the ability to enjoy it fully.

Above, another (though rarely practiced) method to capture the fragrance of flowers: enfleurage of Jasmine in India, from the photo collection of White Lotus Aromatics.


helg said...

Very interesting in depth post. Thanks for the info!

Lucy said...

Thanks Helg -- I've really been enjoying your site...