Perfume 101: 306 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.

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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L’Artisan Parfumeur Mont de Narcisse : Perfume Review

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Narcissus is a flower that doesn’t smell floral. In general, the perfumery palette abounds in aromatics that play tricks on the senses. For instance, an iris note in fragrance smells more of carrots than of blossoms. Patchouli, a leaf, smells like woods. And so on. Narcissus, however, is one of the most intriguing ingredients. If you expect petals, April showers and gauzy lightness, you’ll be in for a surprise.

On its own narcissus absolute smells of woods and leather and has a facet reminiscent of damp hay. If you let it develop on a blotter and sniff it the next day, you’ll notice caramelized spices–cinnamon and clove–and a hint of musk.  It’s a powerful material and it often plays the role of a supporting player in the composition, lifting up the delicate floral or citrus accords or else accenting the woods and animalic notes. Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit is one of the best examples of narcissus in classical perfumery.

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Leather Scents with a Soft Focus

Although classical leather notes in perfumery are dark and dramatic like Robert Piguet Bandit and Grès Cabochard, this theme offers many variations, including the soft and creamy ones. In my recent FT column, Leather Scents with a Soft Focus, I describe different ways in which leather can be interpreted. I also talk about my idiosyncratic behavior at the vintage shops.

Unconventional is the leather collection of Serge Lutens. The line has a number of fragrances with leather accents, whether Sarrasins, with its interplay of leather, jasmine and musk or Fumerie Turque, which weaves leather into tobacco leaves and rose petals. Cuir Mauresque, however, makes this tanned note the star player. It is buttery and rich, oscillating between the darkness of amber and the spicy bite of clove. What makes its leather tender and luminous is the clever addition of orange blossom and mandarin. Inspired by the old tradition of perfuming gloves with fragrant pomades, Cuir Mauresque conjures up vintage handbags and well-worn armchairs in old libraries. To continue reading, please click here.

Where do you fall on the leather spectrum, dark or light?

Image via FT

Scented Orchids : A Kaleidoscope of Perfume

Andy wrote this article a couple of years ago after his visit to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, and I kept looking for a chance to share it with you. Now in the middle of grey winter days, an invitation to contemplate scented orchids seems particularly welcome.

What does an orchid really smell like? In the world of perfumery, the answer is fairly limited—orchid is usually portrayed using a note that is spicy, exotic, and floral like Tom Ford Black Orchid or Jo Malone Dark Amber & Ginger Lily, often accented by woodsy, powdery, or vanillic nuances. In reality, though, orchids possess far too wide a range of scents to be classified using any of these descriptions. Orchids are a particularly diverse class of plants, found on every continent, except Antarctica, growing in rainforests, deserts, and marshes, on mountains, valleys, and plains, and taking root in just about every type of climate imaginable.

Orchids are highly adapted to their environments, which is reflected in the fact that most species of orchids have co-adapted with their pollinators to exhibit flowers that are shaped, colored, and scented to attract a specific species of insect or bird. This explains why an orchid species like Orphrys exaltata, which is pollinated by male bees, carries a sweet scent that mimics female bee pheromones, and why an orchid species like Bulbophyllum graveolens, which is pollinated by carrion flies, smells like rotting meat. Fortunately for human noses, though, most cultivated orchids smell pleasant, with odors that span the range of fruity, floral, and all other notes in between.

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Smoke and Fire : Spellbinding Dark Perfumes

The smoky aromas of bonfires, roasted chestnuts, frankincense and lapsang souchong tea are among the most complex, and I know quite a few individuals who fantasize about a fragrance that smells like a smoky charcoal-grilled steak. There is a difference, however, between enjoying a scent in its proper context – charred ribeye at a barbecue or burning leaves in an autumnal park – and wearing a fragrance that reprises such odors. For this reason, perfumery interpretations of smoke tend to blend it into a more familiar setting of woods, spices and resins. In my FT Magazine column, Smoky Perfumes, I explore how smoky notes are used in fragrance and what effects they produce.

One of the best introductions to a smoky perfume is L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Passage d’Enfer (£105 for 100ml EDT). Perfumer Olivia Giacobetti is known for her ability to create olfactory watercolours – airy, transparent compositions. Passage d’Enfer combines lilies and incense, filling the spaces between the white, cool petals with smoke. Giacobetti’s touch is light, and the perfume remains soft and radiant, from the smoky opening to the vanilla- and cedarwood-accented drydown. To continue reading, please click here.

What about you? Do you find smoky fragrances appealing?

Image via FT HTSI

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  • Ed in Recommend Me a Perfume : May 2019: Hi i recently came home with some things that belonged to a relative that passed. Im curios to know more about it. So it appears to be a bottle of… May 26, 2019 at 3:19pm

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