Olfactory Desserts : On Gourmand Fragrances

Rosanis_macaron

Perfumes enchant us when they create an illusion of transporting us to a place, real or imaginary. 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 gourmand trend initiated by Thierry Mugler Angel is certainly not novel–in 1956 Edmond Roudnitska created Diorissimo to counter the contemporary preference for the heavy, sweet notes. Nevertheless, Angel opened up new vistas and expanded the concept of gourmand. The exploration I offer below takes a somewhat different approach in trying to illustrate the more abstract gourmand ideas in fragrance. …

 

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 or Caron’s trademark dark undercurrent supporting violet scented almond macaroons in Farnesiana. Inhaling Jacques Guerlain’s 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. The original version of Givenchy L’Interdit is a bowl of sun warmed strawberries under an 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 sandalwood and cedar. 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 the Art Deco period (1925-1939) and its infatuation with the 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 butter, roasted chickpea flour, almonds and semolina with raisins, cardamom and burned sugar bits. Not intending to be a gourmand fragrance, it manages to 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 is a suggestion 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. After the debut of Thierry Mugler Angel, the number of fragrances in this category has been increasing exponentially. While caramel, chocolate, honey, and glace fruit in the hands of Angel creators, Oliver Cresp and Yves de Chiris, were combined to create a torte of fruit filled rolls layered with honeyed cream and walnuts; in the hands of many 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.

Based on the article first published in July of 2005.

Photo of rose and anise macaroons from Ladurée.

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45 Comments

  • MC: 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. July 11, 2005 at 4:20am Reply

  • Robin: *clap clap clap* What a lovely article, V! July 11, 2005 at 9:44am Reply

  • parislondres: Simply delightful! Miss you V!

    xoxo July 11, 2005 at 3:17pm Reply

  • mreenymo: 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!

    Hugs! July 11, 2005 at 4:19pm Reply

  • Michelle: 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). July 11, 2005 at 10:49pm Reply

  • julien: 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.
    Kisses.
    J. July 12, 2005 at 7:25am Reply

  • Dain: 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. July 12, 2005 at 7:41am Reply

  • Victoria: 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 🙂

    Michelle,
    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.

    Dain,
    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! July 14, 2005 at 4:20pm Reply

  • Susanna: 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. July 26, 2005 at 11:25pm Reply

  • Victoria: 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. July 27, 2005 at 9:30am Reply

  • cynthia: Such a great article! Thank you, V! October 5, 2006 at 12:05pm Reply

  • CindyN: Victoria,
    Your blog is awe-inspiring. Just when I think it can’t get any better *pow*, you kick it up waaay more than a notch. What a evocative and mouth-watering post. Love it! October 5, 2006 at 12:11pm Reply

  • peter: V, an excellent article all around! You’ve managed to combine my passion for food with my interest in fragrance in a brilliant way. I find New Haarlem is similar to Yohji Homme. Do you think so too? October 5, 2006 at 1:06pm Reply

  • Flor: I’m a huge fan of the “abstract desserts”, as you called them. L’Heure Bleue, Mitsouko, and L’Instant topping my list. While I’m not a huge fan of Angel, or the whole gourmand trend in itself, I do respect it’s place in the world of perfume and admire the work that went into creating the masterpiece that is Angel. October 5, 2006 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Amandampc: Wow – great piece! What tremendous creativity and marvelous imagery you’ve employed. Love it! And the topic, of course, is so much one of my favorites in fragrance (and food). Any thoughts on what fragrances might best reflect my most favorite confections: maple sugar candy (basically pure maple syrup boiled down into candy); and Indian pudding (corn meal, molasses, nutmeg and ginger, also boiled down and then baked into pudding and then served – mandatorily – with vanilla ice cream?) October 5, 2006 at 1:23pm Reply

  • Ina: Wonderful article, V.! Just recently, I’ve been drawn to boozy, liqueur-like scents (SMN Vaniglia being the latest). Not really craving gourmand scents per se, but something that’d provide that gustatory perception, as you put it. It must be fall weather affecting me this way. 🙂 October 5, 2006 at 5:05pm Reply

  • Dusan: Oh, I remember this wonderful article of yours, V, it made me salivate! You’ve such an amazing way with words. I’m guilty of having a sweet tooth, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I love most of the fragrances you mention, and more. I am on board with Mike, I adore Egoïste, simply adore it! Also, Angel (w) makes me happy like no other scent does. Yohji is stunning, too and it reminds me of Rochas Man, have you tried it? Anisic scents, like L’Instant pour Homme and Cartier’s Must PH, create a warm, Christmasy atmosphere, while Gaultier2 makes me crave for vanilla ice-cream topped with red fruits. These days I’ve been trying to reconcile with/give Antaeus another chance, with its simply stunning warm beeswax embrace (if I didn’t know, I’d have thought it was a Serge Lutens), and I fear 😉 it’s going to be another new favourite!
    Thank you so much for this delightful overview of the perfume cuisine!
    P.S. Two days ago I commented on your Kenzo Amour post, but I guess you haven’t seen it yet.
    Hugs October 5, 2006 at 8:27pm Reply

  • Dusan: Oh, I remember this wonderful article of yours, V, it made me salivate! You’ve such an amazing way with words. I’m guilty of having a sweet tooth, so it shouldn’t surprise you that I love most of the fragrances you mention, and more. I am on board with Mike, I adore Egoïste, simply adore it! Also, Angel (w) makes me happy like no other scent does. Yohji is stunning, too and it reminds me of Rochas Man, have you tried it? Anisic scents, like L’Instant pour Homme and Cartier’s Must PH, create a warm, Christmasy atmosphere, while Gaultier2 makes me crave for vanilla ice-cream topped with red fruits. These days I’ve been trying to reconcile with/give Antaeus another chance, with its simply stunning warm beeswax embrace (if I didn’t know, I’d have thought it was a Serge Lutens), and I fear 😉 it’s going to be another new favourite!
    Thank you so much for this delightful overview of the perfume cuisine!
    P.S. Two days ago I commented on your Kenzo Amour post, but I guess you haven’t seen it yet.
    Hugs October 5, 2006 at 8:27pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cynthia, my pleasure! Glad you enjoyed it. October 5, 2006 at 11:34pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Cindy, thank you very much! I find the line between flavour and fragrance to be very fine, and it is fascinating to explore what can be done on either the one or another side. Or what can be done when they are fused together. October 5, 2006 at 11:35pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Peter, thank you. I love food too, and if I am not experimenting with scents, I am playing with flavours in my kitchen. It is fun to cross between the two domains.

    As for Yohji Homme and New Haarlem, I definitely find similarities. October 5, 2006 at 11:36pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Flor, yes, Angel was an important trendsetter, and in fact, it created a revolution, the repercussions of which we are still feeling today. October 5, 2006 at 11:37pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Amanda, thank you very much. I had to think about your dessert-fragrance pairings, and here is what I came up with.

    “maple sugar candy (basically pure maple syrup boiled down into candy)”:
    Serge Lutens Chypre Rouge

    “Indian pudding (corn meal, molasses, nutmeg and ginger, also boiled down and then baked into pudding and then served – mandatorily – with vanilla ice cream?)”
    Jean Patou Moment Supreme as a very abstract expression. Allure Sensuelle (especially in the parfum concentration) as a slightly less abstract expression. October 5, 2006 at 11:41pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Amanda, another thought for the Indian pudding–Nicolai SacreBleu! October 5, 2006 at 11:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ina, yes, me too. And I blame the weather for it. Thanks to you, I am tempted to revisit SMN Vaniglia as well. October 5, 2006 at 11:42pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dusan, thank you for elaborating with further suggestions, and such excellent ones at that. I love Chanel masculines, and Rochas Man is very nice too. I also like Rochas Liu for its beautiful, oriental leitmotif.

    I just answered your KenzoAmour comment. I am sure that this fragrance will work well for you. October 5, 2006 at 11:44pm Reply

  • k-amber: Beautiful and dreamy article, yes! Thank you very much for posting. Macaroons look nice.

    Kaori October 6, 2006 at 7:50am Reply

  • Dusan: Vika, you’re the best, thank you for the KA encouragement 🙂 ! I’ve finally tried it on skin and you’re right – I didn’t smell girly at all. 🙂 I envision a purchase in the near future…
    I am quite certain I’m going to love Marc Jacobs, and will let you know how it fares with me when it arrives on Sunday, can’t wait.
    And yes, Rochas Lui is a beautiful orange blossom and patchouli combo with a lovely cedar accord. I’m still waiting for you to try Magnetism. 😉
    Hugs October 6, 2006 at 9:17am Reply

  • Amandampc: Victoria, you are the best. I had such a feeling that Chypre Rouge would be my kind of SL, and now I know for sure and must nab a bottle pronto! The Allure Sen. I have (as yet unworn) and Sacrebleu I must go sniff…so only the Moment Supreme may pose a challenge, not so much because of its unavailability as due to the fact that my “Ma Collection” (that always sounds so redundant, doesn’t it?) is now in my mother’s possession, hence a challenge equivalent to wrangling a honeycomb back from a HIGHly resistant bear! 🙂 October 6, 2006 at 12:22pm Reply

  • Judith: Just wanted to say (a bit late) how much I appreciated this beautiful piece. I don’t think of myself as loving sweet/gourmand fragrances, but, in fact, I adore many of those you mention. Thank you, V! October 7, 2006 at 4:14pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, they do! They are my favourite dessert (next to chocolate), hence, the choice of photo. October 11, 2006 at 1:37am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Dusan, I am glad to hear this. I really like Kenzo Flower, and Kenzo Amour being in same vein really appealed to me. It is very easy to wear. I believe that on a man it would great too. Enjoy it! Still have not gotten around to Magnetism, but I am sure that it will happen soon. October 11, 2006 at 1:38am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Amanda, you have a treasure cove, it seems. 🙂 Do make a trip to either Barney’s or Aedes to try Chypre Rouge. It has that abstract dessert quality that I love, and yes, the marple aspect is noticeable. October 11, 2006 at 1:39am Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Judith, thank you. I never think of myself as a gourmand lover (unless the dessert is on the plate), but a subtle gourmand accent can often be very alluring. After all, one of my favourite perfumers Jacques Guerlain was a master at this. October 11, 2006 at 1:40am Reply

  • Avra Cohn: Sorbet and gelato are (to me) very accurate descriptions of Hermèssence Rosa Ikebana; it ‘clarifies the palate’, as a sorbet might do between the courses of an elaborate (Persian?) meal. There is nothing heavy, wearing or opaque about Rose Ikebana, nothing medicinal, ether-like, decayed or nagging. I think of it as ‘water-based’ like sorbet, and thus quite unlike ice cream, with its clouded weight of creamy fats and solid nourishment. The purity of the scent is completely refreshing – and that is sometimes just perfect. RI often puts me in mind of a fine tea: clear, delicate, simple, unsweetened, thirst-quenching and contemplative. February 2, 2007 at 9:17am Reply

  • Andy: Such a lovely post! Carefully and lovingly written, it made me crave something delicious. As I like to cook, I find myself cooking some dishes as much for the taste as for the smells created in the cooking process. For me, making lemon meringue pie is the ultimate olfactory delight: the buttery, toasted aroma of the shortbread crust as it bakes; the rich, sweet, aroma of piping hot lemon filling; the vanilla marshmallow scent of shiny meringue; they all come together to create a kind of “cooking perfume” with beautiful, distinct notes. August 24, 2011 at 10:18am Reply

  • Victoria: Andy, that sounds wonderful! I love cooking with cardamom for the scent it releases in the air. I also love baking with mahlab, a kernel of black cherry. It gives cookies and bread a rich almond, tonka bean and vanilla flavor. Just magical!!
    Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile August 24, 2011 at 10:22am Reply

  • Elizabeth: Gulab Jamun is one of my favorite desserts. Now you have me running for my bottle of Tocade! Best $14.99 I ever spent at TJMaxx. August 24, 2011 at 7:55pm Reply

  • Natalia: Victoria, what a fabulous article, yet again!

    i’m not into sweets, desserts or fragrances alike, but i do crave some once in a while and i do appreciate them when i’m in the mood. i love baking for the smell that fills the house 🙂 a simple apple pie is an olfactory delight, or a simple cherry walnut coffee cake with vanilla ice cream…

    i enjoyed reading the comments and taking notes of tasty perfumes to try 🙂

    recently i tried Nicolai Kiss Me Tender and it’s a very airy pink marhsmallow kind of smell, almondy and fluffy.

    also, SL Rakhat Loukoum is undeniably foody and cheery, a bright pink smell!

    Chanel Coromandel has a hint of something baked in it for me, cozy and asking for a calvados cordial.

    and i do love the B&B works sweet fig shower gel and lotion – makes you feel like a silly snuggle puff, hehe 🙂 August 25, 2011 at 4:53am Reply

  • skilletlicker: Victoria, I would love for you to review Emotionelle by Parfums DelRae with it’s strong scent of honeydew melon. I don’t the have the nose to elaborate but I would love to read your interpretation. As a rule, I’m turned off by scents that smell like food. I include candles in this rule. There’s nothing worse than smelling baking bread and it’s a candle. August 25, 2011 at 11:32am Reply

  • Victoria: I need to revisit it. I remember thinking that it was very interesting. That melon note was very strange, yet somehow very compelling. August 25, 2011 at 11:32pm Reply

  • Victoria: I also got my Tocade at TJMaxx for similarly low price. The best bargain ever! August 25, 2011 at 11:33pm Reply

  • Victoria: Natalia, thank you, I enjoyed following your fragrance-desserts thoughts! Reading your comment made me hungry. 🙂 August 25, 2011 at 11:34pm Reply

  • civava: I guess only person with quite cooking experience could write such a lovely article. And I must admit I became very hungry during the reading …..;-). August 26, 2011 at 8:28am Reply

  • Victoria: That’s such a nice compliment, thank you! 🙂 August 26, 2011 at 10:39am Reply

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