How is perfume made?

Course Specific
Aug 10
3 mins

When you think of fragrance what do you think of? For me, it’s France, roses and beautifully designed bottles.  

Fragrance is intrinsically linked to culture. You can trace bottled smells back many hundreds of years and study their movement across the globe, from oud in the middle east to citrus essential oils in France. Many countries are known for their curated scents and have perfected the process over the years.

Looking at the modern fragrance industry, it seems to have found its home in France and in particular the town Grasse. In recent years, the art of perfume making has become more accessible, making it into our homes with DIY mixing kits where you are able to mix a variety of oils to create your own scent. Another change we see is in the larger perfume institutions making perfume in labs at mass scale - which has become more reliant on synthetic production techniques, as traditional techniques and natural ingredients become more costly. 

Having said that, there is a resurgence in some of the classical techniques which can be used to create the essential oils that we all love. So let's take a look at these in more detail.


Perfected by the Arab population in the 8th century this method of production has become the main method of traditional perfume making. Taking flower petals for example, they are submerged in water and this mixture is then boiled. As the mixture boils, the rising vapour contains the fragrance from the flower petals, this vapour is then cooled and condensed leaving us with the essential oil. This technique works for different materials - you can extract from a variety of flowers and barks as well as woodier leaves and roots. 


We can see that distillation is often used for hardier ingredients but traditionally enfleurage (both the hot and cold method) has been used for more delicate ingredients. Developed in Grasse, France, the method consists of saturating the flowers in fat (whether hot or cold), the fat then absorbs the scent creating a product called “absolute ointment”. The fragrance can then be extracted from the fat with alcohol. This method died out for many years but some producers are starting to revive the process. 


This is an old and simplistic method of extraction, where the extractions is done mechanically allowing you to extract the oils (sometimes referred to as the essence) from peels of citrus fruits. The traditional machine used in this is called a pelatrice, however other methods have been used and developed such as using a spoon to scrape the peels to release the essential oils or using a sponge which absorbs the essence as it is pressed against the peels. 

Beyond the techniques, certain ingredients can also be linked with a particular area from the lemons and bergamot of Italy to the lavender of southern France. Both the geography of the land and the culture of the people affect the final perfume - the ingredients used, the extraction method, style of perfume, and the story behind the scent. 

At Rassa we believe perfume has the power to transport you through history, to capture memories and locations at the far edges of the world, and to remind you of loved ones. We’ll soon be launching a perfume program as part of our beauty track, where you’ll learn to make your own perfume at home using some of the techniques and ingredients described above, and collaborate with your course peers and expert instructors on new creations. Register your interest to get priority access.

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