Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Pyramid Building - 3

The deconstruction of the olfactory pyramid continues. Thanks very much to everyone who sent me emails in response to the previous post on the subject. It's reassuring to know that I'm not the only one who finds this particular aspect of perfumery more than a little frustrating.

For today's instalment of this extended discussion, I'd like to describe a basic experiment I recently conducted in my little lab. I made up vials of several simplistic 'perfumes', each one containing just one 'base' ingredient (benzoin), one 'heart' (either Egyptian jasmine absolute, Moroccan rose absolute or geranium oil) and one 'top' (bergamot or basil or French lavender oil or anything else that took my fancy).

You can see where this is going. When the scents were sprayed, there wasn't a single one that opened solely with the top note: indeed, all the openings were a combination of the top and the heart. After several minutes, the 'top' appeared to fade away, but its influence could still be detected in the heart: the jasmine that followed on from the bergamot smelled subtly, but unmistakably different from the jasmine that came after the basil oil. In fact, it would also be true to say that the bergamot that led to the jasmine appeared to take on a different identity from the bergamot that led to the rose: the tops and the hearts were both exerting an influence on each other. Needless to say, the base note also took on different hues - and made its presence felt at differing times - depending on whether it had been 'underneath' jasmine, rose or geranium.

Of course, this didn't come as a massive surprise. My name may not be Edmond Roudnitska, but I'm aware that the dividing lines between top, heart and base are far from well-defined. That's why we keep saying that the olfactory pyramid is merely a convenient (?) sketch of the way a perfume really works, right? However, perhaps the reason why so many people remain unhappy with the use of the pyramid is precisely because it's based on lines. I realise my experiment wasn't exactly scientific and that it isn't always easy to make firm judgements on what constitutes a top note or a heart note (after all, bergamot and lavender oil - both of which count as 'tops' - evaporate at quite different rates), but maybe my results suggest that we need to come up with a model based on a more fluid concept... something like waves perhaps... or maybe even circles?

That's my question for you today: what would work better than lines? Please feel free to leave a comment on this post or, if you prefer, send an email to the usual address: persolaise at gmail dot com.



  1. I have a wonderful velvet ballgown from Monsoon; shoe-string straps and bias-cut with a diagonal seam from bust to hip, absolutely gorgeous. It's pink, but the colour is graduated, so at the top it has a rose hue; by halfway down it's the colour of turkish delight; and by the floor-length hem it's crimson. You can see where I'm going with this?

  2. Sue, I know exactly where you're going. In fact, you're paving the way rather beautifully for my next post on the subject.

    Incidentally, the ballgown sounds stunning.


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