For awhile now, since cannabis became legal in Colorado, it’s been on the news, on talk shows and buzzing just about everywhere. There of lots of folks having a lot of fun with this whole thing and I’ve been thinking that it’s about time that I had some fun with it, too. In all honesty, I have played with various marijuana accords for years (I think that I started in earnest in about 2005 when a friend said that a various strain was their favorite smell EVER). I’ve created and even used a few of my accords in perfumes, from Bodhi Sativa for the PLAP-athon in 2010, to Le Smoking for the YSL Retrospective collection in 2012.
It’s funny to think that I have smelled and “appraised”?, “reviewed”?, no, dissected? quite a few strains of cannabis over the years, mostly as a kind of parlor trick for many of my musician* / stoner friends even though I’m not a smoker myself (being asthmatic and all, smoking anything is OUT). My friends think it’s hilarious and / or fascinating as they hear me describe the top, middle and base nuances of their favorite kind bud. There is an intrinsic sort of perfume to this generous plant from animalic (skunk) to fruity, incens-ey, conifer, floral, sticky sweet, dry woody and green leafy, etc. To check out some real flavor / fragrance profiling, this chart from a Netherlands seed company has some amazing variation:
So, here comes the fun. I’ve busted out some of my older notebooks and taken a look at some of my early accord notes and yes, I like what I started. It’s time to finish and I’ve chosen four variations to focus on. I’ve actually been contacted many times to create some cannabis perfumes using exclusive strains for some of the dispensaries, but none of these potential clients has taken the final plunge into investing in the concept. Mores the pity for me as it would be wonderful to play with some of these unusual flavor/ fragrance profiles that these unique strains possess.
Back to playing with the accords: I’m going to start at the beginning with my very first which was based on a conifer-resin / dried bud / green smoke kind of scent. It’s quite woody with a definite conifer (junipers, spruce and pines) feel but it’s the ‘green smoke’ that interests me. I want this scent to be a kind of “you’re walking in the woods and you smell the smoke(rs) over the trail” kind of thing. All of the cannabis scent designs feature an atmospheric quality; I think that is just part of the mystique around the plant and the imbibing culture. Cannabis has such a distinctive aroma that it tends to evoke some kind of ‘otherness’ which is transporting. The real design challenge is to create with this distinctive / atmospheric note and still end up with something you would call ‘perfume’. To my mind, a perfume has a sense of presence that is beautiful, well constructed, tells some kind of story (or sings a song or paints a picture… you get the idea) and very often displays it’s sense of continuity to the history of perfume. There are artistic references and precedents that came before that show up in a contemporary work that make it seem to ‘fit’ within the structure of our expectation. This is just part of my loose definition, however. I suspect that there are many other perfume designers out there working today that want to break with any sense of continuity and create purely abstracted / atmospheric / story telling aromas and that’s great but if it’s not wearable and recognizable as perfume, maybe it isn’t. It’s aroma but not perfume. Anyway, that’s a debate that could take far too long to ever get to a conclusion with. These are just my thoughts on it. Back to the perfumes (and yes, I want these to be perfumes within my own criteria, so they have to be wearable).
The conifer design has come together with the help of some unusual materials that I had to bust out just for this project. One of them is chrysanthemum. I haven’t used this note in too many designs; one reason is that studies show that many people associate the scent of chrysanthemum with death. (I don’t really want to create funereal perfumes – unless I am expressly trying to do that). But paired with the sulfuric, tangy-sweet scent of hemp, it works beautifully. Another aromatic that I haven’t had the opportunity to use much before this design is the common juniper oil that I got from my friend, distiller Eric Bresselsmith. It’s a great fresh, green juniper note that doesn’t do the too terpenoid signature that juniper berry oil does. It gives a fresher, sweeter feel to the topnote and does part of that sticky sensation that speaks to ‘bud’ as it heads to the heart. Lastly, the Ayurvedic co-distill Choyas, which I just can’t seem to get enough of these days, were indispensable. I used a combination of the rich, smoked wood Choya Loban as well as the densely calcined Choya Nahk. It took a bit of doing to turn this smoke note from brown / black to ‘green’ but I did it, I think, with the help of galbanum and sweet basil. The entire foray into the woods and back rests on a smooth bed of sandalwood, both natural and some of the sandalwood-like molecules, as well as some animalics (yes, I had to use the synthetic skunk note I found). All in all, this design dries down into a very elegant, masculine-leaning perfume that displays the hemp thing but doesn’t totally flaunt it (even with the skunk). I really like that.
My second indulgence is way more playful and another completion of an older accord / idea from more than a few years ago. It’s a fruity – indolic floral cannabis that is *very* hemp, and very clearly a pot perfume. It’s got a surprising amount of fruit, at least *I* am surprised at how many / much fruit the cannabis could handle and require, really, to fulfill the design. One of the elements I love about this perfume is the topnote…all tangy grapefruit, rhubarb and cassis bud juxtapose a richly sweet blackberry, apricot and mango accord. ( I said there was a lot of fruit). I never would have thought that I would go for anything quite like this but it’s surprising. The dominant cannabis note with the ‘super fruit’ in the top and a big sampaguita flower heart makes for a sensuously wild ride. I did want at least one of these designs to read as a big sweet bud and this is the one. I don’t think that this kind of design is for everyone (well the whole cannabis thing is divisive) but for those that love that smell, this will be the one that hits the spot, I predict. There’s also a very nice oriental lily, osmanthus and some ylang ylang in the heart and more than a few fun resinous-wood with incense nuances in the drydown. Of course one of the notes that many folks associate with pot is patchouli and this is where patchouli is the most featured of all of the designs. I couldn’t call this a typical “fruit-chouli” but on some skins it may actually read that way. On my own skin, which has gotten way sweeter since I had a child, it’s bright, sweet, and very hemp-ish in the first notes but dries down into a soft, green edged, fruity-floral-woody.
The third of the collection is probably my personal favorite, but on that, I’m going to say goodnight, and save the third and fourth designs for next time. I will say that this third scent is one that I have a hard time getting enough of…especially in the drydown. It’s kind of, (gulp), addictive.
(Disclaimer: * This isn’t to say that musicians are synonymous with pot smokers, either).
image credits: lab of cannabis vials image found here; flavor wheel image found here; rocky mountain high image found here; i love you mary jane image found here;