Perfume 101: 320 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.

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

The Olfactory Equivalent of a Souffle

Over dinner recently at Le Soufflé, a Paris restaurant specializing in the famed French dish, my friend asked me if there are any fragrances that suggest the same lightness and sensuality as this airy confection. The question took me by surprise, but I liked the idea of finding a floral scent that felt weightless without being fleeting. This was no simple task because the floral family is vast, ranging from fresh blends based on orange blossom and lily of the valley to smoldering potions of tuberose and jasmine.


In my recent FT column, The Olfactory Equivalent of a Soufflé, I take up the challenge and select three perfumes that capture the airy and decadent qualities of a soufflé.

The first fragrance I selected was Cartier’s Baiser Volé, a composition of white blossoms glazed with vanilla. Its green, sparkling opening includes rose, gardenia and white Casablanca lilies, while the sweetness is tempered by the cool touch of woods, subsiding in the drydown to musk and cedar. Despite its caressing, velvety impression, Baiser Volé retains its effervescent personality from the first to the last accord. To continue reading, please click here.

Image via FT

The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley

Located in the southern part of the Balkan mountain range, Rose Valley stretches across central Bulgaria and produces almost 50 per cent of the world’s rose essence. The mild climate and unique soil composition create a flower with a sumptuous and intense aroma of honey, lemon peel, gingerbread and raspberries. The most popular variety is rose damascena, and when the fields burst into bloom in May, the air becomes sweet and fragrant, as I witnessed when I was there earlier this year. I would pick a few flowers and bring them to my hotel in the evening, and the following day I would wake to a suave scent wafting through the room.

In my recent FT magazine article, The Olfactory Delights of Bulgaria’s Rose Valley, I describe five fragrances based around Bulgarian rose essence. I explain what makes this essence interesting and how perfumers use it as part of rose accords.

To read the full article, please click here.

And of course, please share your favorite rose perfumes. I know that we have quite a rose loving contingent here, and rediscovering old favorites is always a pleasure.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Bulgaria, Kazanlyk.

5 Things That Inspire Me

When I work on any long-term project, my office looks as if a tornado went through it. Since I prefer to work at a low table sitting on a cushion, my legs folded in the lotus position, I use the floor around me as my canvas. Books, research materials, and reference volumes cover it in random looking piles and mixed among them are items I find inspiring. Of course, the chaos is not entirely random, and I can tell you where I have my Japanese-English dictionary, Philip Kraft’s guide to fragrance chemistry or a volume of Persian poetry, without having to get up from my table. (The table, by the way, was a $10 acquisition from a Turkish shop, intended for making phyllo pastry.)

Casting a quick glance at the items that surround me today, I realized that they are much more than the materials I use for my writing, but rather the things that inspire me, the things that give me pleasure simply by looking at or touching them. I’m sure everyone can make such an inspiration collage–and I’m sure that for every person it would be different, but I wanted to share mine with you.

Continue reading →

The Allure of Estonian Birch Tar

“The allure of Estonian birch tar” isn’t a combination of words one encounters often, but I rather like it. My recent article, The Evocative Allure of Birch Tar Perfumes, appears in the FT magazine and celebrates the delicious darkness and smokiness of birch tar, which can add an interesting undercurrent to fragrances and give them a new dimension. From Chanel Cuir de Russie to Juliette has a Gun’s Midnight Oud, this note plays a special role. Birch tar can mimic leather, smoke or even woods.

Yet, my first experience of birch tar came not from a perfume but from a soap I bought as a curio from Tallinn. I enjoyed its smoky aroma so much that I’ve since sourced a similar pine-tar version (€4.95 for 100g) by an Estonian brand called Nurme, and learnt that tar derived from different trees has been used for skincare in Baltic countries for centuries due to its antibacterial and soothing properties. To continue reading, please click here.

Do you like all things dark and smoky?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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