15 March 2007

No Fragrance, No Life!

Sure it's a play on words, but I'm starting to understand how people can become totally consumed by the work they love. Especially when it's challenging. I thought perfumery was a 9 to 5 job, but it's not. If I really want to be good, I have to do a LOT of work (smelling, studying, re-thinking, formulating, calculating) outside of my classroom "office hours." The most striking thing about this course is how monolithic it has become. In college I had study breaks from the work, like student health meetings, campus events, the gym, piano, romance, etc. But for the first time I wake up thinking about one thing, and go to sleep thinking about one thing.

You don't put down your nose when you walk out the door.

13 March 2007

Stock Exchange

Stock, as in, raw materials. Raw materials that we usually use in easy-drip recipes diluted in 10 % ethyl alcohol. Today was a different story. We're in the middle of functional perfumery, which is extremely involved, but in short it goes like this:

1. smell the fine fragrance you want to put into a cream, shower gel, etc.
2. try to recreate the formula in your lab
3. figure out how much each raw material is going to cost, so that you can replace the most expensive materials with cheaper substitutes (We're talking adjustments that go from 80 euros for the perfume formula to 8 euros for the shower gel formula. And remember, it should smell the same as the 80 euro formula. Uh-huh.)
4. reformulate substitutes for the expensive products (this takes days)
5. recreate the cheap version of the fine fragrance, that you will then add to said cream, shower gel, etc.
6. start over with the cheap version once you realize that some products cause allergies, that others will make the shower gel cloudy when the client wants it transparent, or that the spices that form the signature of your fine fragrance will turn it red, or that some of the materials in your substitutes can turn the plastic of the eventual shampoo bottle into mush
7. finish all that, then measure out the correct proportions of fragrance to shower gel and body cream (about .3 fragrance : 59.7 gel)
8. mix and pour into test bottles
9. put some bottles in the oven, put some bottles in the sun, leave some bottles at room temperature...
10. wait one to six months and make sure everything still smells, looks, and functions properly

After days and days of work, today we completed step 9. When we formulate the final fragrances that will go into the shampoos etc., you have to formulate in pure. So instead of using the easy-drip bottles (as I call them), you have to measure out crystals, powders, gels, liquids, sticky crystals that melt into liquid at room temperature...All of these consistencies leave a lot of room for error. (Hah!) Not to mention, working in pure is more expensive than working with dilutions. So everyone had to share the same bottles. We worked wildly to finish everything today, calling out names of products, passing bottles back and forth, and alternately swearing when powders and crystals blew all over the room. And this, my friends, is what sounded like the stock market all day long:

"Citral! Anybody need the citral!"
"Methyl anthranilate at 1%, somebody give me methyl anthranilate at 1!"
"Damnit, there's coumarine everywhere!"
"Be careful, that crystal melts if you spill it!"
"Where's the rosemary? I'm searching for rosemary, people."
"Camphene, looking for camphene, can anybody give me camphene?"

"Limonene, somebody show me limonene."

It was a true team effort and now I am exhausted. But I've got some real stuff to show for myself -- my own lotion, shower gel, and shampoo based on a perfume currently on the market. I just have to wait a month and make sure nothing will melt or turn red, and then I'm good to go!