By Richard Varr
I always thought men’s cologne was something you simply purchased from a department store – maybe a nice birthday gift or a stocking stuffer at Christmas. With my trip to St. Martin, however, I found a new respect for exactly what it takes to make a manly cologne or a sensual perfume.
On the French side of this Caribbean island, in the beachside town of Grand Case with its boutiques and restaurants, I found Tijon Parfumerie where you can actually make your own perfume or cologne. Several years ago I visited a few of the parfumeries in Grasse, France, often referred to as the perfume capital of the world, but I never had the chance to actually smell some of the hundreds of scents used in creating the fragrances.
At Tijon, I did just that. I was invited to join Tijon’s “Invent Your Scent Mix & Match Class” where you mix fragrance oils to make your very own perfume or cologne. There are more than 300 oils to choose from – earthy and floral to citrus and spicy, with base fragrances ranging from dune grass, tobacco and leather to lemon grass, passion fruit and mango, to name just a few.
“With over 300 oils to choose from and the fact that you might use a couple drops of one oil or another, we think the possible combinations are almost infinite,” says John Berglund, an American who along with his wife Cyndi left the fast-paced corporate world to create this parfumerie in the Caribbean. “That’s why every blend that’s been made here is always a blend I haven’t smelled before.”
The process involves combining three types of oils. First there are what’s known as base “notes,” usually heavier oil fragrances such as amber, vanilla, myrrh and musk that last longer on your skin. Middle notes are the heart of the perfume and are usually floral, woodsy, earthy or spicy. Top notes, including citrus fragrances such as lemon and lime, evaporate in maybe 15 minutes or so.
“You basically have to go with what smells good to you,” says Cyndi Berglund. “When you’re picking your oils, try to mix up categories. Maybe use a floral, an earthy and a citrus for example, or a spicy, a citrus and a woodsy. Try not to stay in one category, only to make your formula a little more complex.”
When I started sniffing some of the 300 oils, I was actually surprised of my keen sense of smell – that I could clearly differentiate the scents of dune grass, vanilla and Frasier Fir for example, or tobacco and eugenol, derived from clove oil and a familiar smell from the dentist’s office.
“Eugenol is popular in the dentist’s office as a numbing agent. It has a nice spicy scent and a little touch of it in the right formulas can be very nice,” explains John. “Tobacco is more of a masculine scent,” he adds. “It has a bad connotation, but we’re talking about the tobacco leaf before it’s processed.”
After trying three combinations of different oils, I settled for one that included an earthy base of cedarwood and sage, an additional base of musk, a freshener of green aloe and clover, and a citrus note of bergamot, an inedible fruit that’s similar to a cross between an orange and lemon. “It really balanced very well,” notes John.
To make the final perfume or cologne, the next step is adding distilled water and then 100 percent denatured alcohol to thin out the oils. The concoction is placed in a small perfume bottle for Tijon’s customers. And customers can name their creation – I named mine, “Nature’s Essence.”
What’s the overall difference between men’s cologne and women’s perfume? “Before 1921, all the perfumes were unisex. The difference is women’s perfumes are usually heavily floral while men’s colognes are woodsy or musky,” explains John. “Now it’s more of a marketing term. Men don’t want to buy perfumes so they call it cologne or eau de toilette.”
“People who have come here say never in their life would they ever make their own perfume or cologne,” notes John. “I think the fun for the participant is they’re creating something they never thought they would.”
“For us, the fun is meeting people from all over the world who leave here with a big smile on their face.”
FOR MORE INFORMATION: http://www.tijon.com
VIDEO: John and Cyndi Berglund explain part of the perfume and cologne-making process.