Hyacinth : Green Floral Note

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. …

The jewel-toned, succulent petals of hyacinths are stubborn in giving away their essential oils, and although the oil of hyacinth is used—usually in the costliest of perfumes, the note tends to be rendered via synthetic means. Traditionally, the hyacinth note would be constructed as a base, relying on several different aroma-materials to provide a desired effect—phenylethyl alcohol for a rosy touch, benzyl acetate for a fruity jasmine facet, cinnamic alcohol for a spicy edge, etc. Indeed, the same materials can be used in different proportions to create jasmine, lilac, lily of the valley or hyacinth bases. As a result, unless the base has a strong character, when used in a composition, it tends to vanish into a nondescript floral effect.

However, when the accords are successful, the results can be truly excellent. The verdant leitmotif running through the legendary Chamade by Guerlain is reinforced by the freshness that hyacinth brings to the arrangement. The harmony of its seamless green notes is so remarkable that it is impossible not to marvel at the genius of the composition. Framed by the woody-ambery accord enriched with vanilla, the green floral notes possess the quality of heavy opalescent satin that veils a beautifully sculpted form.

A green accent is the main role of hyacinth, which it can play equally well in both feminine and masculine fragrances. It lends a fresh touch to mango in Hermès Un Jardin sur le Nil, softens galbanum sharpness in Chanel No. 19 and Balmain Vent Vert, and adds complexity to the green accord of Jil Sander Woman III, a ravishingly sensual chypre with traditionally masculine notes. Since hyacinth and lily of the valley and especially their corresponding aroma-materials tend to lack the fruity sweetness, they are the notes of choice for masculine compositions. The classical lily of the valley synthetic is hydroxycitronellal. Lilial, an aroma-material with the fresh, floral character reminiscent of lily of the valley and cyclamen is used both in the masculines like Paco Rabanne by Paco Rabanne and the feminine fruity-florals like Prescriptives Calyx. Marc Jacobs for Men layers its fig accord with a beautiful lily of the valley note provided by Super Muguet, while modern fougères like Paul Smith Men, Rome Gigli Sud Est and Calvin Klein Eternity Summer for Men amplify their aromatic top notes with the hyacinth nuance. A green hyacinth note is hidden in the heart of Nino Cerruti and Aramis Devin. A masculine fragrance with the most pronounced hyacinth note I am familiar with is Chamade Pour Homme, a Guerlain 1999 limited edition. Jean Paul Guerlain folded the accord of hyacinth, coriander and violet into the warmth of patchouli, labdanum, vanilla and cedar leaves, thus creating an interesting counterpart to his feminine fragrance.

The rich aspect of hyacinth can also find its way into fragrance. Jean Patou Chaldée was first introduced in 1927 as suntan oil, and the rich sweetness of hyacinth marries perfectly with the gilded ambery base. Intoxicating like a feeling of being in love, Annick Goutal Grand Amour embellishes the voluptuous heft of hyacinth with the freshness of honeysuckle, apricot jam sweetness of jasmine and warmth of amber. The composition would have been unbearably heady were it not for an intriguing twist–a cold breath of myrrh. Another lush bouquet is Jean Claude Ellena’s composition for L’Artisan, La Haie Fleurie du Hameau. A classical floral tribute to the gardens of Marie-Antoinette in Versailles, it is appropriately luxurious, with the dominant notes of jasmine, honeysuckle and hyacinth spilling onto the oakmoss laden base.

Although hyacinth usually serves as a supporting note, L’Artisan Jacinthe de Bois and Penhaligon’s Bluebell allow it to take the center stage. The former conjures the scent of first forest flowers, still bearing the traces of earth and the drops of melting snow. The latter is a fragrance that I never grew to appreciate. It is thin, yet remarkably persistent, and after an unfortunate experience involving a shattered bottle, I understand what the expression “to be haunted” truly means. To avoid ending on such a tragic note, I would like to offer an additional list of fragrances containing hyacinth:

Anaïs Anaïs by Cacharel
Capricci by Nina Ricci
Capucci de Capucci
Coeur Joie by Nina Ricci
Climat by Lancôme
Cristalle by Chanel
Deneuve by Catherine Deneuve
Eau d’Eden by Cacharel
Eclipse by Parfums de Nicolaï
Envy by Gucci
Givenchy III by Givenchy
Mimosaique by Parfums de Nicolaï
Mystère by Rochas
Nahema by Guerlain
Paloma Picasso Mon Parfum
Pavlova
Pois de Senteur de Chez Moi by Caron
Secrète Datura by Maitre Gantier et Parfumeur
Snowdrop & Crystal Flowers #3 by Trish McEvoy
Talisman by Balenciaga
Violetta di Parma
Vacances by Jean Patou

Please see Part I: Spring Flower Bouquet ~ Lily of the Valley.

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26 Comments

  • Katie: Oh, and there’s Sabi with hyacinth, too. I don’t see it listed at Bergdorf’s or Neiman Marcus’ sites as “official” notes, but by gum is it in there, happily enough 🙂 May 5, 2006 at 3:06am Reply

  • annE: V, thank you for a fascinating treatise on hyacinth! This note doesn’t often come to mind for me when I’m thinking of floral notes. A friend and I were sniffing La Haie Fleurie yesterday, and, lacking a list of notes, we were trying to guess, but neither of us guessed hyacinth. Now, I will make sure to keep it in my mental radar – I do like it, and Chamade is one of my all-time favorites. May 5, 2006 at 8:42am Reply

  • Robin: Lovely post V. Are you taking votes? Would love to see a post on narcissus. May 5, 2006 at 9:22am Reply

  • Tania: Darn, I wish I’d worn Chamade today. When Evan had me smell hyacinthin, it was really eerie how real it smelled—it had a sort of florist-shop odor to it. Your comment on Bluebell cracked me up. Very informative post! Nice work. May 5, 2006 at 9:55am Reply

  • Marina: I’ve always been under impression that I don’t like hyacinth. But I counted how many scents among those you listed I like, and there are lots there…so I guess I like hyacinth now 🙂 Also humbly adding Citta di Kyoto by Santa Maria Novella to that list. It was all hyacinth on me. May 5, 2006 at 10:07am Reply

  • Emotenote: Wow, I love finding out the inner workings of a particular note. Hyacinth is my favorite flower to grow by my door in the spring where I can smell it coming and going. In fragrance it sometimes overpowers my sense of smell, I guess because I notice it so much in the garden. May 5, 2006 at 11:25am Reply

  • violetnoir: All of those fragrances contain hyacinth, V? Really?
    It doesn’t seem very prominent in most of them, does it?

    Hugs! May 5, 2006 at 12:04pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Katie, I saw Sabi listed as having hyacinth, but since I have not tried it yet, I did not add it to the list. Your review of Sabi gave me an impetus to seek it out. May 5, 2006 at 12:23pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ann, hyacinth is such an integral part of spring for me, especially since where I was growing up, the season for them was short-lived. It was too cold for the flowers to grow. I have always wanted the true hyacinth note in fragrance, but I admit that I prefer it as an accent, because it is so incredibly heady. Chamade is the gold standard as far as anything is concerned, but especially in terms of its green accord embellished with hyacinth. May 5, 2006 at 12:39pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, narcissus is on my list already, so I shall post it sometime next week. May 5, 2006 at 12:44pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: T, if Evan’s hyacinth is as excellent as his narcissus, then you were in for a treat. It is really an incredible scent, and yes, whenever I myself start talking about hyacinth, I want to wear Chamade. It is just perfect. May 5, 2006 at 12:52pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: M, I understand what you mean. I cannot think of any note I dislike, because if the composition is successful, then I am sure to enjoy it. Well, I am not the biggest fan of marine notes, but then again, it depends on where and how they are used. May 5, 2006 at 12:54pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Emotenote, I am glad you enjoyed it! I buy potted hyacinths from time to time and then I enjoy the fragrance at home. Unfortunately, I have no place to plant them after the bloom, and it feels like such a waste to toss the bulbs. May 5, 2006 at 12:56pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R (violetnoir), yes, they all do, but of course, in different proportions and in different guises. There are many different ways to render the note, which may highlight only some facets of the complex hyacinth aroma. May 5, 2006 at 12:57pm Reply

  • paru: Beautiful article. And especially appropriate since the hyacinth in my Mum’s garden have just started to bloom this week. It was interesting to read that different proportions of the same aroma chemicals lead to different floral base notes. I wonder if those flowers share similar odorant molecules. May 5, 2006 at 4:22pm Reply

  • cathleen56: This was such an interesting thread. I had spritzed on some Chamade the other day in a store, and about an hour into it it reminded me strongly of Goutal’s Grand Amour, with which it shares only one note: hyacinth. (I always thought of Chamade as a green/rose fragrance). And I love Grand Amour, too, but only in small doses. These two aren’t similar at all in other ways, but that one note brings them together. May 5, 2006 at 4:55pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Paru, yes, that is essentially the case. Indoles, for instance, are present in all of those flowers, but in different proportions. May 5, 2006 at 11:38pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cathleen, thank you. I just put on Grand Amour and Chamade to see how similar their hyacinth notes are, because I also remembered them as sharing the same facet. They both have that smooth, green, juicy sweetness that come from hyacinth. May 5, 2006 at 11:41pm Reply

  • Cheezwiz: Your description of how these notes are created artificially is very interesting. From what I’ve learned hyacinth, LotV, & lilac have to be created synthetically, as its almost impossible to extract the natural oils.

    I am always on the hunt for fragrances containing these notes, as spring is my favorite time of year, and the bloom time for these florals is so short!

    Was pleased to see that Chamade contains hyacinth – I knew there was a reason I liked it! May 6, 2006 at 5:01am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cheezwiz, glad to see another Chamade fan! 🙂 it is possible to extract essential oils from hyacinth, however it is very expensive and quite rare these days. Therefore, it is usually created synthetically. I have a series of photographs from the stills in Grasse depicting how hyacinth was prepared for processing. When it comes to lilac, gardenia, lily of the valley, it is true that they do not yield decent quality oils. May 6, 2006 at 12:19pm Reply

  • portlandia: Thank you for the lovely post about one of my favorite flowers and fragrance notes. I love hyacinths in any form!

    Patou’s Vacances is truly a showcase for this essence, but it certainly lends character to others as well. To me it a is a fragrance note that adds a special richness and lifelike quality to perfumes; a three-dimensional feel, if you will. It is heady yet not sticky-sweet, always giving its vivid green personality to improve whatever it is used in.

    Another quite recent discovery for me is Josephine by Rance’ – it is a masterfully blended classic floral composition, but the hyacinth makes its presence known. This perfume is very long-lasting yet stays fresh and pleasing all day. I believe that the generous dose of hyacinth has a lot to do with that. This fragrance was one of those I fell for instantly and completely the moment I tried it, much as I did with Vacances many years ago. Must be the hyacinth! May 6, 2006 at 12:59pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, Vacances is such a beautiful composition, and it contains most of the notes that create an atomsphere of a perfect leisurely day. I think that you nailed it perfectly when you said that “is heady yet not sticky-sweet, always giving its vivid green personality to improve whatever it is used in.” It is such an interesting and complex note.

    Thank you for an inspiration to try Josephine! May 6, 2006 at 2:00pm Reply

  • Cheezwiz: I had the pleasure of trying Josephine recently as well! It is a VERY interesting scent.

    I didn’t pick up on hyacinth, but got a spicy/herbal vibe once the initial floral notes died down. Apparently it contains cloves and hawthorne, and I think this is what I might have smelled.

    Josephine would be an excellent fragrance for vanilla fans: it dries down to a strong non-foody(almost boozy) vanilla on me. Alas, I’m not fond of vanilla. My credit card heaved a sigh of relief! May 9, 2006 at 5:31am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cheezwiz, thank you for your impressions of Josephine. I cannot say that I am that fond of vanilla, but I will definitely give it a try. The descriptions are very appealing. May 9, 2006 at 1:43pm Reply

  • portlandia: Wow, that is really different -I don’t get that much vanilla at all – I do get the hawthorn and cloves at the end and they last a LONG time, but the vanilla hardly shows up on me. Skin chemistry is so fascinating. May 10, 2006 at 1:07am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, ok, I definitely need to try it myself. 🙂 Based on what you and Cheezwiz said, it sounds like a very interesting fragrance. May 10, 2006 at 2:37pm Reply

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