Monday 12 September 2016

Glastonbury's Perfume Workshop

I think by now it's common knowledge that I'm never happier than when I'm messing around with perfume ingredients. So you can imagine my response when Marina Barcenilla invited me to one of her Perfume Workshops in Glastonbury. I didn't need to be asked twice. Marina runs The Perfume Garden, which is soon to become Marina Barcenilla Parfums, and this year she won a coveted FiFi award for her perfume India. The difference between this and other workshops that I've attended is that Marina's is wholly natural, not a synthetic in sight. So, how would I cope without my aldehyde c11 or my amber?

Marina started The Perfume Garden in 2010 after years of experimenting with ingredients. She adopted a "natural" approach simply because she found the complex construction of a "naturally derived" ingredient more exciting and stimulating than its synthetic equivalent. She categorically states that she has nothing against synthetics, she just chooses not to use them in the creations that she sells. So, with this in mind it was time to take my first tentative steps towards creating a natural fragrance.

Marina starts off by talking about the different extraction methods that produce the various "nature derived" ingredients. It's important to mention here that she is very careful with the words "raw materials" and "naturals", preferring to refer to them as "nature derived". We discuss all of the usual extraction methods but also talk through CO2 extraction and fractional distillation. It is interesting to remember that the discovery of CO2 extraction meant that previously unusable raw materials could be processed, but they are still "nature derived". It really was fascinating and, even though I already knew a lot of this, it was refreshing to have it presented in an engaging rather than textbook way.

We spoke through the building of a perfume, the way some ingredients disappear sooner than others, and even the construction of the various fragrance families. I knew that all of this was leading to those precious smelling strips and a selection of ingredients, but before we started blending Marina talked about how to evaluate an ingredient. In the same way that a fragrance develops over time so does the material. When you start to think about each of those ingredients as a perfume on their own you suddenly realise that "natural" perfumery is a separate skill to commercial perfumery.

After lunch I finally got my hands on the bottles. The workshop that I was taking was a one-on-one discovery and so my choice of materials was larger than the standard sessions, but the format is the same. I chose the ingredients that I wanted to use and we discussed the quantities. Where Marina came into her own however was when I instinctively looked for a synthetic. Her knowledge was able to suggest, not replicate, the synthetic aroma but with "nature derived" ingredients. So what did I end up with? Well, a smokey woody rose, with a big hit of labdanum, that had all the subtlety of a hurricane ... which is exactly what I wanted.

For more information on the Perfume Garden Workshops you can visit the website at You can also read Marina Barcenilla's "Stephan's Six" from May 2016 by clicking on the picture below.

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