Perfume Notes: 93 posts

Articles on perfume ingredients and fragrance terminology

The Beautiful Lactones : Of Peaches, Cream and White Flowers

What are lactones and why are they so enticing? As their name hints, lactones are aromatic organic compounds with a milky, creamy scent. Lactones lend their characteristic scent to peaches, milk, tuberose and even spicy vegetables like celery and lovage. They occur in white meat, which is one of the reasons why prosciutto and mozzarella or prosciutto and fruit make for such a delectable combination.

With their voluptuous qualities, lactones are well-suited to perfumery and they are among the most commonly used materials. The most famous example of the use of lactones is Guerlain Mitsouko. As I’ve explained in my previous article, in 1919 Jacques Guerlain experimented with gamma undecalactone, which had been discovered only a few years earlier. He found that when he wove this peach skin-redolent material into a dramatic mossy-woody accord popularized by Coty Chypre in 1917, the effect was that much more vivid and luscious. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Single Note Perfumes

Simple is rarely a compliment when applied to perfumes. Fragrances compared to symphonies or classic multi-volume novels are thought to be superior. Yet, as any perfumer knows, creating a simple composition is complicated. When the palette is reduced to a few key elements, the selection of each material becomes critical. It is even more difficult to create a fragrance that evokes a single impression, that of a flower, a root, or a leaf.

Composing a perfume that smells realistically of a flower, say, a rose, is part of the challenge, but it’s not the biggest one. The more elusive goal is how to suggest a story and give it character. The purpose of a perfume is not to replicate nature, but to weave a fantasy. All of us have our own idea about how a rose smells, and a successful rose perfume will not try to compete with a summer garden. Instead, it will evoke its own universe.

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Power to the Pumpkin in Art and Perfume

“My love of pumpkins stretches back to when I was a little child,” says artist Yayoi Kusama. “I have always found them to be such tender things to touch and so wonderfully humorous, humble and appealing.” A recurring motif in her artworks, her pumpkins are cast in bronze, covered in polka dots – as with the 10m-high inflatable version that recently popped up in Paris’s Place Vendôme – or lit by a warm glow. The effect is both whimsical and eerie, resonating with childhood memories of Halloween and autumnal stillness. In my recent article in FT magazine, Power to the Pumpkin, I explore the Japanese artist’s way with pumpkins–as well as that of perfumers. Both are fun and surprising.

When it comes to the taste and smell of this fruit masquerading as a vegetable, most people find it hard to describe, but a bite of pumpkin pie or a whiff of roasted squash brings comforting associations. Fruity, with a hint of apricot and orange, pumpkin also smells of earthy green melon. Some varieties, like the Japanese kabocha that inspires Kusama, have a milky scent, but subtlety is the common characteristic. To continue reading, please click here.

Do you know any other scents with pumpkin?

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

Mint and Other Cooling Perfumes

Have you ever wondered why some perfumes feel cooling, giving you a refreshing sensation, and others produce little effect, despite being dosed with classical fresh ingredients like green leaves or citrus? In my recent piece for the FT magazine, Mint Scents for High Summer, I explain this phenomenon and suggest several fragrances that are cooling.

Citrus, green leaves, tart fruit and lily of the valley are all described as cool scents, but only a few aromas are actually cooling. The difference may seem subtle, but while a cool perfume merely evokes pleasant associations, a cooling one has an instantly refreshing effect. One of the most crucial cooling ingredients is mint. Menthol, the main component of mint essence, triggers the cold-sensitive TRPM8 receptors found in the skin – a curious trick that is responsible for the icy burst one experiences when drinking a mint julep. To continue reading, please click here.

What about your favorite cool or cooling scents? And what perfumes have you been wearing lately?

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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