Interview with
Christopher McMahon, White Lotus Aromatics:
Sublime Beauty of Natural Aromatics

Make Your Own Perfume

Natural perfumery is one the rise; natural perfumery brands are climbing up the mainstream department store shelves and a growing number of consumers are becoming more aware of numerous benefits using or producing natural perfumery products like perfumes, cosmetics or aromatherapy products.

We are honored to have been able to ask natural aromatics expert Christopher McMahon from White Lotus Aromatics about this trend and other aspects of natural perfumery and raw aromatic materials used in it. White Lotus Aromatics is a renowned raw aromatic materials supplier from Port Angeles, Washington, owned by Mr. McMahon and his wife Suzanne.

The company provides raw aromatic materials like essential oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts, attars, choyas, ruhs, hydro distilled essences, carrier oils sourced from their 'trusted distilling and extracting colleagues around the world'. The McMahons don't just supply the raw aromatic materials; they work directly with the farmers, distillers/extractors and scientists around the world. For every product in their inventory they know its path from the seed to the bottle and thus guarantee its high quality and purity.

A dear friend to some of the most renowned natural perfumers like Mandy Aftel or Roxana Villa, Mr. Christopher McMahon possesses a wealth of knowledge and passion about the world of natural aromatics. Together with his wife Suzanne, he shares this wealth on their White Lotus Aromatics website.

Meet Christopher McMahon from White Lotus Aromatics

White Lotus - India's Most Sacred Flower

"White Lotus Aromatics - fantastic site about essential oils and raw perfume materials".

This is what I noted down about your and your wife Suzanne's website while I was researching online information about Grasse, a town in Provence, nicknamed the capital of the perfume world. I was immediately mesmerized by your in-depth knowledge and passion on the subject.

On another occasion I wanted to learn more about the differences between different species of jasmine - and again I stumbled upon your beautiful website. Since then I am hooked on in-depth knowledge, enthusiasm and passion about different aspects of natural aromatics and perfumery you share on your website! Your typical description of a raw aromatic (plant) material includes everything from history and botanical source, botany, cultivation, distribution, curing, sensory quality, main constituents, traditional/modern uses, all very detailed and referenced.

Can you tell us more about the evolution of your website; what was the impetus to create it? You say it's an adjunct to the Fragrant Harvest Project, which resulted into your 'off-line' business of selling extracted/distilled natural aromas in the form of essential oils, absolutes, attars and more. Is this the correct time sequence: the project, the wholesale business of aromatic materials and the website? Can you tell us more about the Fragrant Harvest Project?

First of all the website is totally due to the hard work and devotion of my wife Suzanne who has the technical expertise and artistic ability to put information together in an attractive way. She is the creative inspiration behind the business. She does many things including accounting, web design, putting the newsletter together, adding beautiful pictures to the website, etc. The things that she does are too numerous to be listed but suffice it to say that without all the work she does we would not be in business today. The current website which you are now seeing evolved out of the Fragrant Harvest Website which you can still view at

The part which I contributed was gathering together the different parts of information which comprise the website and is contained in the monographs, research links, olfactory descriptions, etc. The gathering together of all the information began over 14 years ago when we first started White Lotus Aromatics and on the new website which just became operational two months back, all that information was put together in a more useable form (we hope) for the sake of our customers.

So it is just to say the current website has been a work in progress over many years with Suzanne and I each contributing different parts to it according to our respective abilities.

The Fragrant Harvest Project itself commenced before the business part of White Lotus Aromatics came into being.

Christopher McMahon in Patchouli Planting in India
Christopher McMahon in
Patchouli Planting in India

In 1971 I first went to live in South India on a small farm in near the city of Bangalore in the state of Karnatika.

The climate of that area is subtropical and many aromatic plants which have an important role in India culture grow there like sandalwood, jasmine, davana, tuberose, marigold, etc.

Living in that rural environment I came to love the plants of India and the many ways they were used in the different dimensions of everyday life and for special occasions and so long before the business started I began studying the subject of aromatic plants and their uses.

Many trips to India following my first one in 1971 strengthened my interest in the subject but it was not until 1996 that I had the opportunity to begin traveling extensively through the length and breadth of the country to gain first hand knowledge of the great diversity of aromatic plants being grown for extraction and distillation.

It may be of value to mention that aside from traveling to India many times from 1971 to 1996 when the Fragrant Harvest Project officially began I had a nice career in horticulture working on two large projects that gave me a deep practical knowledge of the subject of aromatic plants and plants in general.

The first was at Village Homes in Davis California and the other was at Filoli Center. Rather than write a lot about that I will simply give you the links to the websites connected with those projects: Village Homes and Filoli Center. I was the first gardener at Village Homes and a Lead Gardener and Assistant Garden Superintendent at Filoli Center.

Then in 1996 after I had started my own garden consulting and pruning business, I realized that the time had come to start the Fragrant Harvest Project which I had been thinking about so long.

Ramakant Harlalka - One of India's Most Respected Essential Oil Distillers
Ramakant Harlalka -
One of India's Most Respected
Essential Oil Distillers

Suzanne, my wife, was at that time the Head of the South Asian Library at the University of California at Berkeley and she needed to travel to India periodically to buy books for the library's collection so we arranged it so that I would also travel to India to begin research on India's ancient aromatic traditions.

By good fortune I came in contact with one of India's most respected essential oil distillers, Ramakant Harlalka, and he agreed to take me along with him as he visited different locations in India where distillation and extraction was going on.

If you will go to the newsletter section of the old website you will find a series of journals that describe those early trips with Ramakant and what experiences we had in different parts of the country.

How did you fall in love with the natural aromatics world? You say natural aromatics was your interest since your childhood, and that this passion grew deeper with your living on an Indian farm with tropical fragrant plants, professional career as a horticulturist in California and numerous fragrance inspired journeys to India and other olfactory pieces of heaven scattered around our Mother Earth.

Jasmine, Gift from God

Was there an aromatic plant that particularly ignited the fire, this inexhaustible passion and hunger for knowledge about natural aromatics?

Was it your longtime favourite jasmine, a gift from god?

Why then the name White Lotus Aromatics :)?

Due to my mother's influence in childhood I began to develop a love for the aromatic world and plants in general. She always loved growing flowers and this naturally passed itself onto me. I forgot to mention in replying to one of the earlier questions that at the same time I was pursuing a career in horticulture while working at Village Homes in Davis, my mother and I established a flower farm in the Sierra Nevada mountains where we grew many kinds of fragrant flowers for the fresh flower market.

As to which aromatic plants in particular where of particular interest to me - I would say that there are so many that I loved both tropical and otherwise that appealed to me so I cannot say it was just one.

Harvesting White Lotus in India

We gave the name of White Lotus Aromatics to the company because at the very beginning of my journeys with Ramakant through the length and breadth of India the idea came in my mind that the most sacred flower of India - the Lotus - should once again be extracted for its essence. At the time of our journeys no extractor was offering a genuine Lotus absolute although in previous times Lotus had been distilled for making traditional attar.

On our journeys through rural India we saw many huge Lotus ponds of both pink and white lotus and their beauty and delicate aroma seemed to capture the spirit of what I would like our business to be - so that is why we gave the name of White Lotus Aromatics to the business.

Have you always been a bit of perfume nose and created your own fragrant concoctions or did this came later after you've been fortunate to see aromatic treasures around the world, how its essences are being extracted (especially by local people, via traditional methods)? What was the turning point for you to start your own aromatic product whole-sale business?

Regarding being a perfume nose - I would say that in truth I do not have a truly evolved sense of smell, just a genuine appreciation for the beauty of fragrances. The perfumes that eventually were created were simply the result of being in contact with so many wonderful essences from around the world that it seemed to be natural to start combining them based on experiences of those essences in relationship to the environments I had seen them growing in. I also felt it was important to give our customers some ideas as to how they might use natural essences in their aromatic creations based on their own experiences. They were never meant to be "professional perfumes", just a source of inspiration for others to do their own creative work. Actually, I didn't go into to trying to market any of the recipes because this is not really our main work, which is really to provide the absolutes, essential oils, CO2 extracts, etc. to people creating aromatherapy products, natural perfumes, cosmetics, etc.

So in brief - the perfumes were created in very small batches, aged for 6 months and when they were mature, the recipe for the perfume would be posted in the free monthly newsletter and all our customers who ordered during the month would receive a free sample of the perfume. We hoped, in that way to inspire customers to try new and different combinations of essences to create their own unique signature fragrances.

The turning point for starting the wholesale business took place after I had made several journeys with Ramakant to different places in India as detailed in the Fragrant Harvest website mentioned above.

Field of Jasmine in India

Ramakant clearly told me that before I ever sold even one essence I should first understand how the plants were grown, harvested, distilled/extracted, etc. in a practical way. So he told me that first I should travel with him to gain a practical knowledge of the subject. We made more than 10 trips to different regions generally for 2 weeks at a time. I would travel to India 3 times a year for those trips. I think it was after the third trip that we began our business in a modest way.

Then very gradually I began to extend my range of contacts with distillers and extractors in different parts of the world including France, Hungary, Italy, Sri Lanka, Bulgaria, China, Nepal, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, etc. I only felt confident doing this because of the practical knowledge Ramakant imparted to me. Now we are fortunate to be in contact with many lovely people doing distillation and extraction work who we feel very fortunate to be working with. But all my traveling to explore the world of natural aromatics was done exclusively in India.

One thing is very much evident while exploring your website; you've traveled a lot, with your whole heart and with a purpose. What were the main benefits and joys of traveling around the world, especially to India, for you? Was there besides the 'business' aspect of your aromatics travelings (e.g., understanding the production processes, having direct contacts with your suppliers) also your personal, spiritual learning curve involved as well?

How important is it for you (your company) to be in direct contacts 'trusted distilling and extracting colleagues around the world' from whom you mostly source your product inventory?

What fascinated you the most on your aromatic travelings? Was it the aromatic/botanical treasures, people involved in the perfumery you've met or the importance of aromatic plants and derived products in different aspects of people's lives?

Field of Tuberose in India

Partly these questions have already been answered.

The real benefits of the trips to India to explore ancient and aromatic traditions were simply that one gains a deep appreciation and respect for all parts of the process, from the growing of the plants to their end use whether it be for garlands, food preparation, perfumes, medicine, etc.

Often people do not realize the labor intensive nature of growing plants, nor all the variables that nature presents in caring and nurturing them. But when one sees all these processes taking place in a living way, then it is quite an amazing and humbling experience.

Regarding the other dimensions of the benefit of the trips - above and beyond all other things I went to India to become immersed in the great spiritual traditions that have been alive there for many centuries. By good fortunes all my spiritual preceptors have been farmers who lived in close relationship with the land and understood the importance of simple living and high thinking. So at the very core of everything that occurred in the explorations of India in terms of the Fragrant Harvest Project (which came later) was the example of the farmer Saints I had the opportunity to live and study. Their lives were simple, kind and practical and this changed my life in a quiet, profound way.

Everything about the subject fascinated me - I cannot say there was one thing more than another. It all was woven together in a sublime tapestry of beauty each part being as amazing as the other.

Traditional Enfleurage Rose Jasmine in India

You've mentioned your fragrance mentor, Mr. Ramakant Harlalka. What did you learn from him? As I understand, you've also collaborated on some projects with him regarding aromatic plants and their extraction/distillation. Can you tell us more about these projects, their goals? Have they benefited the local people and perfume industry in any way?

Regarding Ramakant and the work of his entire family in the fragrance industry of India I can only say that the scope of it is very large. Many thousands of people are directly or indirectly affected by the many aromatic projects they are involved in as they have distillation and extraction units in near Mumbai in Maharastra, in Haridwar in Uttarkhand and in Raipur in the State of Chittisgarh.

Aside from his family run distilleries, he also does a lot of future planning with the Indian Government and the private sector for implementing essential oil projects in different parts of the country. His eldest son Nikunj is supervising the growing of certified organic aromatic crops on several thousand acres in Chittisgarh state, etc.

Having traveled extensively around the aromatic world would you say some countries, regions, towns are exceptionally fragrant, aromatic due to their micro-climate? Or does the aromatic 'sillage' of these aromatic centers also have something to do with the all the history, traditions, spirituality in the end that one can smell in the air?

The list is very long of the projects that he and his family are directly involved in. Along with that he periodically hosts tours to different parts of India from people coming from different parts of the world so they can practically experience India's rich aromatic heritage first hand.

Since my experience is totally in India - I can only say that there is a direct interaction between the plants, people and culture.

India has a vast number of microclimates, soil types, etc. in which aromatic plants have been grown since thousands of years and the people there have loved and cherished them for an equally long period of time. So one can say that the plants have affected the every aspect of the lives of the people living there, and the people have in turned affected the lives of the plants.

Even in today's modern world the people of India continue to love the plants that grow there in a very profound way and I feel this sensitivity will only increase with the passage of time as they rediscover the profound influence they have on their lives - spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically.

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Christopher McMahon about the Renaissance of the Natural Perfumery

In 2008 you've noticed there's a 'genuine renaissance in the realm of natural perfumery' was going on. Three years later, things are looking even better for the natural perfumery and beauty products, aren't they? What are the reasons for this upward trend in your opinion? Are consumers becoming more aware, ethical and educated of the product ingredients, their origins, types of production (organic vs. conventional), benefits and risks (effects on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being, environment, sustainable development, fair trade)? Is natural perfumery just another fashionable snobbery or is it here for the long haul?

Rose Harvesting in Rajasthan, India

You wrote these beautiful lines:

"I think that in due course of time (and by this I mean not just the one short span of our life but many generations) it may come to pass that more and more emphasis will be placed on understanding the beauty and wonder of taking care of the earth in a gentler more loving way."

Regarding the renaissance of natural perfumery - it is definitely grown by leaps and bounds with more and more people actively engaged in making natural perfumes and I assume more and more people buying them. From my own perspective I think it is simply a matter of people longing for some connection to what they do rather than just buying a product. It may be quite a small percentage of people but it is definitely greater than it was.

The subject is an intriguing one, in part because it is one in which a certain special co-operation needs to exist between humans and nature to bring a natural essence into existence. It is not something that can be created in any factory but needs to be grown, harvested, distilled/extracted, etc. There are many steps involved in that process and those who really want to know about it can now get involved in one way or another. In the past the world of natural aromatics was little known outside the world of international fragrance and flavor companies and the common person could find very little authentic information about aromatic plants and the interesting and intriguing world about how they were grown, harvested, etc. But with the coming of the Internet that world is now accessible to many more people than before.

Another really important and special part of the subject is that any person who really wishes to explore it in a hands on way can buy the absolutes, CO2 extracts, essential oils, etc. that are the building blocks of natural perfumery. Even 20 years ago this was not so easy to do because the trade in natural essences was controlled mainly by a few large companies and they did not generally sell to the general public. Nowadays, due to the Internet a great wealth of natural essences are available to one and all. Then they can in their own homes begin creating their own perfumes which are truly delightful. One can take distance learning classes on the subject or find a mentor to guide them through the basic steps of perfume creation.

Traditional Deg Distillation, India

Along with that it is now possible to join aromatic tours to different parts of the world where one can come in contact with the living plants, farmers, distillers, etc. If one is intrigued by the history of the plants and their role in the lives of people living in different parts of the world they can also do in depth investigations of the subject. There is, in short, so many ways that a person can gain knowledge of the subject in both a practical and theoretical way and according to one's own particular bent of mind - get involved in its exploration.

It also appears to me that you are not a 'purist' but more a proponent of gradual 'naturalization' of Western perfumery and beauty products in the sense that you don't say conventionally produced aromatic materials are completely negative or bad quality.

Regarding being a purist - I feel that all good and beautiful things take time to come into being and even then they do not remain forever. The world in which we live is always changing. It is really vital to have a vision to work towards wholeheartedly but on the physical plane it may only partly realized just because of the nature of the world itself. The world of natural aromatics is also in the realm of change and how long this current trend will last is beyond my capacity to guess how long it may last. But let us hope that it has a nice long period where people become progressively interested in tending the earth and the aromatic treasures that add such a nice dimension to our lives. Perhaps what it really comes down to as much as any outer activity is realizing that the most important thing is to make our own lives simple and kindly so that in some small way we bring sweetness and cheer into the lives of others. It is just to say that I think it may be wise to always have a humble approach to what interests us. It is just part of a whole that is much bigger than any individual and if we are fortunate to be involved in something that we love then it is really a blessing.

What is natural perfumery to you, how would you define it? What is the difference towards the aromatherapy and 'conventional' perfumery? Is natural equal to organic perfumery?

Mandy Aftel, a natural perfumery authority author, perfumer and educator says: "natural perfume shares the ingredients of aromatherapy, essential oils, but with the goals of commercial perfume - that is, to create an aesthetically pleasing and modern fragrance". Mandy also mentions the lineage of natural perfumes to nature, alchemy and ritual as opposed to the synthetic perfumes which are linked to developments in chemistry - would you agree with her?

Natural perfumery to me is simply the enjoyable activity of blending natural essences together to create one's own personal vision of beauty. The ingredients may or may not be organic. One could say that perfumery based on organic ingredients might be a special branch of natural perfumery.

Mandy's description is certainly a valid one and for people pursuing it as a career would be the most appropriate.

But I think it can also be broader and could include the simple enjoyment derived from combining natural essences for the pleasure of doing so whether it be for a commercial product or not. In other words, it may be just a gentle, quiet, contemplative activity that one does to make one's own perfumes or perhaps to share with one's immediate circle of friends. I am totally convinced that any person who loves natural essences can make perfumes far more beautiful than they could ever buy and what is more they would learn many special things about the plants, their history, uses, etc. thus enriching their own life in a sweet way. What I mean to say is that the activity itself is its own reward and need have no commercial motive behind it.

It is evident from exploring your website that you feel a tremendous respect and gratitude towards the local people you've worked with on your aromatic journeys (the producers, distillers/extractors, scientists) and their knowledge and traditions. You acknowledge the value of their work and products and also want to educate the 'Western' world why their products are "often more costly then their conventional counterparts". You're gently teaching your customers of the 'fair trade', aren't you? You say the price of organic essential oil should be at least 1.5 to 3 times higher than for the conventionally produced oil?

Organic gardening products are definitely more labor intensive than conventional ones and the cost of producing aromatic crops using such techniques is also substantially higher, so if folks are interested in procuring organic oils then they should be ready to pay more.

Rose Garden in Rajasthan, India

There is another important consideration from the farmers' standpoint who grow crops organically; often the land dedicated to a particular crop is relatively small and so the cost of having it (the crop) certified organic is prohibitively expensive.

Certified organic oils tend to be offered on those crops which can be grown on a larger commercial scale but there cost becomes higher because of the third party certification process.

If a person wishes to buy oils that are certified organic then they should be willing to pay higher prices then for non-certified organic oils. And it is also important that if one wishes to buy certified organic oils then resell them then they need to have their own operation certified organic which is another expense. There is a lot of accounting that needs to be done for those companies that wish to get involved in this type of paperwork and they tend to be larger than simple home operations like ours.

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Christopher McMahon about Quality of Raw Plant Materials in Mainstream Perfumery

Tuberose Flower

As your main knowledge and expertise lies in the production side of the (natural) perfumery - what is your opinion about the quality of raw aromatic (plant) materials in the contemporary mainstream perfumes?

Are now predominantly synthetic aromatic materials used to reduce the costs of mass production?

According to Mandy Aftel 'synthetics approximate the odors of natural ingredients, they have none of the complexity, mystery or emotional depth'.

Would you agree with Mandy?

Some mainstream perfume houses, e.g. Chanel, Guerlain and Christian Dior, claim to use only the best natural aromatic materials and that they directly work with local producers. We've heard the stories, for example, about genuine Jasmine Grasse used in Chanel No. 5 or the Guerlain's obsession to follow closely the original perfume recipes (e.g. for Shalimar) that prescribe extremely expensive natural ingredients like iris oil, supposedly the single most expensive natural aromatic material in the world.

With regards to what is happening in the raw material side of contemporary perfumes, Mandy is much more knowledgeable than I am. It may well be that some of the classic perfumes still use many natural ingredients but for that you would need to interact directly with the perfume houses that produce them.

Certainly the classic perfumes would be the exception to the rule because modern perfumery is largely dominated by synthetic and natural isolates which give reproducible results required by customers who use the perfumes.

Whereas in natural perfumery variety will always be the case even if the exact same formulas are used in creating a specific perfume because with natural essential oils, absolutes, etc. every batch will have its own characteristics depending on the year, the exact climate of that year, the place it was harvested, and many minute factors. Also most natural perfumes are blended in small batches by hand and that carries its own effect whereas commercial perfumes may be mixed by precise machine calibration and in very large quantities.

In the end though one cannot exactly compare the two in terms of saying one is better than the other.

It all depends on the person who is buying and using the perfume. If a person likes a commercial perfume there is nothing wrong with that. It is there personal preference. And the same holds true with a natural perfume. It is all up to the individual what they like or not.

Rosa Damascena From Himalayas

Would you agree that perfume houses that heavily invest in/monitor the quality of the raw perfume materials are also more successful in terms of producing 'iconic' perfumes in terms of quality and commercial success (e.g., the eternal bestsellers Chanel No. 5 or Shalimar by Guerlain)?

In the world of mainstream perfumes from major perfume houses I truly have no knowledge.

All I really know about is the natural botanical essences i.e. essential oils, absolutes and CO2 extracts and my knowledge of these is indeed of a primary time. All I know is I like and enjoy smelling them and studying them in a quiet way. And I like trying to combine them in ways that interest me because of some nice association they have for me. Those efforts are also of the most elementary kind. They were simply ideas that I had and I never created a perfume with the purpose of marketing it commercially.

I just made them because I enjoyed doing it and for no other reason.

Is the niche perfumery any better in terms of using high quality, natural aromatic perfume ingredients?

Could we say that niche perfumery is a mass-produced natural perfumery?

Rose Market in Rajasthan, India

I do not have any experience with niche market perfumes so I do not know what may be better than another.

I have only a smelled very few of the botanical or natural perfumes that are being made so I do not know how they compare with either niche market perfumes or the major perfume markets.

In other words, I have very little practical experience with the products people are making with the products we supply. Suzanne and I live a very quiet life and have been happy and contented to serve as suppliers of natural essences to the best of our ability.

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Christopher McMahon's Tips about DIY Perfume Making: How to Make Your Own Perfume - Where to Start?

Make Your Own Perfume

Where to start if you want to create your own (simple) natural perfume, cosmetics or aromatherapy products? Do you need to read some 'technical' literature in advance or take some classes, so that you avoid mixing together the total no-nos? What is the simplest procedure of DIY perfume making? One should probably start with locating their perfume tastes into perfume families (e.g., floral, oriental, etc.)?

Is there some gradualness in becoming your own perfumer, e.g. you'd start with simple blending of aromatic products like essential oils or absolutes, then proceed with blending more 'difficult', complex perfume compositions?

I think one should start from any point one can. Read, study, experiment, take perfumery classes if they are available, find a mentor if one can. I do not think there is one approach. It is as varied as the person studying the subject.

Can you please explain the main differences between different types of aromatic products your company offers: essential (ethereal) oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts, attars, choyas, ruhs, hydro distilled essences, carrier oils in terms of aromatic qualities? How are they used in the production of different fragranced products (e.g., aromatherapy products, cosmetics, candles, perfumes, etc.)? Which are the most expensive products and why?

Each type of natural essence has its own qualities. It is not so easy to define but rather one needs to work with each essence to understand what role it plays.

For instance if you compare a rose otto/essential oil, a rose absolute, and rose CO2 all distilled/extracted from the same species of plant you will find that each has its own special aromatic properties - the essential oil being strong in top and heart notes, the absolute in heart and base notes and the CO2 in notes coming from low top notes to high base notes. There is some overlapping of course between the three. But one can get a fuller spectrum olfactory presentation of the aromatic qualities of the flower by combining the three.

Tuberose Extraction

In other words, each process of distillation and extraction captures a certain spectrum of the aromatic molecules in the plant but the plant never gives up all its secrets to any particular extraction or distillation technique.

So by combining the various extracts and distillates one may get a better representation of the plants bouquet.

Absolutes and CO2 extracts tend to be more expensive (but not always) than essential oils because the equipment is so much more expensive than basic distilling equipment.

I do not think there is any restriction at all on how they find use in end products. It is simply up to the person using them as to how to apply them and also if the product they are making has a market.

In that sphere (producing end products) I do not have any experience because we are simply a raw materials supplier.

Does your company White Lotus Aromatics also sell DIY kits for perfume making? If not, what are the top 5 must-have aromatic products to start with? I've read one of the most popular 'bases' are rose-jasmine combo and vanilla? What other kind of basic technical equipment is needed for DIY perfume making?

We do not offer DIY kits. That would be more something that a retail company might offer or a company specializing particularly in natural perfumery (whereas we sell to all sorts of folks from different aromatic disciplines).

But if one wishes to get some ideas for popular bases they can visit the recipe archives and find basic recipes for Chypre, Fougère, Cologne, Amber, etc. The Jasmine-Rose is certainly a classic basic accord in the Floral classification.

Perfume recipes on your website carry beautiful, poetic names like Adoration, Rose Enchantment, Silk Road, Summer Field, Winter Solstice, Essence of Provence, Essence of Grasse, Monsoon Rain. Recipes are also grouped into different types of perfume bases/families like Chypre, Fougère, Amber. Are these perfumes unisex, can both genders enjoy them?

I never think of a perfume for being for a particular sex. I think it just depends on the person and what they like. No doubt some people may like to think of one category of perfume as basically being masculine or feminine but that thought did not enter my mind in creating the perfumes that I liked.

But it is important to remember the purpose behind the perfumes was never for commercial production. It was only give people interested in the subject some ideas of how they might use different natural materials to create their own perfumes.

How long do these perfumes retain the original quality if properly stored? Is their longevity shorter compared to conventional, mass-produced perfumes - if yes, why?

Bottles Containing Precious Attars

I do not have any knowledge of the longevity of mass produced perfumes but I can say that a well stored natural perfume should have a shelf life of 5 years or more if well stored especially if they incorporate sandalwood essential oil or absolute or essential oils/CO2 extracts that are strong in base notes like myrrh, vetiver, styrax, etc.

Absolutes also have very good fixative properties due to the presence of the alcohol soluble floral waxes they contain.

Do you also have recipes for some famous mainstream perfumes, for example - can I make an imitation of Shalimar or Chanel No 5 on my own? Or are these perfumes too complex for a DIY perfumer? According to Mandy Aftel there are typically 9-30 essences in natural perfumes vs. over 50 essences in synthetic perfumes!

Regarding classic perfume recipes I do not have any source for them. They are closely guarded secrets in the various perfume houses, I think if a person has a good sense of smell though and a wide range of natural absolutes, essential oil, natural isolates etc-they could probably create some nice approximations and perhaps create something even more beautiful. But this would necessarily come at an advanced stage of one's perfume creation work. In the beginning it is enough of a challenge to really study and appreciate the qualities of each individual oil and then make some simple but elegant blends once one has some experience of the essential oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts.

One thing that I find fascinating is that a lot of people closely involved with the perfume world (e.g., perfumers, perfume writers, bloggers) soon immerse also into the world of culinary aromas. Do you and your wife Suzanne also experiment with your aromatic products (e.g., essential oils) in your kitchen? Now, some of your recipes are also strictly culinary (e.g. for gingerbread) and besides sacred, geographical and historical perfumes you also mention culinary perfumes, "created to capture the beauty of the cooking traditions of people from various cultures as pungent herbs and aromatic spices loaded with volatile oils play an important part in characterizing their special international dishes".

Regarding the uses of the essences in cooking, etc. I have never recommended of using essential oils for ingestion in any way, shape or form, simply because I do not have a background in chemistry. I know that people do promote this and so I would recommend that they seek their guidance and advice. The culinary perfumes I created were not meant to be used in cooking but simply to capture the aromas of the particular food creations which I like.

How to Make Your Own Perfume: Where to Start?

What resources (e.g., books, websites/blogs - beside yours of course :), perfumery courses) on natural perfumery and DIY perfume making would you recommend to our readers?

In this matter I feel there is an extensive amount of information on the Internet. I think a search on the Internet under such heading as: Perfume Blogs, Natural Perfumery, Perfumery Courses, Perfumery books, Essential oil chemistry, will yield a tremendous variety of useful information.

I do not know of any single source that could fit the needs of everybody because everyone's approach is unique and special.

Back to Top of Christopher McMahon Interview

Our sincerest thanks again to Mr. Christopher McMahon from White Lotus Aromatics for this beautiful interview about his journeys, work and opinions about different aspects of natural aromatics.

Please visit White Lotus Aromatics website at or on Facebook at

Photo Credit:

All photos on this page are used with kind permission of Christopher McMahon from White Lotus Aromatics.

You can purchase different formats of these and other photos taken by Christopher McMahon and Manoj Avasthi, with the support of Ramakant Harlalka, at

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Other Visitors about the Interview with Christopher McMahon...

Click below to see comments about this interview from other visitors to this page.

What a lovely mind! 
I so enjoyed this interview. I have visited White Lotus Aromatics website often and I am delighted every time! Good work from both Mr. & Mrs. McMahon! …

Interesting article... 
Fragrances are one of the defining memories of any trip to India. I have just spent the last four months living in the remote hills in India and would …

Great interview, great company 
I've got such respect for companies that totally know what they're selling and how/where their products are produced. It shows they care for the customers …

Well done! 
Hi, what a great interview!!! I hope you'll keep posting more since I love your website and enjoy reading about everything you write. Thank you, …

Interesting. I'd thought before about making my own perfume - it doesn't seem too impossible after reading this interview :-)...

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