Viewer Mail: Can I Clone My Favorite Fragrance?

Hello Katie!

I was trying to find a dupe for Clive Christian No. 1 for men -- a rather daunting and dead-end task, as it turned out. My next thought was to replicate the scent myself (secretly, I was more interested in taking matters into my own hands).

Surely I could find all of these fragrances in pure form: bergamot, lime, Sicilian mandarin, cardamom, nutmeg, thyme, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, heliotrope, cedarwood, sandalwood, vetiver, ambery woods and vanilla.

I went on a search and I found different suppliers who had essential, pure oils. I also found several powdered versions and some in other forms...though I am too much of an amateur to even consider this route.

My initial discoveries have prompted me to look into the formulation of fragrances a bit deeper. I was wondering if you think it would be possible for an average person like myself to go about recreating the No. 1 scent piece by piece? I have a reference scent: a small sample of No. 1.

Realizing that there is alcohol, water, etc. in any fragrance, I was wondering if you had any input on my dreadful circumstance. If I am in way over my head, please tell me. If you think it may prove a fruitful venture, I may move forward. Any suggestions are welcomed!


At Home Science

Hello At Home Science! While your Junior Chemist gung ho-ness is adorable, the optimistic belief that you might recreate a complex perfume with a dab of this and a drop of that reminds me of the kid who tries to build a moon rocket and ends up blowing himself to kingdom come.

Not that you'll blow yourself up, but whatever you mix together will never smell like No. 1. In fact, it might smell like No. 2 (that was a doo-doo joke, there). It would be the equivalent of trying to make a fine wine by stamping in a bucket of grapes in your backyard.

It's a popular misconception that the ingredients list supplied in the PR info is the actual perfume's recipe. It's not. It's what Mr. Christian, Mr. Ford, Mr. Mugler, et all hope you'll experience from the blend of aroma chemicals and processed natural essences in their fragrances.

Many of the raw ingredients used in mass-produced perfumes are proprietary molecules created by the big flavors and fragrances firms. That mandarin, lily of the valley, heliotrope, etc. may well be patented chemicals that you wouldn't be able to get your hands on, anyway.

But reading between the lines (well, between the parenthesis in your second sentence), I gather that you're building up a head of creative steam to play around and see what you come up with on your own.

It's really hard to make a perfume, and really really hard to make one that smells halfway decent. I have a friend who's been working on her own line of fragrances for a couple of years. She's self-taught, and there were plenty of misses before the hits started to become anything more than sporadic. And her scents are simple, pleasing blends of 4 to 8 different ingredients, nothing operatic like those Clive Christian perfumes.

But it's always fun to create, and when it comes to making fragrances, even the “misses” help refine your nose and your taste. Working with raw perfume ingredients is a wonderful way to train your olfactory memory and to appreciate everyday smells in the world around us.

If you are interested in learning more about perfume materials and the nuts and bolts of creating fragrances, there are lots of great books out there. I'm reading two at the moment that I can wholeheartedly recommend: Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel and Artisan Perfumery by Alec Lawless. Both authors are highly-regarded natural perfumers: Aftel's line is Aftelier Perfumes and Lawless' is Essentially Me.

Each of their books focus on natural perfumery with a minimum of synthetics (none in the case of Aftel), and they will get you thinking about the creative process of making fragrances. I've learned a lot from both authors' clarity and thoroughness when it comes to their olfactory descriptions of raw materials. They're also good on how different ingredients work together to shape and shade a perfume.

Essence and Alchemy goes into more depth on the history, culture and spiritual attributes of perfume, and Artisan Perfumery is strong on the logistics of sourcing ingredients and offers a no-BS “you can do it!” accessibility for the novice fume blender. Both books discuss home perfume-making with suggested recipes and ratios.

Happy experimenting -- and try not to blow yourself up!

Artisan Perfumery by Alec Lawless is available at Special offer for Katie Puckrik Smell-ers: 20% discount when book is purchased with 10 perfume samples. Enter discount code PUCK at checkout.

Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel is available at


  1. Thank you for this thoughtful response! Although I would certainly consider myself a frangrance amateur, I am not a chemistry amateur and, as with all things in life, I bet I could put some good old elbow grease into this and come up with something that isn't a total misadventure (after, albeit, extensive failures and even more extensive research)...only because I don't have the $900 for this particular fragrance at the given moment...I did, however, purchase 1872, and I am enjoying it, though I am confident that it does not top some of my other favorites (e.g. Tobacco Vanille, Bois Marocain, Extreme, Black Orchid, Millésime Impérial). By the way, I appreciate your kind words about my gung-ho attitude (F.Y.I. I have actually traveled to the moon on my own self-made that hurdle is already neatly and proudly tucked away in the past).

    Aperçu: Against all thoughtful cautioning, I am just going to go for it. I will get one or more of those books and dive in as if my purpose was none other than recreating the "Worlds Most Expensive Perfume."

    One of your many admirers,


  2. Michael, I think this response of yours has officially redefined "gung-ho". Tomorrow I'm calling Merriem-Webster, Oxford English Dictionary and Urban Dictionary to demand that they update their entries with a photo of you.

  3. Great response, Katie.

    Having played around with dupes both pre-manufactured and self created, "At Home Science" should do some thinking about why he wants a dupe. Typically, when I start tinkering and remixing, I am chasing after something other than an exact copy of the original. If I am after an exact copy, it is usually because I want to use a fragrance in another format, say make a candle that smells like CSP Mora Bella. With that background in mind, I have a couple of suggestions:

    1) If you are creating a dupe to save money, don't bother. You will spend several hundred dollars on blind buys of aroma chemicals and essential oils, none of which may smell similar to that Sicilian Orange or Lily of the Valley in your fragrance inspiration. So just spend that several hundred dollars on the damn original cologne. In the end, you will actually have something to show for your money other than endless frustration and box after useless box of little bottles of weird smelling chemicals.

    2) If you just can't bring yourself to drop the dough on the original, try this: find 2 (or 3) fragrances that share facets with your inspiration. I have never smelled Clive Christian 1 for men, but I looked up the reviews on Basenotes and one reviewer suggested that it smelled like a combination of By by Dolce and Gabbana and DK Fuel for Men. I have no idea if this is accurate, but if I were you I would track down some By and DK Fuel and see if I could conjure a reasonable facsimile by layering or reblending those 2 scents. It would be much cheaper and easier to work with 1 or 2 pre-existing fragrances than to try and mix something from scratch.

    3) If you can't afford to spring for an entire bottle of the fragrance, perhaps you should just buy the biggest decant you can afford from someplace like The 5ml spray is $150 (!!!) according to their website. While that is crazy expensive, it comes to about $12 per application* which is not so crazy if you only reach for it on special occasions. Think of the fragrance as a fancy appetizer. Or a movie ticket.

    *1ml is usually dispensed in 8-12 sprays depending on the sprayer. I used 4 sprays per application/10 sprays per ml as an average to arrive at this figure.

    4) If you are just pursuing this as a creative outlet and have a high tolerance for expensive hobbies and blind alleys, then I am with Katie: go for it!

  4. omg. he made a rocket and went to the moon!


  5. Very erudite discussion! The existence of these proprietary bases, although they've been around awhile, is (one of) the fragrance industry's well-kept secrets. It's not a sin, it's just business, but it's amazing to see what happens when you tell a naive perfume user that most of the stuff comes from labs, not flowers.They're always so surprised! Recently I've been sampling some 100% natural perfumes, and it's interesting that what I think of as "tuberose," for example, smells very little like the real thing. And (slap me silly) I think I like the synthetic tuberose better.

  6. the post made me think about something that has always interested me. Finding fragrances that smell like other fragrances. esp. ones that aren't in my budget. I was reading somewhere that Taboo smelled very much like Esprit de Cuir by Auguste. I coveted the beautiful handmade bottle but at the price it was not in my budget so I tracked down a bottle of Taboo and a sample of Cuir and was amazed how it was pretty similar at different price points. I didn't get the amazing bottle but I got something very close to the scent. I often wonder if there are others out there that would satisfy my scent craves for some exotic scents without killing my pocket all the time.

  7. onesmalldog, I think you have hit the nail on the proverbial head. For those of us who crave the olfactory excitement of the luxe perfumes but can't afford them (or don't want to), what less expensive but equally nose-worthy scents out there (closely) mimic the luxe perfumes we crave?

    Katie, do you have a list of some tried and true fragrances you would recommend that satisfy an average Jo(e)'s desire for champagne perfume on a beer cologne budget?

  8. Thank you so much Katie for your kind words about my book. I will tweet about this today and post it on my FB page.
    Mandy Aftel

  9. Thanks all, for your wonderful insights and thoughtful comments! rkf, those are all fantastic points, pithily put. I like your shortcut of researching the boards and tracking down the smell-alikes.

    ScentsofSmell, that would be the way to go to research sort-of-dupes: check MakeupAlley, Basenotes and PerfumeofLife to see what associations folks are making between perfumes. Of the top of my head, I remember being surprised at how much Kat Von D Sinner smells like Juliette Has a Gun Lady Vengeance. But usually, while there are often ghosts of perfumes in other perfumes, it's hard to be satisfied with one that's not your true love.

  10. Mandy, I'm so enjoying reading your book. It's my treat every night before bedtime. I'm fascinated by your observations on how integral perfume has been through the ages in daily life: love the tale of ancient Egyptians wearing waxy cones of fragrance on their heads that would slowly melt and drip over them throughout the day!

  11. dea, it must be so satisfying to have "moon trip" crossed off one's list!

    Olfacta, you bring up something interesting, here. Which tuberose (or rose, or oud, etc.) are we really loving - is it live, or is it Memorex? (And now I'm laughing at myself for quoting a cassette tape ad. Who am I, Alexander Graham Bell? Talk about olden days technology!) From what I understand, it often takes the addition of synthetics to make real rose smell like a "real rose". There are so many aspects to the actual smell of a flower. I sniffed a gardenia blossom on the bush outside my door tonight, and there was the distinct whiff of mothballs in there. Weird!

  12. I too have been wondering about this question for a while, because I'm interested in several Serge Lutens scents, which are outside my pricerange... and i had in my LIST (that file on my computer that contains everything about everything about me) a section of potential dupes. now i feel slightly less hopeful... =/

    another section enumerated my favourite scents, which i hoped i could someday combine into my magical signature juice. *hangs head*

  13. Olfacta and Katie, Mother Nature doesn't always smell that sweet - in our New Age age we tend to hail nature as intrinsically good. The way I see it, nature isn't good. Or bad. It just is.

    And what does "all natural" mean, anyway. There's nothing on this planet that isn't naturally from this planet. With meteor dust as an exception - but meteor dust has yet to sneak its way into a fragrance, as far as I know :-)

    Brands that market themselves as organic or natural often have products that contain just as many ingridients that are known to be more likely than other ingridients to provoke allergies (as an example). And those ingridients are "all natural".

    Oh, no, I got myself started on one of my pet peeves. Over and out :-)

  14. Gotcha, Junelady! Comme des Garçons Stephen Jones lists "meteorite" in its ingredients. Funneeee.

    I know you're "peeving out" here, but "all natural" means keeping out the lab-created synthetics. But I take your point, all stuff is made with other stuff that comes from our planet of stuff, so everything could be considered "natural", depending on the level of fight in you.

    The consideration about whether an ingredient is an allergen or not is a whole 'nother thing, though. Above and beyond the potential for an itchy rash, lots of people just like the idea of "purity" in their perfumes, foods, etc.

  15. Oh and Junelady, I concur that nature's smells "just are". And we can get just as pleasantly stimulated by fake smells as by Mother Nature's finest. Aquolina Pink Sugar ain't a blockbuster for nothing.

    Which reminds me, xaryax, if one of your Serge Lutens faves is Un Bois Vanille, you should seriously investigate Pink Sugar. Layer that with a Comptoir Sud Pacifique coconut number, and there ya go! I'm only kind of joking. Anyway, full-on dupes (that are actually less expensive) are pretty rare. I'm with rkf's rationalization that the daily cost of a fancy frag really isn't much more than a Starbucks run, and maybe even less. And the pleasure/comfort/stimulation it gives doesn't have a price tag! You'll be enjoying that Serge for at least a year. Playground pusher, over and out!

    P.S. If anyone wants to experiment with "blending" 2 or more perfumes, don't actually mix the juices together. Just go for layering on your body, starting by spritzing each one on a different area to make sure they play nice.

  16. Katie, I am indeed a true die hard on the all natural subject but not beyond reach ;-)

    Points taken with one last comment from the lonely quarters of my soap box: My point about allergens is relevant in the sense that there seems to be a belief that when something is "natural" it can't be potentially harmful. Not so, as people who have ingested arsenic will tell us ;-)

    A meteorite perfume - niiiiice :-) I wonder how Martians would react to being labelled un-natural. We might get the answer to this question before we know it.

  17. For sure, "natural" is often incorrectly taken as a synonym for "non toxic" or "harmless".

  18. Katie, thanks for review of my book. Must chip in regarding making copy of the greatest perfume known to man using ingredients from cleaning cupboard in hotel.
    Copying fragrances is actually quite straight forward. It is selling them that presents the problem. A GLC analysis will show the constituents and the percentage of each in a sample. It is then just a question of making the juice out of the items discovered by analysis in the same proportions. There can be a couple of obstacles. The first is if the fragrance contains a captive (chemical unique to perfume house) or an obscure natural.
    Copy cat fragrances are made in this way.
    Natural equals safe doesn't bear thinking about which is why people come out with something that dumb. Try emmenagogue.
    I'll be back.
    Alec Lawless
    Essentially Me
    +44(0)1453 882525

  19. Wow, cool website! I just got here via Mandy's newsletter. This topic really interests me because I got into natural perfumery thru trying to create a scent for myself that didn't smell all "department-store-y". I've always loved subtle but rich scents that blend well with my own skin, and if I have to take another whiff of "white-musk"...Dammit! That said, I love those lists of so-called ingredients on the upscale perfumes because they keep the ideas flowing! I recommend Mandy's book and perfume course. I am the proud owner of a gazillion little tiny bottles of oils, resins and absolutes. The best tool in my tool-box is my AromaStone: I love the idea of mixing the real sicilian orange, tuberose, etc. and finding out what happens on the AromaStone. Then add or subtract from there. Start blending and don't be surprised if it takes a while to get what you really want - and it may be very different from what you originally thought you wanted! Once you blend enough natural oils, absolutes and resins, the expensive stuff at the perfume counter just might not really do it for you anymore!
    Xaryax, lift your head and get busy - you have lots of tiny bottles to purchase!

  20. Katie, thanks for zipping over from Mandy-Land. Thanks so much for your insights on DIY perfumes. That AromaStone sounds intriguing.

  21. @Katie Not-Puckrik,
    YAY thank you because it just so happens that i love tiny bottles!

  22. "omg. he made a rocket and went to the moon!


    Yeah, dea, I thought I was the only one who caught that.

    Oh, Katie those books sound wonderful!

    I work at this awesomely awesome place:

    So I'm hoping I can find these two books there.