Wednesday 15 June 2016

The art of perfume with A.S apothecary

There is something incredibly mysterious about perfume, from the way it develops on your skin throughout the day, revealing new layers as the time goes by, to how it can make you feel and bring up forgotten memories. Yet scent can be so polarizing, it is almost impossible to find a perfume that everyone loves, and of course it will likely smell entirely differently on different people due to our own body chemistry. Perfume making is part art and part science, it can be incredibly rewarding yet equally frustrating, this is something that requires true passion.

the peridot pepper

Arriving for the perfume making class taught by Amanda Saurin, the incredible force of nature behind the A.S apothecary, I was met by Pepper (super fluffy and energetic border collie). Amanda's workshop is situated on a working organic farm in Lewes, here she grows some of the plants that are used in the skincare line, as well as hosting courses on gardening, distilling and scent.

After a short introduction from Amanda about what she does (in her own words "Life is about racing around and picking plants"), what we will be learning on the day and saying a few words about ourselves, we move on to the heart of making perfume: choosing essential oils. straight from the beginning we are told that all oils are not equal, and that there is a great deal of difference between what is industrially and artisanally produced. One of those differences is time, when it comes to industrial production time is of the essence, large amounts of plant material is pushed into great huge (usually stainless steel) stills that are closed at the top, with steam being pumped from the bottom, there is nothing gentle about this process.

the peridot copper still

With artisanal production the focus is on getting the best out of the plants, when copper stills are used the scent becomes sweeter (from the reaction of plant material with the metal), the process is much gentler and the still would run for hours (time varying depending on what plants are being distilled averaging on 14 hours), and the flower water (a by-product of essential oils) is just as important as the essential oil produced (sometimes even more so). The best way to see the difference (or should I say smell in this case?) is to experience it for yourself. Different essential oils and flower waters were passed round the table, some cheaper store-bought essential oils and their namesakes from some of the suppliers Amanda works with, and the floral waters that she distilled herself. There was just no comparison between the orange and grapefruit essential oils that Amanda brought from Cyprus and their inexpensive counterparts (this is not to say that price of something is a good indication of quality, it is not necessarily the case, but if you find some deal that seems to be too good to be true it probably is, especially if we are talking about rose essential oils).

the peridot rose oil

Rose oil is one of the most expensive on the market, most of the time it is sold in a dilution for that reason. Pure rose oil is green in colour and is crystalline, it only becomes liquid when heated. The country of origin makes a big difference to the scent profile. It takes a huge amount of petals to produce 1 ml of this oil, and with the bombing of Rose farms in Syria the Damask rose oil will be in short supply. Orange blossom (Neroli), one of my favourite scents, is very time-consuming in  harvesting. The flowers are so fragile, that each one needs to be picked individually for the essential oil to be produced.

The next step was to decide what oils would makeup our perfume. Time to pick the base, middle and top notes. Amanda pre-mixed the essential oils with alcohol, and we took turns dipping paper strips in different solutions and choosing our top 3 from each category starting with top notes (writing down a rating and how we feel about each one). After deciding what 3 essential oils would make our top notes, we held the three relevant strips of paper together, varying their hight to decide what ratio of each should be included. The next step was to painstakingly fill up a bottle drop by drop in the exact ratio, before repeating the process with middle and base notes.

the peridot strawberries

After a lunch break of delicious food and a cup coffee it was time to decide on the ratio of top, middle and base notes (this time we had to do it without Amanda's eagle eye, we had to figure it out for ourselves). Of course it had to be added one drop at a time, requiring patience, steady hands and good deal of concentration not to lose the count. The last step was to decide if we wanted to mix our perfume solution with plain water or a floral water to give our perfume another dimension. We took home the perfume that we made and what was left in the bottles of top, middle, and base notes.

the peridot final perfume

Through the day Amanda shared lots of tips and tricks that she learned on her journey from being a lawyer to becoming and artisanal distiller, plant grower/picker, perfumer, skincare formulator and all around extraordinary craftswoman (we were all sworn to secrecy and I am taking those with me to the grave, sorry). Her passion for plants is so incredibly infectious, that I left the workshop with a renewed passion not only for perfume but for artisan beauty.

the peridot AS apothecary

The amount of work that goes into creating products when you are involved at every step of the way: from planting, growing, distilling and mixing, is just astounding. A.S apothecary to me embodies quality over quantity, once you experience how incredible botanicals can be, you won't want to go back.

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