In the Studio: Topaz

  • By Jean Peters-Do
Bringing an idea to fruition

Topaz perfume is my olfactory interpretation of the beautiful color of Golden Topaz, and it exceeds my expectations in that regard – it smells the way that color looks to me.

Golden or Imperial Topaz is a deep yellow or orange yellow, and the crystals may have pink flecks in them. But what is that color like? It’s easier to say what the color is not like. It’s not metallic gold or lemon yellow; nor is it honey colored or amber yellow.  It’s luminous yet “weighty.” The cut stone polishes very brightly, but it doesn’t have the sparkle of other yellow crystals like yellow citrine, which is the most common impersonator of topaz.

I had no real words or even a half-formed concept for how Topaz affects me, so I was working without any story, image, or destination. The creative journey of Topaz resulted in several major changes in direction, including a giant leap, to end up in its final manifestation.

Every finished perfume is an accomplishment. We make lots of blends, and those that show promise may or may not make the final cut. Most formulas are mediocre, and some are just terrible, but every failed attempt is a steppingstone toward achieving something lovely. Because I strive to work outside my creative comfort zone, I was not going down the path of an amber accord. My first two attempts started off with a smoky tobacco accord – a favorite theme – which branched to a lemon motif but that was a giant fail.

Finally, I reviewed some of my class notes from Mandy’s master perfume class in September 2022 and found inspiration in the chypre exercises. Topaz is a luscious fruity chypre-type perfume that embodies the jewel-like qualities of sun sweetened ylang ylang and exotic sun-ripened golden yellow fruits, grounded with oakmoss and vetiver.

When is a perfume complete?

Generally, I know it’s complete when I fall in love with it. But Topaz left me filled with doubts until a couple days before we launched the shop.

Launching the shop was a milestone, with many parts that had to be tested out. We decided that Tu should make a perfume purchase since his cookies weren’t already collected by the development apps, and mine were. He made a purchase and I asked him what perfume he chose. He said, “Topaz.” When asked why he chose that one he said he liked the name. Well, okay.

Two days before launch I was walking out the door to work and when we hugged I asked him to smell my collar, where I had sprayed Topaz. It stopped him in his tracks, he was at a loss for words. Understand, he is requested to smell everything that I work on at some point, and his response is pretty much the same every time. “Wow! It’s great, Honey!” But this was a different response and I had to know why. He told me he was instantly transported back to Saigon in the early 1970’s, and the memory hit him hard but in the most joyful way. Clearly, it had the ability to evoke deep-seated and pleasant memories, and that is what every perfumer hopes to achieve. Topaz was certified complete.

Topaz Ingredients

The heart of Topaz is a floral duet of ylang ylang and rose notes. My next post will extoll on the qualities of marvelous ylang ylang, which is my favorite little sweetheart of all the flowers. Yes, I adore jasmine, neroli, orange blossom, tuberose, the other queens and princesses of flowers. But ylang ylang is sunny, fresh and innocent in its own exotic way. It’s juicy!

Topaz is made with ylang ylang complete, my favorite of the ylangs, with lis-ylang and benzyl acetate (natural isolates from ylang ylang) boosting the exotic fruit and juicy qualities of ylang ylang to the top.

Chypres traditionally included bergamot, oakmoss, and labdanum or another amber. Topaz does not have the typical amber ingredients but features bergamot in the top and oakmoss in the base. Special touches include m-methyl-anthranilate in the top, a powdery fruity isolate, and alpha ionone, a powdery fruity base note floral isolate, for continuity from the top to the bottom; and vetiver and ambergris in the base to bring more grounding earthiness, balancing out the sweet fruits and flowers.

Somehow all these ingredients come together to create a singular fragrance experience.

Perfume as metaphor

In my previous post about the summer solstice, I tentatively touched the topic of the Sun as archetype. Archetype means ‘original pattern’ and it’s no stretch to accept that the sun is our solar system’s original pattern. Archetypes can be expressed in symbols and metaphors. 

So in what way is perfume metaphorical? Is it an original pattern in and of itself? It is a chemical composition of odor notes and registers: florals, woods, spices arranged in top, middle and base registers. A well composed perfume has harmonic chords and flows from opening to close. We can think of a perfume as music for the nose. Or Is it archetypical because it elicits feelings and memories of the past and in the present? In other words, it touches our minds in a way that recalls old, and simultaneously creates new, emotional memory patterns. This is a complex metaphor, to be sure.

What is clear is that my interpretation of a perfume is completely subjective and personal to me and, unless you are an exact duplicate of me, your interpretation of that perfume is unique in every way. We can share some common impressions, likes and dislikes. Do you prefer rock and roll or Mozart’s flutes? The beach or the mountains? Do roller coasters thrill or terrify you? A more relevant example is whether you like or cannot tolerate cilantro (see my Coriander post).

My point is that when you smell Topaz the first time it is a guarantee you won’t suddenly think about a 1970’s French-Vietnamese café in Saigon. And I doubt that images of Imperial Topaz will flash before your mind’s eye. If you don’t like any of the ingredients, or if the way they work together in the composition is not pleasing to you; and if you aren’t into chypres in general, you won’t enjoy it at all. But I hope that if natural perfume is your thing, you will find some enjoyment from giving it a try.

Suggestions in the shop

My collection is designed to inspire you, spark your creativity, and offer you choices of gift items based on themes of color and other associations.

To enjoy your perfume with fresh, naturally-scented skin I recommend our Citrus Lavender or Shea Honey Oat all-natural bar soaps.

For your scented rituals, the 3rd Chakra carved soapstone oil diffuser is a golden brown color. The 3rd chakra is yellow, associated with the emotion of joy and self-confidence, the element fire representing transformation and growth. Try a few drops of ylang ylang oil in distilled water in the diffuser bowl as a meditation aid.

We also have silk scarves and 2” paper mache’ boxes with the colors gold and yellow.

Do you love the color of Imperial Topaz? Do you use ylang ylang for auromatherapy or perfume? What is your opinion of chypres? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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