May 05, 2006

II. Spring Flower Bouquet ~ Hyacinth


A Greek legend tells a story of the flower blooming from the blood of Hyacinthus, a youth accidentally killed by Apollo. Remembrance is the meaning tied to it. Unlike the more delicate lily of the valley, everything about hyacinth is bolder and more vivid--the masses of star shaped flowers on thick stems, the heft of blossoms, the headiness of perfume. This intoxicating sweet fragrance, almost oily in its magnificent richness, has been praised in the Persian poetry, mentioned in the Bible as Lily of the Valleys and loved by the Marquise de Pompadour. It inspired people to sell their possessions during the bulb craze of the seventeenth century and influenced perfumers to capture the enthralling fragrance which is rich, voluptuous, yet intriguingly spicy and green. Indeed, its unique qualities make hyacinth a fascinating note to explore. ...

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May 02, 2006

I. Spring Flower Bouquet ~ Lily of the Valley


Spring came into my house with the bouquet of tulips, their crimson petals touched with the delicate scent of wet foliage and rain drenched earth. As I sat on the floor, caressing the satiny buds, the memories of past springs rushed forth, scattering like pearls from a broken necklace. Some were sweet, others were less so, and yet all of them were tinged with something ineffable that makes heart skip a beat. The smell of acacia blossoms after the rain… wearing short sleeves for the first time in months… tasting first strawberries… the chestnut trees coming into bloom overnight, as if someone had orchestrated this breathtaking transformation by magic—these are the details that conjure the exuberance of spring for me.

For the past few years I have been living in places where spring is a mildly unpleasant transition between the dreary winter and the scorchingly hot summer. It has been a consolation that some fragrances have never failed to afford me a glimpse of the idyllic spring—blue skies with a few wispy clouds, tree branches dotted with sticky buds, rain drops on apple blossoms, and elation caused by the seemingly trivial things. Seasonality when it comes to perfume is an issue of few rules and many subjective viewpoints, but smelling the acacia trees jeweled with the delicate clusters of white blossoms makes me wish for a fragrance that captures the intoxicating scent marrying orange blossom, jasmine and a hint of coconut. If one cannot have an ideal spring, then one can search for that spring via perfume. ...

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February 13, 2006

Fragrance Ingredient: Damascones


If the light pouring through stained glass windows, dancing in vibrant red and orange and flickering on the skin, had a scent, it would be the fragrance of damascones, aroma materials derived from the Bulgarian rose oil (rosa damascena). Encompassing rosy and fruity aspects, damascones have a vibrant and potent scent, marked by woody and tobacco like qualities, depending on the type. Some derivatives of damascones have very interesting nuances, from green apple, stewed plums and ripe figs to nuts and woods. First isolated between 1970 and 1980, damascones and damascenons produced a true breakthrough given their fascinating olfactory profile and intense fragrance.

Nahema by Guerlain (1979) was one of the first fragrances to incorporate damascones into its rose veiled structure. Damascones decorate the rose notes in the way that gold jewelry enhances the beauty of princesses from the Arabian Nights tales by which Nahema was inspired. ...

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January 26, 2006

From White to Red, From Chaste to Seductive: Many Faces of Rose

Each rose that comes brings me greetings
from the Rose of an eternal spring
Rabindranth Tagore, Bengali poet


If jasmine is the King of flowers, rose is most certainly the Queen. Whether one prefers the smiling and effervescent roses, like Hermèssence Rose Ikebana, Les Parfums de Rosine Un Zest de Rose and Parfums 06130 Yuzu Rouge or the somber oriental and chypre like Serge Lutens Rose de Nuit, Montale Aoud Queen Roses and Frédéric Malle Une Rose, the diversity in the world of roses is both fascinating and astounding. Just as aromas of fresh roses can range from apricots to violet jam, the fragrances exploring roses can offer a great variety. Attempting to provide a full overview of roses in the modern perfumery is an impossible task, therefore I shall limit myself to offering a few favourite examples of the rose focused fragrances that demonstrate a particular character and style.

The classical aldehydic florals cannot be envisioned with a rose, glowing in their hearts like a precious jewel, its honeyed sweetness and vegetal richness supporting an opalescent veil of aldehydes. Chanel No.5 is the archetypal aldehydic floral, while Guerlain Liu is Jacques Guerlain’s answer to Ernest Beaux, whose other creation Chanel No.22 gathers a bouquet of white flowers, rose caught among lilacs, orange blossom and jasmine and anointed with myrrh. ...

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November 23, 2005

Fragrance Ingredient: Musks


It would not be an understatement to say that there is hardly a fragrance that does not contain at least one musk component. The power of musk to refine, balance, fix and accentuate compositions without adding a heavy note is exceptional, and no other ingredient can rivals musks in terms of their popularity and versatility. Musk forms the pedestal upon which the entire composition rests. It fuses sensuality and warmth even into the simplest of compositions, and there exist numerous fragrances based solely around musk.

The term musk/musky in perfumery refers not only to the specific ingredients, but also to the abstraction of complex odours of natural musk, which range from balmy, sweet, and powdery to fig-like, animalic, leathery, spicy, and woody. As Philip Kraft notes in his great overview of musks, “the more one studies its character [that of natural musk tincture], the more contrasting, vibrant and oscillating it becomes: repulsive–attractive, chemical–warm, sweaty–balmy, acrid–waxy, earthy–powdery, fatty–chocolate-like, pungent–leathery, resinous–spicy, fig-like, dry, nutty and woody, to give just some impressions” (144). The abstraction of these complex impressions into “warm, sweet, powdery and sensual” is what can be understood whenever “musky” tonality is mentioned. ...

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November 04, 2005

Sweet and Powdery Fragrance Ingredients: Ionones


For lending a sweet and powdery quality to fragrance, a central role in the perfumer’s palette is played by the ionones, a group of fragrance materials that range from violet sweetness to woody floral tonality. Prior to their discovery in 1893 by Tiemann and Krüger, the violet note was derived from Parma violet (Viola odorata L., fam. Violaceae). Violet is a flower replete with hidden meanings and legends. The ancient Greeks made it the official symbol of Athens, while Napoleon Bonaparte selected the violet as his "signature flower." The popularity of violet scented fragrances was particularly high during the 19th century.

The discovery of the ionones led to the substitution of the violet toned synthetics for the extremely expensive violet flower oil. Viola odorata is still used, however for its leaves rather than flowers. Violet leaf lends a cut grass and sliced cucumber note to fragrances, quite different from the sweet and powdery scent of violet flowers. ...

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October 26, 2005

Fragrance Ingredient: Hedione

Jasmine_grand What makes a perfect jasmine perfume? Jasmine absolute contains more than 300 different components, and traditionally, inspiration comes from the constituents identified. The aromachemicals would be combined in such a way as to replicate the fruity, flowery and animalic facets of jasmine, with additional green notes for capturing jasmine sambac. The effect of hedione (Firmenich tradename, also known as methyl dihydrojasmonate) on jasmine notes can be compared to a sunray hitting a flower. Given its ability to lend a radiant, warm quality to the floral notes, the perfume history of the last thirty years is incomplete without a discussion of hedione.

Hedione combines remarkably well with various perfumery materials, and its first significant usage of 2% was seen in Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, created by Edmond Roudnitska in 1966. A layer of luminous jasmine against the backdrop of herbs, patchouli, woods and coumarin makes Eau Sauvage revolutionary in its ability to interpret floral notes in the domain of masculine perfumery. ...

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August 29, 2005

Note of the Week: Patchouli


If there are smells that have an aura of particular time and place indelibly ingrained in their olfactory image, patchouli is certainly one of them. For many, especially those who grew up in the sixties, it is a smell of headshops, its earthy darkness masking the smell of marijuana. It is a smell that shows up in any blend bearing a reference to India. It is deemed as too earthy, too heavy, too overwhelming, too inappropriate for haute parfumerie. Yet, it is a misunderstanding, of course, because patchouli is one of the most unique scents that basic building block of the entire perfume genre, the chypre.

Patchouli (Pogostemon patchouli) is a two-three foot perennial bush with purple flowers, a member of the mint family native to the East and West Indies. The name patchouli originates from a word in Tamil, the southern Indian language, paccilai, which means “green leaf.” Leaves contain the oil, which is steam distilled either from fresh or dried leaves.

The scent of patchouli contains the same earthy element that is also present in vetiver, making it a dark and mysterious scent. It has an interesting structure, comprised of sweet herbaceous top notes, rich winey heart and balsamic woodsy base. The quality of oil will determine whether it will uphold its negative stereotype of musty and mossy or whether it will envelop one in an almost tangible cloud of sweet golden dust. The oil is often aged, which changes its olfactory profile, with a rich fruity note mellowing the spicy dryness. Experiencing a high quality patchouli oil is something a true fragrance lover should undertake, because it is one of the most fascinating essences. It is hardly a conventionally polite and elegant scent, however it is very haunting. The first rush of effervescent sweetness paired with the dark balsamic spiciness is quite memorable.

The usage of patchouli in perfume has been increasing since the 19th century. Recognizing its insect-repellant properties, the traders of silk and cashmere used patchouli leaves to fold inside their wares. Upon receipt of the products in Europe, the scent of patchouli would have permeated the fabric, thus adding an additional layer of allure to the precious and exotic items. Indeed, in the 19th century, patchouli become an integral part of various Indian fabrics made for export, which led producers of unauthentic paisley shawls to layer them with patchouli leaves, thus being able to pass them off as genuine. Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III was among the first to favour shawls to protect her against chill, without obscuring the beauty of the gowns designed for her by Worth. Soon, patchouli redolent shawls become fashionable in the 19th century France, paralleling the rise of patchouli as a fragrance ingredient.

In perfumery, patchouli is often used a base note in chypre, oriental and powdery fragrances, marrying particularly successfully with sweet floral tartness of bergamot, chilly sweetness of lavender, voluptuousness of rose and smoothness of sandalwood (Morris 1984, 242). In aromatherapy, it is often employed to treat stress and fatigue.

Fragrances dominated by patchouli: Byblos Patchouli, Bond No.9 Nuits de Noho, Caswell-Massey Aura of Patchouli, Dana Tabu, Etro Patchouly, Gobin Daudé parfums Jardins Ottomans, Jalaine Patchouli, Keiko Mecheri Patchoulissme, L’Artisan Parfumeur Voleur de Roses, L’Artisan Patchouli, L'Artisan Fragrances Patchouli Patch, Lorenzo Villoresi Patchouli, Lush Karma, Mazzolari Patchouly, Molinard Les Scenteurs Patchouli, Montale Patchouli Leaves, Santa Maria Novella Patchouli, Serge Lutens Borneo 1834, Thierry Mugler Angel.

Fragrances containing patchouli: Azzaro Pour Homme, Balenciaga Homme, Bond No. 9 Bleecker Street, Caron French Cancan, Caron Tabac Blond, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle, Christian Dior Dune, Christian Dior Miss Dior, Christian Dior Miss Dior Cherie, Clinique Aromatics Elixir, Coty Chypre, Givenchy Gentleman, Guerlain Jicky, Guerlain L’Instant Pour Homme, Guerlain Quand Vient l'Eté, Jean Patou Câline, Jean Patou Enjoy, Lalique Eau de Lalique, L’Artisan Timbuktu, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Parfum d’Habit, Miller Harris Terre de Bois, Montale Aoud Lime, Parfums de Nicolaï Maharadhah, Prada, Rochas Lui, Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque, Serge Lutens Muscs Koublaï Khän, Serge Lutens Un Bois Sepia, Thierry Mugler A*Men, Viktor&Rolf Flowerbomb, Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche Pour Homme, Yves Saint Laurent Kouros.

References: Morris, Edwin T. 1984. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co., New York.

July 24, 2005

Note of the Week: The Garden of Hesperides


According to the Greek mythology, the garden of Hesperides was a garden belonging to Zeus’s consort, Hera, where immortality-giving apples grew, tended by the daughters of Hesperus or the God of Evening, the Hesperides. Alluding to the magical golden apples, the name Hesperide came to be applied first to oranges and then to the entire citrus family.

Although citruses seem ubiquitous now, the fragrant fruit was among the precious cargo from the Spice Route. The earliest mention of citruses occurs in the Nan-Fang Ts’ao Mu (Trees and Plants of the South) written around 300 A.D. by Chi Han, while in 1178, there appears a whole chronicle dedicated to citruses, the Citrus Chronicle (Chű Lu), written by Han Yen-chih (Morris 48). Native to China and Southeast Asia, where about 500 species can be found, citruses were brought to the west by the Arabs. The parts of Europe under Arab control, such as Spain and Sicily have a long tradition of citrus cultivation. Indeed, Sicilian citrus oils have always been among the most prized. In the 14th century, spice trade was the source of revenue for Italy, specifically Venice, which after the battle at Chioggia in 1380, defeated Genoa and monopolized the trade (Morris 141). The Venetian galleys intercepted the caravans at Aleppo or Alexandria, and then would transport their wares to various guilds in Europe (141).

Since their discovery, citrus oils became an important element of European fragrances. Indeed, their popularity and usage in some ways parallels the rise of perfumery. The guild of glove and perfume-makers was established in France in the 17th century, although the first perfumer guild was established in 1190. Louis XIV (1638-1715) ordered his court perfumer M. Martial to compose a new fragrance every day, while his gardeners planted orange trees in a large orangerie (155). Colognes often included citrus oils in a highly rectified grape spirits base and were intended to be potable in addition to possessing external uses. Therefore, the famous Gone with the Wind scene, when Scarlett O’Hara gargles with cologne to mask the odour of brandy would not have been that shocking up until late 19th –early 20th century when denaturated alcohol gradually began to supplant grape spirits as perfume base.

However, it was in the 18th century when perfumery truly blossomed in Europe. The rise of eau de cologne cannot be envisioned without pleasantly warm and shimmering scent of bergamot. The court of Louis XV was known as "la cour parfumée", "the perfumed court." The most influential scent of the period was Aqua Admirabilis, composed by Gian Paolo Feminis in 1709. It was based on grape spirits, oils of neroli, bergamot, lavender and rosemary. Feminis moved from his native Italy to Cologne, where his nephew Jean Marie Farina continued the production of light and refreshing fragrance water, which quickly acquired the name of Eau de Cologne, based on its place of origin.

Low molecular weight means that citrus oils function remarkably well as top notes, giving lift and sparkle to just about any blend. Masculine fragrances especially are difficult to imagine without referencing citrus. An important fragrance family, chypre, always contains fresh cool notes of citrus, paired with the dark earthy notes of vetiver, oakmoss, iris, amber and patchouli.

Citrus oils are a result of cold-pressing, apart from lime and yuzu, which lend themselves better to steam distillation. Oils are deposited in glands in the fruit peel. If you are planning to use citrus oils for aromatherapeutic or perfumery purposes, I would highly recommend using organic oils, due to the fact that most of the pesticides are absorbed by the peel.

From Bergamot to Yuzu

There is an incredible variety of citruses used in fragrance, with the new varieties constantly developed, and a comprehensive review is practically impossible. However, I will attempt to overview the main citrus notes used in perfumery. Bergamot (citrus bergamia) is one of the most popular citrus notes, due to the fact that it is used extensively in a variety of fragrances, from classical eaux de cologne to modern aldehydic perfumes. Bergamot grows almost exclusively on the coast of Calabria, where it has traditionally been expressed to derive must prized oil. In 18th century, little papier-mâché boxes scented with the bergamot were very popular. Bergamot was a chief component of Napoleon’s favourite soap, Brown Windsor, which also contained clove and lavender oils. His favourite scent was bergamot, rosemary and lavender based Jean-Marie Farina’s Eau de Cologne, which the emperor consumed by liters. Before retiring, Farina sold the formula to Léonce Collas, who in turn sold the original formula to Armand Roger and Charles Gallet in 1862, who started selling Eau de Cologne in 1884, which remains in production till this day.

Grapefruit (citrus x paradisi) has a bright, crisp scent that is particularly well suited for pairings with bergamot, however it is more frequently employed in its synthetic form, as it breaks down on the skin to form malodorous compounds.

Lemon (citrus limonia) with its sunny shimmering fragrance is an epitome of summer. Native to Southern China, it is now grown in Sicily, California, Guinea, Brazil, and Israel. It is an important ingredient of colognes and many cleansing products, which is why many lemon focused fragrances immediately bring forth comparisons to Pledge.

Lime (citrus aurantiifolia) is native to India and Southeast Asia. Its scent is drier, lighter and sweeter than that of lemon, with which it blends wonderfully. Like certain notes, lime adds an instant clarity to many compositions, reinforcing the brilliant sparkle of the top notes.

Bitter orange (citrus aurantium), also known as Seville orange was one of the first citruses brought to the Mediterranean from China (Morris 109). Some of the most important uses of bitter orange is a distillation of flowers for production of either orange blossom absolute (solvent extracted) or neroli (if steam distilled). Its immature buds and leaves can also be distilled to form petitgrain bigarade, a wonderful oil that has a verdant accent against the backdrop of floral and citrusy tapestry. Sweet Valencia type orange (citrus sinensis), on another hand, produces a sweet, fruity oil that is frequently used for isolation of limonene and other derivatives. In fragrance, it can add a sweet radiant quality, especially when blended with white florals. Some of my favourite orange combinations are with neroli, which seem to produce the most interesting result—innocence of orange blossom with a fruity radiance of sweet orange peel.

Clementine, mandarin, tangerine and kumquat come from different species of citruses and have different olfactory characteristics. Of these, mandarin is one of the most frequently used in perfumery for its mild, sweet, but unusually complex scent. It seems to accent leather accords particularly well, adding a glowing quality, even if the actual note is blended well. Like mandarin, clementine (Citrus clementine) is used for peel (oil of clementine) and the leaves steam-distillation (clementine petitgrain), which is the sweetest and gentlest petitgrain out of all I have sampled.

Finally, my personal favourite citrus note is yuzu (Citrus junos), which is solvent extracted from the peel of a Japanese fruit. The tart, dry aroma reminiscent of green grapefruit has a very uplifting quality. Moreover, the tart yuzu note can add longevity to other more volatile citrus blends, persisting well into the heart of the composition.

However, while citrus notes are commonly used for the top notes and their sparkling feel, other plants can be incorporated to much the same effect. Litsea cubeba, by way of example, contains about 75% of citral, which gives it a lemony scent, high valued for prolonging more fleeting citrus notes. Lemon myrtle (Leptospermum citratum, or Lemon tea tree) is native to Australia and New Zealand contains about 90-95% citral, and is indeed more lemony than lemon itself.

Perfume containing citrus notes (the length of this hardly a comprehensive list points to the importance of citrus notes in perfumery. Please add your favourites!):

Bergamot: The Different Company Divine Bergamot, Christian Dior Miss Dior, Parfums de Nicolaï Cologne Sologne (also contains lime and lemon), Guerlain Eaux (Eau de Coq, Eau Impériale, Guerlain Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat, Eau de Guerlain), Etro Palais Jamais, Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Man, Robert Piguet Bandit, Chanel Bois des Iles, Chanel No. 19, Guerlain Shalimar, Guerlain Jicky, Guerlain Mitsouko, Guerlain Parure, Guerlain Rose Barbare.
Clementine: Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Orange Magnifica, Yves Saint Laurent Cinéma.
Grapefruit: Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Pamplelune, Hermés Un Jardin Sur le Nil, Ormonde Jayne Osmanthus (pomelo), Yves Saint Laurent In Love Again, Yves Saint Laurent Baby Doll.
Kumquat: Givenchy Xeryus Rouge, Kenzo Jungle Le Tigre.
Lemon: Carthusia Mediterraneo, Etro Shaal Nur, Etro Lemon Sorbet, Les Parfums de Rosine Un Zeste de Rose, Crown Perfumery Crown Esterhazy, L’Artisan Parfumeur Thé Pour Un Eté, Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien, L’Artisan Parfumeur Zeste d’Ete, L’Artisan Parfumeur L’Eau del’Artisan, Guerlain Coriolan, Guerlain Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat, Guerlain Shalimar (also bergamot), Shalimar, Eau Légère (also bergamot), Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Lemon Fresca, Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, Caron Alpona (also grapefruit and bergamot), Miller Harris Citron Citron.
Lime: Annick Goutal Eau de Sud, Givenchy Monsieur de Givenchy, Guerlain Habit Rouge, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Gentiana, Hermès Eau de Merveilles, Parfums de Nicolaï Balle de Match, Christian Dior Diorella, Parfums de Nicolaï Grandes Vacances, Penhaligon's Quercus, Montale Aoudh Lime.
Mandarin: Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, Comptoir Sud Pacifique Mandarin, Caron Eau de Caron Fraîche/Eau de Cologne (also contains lemon and grapefruit), Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums Le Parfum de Thérèse, Jean Patou Sublime (also contains orange), Chanel Coco, Chanel Cuir de Russie (and bergamot in top notes), Chanel Allure (also contains bergamot), Guerlain Cuir Beluga, Serge Lutens Datura Noir, Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque.
Orange: sweet orange--Aqua di Parma Mediterraneo Arancia, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Orange Magnifica, Fragonard Orange Cannelle, Christian Dior Dioressence, Chanel Coco Mademoiselle (also contains bergamot), Caron En Avion, Guerlain Vol de Nuit (also lemon, mandarin); blood orange-- Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Sanguine Muskissime; bitter orange--Frédéric Malle Editions de Parfums Cologne Bigarade, Caron Montaigne, Hermès Eau d'Orange Verte, Iunx L’Eau Frappe No. 6 (also lemon).
Petitgrain: Gobin Daudé Parfums Jardins Ottomans, Christian Dior Eau Sauvage, Caron Narcisse Blanc, Annick Goutal Le Chèvrefeuille, Jean Patou Cocktail.
Tangerine: Iunx L’Eau Latine No. 7, Parfums Delrae Amoureuse, Chanel Cristalle (also lemon), Miller Harris Tangerine Vert.
Yuzu: Boucheron Jaïpur Saphir, Cartier Eau de Cartier Extrême, Diptyque Oyedo, Parfums 06130 Yuzu Rouge.

References: Morris, Edwin T. 1984. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co., New York.

July 18, 2005

Note of the Week: Cedarwood


God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore… He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. 1 Kings 4:29, 33.

Since Biblical times, cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) was among the most prized for its scent properties. Indeed, as Morris notes, Lebanon comes from the Akkadian word lubbunu, which means incense (55). Besides being used in incense blends, cedar was a wood of choice of the aromatic architecture reserved for palaces and temples. Sargon II (722-705 B.C.) used it for his Khorsabad palace, while King Solomon selected cedar for the construction of his temple.

My first encounter with the scent of cedar was through a couple of sticky cones my father brought from Siberia, where he unsuccessfully tried to hit the gold mine by working in the diamond industry. They rattled when shaken and contained small nuts, which with much difficulty revealed soft balsamic flesh. I remember keeping the cones in a small box, which eventually became permeated with their sweet resinous scent. Every time I would open it, I envisioned tall cedar trees of Siberian forests cloaked in white snow that protected its domain from adventurers like my father.

In perfumery, there are several main sources of cedarwood oil, not all of which are technically cedar. Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica) is steam distilled from the wood of an evergreen cedar tree. However, Virginia cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana) and Texas cedarwood (Juniperus mexicana) are not actually cedar trees, but junipers, both of which are related to a plant (Juniperus communis) that yields juniper berry used for flavouring gin (Morris 243). Virginia cedarwood oil is softer and less balsamic than Atlas cedarwood. The conifers’ needles can also be expressed for their oil, which is very inexpensive and is commonly used in soap manufacturing. The precious cedar of Lebanon is no longer felled for its oil as it has become endangered.

Cedar bears a distinction of one of the most frequently used base notes. If presented in moderation, it rounds out sharpness of spice and incense notes, grounds sentimental florals and adds interest to more transparent accords, without compromising their clarity. It is often encountered in fragrances intended for men, since it combines particularly well with citrus notes, the top notes of choice in many masculine fragrances. Given the potential of cedar, it is no wonder that some perfumers like Chris Sheldrake are particularly fond of it and incorporate cedar marvelously in their compositions. My interest in cedar was revived after I encountered Serge Lutens Boix range, which includes cedar variations on violet, spice, musk and autumnal fruit themes. Although cedar is an effective insecticide, mothball associations are usually indicative either of mediocre quality cedarwood or of wrong ornamentation. Testing several types of different cedarwood oils I found the scents to range from smooth and voluptuous, with sweet resinous edge, to sharp and balsamic, with distinct naphthalene smell.

In aromatherapy, cedar is said to encourage confidence and calm anxiety. Perhaps, it is one of the reasons why Japanese baths have such a wonderful effect. The cedar lining of the traditional Japanese bathrooms emanates the sweet balsamic scent, which combined with the steam makes for a true relaxation. It is this experience that inspired Olivia Giacobetti’s Iunx L’Eau Sento No.2.

Perfumes dominated by cedar: Armani Privé Bois d’Encens, Donna Karan Black Cashmere, Iunx No. 2 L’Eau Sento, Ormonde Jayne Isfahan Pour Homme, Parfums 06130 Cèdre, Serge Lutens Cèdre, Serge Lutens Bois de Violette, Serge Lutens Bois et Fruits, Serge Lutens Bois et Musc, Serge Lutens Bois Oriental, Shiseido Féminité du Bois.

Perfumes containing cedar (this is hardly an exhaustive list, and I welcome additions of your favourites): Agent Provocateur, Caron Parfum Sacré, Caron Alpona, Caron Fleurs de Rocaille and Fleur de Rocaille, Caron N’Aimez Que Moi, Caron Pois de Senteur, Caron Royal Bain de Champagne, Caron Tabac Blond, Chanel Cuir de Russie, Diptyque Opôné, Guerlain Chant d’Arômes, Comme des Garçons Sequoia, Guerlain Eau De Fleurs De Cedrat, Hermèssence Poivre Samarcande, L’Artisan Parfumeur L'Eau du Caporal, Ormonde Jayne Osmanthus, Ormonde Jayne Ormonde Woman and Ormonde Man, Ormonde Jayne Frangipani Absolute, Parfums de Nicolaï Pour Homme, Rochas Tocade, Serge Lutens Chêne, Serge Lutens Miel et Bois, Serge Lutens Arabie, Serge Lutens Cuir Mauresque, Serge Lutens Douce Amère, Serge Lutens Iris Silver Mist.

References: Lawless, Julia. 1992. The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils. Element Books, UK. Morris, Edwin T. 1984. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co., New York.

Picture: Cedar of Lebanon from

June 20, 2005

Note of the Week: Carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus)


Dianthus is derived from Greek, meaning di, Zeus and anthos, flower, "the flower of Zeus," indicating its importance in the religious context of Ancient Greece. In Italy, Bologna in particular, the plant has been associated with Saint Peter and celebrated widely, with a special day at the end of June dedicated to carnation. In the Middle Ages, it was one of the most popular flowers for fragrance gardens. No monastery herb garden would be complete without carnation, the medicinal uses of which were referenced as early as the Han Dynasty texts (23-206 A.D.). In European herbal medicine tradition, carnation flowers have been prescribed for the nervous and coronary disorders. However, its probably most interesting usage has been recorded in the late 1600s, when the Countess of Dorset, England, made her own love potion, including carnation, lavender, bay leaf and marjoram. It is rather ironic that the flower of the most licentious of all Greek gods is supposed to have powers to cure wayward lovers. Interesting to note is that carnation signified devotion and loyalty in a variety of traditions, from European to Asian.

I have always associated carnation with the Soviet holidays, especially November 7th and May 1st, celebrating Russian Revolution, the successful Bolshevik coup d’ état against the Provisional Government (also called October Revolution, as Russia used the Julian Calendar, in which November 7th corresponded to October 25th) and the Soviet workers, respectively. Neither would be complete without some dreaded parade, after which we, young pioneers, would have to give red carnations to the various party functionaries present. Moreover, Krasnaya Moskva (Red Moscow), a rich carnation-based fragrance, was used liberally and widely, due to the fact that hardly much else was available. Therefore, for the longest time, carnation was associated with my Russian language and literature teacher, who would call me "a vestige of aristocracy," because I exhibited an anti-working class spirit by refusing to attend the young pioneer choir practice and to collect paper and iron objects for our school (to heaven knows what purpose). I suppose that now these memories are heavily tinged with nostalgia for me, because I hardly mind the scent of carnation anymore, which is also a scent of my great grandmother’s garden, where I spent many summers of my childhood.

The flower, native to the Mediterranean region and India, has been at the height of its popularity in France of Louis XIV reign, when it was selected as a flower of the court. In the 19th century, carnation (dianthus) lovers formed clubs, and although carnation fever never reached the level of tulip obsession, the flower had many devotees. In fragrances, the same tradition can be observed, with the classical compositions featuring carnation in a variety of ways, particularly to add a peppery warth to the floral compositions. However, the modern treatment of carnation has been to deem it old-fashioned and trite. Yet, the solitary flowers, with the corolla of dark red fringed petals have an intense spicy smell that lends itself wonderfully to oriental blends. Combined with rose, it lends a spicy note that adds complexity to the sweet rich glow of rose.

Essential oil is present in the small amount in petals of the carnation variety, which is called "clove pinks," hinting at the similarity between the smell of carnation and clove. In Russian, carnation and clove, although unrelated species, are bound by etymological ties. "Gvozdika", with the root "gvozd’" referencing the nail-like shape of the spice clove, is the common name for both the flower and the spice. Both are rich in eugenol, which gives carnations and cloves their characteristic sweet heavy scent.

Produced mostly in France and Holland, carnation absolute is rare, with a heavy, spicy floral aroma tinged by sweet dark honey notes. It is a blend of clove, black pepper and exotic sweetness of ylang ylang, which incidentally are often used to reproduce carnation scents. Absolute is a greenish jelly like substance. 500kg of flowers are required to produce 100g of oil. In perfumery, it is common to employ synthetic substances like eugenol, isoeugenol and eugenyl acetate to accentuate floral character and to lend clove and carnation like scent.

Carnation solifores: Caron Bellodgia, Floris Malmaison, Lorenzo Villoresi Garofano, Comme de Garçons Carnation, JAR Parfums Golconda, L’Artisan Parfumeur Oeillet Sauvage.

Classical perfumes containing carnation: Caron Poivre and its EDT version Coup de Fouet, Caron En Avion, Caron Or et Noir, Caron Tabac Blond, Caron Fleurs de Rocaille (1933), Guerlain Après l'Ondée, Guerlain L'Heure Bleue, Je Reviens by Worth, Givenchy L'Interdit (original), Nina Ricci L'Air Du Temps, Schiaparelli Schocking, Estée Lauder Youth Dew, Robert Piguet Bandit, Dior Dioressence.

Modern perfumes containing carnation: Yves Saint Laurent Opium, Guerlain Vétiver, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Soie Rouge, Carthusia Fiori di Capri, Mon Classique by Pascal Morabito, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Red Door by Elizabeth Arden, Gucci No. 1, Boucheron Jaïpur Homme, Cartier Must II, Yves Saint Laurent Jazz, Molyneux Quartz, Hermès Bel Ami, Fendi Theorema, Estée Lauder Cinnabar, Estée Lauder White Linen, Estée Lauder Estée, Estée Lauder Spellbound, Guerlain Samsara, Balenciaga Cristobal, Gaultier Fragile, Dior Jules, Dior Fahrenheit, Gucci Envy for Men, Lanvin Lanvin for Men, Bvlgari Bvlgari for Men.

Bibliography: Bown, D. 1996. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and their Uses. Dorling Kindersley, London; Morris, Edwin T. 1984. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co., New York, 233.

June 13, 2005

Note of the Week: Tuberose


Nothing captures better the essence of tuberose than its meaning in the language of flowers, used in Victorian England. Tuberose signified both dangerous pleasure and voluptuousness. The scent of the flower is a fusion of white petals and warm skin, an arresting sensual and heady fragrance.

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberose) is plant belonging to the lily family (Amaryllidaceae) native to Central America. Like most night blooming flowers, tuberose is pollinated by nocturnal moths, which explains the white shade of the flowers. Like jasmine, tuberose continues to produce its scent even after the flower is picked, thus, lending itself as a perfect candidate to the traditional painstaking enfleurage method. Steam distillation with its high temperature is not a feasible way to extract the absolute. While enfleurage is a traditional method traced back to Ancient Egypt, solvent extraction using hexane is far more common. Either method is time consuming, requiring 3600 pounds of blossoms to produce 1 pound of the absolute, which is why tuberose oil is among the most expensive in perfumery, more than $2,000 per pound.

Aztecs called tuberose omixochitl (bone-flower), referring to its waxy and radiant white blossoms. The tuberose tubers native to Central America were first exported to Philippines and then to the East Indies. In 1594, Simon de Tovar, a Seville physician, managed to obtain the plant, which then made its way to France and Italy (Morris 1984, 231). Thus was the inception of the cultivation of the famous Grasse tuberose. While some tuberose is still grown in Grasse, the majority of tuberose absolute is produced in Morocco, India, China, the Comores Islands, Hawaii, and South Africa.

Tracing the evolution of the flower and its usage leads one to encounter a variety of lore surrounding its white trumpet like form. In India, tuberose is known as rat ki rani, mistress of the night, for its strong aphrodisiac powers, and according to some stories I have heard, unmarried girls are warned not to breathe in its perfume after dark. Moreover, tuberose also possesses powerful healing properties and is used for anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory purposes. In Ayurvedic tradition, tuberose is also known to stimulate serenity, creativity and psychic powers.

Solvent extracted tuberose absolute opens up with a faint green note before warming into a sweet jasmine-like scent underscored by a rubbery accord. It vacillates between assuming a mineral and a warm skin form, while the creamy layers of honeyed sweetness undulate slowly over this odd, but fascinating accord. It never remains at rest, however, and while the absolute remains on the skin, the radiant floral sweetness paired with the profound sensuality of the dark carnal base never ceases to mystify.

I confess to have a weakness for white florals like jasmine and tuberose, therefore, not surprisingly, nearly all of my favourite florals are laced with a sonorous tuberose note. I have not noticed any increase in my psychic powers since the beginning of my love affair with tuberose, however perhaps it is a subject for an experiment with my test subject as a control group. In perfumery, tuberose is frequently combined with jasmine and orange blossom, lending further opulent depth to one and dark richness to the other.

Tuberose soliflores: Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle, Caron Tubéreuse, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Tubéreuse, L’artisan Parfumeur Tubéreuse, Annick Goutal Tubéreuse, Santa Maria Novella Tuberosa.

Perfumes dominated by tuberose: Robert Piquet Fracas, Chanel Gardénia, Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle, Guerlain Mahora, Chloé, Christian Dior Poison, Givenchy Amarige, White Shoulders, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Jardin Blanc, L’Artisan Parfumeur La Chasse Aux Papillons, Parfums de Nicolaï Number One, Les Parfums de Rosine Mea Culpa, Creed Tubereuse Indiana, Annick Goutal Gardenia Passion.

Additional fragrances containing tuberose: Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Jean Patou Joy, Balmain Jolie Madame, Hermès Amazone, Lancôme Magie Noire, Caron Nocturnes, Givenchy Organza, Rochas Poupee, Lanvin Arpège.

June 06, 2005

Note of the Week: Lotus and Water Lily



"On the day when the lotus bloomed, alas, my mind was straying, and I knew it not. My basket was empty and the flower remained unheeded.
Only now and again sadness fell upon me, and I started up from my dream and felt a sweet trace of a strange fragrance in the south wind.
That vague sweetness made my heart ache with longing and it seemed to me that is was the eager breath of the summer seeking for its completion. I knew not then that it was so near, that it was mine, and that this perfect sweetness had blossomed in the depth of my own heart,”
by Rabindranath Tagore.

Seeing a lotus pond in full bloom is an experience like no other, which certainly makes me understand why lotus is a revered flower. Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) is a symbolic flower in the Buddhist tradition, due to the fact that while its roots are in the silt, the flowers are pure and radiant above the waters, reminding its followers to rise above the mire of the desires.

Blue, pink and white varieties have a delicate perfume, which is soft, sweet and fruity, with a hint of anise like spice. However, making lotus absolute is a rather arduous task, as waxy petals produce little absolute. About 75,000-100,000 blossoms are needed to make one kilo of absolute, which is a great amount of flowers. Each flower is handpicked from the ponds on the third day after the blossoms open. Wait for a couple of more days, and the fragrance will be weaker. After the flowers are picked, the flowers are separated from the stem and loaded into the extracting units. Several washings with hexane are required in order to remove the waves, pigment and essential oil from the flowers. The resulting product is called concrete, and it requires treatments to be separate from hexane. Before the absolute is obtained, a delicate painstaking process of chilling, filtering and vacuum distilling of the alcohol from the absolute must be undertaken.

The scent of the lotus absolute is quite unique, although at first, it can be a disappointing, as it is not what one would think of lotus fragrance. In the process of distillation, some of the floral waxes and soluble elements become present, which is why absolutes need about 6 months of maturing time before the spectrum of their olfactory characteristics might be discerned as the extra matter settles down. I had a chance to try samples of three lotus absolutes, blue, pink and white.

Blue Lotus strikes me as having a very unique quality--translucence paired with tenacity.  I find that it starts out with a slightly pungent crisp note of autumnal leaves, however immediately crispness melds into transparency underscored by a subtle floral note and perhaps a touch of verdant foliage.  The visions of clear streams and waterfalls immediately come to mind.

Like other lotus oils, the initial accords are slightly earthy and pungent, yet Pink Lotus sheds them very quickly to reveal a unique floral heart. I imagine that dilution speeds up the process by which the floral aspects start to shine. Nevertheless, it is evident that Pink Lotus oil is the most floral of all the three. Its floral aspect is a quiet aquatic floral, majestic and regal, rather than lush sensual floral like ylang ylang or jasmine. There is no sweetness associated with the delicate heart of this oil, rather profound clarity and freshness ornamented by slightly earthy herbal accords. Although these herbal notes fade to make floral heart stand out, they are always in the background, giving strength to the delicate beauty of the flower, much like the strong stem holding a lotus blossom. Perfume melds into the skin leaving a beautiful lacy veil of these floral and herbal notes behind.

I have to confess that on the first try of diluted White Lotus absolute (10% dilution), I was not particularly enchanted. It seemed to be rather pungent, almost like decaying matter. However, I could not just put it out of my mind and kept returning to my little vial for some more. The changes this oil undergoes are remarkable! The first impression is of diving far too deep in the pond and emerging with the smell of the silt on the skin. After about 10 minutes the pungent earthy notes wash away by a clear crisp accord. It is as if one witnesses lotus blossom unfolding slowly, little by little allowing one to smell the subtle floral heart. Interestingly enough, as the oil dries down, it seems to hide its floral aspect once again and veil them by soft silt-y notes.

I would not say that Lotus absolutes will please everyone. If anything, they are rather odd, the combination of mire and radiant beauty, clarity and powderiness, spice and fruit. In perfumery, both lotus and water lily are often rendered synthetically, with varying success, as some combinations produce a rather acrid sharp sensation, which is far from the delicate floral symphony of the flower.


Water lily

In Ancient Egypt, it was the blue water lily (Nymphaea coerulea) that was most praised, even though lotus was introduced later by the Persians. Blue water lily has a sweet perfume, and in Egyptian frescos, it is often associated with the sun god, Ra. The descent of the flower under the water at dusk and its reappearance at dawn symbolized the resurrection of Osiris. The flower was used not only for its fragrant purposes, but also for the production of a favourite Egyptian drink, wine steeped with water lily flowers. This must have served as some type of narcotic, since nurpharine, nupharidine and nuciferine (all hallucinogenic and narcotic substances) are contained in water lily.

Water lily’s mysticism was not lost on Eastern European folklore, where it is regarded as mischievous, dangerous and beautiful as rusalki, Russian river sprites, who are associated with the river where water lilies grow. An image of a river bend overgrown with water lilies is an indelible memory from my Ukrainian childhood. On those rare moments when I could actually get a flower, I would keep it with me till it wilted, and the last bits of its dark green fragrance gone. The flower itself smelled simply enchanting—aquatic, yet not like water; somewhat like river mud, yet clean; floral, yet austere. Its fragrance is almost creamy, with a sharpness hiding within.

Perfumes with lotus notes: Serge Lutens La Myrrhe, Hermès Un Jardin Sur Le Nil, Bvlgari Omnia, Bvlgari Omnia Crystalline, Bvlgari pour Homme, Cacharel Eden. New Cinq Monde Eau Egyptienne created by Olivia Giacobetti also contains lotus, along with rose, mint, lentiscus, incense, myrrh, papyrus, jasmine, juniper, geranium and cumin.

Perfumes with water lily notes: Ormonde Jayne Sampaquita, Osmanthus, Frangipani, Andrée Putman Préparation Parfumée, Comptoir Sud Pacifique Turquoise and Paradise, Chanel Allure, Cacharel Eden, Lancôme Ô Oui!

If you know of a lotus or a water lily fragrance that truly captures the beautiful scent of these flowers, I would love to know of it. Meanwhile, I will just enjoy my Pink Lotus absolute diluted with some perfumer’s alcohol.

Poem: Rabindranath Tagore(1861-1941) is a Nobel laureate for literature, one of the greatest Indian poets and writers.

Photos: first photo is Nelumbo nucifera, lotus; the second is the blue water lily, Nymphaeua coerulea.

References: White Lotus Aromatics, Morris, Edwin T. 1984. Fragrance: The Story of Perfume from Cleopatra to Chanel. E.T. Morris and Co., New York.

May 24, 2005

Note of the Week: Jasmine


It seems fitting to start my reflections by devoting some attention to jasmine, which is not only my favourite fragrance note, but also the most widely used perfume ingredient, be it natural or synthetic.  While the rose is “the queen of flowers,” jasmine is indisputably the king.

The original habitat of jasmine is considered to be Kashmir, a now disputed area located on the border of India and Iran. India alone possesses about 42 species of jasmine, marked by various olfactory characteristics. The Chinese words for the two types of jasmine indicate their origins: Jasminum officinale was known as ye-hsi-ming, from the Arabic yasmin, came from Persia, while Jasminum sambac was moli, from the Sanskrit word mallika (Morris 1984, 104).

Jasminum grandiflorum is the most widely used jasmine in perfumery. Its scent is opulent and rich, with a sweet fruity note. Yet, the powerful sensuality underscores the sweet, slightly fruity accord.  The fruity note becomes more obvious the further the oil is diluted. It is reminiscent of summer fruit, perhaps sweet melon, lacking any acidity.  While it is very faint, it adds a very special elegance and evokes sun drenched blossoms.

Jasminum sambac is a nightblooming jasmine. It is heavier on indoles than Jasminim G. which are essential for the night insects to detect the flowers for pollination purposes. Its scent is darker, more sensual and animalistic. The flowers of this jasmine are used to flavour Chinese tea.

In India, Ghazimpur has traditionally been the center of jasmine cultivation, while in Europe, it was Grasse, France. The jasmine was first cultivated in in Provence in 1548, being a gift of the Arab trade network (Morris 1984, 104). Today, jasmin de Grasse is the most expensive jasmine available. It is sweeter than the more commonly available jasmines from Italy, India, Morocco and Egypt (responsible for 80% of jasmine production).

Unlike rose, jasmine is too delicate to withstand steam distillation, therefore, the process to extract the oil follows a rather complicated enfleurage method, which requires flowers to be hand picked and layered over a glass frame coated with a mixture of animal fats. After the fats become enriched with the flower oils, the flowers are removed and the essential oils is separated from the fat through a process not unlike a solvent extraction, using ethyl alcohol.

Due to its cost, only a few companies are able to obtain this precious oil, having secured their own fields in Grasse, such as Guerlain, Chanel and Jean Patou. Thus, Chanel #5 contains jasmin de Grasse, along with Patou Joy and 1000, and Guerlain L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, Après l'Ondée, and Shalimar (typically only in EDP or extrait de parfum concentrations). It is not clear for how long the companies (especially Guerlain with its latest profit margin orientation) are going to be able to afford this rare jasmine, given the drop in the perfume market in the States as well as increasing costs of labour in Europe, therefore it is worthwhile to pick up a bottle of L’Heure Bleue (or whatever else you enjoy from this house) extrait de parfum now. If you are aware of other fragrances containing jasmin de Grasse, please let me know.

Although synthetic jasmine is easily produced, some real jasmine absolute is added to remove the harshness. The possibilities given to perfumer by jasmine are truly endless, which is why one cannot but be in awe of this delicate blossom.

Jasmine soliflores: Serge Lutens A La Nuit, The Different Company Jasmin de Nuit, Maître Parfumeur et Gantier Jasmin, Normal Kamali Jazmin, Molinard Jasmin, Chantecaille Le Jasmin, Montale Jasmin Full, Miller Harris Jasmine Vert.

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