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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Meleg

Why I Started Making Perfumes in the First Place

Updated: Feb 6

My story begins in Vancouver amidst the dust and clatter of construction sites, machinery and labour jobs.

Far from the glamorous world of perfumery, I had recently returned from living in Japan for the past decade and was enveloped in the weary routine of work that left me yearning for more. I was bored out of my mind :-(

I felt unfulfilled and tired. I looked for solace in the endless expanse of knowledge available on the internet.

above: hard working, good friends. We did the midnight shift washing busses. For years I laboured and operated machines to save for my perfume making supplies.

One fateful day, while surfing Youtube, I stumbled upon a documentary on "oud."

Oud is a very rare resin that develops in some Aquilaria trees. Whether burnt as incense or as an essential oil, its scent is loved by millions across Asia and the Middle East. It wasn't merely the scent that intrigued me; it was Oud's illustrious history. Similar to sandalwood and frankincense, Oud is more than just an aromatic material; it's a testament to human civilization, culture, and spirituality. This chance encounter marked the beginning of an exploration far more profound than I had anticipated.

Above: "Scent from Heaven," this documentary inspired me to look more closely at perfumes

The world of perfume is more than pleasing fragrances; perfume, upon closer examination, is an aromatic chronicle of our collective past.

Every essential oil has its unique backstory and cultural significance. From the spiritually rich frankincense, cedar and sandalwoods, to precious rose and jasmine, to ambergris, civet and deer musk, each material carries thousands of years of religious, economic, and cultural history within them. I found all of this absolutely inspiring!

above: National Geographic Magazine.

Growing up, I was captivated by my grandfather's National Geographic Magazines. I would spend hours immersed in their pages, developing a deep fascination with the myriad expressions of humanity. I quickly realized that the elements used in crafting perfumes echo these narratives. Each ingredient carries a unique narrative thread that weaves a tapestry of human history, economics, religious customs, and cultural practices.

My journey started with a rich tapestry of histories; intrigued, I had to purchase oud oil and other natural woods and resins. I spent hours exploring them and noted each of their individual scent profiles.

I noted how these materials evolved over time and compared their strength and longevity against each other.

I was always a loner, a reader who painted and drew for hours on end. Entering the world of aromas and beganing a dialogue with nature's fragrant offerings was second nature to me.

Very quickly, my bedroom turned into a laboratory.

Above: my house was very quickly overrun with tinctures, glass bottles, alcohol and essential oils.

Above: I did four years of daily, self study, before I ever thought about selling my perfumes

My obsession grew, and I wanted to learn how to make perfumes for myself.

It occurred to me that my uncle, a bibliophile with a massive book collection, had one or two apothecary books. I called him up, and yes, indeed! There happened to be some cologne formulas inside!

I searched online and downloaded and collected old apothecary books, some dating back two hundred years. These tomes included very simple, traditional perfume and cologne recipes, providing glimpses into the practices of perfumers from past eras.

Above: The Book Of Perfumes by Eugene Rimmel, just one of several dozen perfumery books I've collected over the years.

I felt connected with these books and with these alchemists. Probably because I grew up in a fruit orchard, worked with my hands, and studied oil painting and culinary arts. I understood nature and all its smells, what it meant to work with one's hands, I understood visualization, texture, colour, creative passion, and what it takes to create something from scratch. I understood what it means to pay attention. As I recreated these formulas, I could feel the spirit of past perfumers guiding me, sharing their wisdom and the joy of creation.

Above: painting of a young man as an alchemist

Years of self-study passed, and my knowledge and skill grew.

I found better, more reliable sources for perfume materials and added human isolated scent molecules to my aromatic palette; I embraced advances in modern perfumery. I also experimented with natural alcohol tinctures and animal musks. My collection of scent materials was no longer a hobbyist's stash. It now resembled an alchemist's trove.

Above: one of my perfumery desks

Above: one of my perfumery desks

Above: collection of some of my tinctures

Above: second year desk

Above: I clean up my desk once a week, promise!

In this solitary learning and exploration journey, I found an unlikely mentor. A friend from Toronto owned a perfume company. I shared some of my creations with him, expecting only friendly feedback. His words of encouragement, however, sparked a transformative thought: why not turn my passion into a profession?

His belief in my work propelled me to venture into the business world. With a mixture of trepidation and excitement, I opened my own store on Etsy, turning my once private passion into a public offering.

Looking ahead, the world remains my classroom, with countless cultures and practices yet to explore. In fact, I just returned from a month in Kyoto, where I studied incense and perfumery from a Japanese perspective.

Above: I spent a month in Kyoto studying incense, perfumery and artisanship from a Japanese perspective.

I plan on going to Kannuaj, India, soon. Kannuaj has a rich history of traditional distillation methods and the production of "attars" oil perfumes. I also plan to visit Grasse, France, the modern Western perfume culture epicentre. Each of these places will add new chapters to my aromatic journey.

As I traverse the globe, I plan to connect with more artisans and craftspeople, absorbing their skills, knowledge, and wisdom.

The world is full of incredible talent, hidden secrets, and new techniques that can add new dimensions to my craft. I am an eternal student of art, perfumery, history, luxury, and culture, embarking on an infinite journey of learning and creation.

My odyssey into perfumery, which began as an unexpected detour, has transformed into a lifelong quest. It is not merely about creating pleasing fragrances but about capturing the essence of human history, culture, and spirit in each scent. Every bottle I craft tells a story.

Thank you for reading my post

Matthew Meleg

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