Perfume alchemy for Valentine’s Day

I have loved making fragrances ever since my mother introduced me to the magical world of perfume. One summer she took us to visit a perfumery in Grasse, France, the birthplace of the world’s perfume industry. We took a bus from Cannes and had a long, bumpy ride up the steep hills of southern France. As we got closer the air became thick with perfume and wonderful aromas flew in through the bus windows.

The perfumers showed us the secrets of their trade, and my mum remembers that I was amazed how many petals were needed to make one bottle of perfume. I was transfixed by the whole process. It was alchemy.

I spent every penny in my purse to buy four tiny vials of the most exquisite fragrances that I have ever smelt. The perfumes from Grasse sat on my bedroom windowsill for years, never worn but occasionally opened to enjoy the heavenly scents. Over the years the aromas faded, until one day I returned home from university to find that the precious bottles held only coloured water.

The visit to Grasse sparked an obsession with smell that eventually led to aromatherapy. Floral and citrus oils are my favourite fragrances, although I also love the woods and resins.

Valentine’s Day is full of romance and so also nostalgia. For this Valentine’s I have tried to recreate the fresh, sweet smells of Grasse, which I remember were as beautiful as they were simple.

There are lots of complicated perfume recipes available using various base mixes and perfumer’s alcohol. I prefer to keep things easy. The recipe below uses vodka, which can be substituted for distilled water or flower water (orange or rose) to make an eau de cologne. I chose three of my favourite oils – rose, jasmine and neroli – for a rich floral base, and enhanced with leafy petitgrain and uplifting, citrusy grapefruit.

You will need:

  • 60ml vodka (80% proof)
  • 9 drops rose absolute
  • 2 drops jasmine absolute
  • 4 drops neroli essential oil
  • 2 drops grapefruit essential oil
  • 4 drops petitgrain essential oil

Pour the vodka into a bottle with a spray pump top and add the absolutes and essential oils drop by drop. Fix the bottle top and shake well. The oils will make the vodka cloudy, which is normal. Spray the perfume on neck and wrists, and enjoy.

The fragrance is how I like my perfumes – subtle. If you prefer, increase the strength of the aroma by doubling the amount of drops.

Store the perfume out of direct sunlight or heat and it will keep for a long time or as quickly as you use it!

You can read more about the essentials oils used here: rose, jasmine, neroli, grapefruit and petitgrain.

I buy my essential oils from Neal’s Yard Remedies, where I was trained as an aromatherapist. They also have lots of smelly ideas for Valentine’s Day!