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August 24, 2011

Olfactory Desserts : On Gourmand Fragrances


Perfumes enchant us when they create an illusion of transporting us to a place, real or imaginary. Yet, while traveling spatially and temporally is an important part of fragrance’s allure, there are times when teasing the senses and creating certain impressions is what perfume does best. Given the strong link between olfactory and gustatory perceptions, one would not be surprised to discover the smells of food appearing in fragrances. The gourmand trend initiated by Thierry Mugler Angel is certainly not novel--in 1956 Edmond Roudnitska created Diorissimo to counter the contemporary preference for the heavy, sweet notes. Nevertheless, Angel opened up new vistas and expanded the concept of gourmand. The exploration I offer below takes a somewhat different approach in trying to illustrate the more abstract gourmand ideas in fragrance. ...

Abstract desserts

Although classics are rarely envisioned as olfactory desserts, many venerable creations sought to combine notes and accords in such a way as to create a vision of something mouthwatering and delicious. They achieve this illusion by weaving in threads of notes that hint at the presence of gourmet pleasure—a hint of peach melba in Guerlain Mitsouko or Caron's trademark dark undercurrent supporting violet scented almond macaroons in Farnesiana. Inhaling Jacques Guerlain's L’Heure Bleue, I envision sugared aniseeds whipped into iris and jasmine cream. Shalimar is a stunning bergamot liqueur melting into smoky vanilla. Other classical fragrances are likewise successful in creating a hint of gustatory delight hiding within the composition. Caron Violette Précieuse is a mélange of caramelized violets over a dusky Caron base. The original version of Givenchy L’Interdit is a bowl of sun warmed strawberries under an abstract aldehydic-floral swirl. Some of the recent creations manage to sneak in gourmand notes without making a clear nod in the foody direction, thus maintaining the pleasure of discovering soft gourmand whispers woven into the tapestry. Maurice Roucel’s L’Instant de Guerlain is a vision of citrus meringue on white musk, recalling legends of Chinese concubines being fed musk flavoured foods to imbibe their skin with the precious scent. Christian Dior Dolce Vita is chocolate over cream flavoured with essences of sandalwood and cedar. Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque is a vignette of candied rose petals, cognac and tobacco, teasing, and yet not quite edible.

Exotic desserts

Fascination with far away places and a desire to experience a glimpse of the world that is different from one’s own has been driving humans since the creation of time. In perfumery, the most daring pursuit took place during the Art Deco period (1925-1939) and its infatuation with the exotic and unusual. Spices, amber, vanilla, roses and almonds are some of the notes that can be present in the compositions that I classify under exotic olfactory desserts. The most alluring creations are the ones that conjure gustatory sensations, while preserving an abstract quality. Thus, Jean Claude Ellena’s Ambre Narguilé is an olfactory besan halwah, a soft Indian confection of butter, roasted chickpea flour, almonds and semolina with raisins, cardamom and burned sugar bits. Not intending to be a gourmand fragrance, it manages to envelop the wearer in a brocaded shawl and swirls of smoke, while hinting at the presence of a mouthwatering dessert nearby. Maurice Roucel’s Tocade is an abstract gulab jamun, fried milk balls soaked in rose syrup. Parfums de Nicolaï SacreBleu is a Turkish dessert of apricots steeped with spices and then stuffed with thickened cream. Jean Claude Ellena’s Bois Farine is a suggestion of Japanese sweets made from rice flour and adzuki beans.

Sorbet and Fruit Desserts

Fragrance as sorbet is a composition that pairs a refreshing sensation of ice hitting the palate with the delicate flavour of the supporting notes. Shalimar Light is jasmine and lemon sorbet, while Les Parfums de Rosine Un Zest de Rose is a composition of lime and white rose folded into icy paste. Hermèssence Rosa Ikebana is a rose-scented rhubarb gelato. Nina Ricci Deci Delà is a raspberry salad with hazelnut custard. Les Parfums de Rosine Rose D’Ete is fruit salad with yellow rose syrup. Chanel Allure is a melon and citrus arrangement drizzled with rabdhi, Indian condensed milk syrup.

Nouvelle Cuisine

Nouvelle cuisine in perfumery attempts to excite as many senses as possible, which can result either in something daring or repugnant. After the debut of Thierry Mugler Angel, the number of fragrances in this category has been increasing exponentially. While caramel, chocolate, honey, and glace fruit in the hands of Angel creators, Oliver Cresp and Yves de Chiris, were combined to create a torte of fruit filled rolls layered with honeyed cream and walnuts; in the hands of many imitators, it is a passed down fruit cake. Two fragrances worthy of mention in this category are by Givenchy and Yohji Yamamoto. Givenchy Organza Indécence is a triple vanilla tour de force paired with the sharp sweetness of Vietnamese cassia bark. Yohji Homme by Yohji Yamamoto with its amber, cinnamon, sandalwood, leather, coffee and rum is a seductively teasing composition, with the judicious use of spices to enhance the power of intoxicants.

Based on the article first published in July of 2005.

Photo of rose and anise macaroons from Ladurée.



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