Friday, June 10, 2011
Rarely if ever have I re-posted something, but in this case, I feel compelled. Since most people reading this are maybe natural fragrance enthusiasts, I'm gonna warn you, this is not about anything lovely, lively and fragrant. It's about Female Genital Mutilation. If you don't know what it is, then read on.
Save the Clitoris
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
The Natural Perfumers Guild is a loose kind of organization, the requirements of which are merely an appreciation of natural perfumes. That means perfumes are made using only natural essential oils and absolutes and related extracts. The idea being, naturally, that using the distilled essences of living, breathing, oxygen making, water sipping, sun drinking, chlorophyll making, fragrant little beings, who are persuaded to hand over to us their scent, their soul, and their essential life-force, is far preferable to playing with synthetic substances, in every way.
We (natural perfume enthusiasts), don’t care if those poor little sad synthetic liquids are cheaper, or that every batch is an exact replica of the one before, even though consistency is very important to large commercial productions. It doesn’t matter to me if those synthetics are partly natural, or entirely unnatural, even if they smell good, as some of them undeniably do……they are just not that interesting to play with.
Essential oils vary, like tomatoes and avocados, grapes and coconuts. Depends on geography, climate, soil, harvest, skill of distiller, and many other things. Essential oils, coming directly from plants as they do, have seasons, and harvests.
Some total freak aroma geeks will remember, as I do, the excellent summer distillation of 1998 (I think) geranium from Yunnan. And we notice the more and more common climatic catastrophes hitting patchouli, rose, and so many other plants. Essential oils are increasingly affected by Climate Change, a phenomena the effects of which have already been felt throughout the globe, but which, for some odd reason, we Americans alone still debate the existence of…… And combine this climate roulette with the low yields and the virtual disappearance of Indian sandalwood oil and wild agarwood means that essential oils, especially the floral absolutes and some of the rare woods, can be stupidly expensive. Absolutely ridiculously expensive, and no end in sight.
So why go out and pay a ton of money for oils which are only available in their season, often require hyper-competition to obtain (Corsican helichrysum or wild high altitude French Lavender, etc), vary enormously from year to year, are cloaked in deception, give all kinds of international shipping headaches due to varying flashpoints, and require patience and expert distillers to extract, and then are fussy about how they are stored? You should see what I go through to get frankincense resin! Why? Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to call the lab supply or big fragrance house and spend a couple of thousand of bucks and have yourself a studio??? Lots of companies do exactly that, and still call themselves “natural.”
Well, yeah, I’m sure it would make much better financial sense and it would be easier for sure, but then, I don’t care about easier, and I’m not financially brilliant I guess, because I won’t be using those synthetic oils—they are dead. That is really the crux of the matter---essential oils are living breathing life energy whereas those man-made oils are nothing at all. There are an unknowable number of constituents of real rose oil. Man made rose oil? Only the most plenteous constituents need apply. The way we humans tend to think, simple, violent, self-absorbed creatures that we are, is that only the major constituents matter. Maybe it’s a little like the G8?
Once someone sent me a box of samples of “rose oils” from his company, all synthetic, of course, and all different grades and prices, from the one that smelled like toilet cleaner to “Taif Rose.” (Taif is an area of southern Saudi Arabia with a tiny rose harvest, and the miniscule amount of oil obtained stays in Saudi Arabia, yet every perfume shop in the Middle East professes to carry it.)
I sat with someone from the rose growing area of Morocco, who wasn’t a rose farmer, but still had a sensitive nose and started sharing rose oils with him, from the worst to the best, and every 10 minutes or so showing him the next grade up. To each he said “Yeah! That’s rose!!” and then when he smelled it again, after smelling the next grade up, was appalled he’d liked the one before, (still following me?) on and on until we got to the Taif Rose and this one, I said, was Taif Rose. He was relieved and amazed that each and every rose scented oil had seemed ok at first but upon smelling a better version had been shown to be what they were, imposters! The first one now smelled like lighter fluid. After another 10 minutes or so I cracked another vial under his nose and his eyes got big and jumped up and shouted, “What’s that?!?” It was real rose. Rose otto, mister. Make no mistake about that one. And you can imitate all you want but the finest labs and the best of science are all pathetic in the face of real rose.
Should get to the point
This post is meant to be part of a collective blogging exercise to celebrate the 5-year anniversary of the Natural Perfumers Guild. So, theoretically and probably in actuality, you will be able to click and zip over to any of the aroma blogs listed to read more about the who’s, whys, when’s, what’s and where’s of other natural perfumer bloggers. The point of this collective blogging exercise is to discuss why we love natural perfumery or what led us to it. Obviously, I followed my nose.
Ok, to answer the question, for anyone still reading this lengthy post. I have to lay the blame for my expensive hobby cum business at the foot of loving to travel and, as much as I cringe to say it, my fascination with intrigue. I was always skulking about the back alleys of the planet, and once I began to see and understand what essential oils were, and how they seemed, how they smelled, who they were, and where they came from, then it was a relief to marry my skulking with my smelling. And since you can usually find essential oils in some of the most out of the way places on earth, and often under the control of mafias, and since the straight answer you get depends on what you want to hear, it’s really something I took an interest in. That’s the intrigue side. As I said, I don’t really like easy things, and I’m hardly ever in that thing they call your “comfort zone.” What I do like is finding things, especially if they are not supposed to be there, or if they are impossible things. I’m not one of those people who flies down to a capital city, checks into the 5 star, has a couple of meetings, smells some oils in the lobby, does a quick photo-op and goes back to the airport and flies out to the next stop. I’m the person who smells the oils in the lobby and then spends the next couple of weeks wandering about the countryside, by bus, barge or thumb, looking for anything interesting.
Since I’m an olfactory-oriented human, with strong interest in audio, gustatory and tactile stimulation, this way of finding many holy grails delights and enthralls me.
Even though I get angry, furious, at the duplicity I regularly encounter, and the complete rip-offs, I am also charmed and enraptured at the stories these oils tell, the people involved, the immediate political situation, and how essential oils are a vital part of life the world over. And when I find some great distiller, whose oils sparkle and snap, in clear perfect juicy Technicolor crispness, I am thrilled. That person’s art, and feeling will come through the oil, and again, it’s something big commercial distilleries don’t usually manage, and synthetics never never never do.
But I want to stress that I didn’t start to love essential oils, or natural perfumery, or anything at all because of traveling. And I didn’t travel because I wanted or needed anything to do with essential oils. My interest and love for essential oils grew out of its own seed, a seed that was probably planted by my parents, and growing up in a magnificent natural setting in Santa Barbara, California. The fact of my love for essential oils paralleling my somewhat adventurous life was a happy coincidence. The two facets became more and more inextricable as I realized that searching for something I suspected might exist would take me to cool places I might not have ordinarily gone, like Paraguay’s northern Chaco in 2006, (Palo Santo.) Or to Assam in 2010 (Agarwood.) Or Oman from 2006 and now permanently in residence there (Frankincense.) And I’ve come across some crazy things, like a riverside distillation of wild sassafras in northern Laos, a secret sandalwood distillation in Uttar Pradesh, and in Vietnam, dual distillations of Guava (for liquor) and patchouli (for essential oil) amid a flowering grove of grapefruit trees! As anyone with an imaginative nose will realize, that last one was insane. I still haven’t recovered!
Finally, let me say that in my opinion, you can get down and dirty with lots of things: perfumes, shampoos, and laundry soap, whatever. Usually it’s because of someone accompanying that product, someone whose own aroma sets it on fire. But that’s as far as it goes. Even though some of my fondest and most lively, if embarrassing, moments are tied up with stuff I can’t even guess at the origins of, this kind of thing should be seen for what it is; and it can’t be mixed up with……..citrus blossoms, for example. The former is a scent memory, and it’s personal, subjective, and can’t translate out. Orange blossoms, lavender, roses, jasmine in bloom….? c’mon. You might have any number of personal experiences with these magnificent beauties, but just because you have a relationship with them, doesn’t mean they aren’t as lovely as you thought they were. They are what make me dance in the garden.