Elisa explains how coconut is used in perfumes and offers 21 examples with 5 different themes. Summer fun begins here.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re in the middle of a cultural coconut renaissance. First came coconut water, touted to be a low-sugar super-hydrator, like nature’s Gatorade. (I think it’s gross; with the high potassium content, it feels like I’m drinking soup.) Then, widespread reports of the virtual all-purposeness of coconut oil: Clean your house! Remove your eye makeup! Moisturize your body! (Again, I haven’t succumbed. But if you don’t mind glistening all over and smelling like a Mounds bar at all times, more power to you.)
If I’m skeptical of the head-to-tail approach to coconuts, I am a longtime lover of coconut scents and of coconut flesh and milk in food. It’s one of those magical ingredients, like lime or cilantro, that can completely make a dish. I love it in desserts – I still think about a bite of exceptionally moist coconut cake I had when I was 17, and Caramel Delites were always my favorite Girl Scout Cookie – but I think I love it even more in savory applications, for the unctuousness it adds to dishes like Thai curry.
In perfume, coconut is usually represented by one or more lactones – from the Latin root lact- meaning milk, lactones give a fruity, fatty creaminess to compositions. Coconut lactones can range from fresh and milky to peachy to waxy to toasted and nutty (with an almondy coumarin facet) to downright buttery, like coconut oil with butter flavoring.
Coconut and Jasmine
Because of the coconut’s association with palm trees and beaches, and the fact that suntan lotions are frequently scented with coconut, coconut notes are commonly found in tropical and beachy florals. Estée Lauder Bronze Goddess is iconic in this category, a simple but perfect combination of coconut, citrus, and fizzy jasmine. (I especially like the oil version.) From the same house, Sensuous Nude is similar, but with more of the musky-wood base of the original Sensuous. Smell Bent’s budget-friendly St. Tropez Dispenser fits right in with them but is warmer and more buttery. One of the most elegant beach scents I’ve tried, Guerlain’s recent summer release Terracotta Le Parfum ups the ante with a raspier, more authentic jasmine note. Serge Lutens Datura Noir, on the other hand, is a niche beach scent that approaches vulgarity, but I love it anyway: here the white florals are almost syrupy, and set against a coconut accord with tons of sweet tonka bean.
Coconut and Tuberose
Coconut is a natural aspect of tuberose, and many soliflores play it up to enhance the tropical feel. Calice Becker’s Beyond Love for By Kilian is a beautifully realistic and radiant rendition of tuberose that captures the flower’s contradictory green coolness and fatty richness. Frédéric Malle Carnal Flower, perhaps the queen of tuberose, is huge and luxuriant; a musky, earthy vibe keeps notes of coconut and melon from coming off sweet. Montale Intense Tiare is a sweet, buttery tuberose with a distinct note of banana popsicle. Guerlain Mayotte is a weird one, where an interesting toasted coconut note is dragged down by a lifeless and bitter tuberose accord. It has its fans, but it’s no match for the beauty of Beyond Love and Carnal Flower. (But nor would I call it a scrubber, as Lush Furze was for me – it’s a coconut scent so buttery I felt I was drowning in stale movie popcorn.)
Coconut and Fig
Coconut also plays a part in many fig accords, most famously in Olivia Giacobetti’s Premier Figuier for L’Artisan and the later, very similar Philosykos for Diptyque. The latter is an ideal, if short-lived, fig: green, woody, sappy, and cooling. (Why can’t coconut water taste like this?) Also worth a try: Fragrance Republic 01/06, a very pretty, clean fig with coconut and lime notes. Naturally, coconut pairs well with lime – see also the dreamy Fils de Dieu from Etat Libre d’Orange, which smells like basmati rice cooked in coconut milk with lime zest, and blooms gorgeously in the heat; and Bahiana from Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier, a bright cologne with a coconut accent.
Coconut and Wood
A fourth category that plays nicely with coconut: the woody scents. Cadjmere by Parfumerie Generale is a simple but delicious comfort scent of coconut, woods, and amber. I’ll also give a nod to the more complex Un Bois Vanille from Serge Lutens, though you’ll find just a hint of coconut alongside vanilla, burnt sugar, tonka, licorice, guaiac, and smoke. I’m wary of too much vanilla mixed in with my coconut, but if you’re looking for an all-out gourmand, Tokyo Milk’s Let Them Eat Cake smells just like a coconut cupcake.
Coconut Fruit Salad
And then there are the extra-fruity coconut wild cards, like By Kilian Liaisons Dangereuses, a rosy fruit salad of shaved coconut, peaches, plums, and blackcurrant. In L’Artisan’s Ananas Fizz, coconut is married to a somewhat sweaty pineapple note – a piña colada for the after party. And Kerosene Unforsaken is a coconut creamsicle with vanilla, almond, and tangerine.
Do you have a favorite perfume or body product based on coconut? Please let me know in the comments!
Photography by Hafiz Issadeen, via Flickr, some rights reserved.