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.

Exploring New Olfactory Structures

Winter Reds, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

In my previous article about structure and philosophy, I discussed a few of the most known perfume structures, namely the pyramid, and the more recent linear structures used in most of the mass marketed and largely synthetic perfumes today. I'm stuck in SATC (Seattle airport) waiting for my connection to Sonoma Valley (my first time visit there, just for the weekend, and I'm super excited about this trip!). So I have not only time to kill, but also time to contemplate some themes that have been of interest for me in the past few months, yet I was unable to fully contemplate, articulate or share with you, my dear SmellyBlog readers.

Before sunrise, the plane took off from Vancouver, and descending above the city it was fascinating to watch grids of lights, veins of highways pulsing with early incoming traffic. I was amazed at the laborious nature of mankind, much like a giant ant nest, the city even at such early hours was everything but dormant. And the patterns of movement, light and technology seemed strangely organic in this context.

The Gulf Islands, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

The plane continued to fly over the Gulf Islands (these are the islands that populate the Georgia Strait). The flight itself is a mere 30 minutes if not less; and there is no time to get tired of it and resort to entertainment or any other distraction. Ahh, I can only wish all my flights were that sweet and short! But back to the beautiful Gulf Island, slightly dusted with a thin layer of white snow, I could not help but return to the theme that have been buzzing in my head for quite some time: the subtle structures of nature, which are seemingly random, chaotic or make little sense when observed from too close. The aerial view reveals more than meets the eye at sea level. And these scattered islands seem to form some kind of a rhythmic pattern.

Fractals are structures that are found in nature, and have what we perceive as fascinating visual patterns that seem random, but in fact follow “inherently unpredictable yet generally deterministic rules based on nonlinear iterative equations”. In the past few months I’ve been wondering about structure in perfumery: is all there is to it is pyramids and straight lines? Could there be a structure that is more organic, flowing and chaotically lively?

Recently, the perfumes I’ve created have become less structured in the pyramid sense of things, but nevertheless have their own internal laws and patterns. After months of searching for these patterns in nature and snapping photos (interestingly, turning them from 3D to 2D actually helps understand the patterns as well), and a standby flight later, despite the months of relative silcence on my journal (aka SmellyBlog), I think I’m arriving at something here.

My perfumes have become more and more like those fractals: they have their own internal laws that connect the different ingredients or materials together. Yet they spiral out rather than build up or drill down to the depth of lingering base notes. Much like the thorns and rosehips in the photo above, or the red branches right under it, there is a pattern of branching out, expanding, reaching out… I’m still in the process or wrapping my head around what is it that I’m doing, and very far from actually being able to explain how this structure works, or why I’m blending the way I am currently, but I think I’m getting somewhere with this and the fractal comparison really helps, because I think that in reality, perfumes are a fractal, and not a pyramid, even if you try really hard to stuff them into such structures. Rather, they are organic, free forms that echo each other and grow into and out of each other while constantly interacting, spiraling… This is definitely going to be continued.

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