For a long period of time in the history fragrances / cosmetics / medicine and a lot of other preparations were made under the same "umbrella". The birth of modern perfumery could be considered the time when Napoleon came with a law that put an end to the confusion between pharmacy and other preparations and by that law all the formulas of products related to health become "public". Perfumery had now its own path and secret history. A perfume formula is in general a list of products and their quantity and eventually a "modus preparandi" or how to prepare it.
I remember when Jean Kerleo explained me how difficult was for them to reconstruct some perfumes found in the Osmotheque (like Crepe de Chine or Chypre) though they had the original formulas of fragrances once mass produced in the 20th century. Imagine now how it should be for a formula from some centuries before.
- original formulas are very hard to find. They were usually kept in a leather book, sometime in a not so accessible place and there were not a lot of copies of that (or no copies at all). Imagine the chances that a XVIIth century formula would have to arrive in 2007.
- original formulas were never published / printed. Though you might find very old perfume books … they are more like a manual but do not offer the exact formula used by a perfumer
Let's say that you have a very old formula, original … you will face the following problems:
- the units of measurement are not those used today. Some ingredients were put by weight other by volume. Some time it was not indicated because let's say … as a perfumer it was obvious to put jasmine infusion by volume and you never thought your formula will live so long. Different countries had different measurements units.
- the plants: not all of them have the same origin / botanic name as today. One example: opopanax (what you buy now is not what Coty smelled). The production methods changed a lot. If you have rose oil … for sure it is not the bulgarian rose oil sold by Biolandes.
- the infusions. A lot of alcoholic products were used … like infusions of everything. But it is not surprising when the concentration of infusion is not given. You have civet infusion, musk infusion, vanilla infusion … but you don't know if it's 3%, 5%, 10%. Even in Coty's formulas or Ernest Beaux it was not indicated (and it was industrial and 1920's). Not to speak about what type of musk infusion (Beaux prepared 3 types).
- if you are lucky enough to have a recent formula (end 19th-beg. 20th) you will face another 2 big problems: synthetics and bases. Synthetics you find today are and not the same (there can be a different method of synthesis or purification). Even today you have different quality of the same basic product (ionones, terpineol, etc). The vanillin used by Jacques Guerlain was the old process as I put in Vol de Nuit formula. The terpineol (lilac) produced today has a piny note, the old one not because it used a more expensive route. But when you come to bases (semi finished "perfumes" offered by a supplier) your road might end. Most of the bases are no more available (suppliers doesn't exist or bases were discontinued) and you have no idea what's inside.
Those are some of the most known difficulties when recreating an old formula. If you have a bottle left … you are lucky with the GC. Other wise is a painful work.
As archaeology will be around in 2008 I hope that you realize the amount of work that is behind. Does a marketing director have enough time to spend with all the problems I exposed? When for a new perfume you have 1 month … it's quite rare.
I hope that people will not just stick a name and a story on a new perfume! It happened. (I smelled a 19th cologne with Hedione!!!!).
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Fragrance is the 8th Art - Octavian Coifan - Le Parfum est le 8ème Art