Perfume Notes: 83 posts

Articles on perfume ingredients and fragrance terminology

In Search of Dark, Opulent Musk

“Bring, bring that musk-scented wine! That wine is the key to joy, and it must be mine…” The medieval Persian reader scanning these lines by the 12th-century poet Nezami* would have understood instantly the subtle nuances of the word “musk.” Since natural musk was black, the reader would have envisioned a dark potion. Also, musk was considered the most sumptuous and alluring of scents, and musk-scented wine would surely be a libation to intoxicate one to the point of ecstasy. Most importantly, however, musk evoked seduction and passion, and in Nezami’s masterpiece about star-crossed lovers, Layla and Majnun, musk is the scented leitmotif.

The topic of my new FT column, In Search of Dark Musk, is the dark, intoxicating musk, and I search for a perfume with such a character. No white musks, clean musks or baby-skin musks will do. I want a musk that smolders and that would have been as close as possible to the kind of fragrance the Persian poet described.

You can read about the results of my search here, and of course, I look forward to reading your ideas on a perfume that smells dark and musky.

*Nezami or Nizami, Hafez or Hafiz? The Persian reading of these poets names’ is Nezami and Hafez, with a short “e”.  Nizami and Hafiz is an old-fashioned spelling, which still tends to be preferred by Western academics.

Image via FT; Persian miniature

 

Solar Perfume Notes : What Does It Mean?

Perfume-speak is a language of its own, with words like “chypre”, “gourmand” and “petally” having specialised meanings. Speaking Perfume: the A-to-Z glossary of perfume terms demystifies some of the commonly used terms, but I often receive requests to elaborate further and give more examples. My latest FT column, Sun and Scents, covers the term “solar.” Some perfumes are presented as having “solar notes” or “solar flowers”, with little explanation as to what that might mean. Although the image of a solar blossom is exotic, the term simply defines a warm and radiant effect, and in my article, I explain how it’s achieved and give examples of several fragrances. Although they’re usually marketed as summer fragrances, I find them even better on a grey, overcast day.

My latest find is Tom Ford Eau de Soleil Blanc, which is a sibling of Ford’s earlier launch Private Blend Soleil Blanc. Both perfumes are suitable for men and women, since they’re based around fresh notes of orange, peppery bergamot and petitgrain (a distillation of buds and leaves of bitter orange with a bright-green, zesty aroma). The glow of ylang-ylang – a popular ingredient in solar scents – enhances the radiance of the new composition, while the musk prolongs its presence. To continue reading, please click here.

One of my favorite solar perfumes that I didn’t mention in the article is Guerlain Lys Soleia from the house’s Aqua Allegoria collection. It’s been discontinued, and I had mixed success finding a reliable source for it. However, if you come across it, I recommend seeking it out.

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The Color of Life, The Scent of Spring : Green

My wedding outfit wasn’t white. It was green, because in the western part of India where my husband’s family originally comes from, and where we were married, it means the color of life, spring and rejuvenation. Since then I have been paying more attention to this shade, and the scents associated with it. In perfumery, for instance, green can be suggested by a variety of materials, from naturals like violet leaf and galbanum to synthetics such as leaf alcohols that smell of freshly cut grass.

The rich palette of green notes finds its expression in a diversity of green nuances in perfumery. This is the topic of my FT column, Seven Green Perfumes. I select these seven fragrances to paint a full spectrum of green, from the dark emerald to pale pistachio.

Green notes, however, can be difficult to wear, which is why, though this perfume family has many loyal fans, it remains small. We prefer our scents of freshly cut grass and new leaves in the air, rather than in the bottle. Nevertheless, certain green fragrances have become classics. One is L’Artisan Parfumeur Premier Figuier. It creates its signature fig accord with the clever combination of ivy, leaves and galbanum. The latter is a fennel-like plant that produces a pungent-smelling essential oil. When carefully dosed, however, galbanum conjures up the vivid colours of spring — young buds, new leaves, damp earth. To continue reading, please click here.

As always, I would love to know your favorite green scents?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

A Perfumer’s Guide to Benzoin

Luang Prabang in northern Laos is a city of magnificent temples and old royal palaces. Although far from undiscovered by tourists, it still has a quaint ambience and mellow pace of life. It stretches languidly along the Mekong, glittering with the numerous golden spires that grace its pagodas. Visitors are attracted here by Luang Prabang’s beautiful architecture and even more by its splendid cuisine, but I made the journey for the aromatic material called benzoin.

Benzoin is one of the most essential ingredients in a perfumer’s palette, and whether I’m creating accords for my perfumery courses or as part of my research, I often turn to this rich, balsamic note for warmth and sweetness. In my new FT column, A Perfumer’s Guide to Benzoin, I describe my track to the benzoin plantations in Laos and then discuss how this ingredient is used in fragrances. If you’re curious to try it, I give a few interesting options, from both niche and department store brands alike.

Benzoin is also used in Papier d’Arménie, a type of incense. I once wrote about making your own: Papier d’Arménie At Home.

To read all of my FT Magazine columns, please click here. They appear on a bi-weekly basis.

Do you know that benzoin is also a popular flavor used in candy and even toothpaste?

Image via FT

Vintage Violets

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 are anything but. Despite its reputation for being dainty and demure, violet has a complex scent with a fascinating history. This perfume note is the subject of my latest FT column, Vintage Violets.

I explain how this flower became one of the favorite scents during the Victorian era and what made it even more popular–and ubiquitous–in the 20th century. Then I describe some of my favorite violets, both the sweet and powdery ones associated with the Romantic era and the modern green ones. To read the article, please click here.

As always, I’d love to hear about your favorite violets.

Image via FT

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