Lots of other perfume families are more inclusive than the oriental one. The florals put up with all sorts of aberrations in their near relations. Everything from fruity florals to aldehydes, and you get the same extended range with chypres, and a broad spectrum with fougeres too, i.e. floral fougeres, aromatic fougeres, woody fougeres, but orientals are either spicy or ambery. Period. There really is no such thing as the green oriental.
If you go right back to the beginning of French perfumery, and there lost in the swirling mists of pre-history (which means the 1920s), you get Emeraude. The name means emerald in the first place, so you know right from the get-go that Coty figured he’d gotten hold of something very green indeed.
But had he? Whenever I read notes for Emeraude, I don’t find anything particularly verdant in them. No galbanum, certainly. My H&R guide from the nineties lists the notes as bergamot and lemon, lemongrass and orange, over rosewood, rose, jasmine and ylang ylang and the base as vanilla, ambrein, opopanax, benzoin, sandalwood and patchouli. Not green, right? Also the notes are very close to Shalimar, which has never smelled green.
If there is nothing green in Emeraude’s notes, why was it called the “Emerald” and if it successfully evokes green and was a huge best seller, why has that color, not to mention that tonality, completely dropped out of orientals?
The advertising gives a clue. Back in the forties and fifties you could see ads featuring a woman all in green depicted near a Christmas tree. Was that the smell that Emeraude was supposed to re create? Other ads featured a young woman walking over a deserted hillside – again, the notion of verdancy. The only way to know for sure was to smell the extract (courtesy Meg of Parfumieren), and there, in the first fifteen minutes of Emeraude, I got my emerald note. Although it’s listed nowhere that I’ve ever seen, here it is: fir.
This single drop of loden may not be enough to tint an entire fragrance green, but I have some hope that similar notes might do the trick. Consider Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Celadon. I have read that it was inspired by the now defunct Sève Exquise, one of the original fragrances of Victoire Gobin-Daudé.
Celadon is listed by Fragrantica as an aromatic green fragrance, but I think it edges over into oriental territory. The notes include a parade of the usual green floral line-up plus oriental notes: orris, lime, cucumber, grass, hay, violet leaf and narcissus, set off, not by woods, but by resins, cloves, tonka beans and vanilla. Ms Hurwitz describes it as a “velvet green”, which is true, but she might as well go the whole hog and call it a green oriental. It is, by the way, one of the most wearable green notes I’ve come across in recent years, with a kind of internalized elegance.*
So what is the perfume world waiting for? We could use a bit of experimentation out there. So much that comes out now is far too repetitive, while most experiments in commercial originality fail, every once in a while, one succeeds.
* Perfectly wearable by either sex.