Alchemy is back – and in your fragrance bottle, or is it?


On a recent Basenotes.net thread, I came across a claim that seems to be gaining momentum, yet also seems to have no scientific basis (and reminds me of Medieval alchemy more than anything else). Fist, I’ll quote the post in question:

Well, this might serve as an example of reformulation hysteria.

Amouage reformulated Epic Man with the bottle change… which was in 2014. It went from a friction fit cap to a magnetic cap, and the juice was reformulated, resulting in a weaker performing fragrance. This topic was started in early 2013.

What I did notice with my Epic Man was that over time, as more air entered the bottle, the fragrance intensified. It’s great, and lives up to the name. And I bought this in November of 2013.

My response to this was:

Whatever happened, it can’t be “magic.” What you are describing suggests quite a bit of chemical activity in a sealed bottled. I have yet to read any industry expert or scientist explain how a significant change in a typical concoction of this kind is possible, other than the scent “turning,” which I have yet to experience, and beyond some apparent top note issues (a few hundred bottles with well over 100 that are 15-20 or more years old). Moreover, if this is a phenomenon that the industry knows about but doesn’t want to disclose to the public, they could “mature” their batches so that these would smell great when someone was sampling it to buy, not after quite a bit of the scent was used up in the bottle. However, this is a phenomenon I have experienced, and there was no doubt in my mind that it was related to being able to detect and appreciate the drydown more, after the first few wearings. There is a person who has argued for this “let some air in” notion for a while now, and at the very least it does not pass the smell test. LOL. The one test that can be done is a MS/GC study, which would show if there were at least higher spikes on the graph (one would do a before and after study), but that means more [of the same] molecules would have to be generated from the same amount of substance from the same bottle. Can someone say urban legend?

I’ll also quote some items from the Fredric Malle site:

Time necessary for a perfume (perfume concentrate mixed with alcohol) to be olfactively stable and get its full measure on the olfactive level. Note that to be really useful, maceration always has to be done on a large volume of perfume before being bottled. Once the perfume is in a bottle, it doesn’t macerate the same way. At Editions de Parfums, each perfumer decides on the time needed for the maceration of his or her composition. A time strictly adhered to by our house.

http://www.fredericmalle.com/about-us/perfume-glossary

And:

DO YOU MACERATE YOUR FRAGRANCES BEFORE BOTTLING THEM?

Of course we do, as one should! Like wines, perfumes have to age in large containers to give their full measure. This is even truer if one uses lots of natural ingredients or lots of rich base notes. (An Eau de Cologne needs less maceration than heavy chypres, for instance) Every “Classic” used to be macerated for a period varying between 4 and 8 weeks. Some mass-market companies eliminated this practice in the 80’s, to avoid immobilizing money for weeks. Once we are done developing a fragrance, we always decide of an aging protocol for this new perfume with his author. Some perfumers favor long maturation (aging the fragrance concentrate before mixing it with alcohol), others prefer long maceration (aging the finished solution). Portrait of a Lady, for instance is matured for 2 weeks then macerated 4 weeks, a 6 weeks aging process. One can note when working with fresh lab samples that they are much less powerful, less beautiful, and often less stable, than properly aged products. Time and mass are critical. As a rule of thump, we find that one must manufacture a minimum of 5 Kg of concentrate at a time to get this extra body in a fragrance.

http://www.fredericmalle.com/eu/about-us/questions-answers?___store=eu_store

And here is what one “natural perfumer” has to say on the subject:

…now with all the lab work and the synthetic aromas and all those scientific breakthroughs in perfume technology i believe the maceration days have long gone and even if they are still being used i think its only with high end perfumes that use resins still or heavier aroma chemicals that need time to mend together but with the electronic noses and head space technology and all the aroma chemicals i think its just mix and go
from my experience of natural perfumery for over 20 years i still need to macerate even if i mix new aroma chemicals with synthetics and natural oils i still need to macerate for up to 3 month to get the full potential from a perfume and tweak in-between i have to keep them away from the sun and in a constant temp in days past they would even dig holes in the ground to macerate and not to have the impulse of re opening the bottles let them be and let the magic begin as u said ..so its not a figment of the perfumers imagination it is a reality that has been carried for centuries from generation to generation perfumery was such a closed field and the secrets of making it was highly guarded now its a more open field and all the old techniques and ways are changing and so is the new market with less and less fine perfumes to smell i think the new generation will not even know what fine perfumery is

http://www.fragrantica.com/board/viewtopic.php?id=79807

Note that on this Fragrantica thread, there were claims that over time scents seems to lose their harshness and become more “rounded,” not that there is an increase in strength without “spoilage.” And the professionals seem to have a very good idea how to use the maceration process, if it is even necessary (which it doesn’t seem to be with many if not most of today’s designers, due to how synthetic these are – if used, it’s unlikely to be difficult to manage effectively). There’s little doubt that these professionals would laugh at such extraordinary claims, but people who make such assertions don’t seem to realize this.  With the exception of some anonymous internet people and one blogger, to my knowledge nobody has made the claim that there can possibly be a significant increase in the intensity of the scent in this way, all else being roughly equal. However, I’m sure it is wonderful to live in a mental universe where such alchemy is possible !

UPDATE:  Perhaps a couple of days after I published the above there appeared this review of Interlude Man at Fragrantica:

I have cracked the code. I take my words back regarding old cap/new cap change of formula. I don’t even know why I even got into that in the first place but I have since realised that the liquid is the kind that would mature inside the bottle.

I have had a magnetic cap for about 6 months and in the beginning it was almost kind of brittle, harsh and headache inducing but with time it has developed inside the bottle somehow and the notes are coming out more rounded. I think they ultimately will all smell the same a few years down the line so have patience people and enjoy what you have purchased instead of beating yourself up for what you got!

Note that I have experienced these same things, but I realize it is related to my changing perceptions or sensitivities, though it’s certainly possible for top notes to weaken over time (since I try to avoid much of the fleeting top notes I can’t speak to this element), probably decades in most cases.  As a newbie I simply could not imagine that my olfactory perceptions could change so much within a matter of months or even weeks!  The alternative, believing that somehow many more of certain molecules are created either from nothing or from molecules that can’t be changed into them in this context, is quite humorous, equivalent to trying to turn lead into gold with Medieval technology.  Too bad I don’t have any friends who are chemists.

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