Extraction Methods

There are a variety of ways in which aromatic oils can be extracted from raw materials in the industry, and the method used depends on the characteristics of the material and the product that the perfumer desires. Manufacturers and houses may use variations of these methods to create their own specialties.


Steam Distillation

During steam distillation, the raw material is placed in a distillation flask with water, which is boiled. The heat releases the oils from the plant cells, and the oils are carried along by the steam. The vapors pass through and are condensed, in a tube surrounded by a tank of cool water known as a condenser, back into the liquid phase. The water containing essential oil is collected in a decantation vessel or an essencier where the two liquids can be separated as they are immiscible and have different densities. An essential oil is produced and the decanted water known as floral water retains scent. Two common types of floral water are orange flower water and rosewater.


Solvent Extraction

The raw material is left to macerate to allow the fragrant oils to dissolve into the solvent, often volatile like hexane and ethyl alcohol. Once used up, the raw material is discarded and the remaining mixture is decanted then placed in a concentrator, where the solvent is evaporated, and may be partially distilled. A thick, waxy paste remains and is known as a concrete if derived from a fresh material such as a leaf or flower and retinoid if derived from a dry material like wood. The concrete or resinoid is treated with alcohol under cold temperatures to isolate the fragrant oils from the immiscible wax. Further evaporation of alcohol from the oil and alcohol mixture yields an absolute.

Solvent extraction is advantageous in that the aroma of the absolute is very close to that of plant.



Expression is only used for citrus fruits and the essential oils obtained are known as hesperidic oils. Traditionally, the oils were extracted by squeezing the citrus peel manually and were collected on sponges. Today, mechanical scrapers or crushers are used to express the oils from the peel. Water is present in the resulting product and is separated from the oils by centrifuge and decantation. The oils obtained are called essential oils.


Enfleurage is useful in extracting the scent from delicate flowers, for example rose and jasmine, by immersing the freshly picked flowers in a highly refined and odorless fat. When all the scent of the flowers have been absorbed by the fat, the flowers are replaced with new blooms and this process proceeds until the oil is saturated. The saturated oil is then called a ‘pomade’ that is washed with alcohol. This separates the fats from the oils, which remain in the alcohol. The oil-alcohol mixture is heated to evaporate the alcohol and give an oil known as ‘absolute de pommade’.



The process of infusion involves leaving a raw material to macerate in alcohol until the alcohol is scented. It produces an alcohol-based product known as a tincture and may also be called an infusion. This process was once used to obtain animal notes and is still used for materials such as vanilla.



Cult Perfumes by Tessa Williams (2013), p. 182-184

The Essence of Perfume by Roja Dove (2010), p.35-40

Perfume The Alchemy of Scent by Jean-Claude Ellena (2011), p. 20-22

Quintessentially Perfume by Nathalie Grainger (2010), p. 51-55


Miss Dior by Dior (1947)

Miss Dior Perfume Amphora (Source: Fragrantica)


Christian Dior and his old friend, Serge Heftler-Louiche, agreed to create a chypré for the first Dior perfume; they commissioned Paul Vacher to create Miss Dior, which was launched in 1947. This fragrance is a green chypré floral with top notes of galbanum, a gardenia note of styrallyl acetate, clary sage and aldehydes. Jasmine, rose, iris, neroli, carnation, lily of the valley and narcissus make up the heart notes, while the base notes consist of patchouli, cistus labdanum, oakmoss, ambergris, sandalwood, vetiver and leather.


Miss Dior Extract de Parfum Bottle (Source: Dior)


Guerry Colas designed the crystal couture bottle that Baccarat produced. This parfum amphora represented New Look’s ‘petal’ lines, with its elegant curves and slender neck topped with a delicate stopper. Only two hundred and eighty-three bottles were produced in the first year and within the next three years, demand for the perfume grew, making it difficult for the bottle to be produced in large quantities. Consequently, Dior thought of redesigning the flacon, which Colas executed. The new square-shaped flacon featured frosted houndstooth checks and was completed with a bow.



Dior: The Perfumes, Text by Chandler Burr (2014), p. 29-30

The Essence of Perfume by Roja Dove (2010), p. 127

Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards (1996), p. 99-103


Samsara by Guerlain (1989)

Ad for Samsara [1991] (Source: Parfum de Pub)

Samsara is a Sanskrit word referring to the “eternal rebirth” in the wheel of life. Guerlain’s Samsara was launched in 1989 – a century after Jicky was created. This perfume was revolutionary; for the first time, the House of Guerlain used a modern marketing approach in creating Samsara. This was also the first time perfumers outside the House were invited to present their creations for consideration and were competing against Jean-Paul Guerlain, whose creation was chosen.


Jean-Paul Guerlain created Samsara in 1985 for Decia de Powell, the woman he loved and who wore the fragrance for four years before it was launched. Jean-Paul took the opportunity to create the perfume for her, as she could not find a perfume that appealed to her. She liked jasmine and sandalwood, in particular, and these were the raw materials on which Samsara was based.


This woody oriental perfume opens with bergamot, before jasmine, narcissus, rose and ylang ylang dominate. Finally, the base notes are comprised of a harmony of sandalwood, vanilla, iris and tonka bean. Using newly discovered synthetic sandalwood notes, Jean-Paul was the first perfumer to push the levels of sandalwood to 30 per cent in the perfume structure; traditionally, perfumers used only 1-2 per cent.


The design of the Samsara bottle, created by Robert Granai, was inspired by a Cambodian dancer statue from the Musée Guimet. The bottle is red, one of the sacred colors in Buddhism, and is topped with stopper that signifies meditation through the shape of the Buddha’s closed eye.

Guerlain Samsara (Source: Fragrantica)



The Essence of Perfume by Roja Dove (2010), p. 253-257

Guerlain Website (https://www.guerlain.com/us/en-us/fragrance/womens-fragrances/samsara/samsara-extrait-bottle)

Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards (1996), p. 173

Scents and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman

Mitsouko by Guerlain (1919)

Guerlain Mitsouko (Source: Guerlain)


Jacques Guerlain named the perfume Mitsouko, launched in 1919, after a heroine named Mitsouko in Claude Farrère’s novel, La Bataille (1919). The story was about the secret love affair between the young Mitsouko, who was a married to an admiral, and a young British naval attaché.


Mitsouko may have been inspired by François Coty’s Chypré de Coty, but the accords on which the two fragrances are based are different. Mitsouko is a fruity chypré with a characteristic peach note derived from a synthetic aroma chemical known as C-14 aldehyde. The top note of the fragrance is fresh bergamot, which gives way to uncover the heart of peach, jasmine and rose notes on a base of oakmoss, black pepper, vetiver, cedarwood and ambergris.


The design of the bottle for Mitsouko is shared with L’Heure Bleu (1912), both of which were designed by Raymond Guerlain. This was done deliberately for practical reasons, because the First World War had caused a short supply of bottles. It is known as the ‘Gendarme’ bottle owing to the resemblance of the stopper to the French policeman’s hat. Turned upside down, the stopper represents a heart.




Guerlain Website (https://www.guerlain.com/us/en-us/fragrance/womens-fragrances/mitsouko/mitsouko-extract-bottle)

The Essence of Perfume by Roja Dove (2010), p. 98

Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances by Michael Edwards (1996), p. 33-37

Scents and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman

Paris by Yves Saint Laurent (1983)

Paris (1983) is Yves Saint Laurent’s homage to Paris (also known as the City of Lights) and the Parisians that he loved. The use of the name was controversial, as there was another perfume named Paris by François Coty in 1922.


A 1980s ad for Yves Saint Laurent Paris (Image Source: Bois de Jasmin)


Sophia Grojsman, the perfumer behind the rosy perfume Paris, was oddly influenced by Guerlain’s Après L’Ondée, a fragrance in which roses did not have a significant role. With the incorporation of damascones (a group of aroma chemicals derived from Bulgarian rose) into a creamy violet note from Après L’Ondée, the modern perfume was created. This fragrance begins with mimosa, geranium, mayflower, juniper, bergamot and hawthorn. The rosy heart is then revealed, consisting of violet, Damascus rose and May rose, on a powdery floral base of iris, musk, amber and sandalwood.


Saint Laurent wanted to capture the sparkle of the City of Light in the Paris bottle. Alain de Mourgues designed the bottle, expressing the sensuality of the perfume through its round shape and the lights of Paris through its many facets. Saint Laurent said a stopper should be used “to add richness to the bottle”. A diamond dress button was chosen to complete the design of the gold-colored stopper for the original parfum bottle. The black stopper of the eau de toilette bottle is dressed with a pink button.


Paris Eau de Toilette (Source: Parfum de Pub)


In accompaniment to the perfume, Saint Laurent wrote a poem dedicated to the City of Lights, ending with the words, “Because I love you. My Paris.”




Perfume Legends by Michael Edwards, p. 199-203

The Essence of Perfume by Roja Dove, p. 170

Scents and Subversion: Decoding a Century of Provocative Perfume by Barbara Herman