A Side Trip:
Traditional Indian Attars
The photos on this page of attar making were taken by Christopher McMahon and Manoj Avasthi, with the support of Ramakant Harlalka. They used by permission.
Thus far in our perfume journey we have discovered that flowers are reluctant to give up their scent, that boiling water can extract scent from non-floral materials, and that by using controlled heat and pressure we can extract high quality essential oils from various natural materials through distillation. At this point, as a side journey, it is useful to take a look at another application of distillation — the production of traditional Indian attars.
Here, without going into depth on the subject or exploring some widespread misconceptions, I want to review the basics of traditional Indian attar making as this art differs from Western perfumery.
What We Look For In An Essential Oil
In the Western tradition of perfumery, essential oils are sourced from the far corners of the earth and at times extracted using the same type of stills used in attar making. But, in the production of essential oils, the goal is the production of an oil that represents the essence of a single flower, plant or other natural material.
In the Western tradition of perfumery, the purity of the essential oil is judged by the lack of contaminants from materials other than that from which the extraction is being made. For example, if we are distilling sandalwood, our goal is to produce pure sandalwood oil. Any "non-sandalwood" materials in the finished oil would be considered contamination.
Moreover, in Western perfumery, we look for a consistency from batch to batch. This is achieved through a variety of high and low tech methods that give us confidence that when we place a reorder from our supplier, the new batch we receive will be a close match to our original order so that our perfume formula, unchanged and unadjusted, will yield the same aroma and tenacity.
The Attar Philosophy
Whereas purity and consistency are the virtues in the production of essential oils, the attar maker strives for originality. While, in the production of essential oils, the natural material from which the oil is to be extracted will be as unitary as possible — everything from one single natural material — the materials in the attar maker's "deg" will be ... a closely guarded secret!
In traditional Indian attar making, the "formula" for the attar is as closely guarded a secret as that of a French perfume. For the attar maker, the "formula" is what goes into the deg and the bhapka — the still and the receiver.
Making an attar is a bit like making soup with leftovers. All sorts of leftovers and seasonings will go into the pot and the taste of the finished soup will depend very much on the skill of the cook to "adjust" by eye, nose, and tongue rather than following a cookbook recipe.
Attars are original perfumes, created in a distillation process. The product of the distillation is the finished perfume. There is no mixing of separate aroma materials from a row of bottles. The product that emerges from the bhapka (receiver) is ready to be aged, bottled and sold.
The Attar Business
Whereas the business of essential oils was always a global one, with a production chain that stretched from Asia to the United States and Europe with parts of the production taking place at each end of the chain, (i.e., harvesting in Asia, distilling in New Jersey), production in the traditional attar business is strictly local. Only in the marketing of the finished attars does the business become national and international with the largest markets being India and the Muslim Middle East.
The manufacturing of attars has been, traditionally, a family business centered in particular villages close to the source of raw materials. As two friends have explained to me, each village would produce its own attars which would be distinct from those produced in any other village. The production and marketing, of course, would be under the direction of the owners — the family that owned the "formulas" and production facilities of that particular village.
The Attar Making Process
The process of producing attars would be familiar to anyone skilled in producing moonshine as the techniques are quite similar.
The process starts with gathering the raw materials from which the attar will be made. These are placed in a still (deg) and covered with water. The deg is heated and vapors from the mash risk to the top. These fragrant vapors exit through a small hole into the a bamboo tube (chonga) which leads them to a receiver, the bhapka.
The twist to the process is that the receiver — the bhapka — is not empty at the beginning of the procedure but is partially filled with what will become the base or fixative of the attar. Traditionally this had been sandalwood oil and thus the finished attar is a blending of the distillate of various natural aroma materials with sandalwood oil.
Like the skilled cook making soup, production of traditional attars depends on the skills of the supervisors. Modern manufacturing methods are not employed. There are no gas burners, no thermometers or pressure gages, no chemical sampling kits. All depends on the eye and the nose.
The wood or charcoal fires under the deg must produce the right amount of heat — but this is measured by touch and adjusted by adding or subtracting logs or charcoal from the fire.
The condensation in the chonga (bamboo condenser pipe) and bhapka (receiving vessel) must be just right, but again, this is checked by touch and adjusted, when necessary, by cooling the chonga or bhapka with wet cloths.
The process is "repeatable" but not precise (by Western standards). The exact details of how each step of the process is accomplished remains a very closely guarded secret within the family making the particular attar. When we describe the manufacturing process, we speak in generalities as we simply do not know what subtlties in the process have been learned over the years and passed down from generation to generation. What we can assume is that for each family making attars, both the fine points of selecting the particular fragrant materials and the distillation process itself have evolved over time and are not to be shared with those outside the family.
For all its rich history and use of natural materials, attar making has its problems. The biggest problem faced today by attar makers is the cost of sandalwood. Today (real!) sandalwood oil can fetch over $1,000 per pound.
Thus what was once a business where the profit was 900 percent of the cost of raw materials, of late the profit has dropped to around 10 to 20 percent of the cost of the raw materials.
As a result of the current economics of the attar business, paraffin and dioctyl phthalate (DOP)are commonly substituted for sandalwood as a base and today the "big market" is often the cigarette industry where attars are used to scent cigarettes.
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Steffen Arctander's Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin was first published in 1960 and is the classic, authoritative reference for natural products used in perfumes, scents, flavorings, foods, and medicine throughout the world. Part One defines and describes processing methods used to extract or refine the products into usable form; Part Two includes more than 500 monographs on the natural raw materials used to produce perfumes, flavorings, etc. Appendices include a classification of important materials by their scent, and worldwide production figures for major products. Fully indexed, the book also includes 62 pages of photographs, making this the standard reference work on natural materials for perfumers and flavor chemists. The preface contains practical descriptions of available materials, their origin, production and processing methods, appearance, odor and flavor type with brief notes on their main constituents, replacements and common adulterants.
Perfume is famous for the markup it can achieve, even for a middle market fragrance. While "everybody knows" that perfume costs next to nothing to make (not completely true) the making of it is often considered an esoteric secret. "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup!" details how a 3-person company with no experience created their own fragrance in response to a marketing opportunity that was too good to pass up. The book explains exactly what was done to create a fragrance for that opportunity but it is far more than a history of the author's project. "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup!" lays out every step in the process of creating your own perfume, either as a do-it-yourself project – and without the benefit of automated equipment some compromises and workarounds are required – or full bore professional production under your supervision. Either way you will be producing a quality fragrance at a remarkably low cost. Do you have a marketing opportunity that would be wildly profitable if only you could obtain your fragrance at a ridiculously low cost? "Creating Your Own Perfume With A 1700 Percent Markup!" is the guide you need to do it.
A really great name, a special name that is just right for a particular perfume or perfume marketer (or entrepreneur with money to invest!) can be worth a ton of money. But few individuals with great ideas ever manage to cash in on those brilliant ideas. Instead they wait while others "discover" their idea, acquire legal rights to it and make all the money while they are left out in the cold without a penny having been earned for what was once THEIR idea.
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If you have a great name you want to protect but no fragrance, "Naming Your Perfume And Protecting Your Name" will guide you through the simple steps you must take to acquire a legal right to that name before someone else grabs it! Best of all, "Naming Your Perfume And Protecting Your Name" shows you how to gain strong legal protection for your name without a lawyer and without spending more than pocket change.
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You can build a perfume business of your own using this business plan as a guide. By following its detailed strategy you learn to identify motivated groups of potential perfume buyers. Members of these groups are near the tipping point of desire for a new perfume. You don't know these people and they don't know you but you know a marketer they trust, one who does not currently sell perfume and might never think of selling perfume were it not for your approach. Here is where you step in with a professional plan, promotion, and perfume to take advantage of this ripe opportunity for mutual profit. Before your first promotion has peaked, you will already be developing a relationship with your next marketing partner. Following this plan, you will gain more and more profit with each new marketing partnership.
Now when you make your own perfume you can make it fully "commercial" meaning you will be creating a product ready for regular, continuous sales to friends, relatives, and the public! If the fragrance you've made has already won praise, why not share it with others? Some might pay you for it and want it for their web stores or retail boutiques! Creating your own perfume from dropper bottles: Methods, mechanics, and mathematics guides you through steps that can turn your hobby project into a perfume business. Discover how close you are now and how little more you must do to take what you made with essential oils and dropper bottles into a business of your own! For an introduction to this book, watch this video.
When you name a perfume you create a valuable asset – the name itself. To sell your perfume you want the most effective name possible. But a good name can have value beyond the edge it gives your sales. In naming your fragrance you are creating a trademark and a trademark can have value independent of the product. The value of that trademark can vary. Much depends on how well, in naming your perfume, you follow the trademark "rules." How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume first helps you develop a name that will be effective in selling your perfume. It then prods you to make use of certain techniques that can turn a good name into a great trademark, strong and valuable. If you have questions about how to protect a name, How To Create A More Valuable Name For Your Perfume will answer many such as:
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