Classics & Vintages: 153 posts

Vintage treasures, iconic perfumes

Why Frankincense Is On The Verge of Disappearing

Incense is one of my favorite notes, whether it’s the classical frankincense (olibanum) or the blends meant to evoke the aroma of Japanese or Indian powders and joss sticks. I will eventually cover the different notes that convey an incense-like effect, but today I will start with frankincense. It’s an iconic ingredient, and in perfumery if you see incense mentioned in a fragrance pyramid, it’s often frankincense. Another reason I would like to start my incense series with frankincense is that it’s an ingredient under threat.

Frankincense is obtained from about five species of Boswellia trees found in North Africa, Western Africa, India, Oman, and Yemen. Centuries before oil became the source of Oman’s wealth, frankincense was its true gold. In order to collect frankincense, harvesters make incisions in the trunks of the trees. The oozing sap eventually hardens and is gathered in pellets. Men typically gather the resin, while women clean it and sort the so-called frankincense tears by size. In my film, I described the danger of frankincense harvesting, since the trees grow on hard-t0-access cliffs.

In Somalia, trees have always been highly valued and the groves were local property, passed down within clans. Trees were tapped only after they were at least 12 years old and the harvest would be rotated to give the plants time to heal. However, armed conflicts and rising demand for the resin collided to create conditions for overharvesting.

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Famous Perfumery Roses : Rose Damascena

Last week I covered the topic of rose de mai, or rosa centifolia, and it’s only fitting to turn my attention to the other famous perfumery rose, rose damascena or rosa damascena. Richer in essential oils than centifolia, it’s the most important rose cultivar for fragrances. In my video, I will describe this variety, show how rose absolute and rose oil look alike and explain where it’s grown.

Of course, I will also discuss rose damascena in fragrances. Although associated with feminine perfumery, roses of all types, natural and synthetic, are are used in masculine fragrances as well as compositions that are not obviously floral. I will explain how perfumers use rose nuances and to what effect.

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Why Is Rose Centifolia Such An Expensive Ingredient

I had a chance to harvest roses in Grasse on a couple of occasions and to observe the process of rose absolute and rose essential oil distillation. The experience of jumping into a pile of rose petals was certainly heady and memorable, but what struck me the most was the work involved to produce rose absolute. Since the famous rose of Grasse, rose centifolia, or rose de mai, contains less essence than rose damascena, it’s rarely steam-distilled. Instead, it has to be processed in a multi-step manner, which requires skill, experience and the right equipment.

My most recent video is about rose centifolia. As I explain, the processing of rose blossoms into rose absolute is a complicated and time-consuming process.  First, the flowers are treated with an organic solvent such as hexane, and the resulting extract is then vacuum distilled. The solvent is removed, and the resulting product is called concrète.

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What Materials Are Valued by Perfumers And Why

If you’ve ever been confused by a term “matières nobles” or “noble materials” in a perfume marketing description, I have a video for you. These materials are so called, because in classical French perfumery, they are renowned for their expense and know-how required to produce them. These materials typically include floral essences such as rose oil, rose absolute, jasmine absolute, tuberose absolute, etc. The term should be taken with a grain of salt, because just because a press release mentions “matières nobles,” there is no guarantee that they’re present in a discernible amount or that they are “noble” indeed. Natural essences also have quality categories.

In the video, I describe the history of the term and then mention the materials that are valued by perfumers. To explain how they are used in a fragrance formula, I will use the following perfumes as my examples:

Serge Lutens A La Nuit
Chanel No 5/Jean Patou Joy
Etat Libre d’Orange Rossy de Palma
Acqua di Parma Iris Nobile
Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie
Comme des Garçons Wonderwood

Any materials that you particularly like in fragrances? What note mentioned in descriptions tempts you to try a fragrance?

Classical Perfumes For Those Who Don’t Like Classics

The more I delve into perfumery, the more the subject of fragrance classics fascinates me. Although when it comes to my day-to-day choices I still wear many fragrances from niche brands, I reach for classics when I want to experience the scent of another time, a glimpse of another era or simply to take myself out of my routine. For this reason, classics remain among my staples. What’s more, all of the recent top-selling fragrances lists from the US, France, Germany and Italy feature classical fragrances like Guerlain Shalimar, Chanel No 5, and Christian Dior Eau Sauvage.

Not everyone, however, is enamored with classics. Some people find them old-fashioned. Some think that they are too demanding or that they don’t fit their lifestyle. Can you wear Chanel No 19 while cleaning your flat? Or don Mitsouko for a supermarket run? While as I’ve said many times before, you need not like the classics, giving them a chance will benefit your understanding of perfumery. Another important consideration is that classical ideas are often reused in niche fragrances, so instead of paying the niche prices, you can find the same thing–and often of much better quality–from the original source.

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