Book Review : Homemade Perfume by Anya McCoy


08th October, 2018

I think it’s fair to describe me as a crafter. I’ve tried pretty much everything, from knitting and whittling to needle felting with cat hair. I’ll gleefully give anything a try, and enjoy the process even if the end result leaves something to be desired. So when I was asked to review Homemade Perfume by Anya McCoy, my crafter’s heart did a somersault – perfumery! One of the two crafts I’ve always wanted to try but haven’t quite found the opportunity! (The other is taxidermy, which would be an altogether very different review).

Whilst I bake regularly, and enjoy the attention to detail and ratio that good baking requires, I admit I was daunted by the sheer complexity and precision required by perfume-making. And to a large extent I still am (I won’t ever have my own distillation still, I want a loom before that) but, with McCoy’s patient guidance, I am confident that I will be able to make a number of fragranced products to be proud of.

The clarity of her directions are matched in the elegant layout and beautiful, unfussy photography. The progression of the book is straightforward and unhurried: McCoy gifts us the benefit of her experience through an excellent brief overview; sensible, pared down lists of tools and materials; and a very helpful guide through the safety considerations of working with volatile materials. We then progress through tinctures and infusions, distillation and enfleurage, with a number of variations on each method and the reasoning behind them. Each of these chapters ends with practical projects that utilise the theory and techniques she has detailed, so one can try their hand at an entry-level recipe and then progress to the next level of complexity on the wave of satisfaction.

In the next section of the book McCoy’s skill as an artist of fragrance, as well as skilled distiller, comes to the fore. She explains the components of a successful fragrance, and how to plan and evaluate your aromatics and blends. The information of creating liquid perfumes is exceptionally comprehensive, and well within one’s skillset, if you have been able to create any extracts, absolutes or hydrosols from the chapters previous. Whilst those tasks will undoubtedly be satisfying, I think the majority of readers will be keen to know how to transform their work into wearable fragrances. After liquid perfume, we learn how to compound solid perfume, pomade, body spray, room spray, body butter, bath milk, massage oils and deodorant. The possibilities are infinite, but thankfully she gives some recipe suggestions to prevent choice paralysis.

The only issues I can anticipate the novice perfumer encountering as they work through Homemade Perfume are difficulties in procuring some of the technical equipment, and enough raw materials. McCoy is careful to ensure that each method is easily accessible to the beginner – yes, thorough guidance is given on how to use a distillation still, but she first explains how anyone can make a distillation using a lidded saucepan and some ice. As someone who has read crafting books which expect a significant outlay of money and resources just to try out a skill, it is refreshing that McCoy understands that most readers will likely stay at the ‘kitchen equipment’ level. Regarding the raw materials, it is understood that most of the methods in the book will require a number of ‘recharges’ of plant matter to get a suitable strength of fragrance. This might make things tricky for the novice in midwinter, or in an area where abundant flowers (wild or from good florists) are hard to obtain. McCoy has an answer for this, in the final chapter on fragrant plants. Yes, if you want to make a frangipane enfleurage in rural Norfolk in October you might be out of luck, but she provides a comprehensive list of potential plant materials, how to prepare them appropriately and recommendations for processing, such as rosemary being unsuitable for enfleurage but great for a hydrosol.

McCoy’s writing style really does add to the delight of this book. Her tone is professional and experienced, with a weight of academic and historic knowledge that enriches our understanding of perfumery, but her sheer joy in this craft is evident. As she shares her enjoyment of creating a hydrosol, or the sensual pleasure of using a handmade scented powder, I began to feel caught up in her enthusiasm. In the introduction, she says ‘I hope that this book gives you the feeling that you are planning all of these fragrant projects with an experienced, helpful friend guiding you along the way’. This is exactly how I felt, and I am now confidently planning my first forays into perfumery with McCoy’s gentle, expert guidance.

 

Homemade Perfume by Anya McCoy is available now 
Published by Page Street Publishing Co., 2018
ISBN-13: 978-1-62414-585-8

  • Share this

About the author: Slate Powell

Slate is a counsellor, crafter and kitchen witch based in Sheffield. They are currently wearing La Fumée by Miller Harris but their dream fragrance would be the scent of a sleeping werewolf in it’s den (warm fur, pine, earth and milk)

Categories

Advertisement — comments are below

Comments

    • hednic | 9th October 2018 16:30

      A very nice review on a very interesting topic!

    • Sneitzke | 12th October 2018 19:29

      This is a nice review. I'm putting this book on my Christmas list.

    • JBS1 | 13th October 2018 11:53

      Very nice read.

      There's a boutique,sort of near me, in Lakewood Ohio called Indigo Perfumery.

      I do hope to attend one of their , make your own, shops they offer soon.

      Thank you for this article.

    • Routa | 14th October 2018 21:35

      Fun review!

      Thanks for sharing.

    • FragranceForce | 16th October 2018 23:00

      Good Luck! It sounds like you have a good guide for this project.