Floriental Week: My Short But Sweet Taste of Perfume Making

Trailing Roses
Trailing Roses, briar roses at Horton Bay in Mayne Island - a photo by Laríssa on Flickr.

I remember quite clearly the first time I ever met Ayala and came across her fragrances. I was in my first semester of the Fashion Marketing Diploma program at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and I met Ayala at Portobello West very briefly while I was in the process of completing an assignment. I have always loved fragrance as more than just a sensory pleasure but also as a complex and powerful art form - the sense of smell is the sense that is most closely linked to emotions and memories. I was immediately intrigued by her unusual scent combinations (urban inspired Hanami and simplistic but powerful Roses et Chocolat were the scents that left the biggest impression on me) and by the stories that were behind each one and I never forgot about our discussion or her fragrances. I met Ayala again a year later at her Etrog tea-party after writing an article about her custom fragrances for a bridal fashion website. We talked about fragrance and bonded over the fact that we are both chypre-lovers (from Ayala's collection I particularly adore Rainforest and Ayalitta). I told her that I loved her product and that if I could ever be of help to her in any way that I would love to volunteer. Another year later and I am lucky enough to have the privilege of working for Ayala Moriel Parfums.

While I was interning for Ayala in July, I was fortunate to be able to sit in on one of her classes and participate in the solid-perfume workshop during her five-day Floriental Perfume Course. While I do have a passion for fragrance and spend a fair amount of time researching fragrance myself, I knew very little about florientals and what key components make a scent a floriental versus a floral or oriental.

Many people think of floriental fragrances as being heavy, rich, ambery, and spicy. But truthfully, Florientals can be best described as a Floral-Ambery: a sub-category of the floral family, and the love child of two harmoniously mingled fragrance families - heady White Florals, and smooth Ambery Orientals. Opulent, smooth scents like Guerlain's iconic Samsara or Chanel's Allure often come to mind but floriental fragrances, while having a similar structure and similar notes, can vary greatly in smell and spirit. They can be light and sparkling, creamy and beachy or dark, smoky and seductive, depending on the composition and accent notes used.

Coralle parfum, an all-natural floriental from Ayala Moriel Parfums' archives

Floriental perfumes can vary greatly but are unified in their composition structure. Those who are familiar with fragrance know that notes are only a percentage of what leads to the final smell of a perfume. Florientals are more base heavy than other florals. Amber is always in the base, along with other heavier notes such as incense, sandalwood, vanilla, massoia bark or myrrh. The heart is where the richer flowers (roses, violets etc.) and white florals reside and the top is reserved for the airy citrus notes and lighter flowers (i.e.: mimosa), cool spices (i.e.: coriander, ginger, cardamom), balsams and woods. Perfumers will play around with the composition of fragrances but that is the basic outline of what the formula for a floral-oriental fragrance would look like.

Class Of Summer 2013
Class of Summer 2013 (Floriental Week)

It was fascinating to listen to Ayala explain how the different components and ingredients of a floriental perfume could work together. Perfume is often explained and described in terms of the ingredients or "notes" within a fragrance. Ayala stressed that the ratio of notes within a fragrance is as equally important as the notes themselves. There may be several different versions of a fragrance with similar or the same notes, but each version will smell entirely different based on the amount of each note and the concentration. The subtle but distinct differences between fragrances of the same family was illustrated most vividly when Ayala began passing around different examples of floriental fragrances, some her own creations, some commercial perfumes, and some truly intriguing indie and vintage scents.

I was particularly intrigued by a vintage fragrance that she presented to us called l'Heure Bleue. The perfume was released in 1912 and I was truly surprised at how modern the fragrance smelled.When I used to think of vintage perfumes I would think of heavy abstract florals, thick spices, and animalic, aldehydic notes reminiscent of those on my great-grandmother's dresser. This perfume, created more than one hundred years ago could easily be worn and enjoyed today which made me appreciate the perfume and the perfumer all the more for being able to create a fragrance that can transcend time - not an easy task for an art form as personal perfume.

Floriental Week July 1-5, 2013
Students smelling tea roses at Nelson Park community gardens

During my time as a stand-in student of Ayala Moriel's I found that I most appreciated the way Ayala would connect science with more artistic side of creating a fragrance. What I mean by that is she would tell us about the chemical components of an ingredient and how that would affect a fragrance but would also describe it in imaginative and sensory terms that made it relatively easy for someone like me, with no background in science or chemistry to understand. I also appreciated the way that every lesson was illustrated with examples. If she was trying to show us how carnation blossoms smell similar to clove essences because of their high eugenol content, she would pass around the essences and have us describe any detected differences as well as similarities. Ayala thoroughly saturates you in the content of her lessons, urging you to use every sense while learning. Fragrant snacks (elderflower tea, floral-flavored cookies and bitterly rich dark chocolate), and garden walks allow her students to experience fragrance and explore the different components of fragrances in different ways. It is amazing how one flower, or spice, or balsam can produce essences with completely different aromas. The different facets of natural ingredients are fascinating and really made an impression on me in terms of how complex an art-form perfume-making is. It made me think of music or painting, where tiny brush strokes and notes combine together to create something abstract or simplistic but always emotionally/intellectually impacting. Everyday we are surrounded by different smells, some pleasant and some not so pleasant but they have a strong impact on our perceptions of our environment and on our memories. Fragrance can transport you to a different time, place, or emotional state depending on what you associate with different smells.

Grating Beeswax
Grating beeswax for making solid perfumes
Ceramic Casseroles
Ceramic casseroles for solid perfume making.

The highlight of my week as Ayala's student was the solid perfume workshop. Using beeswax, jojoba oil, and essences we were encouraged to close our eyes and transport ourselves to a place that really represents ourselves and where we feel most alive, inspired, safe etc., a place that we would want to capture and carry with us always. For me that place is Mayne Island, a gulf island close to Vancouver Island. Briar roses, sun-baked blackberries, spruce, pine, broom and salty ocean air are the aromas that are closest to my heart. Using notes of Rosa rugosa, lavender absolute, vanilla absolute, wild frankincense, and ylang-yang I created a fragrance that reminds me of my home away from home and that smells just a little bit vintage-esque because of the frankincense. I named it Marion after my great grandmother who helped build my family's cottage on Mayne Island. It was a meditative but somewhat nerve-wracking experience because of how much a subtle change in the amount of each essence and even the slightest variations of notes can change the entire fragrance. The process of creating the solid perfumes felt similar to cooking and is definitely something I would like to explore for my own enjoyment in the future.

Labradorite Poison Ring
Solid perfume in a vintage poison ring 

Overall what I would say about Ayala's classes are that they are intensive, artistic and scientific, and very hands-on. These are not classes where you will simply sit, read, and memorize. Every one of your senses will be involved while taking her classes. Perfumery is a rich and complex subject and there is always a lot to learn. Ayala has been practicing perfumery for years and years and as she says, even she is learning on a regular basis. In my opinion, the mark of a good teacher is to be able to take a fairly complicated subject and to be able to explain it in easy to understand terms. As Albert Einstein said, "If you can't explain it to a six year old, you don't understand it yourself.". I learned a lot from my couple of hours as Ayala's student even without a base of knowledge to reference.

Truly, perfumery is an art-form that should be further explored and celebrated. It is an incredible form of expression even for those who perhaps don't necessarily want to pursue it as a career. Not only will you develop a new creative skill and outlet but you will become more aware of the aromas and environment around you. I, for example, will never look at a tuberose the same away again after meeting and talking with Ayala about it (such a mesmerizing, multifaceted flower). I encourage anyone who has an interest in aromatherapy or perfume to take one of Ayala's courses, such as her Orientals week-long course from September 30th to October 4th 2013. Registration for this course closes Friday, August 30th at 12 noon PST. 

Fragrant Decade: Ten Trends that Marked 2000-2009

The decade opening the third millennium, although hasn’t attained a universally accepted name, was certainly a fragrant one. With the releases of well over 5,000 perfumes (an average of over 500 fragrances each year, according to Basenotes.net), and the rise of many new niche perfume houses, it certainly gives consumers and fragrance aficionados a lot to choose from. We all know that quantity does not guarantee, and often undermines quality. Thankfully, in the past decade we have witnessed some trends that counterbalance quantity with quality and originality, and a few other interesting trends that prove that consumers can finally receive what they ask for and rightfully deserve.

So let’s examine the ten most important trends and influences in the fragrance world in this past decade.

Visit The Examiner to read the remaining of this article.

Ayala's 2006 Interview on PerfumeCritic.com

Due to popular demand, and the fact that this interview was erased along with all the previous material on PerfumeCritic.com, I am posting here the original interview, which took place November 8th, 2006, and was published December 5th on PerfumeCritic.com.

Marlen Harrison: How's it goin?
Ayala Sender:Hello Marlen, how are you?
MH: Good lord this day has FLOWN by! How bout you? Productive day?
AS:Yes, seems like I got a lot done already!
MH: Good 4 u!
AS: How about yourself? How is your day "off" going?
MH: ....doesn't feel much like a day off unfortunately, none of them ever do....ah well! But productive nonetheless! Trying to schedule trips to NYC, Tokyo and then Paris...
AS: I thought so, but glad to hear it's productive! Kudos on the fabulous team of writers you recruited from around the world, a little traveling seems in place!
MH: Yeah, but on a PhD student's budget, it's not easy. So Ayala, what's new for Ayala Moriel perfumes this season?
AS: At the end of November we released a new perfume, Razala - my first perfume to include ambergris (beach harvested), and also other incredibly rich essences of oudh, saffron, myrrh, orange blossom, rose, tuberose and jasmine. This is an Arabian inspired perfume (Razala is my Arabic nickname).
MH: Wow! That sounds amazing Ayala. Can't wait to try that one as I've recently become a saffron convert and have always loved the warmth of ambergris. I was looking at your webpage - AyalaMoriel.com...And I noticed Film Noir! Now that sounds incredible to me. Tell me more about that one and how on earth did you think of combining those specific notes?
AS: Film Noir will be released officially only later into the winter. I can't say I am the first one to combine patchouli and chocolate though! Angel and Borneo have done that before me... This is an example for a perfume that was inspired by materials, rather than a concept. The name was added to complement it later, as it fit the darkness.
MH: Tell me more about being inspired by materials.
AS: I was playing with different distillations of patchouli, and was inspired to create a patchouli-themed scent that will make the patchouli feel really warm and cozy, and make the wearer experience patchouli from a different point of view. The idea of using the chocolate and the myrrh came from my work on a few ideas for "love potions". Roses and Chocolate was the first thing that came to mind, but it's a very challenging combination. I would have never thought I would pair chocolate and myrrh, but one olfactory thought lead to the other, and here I am with Film Noir!
MH: Interesting that you mention chocolate as I am wearing one of my favorite Ayala Moriel perfumes right now actually. Can you guess which one it is?
AS: It must be Guilt. If it has chocolate that is... Many think that Finjan has chocolate too even though it doesn't!
MH: Yes, Guilt is a beautiful take on a luscious chocolate note paired with the perfect floral bouquet. Never fussy, always yummy, and somehow very comforting.
AS: I am very pleased to hear you like Guilt! Chocolate and orange are a perfect match, but here I used orange blossom and amber as well to make Guilt a perfume rather than a dessert...
MH: Yes, it strays from gourmand territory about 15 minutes into the wearing as the mimosa and jasmine begin to warm up.
AS: You noticed the mimosa!
MH: Yes - it lends a soft powderiness to the overall feel. Ayala, I have to ask you, what was the deciding moment when you realized that you were a perfumer?
AS: Even though the process of becoming a perfumer was gradual (and there is always more learning to be done, so a perfumer must be humble and keep learning!) - I think that the moment I made my first perfume, I realized "I had it". When I first wanted to learn how to make perfumes, I got all the books I could and followed the formulas. In most cases, I was very disappointed with the results. One formula looked so promising - it had vanilla, rose, cinnamon and a few other florals; yet it turned out so disappointing. So I decided to make my own formula, which included all my favourite notes at that time (my childhood favourites - lemon verbena, rose, cinnamon, vanilla and amber) and I liked it immediately. I named it "Ayala" and it is still available through my website, though I have a feeling I made better perfumes since than...
MH: I see, I haven't tried Ayala yet, but hopefully someday! Was there one book that you thought was the most instrumental in helping you to develop your skills?
AS: The two most important books in my studies were what perfumers often refer to as "The Bible" - Poucher's "Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soap". The other book is Mandy Aftel's "Essence and Alchemy". Unlike the many hobbyist books I came across (changed sentence slightly as to not imply these are hobbyist books), these two books contain very useful information about the methods of constructing a perfume. Mandy's book is more accessible, and can be read just for enjoyment. It does focus on naturals only though, and really inspired me to keep my palette all-natural. Poucher's is a reference book, and even though it has information on both synthetics and naturals, it is invaluable. It has plenty of formulas and a wealth of information. The older editions are a historic document as well, as they contain some fabulous old-world formulas.
MH: Hmmm, you know Andy Tauer has also mentioned Mandy Aftel. Her writing seems to have had a large influence on many of today's successful perfumers. Ayala, I am a huge jasmine fan and have just tried Yasmin. Looking at the list of notes that you've used, I want to ask you...do you think there's a perfume muse that works its magic when you're crafting a fragrance, or is the process more of a series of trial and error in deciding which notes work best and in what concentrations?
AS: Yes, Mandy's passion is quite infectious... But not any less important is her approach which is very methodical and structured. This is a fantastic book which serves well beginner perfumers as well as hobbyists and fragrance aficionados. Perfumery is an art form, and like any art forms, it has technical aspects that need to be mastered in order to achieve the desired outcome. It starts with an inspiration, or an idea, a muse if you like - and than in order to create your vision, you have to know which essences work well together, which contradict each other, which complement each other - and of course, which ratios to use to achieve the effects you want.
MH: I see, can you tell me about the fragrance "Charisma" and what your process was when creating it?
AS: Charisma went through many phases and incarnations. It all started with the jasmine-spearmint accord, which is quite magical. When I saw the listing for Un Air de Samsara, I thought to myself, if Guerlain has used mint in their perfumes, than this is probably ok, even though mint has other more hygienic and culinary associations (toothpaste and bubble gum etc.). Originally, I used a rare narcissus and gardenia absolutes in the formula. But when I was no longer able to obtain them, I had to reformulate Charisma, and replace the gardenia with something else. I used the heady, sharp, almost horseradish-nasal notes of kewda attar (a gigantic tropical flower from India) to lend some of the headiness of gardenia, and I also used jasmine sambac. But I still felt something was missing, and it wasn't until I got a sample of osmanthus absolute, which I decided to dump in its entirety into my existing bottle of Charisma, that I finally found the missing link. The base, I might add, remained the same through all the different phases of development: agarwood, tonka bean, green tea and ambrette for a musky touch.
MH: Wow! That is an incredible story. Charisma is an example of one of the scents that I immediately overlooked (my nose fell hard for Espionage). I've re-visited it on two occasions since then and I think it is one of my favorites from your collection. I especially like the way the green notes give way to a warm ambery aroma. Not the typical sweet amber, but could I describe it as a "fresh amber"?
AS: I love wearing Charisma in the spring and summer. The ambery notes are from the tonka, which is powdery and bittersweet, and the agarwood keeps an underlying feeling of cleanliness and freshness.
MH: I want to say that I smell chamomile blossom and sandalwood as well, but...
AS: There is some sandalwood, but no chamomile.
MH: Interesting. So, Ayala, you've set yourself apart as a perfumer by offering only 100% natural ingredients. Am I right in concluding that you don't use synthetics at all? And by synthetics I mean man-made molecules that mimic natural smells.
AS: That’s right. I only use essences that were distilled directly from plants, flowers, roots, seeds, spices, fruit, etc. These include essential oils, absolutes, concretes, and some tinctures. I refrain from using animal ingredients that cause pain or death to the animals on the process. So far, the only animal-derived materials you will find in my perfumes are beeswax and honey absolute, and beach harvested ambergris. I don't use derivatives (i.e.: vanillin that is obtained from plants) although they are considered natural and I don't object to using them, theoretically. I made the decision not to use them because I enjoy the complexity and the challenge of the natural building blocks, and feel that I can create unique perfumes within the limitation I set for my palette.
MH: Thank you for explaining that. There seems to be a lot of heated debate about the topic, but as this is your choice as an artist with regards to the materials that you work with, it helps me understand your rationale. After all, we wouldn't tell a painter of watercolors that he's crazy for not using oils. I also want to ask you about the bottles and pendants. The sterling silver pendant that holds solid perfume, where did the idea and the concept come from?
AS: I can't quite remember where this started, but it was from the very beginning of my business existence, that I wanted to offer solid perfumes, and I wanted to have an entire line of Perfumed Jewelry. First, I commissioned an Israeli jewelry designer, Amir Poran, to design a tear-drop shaped silver compact (a little box) with my fairy on it, and the drop had to be an opal stone. I was set on the opal stone because I like how it changes colours and reflects the light, and how versatile it is - very much like (deleted: the) my mind-set when I design Signature Perfumes. The design was about half the size than what I had in mind, and so we decided to use the same design for the pendant. The rest of the line was to include poison-rings and matching earrings and bracelets. But we haven't gone that far yet, though I am sure we will when the time is right.
MH: The pendant is charming. What is the price of this piece of jewelry/art?
AS: The price is $150 US including the solid parfum. Refills for the solid parfums are $80 US. The creme parfum should last for about half a year if you wear it every day. But it also releases the scent when closed, just from the heat of your body. I should add that the creme parfums contain 40% of the actual essence.
MH: So it is highly concentrated?
AS: Yes, it's very concentrated. The alcohol based parfums are between 15-30% (it really depends on the scent, some need to be less concentrated than others), and the oil based parfums are 30%.
MH: And the bottle shown on the AyalaMoriel.com homepage, tell me about that - is that how a regular 9ml perfume will be housed?
AS: You are now touching on a really tender subject: packaging. I went through many hoops to find the right packaging, and I am now proud to offer 9ml, tear-drop shaped, frosted crystal glass flacons that are made in France by the best company in the world who knows not only how to make bottles, but also how to make bottles that seal properly. You'd think this is an obvious specification for a product that is meant to contain and carry volatile liquid, but you’d be surprised how challenging it is to find one! The images are not on my website, but they are on Basenotes and on my SmellyBlog. The pictures on my website now are of bottles that I no longer use. They were custom made for me by a local glassblower of Czech origin, based on my own design, with a dichroic stopper. They were even more expensive than the silver pendants, believe it or not (and guess what? It was impossible to get them to seal properly!). I went through a few other phases, including using stock-bottles and hand painting the name AND the logo for each scent. This was not something I was willing to do forever, so I am very glad I found the bottles I am now using!
MH: I doubt the average reader understands just how much work and preparation go into creating fragrant accessories and products such as yours, especially considering that you are a one-person business! Ayala, what do you most want people to know about Ayala Moriel, the perfumer?
AS: It's a labour of love, but nevertheless - a lot of work. I enjoy every step of it, and thankfully I am a multitasker by nature, so I enjoy all the steps, from creating a fragrance to bottling and packaging it. I am also thankful to my graphic designer, Terry Sunderland, who helped me a lot in finding creative solutions for the packaging. Soon you'll be able to see more of his hard work on the internet, once my new website is launched in the New Year (this is another labour of love, this time by my partner David Griffith).
MH: I just want to point out that you are currently running a special that allows purchasers to enjoy 3 different scents - parfum extraits - for a discount of almost 50% off the regular price. Let's see, one could have a single Creed scent, or 3 unique Ayala scents for that price. Once could have one Armani Prive, or Espionage, Charisma AND Guilt, right?
AS: Yes, and that applies to any purchases of 3 or more scents. So if you buy 3 or 4 or 5, etc you will get this discount, which is basically the wholesale price. I am doing so to accommodate perfume aficionados who need to have different scents - a perfume wardrobe. A special “Perfume Wardrobe” discount is something I intend to keep offering to you in the future.
MH: That’s a great offer, Ayala.
AS: In answer to your earlier question, Marlen…Perfumes are very personal, and they have the power to touch people's hearts. Perfumes are a creation of fantasy, but they are also very real and powerful. I feel that in their own way, each of my perfumes tells a story and reveals truths and secrets about both the person who wears them and the person who created them. Each bottle contains a universe of its own that seduces us to enter in: inhale and explore.
MH: Nicely put Ayala. Is there anything else you'd like to discuss, as I feel we've covered a lot of ground.
AS: On another note, I think that our lives should be as truthful and fantastic as the perfumes we wear, so follow your dreams and your passions, and they will lead you to all the right places.
MH: Ok, thanks so much Ayala. I hope you enjoyed the questions and I wish you a wonderful holiday season.
AS: Wishing you a warm and sweet holiday season too!
MH: Definitely! Bye Ayala!
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