lactones: 2 posts

How to Smell Peaches in Guerlain Mitsouko

When I wrote my article about lactones, I explained that Guerlain Mitsouko was one of the first perfumes to use these compounds redolent of peach skin and cream. Many of you then commented that you found it difficult to detect lactones in Mitsouko. This difficulty is not surprising, since the peach skin note in Mitsouko is not intended to be a dominant one. Instead, it offsets the darkness of moss and woods and harmonizes the warm drydown and the floral heart of the perfume.

In general, none of the Guerlain classics are easy to take apart note by note; this is not like modern niche perfumery where you can tell the percentage of Iso E Super at first sniff. The idea of the grand parfums like Mitsouko wasn’t to recreate a smell of peach or moss, but to evoke a mood, to tell a story and to tease the senses. I like the streamlined modern perfumes for other reasons, but if I want baroque complexity, Guerlain classics are my first port of call.

Like other perfumers, I spent months of my training recreating important classics without recourse to gas chromatography–with only my nose to guide me. So here I propose a technique that will help you identify the peach note in Mitsouko.

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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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