A Pro Perfumer Shares Her Tricks to Creating a Signature Scent
Finding a signature scent is something we recommend every woman does at least once in her lifetime. (Even if you're the type who'd rather build a fragrance wardrobe than rely on just one.) Say what you will about the confidence-boosting powers of makeup, skincare and hair products, there’s something uniquely special about leaving a trademark trail of perfume in your wake.
Most would opt to hit the shops to find their perfect ‘fume, but we think there's a case to be made for DIY. To that end, we reached out to Almira Armstrong, creator of chic luxury lifestyle brand Lumira, for the how-to. In her words: "If you’re yearning for a scent not another soul will have—and have smelled your coveted Gypsy Water ($254) on one too many passersby—craft one."
Keep scrolling for Armstrong's 6 steps to creating a signature scent.
Before you buy a single ingredient, think about what you do and don't like. For instance, do you slather on Monoi oil year-round? What’s your inspiration for the fragrance you're about to create? Think about it in terms of the categories of scent you gravitate towards—citrus, animalic, floral, fruity, earthy, herby, green, spicy, oriental, clean or green. Then add another dimension. Do you like scents that are perceived as masculine or feminine? What sort of feel do you want? Something rich and heavy, or light and airy?
Next, learn the language of perfume to better understand the structure of fragrance, and how to layer one properly. (Unless you’re using a single essential oil, there will be a variety of different scents working together to create your finished perfume.)
Top notes (or, more accurately, the top accord, if it includes more than a single scent) are the first thing you smell in a fragrance and often the lightest and most volatile.
Heart notes are mid-weight scents (molecularly speaking) that fade more slowly than the top notes.
Base notes anchor the whole thing together (some call it a fixative), and are revealed when your fragrance dries down, sometimes leaving a lingering scent on the skin.
Pick individual scents from complementary fragrance groups to create a blend that has a bit of harmony to it.
Now onto the ingredients. First, find a store that sells essential oils (many healthfood shops like About Life stock them) and sniff your way through the range. Essential oils are among the most readily available raw ingredients with which you can create a custom fragrance, along with tinctures and pure essences, all of which can vary in strength and volatility.
Strong scents overpower weaker ones, regardless of volatility (a term that describes how quickly they fade). Keep both traits in mind when formulating a fragrance. (For example, if you have a stronger heart accord, you might need to add a higher percentage of the weaker scents in the top note.)
Once you’ve sniffed through a variety of essential oils and tinctures, buy several with which to experiment that fit the rough scent plan you’ve come up with (Remember: structure by categories you like and then complementary categories for top, heart and base notes). Some categories go best with others (e.g. floral and woody, citrus and green).
Here’s your ingredient list:
- Essential oils, at least three (one each for top, heart and base) and up to nine (three each for top, heart and base)
- A carrier oil that has little to no scent and will not go off rapidly—jojoba is a good pick
- A set of pipettes to measure out essential oils
- Small disposable mouthwash cups or glass containers in which to experiment (containers with lids mean you can save these or work on them incrementally if needed)
- Stick-on labels or a wax pencil to mark the jars with ratios
- An empty roller-ball applicator, preferably with dark glass to prevent degradation of your fragrance
- Alcohol to sterilise your instruments
You can create an eau de parfum at home but it requires a bit of maths to calculate dilutions of scent in alcohol, and is a more time-intensive process. We are sticking to an easier, oil-based fragrance, which you can wear within a couple days of creating it and has fewer steps. The easiest way to cobble together a fragrance at home is to do it in 100-drop batches. This is approximately 2 parts base (40 drops) to 1 part heart (20 drops) to 1 part top (20 drops) to 1 part scentless carrier oil (20 drops). It’s easy to figure out percentages as 1 drop equals 1%. This is the perfect type of fragrance to fill a roller-ball applicator. However, when you are experimenting, only do small batches, say 10 drops each (which is an easy way to maintain the 100-drop ratios on a smaller scale). This way you don’t tear through ingredients too quickly.
Before you begin make sure you have a notebook and pen handy (or a note-taking app open on your phone), to track everything you mix. (You don’t want to stumble upon an amazing fragrance and not know what you put in it or at what ratios!)
Start building your fragrance with base notes. Swirl a couple drops of your first essential oil in the bottom of one of your small containers, then sniff it. Note the scent and number of drops and continue to build the base with more of the same scent or a couple of different other scents. Next, do the same with the heart notes, followed by the top notes, all in the same vessel. (Swirl and sniff every time you add anything, and always note the ingredients and how much of each you’ve added.)
To sample the fragrance while you’re creating it, have a few paper strips handy—both paper strips used for waxing and trimmed coffee filters are great for this. Just barely dip one in the solution, waft in the air, and gently inhale with the strip under your nose. (Have something to hand, like whole coffee beans, to reset your sense of smell, too.) Once you have a fragrance you love, refer to your notes and mix up a larger batch based on the 100-drop method of measurement. Then, let it rest in a dark, cool place for a couple days to get a real feel for how it will age and wear.
When it’s ready to package, sterilise your roller-ball applicator before filling with a small funnel or measuring cup with spout. Name and date it (for expiration purposes), and create a label if you’re a graphics whiz. Roll it on whenever you like and rest assured no-one else will be wearing the same scent. If you spike body products with your signature scent, add a bit of the essential oil mix to unscented body lotion or castile soap.
Not into DIY? Shop these ready-made scents.