Summer: 152 posts

Perfumes that put me in a summer mood, all year round

What Does Petitgrain Smell Like and My Favorite Perfumes

What is petitgrain and how does it smell like? This iconic perfumery material is derived from the same plant as neroli and orange blossom absolute, bitter or Seville orange tree. Its name means “small grain” in French, and it refers to the fact that traditionally petitgrain was distilled from immature bitter orange fruit. Today, twigs and leaves are more likely to be used. And it smells heavenly–green, sparkling, bright, with a distinctive orange blossom accent.

My new video is devoted to everything petitgrain. I describe how it’s usually used in perfumery and then mention my favorite fragrances that illustrate the complex facets of this essential oil.

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Perfume as a Fantasy : Let’s Dream

Despite a persistent belief that perfumers aim to imitate nature, fragrance is about a fantasy. So looking for the exact smell of a rose in a bottle is like reading Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment to relive a vacation in Saint-Petersburg, even if said sojourn involved all things dark and sordid. Like literature, music, and sculpture, perfumery is a meditation on reality, rather than its photographic reflection. The best of compositions give us a glimpse into someone else’s world and their olfactory idea of a rose—or a cup of black tea, their lover’s skin, or a melancholy evening in Paris.

We read scent message differently

Each one of us might interpret the aromatic message in different ways. For instance, when I smell Balmain’s Vent Vert, I feel the same exhilaration as I do on the first days of March when the air smells intensely green and fresh. My friend, on the other hand, finds it disconcerting and aggressive, a storm of sharp, raspy notes that leaves her lightheaded. Considering that Vent Vert’s creator, Germaine Cellier, minced neither words nor accords, perhaps my friend’s impression is closer to the original intention of the perfumer.

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Vietnamese Green Oil, DIY Colognes and Other Cool Delights

The second part of my refreshing scents series focuses on non-alcoholic and DIY options. Some people prefer to skip alcohol during hot days, and I’m often asked for inexpensive solutions. Experimenting with scents during summer is fun, but when the temperature rises above 35C, the idea of putting on perfume becomes unappealing.

I instead reach for oils from Vietnam or Thailand, especially Dầu Gió Xanh Eagle Brand Medicated Oil. This popular Vietnamese oil is used for headaches, muscle pains, etc, but I also find it effective on hot days when my head feels heavy. The scent is spicy and incense-like, but it’s unexpectedly refreshing. The oil was created in 1935 by a German chemist, Wilhelm Hauffman, for a Singaporean trading house J Lea & Co. Hauffman was perfecting the extraction of chlorophyll, which gave the oil its color, while the other main ingredients included menthol, methyl salicylate and eucalyptus oil

Green Oil became a household favorite in Vietnam once it was introduced in the 1960s. On the other hand, its Art Deco-styled bottle and vivid hue would be familiar not just to those who grew up in Vietnam and other Asian countries, but also the former Soviet ones. During my childhood in Ukraine, medicated oils and Cao Sao Vàng (Golden Star Balm) were considered as nothing short of panacea.

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Cooling Perfumes : Seeking Freshness

This summer has been strange in many ways, and the sudden onset of heat threw everything off-kilter. Normally I’d escape my sweltering apartment–this is Belgium, we don’t have air conditioning–and head to the local mall or library, but that’s not possible. Instead, I’ve dipped into my perfumer’s toolkit, made a few cooling colognes and lined up refreshing fragrances. A jug of fennel and rose sherbet is cooling in the fridge. Cold buckwheat noodles will require only a few minutes in the kitchen later, and for lunch there is watermelon and feta. Thus prepared, I can work in relative comfort.

I will share my DIY options on Monday, but for this week’s video, I’ve selected a few perfumes that are cooling. Cooling, not just cool. Is there a difference? To a perfumer, there is, and it’s an important one. A cool perfume evokes a particular refreshing association through the use of notes like green leafy notes, citrus, green fruit, green florals or aldehydes. A cooling perfume, on the other hand, usually contains menthol. Menthol activates the cold-sensitive receptors in the skin which is why menthol-containing perfumes feel cooling.

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My Favorite Summer Perfumes (at the moment)

I came back from the market the other day with a big bouquet of cornflowers and as I sat admiring their vivid color, I realized that these blue flowers are my quintessential summer blossom. Their scent is delicate, green, slightly musty, but the fascinating aspect of olfaction is how such subtle aromas can evoke strong memories. I smelled cornflowers and I could see the wildflower meadows of Poltava, the region in Central Ukraine where I spent the first 15 summers of my life. I could smell the watermelon, feel the sticky peach juice on my fingers and catch a whiff of my great-grandmother distilling rosewater. Being unable to travel there makes me more nostalgic–and renders the familiar scents more intense. Instead of being melancholy after smelling cornflowers, as one might imagine, I felt rejuvenated and uplifted.


This experience inspired me to focus my new video on my favorite summer perfumes. I reflected on what fragrances I gravitate to in the summer and why. While the exact perfumes might change year to year, the main idea stays the same–I wear fragrances that feel refreshing in warm weather and that evoke the pleasant idleness of a good vacation.

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  • Klaas in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: We grew rhubarb in our garden when I was a kid. We used to eat the stems, raw, dipped in sugar. It was a real experience, the extreme sourness of… April 14, 2021 at 5:11pm

  • Sarah in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: Love the Hermes parfum. Bought it in Montreal. It is nice je of my favorite during the summer. Caramelized rhubarb pie is a delight. Unfortunately I am the only one… April 14, 2021 at 4:36pm

  • Silvermoon in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: When I visited relatives in Germany as a child, I remember being served rhubarb compotes or similar for dessert. Always liked it, but considered it oddly sour for a “dessert”.… April 14, 2021 at 3:28pm

  • OnWingsofSaffron in Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume: Ah, delicious! I cooked one batch of rhubarb with sugar, a bit of salt and vanilla as a compote. The second batch was blanched very shortly for a Persian-ish khoresh… April 14, 2021 at 11:51am

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