Perfume Notes: 106 posts

Articles on perfume ingredients and fragrance terminology

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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The Beauty of Simple Things : Orange

The orange is ubiquitous in perfumery. We easily get taken with oud, gardenia, frangipani, or other more flamboyant notes, but for the most part, orange doesn’t inspire romantic fantasies. On the other hand, the most interesting ingredients in the perfumer’s palette are the most common ones, because not only do they allow a wide range of effects, they challenge the creators to be innovative.

The spongy skin of orange contains cells filled with essential oil, and you only need to squeeze the colored part to see beads of essence. If you apply the liquid on a paper blotter, you can even study the way it progresses, from intense sweetness to acidic tang and to waxy heft. The latter is due to the aldehydes, naturally occurring aromatics that are used in fragrances like Chanel No 5 and Guerlain Chamade to give their flowers a halo of shimmer. In orange oil, however, all facets are in balance, and it smells of a juicy, sweet fruit.

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Fascinating Perfumery: How Violets and Ionones Made History

It’s not an understatement to say that without the humble violet we wouldn’t have perfumery as we know it today. At the end of the 19th century when the fashion for violet perfumes was all the rage, several German chemists set out to isolate the aroma-material that gives this flower its delicate and yet persistent scent. Until then violet essence was distilled from the flowers of Viola odorata, a process that required more than 33,000 kg of flowers to obtain a kilogram of violet oil. The search for Veilchenduft, the scent of violet, led to the discovery and isolation of ionones, a class of materials that are sweet and powdery.

In today’s film, I describe how this violet-scented revolution happened and compare different types of ionones. The term ionone is derived from the Greek word “iona,” which means violet, and “ketone” referring to its chemical structure. Several isomeric ionones occur naturally in flowers like rose and violet as well as in different fruit and berries. Fine grades of Japanese green tea are rich in ionones as is milk–if a cow eats ionone-rich alfalfa, ionones will then be found in its milk.

I mention several violet gold standards such as

Coty L’Origan

Guerlain L’Heure Bleue

Chanel No 19

Chanel Coco

Rochas Femme

Yves Saint Laurent Paris

Lancôme Trésor

This episode focuses more on the classics, and in the next film I will discuss modern fragrances featuring ionones. Ionones: Sweet and Powdery includes even more perfumes and information on these fascinating materials.

Of course, I would love to hear about your favorite violets, vintage or modern. 

Bitter Orange Smells Sweet : Favorite Perfumes

Bitter orange peel has a beautiful sweet-floral fragrance, with hints of spice and pine. Yet, in contrast to sweet orange, bitter orange essential oil is less commonly used in perfumery. In this the final episode in the bitter orange series, I will explain why it is so. Then I will talk about some of my favorite bitter orange perfumes and describe how bitter orange notes contribute to their characters.

The perfumes mentioned in this episode include
Frédéric Malle Cologne Bigarade
Jo Loves Green Orange and Coriander
Miss Dior Chérie L’Eau
Atelier Cologne Orange Sanguine

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