Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How to make Japanese incense with agarwood and various traditional ingredients: Part 1

Hello again everyone, I know it seems that progress has slowed a bit over here at Par:Fum - yes it is the time of the holidays and unfortunatley I can't nerd out in front of the computer as much as I do during the regular season! although technically, you shouldn't be wasting your time on here either, so hopefully both forces will cancel eachother out. Anyways, I didn't want to tide you guys over with some low effort post so I went all out and made a pictorial how-to on making Japanese incense with traditional materials. Lets get started!

Ok, so the first step is to collect our materials, if any of these seem unfamiliar to you at first don't worry I will explain their purposes. I have coded them by letter in the photo above:

A - Cinnamon
B - Makko Powder
C - Sandalwood Powder
D - Agarwood Chips
E - Frankincense direct from Somalia (thanks bro!)
F - Cloves

I have used five traditional ingredients in this blend, and Makko powder which is a binder to stick everything together. Makko is the resin of a native Japanese tree, has virtually no odour and is very sticky so it is what will keep your dried finished product from crumbling back into powder! The agarwood and sandalwood make the heart of the perfume, frankincense adds a nice sparkle and of course the cloves add spice while the incense keeps things sweet and warm. The materials in the photo are not the ratios used, I just wanted it to look pretty for the photo! For a first time experiment, you might want to go easy on the spice!

Step two: We take all of our materials and place them in a mortar and pestle and grind until we have a fine powder.

Note: I have used the mortar and pestle to make this tutorial appear classy and aesthetically pleasing, in reality I would take all this stuff to the magic bullet (a super blender) and you should too unless you want to be grinding for an hour! Remember, getting it to as fine a powder as possible is very important for later steps!

Step 3: we add the water and mix

Mix the ingredients in with the water slowly until you get a thick paste, it should hopefully not stick too much to what your mixing it in with, if it becomes too sticky, you will have to wait a bit for it to get dry again, so add the water very slowly!

Once we have got it to the right level, remove some pieces onto a piece of paper, I used printer paper here but for non-stick purposes its better to use weekly flyers (the kind you get in the mail). This step is for making cones only so if you are wishing to make sticks, skip these two photos.

Step Four: Roll the incense into a cone with your fingers, then let them dry. If you are making cones this is the last step and you are finished. I recommend at least 2-3 days of drying time but the actual drying time according to Japanese tradition is about 9 weeks!

Step Five: Extruding on the cheap - Ok so I am assuming you don't have an extruder at home, I made one out of a caulking gun and empty tubes, but just incase you dont want to put that much work I have invented the plastic bag method as well. Extruding is a way of making coreless incense (ie: not wrapped around a little piece of wood like the cheap stuff is) by squeezing paste through a hole, similar to a pasta maker! For this, take a ziploc type back and stab a toothpick through the corner of it to make a hole.

Fill the corner of the bag with your paste and use a motion similar to how you would decorate a cake, squeeze the paste through the hole and make the bag across your sheet of paper in order to make as straight a line as possible!

In my example I didn't spend enough time powdering and I had some tiny chunks which kept clogging the hole :( As a consequence it was difficult to make the sticks the right length. This is why I recommend that you use a power blender instead such as the magic bullet. Blend it for 5 minutes if you have to, the finer the powder the much easier it will be to extrude after!

Step Six: Light your incense and enjoy :) Remember, even for extruded sticks you should let them dry at least 24 hours! The incense made during this tutorial exhibited a very pleasant and traditional aroma.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Par:Fum Fragrance Awards

Ok, so I know I am probably the last one to come out with a set of awards this year, but figured I'd like to reflect on (and judge) some of this 2008's perfumes and fragrance products. Some categories are reserved for perfumes launched only in 2008 and some are cumulative.


Most creative new product mainstream: Magnifique de Lancome

Most creative new product niche: Boudicca Perfume ( Wode paint sprays)

Best bottle (mainstream womens'): Very Pretty - Michael Kors

Best bottle (mainstream men's): Roadster - Cartier

Best bottle (niche womens'): Cosmic - Solange

Best bottle (niche men's): Parfums MDCI

Best Fragrance men: Versace pour Homme

Best Fragrance women: Citizen Queen - Juliette Has a Gun

Best Fragrance Blog 2008: 1000fragances


Most bang for your buck (women's): Madame Rochas (avg price 12.99-15.99 30ml EDT)

Most bang for your buck (mens): Adidas Moves Deodorant Stick (avg price 6.99-8.99)

Most bang for you buck (niche): Serge Lutens Export Collection

Best Drugstore (mens): Cliven for men

Best Drugstore (womens): Bal a Versailles

Worst of 2008

Worst Name (men): The Beat (men) - Burberry

Worst Name (women): Notorious - Ralph Lauren

Worst Bottle: Love and Luck (men and women) - Ed Hardy

Biggest Fiasco 2008: Fake Ebay Creeds

Most Missed Ancillary Product: Bar Soaps

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Ranjatai: King of Agarwood

The famous piece of Agarwood called Ranjatai was presented by Komyo Emperor for Todaiji Temple in Nara, Japan, in the year 756 A.D. Ranjatai was kept in the Shosoin warehouse of Todaiji Temple. Today, Ranjatai belongs to the Royal family of Japan. Every autumn, many treasures of Shosoin are exhibited in National Museum in Nara, titled Shosoin Ten (Exhibition). Because they change the object of exhibition. Ranjatai can be seen there every 10 or 15 years. The paper on Ranjatai mentions three parts were cut; one by the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, one by the Daimyo Oda Nobunaga, and one by the Meiji Emperor. The cut parcels were often given as gifts in important political processes. These cuts however were insignificant in size (less than one square inch at a time) and the piece of wood today has dimensions of approximatley 152 cm in length, with a width of 122cm at one end and 13cm at the other. Ranjatai has been now been identified as coming from Laos or Vietnam by Japan's leading expert on Aloeswood, Dr. Yoneda from Osaka University.

There are many stories about aloeswood being buried under the ground or under river beds for hundreds of years, of which the story of the source of Ranjatai is sometimes reported to be. This legend comes from an old Chinese book on incense, but today most aloeswood comes from infected trees that, although in the process of decaying and dying, are indeed still standing. However, sometimes the roots become infected with the fungus and these can be found underground.

I have been interested in this piece of wood for a very long time, and I hope that next time it is viewable in the museum that I will have the chance to go and see it in person. An interesting excercise that I have done was to try and estimate a street price for Ranjatai. Since we know Ranjatai is sinking-grade kyara, we must say that its density is over 1.0 gram per cubic cm (the density of water), since all aloeswood can have a different densities due to the difference in formation of resin, let us approximate the density of Ranjatai to be equal to Lignum Vitae, another very dense sinking wood - this is 1.4g per cubic cm. Therefore based on the measurements above, and an assumption of the average depth of Ranjatai to be 30cm (based on the image) we can assume Ranjatai to weigh appx 315.9kg. At a cost of 395$ per gram for the highest grade Green Kyara ( ), let us assume this to be our street price for the gram-fragmented Ranjatai. Not counting the obvious price premium that would be created in the market due to the fact that the pieces sold would be from one of the most famous pieces of wood in the world, the street price of Ranjatai is about $124,780,500. I suppose this is what people mean when they call something "priceless" ;)

*historical information fragments and photo written by David Oller of Esoterics, LLC and edited by Par-Fum

*dimension information sourced from The Trail of Time: Time Measurement by Silvio A. Badini

Please send me a message if you would like information about this book.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stagnation: The perfumer's worst enemy

Getting comfortable, playing it safe, rehashing past succeses; these are the symptoms of an artist who has lost the will to innovate and shock - they may lead to a profitable lifestyle but they are also destructive forces which will impede or even reverse personal growth. However, as much as this phenomena can affect established artists (or perfume houses for that matter) it can also be crippling for the novice perfumer. Take me as an example; I hate fruity florals! Bright Crystal? Yuck! Gucci EDP II? barf! Paris Hilton?? say no more...

So why should I ever bother to try and make one? well logically I thought I never should, until last night. You see, it took me years to realize that I am shooting myself in the foot for not poking my nose out of its spicebomb, amber based comfort zone. I had no idea what a freesia even looked like, let alone how it smelled. Despite having some reconstitution, I hadn't even opened the vial since the 3 years ago that I purchased it. Lately however, I had read an article by a famous perfumer (can't remember who now - was it Jean Carles?) who said that a perfumer, to gain great skill must work outside their comfort zone, for instance if one hates vanilla as a note, they MUST in fact try to use it twice as often as the notes they like, for this type of diversity will bring true knowledge.

So in the photo above you can see the fruits of my two-nights labour, my first try at a fruity floral, here are the notes:

Citrus, Grapefruit, Neroli, Berries, Pineapple, Melon, Aldehydes.

Freesia, Tuberose, Ylang, Jasmine, Rose, Iris/Violet

Vanilla, Nuts, White Musks, Sandalwood, Ambergris

I would describe it as a somewhat elegant fruity floral with the melon notes and citral imparting a guava-like fruityness at the top, it is less fruity than the Escada summer offerings and plays highly on the white florals. The base is very comfortable, a creme brulee type vanilla, with foody nuances of nuts. The musk base is also assertive but very comfortable at the same time (tonalide). This is only attempt one, I will soon try a re-work with the addition of davana (more elegance), cedar (a bit colder woods), heliotropin and maybe a touch of saffraleine.

Video: Une pin-up chez Caron

Here is a video which will probably be easiest to enjoy by our French-speaking viewers. It basicly follows a young ladies visit to the luxurious boutique of Caron (not the one Ave. Montaigne tho) in Paris. They talk a bit about the history of the company and the various parfums and she does some shopping. Pretty cool eye candy of the Baccarat fountains too - neato :)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Beware fake absolutes and essential oils from India

Hi again readers,

It has come to my attention over the past few weeks that there are an increasing number of Indian and other Asian sellers on the internet offering absolutes of different flowers, mainly tuberose, rose, gardenia, jasmine, ylang, etc for rediculously cheap prices. These products are generally around 10-15$ per 5ml and are named as absolutes on the websites as to suggest to the buyer that they are of natural origin. These products are often described as 100% pure or "pure", but generally these sellers tend to shy away from obvious lies and they are almost never seen describing them specifically using the word natural. A typical tactic of these sellers is often to assuage the skeptical buyer by citing cheap labour costs in India - but after many emails you can often get to the truth, where the seller will explain a complicated GC process was used to recreate a nature identical absolute and will continue to assure you that it is "pure". Please do not be fooled by any of this, all these products are synthetic reconstitutions of the original absolutes. Now, of course there is nothing wrong with such a product in concept (as I am certainly not a natural perfumery fanboy) but once it is realized that it is in fact a reconstitution, the seemingly low price of 12$ per 5ml suddenly becomes shockingly expensive.

I am not going to name any of the sellers that I have seen commiting this, because it is not my place to police the internet or slander anyone, but I also know many of our friends and readers out here in cyberspace may be interested in perfumery, and be on a budget. These are the prime target victoms. Therefore, I do want to show them warning signs so they are not fooled by such dishonest sellers. Remeber, the internet is a very different place now than it was five years ago! I have even had problems lately with sellers who I have grown to know and trust over a number of years. It seems the potentials of profits that can be made from the uninformed western buyer are too great!


PS - I hope my readers understand that I am not suggesting these dishonest business practices are solely occuring in this area, as there has been some recent controversy with Bulgarian production as well, however in the west our legal infrastructure seems to keep this to a minimum. Unfortunatley, right now developing countries do not have the legal structure to deal with these types of problems 100% effectively so we will have to keep our eyes open ourselves. This of course goes for all of us worldwide.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Blog is back up again!

DECEMBER 11th Hi guys, I've got a bit of a sad announcement to make, Im going to have to put the blog on hold for a while, as I haven't been able to contribute much the past week, and university exams are just taking up too much if my time. Sorry to pull an LT so soon after starting the blog, but I should be up and running again after the 17th of December. Thanks for your support so far and I promise to be back ASAP, I just didnt want to be forced to write articles that I wouldn't deem worthy in the meantime, as I really have too much studying right now. Wish me luck on Stats!


DECEMBER 17th: FOLLOW UP: Hi everyone, back from the break and I hope everyone is having a good time gearing up for the holidays. I am done my examinations at university now so I will be able to contribute regularly to the blog again. Thanks for your patience and support and I hope to bring you some great content in the future!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Perfume Raison d'Etre

A photograph I took today struck me with a thought about the meaning of life of the perfume; to make appear something that is not really there. A perfume is more than the sum of its parts. A perfume can be considered a form of magic, but not the type of magic of witches and devils. Perfume is the magic of a magician, it is a trick meant to create illusions. It creates something that cannot be touched but is made from tangeable materials (aromachems). This photograph is actually just coats draped over my hatrack in a random way, but at the correct angle what we get is in fact the face of a person; something so lifelike we feel that it will almost start to speak to us (tell us to buy Nabob coffee no doubt).

A few modifiers layered over a basic accord can give a rose that is so lifelike you can almost feel the prick of its thorn ;)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Fragrance Proposition: Candied Orange

I propose a new fragrance pyramid, much in the spirit of Caron's Nuit de Noel I would like to make an outline for a new fragrance to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. For this I have chosen a fruit which was once considered an exotic treat, to be enjoyed over the holidays but is now a common juice served at every continental breakfast; the orange. My vision is for a candied orange perfume, but not a lifelike orange jumping out of the bottle as todays niche houses may create, nor an overly sweet fruity musk that would push the perfume into overly mainstream/commercial territory. I would like the proposed perfume to be a perfume first and an orange second - this is to mean that under the first impression of candied orange there must be a perfume with depth and integrity. My pyramid is as follows:

Mandarine, Lemon Zest, Citrus

Sweet notes, Metallic notes, Honey, Rose, Cinnamon, Spices

Amber, Vanilla, Robust Musks (such as tonalide).

I will set to work developping this pyramid but I do not have a set date for completion, stay tuned and I might post a follow up about it sometime in the future :)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Des Parfums" : Identifying Game

I was recently cleaning an old bookshelf and found this antique of a book "Learn French as the French do as if you were in France". Okay, perhaps this authors should learn some better English before making anymore book titles, but thats beside the point ;) After flipping a few pages I found an interesting photo amongst a group of photos which teaches you how to pluralize commonly used words. This photo is titled "des parfums" and I have been able to identfify a few of the bottles so far, for some of them I have put my best guesses. The remaining perfumes: I have no idea. I've placed a letter corresponding to each along the photo. My attempts are added in red text in the image at the bottom of the post. If anyone thinks they've got some good guesses I'd love some help with these! All photos can be clicked on for an enlarged view. I will of course have a fragrant prize for whoever can name them all ;)

A - Dior Eau FraƮche (Carmen Canada)
B -
C - Carven - Ma Griffe (Dimitri)
D - Vintage Caleche (Dimitri)
E -
F - Rochas Femme (Carmen Canada)
G -
H -

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Guerlain: Djedi

In my hand I have got a vial of vintage Djedi; this is a very curious perfume. At first application I don't really know what to make of it. I sense an opening burst of rose/honey-like sweetness paired with camphor, dead vegetation and mould??? Not to worry, it doesnt actually smell as bad as it sounds and this quickly fades (5 minutes) into a half and half mix of sweet vs. Russian leathers -Something akin to a 50/50 mix of Creed's petrol fueled (no pun intended) Cuir de Russie and Royal English leathers' sweet powderyness. Also among these leathers is of most interest to me a mineral note, that immediatley calls to mind the mineraly scent of ambergris tincture that I discussed in a post earlier this month (see that post for the fully story). Since this is in fact the vintage Djedi (I think its a 40's release) I am certain that this note is in fact natural ambergris tincture! This is meaningfull in both ways; 1. I finally have before me evidence and example of the effect and use of natural ambergris in a perfume 2. It smells alot like my ambergris and since this is a Guerlain product, this means mine is of a high quality (hurray me!). I have read somewhere that Luca Turin described this as the driest perfume of all time, this is absolutely untrue; one whiff of Bois du Portugal and you'll be chugging the next available Perrier. I would instead call this perfume physically damp(ambergris), which brings to the moss and vetiver notes a semi-sweet aura of decay (help of indoles as well). The last step in this perfume is a deeply animalic accord, sweet with a touch of cinnamon. I do not seem to end on a vetiver note as many people have described...

Final verdict: Don't get caught up in my strange sounding analysis, this is a perfume of course, it doesnt *actually* smell like decaying vegetables! I often feel like a nerd writing these things and I try to not go over the top with my descriptions. Bottom line - if you are curious about this scent, I'd say do not expect something thats going to knock you off your feet upon first smell (like Ambre Sultan). Djedi is in fact a very beautiful fragrance, but I must acknowledge that it may have somewhat limited appeal, and it needs more than a whiff of the topnotes to fall in love with. I would say start off with a sample vial if you can :)