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Final Part (4). Introducing the ABC of Perfumery©

Updated: Apr 5, 2018


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This is the 4th and last part about PerfumersWorld's ABC of Perfumery system. If you did not read the previous postings, you might be a little bit lost. I seriously recommend to read the previous postings first:

First part here - Second part here and Third part here


I know you guys can't contain your happiness and ecstasy about me coming back with more ABC info. Yeay!, Here it goes:


Last posting we were able to figure out, from smelling a finished perfume, its approximate composition and the proportions of its different components. We then did a second pass to determine what subgroup of each letter we were talking about: As instance, we determined that there was something around a 5 % of (C)itrus and then we identified bergamot as the citrus note being used. Also, based on our findings we were able to create quite a decent description for the composition.


Something was missing though:


We based all our proportions in what we smelled in the headspace, but we know that the headspace is not exactly the same as the formula. The following is the same table we saw in last posting, which shows our estimations of the proportions of each smell in the headspace (just in a smaller size).

If we would have mix a formula with this percentages, the smell wouldn't have been the same as the one we smelled in the headspace. Why? Com'on!, you know the answer: because the smell of the headspace is NOT THE SAME as the formula. I know, I know....but believe me, If I repeated this like 4 times already it is because it's kind of important...

And this is the second pass, where we determined specific materials.

So, In order to get an accurate formula we will need to work with the relative impact of each material. and transform what we smelled or perceived on the headspace into an actual percentage number for the formula.

How?. It's easy, let's do again some math:

Let's work with the first line, (C)itrus - Bergamot- as an example:

We smelled 5% on the headspace, relative impact of Bergamote is 110


the formula we will use is: (Proportion of Raw material ) * (100/relative impact)

So, replacing: 5 * ( 100/110) = 4.55


Let's do the same with the (F)ruit - Peach and we get a 0.13

And we go ahead and we do the same for every material in the composition. Once we are done with all the materials, we add the column of our results (185.23 in this case) and then we calculate the actual percentages of each material by dividing the value we just found, as instance 4.55 for bergamote, by the total of the column (185.23) and multiplying its result times 100.


(4.55/185.23) * 100 =2.46%


And FINALLY we have the right formula for our perfume! How much of the actual raw materials we need to use to obtain the smell of the headspace? In this example, we would need 2.46% of (C) Bergamote, 0.07% of (F)Aldehyde C14, 0.12% of (G) Phenyl Acetaldehyde at 50% dilution, 1.68% of (I) Iso-A-Methyl ionone and so forth...


Now, what about if we get ahold of a GC (Gas Chromatography) data and we want to make a description of the perfume based on its numbers or even better: what if it is our own creation? what would be the best way to describe our magnificent composition? "A sweet, mossy liquid for man" won't cut it! There has to be a method to this creative madness!

Even though you lack the right words to transmit accurately the profile of your incredible creation. the ABC comes to the rescue. Again!

An EXCELLENT way to describe YOUR fragrances:

First, assign a letter to each material of the GC (you already know the letters of each material in your own composition).


Then, group them and sort them by letter and write the totals per each group:

Now, describe your totals, based on the materials in each category and voila! It IS that simple!


All this is really good but...

How do I start making a perfume?

I have explained a little bit of this in another series of blogs I wrote, called "Things I wish I would have know when I got into perfumery", specifically in the second part, out of four, that you can read here. I will give a more in depth explanation here, since it belongs to this method.


So, when creating a perfume, basically each material in a composition is there for a reason, it has one or more specific functions. There are a total of 4 different functions a material can assume and the key to make a successful mix is to be sure that ALL 4 FUNCTIONS are somehow covered. If ANY of the 4 functions are not taken care of, then the compound will have something missing. Please, let's hammer this concept in our heads: ALL 4 FUNCTIONS have to be present in the mix, otherwise; Kaput!

These 4 functions or parts are:

  • Basic, Main or Heart: When you smell a perfume, you can always put a finger in a particular smell. It is the smell you would say is the main odor of the perfume: that’s the heart! The one that without it, the perfume would just not be. Usually, coincides with the Middle notes of Poucher's triangle classification (top, middle, base). If a perfume would be a sentence, this function would be its subject and nouns. Let's suppose that our theme note, our heart is Rose. Then, our main components will be a mix of different products that we will probably find in the letter (R), for instance Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol, Citronellol, Geraniol, Nerol, Rosalva, Rose Otto, Rose Absolute, Rose Oxide and so on.

In the ABC, we can think as main or heart the letters I, J, M, N, O, R for women and C, H, K, L, S, W for men. Of course these might be interchangeable since nowadays there's a lot of crossover from whatever was considered, years ago, a perfume for men, woman or even unisex.
  • Modifiers: They literally modify the basic materials, giving them a chance to show a different aspect or facet by adding a “decorative touch”, a uniqueness. Use these sparingly. They can add freshness, make a smell more natural, give a twist, increase the diffusiveness, modernize, etc. Modifiers are usually of a contrasting odor type and they are often high impact materials, so it is a good idea to add them in solutions, to control the amount you are adding. If you can actually smell the modifier in the mix, you’ve probably already overdone it. If the perfume would be a sentence, the modifiers would be its adjectives. Following with our rose example, modifiers could be: to give to our rose some (G)reen freshness: cis-3-Hexenol, Triplal, Methyl Octine Carbonate, etc; or to make more of a (F)ruity rose: Aldehyde C14 (Peach), Raspberry Ketone, Ethyl Butyrate, etc; To add some diffusiveness:  Aldehyde C11, Ionone Alpha, Geranium Oil, etc.

In the ABC, we could use as modifiers the letters A, B, C, D, E F, G, H, P, Q, S, T, U, V, Y
  • Blenders: Heart and Modifiers are sometimes REALLY different (think of oil and vinegar), Blenders are the ones in charge to make them get along fine. They smooth the differences out. They round up the composition. They are in charge of harmonizing their notes. These materials tend to have a relative odor impact of 100 or less. If the perfume would be a sentence, the blenders would be its conjunctions. For our Rose Perfume, our blenders could be Phenyl Ethyl Alcohol, Hidroxycitronellal, Linalool, Methyl Ionone, etc. (and yes, you may repeat some materials from the Basics or Fixatives).

In the ABC, we could use as blenders the letters L, M, X
  • Fixatives: They will provide the final touches of the perfume at the same time that will give depth and substance. They are usually base notes in Poucher's triangle. They can also slow down the evaporation rate of other materials. In the sentence analogy, they are the prepositions. They tend to be long lasting smells: Some fixative essential oils to play with: Ambrette seed, Amyris, Angelica root, Peru Balsam, Labdanum, Clary Sage, Frankincense, Galbanum, Styrax, Myrrh, Oakmoss, Orris root, Patchouli, Sandalwood, Vanilla, Vetiver and Violet leaf. Aroma chemicals: Galaxolide, Ambroxan and others.

As a general rule, in the ABC, we could use as fixatives the letters T, U, V, W, X, Y

In which order you should mix?:

There's not really an answer to this question...it's like asking: when I paint a red color, how strong has to be?

Hmmmm...As strong as you like!

So the same with a perfume. Be creative!, as long as the 4 functions are covered, mix in the order that you want. You might want to make 4 different mixes (1 per each function) and then you mix them into a final compound in different proportions; or you can go one by one starting for the heart, modifying it, blending it and fixing it. Or you can even think of the triangle and start for the base, then the middle and then the top (keeping in your mind all the different functions of all the materials you are using), or all the other way around (from top to base). it's 100% up to you. Every perfumer has its own way and so should you! Just be sure that at the end, the 4 functions are covered and you will be really surprised of your results. Always remember that this is about experimentation. Perfumery is an art that communicates dynamically. You might be the one that creates a unique order that everybody start using for the next 100 years! who knows? Relax and have fun. That's what everything is about!


Modifying compositions:

So we have our perfume almost ready and we need to adjust a little bit of this and a little bit of that but...How?

Remember that changes on the formula are NOT the same as changes in the actual smell (the headspace). The difference between them are dictated by lots of factors, as mentioned before, like vapor pressure, attraction within the molecules within the fragrance itself and more. We will need to use the Relative impact that we learnt in PART 1 to make modifications in our headspace.


Let's suppose that we want to increase by a percentage the headspace of a low impact material in our formula, we will need to increase the material in the formula by a HIGHER percentage than the one we want to increase in the headspace. And if the material has a high odor impact, vice-versa.


What follows is extracted from “Training the ABC's of Perfumery” by Stephen V. Dowthwaite, PerfumersWorld. Paper published in modified form in Perfumer & Flavorist, Allured Publications, USA 1999):


“The following simplified formula is offered to approximate the adjustment that is necessary for each material to ensure that the proportion in the compound is about right to give the target headspace proportion required.


Proportion in Compound (%) = Target Headspace (%) x (100 / Relative Impact)


Example 1: I want to add 13% of Hydroxycitronellal to the "headspace". Relative Impact = 25,
Proportion in Compound % = 13 x (100 / 25) = 52% To increase 13% of the smell of Hydroxycitronellal in the headspace, I need to use 52% more in the formula.

Example 2: I want to add 0.5% of Phenylacetaldehyde 50% to the "headspace". Relative Impact =230
Proportion in Compound % = 0.5 x (100 / 250) = 0.22% To increase 0.5% of the smell of Phenyl acetaldehyde in the the headspace, I need to use 0.22% more in the formula.

That’s it! That was all the math, wasn’t that bad, was it?


The PerfumersWorld Family of Odors:

Ok. So, you decided to create a perfume. You have now some knowledge and you want to start experimenting. What kind of perfume it will be? For woman? for men? for day use? night use? young people? older people? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Here is a good start.


Use this really useful chart to help you build your objective (DO NOT FORGET: ALWAYS the FIRST step of creating a perfume to is create an objective which will allow you to compare your finished composition against). I've said it in the other series of blogs "Things I wish I would have know when I got into perfumery" You will go NOWHERE if you don't have a clear and specific objective. So, first things first: start working on it!.


The PerfumersWorld Family of Odors is a model to map perfume types, and its design was inspired on the Wurlitzer organs played in cinema theatres in the 50's and 60's.:


As you can see, it is super friendly and easy to use and if you work and think with the ABC in mind, you are already being directed towards the letters that will probably be present in your next composition.


Center: Feminine Floral themes.

To the Left: Towards elegance, modified with sweeter notes,

To the Right: Modified to appeal to a more earthy and sporty character.

Top to bottom: Fresh daytime light notes down to heavier and more suitable for evening wear.

Away from Floral Center, to both sides: modifying notes become more dominant, more masculine.

Base: Musk, Moss and Sweet vanilla notes, present in most perfumes


This is a 2 dimensional representation of a three dimensional concept, which is like a cylinder. This means that the left and right meet so that leather and tabac are next to each other, as shown in the following picture: