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Perfumery 101: A Review of What I Learned From Sarah Horowitz Parfums In One Day

Updated on September 12, 2016

Introducing Sarah Horowitz

Welcome To The Amazing World Of Perfumery!

Where can you make your own perfume? What if you could have your very own personalized signature scent? There are places where you can create your own fragrance. Step into the world of custom perfumery and take a fragrance journey with me...

Off in the distance, on the wind, your search for, "what is that perfect scent?" begins. It could have been the scent of a woman (whoo-wah), a fireplace, the aroma of Christmas, the ocean, spring flowers in bloom, or anything that sets your mind on fire and imagination blossoming. Your search is inevitably related to you, like me, discovering perfumery.

I have had the pleasure of learning the basics of perfumery and getting schooled on the art and science of natural perfumery. I spent a perfect Saturday in January as a perfumer's apprentice with Sarah Horowitz. This one day perfumery school comes complete with supplies, ingredients and most importantly, expert tutelage. Sarah Horowitz is a perfumer who runs Sarah Horowitz Parfums. She specializes in custom, niche perfumes where you can design your own fragrance, quite literally, making your own perfume and she also teaches a class on perfume for beginners.

One of the first things I learned from Sarah on that day was that perfume has long been considered one of the highest gifts one can give. Ironically, this exploration of the olfactory was my birthday gift to my self.

My olfactory sense has always been strong. Scent and fragrance have always fascinated me, yet I never fully understood why. I felt more like Mickey Mouse in the Sorcerer's Apprentice, only it was more like Perfumania gone wild than buckets and broomsticks!

SO, in the coming words I will share with you and review my experience of creating music for your nose and painting with scent!



Perfume: a mixture of alcohol and fragrant essential oils extracted from flowers, spices, etc., or made synthetically, used esp to impart a pleasant long-lasting scent to the body, stationery, etc.

Perfume Oil: Most concentrated, longest lasting

Eau de Parfum: This is the most popular and common form of perfume. It provides a long-lasting fragrance and generally doesn't cost as much as extract perfume.

Eau de Toilette: This makes for a light scent that doesn't linger as long as the more intense versions.

Eau de Cologne: is sometimes used interchangeably with the term eau de toilette. However, the concoction began as the name of a light, fresh fragrance mixed with citrus oils and was made popular by Napoleon.

Notice there's no real gender assignments - we tend to think perfume is for girls and cologne is for boys, but in reality that's not the case. Technically, men can wear perfume and as my good friend Jerry Seinfeld says, "not that there's anything wrong with that!"

Through Smoke

At Sarah's studio on a Saturday morning, gathered 8 people all at different levels of experience in perfumery. Some of us just starting out, others more advanced. The first part of this adventure on a Saturday morning starts out, like all good workshops, with a conversation. Most workshops can feel like a lecture, but the good one's seem more like a conversation. So Sarah talked with us about the fundamentals of perfume and perfumery.

Perfume or Parfum literally means "through smoke." Through smoke what? Exactly! You answer that. Men, if you're reading this, think about your pillow in the morning right after she left. Consider your childhood home at about 11:30 am on Thanksgiving. Remember that summer at the lake? What about the first time you rode Pirate's Of The Caribbean at Disneyland? Can you recall the movie theater you shared your first kiss? What about your first car? One thing for sure that they all share is there will be a moment when you catch a whiff of something on the air and are right back in that moment. Your heart lightens, tightens, or skips a beat. Either way through the smoke resides a light switch of memory, time travel and imagination.

The eye is often called the window of the soul and I will tell you here and now, the nose is that same window wide open on a warm summer night.

Scent is primal, it is basic, it is fundamental, it is tied into our reproductive instincts, our defense mechanisms and memory. We are still part of the animal kingdom and survival, many moons ago, relied on smell and memory.

Somewhere in the human journey, we burned herbs and flowers and let the smoke climb to heaven in the hope that those above would smile down on us and bless us. Perfume has been and still is royalty, elegance, luxury, spiritual, life.


Music For Your Nose

Forget the ears, perfumery quite literally is music to my nose! What about you? Have you ever thought of scent and fragrance as music? For us amateurs this may be one of those moments of clarity, but in the world of perfumery, scent has notes, just like a well crafted sonata by Beethoven on symphony by Strauss.

The metaphor of music implies a composition and truly when crafting a unique fragrance you are composing. While musical notes are finite, the combinations are infinite

Perfume has 3 sets of notes, and the harmony of scent you create is an accord. These notes will blossom and wane as time goes by. The first impression will come from the top note. Then as the top note melts into the air, the deeper middle note will take center stage. Closing out the show will be the base notes. Perfume is then created with careful consideration of the evaporation process of the perfume.

  • Top notes: This is the first thing you will smell and also the first smell to leave the party. Top notes evaporate the fastest. Top notes are light, playing tones of citrus and fruit. Top notes are sweet, crisp, and the high point. The top note will also be a person's first impression and you know what they say about first impressions! So pick the top note carefully because you're only getting one chance here to make a... well, you know!

  • Middle notes: After that first impression and right before the top note fades away, we meet the middle note. The middle note has also been called the heart of a fragrance. Meaning this is what keeps the fragrance alive. Typically the middle note is floral and can be the trigger scent, that flash back in time, the thing that pulls on your heartstrings. The middle note lasts longer than the top and mingles well with the base note coming up next.

  • Base notes: The base works together with the middle notes to create the main theme of a fragrance. The Base notes bring the foundation to a perfume. Base notes are rich and deep and stay on the skin the longest. The Base notes typically come from woods, roots and resins. They show up with warmth. Sarah compared them to the percussion. So while the top note is the high point (flutes and bells) the middle notes, being the heart, the strings (viola, violin) the base note is the bass, the beat, the rhythm (think drums) the part of a composition that awakes your primal instincts and makes you take a deep breath.


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Painting With Scent

Once we got the fundamentals down and learned a thing or two about the music of perfume, it was time to apply the notes. For me, this was like painting with scent.

As with all fine structures, meals, books, paintings and songs, you need what? A design, a recipe, an outline, a sketch, a draft. Perfumery has a "brief." This is where you envision your fragrance, find out what you're trying to communicate, your vision if you will.

Consider sitting in a leather chair sipping Gran Mariner and smoking a Cuban cigar after enjoying a nice cut of filet mignon in 1912. What aromas come to mind? Can you create a fragrance to accompany that scene and create the emotional experience?

What about a home on December 23rd? What aromas fill the house? Fireplace? Pine? Cinnamon? Sugar cookies?

It's 6 pm on a Saturday night in July, the sun in sinking into the ocean as fire pits ignite and beach bums prepare for dinner. You've played in the surf all day and are mildly sun burnt. You're cotton Guayabera is unbuttoned and there's a mojito with your name on it.

When you have your brief and your canvas is waiting to emerge the image, it is best to start at the bottom. The ancient Egyptian were master perfumers they say and they built the pyramids, so it is only fitting that when creating an accord of fragrance, you start at the bottom.

Base notes will be just that, the base, the bottom of the pyramid, the foundation, the middle notes second and the top note literally topping it all off like a cherry on a sundae.

The final ingredient which I learned that day is skin. Obvious yet rarely considered. We are all unique. We have our own natural oils and aromas. When our skin meets with oils, the chemical structure changes and with it, the fragrance itself. Which is why perfume and cologne can smell differently on different people.

At the conclusion of the day, I had created three unique blends based on 12 essential oils I was given to play with and take home. I left with my head spinning, creative juices flowing like a wild river and very much inspired.

Anyone who considers them self even remotely creative, needs this experience and if you don't think your creative, but know deep down there's something inside that needs to come out, this is an amazing journey to let your creativity blossom and bloom.

Sarah was amazing to meet, work with and learn from. I would do this class again in a heartbeat. Also if you, your spouse, or your loved one is looking to go beyond the fragrance counter at the department store, you need to see Sarah straight away. In my professional life as a sales trainer, I constantly advise my clients to deliver significantly more value than what you charge. This is exactly what happened on a wonderful smelly day in January.


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