Spicy Gourmand Fragrances : Delicious Seduction

Gourmand perfume

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.

Hors d’Oeuvre

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.

Entremet

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.

Dessert Course

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.

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22 Comments

  • Carrie Meredith: You have an interesting selection of fragrances here, several of which I’d like to try. One of my favorite gourmand scents I’ve tried in recent memory is Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’ Gingembre. It is really quite sophisticated while being delicious at the same time and it’s not sugary, so the spices have room to speak for themselves. I like Serge Lutens’ also, but his version of gingerbread is a bit more ethereal and sweeter in my opinion. December 20, 2010 at 12:41am Reply

  • Olfactoria: What a mouthwatering assembly you have put together here, V!
    There are many among them that would love to try, since I am also in gingerbread mood these days. You reminded me of an old love, Lutens´ 5 o´clock de Gingembre, I will go looking for my sample right now, it is just the right scent of the day.
    Also how deliciously you describe Borneo made me revisit it, although I have previously dismissed it, because of its Patchouli heaviness, but as I learn daily: taste evolves :)
    Have a good start into your week! December 20, 2010 at 3:58am Reply

  • dee: I’ve never heard of Dolce & Gabbana 11 La Force, and it sounds delicious ( I love cumin)! Of course, they all sound delicious, and I want to get my paws on some Hermès Ambre Narguilé.

    Borneo I enjoyed when I tried it—and I’m a patch hater—which I guess speaks to how well-blended the fragrance is, and I *still* haven’t tried LL. Must remedy the situation! :) December 20, 2010 at 6:44am Reply

  • Ann C: Perfect timing with these reviews! I love spicy gourmands in the cold weather. I haven’t tried any of the ones you reviewed, and they all sound like they’re worth testing. How similar is Borneo 1834 to Coromandel? Also, would Safran Troublant fall into this category? Thanks! December 20, 2010 at 7:01am Reply

  • Céline Verleure: I suggest also Kenzo Jungle which may be hard to find but is full of cardamom & cinnamon ;-) Thanks for this interesting article; I love gourmand fragrances and candles! December 20, 2010 at 9:16am Reply

  • Marina: Delightfully torturous morning reading! I recently decided I wanted to re-try Bornéo 1834, you now pushed me over the edge. December 20, 2010 at 10:56am Reply

  • minette: ooh, nice list with several i still need to try!

    your first graph made me flash on the miller et bertaux with ginger in it (don’t remember the number, sorry, but i think the blob in the bottle is black). there is also red ginger by susanne lang. but the first scent that came to mind (and it’s not terribly gourmand, but does have lots of spice) is ma liberte by patou – it is the most “brown” and dry spice scent i know. also, histoire d’eau by mauboussin, jungle elephant by kenzo, and l’eau trois by diptyque.

    my favorite spice scents are probably femme de rochas and lutens’s arabie. now that i’m thinking about spice in perfumes, i realize that i have quite a few – some that marry spice with florals, some that marry spice with resins, some that marry spice with fruits. i don’t think of myself as a big gourmand girl, but perhaps i am and just don’t know it. (i do love angel, still.) December 20, 2010 at 2:57pm Reply

  • brian: LOVE fougere Bengal. I would never have considered it difficult until I proudly left the store wearing it and the people I was with all wrinkled up their noses, saying, What’s THAT?! To me, it’s kissing cousin to Eau Noire, and deliciously gourmand. December 20, 2010 at 3:59pm Reply

  • March: I so enjoyed reading this, with a cup of chai at hand. Now you’re making me think I gave short shrift to La Force, which got lost in the blur of the release. I bet it’s gone from Nordstrom already… December 20, 2010 at 5:44pm Reply

  • Victoria: You put it so well about Serge Lutens version of gingerbread being more ethereal. I am wearing Five O’Clock Au Gingembre right now, and it is exactly the impression–abstract dessert, but mouthwatering nonetheless. What is more, it makes me think of a sweet and resinous Feminite du Bois. December 20, 2010 at 8:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: My tastes have also changed very much. I like to keep samples around even of perfumes that I did not like initially, because sometimes I find that I grow to appreciate them. Borneo 1834 is an amazing patchouli fragrance, one of my favorites! December 20, 2010 at 8:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: Until I tried Borneo, I was also wary of patchouli. However, it manages to highlight my favorite facet of the note–dark, dry, and fiery. The musty earthiness of patchouli is really muted, so it does not have the same headshop connotations to me as some other patchouli heavy fragrances. December 20, 2010 at 8:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: It is getting so cold around here, so I am in a mood for something sweet and spicy. :)
    Coromandel is sweeter and more floral than Borneo 1834, although they definitely have similarities being both woods-patchouli dominated. Borneo is dried, darker.
    Safran Troublant can certainly fit here too, I just think of it as more rose spice. Still, it has ginger, nutmeg, saffron and plenty of vanilla. December 20, 2010 at 8:47pm Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you, Céline, for reminding me of this gem. It is such a warm and dramatic blend, with plenty of character! I think that I bought my bottle in France, because it is impossible to find it here in the US (or on online discounters only.) December 20, 2010 at 8:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: Did I make you hungry? :)
    Borneo is worth revisiting! December 20, 2010 at 8:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: >>>i don’t think of myself as a big gourmand girl, but perhaps i am and just don’t know it.
    Exactly how I felt when I started writing this post! I originally just wanted to give an overview of popular ones, but then I realized that I actually wear and love quite a few gourmand fragrance. As long as they are true orientals and spicy, I enjoy fragrances in this genre very much.

    Ma Liberte is a fascinating perfume, which makes me think of antique Indian sandalwood boxes stuffed with cloves (cloves are a great insect repellent, and they are often used to scent cupboards in India to prevent moths from destroying clothes, especially precious silks.) December 20, 2010 at 8:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: LOL! I love it too, and completely agree with you on the similarity with Eau Noire. But there are days when I can wear either one. There is something about that immortelle/maple syrup note that I find very polarizing. December 20, 2010 at 8:48pm Reply

  • Victoria: I did not smell anything from that D&G collection when it was first launched. At the time, I was very overwhelmed by the multiple launches. Then a few months ago, I received a package from a friend that included a little decant of La Force. It was a pleasant surprise. Granted, the cumin note is not as obvious there as in some other fragrance you love, but it makes the whole thing much more interesting. December 20, 2010 at 8:49pm Reply

  • violetnoir: D&G 11 La Force, huh? I will have to keep that in mind, V!

    Hugs! December 20, 2010 at 11:45pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: I admit that the only reason I retried this one was because Annick Menardo created it (and I love almost everything she has done, niche or mainstream.) It is quite interesting, worth exploring. :)

    xoxo December 21, 2010 at 8:15am Reply

  • Hannah: I REALLY wanted the Marc Jacobs Violet splash when it was out (2006?).
    Instead, I bought Lolita Lempicka (my first bottle of perfume).
    I should give Dolce & Gabbana 11 La Force a try.
    Serge Lutens Bornéo 1834 is at the top of my to-try list.

    Some of my favorite gourmands are…Parfum D’Empire Ambre Russe, L’Artisan Tea for Two, and Parfumerie Generale Coze. December 22, 2010 at 12:19am Reply

  • Victoria: Hannah, Parfum D’Empire Ambre Russe and L’Artisan Tea for Two are such great choices for this cold weather. I feel that wearing them is like donning a cashmere pashmina. I must have tried Parfumerie Generale Coze at some point, but I cannot recall its scent in my mind right now. December 22, 2010 at 9:31am Reply

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