Indole: 2 posts

Van Cleef & Arpels California Reverie : Fragrance Review


San Francisco is one of the most fragrant cities. The scents of salty sea breeze and jasmine are the strongest recollections from my visits. So I’m with Elisa on enjoying Van Cleef & Arpels California Reverie, an effervescent perfume inspired by California and jasmine. 

I love the idea of perfumes inspired by a place – take Christopher Street, a leather scent named for a street in New York City known for its nightlife. Or any number of Bond No. 9 scents – the connections to the individual neighborhoods have been stretching believability for some time, I admit, but a few – like Broadway Nite, Chinatown, and Fire Island – nail the atmospheres of their respective inspirations. Then there’s a host of perfumes named after spots in Paris, including at least two simply named Paris.


It’s funny, on reflection, that there are so many perfumes named after New York – it’s one of my favorite places to be, but honestly, it kind of stinks. California, on the other hand, seems a bit under-leveraged in perfumery briefs. San Diego, for example, is one of the best-smelling cities I’ve been to; the air smells like sea salt, flowers, and eucalyptus trees.

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Indole, Indolic : Perfume Vocabulary & Fragrance Notes

Jasmine, lilac, honeysuckle, gardenia, and orange flower all have diverse olfactory profiles, yet they share the presence of indole, which gives them a rich, narcotic fragrance. Without this unique material, which in pure form looks like white diamond dust, it would have been impossible to recreate the true scent of blooming flowers. A tiny amount of indole is all it takes to infuse life into a composition of floral notes, to make an abstract, vague petally form to appear as a lush, nectar suffused flower.


Indole is often described as “fecal and animalic,” which is a complete misrepresentation. In its pure form, indole smells like moth balls, possessing the same heavy, sweet, tar-like pungency. In fact, it is so strong, suffocating and diffusive that smelling it pure one is hard pressed to imagine that it could be a lovely floral note. Yet, indole changes dramatically in dilutions. It suddenly displays its radiant, floral quality. The suffocating moth ball effect disappears to give way to a completely different image–a handful of gardenia petals or a branch of jasmine flowers.  The opulent, narcotic effect of indole is employed whenever a perfumer wants to create a floral effect or else to give a lift to a heavy, oriental composition.

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