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Friday, October 15, 2010

An Ode to Oakmoss

Hello you sticky brown thing!  You lichen you!  How have you been?  I'm sorry I ignored you all summer.  You just weren't what I was looking for.  My fingers rummaged through bottles and bottles of botanicals searching for just the right ingredients to make light summery perfumes: sparkling citruses, bold florals, green cool herbals and you were not desired.  You were pushed to the back with your estranged sibling angelica.  You were too deep and mossy and dark.  But now, with the temperature falling along with multicolored leaves, you are just right.

Oakmoss absolute is your name and base notes are your game.
lichen growing

It's cold and gray on the East Coast today.  The air hints at frost.  The weather channel spouts typical doomsday-like claims of a Nor'Easter headed this way.  The sky is dark and cloudy with rain imminent.  I'm warmed by a glass of red wine after spending the afternoon working with my long lost pal oakmoss.  Despite washing my hands thoroughly hints of oakmoss emanate from my fingertips as I type.  I've spent the afternoon working on a fougère blend that I've been trying to perfect.

Using oakmoss (Evernia Prunastri) in perfumery is historically well established.  Some of the most famous early perfumes were laden with oakmoss such as Jicky and Youth Dew.  Personally, I've experienced great highs and lows blending oakmoss.  My biggest disclaimer for working with oakmoss would be to proceed with caution!  I've ruined blends by getting a little overzealous with the oakmoss.  Initially the perfume will smell wonderful, but as it ages . . . yikes.  Let's just say in the dark I wouldn't be able to tell which one was perfume and which was worchestershire sauce!  My experience is that oakmoss gathers potency with age.  Better to use a light hand blending with oakmoss and let your perfume age a few months.  You may be surprised what changes take place.

I find oakmoss, in small doses amazingly versatile.  It possesses great fixative properties and adds depth to bases.  When building a base accord it's often the perfect ingredient bridging woody sandalwood with vanilla, or adding intrigue to an amber accord.  It's earthy saltiness adds that something extra.  It takes amber from sweet to vavoom.  It makes tuberose sexy, alright sexier by bridging the gap between everyday white floral and dirty-sultry floral with intrigue.

Another point of interest I've noticed with Oakmoss is a lack of variety in aroma based on different suppliers.  I've purchased oakmoss absolute from four different suppliers, and I must say I can hardly smell a difference between each.  This is quite different from the experience one would have when sampling sandalwood or say tuberose from different companies.  Oakmoss absolute seems to smell like . . . oakmoss absolute.

Oakmoss is also heavily restricted by IFRA for commercial perfume houses.  The limit has now been placed at something like .1% allowable which seems incredibly miniscule.  Unfortunately this has caused many great mainstream perfumes containing oakmoss to be reformulated.  Oftentimes these reformulated versions of perfumes sans oakmoss vary greatly from their original form.  As a small U.S. perfumer I am relatively unrestricted in my oakmoss use, but fear for the future.  The list of natural ingredients IFRA has restricted is VERY long.  I am led to believe from reading this list that using botanicals such as bergamot and oakmoss in a perfume is apt to trigger seizures, rashes and inflammation.  Odd that synthetic chemicals and preservatives used in mainstream perfumes that are proven to cause men to grow breasts are allowed, but a little oakmoss is considered dangerous? Ah, but I've gone off on a tangent now.

To complete my "ode to oakmoss" I'd like to herald this botanics price.  Anyone who works with absolutes for natural formularies knows how pricey they are.  1/2 ounce of the aforementioned tuberose absolute retails for around $180.00.  Oakmoss absolute seems like an absolute steal at $40.00 per 1/2 ounce by comparison.  Oakmoss, I don't want to call you cheap but you certainly offer lots of bang for your buck.

1 comment:

Ambrosia said...

I love oakmoss.....there's something so wild and untamedly real and woodsy about it...I've been useing it for 20 years...yet to have a nasty reaction to it too, grin!
Boy IFRA is just so insane.
I've got a full kilo of the pure oakmoss resinoid I bought 20 years ago too...which still smells as awesome as it did when I bought it....maybe even better! It seems to be one of those ageless ingredients like patchouli and sandalwood.....