Perfume Notes: 79 posts

Articles on perfume ingredients and fragrance terminology

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

Top 10 Winter Iris Perfumes

I often hear iris described as a scent incompatible with winter because it echoes its chill too much. But since scents depend more on one’s mood and fantasy, rather than meteorological conditions, I don’t see why iris should be forgotten during these months. While I love iris all year around, its cool, violet toned color palette enhances the cold days for me. Against the whirlwind of the holidays and the new anxieties of the new year, it’s a kind of contemplative, soft scent that helps me carve time for myself and put the world on pause, temporarily.

Iris as a perfume note is half way between florals and woods (the natural essence is extracted from the roots of Iris Pallida). It can assume different characters, depending on how it’s used and what other materials it’s paired with, but the character of iris is strong enough to lend its cool touch to many different accords.

Honoré des Prés I Love Les Carottes

Iris roots and carrots share a number of aromatics in common , which is why I Love Les Carottes is such a clever blend. The carrot lends its apricot-like sweetness and musky warmth to iris, while vanilla and orange play up the teasing gourmand association.

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The Scent of Osmanthus

Once the weather turns cool in Tokyo, a sweet perfume fills its streets. It escapes from the parks and enclosed gardens and for a few weeks it becomes a familiar presence in a city better known for its skyscrapers, electronics and cuisine than for flowers. The tiny blossoms that give Tokyo its aroma are easy to miss, but the perfume is so vivid that osmanthus is sometimes called “a 10-mile fragrance” tree. In Japanese, it’s known as kinmokusei, and in English it may be referred to as a “fragrant” or “Chinese” olive, hinting at the plant’s origins, but by any name, the aroma of ripe apricots, jasmine petals and leather is irresistible.

In my latest FT column, Perfumes Linked by Osmanthus, I discuss one of the most fascinating perfume ingredients, osmanthus, and explain how it’s used in perfumery. Of course, I mention three of my favorite osmanthus perfumes and share stories about them. You can read the article by clicking here.

Please let me know other osmanthus perfumes that should be included on a list for someone who loves these apricot scented blossoms.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Musky Warmth of Angelica

Angelica essence smells of musky flowers and foggy autumnal mornings. It’s a fascinating aroma because, despite its delicate aura, its character can be quite assertive, and although it starts on a bright and shimmering note, the earthy base layers betray its darker leanings. Angelica is used widely by perfumers to give a green touch to an accord or to soften a citrusy cologne, but it rarely stars as a leading note. On the occasions it is given center stage, however, it reveals its full capacity to surprise.

Though angelica is not as a well known perfume ingredient as rose or jasmine, it’s a fascinating material with a diverse range of effects. It can be sweet and spicy, green and musky, woody and floral, depending on how it’s used. To uncover more facets of angelica, I selected it for one of my FT column topics. In the article, Musky Warmth of Angelica, I talk about this material and some of the most interesting perfumes, in which you can smell it clearly. You can read the article by clicking here.

If you have tried any angelica perfumes, please let me know which ones you like.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

Reading Tea Leaves: Best Tea Perfumes in 10 Different Styles

The scent of tea leaves is created by hundreds of aroma-molecules, and each variety has its unique fragrance. Terroir plays a role as does the method of curing the tea leaves. For instance, steamed Japanese teas like sencha and matcha have grassy, spinach-like aromas thanks to hexenal, while mildly oxidized oolongs share aromatics with lilac blossoms, roses and jasmine (nerolidol, cis-jasmone, linalool). The smoky profiles of teas like lapsang souchong are created by molecules like pyrazines, longifolene and guaiacol. In an interesting twist, guaiacol, along with certain types of pyrazines, is what gives roasted coffee its distinctive scent, which is why smoky teas are recommended to coffee drinkers wanting to expand their horizons. With such a rich palette of aromas, the tea accord is a fascinating exercise for a perfumer.

In my recent article on the development of Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert, I described how Jean-Claude Ellena discovered a novel accord and created a modern classic. Since Bulgari launched the perfume in 1992, it became the green tea of fragrance. However, tea accords aren’t limited to delicate green blends, and when I began researching my article, I realized how many fragrances successfully incorporate a tea effect, both light and dark. I decided to make a list of the most interesting examples, in 10 different styles.

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