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Unleash Secrets of Creating A Bespoke Fragrance With Essential Oils

Creating an Artful & Therapeutic Signature Fragrance 

If you are even close to being as plant-obsessed as I am it might not come as too much of a surprise to learn that I’ve long wanted to create a unique, signature fragrance — a Duchess perfume – so named from my garden design and entertaining and tablescape passions that I operate as Duchess Designs.

My vision for the fragrance has always been to see it as a natural extension of my passion for the botanical arts.

Moreover, it will be a kind of tribute to my adored father, George, who bestowed that Duchess nickname upon me when I was a child. Hard to believe my Father left this world 10 years ago…
He was and always will be my inspired, creative muse – in no small part because he taught us kids how to look at the majesty of nature, to take regular forest walks and hikes with him – careful to observe/not disturb, to look at the glory of the sky and ephemeral shape-shifting clouds, to stop and smell the roses – and other pretty flowers and, well — always and completely embrace the seasons, natural habitats, and the artful aesthetics of an arcadia that delights all our senses.

So you see, I’ve long been smitten with an aspiration to design a true — and affordable luxury — to create and share a fragrance that tells a natural – and personal story…

You may be tempted to ask, “How can a fragrance tell a story?”

And just like that – I can tell you that, of our five senses, smell is the one that evokes memory the greatest.
Did you know that our limbic system – that portion of our brain that connects our neurons to our brains and its three key functions of memory, emotion, and arousal, mood and memory — is directly impacted by our sense of smell.

Limbic System in our Brain 

As an example of memory and fragrance – here’s a story. During my tenure as Director and Vice President at Brooklyn Botanic Garden, we’d pointedly note to our guests as we rounded a bend on a garden tour while approaching the Lilac Collection – we would advocate guests to “follow your nose,” (in fact, arriving at the lilacs long before you actually get there) and asked what’s the first thing you think of. This exercise helped explain the association between Mothers and lilacs (Syringa vulgaris – in the olive family) as a natural one, as the shrub blooms around Mother’s Day. So most everyone thinks of their mother when they smell a lilac.

Most every home featured a lilac shrub or two – so the combination of the enduring scent and mothers is quite evocative. That’s just one example of how scent and memory are linked.

My dream for the Duchess perfume would be to embrace and capture not only the pure organic oils (vs. the chemicals abundant in most commercial fragrances) – but to also blend with the essence of certain scented elements of nature with those memory-stimulating scents that are important to me and my memories or dreams…

I’ve made no secret of my desire to design a custom, branded perfume that will combine my favorite floral scents – some exotic from afar and some personal, local, and historically forgotten; along with the healing and therapeutic – and re-discovered – healing properties of plants’ essential oils.

The history of perfume itself is a swoon-worthy field of study all its own. Lust, love, and culture blend into heady scents, romantic legends, and powerful dramas filled with emotion.

Add in the artful and vintage decanters and atomizers perched on a beguiling, romantically-arranged vanity or table — along with elegant, mobile perfume alembics

Alembic example -Photo: Met Museum
Combined with the simple, sensual application of the perfume on our pulse points to make us happy — and to attract subtle attention — is what makes fragrance so darn sexy. And an enduring seduction that is at once personal and yet popular.

I learned of a perfume making program in Grasse, France – the acknowledged, historial, world capital of perfume-making. I researched — and am most excited to plan next year’s student experience.

But in a kind of prelude — I signed on for The New York Botanical Garden’s “Essential Oil Perfume Workshop” as a kind of training wheel, scent-making class. I could learn some basics and see if I had a talent or faculty for this artisanal endeavor…

The day of the workshop was a beautiful August day — and I was not only excited to spend a morning learning about perfume but also was to meet a favorite friend post class, for a “Ladies Who Lunch” – with one of my most treasured friends, Joanne. It was one of those rare, perfect days.

The Class:
According to the class description we were to learn:

  • The history of perfume
  • What are essential oils
  • Essential oil uses
  • Discussion of specific essential oils
  • Carrier oils and their properties
  • How to create scents
  • How to create solid perfumes, roll-on perfumes, and aromatherapy sprays
  • We were also going to learn blending techniques — and key: how to identify and keep perfume “notes.” 
  • Safety tips. 
  • Recommends using latex gloves (I didn’t!) 

How was the class?  As the French say – Encroyable! The morning sped by – the instruction and hands-on workshop was fascinating and fun – and all of us students left with three fragrances we created ourselves, made with carrier and essential oils: a solid, wax-based one, a roll on, and an aromatherapy room spray.
While I love to learn most anything — I daresay I could study these elements exclusively for the next decade or more…

The course offered an overview of how perfume could be traced back thousands of years to an ancient Egyptian tradition, beloved by Cleopatra — a great dame if there ever was one. We learned ancient folks used flowers, bark, and roots boiled in water to create fragrance. Centuries later, the French refined the extraction methods. Madame Pompadour – member of the French court, art patron, and mistress of Louis XV is a legend – said to have first used perfume as part of her seduction thereby making fragrance popular and forever a key part of romancing.

Today, distillation remains the main way we get essential oils – which is concentrated plant oils from those roots, seeds, bark, flowers, and leaves. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Before we got to the hands-on part of the workshop, our instructor, Karine Gordineer – a knowledgeable, experienced, and supportive, self-described “green girl,” a master herbalist, plant spirit, and a healing and shamanic practitioner. She had everything set up for the students; first reviewing a handout brimming with a list of more than three pages of essential oils and their descriptions – from Amber to Ylang Ylang – along with their plant pedigree and their historical uses.

We learned what essential oils and carrier oils and their properties are. You can too. You can reference Gordineer, take a class, research, and/or as she recommends, read the books: The A to Z of Essential Oils by E. Joy Bowles.

And Kaitlin Stone’s book, Organic Perfume: 55 Ultimate Recipes for Beginners


  • Look for Therapeutic Grade Essential Oils
  • Some essential oils are quite expensive so be mindful of what you’re buying. You can use some blends to stretch your investment and creative fragrance-making. 
  • Start with a few Essential Oils – don’t buy everything that strikes your fancy
  • Work with the oils in a well-ventilated room
  • When creating or making your fragrance, add the Essential Oils one drop at a time – Build your Fragrance
  • Black Pepper Essential Oil can be a “fixer” – tying together other scents
  • Use airtight Essential Oil bottles with screw tops. Air will diminish oil scent. 
  • Keep Essential Oil bottles away from light.
  • You should date your oil bottles 
  • Write down the number of drops you add when creating a blend
  • When blending, mix Base and Middle Notes, then stir. Give it some time. Smell, stir, then add the Top Notes one drop at a time. 
  • Creating scents is a little like music – the different notes interact with one another creating something new and different
A variety of Essential Oils were set up for us to experience and use 


The Notes are the Anatomy of a Fragrance

Base Notes: Simple is best. Three essential oils as Base is maximum. Makes up 50% of a blend. Approximately 25 essential oil drops. The Base is the foundation and the heavier element that will linger on the skin.

Examples of Base Notes:

  • Amber
  • Cedarwood
  • Cinnamon
  • Clove
  • Frankincense
  • Musk
  • Patchouli
  • Sandalwood
  • Vetiver

Middle Notes: Makes up to 20% of a blend. Approximately 15 drops. These are the love notes – they make their appearance after the top note(s) evaporate. The Middle Notes interact with your body, combined and tied with the Base to sustain the scent. Usually the Middle Notes are floral.

Examples of Middle Notes:

  • Black Pepper
  • Chamomile
  • Coriander
  • Gardenia
  • Geranium
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Neroli
  • Nutmeg

Top Notes: 3-5 drops. This is a fragrance’s first impression – it attracts you. It will dissipate before the other two notes – usually after 30 to 60 minutes because they are lighter notes that are meant to evaporate sooner.

Examples of Top Notes:

  • Anise
  • Bergamont
  • Clary Sage
  • Eucalyptus
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Orange 

I loved all three of the fragrances I made in class that day – but especially the solid fragrance. Even the instructor seemed impressed. Further, everyone I share it with does too. Very exciting. I liked the bright yet smoky, yet powdery mix of scent – and I think it works for all genders. It’s sexy and alluring…

My first fragrance blending up

I used quite a variety of essential oils including, Oak Moss (love this EO), Amber, Ylang Ylang (intensely floral and uplifting, similar to Jasmine, Ylang Ylang has aphrodisiac qualities) White Gardenia, Clary Sage, Orange Oil Sweet, and more.

Taking Notes of the Fragrance Notes! 

Quick method to making an Aromatherapy Spray
Materials needed:

2-ounce dark colored glass spray bottle with spray top

1 ½ ounces distilled water

¾ ounce witch hazel

15-20 drops of essential oil blend

Glass to mix oils



Place water and witch hazel into the glass bottle

Blend your essential oils

Add to the bottle


Store away from light and heat

I hope you enjoy creating your own, natural, organic fragrances and perfumes. It’s an affordable luxury – and a very personal one too. That’s glamorous…

And so was the walk through Rockefeller Center to meet Joanne.

Ahh, the sweet smell of success…


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"Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

 I adore plants. Plants are my muse ~ they are my paramour… I’m a garden artist; a nature lover, & horticulturist. I’m an author & writer. My passion for culture & beauty, along with my trait curiosity, brings you an authentic celebration of life. I’m a storyteller ~ weaving the artful gifts of horticulture, garden design, tablescape decor, floral design, cocktail culture, garden-to-glass recipes & their glamorous garnishes, homegrown edibles, food & drink; & cooking, to bring you my flair & what I’ve been told is an avid elan ~ as well as the stories from those who inspire me ~ to pursue an elegant, enduring, & joyful, entertaining lifestyle. It’s an honor & a privilege to do what you love.

Join me to celebrate a romantic, garden-infused, entertaining lifestyle filled with artful design, sparkling dinner parties, peerless martinis, and copious magnums of champagne!





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