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July 11, 2005

Olfactory Desserts


Perfumes enchant us when they create an illusion of transporting us to a place, real or imaginary. Traveling through the ether of reconstructed memory, one fills in gaps by embellishing. Scents act as conduits through which these embellishments become even more enchanting and more precious. 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 point of this article is not so much as to highlight the obviously gourmand fragrances, but to reflect on fragrance as an olfactory dessert, teasing the palate, conjuring luscious and decadent images, without taking an obvious step in that direction.

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--with the accords that are not edible, but rather deep and philosophical—Caron trademark dark undercurrent supporting violet scented almond macaroons in Farnesiana. As Luca Turin notes in his discussion of Jacques Guerlain, he was a master of creating olfactory dessert fantasies (Emperor of Scent). Inhaling his 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. Givenchy L’Interdit (original) is a bowl of sun warmed strawberries under the 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 sandal and cedar woods. 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 Art Deco period (1910-1929) and its infatuation with 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 ghee, roasted chickpea flour, almonds and semolina with raisins, cardamom and burned sugar bits. Not intending to be a gourmand fragrance, it manages 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 makes me think 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. Although after the debut of Thierry Mugler Angel, the number of fragrances in this category has been increasing exponentially, the results are as disappointing as they are overwhelming. While caramel, chocolate, honey, and glace fruit in the hands of Angel creators, Oliver Cresp and Yves de Chiris, were combined to create a Ukrainian Christmas torte of fruit filled rolls layered with honeyed cream and walnuts; in the hands of its 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.


Wonderful as ever Victoria. One of the few discernable themes of our era seems to be an interest in unusual and surprising fusions.

In cuisine, there are the experiments of el Bulli and the Fat Duck. In wine, Jean-Michel Deiss is creating complex blends of Alsace varietals (much to the horror of many of his peers).

And in fragrance, well, you've identified the best, but let me add Vetiver Tonka, which is a thin sliver of Guerlain's Vetiver sandwiched between a layer of creme brulée and another layer of muesli. I also like Nicolai's Vanille-Tonka, which has a very bitter lime and incense note which prevents the vanilla becoming sickly-sweet. Chanel's Egoiste, which is orange-cream.

Outside this experimental category, but still keeping with the gourmand theme (just) I must add one of my favourites: Nicolai's Pour Homme, which is an autumn symphony of a scent. Grassy, sweet and resinous, with notes of honey, carnation and apricots, it is as rich, full and complex as a late harvest wine.

*clap clap clap* What a lovely article, V!

Simply delightful! Miss you V!


Sinfully delicious, darling. I find that Organza Indecence reminds me of spun white chocolate wrapped around candied purple flowers. Pure candy floss heaven!

Bravo, madame, bravo!


Such fun with food! Thank you for the delicious tour.

Your comparison of Angel imitators with passed-on fruitcake made me laugh.

Among other food/beverage-touched scents I enjoy are L'Eau du Navigateur, Addict, Un Bois Vanille, and Les Belles de Ricci (the tomato-raspberry one).

As always,it's a pleasure to read your notes on perfumes.
I love many gourmand fragances but you are right,since ANGEL,rare are the ones wich are not disapointing.
Thanks again for your posts.

Hi Victoria! I haven't commented before, but have you tried Givenchy Hot Couture? It fits "nouvelle cuisine" to a tee, because it seems both overwhlemingly edible (dark, syrupy raspberries) and then your nose hits something completely inedible, like an olfactory brick wall--a queer, persistent, melancholy magnolia (I don't know how else to describe it! It smells... so sad). And that pepper! It's weird, and arresting. I've only recently and slowly developed a taste for florals, and I loathe fruity notes with a passion... but it worked instantly for me, which I surmise must be a testament--to something. Try Balenciaga Cristobal, too, which is the same mix of edible-inedible, with completely different notes, which satisfies both an inveterate gourmand-love and the desire for a proper complexity that prevents a fragrance from dissolving into sugary soup (gross).

I've said this before, but thank you for your great posts! They're fantastic and wonderful to read.

Mike, your post made me want to resample Égoïste, which is indeed a wonderfully composed fragrance. Chanel scents are wonderfully built, and I enjoy almost all of them. I am naturally drawn to fusion, and I agree with your assessment of the current state of affairs.

R and N, thank you! I am glad that you enjoyed it.

Robin, your description made me salivate. Now, I want some too :)

I am a big fan of L'Eau du Navigateur, Addict and Un Bois Vanille. They stride edible without being obviously so. Thank you for your kind comments!

J, yes, since Angel not much of interest has come up in that category. I agree.

And it is a pleasure to read your articles! I saw your comment a couple of days ago, even though I could not reply then. I decided that I will sample Givenchy Hot Couture. Today at the duty free story I had a chance to do so. You hit the proverbial nail on the head with your description. I have not much to add. As for Cristobal, I have not sampled it recently, but now I know I must. Thank you for inspiration!

Isn't perfume after all a fine indulgence -- like dessert and chocolate? Fine in many ways. I personally find that I get more compliments when I wear a foody scent -- especially from men. Go figure! I never really thought about the vanilla and breast milk connection -- I suppose with that comment it does hold some truth! Anyhow -- my favorite romantic foody story is of Rahat Loukoum -- a turkish delight of honey, almonds and cherry -- what the harem girls used to eat to keep there figures plump. I personally love both the Rahat Loukoum by Serge Lutens and Loukoum by Keiko Mecheri. Just as there are probably many variations on the turkish dessert, both are so unique to themselves. I like the SL verison in spring -- and the KM version in fall and winter. KM is a warm and snuggly scent. While SL is more of a lighter, etheral scent. Both good, so different. But my absolute favorite is Serge Lutens Un Bois Vanille. It smells like the most absolutely richest, decadent french vanilla creme on me. In my opinion it is a year round scent. Delicious for cuddling.

Oh, for me, perfume (and chocolate for that matter) is a daily necessity! I like your descriptions, which make me crave the fragrances you mention. I do not tend to like outright foody scents (often they are very sweet, which is another quality that does not appeal to me), but fragrances that hint at the presence of something delicious are among the ones that I like. Un Bois Vanille is a favourite, because it manages to convey a scent of vanilla beans permeating a wooden counter on which they were left.

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