Recently, as I was making a dry perfume blend to flavor my holiday gingerbread, I found myself wishing that I could capture its bright cardamom, coriander and cinnamon fragrance in a perfume. Naturally, I wondered whether someone else might have done so already, as the gourmand fragrance genre has grown considerably since the launch of Thierry Mugler Angel in 1993. Its suggestions of caramel, bitter chocolate, cotton candy and candied fruit has introduced a whole new concept of fragrances that unapologetically appropriated the most opulent patisserie ideas for perfume. In fact, there exist quite a few fragrances that range from abstract allusions to gingerbread to quite realistic flavor renditions. I find this genre, a subset of the oriental fragrance family, rather playful and quite enjoyable to explore, as the spicy gourmands being warm and enveloping suit my winter mood perfectly.
On the abstract side of the spicy gourmand spectrum, Serge Lutens Bornéo 1834 is undoubtedly my favorite. Its scintillating patchouli accord underscored by cardamom and ginger oscillates between molten Mexican chocolate and sweet incense smoke. Serge Lutens Fumerie Turque actually uses a gingerbread accord comprised of various spices to accent its rose and leather composition. Equally interesting is Guerlain Winter Délice, a rich balsamic composition that blends the darkness of fir balsam with the smoldering warmth of sweet spices. An accent of honey, clove, cinnamon and vanilla in Parfums de Rosine Rose de Feu lends a luscious sweetness to the green rose structure of the fragrance. A gingerbread accord in Parfum d’Empire Fougère Bengal paired with lavender and immortelle transforms the classical herbal brightness into a savory concoction. Quite unusual, even if somewhat challenging to wear. Another interesting use of gingerbread notes can be found in Marc Jacobs Violet Splash; a relatively simple violet accord gains a new dimension with the addition of warm spices and lemony ginger.
As we segue into the more realistic pastry flavors, the fragrances evoking the spicy sweetness of gingerbread start getting richer and sweeter. The oriental accords tend to be supplemented with stronger vanilla notes, caramel, cotton candy and even flavor ingredients. Five O’Clock Au Gingembre is a good example of a fragrance with a more suggestive spicy gingerbread accord, which is set against a smoky amber and patchouli backdrop. Its allusions are no longer abstract, yet wearing it does not make me feel as if I just finished baking speculaas. In the same vein, I enjoy Hermès Ambre Narguilé for its opulent orchestration of tobacco and incense wrapped gourmand notes. While not a personal favorite, Robert Piquet Visa (the interpretation of the original 1947 fragrance) is quite a striking composition pairing the plush darkness of moss and vetiver with the decadent sweetness of caramel and chocolate.
When I smell Guerlain Tonka Impériale, its strong gourmand references are obvious from the first note—the caramel warmth of sweet spices and honey. The sweetness becomes richer and deeper as the almond sugariness of coumarin and vanilla blooms fully in the drydown. I find it quite rich and luscious, a well-made fragrance that will delight those with a strong sweet tooth. Comme des Garçons Series 7 Sweet : Burnt Sugar is a cascade of desserts: honey cake, dulce de leche, vanilla custard. Yet, despite my apprehensions, it all works together thanks to the bright anise-orange flower accord that cuts through the sweetness. On the other hand, I usually cannot resist the playful simplicity of Demeter Gingerbread. It evokes exactly what it promises by its name—brown sugar sweetness and spicy warmth, with a pleasant hint of lemony ginger.
My favorite among full-bodied gourmands is Lolita Lempicka, a delightful mélange of almond praline, candied cherries, and spiced biscotti. The decadent opulence is balanced against the cool aloofness of iris and the earthiness of vetiver. The result is mouthwatering, yet impeccably elegant. Also worth exploring is Dolce & Gabbana 11 La Force, from the same perfumer who created Lolita Lempicka, Annick Ménardo. Its gingerbread accord– cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond—is laced with the salty-animalic note of cumin. Unexpected addition, but it makes the composition quite sensual.
Photography © Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved.