Enfleurage, Headspace, and Media Specificity
The featured photo shows how I have separated all the individual lilac flowers and laid them on the enfleurage pommade in a thick layer. In my practice, the pommade is an emulsion of hardened plant butter + raw beeswax. Historically, it can be any absorbent material contained within a frame (e.g., chassis), such as tallow, lard, resins, and woods. Neutral, unscented fats are favored because they are like blank video tape. As with any recording medium, the coming together of subject and scene marks a moment in time. For lilac, mise en scent includes, paradoxically, exclusion: eliminating the green parts beforehand. The water content trapped in leaves, stems, and calyxes accelerates the arrival of rotting notes. When removed, the headspace of the flowers alone (a mixture of volatile aromatic chemicals with the air) will be imprinted in the pommade for 12-24 hours, then they are removed and replaced with fresh flowers. A pommade is usually charged 10-100 times before it is saturated with scent and ready to be stored or washed with alcohol for further extraction to make an enfleurage extrait.
Headspace encompasses what we experience when we smell a scent source, particularly flowers, which possess very complex headspaces chemically and, for humans, phenomenologically. Steam distillation, CO2 extraction, and tincturing cannot adequately capture floral headspace per se because of the more violent environmental conditions imposed on the flowers in these methods. Don't get me wrong, enfleurage still requires decapitation in a sense, but what follows is fairly passive. Once the flower is detached from the plant, it is a deceivingly simple document: the natural process of decay cast in fat. It is the fragrant artifact of life leaving a subject, but the laborious manipulations undertaken to evacuate the frame of any symptom of decomposition (the greens, molds, insects) are what produce a botanical snuff film with an erotic mania and no gesture of death.
© 2021, Abby Hinsman for Wild Veil Perfume.