• Osmanthus Conversation with Perfumer Charna Ethier
  • Charna EthierConversations with Perfumers SeriesOsmanthus OolongOsmanthus SeriesProvidence Perfume Co

Osmanthus Conversation with Perfumer Charna Ethier

What you're about to read is the first in a series of several interviews or conversations with 3 perfumers about the wonders of osmanthus and their experience working with this beautiful and rare raw material. I hope that you will enjoy the insight into other perfumers' work with the same special material, and if you have any other questions, feel free to post them in the comments below and and converse with these talented perfumers over SmellyBlog, and the first "guest" is Charna Ethier from Providence Perfume Co, a natural perfumer from Providence, Rhode Island.

Ayala Moriel/SmellyBlog:
Thank you for participating in my osmanthus series on SmellyBlog!

Charna Ethier/Providence Perfume Co.: Thank you for allowing me to participate. I'm excited to be a part of your osmanthus series!

Ayala: How would you describe the scent of osmanthus?

Charna: I would describe the scent of osmanthus as fruity, leathery, slightly smokey, sweet, floral and narcotic.  Osmanthus doesn't smell like any other essence and is distinct and unique.

Ayala: Interesting that you say plum! I never really thought of osmanthus this way before. Femme smells like osmanthus to me, yet it is not listed as a note anywhere, while plum is.

Charna: Femme does smell like osmanthus! 

Ayala: Have you ever smelled the fresh flowers?

Charna: Sadly, I've never had the chance to smell the real flowers.

Ayala: You owe it to yourself! A trip to the south, perhaps? :-)

Charna: I once had a confusing conversation with a student over the phone about the fresh flowers.  She lived in Georgia and she kept asking me about tincturing "tea olive."  She wanted to know how to create a tea olive tincture and told me that tea olive grew wild everywhere in the South.  I was confused and told her I wasn't sure what tea olive was, but I was pretty sure it didn't grow wild in my cold climate.  She kept describing the flowers to me in detail, and the aroma and still I had no idea what flower she was talking about.  She called me again a week later and explained she discovered that tea olive was what we chilly "Yankees" called osmanthus.  She has a great sense of humour.

Ayala: Confusing indeed! For me, growing up in the Middle East - when talking about "olives" I rarely think of their flowers, and the association is more “savoury” than “sweet”.  So the synonym “sweet olive” sounds a bit out of place. 
Do you have any scent memories associated with the scent of osmanthus? Or memories that are triggered by this note?

Charna: For some reason, the aroma of osmanthus often reminds me of plum wine, ume -which in turn reminds me of an old boyfriend who used to buy me plum wine.  He was much too old for me, and I think he though all young women in their 20's liked to drink sweet things.

Ayala: Mmm, ume… I love Japanese plum wine, but then I probably have an 8-year old taste in alcoholic beverages!… I truly adore ume - their scent is what inspired my Hanami perfume even more than sakura (cherry blossoms). Have you ever had the Japanese sour plum condiments? They are so peculiar tasting!

What were the main challenges for you when incorporating this note into your perfumes?

Charna: I find osmanthus tricky to work with.  It's an essence that doesn't like to play well with others, it asserts itself and likes to play the starring role.  I made a conscious decision to let osmanthus be the star of my perfume Osmanthus Oolong and built the fragrance around osmanthus.

Ayala: To me, osmanthus had the opposite challenge: it seemed to disappear the more I put of it. But then, my composition relied heavily on osmanthus absolute being the only flower there. The others were added in only minuscule amounts, so it remained very muted. Projection does not seem to be a strong point - and it could also be something to do with the ionones playing tricks on our olfactory bulbs.

But you managed - in what seems effortlessly - to turn osmanthus into a star!
"Osmanthus" and "Oolong" - two of my favourite teas! Not surprisingly, I've also fallen hard for your creation! What was your inspiration? Is there a story to be told about Osmanthus Oolong?  

Charna: Thank you Ayala!  Osmanthus Oolong was one of my original fragrances, and it was a concept I had been thinking about for a long time.  At night, as I was falling asleep I remember piecing parts of the formula together in my head for months.  Imagining how the yuzu might freshen the top notes, determining if an amber base would push the fragrance too far to the sweet side, thinking of how the astringency of the black tea may balance the amber.  I'm pleased that you like it.  I've found over the years that Osmanthus Oolong is very polarizing fragrance.  People seem to love it or . . . not (smile.)

Ayala: You now not only answered my question, but also made me feel just a tiny bit more normal - not being the only one who does perfume problem solving while falling asleep… The solution sometimes just comes to you this way more at ease, like a meditation.

Your osmanthus perfume is tea themed, yet the result I found to be very animalic, and with a surprising lasting power. I find that osmanthus to be a very challenging raw material in that aspect: it is difficult to make it long lasting; and increasing the concentration strangely diminishes its presence. How did you overcome this technical challenge? And what other challenges did you notice when working with osmanthus absolute?

Charna: I think the animalic aroma stems from the indole in the jasmine blending with the leathery note in the osmanthus.  As I mentioned before, I find osmanthus challenging to work with.  I had hoped by incorporating the lemony aglaia, the sharp astringent black and green teas and bergamot I could balance the sweet, sometimes cloying nature osmanthus can possess.  What I guess I'm saying is there needs to be a lot of balance when working with osmanthus!

Ayala: You have achieved this balance so well. The red rooibos tea truly brings out the fruity aspect; yet it is not too sweet. And most importantly - it projects very well for such a delicate tea-inspired perfume.

Charna: I feel that when blending with osmanthus, one must decide if they wish to highlight the flower's floral note, it's leather note, or it's fruity note.  One of the three elements as they are so distinct.

Ayala: Excellent point! Containing one's excitement are a great challenge to the perfumer, which can easy lead to lack of direction. Having a focus is key, because the natural raw materials are so complex, our job is often like a photographer's attempt to soften the background and channel our attention to the photograph's subject.

Charna: Regarding the longevity of Osmanthus Oolong . . . thank you for noticing!  I take great pride in striving to create a longer lasting natural perfume.  One of the methods I utilized with Osmanthus Oolong tincturing dried apricots and peaches in the base alcohol.  The alcohol becomes imbued with the fruity aroma, a perfect foil to highlight the peach-like aroma osmanthus possesses.  In addition the fruit tinctured alcohol contains natural sugars from the fruit which act as a humectant slowing the evaporation rate of the perfume off the skin.

Ayala: That's fascinating about the fruit sugars - I had no idea! I worked with natural fruit extracts (designed for food, just like vanilla extract or almond essence) found their stickiness to be a disadvantage. It's both inspiring and encouraging to smell such results, so I will give it a try.

Have you noticed a great deal of different between osmanthus essences from different sources? Do you have a favourite - and why? 

Charna: This is an interesting question.  Normally, I find vast differences in essences from different sources.  I must admit when sourcing osmanthus absolute, the differences were more subtle, shades of grey if you will.  One was thinner, less sweet.  One was smokier.  Maybe because osmathus is such a distinct aroma I detected more subtle differences.  I recently purchased osmanthus from Eden Botanicals and really liked the quality.  I found it interesting that the osmanthus from Eden smelled smokier and darker in the bottle than it does on the skin.  The smokey note disappeared very quickly, and the sweet, floral quality shone.  I enjoyed it.

Ayala: Yes, the osmanthus from Eden is exceptional, and even surpasses the one they used to carry a few years back. Osmanthus is not widely grown so we're not privileged enough to have several sources as with other florals (rose, jasmine, etc.). I'm ashamed to admit that I've never smelled aglaia flowers. Can you describe their scent?

Charna: I LOVE aglaia.  I only wish their fresh, lemony floral aroma were stronger.  It's very difficult to make aglaia a prevalent note in a perfume, but I found the aglaia and jasmine lightened the osmanthus in the heart notes of Osmanthus Oolong.

Ayala: Now I'm even more intrigued!
Which types of tea essences did you use in Osmanthus Oolong?

Charna: I used a handcrafted tincture of black tea (hence the dark color of the perfume), green tea absolute and rooibos (red) tea absolute.  The fruity plum notes in the rooibos accentuated the other fruit notes in the perfume.

Ayala: Wonderful choices, and the tea-like quality really comes across - although in a rather bold and daring way. Thank you so much for creating such an outstanding osmanthus perfume, and for sharing your creative process and thoughts!

Charna: Thank you for allowing me to participate, Ayala!

Now, proceed to read my impressions/review of Providence Perfume Co's Osmanthus Oolong! 
  • Charna EthierConversations with Perfumers SeriesOsmanthus OolongOsmanthus SeriesProvidence Perfume Co
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