Opulent: 162 posts

Fragrance with rich, complex characters that feel like cashmere wraps

My Name is Red : Chanel Rouge Allure Ink and Guerlain Nahema

“I’m so fortunate to be red! I’m fiery. I’m strong. I know men take notice of me and that I cannot be resisted… Wherever I’m spread, I see eyes shine, passions increase, eyebrows rise and heartbeats quicken. Behold how wonderful it is to live! Behold how wonderful to see. I am everywhere. Life begins with and returns to me.” Orhan Pamuk’s description of my favorite color in My Name is Red has stayed with me ever since I first read the book, and I often think of it whenever I see another red that draws my attention–fabric, autumnal leaves, lipstick, the lacquer of Japanese bowls or perfume. Yes, perfume can also be red.

The impression of red in fragrance is subjective the way synesthesia tends to be, but Guerlain Nahema is a perfume that makes me feel as if I’m enveloped in layers of crimson silk. The effect comes from the combination of rose essence and the damascones, aroma-materials with the aroma of rose jam and stewed apples. This accord alone has a lipstick red hue, but paradoxically it comes across as even more saturated against the background of green citrus and hyacinth. Reds often stand out best against contrasting colors, and this is the case with Nahema.

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The Allure of Extrait de Parfum

If you were a medieval caliph and desired a fragrance to delight your senses, your royal perfumers would have mixed Tibetan musk with an equal amount of Yemeni ambergris and steeped the mixture in ben tree oil over a weak fire. They would have stirred it with a gold spoon and used a silver vessel to refine it further until the liquid itself turned golden and smelled like paradise itself. If you were the wife of the caliph Harun al-Rashid, the one of One Thousand and One Nights fame, then you would have asked for a touch of jasmine oil to remind you of Persian gardens in bloom. According to the 14th century Egyptian scholar Al-Nuwayri, such were indeed the refined tastes of his time.

The luxurious, oil-based perfumes Al-Nuwayri describes in his book are the distant ancestors of the modern extrait de parfum. Today, the extrait de parfum is usually diluted in alcohol, but the proportion of fragrant oils in its formula is still sumptuously high. In my recent FT magazine column, The Allure of Extrait de Parfum, I describe what makes extrait de parfum different and why it still has a place in our perfume wardrobe.

As I’ve noted in my article about perfume concentrations, the proportion of oil alone doesn’t matter as much as the ingredients themselves. However, the parfum, along with the Eau de Cologne, is the oldest way of enjoying fragrance. It was meant to be applied directly on skin, allowing it to envelop the wearer in a soft cloud of scent. For instance, the great classics like Chanel No 5, Guerlain Jicky or Caron Tabac Blond were created as such concentrated blends. Their lighter variations appeared later in the second half of the 20th century when atomizers became popular. To continue reading, please click here.

What are some of your favorite extrait de parfums?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Spanish Still Life : A Study of Jasmine and Fruit

I first saw this painting during an exhibition in Brussels devoted to Spanish still life art and it stayed in my memory. The artist behind it is Benito Espinós (1748-1818), whose still life floral arrangements are among the most dramatic and varied.

If you could match this painting to a perfume, what would you select?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, detail, at the Spanish Still Life exhibit, Bozar.

What Does Orange Blossom Smell Like?

Orange blossom is one of the most popular floral notes in perfumery. It can star in any family and add its special twist to almost any accord. If you like delicate and fresh, you might enjoy orange blossom in Annick Goutal Néroli and Jo Malone Orange Blossom. If dark and somber is more of your mood, then Caron Narcisse Noir and Serge Lutens Fleurs d’Oranger will fit the theme.

Orange blossom in perfumery comes from the bitter orange tree, and it’s called neroli if it’s steam-distilled and absolute if it’s extracted with solvents. (You can read my article for more detailed comparisons and examples of fragrances with these two materials). Both of these materials are expensive, although not as much as rose or jasmine essences. Neroli has a green accent that makes it perfect for colognes, mossy blends and fresh marine compositions, while the smoky twists of orange blossom absolute lend it complexity and drama that unfolds well in the similarly spiced, incense-embellished perfumes.

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Tonka Bean, Chocolate Salt and Three Perfumes

Several years ago, a friend gave me a jar of chocolate and tonka salt from a Viennese outfit called Zum Schwarzen Kameel. It’s a delicatessen and a culinary complex famous for its unique interpretation of classical Austrian specialties. The salt was a mix of coarse salt crystals, black pepper, pieces of cacao beans and tonka. Only a small quantity of the latter was present, but its cherry-almond scent made the salt a heady, fragrant mixture. I’ve used it on grilled meat and fish, but it shone best on winter vegetables like cabbage, turnips, swedes, potatoes, and parsnips. I’ve since made my own version, using equal amounts of black pepper and cacao beans and a smidgen of tonka shavings for perfume. The recipe is at the end of the article.

The reason I was stingy with tonka bean in my blend is because it’s a potent ingredient.  The scent of toasted almonds, amarena cherries, sun-warmed hay and vanilla custard lingers well, and tonka bean’s is one of the most luscious and seductive aromas in a perfumer’s palette. It was also responsible for a revolution in modern perfumery.

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