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Q&A with Dana El Masri, Montreal perfumer

by Léa Bégin |

One of our #BeautiesAtHome Instagram lives was with Dana El Masri, perfumer. (We carry her products at Beauties Lab and I also co-created the Beauties scent with Dana)
Crédit photo : Bianca Iasenzaniro

 

Dana is a  perfumer trained at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery. She is an interdisciplinary artist with experience in several cross-modal practices, as well as a published fragrance writer. She has been an AO judge for several years and is the winner of a Jasmine Literary Award and a Perfumed Plume.
The live was so interesting that we decided to share her knowledge with you. :)
Crédit photo : Léa Bégin

 

How do you make a perfume?

It all starts with an idea or concept. You run with a brief (given project) or your imagination and you start formulating, which is writing down raw materials and their ratios with one another, in various iterations. 
In its most basic breakdown, you blend essential oils with regulated aroma chemicals. Usually, mass-market perfumes are made formulae by master perfumers sent to their large labs with machines to make everything in bulk, small amounts are compounded (weighed) by people. 
In some niche and all artisan perfumery, everything is made by hand. So you blend all these materials in a bottle or beaker, on a scale, and you make several formulae, to test, over time, until you get what you're looking for. It's a long process and can take anywhere from one month to multiple years! When you're happy with what you've made, you let it macerate, like wine, for at least 4 weeks, then filter, test for quality control, and funnel into bottles.

Tips to buy perfume?

  • Go earlier in the day, when your nose is freshest. 
  • Don't try more than two perfumes on at a time. One on each wrist, so you can smell and compare throughout the day. 
  • Never smell more than six perfumes at a time or your nose will become saturated! 
  • Smelling coffee beans is a myth! It's just adding another scent to your palette, smell the inside of your elbow or natural fibre like wool or cotton. Or get fresh air when you can! 
 

How do you wear perfume?

- Play with where you want to shine! I suggest pulse points, your wrists are good because they're far away from your face! If you place perfume on your neck, do it on the sides, near your ears. Spritzing perfume on your chest, right under your nose, doesn't help as you get used to any scent in a matter of minutes. So avoid that! 
I also suggest spraying something on the back of your knee on hot days, the scent will rise. I put some on the back of my neck as well and on my clothes or undergarments! Sometimes I pair a light perfume on my body with a heavier perfume in my scarf to wrap me in goodness. 
Always store your perfume in a cool, dry place, away from humidity and direct sunlight. And don't store your perfumes in your bathroom! 

How long does perfume last?

That all depends on the perfume and its concentration! 
If you like heavy scents, I would suggest woody or ambery perfumes with a high Eau de parfum (EDP) concentration. 
An eau de toilette (EDT) is standard and an eau de cologne is lightest and will last the least time. 
Citrus perfumes last the least as their character is tenacious and only lasts 20 minutes or so. 
My perfumes are minimal, with no preservatives. On average, a perfume formula can have 100 ingredients, my perfumes range from 5-35 materials per perfume. 
If you find that perfumes don't last too long on you, I suggest layering with your favourite lightly scented or unscented oil or moisturizer. The drier your skin, the harder it will be for the scent to retain. Scent needs water/hydration to bloom! 

Why is important for you that your perfumes are unisex?

Scent has no gender! Nor should perfumes. It's all a social construct, starting as marketing in the 20s to appeal to men as they found perfume advertised to be too 'feminine'. It's all cultural, there are men in the Middle East who wear rose and they wear it well. 
When I conceptualize a scent, I'm thinking of the feeling it evokes, its colours, its shapes, its sounds, rarely do I think of gender unless it is stated clearly in a brief, for a product for someone else. 
It's all about how the scent/perfume makes you feel. 

Why do some perfumes give headaches?

Honestly, there can be a variety of reasons. Some natural essential oils have constituents in them that can trigger headaches, in large quantities, or too much exposure, like Ylang Ylang. 
Some mass-market perfumes have a high perfume concentration and many have preservatives, that could also be it. 
Some people are just more sensitive or could be allergic to any given component of a molecule, natural or synthetic, like allergies. 
Less is more is what I say! 

Why can't some people smell anything? Can they remember scent memories from their past? 

The condition of not being able to smell is called Anosmia. Some people are born with it, which, I believe, means that they don't have many smell memory references at all. Some get it after a brain trauma/injury when that happens, the person can experience 'phantom smells', so they think they smell something from their memories but it goes away and they're unable to physically smell it at the moment. We smell with our brain, our nos is only a tool, so it makes sense that we could remember a smell without actually smelling it. 

How can we use essential oils at home?

Creating an at-home ritual with scent is a necessary part of our self-care. Scent triggers our emotions, so by using oils we love, we can help ourselves focus, relax, energize, calm down, you name it. 
- Always use a carrier oil when using essential oils (try jojoba, argan, coconut, sweet almond, oil of your choice). Place a few drops of essential oils into your carrier oil and place a few of those drops in your palm, rub together and breathe in. 
- You can use essential oils in your room spray, mixed in with alcohol. Oil and water won't mix, so make sure to use alcohol that is at least 70% to break down the oils.
- Place some in your diffuser! Vapour diffusers are great because they also add some humidity to the air. 
- Frame your day with oils, start your morning with peppermint or lemongrass (I like mixing the two). Use bergamot in the afternoon for an energizing lift. Try lavender or clary sage at night to help you relax (you can even add a few drops on your pillowcase)

What to do if you don't have a diffuser at home?

  • Take a small pot and fill it with water. Bring to a boil and add a few drops of the essential oil of your choice. You can play with two-three different oils if you'd like. You can also add any citrus peels as well as sprigs of thyme and rosemary for an aromatic twist. 
  • Add oil drops to your bath! Or to sachets for your lingerie drawers. 
  • If you have any unscented candles: light the candle until it has a melted pool of wax (around 1.5"-2") carefully add a drop or two of your fav essential oil.
 

Who do you admire the most in the perfume industry?

I am a giant perfume/scent fan, but off the top of my head, Jean-Claude Ellena, his advice and his works of art have influenced me greatly. 
Christine Nagel, who followed Ellena, as in-house perfumer of Hermes, is a force. She broke many boundaries, including paving the way as a female perfumer in a male-dominated industry, at the time. She was always very patient and generous with me.
I also admire Saskia Wilson-Brown of The Institute for Art & Olfaction, in LA. She has brought perfumery to the public in such a way that is respectful to this closed-off industry and also full of knowledge and passion to anyone who wants to learn about our world. 

What is the message you would like to tell Canadians about perfume culture?

 
Perfume is an integral part of who we are, even subconsciously so. It's a part of our every day. Scent is culture. It is just as important as gastronomy or wine. Look around you! There are smells everywhere! 
One perfume, which you will use, almost every day for a few months at the least and multiple years, at most, gives you the same feel-good effect that makeup does. 
We can spend 50$+ on makeup which expires within 6 months, why can't we invest in perfume which is a subliminal message carrying our identity, our uniqueness, our preferences, our emotions, our aura, all in one? 
What questions would you like to ask Dana, our 2020 girlcrush?

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