Power to the Pumpkin in Art and Perfume

In my recent article in FT magazine, Power to the Pumpkin, I explore the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s way with pumpkins–as well as that of perfumers. Both are fun and surprising.

“My love of pumpkins stretches back to when I was a little child. I have always found them to be such tender things to touch and so wonderfully humorous, humble and appealing,” says artist Yayoi Kusama about the most recognizable motif of her work. Her pumpkins are cast in bronze, covered in polka dots or lit by a warm glow. The effect is both whimsical and eerie, echoing associations with childhood pastimes and autumnal stillness.

The humble and appealing aspect of pumpkin that Kusama mentions extends not only to their form, but also to their taste and smell. Most people would find it hard to describe, but a bite of pumpkin pie or a whiff of roasted squash brings comforting associations. Fruity, with a hint of apricot and orange, pumpkin also smells of earthy, green melon. Some varieties, like Japanese kabocha that inspires Kusama, have a milky scent, but subtlety is the common characteristic.

For this reason, when perfumers use pumpkin in compositions, they transform it the way Kusama does. They magnify and enhance their delicate scent. For instance, Pumpkin Chai candle from Nest Fragrances is rich with cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and clove. At the same time, a vivid pumpkin accord adds a luminous twist, and it’s made dramatic enough to stands up to the fiery spices and black tea. As the candle burns and its aroma fills the room, it evokes memories of Halloween gourds being transformed into delicious treats.

Kusama’s artworks reveal pumpkin’s unexpectedly seductive side as she twists and inflates its curves. The idea finds an echo in Harvey Prince’s Temptress. At first, the perfume seems like a charming blend that wraps its bouquet of jasmine, ylang-ylang and freesia into layers of bittersweet amber and spice. However, the presence of pumpkin, a fruit masquerading as a vegetable, adds an element of surprise. The softness of flowers is tempered. The expanding darkness of amber is brought to a halt. The jejune sweetness of vanilla is made more complex. Temptress is alluring, but tongue-in-cheek.

Working on a fragrance for Tilda Swinton, Etat Libre d’Orange’s Like This, perfumer Mathilde Bijaoui made pumpkin the heart of the woody-floral composition. She used the familiar pumpkin pie spice accents of nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger to illuminate the dark sandalwood and incense base. The fruity, mellow sweetness of pumpkin unfolds against this multifaceted backdrop and marries with the bitterness of immortelle, a dune flower that smells of dry herbs and maple syrup. Pumpkin hides behind the petals and leaves, but when one least expects it, it reveals its bright orange fullness. An everyday object made into art, this pumpkin is the olfactory cousin of Kusama’s playful kabochas.

Do you know any other scents with pumpkin?



  • Mara: “Like This” by État Libre d’ Orange, a perfume inspired by Tilda Swinton.

    Also, the fabulous body care series issued last October by The Body Shop, “Fall For Pumpkin”: the body butter is simply delicious! November 11, 2019 at 9:10am Reply

    • Aurora: Hello Mara: I wasn’t aware of the Bodyshop line, you make it sound very appealing. November 11, 2019 at 1:27pm Reply

      • Victoria: I’ve smelled it briefly, and I agree, it’s delicious. November 13, 2019 at 6:55am Reply

    • Victoria: Like This is such an original fragrance. Whenever I wear it, I find new aspects to enjoy in it. November 13, 2019 at 6:54am Reply

    • Fleurycat: Thanks Mara, I tried “Like This” several years ago and was surprised by the pumpkin aspect of this fragrance, and as I remember it wasn’t overpoweringly gourmand. I will have to give it another try. November 13, 2019 at 3:56pm Reply

  • Aurora: I find the pumpkin on Place Vendome so full of fun (I hate the colonne which was pulled down during the brief Commune).

    Another perfume with pumpkin, well I have a BPAL called Pumpkin Latte which smells just like its name and Starbucks, it a fun scent but I finally decided that I am not a real fan of smelling of coffee on myself. It’s a terrific article, Victoria and who knows pumpkin may be the new oud. November 11, 2019 at 12:16pm Reply

    • Victoria: That pumpkin really lit up the area! November 13, 2019 at 6:54am Reply

    • Klaas: The new oud! I love it 😉 November 13, 2019 at 11:55am Reply

  • AndreaR: What a magnificent image. November 11, 2019 at 1:12pm Reply

    • Victoria: I agree! Kusama’s art is so striking. November 13, 2019 at 6:55am Reply

  • rickyrebarco: I find pumpkin scents mostly in candles like the lovely Nest pumpkin candle. Serge Lutens Five O’Clock au Gigembre reminds me of pumpkin pie, although it’s a tea centered fragrance. I think it’s the spices in the juice that are also used to spice pumpkin pies in the US. November 11, 2019 at 4:01pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s probably because of the spices, but it also makes me think of pumpkin pie. November 13, 2019 at 6:56am Reply

  • Fleurycat: My favorite is the fragrance of Sanitas Skincare Pumpkin Enzyme Mask, which has a lovely, gentle pumpkin fragrance. It feels very nourishing, and leaves my skin smooth, soft and refined. November 12, 2019 at 2:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Mmm, I’d like to try it. November 13, 2019 at 6:56am Reply

      • Fleurycat: Yes, please do! The scent is lovely but not overpowering. Of course it’s nice anytime, but this and several other Sanitas masks are especially nice as a first step in the morning when you have time. November 13, 2019 at 3:51pm Reply

        • Victoria: I also love masks in the morning. It gives you such a nice feeling for the rest of the day. November 15, 2019 at 12:59am Reply

  • Behemot: Probably it does not even contain pumpkin but Fendi Theorema is the best pumpkin fragrance to me. It is orange in color and smells like pumpkin with wonderful spices. One of my favorites. November 13, 2019 at 2:42am Reply

    • Victoria: Spices in certain combinations do evoke pumpkin desserts, especially the American ones that tend to use lots of nutmeg and cinnamon. November 13, 2019 at 6:57am Reply

    • Tati: Pumpkin or not, I love Theorema. I’m hoarding a couple of bottles. November 15, 2019 at 5:50pm Reply

      • Victoria: You’re right to do so. It’s impossible to find. November 18, 2019 at 6:21am Reply

  • Klaas: That pumpkin on the Place Vendome is brilliant! I would love to see it!

    Coincedently, I tried Like This yesterday. What a comfy, cozy, sunny, happy fragrance! It smells like a sweet curry and maple syrup at the same time. A bit sweet for me to wear, but it is very appealing for sure! November 13, 2019 at 12:00pm Reply

    • Victoria: I suppose that it can be, especially with immortelle doubling up the sweet impression. November 15, 2019 at 12:57am Reply

  • Karen A: Love the article and comments! When Like This came out I got a sample and wrestled with getting a full bottle but didn’t. The ad with her reading the poem is beautiful. November 13, 2019 at 4:58pm Reply

    • Victoria: It’s one of the best celebrity perfumes for sure. November 15, 2019 at 12:59am Reply

  • Klaas: Exactly, for as much as I love the fragrance (and the smell of immortelle), I find it a bit much to ‘live in’ so to say. November 15, 2019 at 4:53am Reply

    • Victoria: I had a bunch of immortelle flowers in my room and I kept wondering whether the sugary maple syrup smell was coming from. Even a year later they smelled strongly. November 15, 2019 at 5:08am Reply

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