Perfume Notes: 108 posts

Articles on perfume ingredients and fragrance terminology

A Branch of Mimosa for Carmen

“I will bring you cassie, if you still enjoy its perfume,” wrote French novelist Prosper Mérimée in Lettres à une inconnue (Letters to an Unknown). The Unknown, was Mademoiselle Jenny Dacquin, the daughter of a notary of Boulogne, with whom Mérimée corresponded for over forty years. And what flower should his Carmen throw to Don José? Une fleur de cassie.

Cassie and mimosa are two closely related plants from the acacia family. The branches covered with masses of lemon yellow pompoms not only look beautiful, they also have a rich scent valued in perfumery. Native to Australia, mimosas were brought to France in the 18th century by the British explorer, Captain James Cook, and they have flourished in the mild winters of the Mediterranean coast. Every February the Massif de Tanneron in Provence turns golden yellow as the mimosas come into bloom, a Fauvist painting come alive.

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20 Best Narcissus & Daffodil Perfumes

I’ve always been drawn to narcissus, a spring blossom with an autumnal soul. The narcissus poeticus typically used in perfumery is a delicate blossom of gauzy white petals surrounding a small orange crown in the center. At first sniff, it evokes whiteness, purity, and a touch of pale honey, but if you press it to your face, not caring about it leaving a blush of pollen on your cheeks, you will notice darker, deeper, heavier notes. Some people smell suede in it, others–antique books. I notice a hint of mulch and barnyard.

This complexity becomes even more evident when narcissus is distilled into an absolute. The flurry of white petals gives way to a humid warmth reminiscent of tuberose or gardenia and then transforms into the darkness of leather and tobacco leaves. Narcissus absolute is an expensive material, and using it requires skill to bring out all of its different facets in a composition, but when it works, the results are spellbinding.

And so I decided to put together a list of my favorite narcissus fragrances, from classics to modern blends. I didn’t realize that it would run into 20 perfumes! I’m sure you have your own choices, so I would love to hear what you enjoy.

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Top Classical Patchouli Perfumes : Part 1 Patchouli

A green plant that evokes the scent of earth. A leaf that smells like wood. A wood that smells like chocolate. Patchouli is a complex, intriguing, and polarizing ingredient in a perfumer’s palette. Some like it, others hate it. It leaves nobody indifferent. Yet, it’s also a material that gives perfumery today its distinctive character. A modern chypre can be made without oakmoss, but not without patchouli.

My latest video is part of a patchouli series, and in the first episode I discuss the material itself and cover classical patchouli fragrances. The way patchouli is processed affects its smell dramatically. A steam-distilled patchouli oil smells earthy, musty, loamy, while solvent-distilled patchouli absolute is reminiscent of cacao and dry woods. Other methods allow distillers to recompose fractions of patchouli essence to highlight certain effects, such as its licorice or sweet notes.

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On the Rose Trail: The Art of Distilling Rosewater

The 10th century Persian philosopher and scientist Avicenna is credited with many contributions to astronomy, geography, psychology, logic, mathematics, and physics. He also found time to delve into perfumery and devised methods to extract essential oils, experimenting on roses. If Avicenna were to step into a fragrance lab today, he would orient himself quickly enough–modern perfumery is a curious amalgam of state-of-the-art science and traditional techniques. For instance, rose oil is prepared in much the way as in Avicenna’s time through the process of steam distillation.

Even older than rose oil is rosewater, an ingredient with a history predating Avicenna. Lebanese food writer Barbara Abdeni Massaad, whose award winning cookbook Mouneh explores the traditions of preserving fruit, vegetables and flowers, includes a section on making rosewater. “Yes, the distillates from roses and orange flowers continue to be made in villages,” she commented on the vitality of the tradition. “Older people still believe that homemade is best.”

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Famous Perfumery Roses : Rose Damascena

Last week I covered the topic of rose de mai, or rosa centifolia, and it’s only fitting to turn my attention to the other famous perfumery rose, rose damascena or rosa damascena. Richer in essential oils than centifolia, it’s the most important rose cultivar for fragrances. In my video, I will describe this variety, show how rose absolute and rose oil look alike and explain where it’s grown.

Of course, I will also discuss rose damascena in fragrances. Although associated with feminine perfumery, roses of all types, natural and synthetic, are are used in masculine fragrances as well as compositions that are not obviously floral. I will explain how perfumers use rose nuances and to what effect.

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