Lilac Structure

Lilac Structure by Ayala Moriel
Lilac Structure, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.

Enjoying the very last blossoms of lilacs around town for me thinking, yet again, about structure. Trying to build a lilac perfume from natural materials only is probably impossible using complex aromatics such as direct extractions and distillations (i.e.: essential oils, absolutes, etc.). If I were to use isolates, this would be a lot easier - terpineol is the main molecule that makes lilac smell like lilac, and the other notes serve as a backdrop to enrich that characteristics. According to Poucher's profiling of lilac, it only takes terpineol, plus an artificial lily and heliotrope bases a touch of rose and jasmine essences to create a true lilac scent. He uses the word "back notes" to describe the role of heliotrope and rose and lily in the fresh lilac flower scent. And this got me thinking about the lilac structure. It can be illustrated like the flower itself - with the core notes, or the main ones being those that give it the character (which I drew on the very bottom part - the larger blossoms on the lilac stems), with the "back notes" - i.e. the nuances that give the lilac its richness, acting like a backdrop for the most dominant notes; and lastly - the trace notes, which are the unopened buds on the lilac stem.

Do not confuse between top notes, heart notes and base notes and the trace notes, back notes and core notes. Some of the core notes can be base, some can be heart and some can be top notes. It has nothing to do with volatility, but with the olfactory structure of the perfume, of what's dominant and determines the character, and what's just an added nuance. As in the case of lilac - while there are three main "floral bases" in the back notes, the heliotrope, for example, will require heliotropin (a base note) as well as some anise (a top note).

It's quite abstract and conceptual to think about structure in perfumery, and visuals do help. What I find most fascinating, is how the shapes in the natural world correspond so well with the other chracteristics of the plant. It's difficult to me to describe the "shape" of the smell of lilac, but the shape flower itself makes it self-explanatory. The smell of lilac is as fluffy, delicate, airy, heady (pointing upwards like the clusters of flowers) and with some main characteristics notes backed up by olfactory nuances that play supporting roles in this lilac show.

Perfume as a Mask

Masks, originally uploaded by Iceman Forever.

"For every path you choose, there is another you must abandon, usually forever". (Joan D. Vinge).

All the late winter carnivals got me thinking about the concept of mask, and how perfume is, in a way, a type of mask. On the superficial level, it masks one's body odour and replaces it with another, just as a mask covers up one's face and facial expression and replaces it with a non-animate object that imitates the face.

On a deeper level, masks share a few other characteristics with perfume that I find fascinating:
- Masks allow a person to come closer to their essence by creating a shield that makes one secure and comfortable enough to release aspects that are otherwise hidden and concealed even from themselves. Similarly, perfume as it is used nowadays, gives a person a sense of safety knowing that they smell good, which may boost their confidence and bring out other sides of their personality that wouldn't come out otherwise.

- Mask comes from the Arabic word "Maschara", also related to "Mascara" - which brings us back to the long-established link between perfume and the beauty & cosmetics world.

- Masks offer an alternate persona that one can step into and interpret their own way (as actors or participants in rituals/carnivals, etc.). Likewise, perfume brings with it a built-in persona that works on a deep and unconscious level to unleash hidden aspects of one's personality and bring forth behaviours that they may not have been otherwise brave or daring enough to show (seduction being the one most obvious of them, but definitely not the only one).

People choose perfume daily based on their mood, the season, the weather and the occasion (admittedly, I often wear more than just one perfume per day, i.e. - one in the morning and another at night time), as if setting the scene and clothing for an act in a show - presenting one aspect of their personality. For example: a crisp and clean smelling perfume might bring out the professional, reliable and organized one for certain situations; or a more sophisticated, old fashioned or glamorous persona with another perfume. It's not always about seduction with the heavier or more complex scents; I find that wearing some vintage perfumes really connects one to the era they are from, just as much as wearing a vintage garment and getting a stiff sprayed hairdo will change an actress' performance and will make it more authentic. I wonder if they are any actors or actresses that use fragrance to enhance their interpretation of a character? Is perfume worn as a mask, to enhance our reenacting of a desired persona?

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