The other day I came home with two small bottles of very good ylang ylang and bergamot essential oils, and, as you do, I decided to terrorize my perfume collection .




The tampering/contaminating/ disrespecting of a perfumer’s formula is something that that probably fills most real perfume lovers with horror. And, ultimately, when I look at my own triumphs and misdemeanours and weigh the whole thing up, I would have to agree. The formulae are the way that they are for a reason, the creation of a perfumer who has tinkered, and weighed up, and mulled over the details until he or she has liked what she sees and gives the green light.





This I know.









What if you disagree, though?




Or if you have perfumes lying around that you never really use and probably never will, because there just is something about them that gets on your wick, that is never quite right, or enough, or they have gone off?



In such cases, why not give a bit of perfume terrorism a whirl? See what happens? A bit of instinctive alchemy.



You have got nothing to lose, really, and it is certainly a whole lot better than the real thing.

















The majority of the creations in my collection I would obviously never even dream of touching (all the usual suspects that you hear me going on about, particularly when they are in prime and pristine condition). And yet. I can sometimes find myself lifting up certain sacred holy cows and thinking, fuck it, why not. This old Mitsouko parfum is bugging me with its fustiness. I way preferred that nice eau de toilette that I had with all that bergamot.



……. .. . . . .






Here we go then, some lovely bergamot……..yes, that will do nicely; one drop of ylang ylang and some lemon and we will wait until tomorrow……

(verdict: yes, quite good, I will actually wear it now – I am loving the velvety sharpness of the citruses versus the moss, though in absolute truth I have altered the base a bit too much and she resents me).








What other perfumes?





There have been quite a lot over the years, I must confess (has anyone else done such a thing, incidentally? Am I alone in my crazed audacity? Am I some kind of parfumeur manqué, who instead of wrecking other people’s work should concentrate on his own? have you also, behind closed doors and wrapped shut curtains, also performed midnight raids on portions of your perfume collections?)
















From time to time, I must admit though, when the mood strikes me, I do have to say that I bit of ‘personal remixing’ can be kind of fun.


The nervous anticipation of it all, to see if the experiment has gone awry, or if you are delighted when you wake up and smell it in the morning and it has worked….






Here then: a list of some of the ones I can remember off the top of my head (there are way more, I know there are, and I am sure that they will come up in conversation).



The ones that worked, and the ones that really didn’t.






SERGE LUTENS BORNEO I840 :   This I have written about extensively before, my adding fine quality patchouli to the scent to deepen that note. In total I have probably had about four bottles of this perfume and it is the only way that I can wear it. If I get another one at any point (it is no longer sold in Tokyo) then I will do the same. Without that extra patchouli it was just a tad too soft. With it, it becomes mine.



SLIGHTLY DEGRADED CARON INFINI :   Two or so drops of great quality ylang ylang oil and BOOM she has turned into Madame Rochas. Initially I get a real brrmrmrmrmththgfhghg of perfume pleasure as the aldehydes and wood all spring into the action from the presence of the new floral invader and the whole thing smells gorgeous (it has just lost its identity, which to the holder of that identity is something of a problem).


Great to have by the bedside, though, and it does smell better than how it did before (just a faded old sad little aldehyde). I think you probably do hear the slight tones of regret though, lingering in my voice.







Now this is a weird one. My mum was given a whole tester bottle free of this when she bought two other Lutens for me one Christmas, and though I quite liked it, and like it, kind of, on Duncan, I always wanted way more lavender in the top and less of that slightly irritating synthetic incense note that roars carbonically through the whole and dominates the composition.



Thus, over time:  a whole plethora of lavender oils, Mexican high altitude, Bulgarian, French (for some reason, Lutens perfumes dissolve the essential oils you might put into them perfectly, not going cloudy or off coloured like some perfumes do), and I have to say I way prefer it.


What we have now is a very natural lavender perfume that heals the senses, is fresh and exciting, yet maintains just enough of that original base note once the essential oils have evaporated to make it still an actual perfume. Christopher Sheldrake and his impresario would surely be shaking in their immaculately tailored boots, but they don’t have to smell it. This one is also on my bedside table.






NOOOOOOOOOOOO I hear you cry..but yes. As I wrote in my review of this, there is something just too imbalanced and precarious about the weird combination of top notes that I never felt worked. Just three drops of ylang ylang oil into about 40 ml of eau de parfum and wow she has grown at least three cup sizes. I mean Datura Noir was hardly Burt Reynolds to begin with, but now we have some serious cleavage.




And yet I prefer it. The ylang ylang smooths out the composition, makes it work from the very first go, yet dries down to the vanillic coconut Mata Hari that I was hoping she would be from the offset.





I know I know.


No, you stupid boy, you can’t wreck things like this. Just because there is some neroli in the listed notes doesn’t mean it is going to work. And it doesn’t.



I have regretted it ever since (though it was off to begin with so there wasn’t really anything to lose). Even so………


















What smelled old and only slightly Chloë-ish ( I have great memories of this from when I was a teenager and so really cherish having a ‘live’ bottle in the house) has suddenly become CHLOE again.


With just two drops of ylang ylang oil it has been reborn (ylang ylang is famously used to lift all notes in perfumes to begin with, and seriously, it really works here. If you do have an old perfume that is tired and listless, you might want to try it as an experiment. In this one beautiful occasion, CHLOE IS BACK).







I know, what the hell was I thinking. MIXING TWO FULLY FLEDGED, AND UTTERLY INCOMPATIBLE PERFUMES TOGETHER. But I had come to hate both, and thought if I mixed them, I might get something new…..
















All my vetiver experiments have been dismal failures, I don’t know why. They just end up too tarry and viscous. And my beef with this Santa Maria Novella  was always that old fashioned musk in the base that I just can’t abide, and even when smothered in roots from the vales of Java it was never going to be anything different. Again, I just threw the whole lot out.



An expensive waste of money, this one.







I am starting to get embarrassed now as I realize how extensive my terrorism has in fact been. My bottles must cower and pray, and beg for my mercy each time I walk in the room.





In truth, vintage Diorella is a perfume that I adore, like everybody else, but what to do with one that has lost its top notes?




A dose of high quality lemon oil, shall we?




The jury is still out on this one. Obviously, you don’t mess with Edmond Roudnitska, and I do have a very intact parfum that I wear once a while on an early summer’s afternoon that I wouldn’t touch in a million years, but I also quite like my Limonella as well. Call me a presumptuous upstart, but I don’t mind this one at all.







I can’t quite believe that I haven’t yet written about Harry Lehmann, because it is the most wonderful perfume house in Charlottenburg, Berlin, that makes ridiculously good valued perfumes that you get from urns, à la Caron, and they are really quite nice.




I bought several bottles of scent there (as would you: the containers are pleasing, and they are almost laughably cheap). Reseda is a delightful green N°I9 alternative, Eau De Berlin is just sexy as hell in a crisp fougère, Geo F Trumper Eucris/ Drakkar Noir kind of way but far more elegant (I would never touch that one); and there were several that I bought but that I can’t quite remember the names of (Duncan and the cat are asleep upstairs so I can’t go and raid the back of the cabinets to check). There was a lovely spiced cologne, though, that I bought a huge, beautiful bottle of, a scent that was a bit like L’Occitane’s exquisite Eau Giroflée/Eau Des Quatre Voleurs and surely enough, though it was nice, I was surreptiously adding nutmeg (one of my favourite smells) and clove in carefully graded amounts (for me anyway) until I got what I wanted.



This worked WONDERS, though I say it myself. The essential nature of the scent was left unchanged, it was just boosted by the ingredients that it was crying out to have added, and I am itching to do exactly the same experiment again.




Spices are precarious though. I love Duncan in nutmeg so much that I even added a whole load of essential to a miniature I had of Cacharel Pour Homme, the most nutmeg-prominent men’s scent to begin with, and although he smelled as though he were ready to dive into a Spanish rice pudding, I kind of liked it on him actually ( but was worried that it might sensitize and burn the skin.)




Likewise, a nice big vintage bottle that I have of Floris Malmaison, now sadly discontinued, I have also, I must confess,  had the nerve to spice up (just a bit) as well.




I wanted it a touch spicier. I adore cloves. And so cloves were added, a really nice essential oil, just to get that extra kick, especially now that eugenol has been tightly controlled by the fascist perfumed powers that be and we can never really have a proper spiced carnation again (and this one was thumbs up for sure ,as well). Coming home the other night I also added ylang ylang, because I just though well what the hell, why not?





Result?   Gorgeous. The ylang ylang lifts the whole perfume, which now has a really lovely bite, and yet it still softens and dies pleasingly down to a great carnation that lingers like a pillow on the skin .





(The recent edition of Malmaison was nothing like this, incidentally: it was sold down the river, conservatized, made palatable for the dull. A carnation should be fiery and florid and poetic, and unafraid. And, anyway, as you probably know, this was the signature scent of Oscar Wilde all those years ago and I and sure that he would understand.)





He wore it, in its original, audacious incarnation, as the scented accompaniment to all those musings. And he certainly wasn’t at all afraid of a little teasing, and a little rule bending, either.




















































Ps. Forgot to mention Gianfranco Ferre + jasmine sambac absolute.






Filed under Antiperfume, Bitch, Bric-a-brac


  1. You have inspired me to tamper with my Borneo. I love it but I want a stronger version. I’ve got a roll on of Molinard Patchouli and I might mix these two together for more oomph. Wicked pics by the way. Actually where do I get hold of a good ylang ylang oil. I want to buy some oils but have no idea about where to source the good ones.

    • In Japan they are overly expensive, but this was a locally ‘produced’ (or imported) one that worked quite nicely.

      I love Molinard Patchouli as well, actually, although the musk in it isn’t quite right for me personally. As for adding the patchouli to Borneo, you would have to find an old patchouli somewhere (where are you based?) and try them both on the skin and see what you think. These perfumes are too expensive to destroy ( I realize how wanton I must sound, and am) so you would be best off just trying a bit of patchouli with a bit of Borneo, and then try shaking it around for a bit and leaving it in a dark space. That’s what I did, but eventually I really loved it. Somehow Borneo is just a tad too polite or underdone or something. And ‘customizing’ it is in some ways a shocking thing to do, but I just love it.

      • I’m in France so I think getting hold of the oils won’t be a problem. I’ll do a decant of Borneo and then mix in some patchouli. I’m keen to experiment a bit so I loved your post. Yeah I definitely am not putting anything in the whole bottle. These perfumes don’t come cheap! But you’re right about Borneo it is brilliant but needs a bit more raunch.

      • Go for it and let me know your results. I would love to know how it goes.

        Bon voyage……

  2. bellaciao

    this is hilarious! I have visions of rows and rows of cowing perfume bottles, frozen by fear in their boxes and cupboards.
    I have a vintage Nocturne that I find too tame. However I don’t enjoy ylang ylang at all which sounds as though it would be a natural for lifting Nocturne. Does it get very dominant in your mixes? I adore geranium but that one I cannot see in Nocturne. The clove aspect I also find interesting.
    And I can hear the call of Harry Leman loud and clear. The buying moratorium will have to be interrupted as soon as Berlin is on the agenda, very soon…. verrry sooon!

    • It is lucky that the majority of bottles are sprays with sealed bottles as they are safe from my evil experiments.

      I am obsessed with vintage Nocturnes as well and personally find it perfect as it is except for a rare white bottle of the ‘eau fraiche’ which has gone slightly off. Probably if were going to mess with that one I might add just a couple of drops of very fine quality cold-pressed mandarin and orange (as it is the top orange note I love in Nocturnes, mixed with the Stephanotis.) If it were a big bottle of Nocturnes and were smelling tired, I probably would also add just one drop of ylang ylang, but if you do dislike it then no. Geranium is incredibly overpowering ( I love it, but) I would never add it to anything other than my bathwater (although I lie: once I made a very curious thing. It was some pale and dull fougere, a Brut like thing, and I added a really good geranium and some Japanese mint, and strangely it worked, but mainly as a ‘bath perfume’ that then lingered on the skin afterwards.

      But to Harry Lehmann, yes. That place is fantastic, and especially for experiments such as these. Duncan still wears the Laguna cologne we got from there that I added tons of lime essential oil to. It worked perfectly, and is not expensive to begin with. For the secret alchemist in you, Harry rocks. Most of them are fine as they are, though. It is Berlin’s best kept secret, and looks as if it were still in the i950’s.

    • Actually I have just had another success. Just checked a vintage Nina Ricci Nina parfum that I bought as a present for my mum. It had definitely lost its sparkle and I added just one small drop of ylang ylang. A week later it is revived, with no traces of ylang. I suppose it acts like salt in a dish: it just enhances and brings it out. Yey.

      • bellaciao

        child proof spray bottles! very smart! Nocturnes as it is enhances my inner-bourgeois and not necessarily with discreet charm, more like a country matron womens guild type thing, not bad but too complacent. the mandarin oil sounds tempting, I will keep it in the back of my mind and re- try Nocturnes pure in springtime. If it still is too matronly then I may have to start an experiment.

  3. Sun Mi

    What an entertaining read – it’s great to see you’ve had some real successes, though the CK + D&G was the best to read. 🙂 I can’t imagine doing this (yet) but it sounds quite thrilling!

  4. Katy McReynolds

    That note in Gris Clair was a non starter for me too! In fact, I have been soaking an atomizer head in rubbing alcohol for what seems like days and it will not desist! I hate dab samples so I have some small atomizers I use to dispense the fumes instead. I like to reuse them except when I cannot! I have not been bold enough to actually add EOs to perfume, I usually add them to moisturizers and then put the perfume on over my thus anointed self! Been having fun with cedar essential oil lately……

  5. I love the dryness of Borneo but I will layer it with a gorgeous, resinous patchouli EO I have and see what I think! You know, it might be nice with the cedar EO as well…….

  6. What an interesting and inspiring read. I love Ylang Ylang and have some vintage perfumes lying around that smell a bit off. I might try your trick.
    Btw, did you get the oil from the Tree of Life ( 生活の木) shop maybe? That is where I usually get all my aroma and herbal stuff.

  7. I love to read of your daring exploits with EO’s. I myself am far too timid and revere too much the fragrances to tamper with them. I usually opt to sell things that do not work and veer towards the ones that do.
    I will confess though. The other day I sprayed on some Creed Jasmin a l’Imperatrice Eugenie and it was just not powdery and cozy enough for me. Mind you, this was during a snow storm here so I was seeking cozy. I then decided to spray some Brosseau Ombré Rose over it and it was much more wearable for that point in time.
    I truly never would have done this in the past, yet now I am not as reverent toward my fragrance collection as I used to be.
    I will also concede, a truly glorious Ylang-Ylang is just the perfect scent even on its own. It is one of the only EO that has a top note, heart note and base note structure all on its own; which makes it perfect to lift/enhance a scent.
    I do not know if I will ever be as bold as you, or if I could make my collection quake in fear at my passing, but I am starting to become a bit more willing to mix things up and layer scents. Especially this winter where all I seem to really want to wear is Bal a Versailles, Sheherazade, Shalimar and Youth Dew.
    I guess my mission is to make everything more cozy and powdery this season. Maybe one day I will seek you council in really mixing things up and making things really come round. But I could never be that adventurous with Guerlain, you are a bold one.

  8. .the terrorist teeapot nearly did it for my friend. As she lay choking,already having a coughing cold, The dogs came rushing up, as dogs do, to inquire If anyone needed them. I already was awake gluttoning up your words, So from a hailstormy Amsterdam early morning greetings. I will be musing about my kamikaze olfactory grenade. THINK of the people you’d most like to be hit by it ……

  9. Or am I being too violent? It is the storm And your funny starting cartoons that made me go all St Trinian! Do you know Chess Addams, the creator of the Addams family? I have a funny little paperback with his drawings. By the way, Morticia would LOVE your idea, with a little twist a la herself

  10. empliau

    I really enjoyed reading about your alchemical experiments (a bit of Mickey from Fantasia, perhaps?) I love the fact that vintage Chloe can be brought back to life. It was my first scent, from the ages of 16 to 20, and I have such fond memories of my 1970s time with Chloe-scented hair. But I also enjoyed reading it because I’d never dare …

    • No but really, just one drop in an old vintage perfume does wonders. I revived an old Nina Nina Ricci the other day doing the same thing and the ylang ylang is utterly indiscernible.

      Love the Mickey in Fantasia idea: that is exactly it. The perfumes chasing after me like broomsticks.

  11. David

    Neil, how interesting that you would reblog this today. Literally, last night I was looking for your email address… [I thought we’d exchanged a note or two about incense way back when I first discovered your blog.] …to write and ask you about just these experiments…. which oils you used most; best sources … that sort of thing. And Voila, here you are.

    My ears always perk up when I see that you’ve added a drop or two of some EO to a perfume. I’ve been doing that myself for a while albeit not with your level of knowledge or finesse …nor with the rare and expensive scents you tend to have.

    I began with on-skin scent layering. Admittedly, I have no shame. Any two (or three) are fair game for trying together. I may be an olfactory Philistine, but I’ve never found a combination I couldn’t enjoy.

    In adding single oils or tinctures, my game has been with the base rather than the top notes. I take less-expensive juices that seem ‘thin’ on the drydown and add in various animalic tentures e.g. civet, castoreum, africa stone or occasionally other less literally animalic oils as I read about them. There’s been nothing systematic to what I do but I’m leaning in the direction.

    Unfortunately, as with the perfumes themselves, the *real* trick with EOs seems to be in finding that one particularly profound version that is itself glorious and works just right.

    • Wow: perfect synchronicity! And I have no finesse, and you could never be a philistine, but anyway..

      I know you are a very animalic boy: perhaps you could tell us here some of the results. I, at any rate, would be fascinated. Which ones worked? Which ones were disasters? Since writing this, I tend to add bergamot more than anything else to perfumes: sometimes the results can be splendid, almost Lazarus-like. I can’t imagine what adding all that cat shit must be like, though! Please enlighten me!

  12. Katy

    I am afraid your successful experiments have emboldened the rest of us! I had a bottle of Serge Lutens Chergui which I just found to be an off putting mess. Ylang-Ylang EO to the rescue! I have since given this bottle away and failed to mention to its new owner my helpful ministrations. I have a vintage bottle of Chanel No 5 EDC that has no top notes left. What to do? Let the experiments begin!

  13. This is just so good!!!!!!

    Love “I am starting to get embarrassed now as I realize how extensive my terrorism has in fact been. My bottles must cower and pray, and beg for my mercy each time I walk in the room.” And everything else. I am so happy you re-posted since I didn’t know about you last year and would have hated to miss this.

    Not to encourage you (!) but have you thought — perhaps you have and decided it wasn’t a good idea — of getting at those spray bottles of yours for mixicological purposes by spraying them into small decant bottles and then tinkering?

    Perfect timing for me to read this, since I just blind-bought some reforms of beloved vintage scents and, despite the wishful finger-crossing, they were shadows of their former, glorious vintage selves. This morning, before I read you, in desperation, I tampered with them. (Surely less egregious than tampering with vintages themselves? But no, actually, I can see that if a vintage cries out for restoration, it’s only humane to administer the necessary ylang ylang, bergamot, etc. I think it’s genius, actually.)

    The new Fath de Fath was all syrupy peaches, no oak moss bite, no greenery. Out came my vintage Jacomo Parfum Rare, a mouthful of sharp little chypre teeth. Voilà. Much closer to my last inch of vintage, which I adore.

    Laura Biagiotti Venezia. Back in the day, it was a woody, resinous oriental thing, overlaid with plums and osmanthus. Today’s version — what is WITH all this syrup — is sickly sweet canned fruit. Or was. A blast of nice, dry Must de Cartier Gold, and it came back into oriental focus.

    Laura Biagiotti Roma. Eeuw. Some weird barbershop half-Nelson underneath the grapefruit. It was the old Roma I love struggling to escape. And there was nothing in the way of the rich, spicy floral melange of yore. Hmm. A touch of Seville a l’Aube, just maybe, with its incense and lavender and great big orange blossom? Presto! Back into balance, and the barbershop grip was broken.

    I will tinker further. Those are just preliminary, intuitive grabs. But at least they all became wearable, and more satisfying to my emotional hunger to revisit those beloved compositions.

    I am going to find some ylang ylang essential oil (shouldn’t be hard; this is old hippy territory and head shops dot the forest) and play doctor, inspired by you, my dear mad scientist.

    And some bergamot, too. I have some new Shalimar that needs whipping into vintage-type shape. . .

    • Jacomo Parfum Rare! You understand…………I saw a bottle of that parfum the other day in a shop window that I will hopefully visiting and writing about soon……..HOW good is that perfume?

      As for the ylang ylang, it goes without saying that it must be of the highest calibre and for you to smell instinctively that it will go with whatever you are putting it in. If it is rough and raspy don’t do it, whatever you do.

      Lemon oil is obviously great as well for any colognes. When we went to Vietnam I put about 30ml of pure lemon oil in Duncan’s Spanish cologne and it really brought it much more to life. But back to the Jacomo……has there, in fact, been a more dense and marvellous rose, spice, positively ancient Egyptian Cruella De Vil chypre?

      • Perfect description, from what I know of it. I don’t, unfortunately, have the parfum, just the EdT, and it’s a dark, half-gloomy, half-luminous handful, so can only imagine the ferocity of the extrait. Looking forward to reading all about it!

      • the PARFUM…..I’m sure you can imagine….and it IS gloomy, actually, you are right.

  14. Tara C

    This is superb, can’t wait to try this on my bottles of Borneo, Datura Noir and Gris Clair. A perfume version of The Anarchist’s Cookbook. 🙂

  15. I love this! What an idea. I have a tough time with ylang. I think of it as the dreaded ylang. Already the terrorist in my book for it’s overwhelming sweetness and banana tones… But perhaps this is the way to deal with perfumes I don’t like and the dreaded ylang!

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