Carnations, Cloves, Eugenol : A Short History

Carnation is not the trendiest of floral notes, and yet modern perfumery would be unthinkable without it–or specifically, the carnation effect. One of the principal aroma-molecules in the essence of carnation is eugenol, and its discovery was revolutionary. In 1834, eugenol was synthesized by Carl Jacob Ettling. In 1858, it was studied and named by August André Thomas Cahours, another brilliant chemist, whose contributions to organic chemistry are numerous. If you wish to know what eugenol smells like, sniff a pot of cloves. There is a reason why Ettling turned to this spice to obtain eugenol–clove essence contains up to 90% eugenol, depending on the variety.

Eugenol was and remains important not only in perfumery, but also in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, the food industry, and above all, dentistry. It’s known as an effective pain reliever, and to this day, it’s mixed into zinc-oxide-rosin cements for certain types of fillings. For this reason, those who have had the misfortune of experiencing root canal work associate the scent of cloves and carnations with the dentist’s office.

In perfumery, eugenol was first used as part of carnation bases. Carnation essence is available, but it’s costly, and realistic approximations can be made by mixing rose, white florals like ylang ylang and clove or pure eugenol. Such spicy floral effects were popular at the turn of the 20th century, and you can notice them in fragrances by Guerlain, Caron, and Coty. Caron Poivre is a vibrant spicy carnation, for instance.

As you watch the video below, I highly recommend grabbing of jar of cloves and smelling along.

When you smell cloves, pay attention first to the sharp sweetness, which forms its floral note. Then you’ll notice a pepper-like spice and even hints of dry citrus peel. Take a break and start smelling again. The sweet floral note should become clearer. Think of the flowers that it evokes. Does it remind you of rose? If your cloves aren’t fresh, you might notice oily hints and even metallic, fishy notes. In that case, crush a few clove buds and smell them again.

I hope this exercise will inspire you to think of cloves in a new light and to experiment with them, in food and in perfume. You can even pair cloves with rosewater in baking for a carnation-inflected cake. Or rub lamb chops with a mixture of clove, dry rose petals, garlic, lemon peel, black pepper, salt and olive oil and see how versatile this carnation-inspired combination can be.  If you’re in a baroque mood, add a few clove buds to cherries and sugar and simmer them for a few minutes to make a quick compote. If you leave the cherry stones in, you’ll see for yourself why eugenol and coumarin is such a successful accord in perfumery. You might even be inspired to create your own signature pairing.

I would love to hear about your carnation favorites!

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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51 Comments

  • Tourmaline: Dear Victoria,

    That was a lovely video. By the way, did you do the embroidery on your blouse; it is beautiful.

    I am one of the unfortunate ones who have had root canals – four of them, in fact, so I do tend to associate the aroma of cloves with dental work. For this reason, I have never bought any. However, the prospect of a Carnation Cake, definitely with bright pink icing, is enough to make me add cloves to my shopping list! I might even try the compote (in December, when cherries are in season here) and the lamb dish….

    I bought a bottle of Opium soon after it was first released, in both an EDP and a body lotion. I haven’t smelled any of the other incarnations of it, though, and having heard your report, I’m looking forward to doing so. I also have some L’Air du Temps from at least 25 years ago, as well as my beloved Bellodgia – my absolute favourite. I consider that, in general, I am extremely fortunate to have purchased so many great fragrances prior to the new EU regulations.

    As I’ve mentioned a couple of times previously, the carnation was my late mother’s favourite flower, and I still have one of her carnation soaps as a keepsake. It’s a shame there aren’t more soaps with a carnation scent.

    As for the Opium body lotion… Many years ago, I had the idea that it would good to have body lotions and powders in all my favourite fragrances. Of course, lotion eventually goes rancid, even if kept in the fridge, and these days I’d rather spend talcum powder money on perfume. However, as a consequence of those days, I still have Mitsouko, L’Air du Temps, Eau Dynamisante, Y, Le Jardin, and various others in lotion form. I’m slowly working my way through them.

    I also have Mitsouko, Shalimar, Y, Le Jardin, Clair de Jour, Poison and several other less expensive fragrances in talcum powders to use up. I’ll keep the lovely bottles of the more expensive ones, though; they might not make some of them these days.

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline July 6, 2020 at 7:52am Reply

    • Victoria: Thank you very much! And thank you for sharing your favorites.

      It’s just a machine-embroidered T-shirt, but I like the pattern. July 6, 2020 at 9:01am Reply

    • Nina Z: Santa Maria Novella has Garofano (carnation) soap, which is quite nice. I think the Rogers & Gallet Carnation soap is better, however, and I do see it being sold on eBay. July 6, 2020 at 2:38pm Reply

      • Tourmaline: Thanks, Nina.

        Roger & Gallet products are sometime sold at the David Jones department store here in Brisbane, although it might only be prior to Mother’s Day and Christmas. I must take a look soon; one never knows one’s luck! July 7, 2020 at 4:53am Reply

  • Lizzie: I always think of LouLou by Cacharel whenever I smell carntion notes in a perfume x July 6, 2020 at 9:18am Reply

  • Julie A. Basile: Wow — amazing video. I am looking for your apricot one. Just e-mailed you all my 1970 and 1980 favorite missing perfumes…I’m a scent addict in every way – -baking, wearing, planting. It means so much to have fragrance in the world to not only stay in the present for beauty sake but to recall and remember. The olfactory is so connected to our memories. Love Julie July 6, 2020 at 9:36am Reply

  • Alison: I’ve had a lot dental work and have a phobia of the dentist but I still love clove and carnation and soap wort which is very slightly smelling but like carnation. I love older fragrances anywaY. July 6, 2020 at 10:03am Reply

  • Julie: I really enjoyed your video. Thank you for sharing that. I am about to shower with a soap called Anterenea by Fredric Malle. A bit of carnation seems to be in the mix!
    Nina Ricci comes to my mind (1973) an introduction for me was the pretty bottle of Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps on my sister’s
    dressing table. I also loved Opium back in the day it was a scent my mom wore occasionally. I may have to revisit that one soon. Have a wonderful day!😊 July 6, 2020 at 10:08am Reply

  • Clare: Thank you for the wonderful video, Victoria; informative and most interesting!

    Carnations are one of my most favourite flowers but because I only knew them from the florist’s I had never really thought about their fragrance. It wasn’t until I started growing my own (not the long-stemmed varieties prized for their blooms, more the petite cottage graden types) that I realised they have the most intoxicating, potent and gorgeous scent! That discovery sparked my interest in carnation-centric perfumes.

    I tried L’air du temps, Westwood’s discontinued Boudoir, Youth Dew, to name a few. My favourite carnation fragrance I have come across is Carner Barcelona’s Sweet William. It’s not as powerful as most perfumes I enjoy wearing but the fragrance is just lovely. I just wish it had a bit more ‘oomph’.

    I must get my nose near Oeillet Sauvage sometime soon. July 6, 2020 at 10:09am Reply

  • Damiana: Hi there, this is a very informative post, so thank you! My favorite fragrance that features carnation is Bellodgia by Caron. I have an EDT version that has been discontinued. I also tried the EDP, but, to my nose, the EDT has a slightly sharper edge, which I prefer. July 6, 2020 at 10:37am Reply

  • Bastet: I love Santa Maria Novella’s “Garofano” – smells more like a real carnation than any other perfume I’ve tried. So spicy and uplifting. July 6, 2020 at 11:30am Reply

  • Carolyn Middleton: More years ago than I care to admit, my first job with an American oil & gas company here in Aberdeen elicited a Christmas gift of a £25 (a lot of money back then, & certainly more than I could afford to spend on perfume!) voucher from Harrods. Visiting my parents in Surrey for the festive season, my mother & I had a day out in London & I used the voucher for a bottle of the newly released Opium – absolutely gorgeous! I continued wearing it for years, & received many compliments, usually from female colleagues who were not necessarily fragrance-aware, but recognised I was wearing something that smelled of carnations. July 6, 2020 at 11:49am Reply

  • John Luna: Thanks for this informative piece! I love the food connections that you make. I love clove as a functional note, less for its heat than for the cooling sensation it can provide…I have some vintage Old Spice bottles (the aftershave and a surprisingly powerful ‘cologne’) in both of which the clove note has become perhaps a bit too dominant over time. Interestingly, they are strongly reminiscent of a bottle of vintage Opium I bought my son years ago (he wears it often and I now associate the scent with him.) Sometimes when it is front-and-centre, it can wear on me a little. I like it best when it is balanced by other notes and almost vanishes into a common accord… One of my favourites in this regard are Caron’s Le Troisième Homme, in which a powerful clove note sits at one end of an extended and expanded accord centred on toasted coriander. Here, the clove seems to help control a curious (but addictive) ‘bad breath’ note (indoles or civet?) that hides in the heart. The other is Hermès’ Equipage… I have only worn these compositions in their current versions, but both seem great, with the Caron being an excellent performer as well. Equipage seemed almost medicinal to me at first, but once I got used to it I found it really wearable and quite unique… Something I’d like to acquire a full bottle of eventually perhaps, as there is nothing else in my wardrobe that confers that feeling. What was it Guy Robert said? Like biting down on a cold pipe stem. July 6, 2020 at 12:00pm Reply

  • Nina Z: Carnation is by far my favorite perfume note. I don’t actually have hundreds of bottles of perfume the way so many perfumistas do, however, I have a ridiculous number of carnation perfumes and when I hear about a new one, I’m immediately intrigued. My perfume friends know this, so some of the carnation fragrances in my collection were gifts.

    I’m going to divide the ones I own into two groups: Adore and Enjoy Wearing. (There are a few out there I don’t like.)

    Adore: Vintage Bellodgia extrait, Prada No. 2 Oeillet, Guerlain Metallica & Metalys (wish I had a bottle of Metalys, which is more carnation-y), DSH Fleuriste.

    Enjoy Wearing: Vintage Patou Adieu Sagesse, Guerlain Terracotta Voile d’Ete, SMN Garofano, and Laboissier Carnation.

    I remember you once recommended Cinnabar as a carnation scent, and I keep meaning to get my hands on some of the vintage Cinnabar, but haven’t yet. I do love Opium but don’t really think of it as carnation per se. July 6, 2020 at 12:43pm Reply

  • Caroline: As others have mentioned, L’Air du Temps is a good one–enjoy my vintage ebay-acquired bottle, and it’s quite long-lasting despite the absence of modern fixatives.
    Hiram Green’s Vivacious features noticeable carnation and is cheerful & uplifting.
    Though not listed as a note, I get a carnation-y vibe from Une Fleur de Cassie. July 6, 2020 at 12:54pm Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: Yes indeed, Hiram Green‘s latest scent Vicacious is (also) a carnation scent, together with violet! That was a rather bold choice, I‘d say, knowing that carnation scents get a rather bad rap as fusty & old-fashioned. July 6, 2020 at 4:18pm Reply

  • Tara C: My mother wore L’Air du Temps. I like Aedes Oeillet Bengale and FM Noir Épices, on the carnation/clove spectrum. July 6, 2020 at 1:06pm Reply

    • Nina Z: I love Noir Epices, though I don’t really think of it as being a carnation scent. It certainly is a spicy scent, though. And it’s a very dry oriental, with citrus instead of vanilla. It’s surprisingly good in the summer. July 6, 2020 at 4:13pm Reply

      • Silvermoon: Same here, Nina. I love Noir Epices, but didn’t realise it had a carnation note (cloves, yes). So, Victoria’s video and post explained it beautifully. I shall focus on figuring it out next time I wear NE.

        I especially like the clove and/or carnation note in soaps. July 11, 2020 at 6:02am Reply

  • Nancy Chan: Roger et Gallet Oeillet Mignardise soap. Karl Lagerfeld’s Sun, Moon, Stars also has a strong carnation note amongst the floral bouquet. This was the first perfume that got me interested in gardening. July 6, 2020 at 2:00pm Reply

  • Julie: I enjoyed your video. I always think of Coco EDT. It has a lovely clove scent. July 6, 2020 at 3:29pm Reply

  • Adrienne: Caron’s ‘Bellodgia’ is the closest thing to carnation/clove fragrance that I have ever known. I’ve been using that perfume for over 50 years now. It was a 21st birthday present. July 6, 2020 at 3:54pm Reply

    • Nina Z: Bellodgia is one of my very favorite fragrances and certainly one of my top carnation scents. I always buy the vintage though, and found I only truly love the vintage extrait. What is the modern like? July 6, 2020 at 4:15pm Reply

      • Adrienne: I’ve only ever had the vintage so cannot compare sorry. July 7, 2020 at 7:23am Reply

      • Lucia: Like kitchen cloves. I am sorry :(((…I own probably one of last Bellodgia extraitbottles (it is discontinued now), and it is far from vintage:( July 7, 2020 at 9:15am Reply

    • OnWingsofSaffron: I was very lucky and got myself a big cluncky vintage flacon on ebay (extrait) as well as the edt. My word, was I surprised that the first moments smelled exactly like a beetle we used to find in our garden: when you came too close it would squirt out a tiny trace of some liquid—and that’s Bellodgia’s opening in a nutshell! Isn‘t that strange?
      Of course later on, vintage Caron‘s famous creaminess dissipates all traces of those smelly coleoptera! July 6, 2020 at 4:43pm Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Did I miss it or did no one mention Serge Luten‘s Vitriol d‘Œillet? I find it utterly lacking in charm which is a great pity as the flower itself is so very pretty! July 6, 2020 at 4:27pm Reply

  • Joyce: Lovely and informative post + video as always!

    I bought a bunch of carnations over the weekend because I was surprised that they still have the carnation scent – sweet, slightly green and spicy.

    One of my favourite perfume is Cabotine de Gres. It’s hopeless trying to read up on it from the internet, as the dominant reviewers seem to equate youth with “fruity” and everything else is relegated to “old people”. Another one is the recently acquired L’Heure Bleue and carnation comes across after a few hours. July 6, 2020 at 4:57pm Reply

  • Peter: Mahalo Victoria for another ‘nuts and bolts’ video about Perfumery. As a non-cook I don’t have any cloves on hand. I did make myself blotters of Opium and Noir Epices. I so enjoyed the last experiment with peaches and Mitsouko. (I can still smell the L’Heure Bleue on the blotter!)

    I’ve tried to search out your beloved Oeillet Sauvage, but I don’t think that new bottles are being produced. There was a ‘thread’ a few months ago about carnation perfumes and the OS was mentioned, along with Bellodgia and Oriza L Legrand. I just got the Oriza Royal Oeillet soap and will compare with my sample of their Oeillet Louis XV.

    Back in the 1970s I worked as a lei-greeter at the Honolulu International Airport. Our most expensive lei was a deluxe carnation. You could order it in either white or red. It was very thick and of course, it smelled like heaven. It’s probably considered old-fashioned now. For those who can remember, think Jack Lord in “Hawaii 5-0”! July 6, 2020 at 5:19pm Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Peter,

      What! You mean tourists have to PAY for the leis! I thought the Hawaiins just gave them out free-of-charge to tourists arriving off the plane, to show what a warm and friendly people they were!

      Those leis must have smelled divine.

      There is a fantastic Australian film called “The Dish” (with a wonderful 60s soundtrack, incidentally), all about our role in the first moon landing. There is a fabulous scene where the American ambassador is being welcomed, and a small Oz band is scheduled to play the American National Anthem in his honour. At the allotted time, they begin playing the theme from Hawaii 5-0! After a look of mild confusion, the ambassador accepts the mistake graciously. July 7, 2020 at 8:08am Reply

      • Peter: Aloha Tourmaline,

        Sorry to burst your bubble. Nothing is free in Paradise anymore. Except, of course, the Beach!

        That ‘Hawaii 5-0″ theme song is iconic. That sounds like a fun moment in “The Dish”. July 7, 2020 at 8:37am Reply

        • Tourmaline: Oh, that’s a shame about the leis… But then, the Hawaiians gotta eat! Yes, the beach is usually free; I don’t know of any country where they charge admission, although perhaps it’s only a matter of time…

          I think you’d enjoy “The Dish”. It is a very charming, heart-warming film, with great music (as I said). I’m lucky enough to own both the DVD AND the soundtrack CD. July 7, 2020 at 8:43am Reply

          • Peter: Another interesting fact about our Hawaii beaches is that they’re all public. There are no private beaches. So even in the most luxurious neighborhoods there are public access paths between the mansions. July 7, 2020 at 4:26pm Reply

            • Tourmaline: That is indeed interesting. I wonder whether the rich ever get annoyed about the fact that anyone can access the beach nearest to them. July 7, 2020 at 8:29pm Reply

              • Peter: I’m sure the wealthy are not happy about the common people mingling on ‘their’ beach. Parking enforcement is sometimes used to deter outsiders. July 7, 2020 at 10:20pm Reply

                • Tourmaline: It doesn’t surprise me. Money talks! July 8, 2020 at 4:12am Reply

              • Ben: This type of law goes all the way back to the Romans. Everyone had access to beaches, they were a all public. July 18, 2020 at 5:05pm Reply

                • Tourmaline: Hi Ben,

                  Good on the Romans! July 18, 2020 at 9:06pm Reply

  • Tatiana: I wore L’Air du Temps in high school about 40 years ago. I had no idea it was still available. YSL Opium has been one of my favorite fragrances since the 1980’s. I have several bottles of varying vintages and I rather like all of them. July 6, 2020 at 7:09pm Reply

  • Fazal: Not exactly related to the topic discussed in the video but your apartment is awesome. It is kind of a mix between Euro-Bohemian style and Japanese interior aesthetics. July 7, 2020 at 12:57am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Second that. The mask on the wall looks a bit scary, though. July 7, 2020 at 8:10am Reply

    • Victoria: That’s the best characterization of that room.
      The mask on the wall is barong, a lion-like creature from the Balinese mythology, a protector, the one who battles the evil. He’s wearing tiare blossoms in his mane, by the way. July 8, 2020 at 2:25am Reply

  • Ariadne: If ever in a proper plant nursery check out an old fashioned Dianthus. This marvelous ground cover perennial has grey/green narrow leaves topped with 7″ high mauve flowers only and inch in diameter. But BOY, what an intoxicating clove-like scent. Positively face-plant evocative! July 7, 2020 at 6:32pm Reply

  • Joyce: A nice and affordable clove perfume Is Zara’s collaboration with Jo Malone, Ebony Wood. It’s a creamy, sweet woodsy scent which has the spice and warmth of cloves.

    I am wearing this on one wrist and Serge Lutens Cedre on the other. Cedre has that great morphing thing that Lutens is so good at, while Ebony Wood is more straightforward. But both are scrumptious clove options! July 8, 2020 at 1:37am Reply

  • Austenfan: Did you ever watch Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources? Carnations play a major part in the plot, and if I ever see or read anything about them I’m reminded of those films.
    I like carnation and will never forget Poivre, or Coup de Fouet. These days I love Œillet Bengale and of course Œillet Mignardise. July 8, 2020 at 9:51am Reply

  • Figuier: Thanks for this Victoria! I love carnation in perfume, although perhaps less so as a soliflore. I think it’s to do with early scent memories – my grandmother wore L’Air du Temps, and my dad wore Old Spice when I was little. Now I often wear the carnation-heavy Guerlain Terracotta Voile d’Ete. I also enjoy smelling dianthus, which is often used to edge front garden flower beds in my neighbourhood. I am totally unembarrassed about bending down to smell them, though it probably looks odd 🙂 July 9, 2020 at 1:23pm Reply

    • Victoria: I would do the same thing. The scent of these small carnations is so wonderful that I would crawl on the ground to smell them. 🙂 July 10, 2020 at 2:22am Reply

      • Silvermoon: Victoria, the crawling on the ground image made me smile 😊 I do it for some flowers too, especially snowdrops (the delights of early spring madness) and lily of the valley (the smell is gorgeous). Luckily, most other flowers that I love sniffing are at standing height! 😃 July 11, 2020 at 6:08am Reply

  • Hilde: It must have been already some ten years ago that I was doing my monthly visit at the perfume centre looking for another perfume I didn’t have yet. Coincidently I tried Jean-Charles Brosseau Ombre Bleue et Ombre Rose. Before I had never heard of it. But I liked the Ombre Bleue and I bought a bottle. It was the shop assistant who told me that one of the flowers in the perfume was carnation., a flower which I have always been fond of. About a month later, when I was doing my next visit at the perfume shop during the sales period, I saw this perfume was sold in outlet for 20 EUR a bottle of 100 ml. I bought the remaining six bottles. By the way, five bottles are still untouched.

    I have an immense collection of perfumes and I must admit that I am a bit ashamed of it. Although I like all of them, Ombre Bleue has become one of my favourites. It is really a white flower garden in a bottle and it remains the whole day long – I think because it is a bit powdery – without changing.

    I thought that this trademark had finished the perfume, but it still exists I saw on their website. It is only not available any more in the shops where I am used to go. I wonder if the smell is still the same.

    For me carnation is not synonymous with old fashion. Together with jasmine, lys and freesia it belongs to my favourite flower scents. That’s why I am also fond of Cartier Baiser Volé (a lot of lys) and Kenzo Summer (freesia) which is also a bit powdery. And I think that in Fidji Guy Laroche there is also carnation in it. Do You know Victoria? July 16, 2020 at 6:09am Reply

    • Victoria: I do like Fidji very much. It used be one of my mom’s favorite perfumes. July 19, 2020 at 7:40am Reply

  • Ugo: I love Dianthus by Etro, Bellodgia by Caron, Garofano by Lorenzo Villoresi, Oeillet Bengale by Aedes De Venustas (even if it’s a fragrance based on rose and not carnation), Oeillet Sauvage by L’Artisan Parfumeur, Metallica by Guerlain and En Avion by Caron. I’d love to try Poivre by Caron and a lot of other carnation fragrance because it’s a note I love but very rare in modern perfumery.
    I’m really sad that Metallica is discontinued because it’s a marvellous creation and even the bottle was incredibly beautiful… July 19, 2020 at 9:35am Reply

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