Making Scents at 3rd Ward

Perfume blends by instructor Julianne Zaleta of Herbal Alchemy

  • Perfume blends by instructor Julianne Zaleta of Herbal Alchemy

I would like to think that I have a pretty good sense of smell. I mean, when one of my co-workers is heating up lunch in the office microwave, I’m usually able to guess correctly whether it is Indian food or not. [Ed. Note: It is almost always Indian food] And I love perfume. Love it. When I was younger, I used to tear all the petals off my birthday roses—a very sweet thing my father did for me every year, he got me as many fire-and-ice roses as years I was old—and throw them in a jar of water and wait for the magic to happen. What actually happened was not so magical because the water would smell really amazing for the first couple of days, but then it would turn rancid and the rose petals would dissolve into a slimy gunk that skimmed the top of the water and then I would throw the whole thing out and not bathe in it as was my original plan.

Anyway. I gave up my hopes of becoming a master perfumer, but recently those hopes have been reborn. Well, I still don’t think I will be a master perfumer, but after being kindly invited to sit in on the Perfume Blending Class at 3rd Ward, I can now rattle off facts about base notes and heart notes and, after taking one whiff of the damask rose oil that the instructor brought in, I was in heaven.

It had been a while since I’d taken classes in anything. Which, when I think about it at all, is ridiculous. What kind of people take classes? The best kind of people, as it turns out. Everyone in the class was really engaged and took notes and participated in the class in a way that was, frankly, really fun to be a part of. The instructor, Julianne Zaleta of Herbal Alchemy, teaches this class on a monthly basis with plans to offer a more advanced perfume blending workshop later this winter. Zaleta, who told me, “I’ve been collecting oils and making perfume for more than ten years at this point,” has a small business, Herbal Alchemy Apothecary, where she “makes and sells her own potions.” In addition to that, she is a lively, informative presence during the class, which she starts off with a history of perfume that manages to be both comprehensive and easy-to-follow for the novice (me).

One of the things that Zaleta said that struck me the most—especially since I am someone who plays around more with adjectives than with sandalwood oil—is that “scent is the sense without words.” Of course, there are many descriptors used for scents, but all of them actually originate from and are related to other senses. Things smell “bright” or “creamy” or “sweet” or “rich” or “like horse vagina” (as one of my fellow class members said when sniffing jasmine oil) but all of these adjectives actually apply to the experiences of other scents. Except maybe horse vagina. I don’t know what that was about and I don’t want to.


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