Perfume Notes: 114 posts

Articles on perfume ingredients and fragrance terminology

Pink Berries or Pink Peppercorns in Perfumes

If you’ve ever wondered what “solar musk,” “lunar petals” or “electric vanilla” smell like, you aren’t alone. Fragrance marketing lingo is in a world of its own, and I have given up trying to find the logic behind the use of terms that nobody, not even professionals, can untangle. A list of notes describes a perfume’s smell as well as an enumeration of pigments captures Mona Lisa’s smile. While notes can suggest whether a fragrance is predominantly floral, leathery or spicy, they can also be misleading.

One example is “pink berries.” The name hints at the scent of strawberries or raspberries, but instead, “pink berries” is a literal translation of baies roses, French for “pink pepper.” The rose colored berry of the shrub Schinus molle is unrelated to the black pepper plant, but it has a spicy, sharp scent reminiscent of crushed peppercorns with a touch of violet. Its presence in perfumes is confined to the top notes where it reveals its fiery temperament, but pink pepper’s piquancy is without bite. It softens readily, allowing the subsequent layers to shine, be they flowers or woods.

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What is Sillage

Perfume wearers and boats have more in common than one might reasonably suspect. Sillage (pronounced as see-yazh) is a French word that means “wake”, as in the airplane contrails criss-crossing the skies or the waves left on water by a passing ship. But it’s also used to describe the scented trail created by perfume. Sillage defines the degree to which fragrance emanates from its wearer and diffuses into the space around them.

Sillage is an important quality to keep in mind when buying a perfume or when selecting it for specific occasions. Big sillage scents are the most complimented because they’re easy to notice, but their distinct presence may make them inappropriate for restaurants, theatres, or some office environments. On the other hand, a fragrance that doesn’t bloom at all is rarely satisfying. The goal is to find the right sillage for your mood and lifestyle.

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Delicious Scents : Tonka Bean

The tonka bean, one of my favorite ingredients looks unprepossessing—a shriveled black pod covered with suspicious white bloom. However, its scent of toasted almonds, amarena cherries, sun warmed hay and vanilla custard is one of the luscious in a perfumer’s palette. What’s more, the tonka bean was responsible for a revolution in modern perfumery.

Tonka beans, the seeds of the Dipteryx Odorata tree native to South America, contain a component called coumarin. It’s present in many herbs and plants, including lavender, figs, and cherry leaves, but tonka beans are so rich in this aromatic that it crystallizes to the surface of their skin. Indeed, the very name coumarin comes from a French word for the tonka bean, coumarou. Coumarin was first isolated from tonka beans in the 1820s, and in 1882 it became the first synthetic material to be used in a perfume. To create a fantasy accord inspired by ferns, perfumer Paul Parquet added coumarin to the classical eau de cologne blend of citrus, lavender and geranium. Notes of amber, musk and oakmoss filled in the rest of the composition and Houbigant’s Fougère Royale was born. Along with it, came a new family of fragrances called fougère, which in French meant “fern.”

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Benzoin : Fragrant Resin From Laos

Luang Prabang, a town in northern Laos, is a city of magnificent temples and old royal palaces. Although far from undiscovered by tourists, it still has a quaint ambiance and a 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.

Laotian benzoin is a balsamic resin tapped from the Styrax tonkinensis trees. Redolent of vanilla and cinnamon, it’s a material with centuries old history. Its uses for incense, pharmacology and cosmetics have been recorded since antiquity, while in perfumery it has always played an important role as a warm base note. Today it continues to be highly valued. In fragrances, benzoin can be found all over the scent wheel, from citrus colognes to ambers. Classics like Chanel Égoïste and Guerlain Shalimar rely on its sweet accent. It’s also used for scenting toothpaste, soap, and a variety of other day-to-day necessities.

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On The Beauty of Fresh Incense

Incense is one of those materials that changes its character depending on what else is present in the formula. It can be bright and peppery or dark and smoky. It can even evoke the verdancy of spring buds. Incense is one of the most incredible ingredients used in perfumery. Before I describe a few fragrances to illustrate how incense is used as a fresh note, first a few words on what we mean by incense. Typically, perfumery incense is frankincense or olibanum. It’s sourced from the Boswellia species, most commonly found in countries like Sudan or Ethiopia. In its raw form incense comes as opaque lumps of resin that are called frankincense tears, and the tears need to be further processed into essence.

The scent of raw frankincense is peppery and vivid, and one of the easiest ways to enjoy it is to put one tear into a glass of water and leave it to infuse. The taste of such incense water is refreshing and bright, with a spicy edge.  The closest equivalent in fragrance is Serge Lutens’s appropriately named L’Eau Froide, which explores the bright nuances of frankincense.

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