De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Seven

Understanding More About Ensemble Fragrances

Eye Collage | More About Ensemble Fragrances

As I said before, in an ensemble fragrance, every individual material is given a chance to step into the spotlight. No singular odor fully dominates the olfactive structure. From a design perspective, ensemble pieces are by far the most complex to construct. They represent the extreme side of working with balance and harmony in fragrance formulation.

The process of constructing an ensemble piece begins by asking: How fully formed does any material need to be to tell its intended tale? How noticeable does its odor profile have to be in order to be identifiable by the nose? In choosing to incorporate it into the formula, how is an ingredient then also connected to a fragrance’s larger story? And through its addition, does that same material potentially upset the overall balance of the rest of the composition? Ultimately, ensemble pieces involve editing a series of scented moments that are choreographed around carefully planned moments of exposure. That is why I often refer to designing ensemble fragrances as working in the “the art of the reveal.”

Constructing An Ensemble

Ensemble fragrances require a certain granular understanding of individual perfumery materials, something I learned through years of studying GC-MS analysis and through regular practice with my perfumery mentors. To successfully execute an ensemble scent, first you must understand any ingredient’s normal path of diffusion (how it performs in isolation). From there, you can begin modifying that path to better suit a new intended purpose. This can mean filling in certain olfactive details lost during its production (i.e. volatile components eliminated during steam distillation) and/or removing others components that might upset the balance of the overall composition.

Essentially, with ensemble, you are attempting to repurpose a material’s original identity, but without completely losing its familiarity to the nose. You trim just enough to maintain character, but not so much that you lose recognition. Take rose for example. To incorporate the scent of rose into a formula, there are many choices: rose concrete, rose absolute, rose CO2, rose oil, rose accords, rose isolates…  Getting that rose impression just right requires knowing how best to stage it for your current formulation needs. This boils down to material choice. Sometimes you need the full complexity of the concrete. Other times phenyl ethyl alcohol alone is enough. Then, as you add other odor materials, more editing can and will be required to maintain that desired rose impression.

Brad Pitt Syndrome

The easiest way to ruin an ensemble fragrance is to allow an ingredient to become too recognizable. This effect is something I jokingly refer to as the “Brad Pitt syndrome.” Why?

Hollywood superstar, Brad Pitt, has starred in roughly 75 films throughout the course of his career. Needless to say, his face has become pretty well prednisone buy online uk known (hence his A-List celebrity status). The problem in casting Brad Pitt is in that same easily recognizable face which sometimes makes it very difficult for audiences to accept the suspension of disbelief necessary to fully fall into the larger cinematic world. No matter the character he is cast to play, he (at least for me) still stands out as Brad Pitt playing a role. His distinctiveness essentially takes the emotional impact of the film out of balance. When he is onscreen, a disconnect occurs. Perhaps this is why he is only cast to play very specific roles. The same phenomenon can happen with fragrance materials. If a rose note stands out like a sore thumb… if it is too heavy-handed of a rose… it makes it very difficult to appreciate the rest of the ensemble formulation. Being too recognizable defeats its intended purpose.

Most ensemble fragrances work by teasing a sense of the familiar. They succeed by never dwelling too long on any one olfactive note. As the perfume progresses, as you uncover any individual aromatic impression, you should find yourself thinking “hey, I know that smell,” followed shortly thereafter by “and who are your friends?” The reveal is meant to act more like a momentary guide… a place to catch your breath as you continue along a perfume’s journey. Each exposure of the familiar is simply to lead you further down the olfactive path, encouraging a deeper exploration of the full scent narrative. The more times you smell an ensemble fragrance, the more likely you are to find some hidden detail that may have been missed before, but you should never really notice its seams.


As I reach the end of this blog series on de-classifying ingredients, hopefully these thoughts will help bring some perspective to the larger conversation vis-à-vis any olfactive material’s true beauty and known limitations. Ingredients truly are the stars of any fragrance formulation, but their success or failure will always depend on how they are directed to perform. The how’s, the why’s, the when’s… that truly is the art of perfumery… and I, for one, am grateful everyday that I get to be a part of it.

More From The De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients Series

DAIN Rose Detail | Street Art

De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part One | Nature’s Hidden Beauty
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Two | Going Beyond Natural v. Synthetic
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Three | Celebrity Ingredients
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Four | The Value of Authenticity
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Five | Identity and Multi-Layered Narratives
De-Classifying Fragrance Ingredients | Part Six | Christopher Street Act I

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