Perfume 101: 393 posts

Here you can find how to guides to selecting, testing and enjoying scents. Also includes are the lists of our top favorite perfumes for different occasions and articles covering all range of topics related to fragrance. If you’re curious to step inside a perfume lab (or even become an industry professional), this group of essays will be of interest.

Rhubarb and Roses in Cuisine and Perfume

Every spring I make a Persian rhubarb sherbet by cooking sliced stems and sugar in water. Once the flavor and pink color infuse into the syrup, I filter the liquid and add rose essence. Enjoyed from tall crystal glasses, the sherbet has a voluptuous taste that calls to mind the warm light streaming through the stained glass windows of the Nasir al-Mulk Mosque, a pink-tinted jewel of Shiraz.


Since perfumery has much in common with cuisine, rendering my sherbet into a fragrance accord with a similar ornate impression is not difficult. Rhubarb has a natural affinity with rose, violet and berries, because they are complementary notes (and raspberry, in a nesting doll twist, contains elements of both rose and violet, which makes it an especially felicitous partner.)  Jo Malone White Lilac and Rhubarb explores this combination by augmenting the floral layer of rhubarb with a cocktail of rose and lilac. It’s a bright and happy perfume, with a nod to retro glamour.

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How Artist Serge Lutens Revolutionized Perfumery

In his marvellous essay Why Read the Classics? Italo Calvino offers 14 definitions of what makes a classic piece of literature. Reflecting on his list, I thought how easily its ideas could also be applied to perfumery. The same notions of the inexhaustible sense of discovery, timelessness, and “imprints on our imagination” also define a classic scent, be it Guerlain Shalimar or Chanel No 5. It was Calvino’s 13th point, however, that struck a chord. “A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without,” he says. They’re rooted in the present even as they transcend it.

Inspired by Calvino, I decided to draw up a personal list of perfume classics, creations that reflect their moment and yet have timeless relevance. The first I selected was Serge Lutens’ Féminité du Bois, a fragrance conceived by the artist and photographer for Japanese brand Shiseido in 1992. Lutens wanted a perfume based on the Atlas cedarwood, and he sought to convey the softness of the ingredient that beguiled him ever since he came to Morocco in the 1960s. Initially when Lutens talked to the perfumers about his idea, he encountered a lack of comprehension. Cedarwood was traditionally treated as a sharp, masculine note and few fragrance professionals understood how to reinterpret it in a different guise.

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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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Celebrating Spring and a New Century

Happy Nowruz! نوروز مبارک ! Nowruz, the Persian New Year, is celebrated on the spring equinox, which March 20 this year. It will also mark the start of a new century according to the Persian calendar. 21 March 2021 will be the first day of 1400. I wish all of you health, happiness and joy. May it be the start of a beautiful new year.

And to start the new century on a positive note. Yesterday I met on Instagram Live with Firmenich perfumer Dora Baghriche–whom many of you know through her beautiful perfumes, and we talked about cultivating creativity in today’s world. We discussed our difficulties with facing uncertainty over the past year, ways of coping creatively and emotionally, and why perfume retains its power. We also shared our favorite books, documentaries and poems. Dora’s energy and passion were palpable. The Live was hosted on @firmenichfine and they will provide a video, so that I can share with all of you. In the meantime, you can go to firmenichfine IGTV and see the recording there. I hope that you’ll enjoy our candid, warm discussion.

The image above is of haft seen, a special spread of symbolic items that have deep significance on Nowruz.  I’ve already written about the tradition of haft seen before, so please check my article.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Why Violet Perfumes Retain Their Timeless Appeal

Swan down puffs, lace camisoles, ivory fans, tulle skirts, satin shoes… If these words evoke an appealing vision for you, then you’re the right candidate for a Victorian violet perfume. While the 19th century under the reign of Queen Victoria is often described as conventional and stuffy, the favorite aromas of the period might likewise be seen as uninspiring. Nothing could be further from truth. Despite its reputation for being overly dainty and demure, violet has a complex aroma with a fascinating history–and it retains its timeless appeal.

The Victorian era was a period of great changes in society, and the simple example of a violet cologne is a good illustration for the dynamics of the time. Violet waters became popular long before Victoria was crowned a queen, and they were highly sought after for their sweet scent with nuances of raspberry and rose.  At first, fragrances based on this flower were derived from Parma violets via the painstaking process of collecting tiny blossoms and extracting their essence.  It made violet a costly and luxurious perfume available only to the select few.

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Latest Comments

  • 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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