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Filigree & Shadow

Where fragrances become an art of emotions

31 Jul ’22

Stand Up, Fight Back

Posted by James Elliott in the more you know, transparency
A map of the United States illustrating states with LBGTQ nondiscrimination policies
Source: Freedom for All Americans

To the people asking why I would turn away sales, or to the business owners who question me requiring U.S. customers to contact their representatives, allow me to present what’s about to happen in the fall when SCOTUS reconvenes and listens to arguments for 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis. [Source: Supreme Court of the United States]

To date, amicus briefs for this case have been filed by 20 Republican Senators and 38 House of Representatives, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Colorado Catholic Conference, the General Council of the Assemblies of God, the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Samaritan’s Purse. [Source: KLTVCatholic News Agency]

Given that we know SCOTUS met and prayed with a right-wing evangelical activist directly following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, it’s safe to assume that the Court will side with 303 Creative LLC, which will allow businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ people on the grounds of “religious beliefs.” [Source: Rolling Stone]

Currently in the U.S. there are 27 states without LGBTQ nondiscrimination policies. In terms of numbers, 6,274,000 LGBTQ Americans in these 27 states could lose their employment, housing, and health services at minimum because of “religious beliefs.” (This number was tabulated from a 2020 poll of Americans who identified as LGBTQ within each of the 27 states.) [Source: Movement Advancement Project]

State lawmakers are already working on their own “Don’t Say Gay” legislation to follow in Florida’s footsteps. [Source: NPR]

We are being shown – in broad daylight – what they mean to do to us.

So when you ask why I am requiring all U.S. customers to contact their representatives, this is why.

16 Aug ’21

IFRA Compliance

Posted by James Elliott in IFRA, the more you know, transparency
Photograph of a plastic pipette in a glass beaker filled with water, with empty glass beakers and a glass funnel in the background
Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

The International Fragrance Association (IFRA) works hand in hand with the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM) to test materials and deem appropriate safety levels in 12 categories of consumer goods. Lip products are category 1; candles are category 12; and fragrances are category 4. IFRA standards change as needed, so all things fragrant must stay ever vigilant with material safety levels.

In the U.S., IFRA draws different reactions from myriad perfumers: conspiracy theories about corporations and chemicals; dramatic eye rolls; stern looks over eyewear to remind you the standards are not mandatory; and prepared monologues condemning other perfumers who choose not to follow the standards.

U.S. cosmetics safety laws presume you, the business owner, know what you are doing when it comes to making and selling all things fragrant. This is in stark contrast to other nations that set and enforce regulations to protect the safety of their citizens. The de facto state of the U.S. market is litigation when products harm consumers.

I use Bergamot FCF which is bergapten-free (not photosensitizing). I have the Certificate of Analysis and Safety Data Sheet to verify this. Bergamot FCF shares the same Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number as regular Bergamot (8007-75-8), and IFRA standards restrict the use of Bergamot oil to 0.40% of a finished fragrance. Despite one of my natural fragrances containing 0.67% of Bergamot FCF – bergapten-free – according to IFRA I’m still using too much Bergamot. I could petition my supplier to register a different CAS for their Bergamot FCF, but “citrus bergamia peel oil bergaptene reduced” (CAS number 68648-33-9) still falls under the same restrictions.

To ensure everything in my collection in IFRA compliant, I’ve reformulated 12 of my original natural fragrances using a mixture of natural and synthetic materials.

My goal with these reformulations is that you don’t notice any loss of the original fragrance. I have a Bergamot replacer from a flavor and fragrance manufacturer that, frankly, doesn't smell at all like Bergamot to me. The choice was clear: I made my own Bergamot accord that is bergapten-free. In AEON, I’m using the maximum amount of Bergamot FCF (0.40%) plus my accord, resulting in the finished water perfume containing 1.04% Limonene and 0.38% that are far below IFRA standards for each material.

31 Jul ’21

What it means for a perfume to be eco-friendly

Posted by James Elliott in the more you know, transparency

What it means for a perfume to be eco-friendly

I received a direct message (DM) on Instagram asking if my fragrances are eco-friendly. I want to tell you why my answer is “No.”

Disclaimer: My answer is steeped entirely in experience as a U.S. perfumer based in Seattle. So everyone outside the U.S. reading this can lower their pitchforks. Also, obligatory “not all perfumers” if it makes people happy. Now then.

My boxes & inserts are manufactured and printed by a family-owned company in China. I have a great relationship with them and they are incredibly easy to work with. U.S. manufacturers either ignored me or told me to accept their subpar output capabilities.

My glass bottles are made in France (though the company is in London). I don’t have the capital to produce custom glass bottles, so I zhuzh up my stock glass bottles with custom labels and a box.

I use a synthetic surfactant blend that enables distilled water to be used as a substitute for alcohol in perfume. It is produced from a company with global production facilities.

I use a combination of synthetic materials as well as natural materials that are extracted from botanical sources. (I don’t manufacture my own tinctures or distillations.) I label which fragrances are natural or natural and synthetic on my site.

When I create my perfumes, I wear disposable latex gloves to protect my skin and I use plastic pipettes to measure materials. I use paper towels to absorb any accidental spills.

I have only met one company that manufactures all its fragrances using materials they themselves harvested from invasive species. Cebastien and Robin of dryland wilds are just the loveliest people, truly. (This is an important distinction from other perfumers that “harvest” materials from “public lands” without compensation—which sounds an awful lot like colonizing, but that’s a subject for another day.)

I’d never presume to tout my fragrances as eco-friendly because clearly I cannot. But: I make sure my bottles & packaging can be recycled; I never use any animal products; I donate products where I can as well as a percentage of my annual sales to Seattle Animal Shelter; and I am working toward paying rent to the Duwamish People as I occupy their traditional land.

I’m not eco-friendly. I simply try to be good.

05 Jul ’21

My Customer

Posted by James Elliott in the more you know
white and blue floral ceramic cup
Photo by Motoki Tonn on Unsplash

I’m often asked who I make my fragrances for. Who is my target audience. Without hesitation I reply, “people who’ve been broken.” The people picking up the pieces again. The repairing person. The person who started as a bowl, chose the parts to keep whilst leaving some parts of themselves behind, and joined everything together in gold. Maybe what was once a bowl becomes a cup. Similar to Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”), the process to put ourselves together is individually different but, oh, how we shimmer in the end.

I’ve been told my perfumes reflect a coherent and deeply felt/lived aesthetic. I appreciate my fragrances create visceral reactions. That’s my intention. They are, as was told to me, full of sincerity, heart, and playfulness.

Not everyone is going to gravitate toward the same fragrance or brand aesthetic, and that is what makes perfume so magical. There is space: we find one another. And, oh, how we shine.

10 May ’17

What It Means To Be A Natural Perfume

Posted by James Elliott in the more you know

It’s time to clear the air about natural perfume and what it means for a fragrance to contain natural materials. First let’s explore some common misconceptions about natural fragrances.

Natural materials are extracted naturally

Our natural perfumes are made using essential oils, CO2 extracts, and absolutes, yet each of these extractions methods require different means to achieve their ends. Essential oils such as bergamot, patchouli, and lavender are manufactured using either cold-press extraction or steam distillation. CO2 extracts such as cardamom, champaca, and saffron are produced using supercritical CO2 as an inert solvent that returns to its gaseous state after extraction. Absolutes such as tuberose, jasmine, and tobacco are manufactured first using a solvent such as hexane to extract the aroma, and then adding ethyl alcohol to remove waxes and/or other deposits. Companies can further isolate aromatic compounds from natural materials to produce what are known as isolates. (For the record, we do not use any isolates or fractionals in our perfumes.)

Natural materials do not contain chemicals

It is the chemical constituents in natural materials that create their unique aromatic properties. (Synthetic fragrance materials are generally made using petrochemicals.) And it is the chemical constituents in natural materials that can be combined to create a singular fragrance compound. For example, the chemical isophorone in peppermint can be used with other natural materials to create a plum fragrance, and the chemical acetaldehyde in white cognac can be combined with other natural materials to create the scent of lychee. The chemicals in natural materials allow for endless fragrance combinations.

Natural materials are safe

Bergamot oil is distilled from the peel of the bergamot orange, its distinct aroma is what gives Earl Grey tea such a dramatic flavor. Bergamot oil, like most citrus oils, is phototoxic due to the chemical constituents responsible for extreme sensitization of the skin to sunlight. If one wanted to wear bergamot oil directly on the skin – after dilution – it must be a bergapten-free oil. We use a bergamot oil that does not contain furanocoumarin, thereby ensuring our perfume is not phototoxic for the wearer.

We always encourage you to sample our fragrances before committing to a full bottle. We recommend using the samples to patch test your skin to determine if you may have any sensitivities or allergic reactions toward our perfumes.

Then why do perfumers use synthetic materials?


Lily of the Valley (Muguet) is perhaps one of the most revered floral scents, but it is not available as a natural material. Flowers such as lily of the valley, lilac, and hyacinth do not have enough oil to make an essential oil or absolute, so synthetics are used in their place. Some aroma compounds such as aldehyde have no natural counterpart, yet the synthetic is able to add a new or unexpected effect to the perfume.


When is a drop not a drop? The answer has everything to do with mass: the viscosity of a natural material affects its mass which in turn affects a perfume. Guaiacwood is a wonderfully deep, smoky wood note in fragrance, and at room temperature it is in a waxy solid state. Once heated guaiacwood has a very light viscosity and can be added to a perfume formula. Guaiacwood does not immediately return to a solid state, however as it cools the material acquires a thicker viscosity. Its synthetic counterpart guaiacol can replicate the aroma properties without needing to account for heating or viscosity. A synthetic allows a perfumer a consistent mass, thereby ensuring an accurate parfum concentrate every time.


Natural fragrances such as orris root and oud (agarwood) are quite costly to use in commercial perfumes, whereas their synthetic counterparts can provide the same aroma at a fraction of the cost. Methyl Ionone (synthetic orris) is a mere $32/kg compared to $66K/kg for orris root. Synthetic oud is $1197/kg compared to a quality oud oil that sells for $240K/kg.


In a previous post we discussed what it means to be a vegan perfume, listing all known animalic fragrances and their source of origin. Synthetic musk and civetone were created to replace natural musk and civet, respectively, because the manufacturing of the material is now considered unethical. Ambergris is illegal to possess or trade in the United States and Australia, so perfumers will use Ambroxide (more commonly known by its brand name Ambroxan) in its place. Ambergris is also incredibly expensive to buy so Ambroxide is also a practical material for commercial perfumery.


This subject is particularly touchy, depending on one’s personal opinion toward IFRA (International Fragrance Association). IFRA provides guidelines for the safe usage of fragrance materials – both synthetic and natural – in perfume and skincare. IFRA regards oakmoss absolute as a restricted material and states in its guidelines that it cannot comprise more than 0.1 percent of a fragrance. Synthetic oakmoss is produced in accordance with IFRA guidelines, however many perfumers find it a poor substitute for true oakmoss. Saffron is incredibly aromatic but IFRA restricts the material to 0.005% in a fragrance due to the compound safranal. Because of the restrictions perfumers will use a synthetic to recreate the scent of saffron without involving the component that can pose a danger to the wearer.

So why wear natural perfumes?

Let’s get physical

All too often a person will be walking ahead of us and their fragrance is so strong that it makes our eyes tear. It is not uncommon for a synthetic fragrance, especially when applied liberally, to trigger a runny nose, watery eyes, or even a headache in the general population. Around the globe an estimated 10–30% of the general population reported scented products on others to be physically irritating.

The good news is that natural scents may be less likely to bother people with fragrance sensitivity. There may be several factors that account for this, such as lower concentrations of a perfume compound or less tenacity than synthetic perfumes. For people who have allergies to specific natural materials, we are happy to indicate which perfumes are appropriate to sample.

The chemicals between us

Commercial perfumes are expected to have a long shelf life whilst maintaining their scent profile. Synthetic chemicals such as diethyl phthalate (DEP) and dipropylene glycol (DPG) may be used to hold a fragrance together, thus preserving the scent profile (and physical appearance) of the fragrance. DEP is known to affect the liver and reproductive system in large amounts, but on average it composes no more than 0.5% of a commercial perfume. DPG is found to be of low toxicity but it is an active irritant of the skin and eye area. Commercial perfumes contain more than just fragrance and alcohol, and that grey area of what comprises “more” can pose a health risk.

Our eau de parfum contains 85% organic alcohol (95% alcohol, 5% water) and 15% parfum. Our huile de parfum contains 80% organic jojoba oil and 20% parfum. We do not use any phthalates, parabens, aroma chemicals, or synthetic materials in our perfumes. Our perfumes containing citrus notes will have a shelf life of 2–3 years as the materials will naturally evaporate from the perfume. Wood and resin materials will improve with age over time, similar to a fine Scotch or Brandy.

The song remains the same

Commercial perfumes do not behave the same as their natural counterparts that change scent on the wearer over time. A synthetic scent applied in the morning will still smell the same in the afternoon, and the evening, and even the next morning until a shower breaks the cycle. Apply that same synthetic scent to any number of individuals and the result will be the same scent profile. You and everyone you know can smell exactly like your favorite celebrity’s newest perfume, because that is what it is designed to do.

Our natural perfumes are designed to last 6–12 hours, using no more than 1–2 sprays. A good rule of thumb when applying perfume is that it should enhance, not announce, the wearer. Our huile de parfum does not emit the same sillage (wake) as eau de parfum, rather it is a more intimate presence on the skin.

In many ways natural perfume is different than synthetic fragrance, and in other ways it is better. Perfumers will use a combination of natural and synthetic materials in their fragrances, but for us there is nothing quite like the real thing. And with the vast number of natural materials available, the permutations for natural perfume are myriad.

We hope you found this information to be helpful. If there is something we overlooked or missed, please let us know.