Thoughts from Timbuktu – fixatives


Our customs change as generations pass but the words of our language remain, some of them taking a different meaning or even becoming misleading.
A century ago perfumes were largely used on handkerchiefs, scarves and gloves rather than on the skin as they are today.
There is a big difference between thinking about “the perfume is my dress” and “the perfume is myself”.
“The perfume that is myself” is worn on the skin and becomes part of one’s body, while “the perfume that dresses me” is worn on the clothes that dress us.

The animal pheromones originally used in perfumery are designed by nature to be long lasting. They are territorial sexual pheromones that male animals leaves on a territory in order to draw a boundary for other males and at the same time seduce females of their specie.

Being fragrant, they are perfumes by all effects and these aromatic chemical compounds have been designed  not only to resist time but also bad weather, sun, cold and rain.
They have the characteristics of emanating pure sensuality and of being extremely persistent. Double advantage for the perfumers of the past who made a lavish use of them. Liked by the animals (certainly evolved) that we are and able to give to fragrances a durability that is synonymous with quality, these are the pheromones of original perfumery; Civet, Castoreum, Ambergris, bee’s wax, Hyraceum, muskdeer ecc…

There is one problem though.

Pheromones have been created by animal kingdom to be squirted on the rocks, trees, leaves, but not on the human skin.
The animal fixative that functioned so well for the perfumes sprayed on handkerchiefs does not make anything for the modern perfume worn on the skin.
Castoreum, Civet and others last much less than patchouli or ylang ylang on our neck or our wrists.

In spite of this, the fixative myth, cultivated with care by fragrances’ manufacturers, protracts until these days.
And yet Guy Robert, the famed composer of Madame Rochas, Diorissimo and many other renowned perfumes, says: “The durability of a perfume is not easy to achieve, and nobody knows how to do it. I hate and find stupid the idea of fixatives.” (Google: Guy Robert “Biogenesis of a perfume”)

Still synthetic musk, Ambroxan or Cetalox, (so called synthetic ambers), or even chemical Castoreum have an exceptional durability on the skin, like Calone and other molecules of the laboratory. Why? It  is simply due to their incompatible nature with the human body. Disposed off with difficulty by the organism, they willingly accumulate in the natural filters of the body, skin, brain, liver, kidneys and so on, with easily deducible consequences.

These new molecules, mainly inexistent in nature, have the durability, but not the fixative properties. The fixation of a perfume, so difficult to obtain and so mysterious according to Guy Robert, permits the whole scent to protract in time. In a manner of speaking, it binds the elements together, while synthetic molecules only last longer than the rest of the perfume, thus becoming entirely the flat bottom of the fragrance – the only smell that remains after some hours.

In order to go back to the pure joy of wearing perfumes that are not outrageously invading or persistent until nausea, we should perhaps return to the philosophy of  “the perfume that dresses me”  instead of  “the perfume that is myself”, and start using more natural perfumes, wearing them on our dresses instead of our skin?
We could think that much more is requested to a scent that has to emanate the essence of our  personality than to a scent that has just to dress our personality. It should be first of all completely exclusive because every person is completely different from all others. But in reality it is not so at all, perfumes are mass production items.

This is why fashion manufactures stereotypes, epochal archetypes to not say seasonal ones, in which each can identify himself not as an unique and unrepeatable person, but as a member of a club, a cast, an elite, a group.
The model proposed is always the same – seduction, luxury and sex. A rather reduced vision not only of the perfume itself, but above all of being a human.
The advertising of perfumes often seems to have been conceived by a team of philosophically hermaphrodite cocaine addicts.

Our philosophical models change as our customs change and the result for our perfumes is that they are becoming more and more like chemical soups sold in a strike of media-psycho persuasion.

The housewife gets convinced to wear a perfume in order to feel like the young beautiful slim model in the advertising.
The model is very unique person, but the perfume is a mass product that will be worn by millions of individuals.
Before you realise that  instead of attracting the opposite sex your perfume acts as a repellent to persons with good taste, a hundred new fragrances made to seduce just for another season will be advertised in order to keep alive the fraud of   “the perfume that is myself”.

Perhaps should we return to the original philosophy of  “the perfume that dresses me”,  maybe just to be able to choose a different model than one of  “seduction, luxury and sex” that has become the “one way thought” of modern perfumery.



Good news for sandalwood lovers who have witnessed in the last years the total disappearance of the real Santalum of Mysore caused by years of illegal and excessive logging..

While the distillation of local sandalwood in Mysore has stopped, some smart Australians have imported the Santalum Album tree in order to fill the emptiness that the Indian disaster has created in the market.

Australia has been sustainably producing  for decades the Sandalwood essential oil, from the variety Santalum spicatum of trees. It is an excellent sandalwood  but inferior in olfactory quality to the Album variety.

Santalum Album is postulated to have originated from an over-sea dispersal out of northern Australia or Papua New Guinea 3 to 5 million years ago, its return to its land of origin presaged only good for the qualiy new essence.

2013 is the first year for the production of Australian Santalum album to go on the market.

The result is excellent and very alike the Mysore, especially for the delicate santalol middle and end note totally missing to the Album and Spicatum.

The Album Australian is just a bit stronger and  wilder than the Mysore, which is a prize to it, because the Mysore identity is fully there.

The Australian version reflects the wilder and harsher  land of Australia to the Mysore smell, while the original Album from Mysore echoes the softness of the ancient civilisation of Hindustan.

An extremely valid substitute to the extinct  Mysore sandalwood, a true resuscitation of the unforgettable mythic scent. A happy return.
The price of the new available essence reflects its olfactory quality, it is more expensive than jasmine absolute. But for Sandalwood lovers it is well worth the expense.

Sampling the pure essence of Australian Santalum Album 1 gr.

AbdesSalaam Attar

Composer Perfumer


PHILOSOPHY OF PERFUME. part 3. Healing molecules


How natural raw materials are different? Part two of three: 

2) Healing molecules

At the origins of the use of scents and fragrances, the philosophy of perfumery associated perfumes to spirituality and to healing.

This is so true that the knowledge of their preparation was reserved to priests and healers. In many cultures these two figures and functions were united in one person, the spiritual healer. This observation leads us straight to the concept of Spiritual healing.

Spiritual healing has been the only way in the story medicine until recently, it apprehends human being, disease and the function of the medic in a logic governed by the principle that the dimension of the spirit governs the physical one. Our actual philosophy of medicine has separated these two aspects, reducing the dimension of the spirit to mere psychology and physical neuronal processes.

Modern medicine has turned over the original traditional thinking that spirit is at the origin of disease, for the opinion that diseases and healing are only a physical process.

“It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.”

“Natural forces within us are the true healers of disease.”

Hippocrates is the founder of medicine. He elaborated the entire philosophy of medicine. Modern medicine was built over the knowledge that was transmitted to Europeans from the Greek doctors through the Islamic civilization.
The original “materia medica” is still the same today as it has been since Hippocrates, in grand part issued from aromatic plants, and their essential oils are the active principle behind their healing power, in most cases.
Their medical use is called aromatherapy.

Do not think that aromatherapy is a medicine for colds and headaches, Aromatherapy, in the same way as Homeopathy and acupuncture is a powerful medicine that cures most of what modern medicine does, and also most of what it does not.

Essential oils are medicines from the pharmacy of nature. They present no side effect even when used in concomitance with allopathic medicines, The fast and powerful action of the essences makes aromatherapy incomparable for the treatment of acute illnesses and emergencies. The reduced number of essences necessary to cure most of human diseases makes it easy to practice even for home use.

A natural perfumer is bound to learn and practice aromatherapy, not as a profession, but as a field of knowledge that will allow him to alleviate suffering around him, among family and friends.

When he same the essences of his perfumes for curing himself and others, this will be the guarantee that he will choose the best qualities and the guarantee that he will not strive away from the path of true and complete naturality.

A natural perfumer who does neither study nor practice aromatherapy is like a donkey carrying books or like a fool who burns banknotes in the winter to get warm, instead of buying wood with them.

When you are able to cure people quickly and simply for painful disturbs that see no solution with modern medicine (people only come to you when there is no hope left from allopathic doctors), then you will understand the value of the ingredients that you manipulate while you make perfumes. You will experience the certainty of their intrinsic goodness.

The teaching of Guerlain “Never cheat on the quality” is for us the starting point for our choice to use only natural ingredients for our perfumes.

Secondly, our experience of healing with our perfume ingredients originates our constant search for the best quality of each natural ingredient.

Aromatherapy and perfumery are exactly like cooking and a perfumer or a healer are nothing more than chefs. You can never make good dishes with bad ingredients and the best dishes need the best ingredients. So if you want to make the best perfumes or the best remedies, you must have the best essences.

What is at the origin of someone becoming a natural perfumer is love for the scents of nature, who are the botanical realm’s expression of love for their creator.

However, love without knowledge is of lesser value, because it is fruitless.

The knowledge of healing with the essences is indispensable to the natural perfumer,  for becoming a tree bearing fruits that will nourish the soul of people.

To be continued…

PHILOSOPHY OF PERFUME, part 2. The language of scents.



How natural raw materials are different? Part one of three 

1). There is a language of scents based on olfactory archetypes. A basic, instinctive, deep and compelling language in which meanings are emotions.

How do smells get associated with emotions? Through our olfactory memory. It memorize them through the emotions that were experienced in its presence.

This is the part that we share with animals, we identifies smells as being simply good or bad in function of the emotional context in which they are perceived. Often with basic emotions such as fear, hunger, anger, joy, satisfaction, love…
This is why we may love some smells that other people hate, because we lived opposite experiences with that scent.

Whenever smelled again, the odors will reawake the emotions associated to them in our memory so that we can identify the meaning that they bearfor us in absolute terms of being good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant.

From each individual, his experience of life will make some smells awaken positive or negative emotions. These are the olfactory memories individually acquired.

This explains also why some smells entirely disgusting to Americans are lovely to Chinese. Or why French cheese stinks to all others than French preople.

They have been memorized as “good” since childhood because they accompanied positive emotional situations. These are called olfactory memories acquired through a culture, mostly a culinary one. They are olfactory memories culturally acquired.

Did it occur to you that the odors that we never smelled might be as important for awaking emotions as those that we have experienced and memorized?

The proof is in a simple experiment. Have a new born baby smell different essences by approaching scented strips to his nose.
You will see his face expressing all sort of sentiments, from pleasure to disgust, because the smells evocate for him memories that he has inherited.

These are the olfactory memories congenitally inherited. This is my personal hypothesis in the field of olfactory research.  The existence of such a memory is understood by the fact that smell perception, the chemical sense, is fundamental in the process of learning for all living organisms, and the process of learning is fundamental to survival.

When does a smell become an olfactory archetypes? When an odor acquires a significant emotional  value for a large enough number of persons for  a long enough period of time, it becomes an olfactory archetype. Some of them are antique, like the smell of fire or of the sea, some are new, like the smell of kitchen gas or cinnamon.
some are natural, like pine or rose and some are artificial, like vanillin used in the babies talcum powder since 5 generations.

Some archetypes who were only local for some regions of the world have spread all over the planet, either through trade or through acclimation of the plants that produce them. For instance Cinnamon that originates in hot countries of the southern hemisphere have spread with commerce to all countries, particularly in the northern regions where it would never grow, but where it is extremely useful for its medical properties against the diseases of cold.  Cinnamon has become the archetype of spices because it is used to aromatize the best and noblest of all foods, the sweets. It symbolizes the sunny exotic countries but also the security of home and family. The smell of Cinnamon is a little bit like travelling with Alpitour, adventure but in all security.

Oranges never grew in the cold weather countries, but through the diffusion of soft drinks and sweeties, its aroma has become the  archetype of fruit all over the world as far as Lapland, supplanting the apple, that was in the past the symbol of fruit, because it is so widespread in all climates, it  is sweet  and so perfumed.  A basket of apples can perfume a whole room.
But in modern times, sweetness is much less rare and symbolic of the fruits as it was  that a few generations ago, orange soft drinks are much sweeter than apples, much more perfumed and in the meantime, agronomic selection have made them more beautiful than they once were, but also much less perfumed. This is how archetypes can die and others are born.

The existence of an olfactory language based on our scent memories is the reason why fragrances composed with natural essences make perfume with meaning, not just smell.
They can narrate human stories, make us live emotions and they  have a dimension unreachable to  chemical new molecules, alien to our memories, or to chemical imitations of the  scents of nature, mere surrogates.

This is the first way in which natural ingredients of perfumes are different from synthetic ones and how they generate a philosophy of perfume, simply because natural scents have a meaning for us.

To be continued…

PHILOSOPHY OF PERFUME, part 1. Bases for a revolution.


A philosopher is always a revolutionary because he aims at discovering truth and he does so by uncovering and denouncing falsehood.
Philosophy sets  the basics of morals and ethics in whatever field it inquires, because when it reveals truth from falsehood, it reveals also the right from the wrong.
This is also the limits of philosophy,  any philosophy  is worth only the philosopher.

The first thing which is taught to the students who want to enter a Way, a profession, a trade or an art is its ethics and its philosophy.

Guerlain is reported to have said  to perfumery students: “Have simple ideas, work them scrupulously, never cheat on the quality and make good products”.

He said “have simple ideas”, meaning that perfumers should work on simple ideas, because simple ideas are clear and having a clear idea of what one wants to do is indispensable to reach a result diligently and straight to the point. Complicated ideas are wrong because they give birth to no good results.
This sentence is Guerlain’s lesson to perfumers for being practical and have modesty.

“Work them scrupulously”, scrupulosity is the quality of who works meticulously, curing details, thoroughly and rigorously. Scrupulosity bestow to a person the quality of professionalism that belong only to those who do their work with utter seriousness.

The antonym of scrupulosity is carelessness. carelessness is wrong for anybody doing anything.

Never cheat on the quality. It is interesting to note that he did not say “do not cheat on the quality”. “Never” implies that under no circumstances, for no reason and in no way the perfumer should cheat. “Never” implies a discipline and a moral rule from which springs an ethic. Cheating is wrong, the perfumer has the occasion to do it, knowing what others don’t. Never do it.

“and make good products”. This is a call to modesty, reminding to student perfumers that these are just perfumes, products that people will use. They will benefit from them only if they are good.
In this simple sentence he affirms  the humility of the goal for perfumers, shying them away from pride and superb of who thinks himself to be a genius and that what he is doing is great. This is doubtlessly a moral teaching.
Making good perfumes that will benefit the people is enough, conceit and pride, self-importance are wrong.

For the natural perfumers, this teaching of Guerlain is only the starting point of ethics and philosophy, because the materials that we use are quite different from Guerlain’s.

Our philosophy of perfume springs from the nature itself of the materials that we use.

In Guerlain’s time, perfumers were using natural and synthetic materials. There was nothing wrong with using synthetic ingredients if people like them, if they cause no harm and if they are legal.
Unfortunately for us this is not the case, many synthetic ingredients lavishly used by perfumers of the past have been since then banned because they did cause harm to people.

More distressing is the fact that many more still used ingredients are not yet banned just because hazard studies about the industry’s synthetic molecules are made by the industry itself and they are the only ones taken into consideration by law making organisms. Then if the studies do not exist they of course cannot be taken into consideration.

Instead of studying the toxicity of its toy molecules,  the industry is rather banning progressively (but rapidly) all natural ingredients through its “self-regulating” arm, the IFRA.

Life for the six big corporations will be much easier when it is clear to all that natural perfumes are dangerous and chemical ones are safe.

For modern perfumers of the industry the only rule of ethics that will govern their activity is the one of legality. If it is legal it is good, if it is illegal it is wrong.

The question that a philosopher will ask is “what is the legality really worth today, when the industry of fragrance and flavor, strong of its multi billionaire power, uses all its weight to determine what is legal and what is illegal, exclusively to protect and foster its own interests?”.

For natural perfumers it is not sufficient that an ingredient be just legal or even be made “legally natural” by the industry.

Our philosophy of perfume springs from the nature itself of the natural materials that we use, so it is important for natural perfumers and students to understand what makes natural ingredients of perfumes different from synthetic ones.

To be continued…



The Abruzzi region of Italy produces some of the finest saffron in the world.

When you buy it from an Italian producer, even with an online purchase, you will get the real quality. Full unbroken pistils of the flower. When I tinctured Italian Saffron, I noticed that the colour of the tincture was not as strong as the one I got from a Saffron bought in Asia.
It is a widespread practice to doctor the pistils with carotene, the colorant that gives the typical saffron colouration to your rice when you prepare the “risotto”.
The carotene allows dealers to add other vegetal materials looking like broken pistils to the “more precious than gold” pistils. Customers are also more satisfied because a very little amount of the doctored saffron is enough to give the saffron colour to foods and it is much cheaper than the real good one.


The link between the colour and the perfume of saffron is remarkable because safranal which is responsible for the typical aroma of Saffron is a degradation product of the carotenoid zeaxanthin responsible for its colour after it has degraded into picrocrocin which in its turn is responsible for its taste.
However Italian saffron is much better for perfumery, the fragrance made from these pistils will have less staining power which is an advantage, and a more beautiful and powerful scent.
The scent of Saffron in itself is very nice but it lacks staying power and body volume. This is where blending brings forth a marvel, infusing Saffron pistils with Sandalwood oil makes a fantastic perfume, fully saffron but full bodied, warm, mystic and luscious at the same time, and with a much longer staying power.


All you need to make your Italian Saffron perfume is Italian Saffron (purchased online), pure grain alcohol 96° and Sandalwood essential oil.
You can contact me at [email protected] for the Italian producer’s contact.

AbdesSalaam Attar
Composer Perfumer

Genesis of perfumes

bimbi“you will not be an artist until you make things that children love”

The making of custom perfumes is the key to understanding the work of a perfumer.

In nearly all cases we compose perfumes for someone or else with someone.

The first case is that of a company who wants a new fragrance.  It will give a brief and we shall start making a set of proposals.

These will be presented to a person of the company who is in charge of the valuation of the fragrances. This “évaluateur” will judge the samples with different criterions, one of which will be the reaction of other persons to them.
It may be a board of specialists, some company’s employees or his own friends and family.

It depends on how far he brings his job into his private life.

Because the work of building the fragrance is based on a brief, this type of perfumes can be called “custom concept perfumes”

The second case is that of a private persons asking for a custom perfume, it is very obvious that the perfumer will work directly under his command, and the perfume will be based on the customer’s choice of ingredients, on his  indications and sometimes even on his presence.

Because in this case the work of composing the custom  fragrance is founded on the choice of the ingredients, this type of perfume can be called an “custom ingredient perfume”.

However  there is not only the alternative between a “custom concept scent” and an “custom ingredient one” for a private customer.

A custom perfume for a single person does not need a  brief because that which guides the nose of the person to the choice of the ingredients is greater and more relevant to her than a concept. It is her own emotional story since birth, narrated with scents.
In this case the equivalent of the brief comes  as a second step, when the individual has chosen the ingredients. He will then have a more realistic idea of what he would like as a fragrance and at this stage he will write or explain directly to the perfumer about the fragrance that he desires.

This will be more than a conceptual brief because it will take into account the real smells and the emotions to them associated.

This is the real perfume, a real fragrance made for a real person, and the most interesting thing of such scents for the perfumer is the appeal they have to a large audience of people, they  can often be best sellers.

The third case concerns indie perfumers, “the Indians” as the industry calls them.

The perfumer will composes a fragrance for his own line of products, following a concept, an inspiration, the fascination for a new ingredient or a long postponed project.

He comes up with some kind of scent that he finds himself completely unable to evaluate, and the first thing he does is to have people around him smell it.

It may be his co-workers, his friends, certainly his family. He will hear the comments, observe the reactions and adjust the fragrance in order to complete it, trusting the judgement of others.

The last case is that of another indie perfumer who thinks very highly of himself, who believes sincerely  that he is the most talented perfumer around and that people have to accept what he does as pure artistic gold or else they are ignorant fellows.

He works alone, relying on stereotyped technique, making many versions of a perfume, he confronts them for month and at the end he decides for what is the best one and will never change his mind about it.

This is the worst fate for a perfumer, fortunately it is very rare, although many a perfumer had to go through such a stage or will keeps for years this tendency hidden in the dark side of his personality.