Enfleurage, a painstaking historical technique, is perhaps one of the most romantic methods of perfume making. Its French name - 'en fleur' meaning 'in bloom' speaks to the heart of this delicate extraction method.
The History of Enfleurage
The technique of enfleurage dates back to the 18th century, with the method reaching its zenith in the 19th century in Grasse, a city in the south of France known as the perfume capital of the world.
The most delicate of flowers, whose aromas could not withstand the heat of steam distillation or the harshness of solvents, found their refuge in the gentle process of enfleurage. Jasmine, tuberose, and orange blossom, among others, were best captured through this labor-intensive method.
With the advent of industrialization and the rise of cheaper synthetic fragrances, the technique of enfleurage gradually became less common. Despite this, it is still prized among niche perfumers and natural product enthusiasts for its ability to produce extraordinarily faithful representations of the original floral scent.
The Process of Enfleurage
Enfleurage is, in essence, a cold-fat extraction process. The method works on the principle that fat possesses a high capacity for absorption, particularly of fragrant essences.
Chassis Preparation: A 'chassis' is a wooden frame holding a piece of glass. The glass is thickly smeared with purified and odorless animal fat, traditionally lard or tallow.
Flower Application: Freshly picked flowers are then arranged on the fat-coated glass. The chassis is closed and left for several days. During this time, the fat slowly absorbs the essential oils from the flowers.
Fat Recharging: The spent flowers are regularly removed, and fresh ones are added. This process, known as 'recharging', is repeated until the fat is saturated with the fragrance.
Extraction: The perfumed fat, called 'pomade', is then washed with alcohol to dissolve the absorbed essential oils. The alcohol is evaporated to leave behind the pure, concentrated flower oil.
Enfleurage in Finished Products
Products that incorporate enfleurage are relatively rare due to the process's labor-intensive and costly nature. Nevertheless, they are highly prized in the world of natural perfumery.
One example is the highly exclusive 'Joy' perfume by Jean Patou, renowned for its exquisite jasmine and rose accords, achieved partially through the process of enfleurage. Another is Chantecaille's 'Frangipane' perfume, which beautifully captures the scent of the tropical frangipani flower, traditionally extracted using enfleurage.
Natural skincare products also occasionally feature enfleurage extracts. For instance, some high-end facial creams use rose or jasmine enfleurage for their potent skin-enhancing properties as well as their heavenly scent.
Traditionally, rendered beef tallow or lard was used as the fat component in enfleurage. Today, modern sensibilities mean fats of vegetable origin are more common.
- Ingredients: refined, deodorised coconut oil, fresh jasmine blossoms.
- Method: Follow the process outlined above, using coconut oil in place of animal fat.
- Presentation: The resultant jasmine oil can be used directly on pulse points or incorporated into homemade skincare products for a luxurious touch.
Orange Blossom Enfleurage
- Ingredients: refined shea butter, fresh orange blossoms.
- Method: Same as above, using shea butter as the base.
- Presentation: The orange blossom oil, with its uplifting and calming fragrance, can be used in natural perfumes or as a delightful addition to homemade creams and lotions.
Enfleurage might seem like a method steeped in history and perhaps impractical in our modern, fast-paced world. However, this gentle and time-honored technique offers us a chance to connect with the very essence of flowers, creating personal fragrances that are as close to nature as possible.
Remember, these are simplified recipes. The real process of enfleurage requires patience, practice, and a delicate hand. But the result - a perfume as true to nature as possible - is worth every petal.
- Classen, C., Howes, D., & Synnott, A. (1994). Aroma: The Cultural History of Smell. Routledge.
- Groom, N. (1999). The Perfume Handbook. Springer.
- Le Guérer, A. (1992). Scent: The Mysterious and Essential Powers of Smell. Random House.