The Quest for Essences : Rose, Jasmine and Bergamot

Where do the perfumery ingredients come from? How are they produced? What do they smell like? Out of all aspects of fragrance, the composition–or rather, what’s exactly in a bottle of perfume–remains the most mystifying and interesting. While the following films from Dior are heavy on marketing, they nevertheless give a glimpse into some of the most classical ingredients in a perfumer’s palette–rose, jasmine and bergamot.

If you don’t see English subtitles, click on the CC button under the video, next to the volume controls.

Unsurprisingly, my favorite film is the one dedicated to jasmine. You visit fields in India with Dior’s chief perfumer François Demachy who explains the difference between jasmine sambac and jasmine grandiflorum. “Sambac has something animal and powerful about it. A slightly orange-like and more sensual quality. Grandiflorum is more delicate, more radiant.” He then takes you to a flower market, a place every visitor to India finds exhilarating.

Dior claims that J’Adore (1999) was the first fragrance to use jasmine sambac, but I’d argue that Guerlain Samsara (1989), Hermès 24, Faubourg (1995), and Jean-Paul Gaultier Classique (1996) have done so earlier. Also, Annick Ménardo has used it in Dior’s Hypnotic Poison (1998). Jasmine grandiflorum is an important note in many Dior fragrances, including Diorissimo and Miss Dior.

The other two films are similar short and pretty: Rose de Mai and Calabrian Bergamot.

Extra: Rose de Mai from Petal to Essence :: Bergamot Perfume Ingredient :: All About Jasmine

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69 Comments

  • Sandra: Slowly waking up after staying up way past my bed time to watch Indian Summers on PBS-the 2 hour season finale. I can see you enjoying that show V! I really love the scenery in this short film but would hope that one day they can have some subtitles. You mention of Jasmine Sambac and Samsara are making me go search for my bottle! Happy Monday to all! November 23, 2015 at 9:12am Reply

    • Victoria: But the films have subtitles in English! I just checked, and I can see them.

      We don’t have PBS here, but BBC has been running various documentaries on India this year. Their Treasures of the Indus was especially interesting. November 23, 2015 at 9:19am Reply

      • sandra: Ok-I will check again. Maybe when I clicked on it I was too sleepy to realize!
        I love BBC documentaries as well. They had one on perfume a while ago that was insightful. My favorite part was actually seeing the old books containing the protocols and recipes for guerlain perfumes. What a piece of history.

        I found my samsara today and put it on-thanks for the inspiration. November 23, 2015 at 10:03am Reply

        • Victoria: As I mentioned to Cynthia, click on “CC” next to the volume control. It might also be that your subtitle setting was turned off.

          I remember that documentary too and the scene with all of the formula books. What a treasure!

          Enjoy your Samsara. Which concentration are you wearing? Jasmine in the Eau de Parfum is particularly pronounced. November 23, 2015 at 10:07am Reply

          • sandra: I am wearing the EDP. My bottle doesn’t look like the recent ones on the shelf. Its maybe a bit older?-clear in color and shaped like a coffin. Not sure if that makes sense. I also have the small bottle of the parfum November 23, 2015 at 10:56am Reply

            • Victoria: I might as well confess that I never liked Samsara bottle and the whole presentation. The small perfume bottles are ok, but the larger ones, yes, your comparison is spot on. November 23, 2015 at 5:06pm Reply

  • Cynthia L: Hmmm, I don’t see subtitles either! November 23, 2015 at 9:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Youtube should definitely give you a choice of subtitles. Just click on “CC” under the video (right next to the volume control) and you will see them. November 23, 2015 at 9:48am Reply

  • Leslie: What’s your recommendation for a jasmine perfume that’s not too heavy? I know many like A La Nuit but it suffocates me. Anything else? November 23, 2015 at 10:09am Reply

    • limegreen: Diptyque Olene
      or the new Diptyque Essence Insensees Jasmine especially in the solid November 23, 2015 at 10:20am Reply

      • Victoria: Does the new solid linger well? November 23, 2015 at 5:06pm Reply

        • limegreen: Diptyque solids are very smooth and linger longer than other solids, and the scent is still nice but muted, so nice for someone who doesn’t want uber jasmine. 🙂
          I love the L’ombre dans l’eau solid. November 23, 2015 at 5:44pm Reply

          • Victoria: I never pass by uber jasmine, but this solid still sounds nice. 🙂 November 23, 2015 at 5:50pm Reply

            • limegreen: 🙂 November 23, 2015 at 11:18pm Reply

    • Lady Dedlock: Try Creed Jasmin Eugenie Imperatrice.
      For a lighter gourmand twist try Serge Lutens La Religieuse.
      I’ve tried Diptyque’s new jasmin and I find to be quite voluptuous even though it is a skin scent. November 23, 2015 at 12:36pm Reply

      • Victoria: Just thought of another one, Annick Goutal Songes. November 23, 2015 at 5:07pm Reply

    • Victoria: I like Donna Karan Essence Jasmine, Estee Lauder Jasmine White Moss and also Yves Rocher Tendre Jasmin. The latter is not a complicated jasmine, but it’s radiant, pretty and affordable. November 23, 2015 at 5:02pm Reply

  • limegreen: Thank you for posting this, Victoria. I love these “origins” posts, so educational. And it’s so aesthetically pleasurable just to view the flowers!
    Happy Thanksgiving week to fellow American readers! November 23, 2015 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: When Demachy dips his hand into the pile of jasmine, I can just smell the flowers. I keep missing the jasmine season at its prime in India, mostly because it also happens to fall onto the hotter months.

      Happy Thanksgiving to you too! November 23, 2015 at 5:04pm Reply

  • Nancy A: Mais non — no subtitles. I recant this comment when I discovered the “CC”. I used to burn Jasmine Sambac candles. Very heady but I still like it particularly on a cold day. Diptique recently launched another one of the limited edition fragrances which happens to be Jasmine but I wasn’t impressed as I was with their interpretation of Mimosa. Note to Sandra: For some reason I stopped watching Indian Summers which by the by was filmed in Malaysia with all its lush beauty. November 23, 2015 at 10:16am Reply

    • Victoria: Which jasmine sambac candles do you like besides the jasmine one? I know that Red Flower used to have a great jasmine candle. November 23, 2015 at 5:05pm Reply

  • Karen (A): Very fun and interesting post, thanks for the link to the short film. With such pretty scenery and a few very helpful points (always good to have new ways of phrasing a scent – loved the idea of “solar” being an descriptor), its ok by me that it is a marketing tool from Dior (but then I watched anniversary ad for Shalimar quite a few times, and that was just pure marketing – but, oh so beautiful!!).

    I had to give up on Indian Summers, it was so disheartening to watch after reading Return of a King – which at times evoked almost a phantom type of pain, perhaps a type of heartbreak. November 23, 2015 at 11:21am Reply

    • Victoria: Yes, it’s marketing, but it’s well-done–beautiful and you do learn something, so I have nothing against it. I wish more companies made such films explanation their craft instead of dumping all of the money into the TV ads.

      A friend who recommended Return of a King said that it shouldn’t be read when one’s feeling fragile. I can see what she means. I keep wanting to scream “stop, don’t do it, don’t go there, it’s madness!” on almost every single page. It’s a great book, though. November 23, 2015 at 5:10pm Reply

      • Karen (A): Dalrymple did a great job of keeping you captivated even though you know the outcome. Yup, lots of Don’t go there, Don’t do that. It’s interesting watching his evolution as an author – returning to some parts of his earlier books, I thought well, he’s a bit culturally narrow in his views at times. Hubby was reading one early book and would read aloud certain parts and honestly I’d just do an eye roll and say, When you’re young you really are convinced you know it all and your view is the right one.

        Perhaps in his researching The Last Mughal (I believe), where they found tons of records and accounts from the Indian perspective on the uprising that had never been translated, there was a type of seismic shift.

        Not sure if his latest book on Afghanistan has been released, another that will no doubt at times rhave me reading through my fingers like watching a scary movie! November 24, 2015 at 5:30am Reply

        • Victoria: I don’t remember noticing his culturally narrow views so much as his tendency to brag. I did like that even in his early works, he didn’t eschew the sensitive subjects and historical controversies. That was and remains commendable.

          Also, his work made me realize that there is so much about the Indian history we don’t know, because earlier research was tainted very much by the colonial perspective and personal assumptions. While later historians have become more sensitive to it, some of these assumptions still color their work. But slowly it’s changing, and this shift touches not only the Indian history. November 24, 2015 at 9:46am Reply

          • Figuier: Thanks both for your comments on Return of a King, it’s just gone on my reading list. I’m half-way through Last Mughal; sad but fascinating, and impressive research to boot. I read ‘In Xanadu’ when it first came out, i.e. a long time ago; so can’t actually remember what the tone was like, but I do remember enjoying it (and being jealous of men, who – at least back then – could travel & explore like that without it being deemed suicidal, as it would for a woman). November 24, 2015 at 11:25am Reply

            • Victoria: Freya Stark did travel widely too. I especially her “Winter in Arabia,” but she has several other books. She’s by far my favorite travel writer from the era, because her powers of observation exceed those of the Richard Burton types. November 24, 2015 at 3:21pm Reply

              • Karen (A): Freya Stark is one of my heroines – for some reason she has not gotten the attention she deserves (I get a bit cranky that Gertrude Bell gets tons of attention, including a movie coming out and Freya gets so little when she truly had a greater understanding of the Middle East and near East). I think on her 80th birthday she went rafting down the Euphrates (or Tigris??). Reading her books on her travels in Turkey – which is where she focused on from I think the 1960’s – was an education on the country for me. I had no idea that Alexander the Great had spent so long there, On the Path of Alexander is her book following his travels there. Although the south west region of Turkey has changed since she wrote it, it’s a great book to read if you’re planning on going there (or of course arm-chair travel). November 24, 2015 at 8:31pm Reply

                • Victoria: I agree with you completely. Gertrude Bell doesn’t hold a candle to Freya Stark.

                  On the Path of Alexander is new to me, so that goes to the top of my reading list. November 25, 2015 at 9:35am Reply

                  • Karen: I double checked myself and it turns out she rafted down the Colorado River for her 80th and down the Euphrates when she was 84!!! May we all be strong and healthy enough to raft down rivers in faraway lands when we are 84! November 25, 2015 at 10:02am Reply

                    • Victoria: Wow, that’s impressive! I heard that she rafted down the Euphrates, but I didn’t realize that she did it in her 80s. Yes, I can only join you in wishing that all of us could just as well. 🙂 November 25, 2015 at 3:30pm

    • sandra: I also love the ad for Shalimar and have watched it several time as well. It is pure marketing but done in a short movie type of way. November 24, 2015 at 11:20am Reply

  • Solanace: What a job, is all I can say. November 23, 2015 at 5:19pm Reply

    • Victoria: Seems like a delicate work to pick these flowers. November 23, 2015 at 5:30pm Reply

      • Solanace: I was actually thinking of our buddy François, jet setting around, but yes! Let’s hope we can see these traditional crops and the traditions associated to them experiencing a new revival in the years to come, with increased wages for everyone involved. November 25, 2015 at 5:53am Reply

        • Victoria: Oh, yes! Seems like any perfumer’s dream. 🙂

          But your comment also points out something important, that underneath all of this romance of picking flowers, there is lots of hard work. November 25, 2015 at 9:32am Reply

          • Solanace: Hard on the back, I’d bet. November 25, 2015 at 4:47pm Reply

            • Victoria: That’s what I was thinking, their aching backs. November 26, 2015 at 11:52am Reply

  • Nick: I really like these raw material series; they are so educative and make me appreciate their values. I grew up with scent of jasmine sambac blossoms that my mother would pick them at dusk when their scent is strongest and leave them in the car — think À La Nuit on soft-leather seats 🙂 November 23, 2015 at 9:02pm Reply

    • Karen (A): Wow – what an evocative scent that must have been! Are there any jasmine perfumes with leather notes? November 24, 2015 at 5:32am Reply

      • Victoria: It reminds me that in India drivers often hang a jasmine garland. By the end of the day, as it wilts, it starts smelling more and more leathery. November 24, 2015 at 9:40am Reply

        • Nick: Those garlands, indeed! They should have calotropis, jasmine, and roses that are sewn together, at least, in Thailand.

          I agree about the leathery facet of these narcotic essences of jasmine sambac and ylang ylang. I wonder which components impart such dark qualities. November 24, 2015 at 10:00am Reply

          • Victoria: p-cresol gives a leathery, or as some people call it horsey, note. It’s present in other flowers too such as orange blossom. Jasmine essence is very complex, and it contains also indoles, coumarins, and myriads of other components that haven’t even been identified. November 24, 2015 at 11:09am Reply

            • Nick: Interesting — it is actually found in pink peppercorns as well! ‘phenolic and medicinal smelling’ p.328 November 24, 2015 at 3:40pm Reply

              • Victoria: Yes, it’s naturally occurring in many different plants. If you’re making a jasmine accord, it might be used. Another common material for jasmine and other floral accords is para-cresyl phenylacetate, which is rounded and less pungent. November 24, 2015 at 3:45pm Reply

      • Nick: Karen, I don’t know of any, but I would layer Cuir de Russie or Cuir Beluga with À La Nuit for a try! November 24, 2015 at 9:51am Reply

        • Victoria: Another idea I should try is layering Hermes Cuir d’Ange and A La Nuit. November 24, 2015 at 11:02am Reply

          • Nick: Oh, yes, with a touch of violet. November 24, 2015 at 3:37pm Reply

            • Victoria: I just tried it, and it does work well. A La Nuit needs to be used in a small dose, since it overtakes Cuir d’Ange easily. November 24, 2015 at 3:40pm Reply

              • Nick: Otherwise, death by jasmine!

                And, now my other arm contains Michael (2000) to study the undecavertol-indolene balance in this tuberose perfume. Very intersting! November 24, 2015 at 4:15pm Reply

                • Victoria: It was one of the first to use Undecavertol in such a large dose, and yes, the contrast with the creamy, thick floral notes is striking. Marc Jacobs for Her went for a milder version of it, but it’s mostly Michael. November 25, 2015 at 9:38am Reply

                  • Nick: This is wonderful to know, and I am jotting down it down in a geeky manner. I know it gets technical, but I think perfumery is art and technique hand-in-hand. November 26, 2015 at 5:57am Reply

                    • Victoria: I can’t agree more. Perfumery has–and always had–a strong scientific base, so when you start parsing out such details, you discover so many interesting things. November 26, 2015 at 12:15pm

                    • Victoria: By the way, one of the best Undecavertol overdosed perfumes is Donna Karan Be Delicious. It’s an apple made of violet leaves. November 26, 2015 at 12:15pm

        • Karen (A): Ohhh, good call Nick! I have a generous sample of Cuir Beluga and will give it a try. I never would have thought to pair A la Nuit with a leather note (and that is one that is lacking in my collection), but it really just sounds perfect. November 24, 2015 at 8:35pm Reply

          • Nick: Glad to inspire 🙂 November 26, 2015 at 5:58am Reply

    • Victoria: A La Nuit with a dose of leather sounds like the stuff my dreams are made of. Jasmine sambac has a natural leathery facet, so I can just imagine how it would smell next to the real thing. November 24, 2015 at 9:40am Reply

  • Andy: Watched these three videos this morning, and they are all gorgeously done–the scents almost seem to leap out of the screen. I finished off with the one on Calabrian bergamot, which inspired me to pull out Shalimar as my scent of the day. Now I can’t stop smelling myself. November 24, 2015 at 10:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Capua, the same Calabrian producer, had a stand here in Brussels at the EU Parliament not long ago and they brought fresh bergamots and some of their products. When I first entered the room, a wave of scent washed over me, and it was a bright, exhilarating sensation. November 24, 2015 at 11:11am Reply

  • Joy: I am late to this conversation, but I loved the videos and listening to them in French. To be able to wear a jasmine lei, what nirvana! I loved the scene with the hands running through the basket of blossoms. It has to be way better than a basket of gems! November 24, 2015 at 2:39pm Reply

    • Victoria: My favorite scenes too. 🙂 And I wish around here they sold flowers in garlands. I always make sure to buy a small garland in India to wear in my hair. It’s such a beautiful tradition. November 24, 2015 at 3:23pm Reply

  • Aurora: I had to wait to be able to watch the videos quietly at home as I’m not supposed to do so at work. It was an absolute delight. Thank you so much for posting them, Francois Demachy seems to be genuinely interested in the process of selecting raw material, good for him and he corresponds to my idea of a nose.
    The young and old faces and gestures of the jasmine pickers and bergamot farmers are so beautiful in their own right too. The rose film was good too but I vividly recall your post on roses in Grasse which was just as interesting and knowledgeable so I felt I knew the process already.
    I especially enjoyed the film about bergamot as I’m kind of obsessed by it at the moment, it is such an uplifting fragrance and my go to at the moment is Shalimar Parfum Initial l’Eau, it cheers me up whenever I spray it. November 26, 2015 at 5:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Demachy is a talented perfumer, and since he worked at Chanel where quality of raw materials is a priority, he has gone through the best school possible. I think that he likes jasmine sambac very much, because I notice it more in some of Dior fragrances, including flankers to the classical. J’Adore L’Or, for instance, has a beautiful sambac note. It’s a different fragrance from the original, but it’s also interesting and memorable. November 26, 2015 at 12:13pm Reply

  • Myroslava: Glad the episode is in French, and I can enjoy both the language and the natural beauty of the India landscape. Thanks Victoria! November 26, 2015 at 11:08pm Reply

    • Victoria: My pleasure! I watched this episode a few times already. 🙂 November 28, 2015 at 2:50pm Reply

  • Alita: Thanks Victoria to share so nice documentary films. Love all of them! December 1, 2015 at 12:32pm Reply

    • Victoria: I’m glad to hear it, Alita. December 1, 2015 at 2:28pm Reply

  • a.: ooh, i LOVE videos like these – thanks for sharing them, victoria! as i’m getting back into my love of fragrance, i’ve been eating up stuff like this… watching the video on jasmine reminds me that one of my favorite parts of traveling to india is how in the south, it’s completely standard for women to wear jasmine flowers in one’s hair on a daily basis. the beauty of that ritual, the simple yet special pleasure it adds to one’s day… makes me want to go back right now!

    relatedly, in one of my google searches (on “orpur”, after reading it in a list of tom ford fragrance notes) i came across some givaudan videos on several ingredients – https://www.givaudan.com/fragrances/explore-ingredients/innovative-naturals. i think you previous posted about them, but i figured i’d mention them again as it appears they’ve added more ingredients (lavender, patchouli, vetiver). i just watched the 3 videos on patchouli, and when i have more time i want to go back and look at the related material they’ve included. and watch the rest of the videos too, though upon further inspection it looks like patchouli may be the only one with the 3-video treatment. December 1, 2015 at 6:57pm Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! These videos are terrific, and it’s always a good idea to be reminded of them. I like the vetiver one the most. December 2, 2015 at 12:19pm Reply

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