Over the past week or so a new item has been appearing at
the top of the “Nation & World” column in the online version of Seattle’s
local newspaper. It’s called “10 things to know for (fill in the day of the
It’s not even generated by the
local newspaper staff, but pumped in through the Associated Press. I can’t help
wondering who makes these lists, and why they assume there are 10 specific
“things” that everyone in the country wants or needs to know.
These lists remind me of my students preparing for the latest
exam. Before every exam there is a barrage of questions, many of which take the
form, “Do we need to know X for the exam? My response is always to quiz them a
little, ascertain that they do, in fact “know” the information in question, and
tell them that I don’t forbid them to know anything. They’re sometimes
confused, but often surprised to find that they actually know much more than
their list of “things to know for the exam” would suggest.
In a society where people are raised on ready-made lists,
the belief that there are discrete bits of information that one needs to know
in any given context seems ubiquitous. Maybe it’s intellectual laziness, maybe
it’s a lack of confidence in one’s own ability to process information, but
everyone seems to want lists to memorize or consult.
“The top 10 fashion trends
for fall”; “10 signs your partner may be having an affair”; “5 things to watch
for in the presidential debates”; “The top 10 fragrances of 2012”; “The 7
habits of highly effective people”; “Five ways to learn to think for yourself”
(I made that last one up).
The existence of lists of “must-haves”, “must-tries”, “best
of”, etc. is definitely one of the big elephants in the living room of perfume,
and I’ll get to it in due course as my schedule clears up. However, in the
interest of making your Monday reading easy, I thought I’d make a list of the
10 things you should know about indie perfumers:
1. Perfumers are people, too. Most of us have lives outside
the lab, with families, friends, hobbies, and even day jobs. We can’t always
fill and ship your order the same day we receive it.
2. Perfumers, being human, sometimes make mistakes or
unwittingly perpetuate the mistakes of others. If the spray bottle you received
doesn’t spray, we need to know, so that we can find a new source for bottles. We
can’t test sprayers before shipping. If our packing wasn’t adequate, we need to
know so that we can pack properly. Feedback, whether positive or negative, is
3. Indie fragrances will not smell like mass-market
fragrances. That’s the whole idea. On the other side of the spectrum, they will
not smell like ready-made fragrance oils. Most indie perfumers are highly
skilled artists who strive for originality in a world of cookie-cutter
4. Most indie perfumes contain a higher proportion of
natural materials than mass-market fragrances. This means that they may have a
more intense color than mass-market fragrances, and they may have different
characteristics when it comes to sillage and longevity.
5. Natural materials, even from the same source, may vary
from one batch to another. The “same” vetiver harvested in different years, or
even from different farms in the same region, may be significantly different in
color and other properties. Natural perfumes may vary slightly in color from
batch to batch, but this should not significantly affect the scent of the
finished product. Think of it as comparable to the hand-loomed garments that
come with a tag that says something to the effect that there may be slight
variations in color or pattern, but that those variations are part of their
6. If natural materials are used, perfumes need time to age
and blend. Occasionally a batch of concentrate will run out because a material
is back-ordered. In this case, there will be an unavoidable delay in filling
orders while the perfumer waits for the material to arrive, and then while the
concentrate rests and melds.
7. Small-scale perfume production is more expensive than
mass production. Most of an indie perfumer’s budget goes into the perfume
itself rather than fancy custom packaging, celebrity endorsements, and
advertising, so you’re likely to get a quality product.
8. Indie perfume production is labor-intensive. Making small
sample vials is probably the most tedious and time-consuming task we do. I feel
like a molecular biology technician whenever I’m pipetting racks of hundreds of
1-ml sample vials. Whatever you pay for sample vials, whether from the perfumer
directly, or from a decanting business like Surrender to Chance
, you can be
sure that they’re a bargain.
9. Indie perfumers love what we do. We got into the business
because we love perfume and tinkering with fragrant materials, not because we love
running a business for its own sake. If we wanted to make big bucks, we would
have chosen a different type of business, maybe a loan company or a company
that sells cheap plastic gizmos imported from China.
10. After giving you all of these generalizations, obviously
I can really only speak for myself. Every indie perfumer is an individual with
different tastes, goals, ways of working, and business models. Indies range
from the extreme rebels and rogues to the slick pseudo-mass-marketers, and
everything inside and outside the box. The beauty is that it’s all there for
[images from Wikimedia, two with added captions]