The Intricate Realm Of Aromas And Scent Combinations

Two local artists chronicle the process of their creations–concocting scent combinations–and how they evoke memories and emotions.

Crafting compelling scent combinations can be an art and a science. Finding the right balance as well as figuring out which fragrances go together and last long could be tricky, but with creativity and heart, one can embark on a captivating exploration of the realm of aromas.

Lifestyle Asia had the privilege to interview two local perfumers who walked us through their art. Oscar Mejia III discovered his passion for fragrances at a young age, and even a high cost of formal perfumery education did not stop him from pursuing his dreams. Meanwhile, Lala De Leon of Simoy Ng Haraya started the brand as a passion project way back 2010.

READ ALSO: Eau De Excellence: 3 Local Perfumes With Floral Notes That Awaken The Senses

Oscar’s beginnings in the industry

“Growing up, I was surrounded by flowers,” Oscar chronicled. “I used to take flowers and boil them, and this was me making my perfume. Of course it’s not the correct way, but that is how it started.” 

The perfumer said he would give these “perfumes” of boiled flowers as gifts to family and friends on special occasions. He saw the act of bestowing the scents as a means of expression.

“It’s imparting who I am, and at the same time the emotions I feel towards other people,” he explained.

Oscar Mejia III is a natural perfume connoisseur who started a corporation in 2019
Oscar Mejia III is a natural perfume connoisseur who started a corporation in 2019/Photo from Oscar Mejia III

Oscar also noted he nurtured his interest in fragrances. He took up Chemistry in Ateneo and when he graduated, he took time to research on how to be a perfumer. “At the time, you could only study in France. But the tuition was expensive, it was around five million at the time.” 

He narrated how he found a mentor named Nicolas De Barry, a French perfumer. “I emailed him, inquired about a course that I saw. He said the university that offers the particular course is no longer available. However, he was fascinated that someone from our side of the world is interested in fragrances, so he said he will help.” Eventually, Oscar received formal training in perfume making in Paris and in Grasse, France, the world’s perfume capital. 

Oscar did bespoke fragrances, especially for top hotels and leisure properties like Aman Pulo and Dusit Thani Davao. Doing so, he was able to introduce the brand’s olfactory artistry to people of different cultures, and he still does to this day. Aside from these, Oscar initiates partnerships with the National Museum, Ayala Museum, Ateneo de Manila University, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to educate and inspire Filipinos who are looking into opportunities in the fragrance industry.

Lala’s passion project

In Lala’s case, she used to have a day job. She was looking for something to do outside of work, until she found out that it was possible to make perfumes at home. She started researching online, attended classes, and later on tried selling the scents she made for friends and family.

Lala De Leon is the creative mind behind Simoy ng Haraya.

Scents trigger memories

The perfume maker said scents are deeply memorable due to their connection to our limbic system, which processes our emotions. More of its primary functions involve memory, learning, stimulation, and human’s overall behavior.

“Our sense of smell binds us back to specific moments in time with just a whiff of a particular fragrance,” he explained. 

(photo) The tools used by perfumers to create scent combinations
The tools used by perfumers to create scent combinations/Photo from Oscar Mejia III

Lala’s sentiments agree with Oscar’s and expounded that our sense of smell sends information almost instantaneously to the brain. “So, when we smell something, we have quick reactions. [I] learned this from my aromatherapy certification class. We relate specific scents to moments that happened in the past, making scents very personal.”

The art of forming scent combinations

Oscar explained that the creative process of perfumery is a blend of heart and mind and involves the master of raw materials. One should also understand the pivotal contribution of associations as one prepares their own scent combinations. 

Oscar keeps a journal where he records raw materials and what oils or botanicals he associates with an object, place, or a color. He also uses a wheel that categorizes scents into four main classifications: floral, fruity, mossy/woody, and amberesque. This serves as his basis to choose complementing scent combinations.

A standard questionnaire also helps when he has a client who wants a bespoke scent. He uses this to form a mood board for visual representation, and that’s where the interesting step starts: applying it to fragrances and concocting a mix. 

Oscar’s color wheel
Oscar’s color wheel/Photo from Oscar Mejia III

“Basking in the inspiration helps with how I compose the scents,” he mentioned. “I take in the visuals or listen to the music my client or I attribute to the theme or memory. From there, I figure out which raw materials or oils would go well together.”

Oscar expounded that trial and error is an essential part of the process to determine if  the balance of fragrances is achieved. Development period according to him is around four to six weeks. 

Lala’s process is very free flowing when it comes to scent combinations. She exemplified one of her perfumes–Simula–and said this was the time she had the strong urge to leave her day job. “I want the smell of Simula to signify growth so I opted for flowers as they blossom from the ground up. I used ginger flower and sunflower notes and added peppermint for a touch of freshness.”

When she was starting, she listed down Tagalog names that she wanted for the scents. Some of her friends participated and suggested names also.

“As the brand grew, I had to add more scents and realize that the succeeding ones became more personal as I drew personal events in my life,” the Simoy ng Haraya creator remarked.

Simoy ng Haraya offers soy candles, reed diffusers, and room sprays apart from their perfumes. Their creation names are from Filipino terms denoting emotions, actions, relationships, and other gourmand scents.

Fragrances are subjective. We all have different preferences, after all. However, the perfumer took into account the humidity of the Philippine weather. 

“My favorite scent is more on florals,” Oscar answered. “In our hot weather, fresh and citrusy scent combinations are the often go-tos. But I hope we can encourage others to experiment with the other fragrance profiles.”

Perfumes tend to evaporate quicker in warm temperatures, so most would recommend fresh, crisp green scents, and florals.

READ ALSO: Summer Scents: These Perfumes Are Perfect For The Warm Weather

Oscar added that what’s fun with scents is that one can layer to their heart’s content to create a personalized, signature scent. 

A report from Byrdie said perfume layering helps enhance scents’ longevity. One can create custom blends that reflect their personality or mood. Proper layering techniques include applying scented lotions and spraying fragrances at different points on the body. Heavier scents should come first to avoid overpowering the light ones. 

Learnings from fragrances

Oscar reflected on his journey, saying scents offer more than just a pleasant aroma. They also serve as a pathway to self discovery. 

“Fragrances allow you to get in touch with yourself and the memories that we hold dear. When you smell a bottle and it resonates with you, your experience with it is very intimate. It is really an exploration of who you are. It is a journey of self actualization more than anything else.”

Lala imparted that she learned fragrances are very personal. “What may appeal to me may not appeal to another person. It goes beyond taste as past experiences would contribute to your take on a scent.”

Lala and Oscar proved that as perfume artists, inspiration goes a long way to create the perfect scent combinations. Apart from the ingenuity of Filipino artisans, human connections and memories bring color and life to their respective creations.

Banner photo from cottonbro studio via Pexels.

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