Duping scents, or How to Lose Your Mind in Five Steps or Less

As some of you may know, one of my primary suppliers for fragrances has closed up shop this year (well, sort of, but not really, but they may as well have). Since they announced their impending closure late last year, I’ve been working my way through the scents of theirs that I use, stocking up while I can & trying to find replacements.

It. Is. Maddening. Maddening, I tell you.

Few things are more sensitive & subjective than our sense of smell. How things smell depends on the weather, what we had for lunch, what we just smelled a second before. The same fragrance can smell markedly different when applied to the skin, a strip of paper, or a blob of lotion. It’s one of the glorious eccentricities of our bodies, that we can detect these minute shifts in smell very often without being able to articulate exactly what is different.

Take, for example, my current quest: I need to find a replacement for my vanilla blending note. It’s nothing crazy, just a nice warm, slightly brown, sticky & vaguely fruity vanilla, like a fresh vanilla pod. It features prominently in Miss Ada, & I use it in smaller percentages in The Man in the Moon & Lavender Truffle. It’s a lovely full, not-too-sweet vanilla, &  I’d assumed it would be a fairly simple one to replace.

Oh, how very, very wrong I was.

To date, I have tried no fewer than 15 different vanillas from four separate vendors. I have blended these 15 vanillas in a dizzying spectrum of proportions: 2-to-1, 10-to-1, 3-to-2-to-.5-to-.5-to-.25. I have added drops of honey, marshmallow, root beer, buttercream, sandalwood & oak to these vanillas, in hopes that somewhere I might find the elusive secret to that original vanilla.

And so far, dear reader, I have failed. I have blended several truly lovely vanillas, sweet & buttery & heady & floral & powdery & all manner of delightful adjectives. But not one has come close to what I want.

To complicate matters, test blends that I make in the morning smell completely different in the afternoon. The Tahitian one I loved when I first blended it is now far too high & sweet, & the one I added honey to to ground it now smells of nothing but. Given a few days to rest, every single one of these blends will change, & I won’t know in what direction til I sniff them all again next week.

At which point, I’ll be lucky if I can remember what the blazes I put in them. Here’s hoping I’ll still be able to read my scribbled notes.

And heaven help me when I start looking for a replacement for my blue musk…


About Hayley

I'm a trained pastry chef, DIY queen & mother with my heart in west England, my soul in Chicago, & my feet in south-central PA. Paintbox Soapworks was born out of my love for handicraft, beautiful fragrances & clean hands. I play around with colors & scents & soothe my insomnia by dreaming up new ideas. I pull heavily from music (Waits, White Stripes, Wilco), books (Tolkien, the avalanche of children's books in C's room) & my own fertile imagination.
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3 Responses to Duping scents, or How to Lose Your Mind in Five Steps or Less

  1. Pingback: Rounding the edges of the Moon | paintboxsoapworks

  2. Something for reference sake…. Have you read the Vanilla Files?
    Loads of information:


    I’m posting it on my blog this morning. It’s so much time and research that others can use without having to do it all over again themselves! O.o

    (I, too, have been looking for the perfect vanilla and coconut for soap. Haven’t found it.)

    The Soap Bar blog

  3. Pingback: Miss Ada | paintboxsoapworks

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