Saffronicity

Iran_saffron_threadsOf all the threads in the tapestry you sense on spring winds, one strand keeps catching my attention: saffron.

It’s one of the world’s favorite spices and has been for so many centuries that it’s hardly worth counting them, but it is worth noting that the ancient Greeks are recorded as having a preference for saffron perfumes and for the scent of irises. Perhaps Aristophanes and Pericles would be Amouage customers if they were alive today. At the very least, I like to think that Aspasia would have worn Chanel, 28 La Pausa for preference.

Of course we don’t really know what they wore.  It is pretty much guess work, with stray references here and there in ancient writing, but the Greek preference for saffron was remarked, just as the Romans were known for loving roses.

Saffron is plentifully represented in perfume formulas these days.  You get lists full of eastern sounding formulas usually containing roses: Czech and Speake’s Dark Rose is an example, numerous Montales and a good number of Amouages as well, Rose de Rosine’s Rose Kashmirie.

That is the sort of saffron-centric perfume out there these days.  They tend to be like L’Artisan’s Saffran Troublant, gourmand in a Middle Eastern kind of a way.  There is nothing wrong with that, but I do find myself wishing that a perfumer would walk back to the western side of the tradition for a moment, and give us a purely floral saffron designed to smell the way that the note does in crocuses while blooming.

I was reminded of that note the other day when my daughter came home from school with some crocuses that had been nearly destroyed in a digging project on someone else’s lawn.  She picked a couple and brought them back to me and I remembered the note, un-mistakable saffron, but without that heavy medicinal edge it so often has in perfumery.  It gives the sweet slightly violet like scent of crocuses their distinctiveness, and yet I can’t think of a Spring perfume that uses it.

The only perfume I can think of that approaches what I am talking about is Chamade. Chamade makes you think of pollen which, if you are not an allergy sufferer is one of the great joys of Spring flowers. There is no saffron in Chamade that I know of, though there is a little clove note in there, but it reminds me of the crocus effect.

The first saffron centric perfume I ever remember seeing was a Comptoire Sud Pacifique release called Safranier.  It was a strange perfume, being not especially sweet. Some people over at Makeupalley, thought it was entirely too masculine.  I didn’t have a problem with that, and nearly bought a bottle, but didn’t and now I could kick myself, because Safranier went in down a route that I haven’t passed by since, floral, spicy and somewhat dry.

As for now, the saffron remains on my wish list if I could have a perfume made.   After all, who doesn’t want to stop and smell the crocuses after a long wet winter?

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12 thoughts on “Saffronicity

  1. Hi there, have been reading along for some time, it’s a wonderful blog you have :-)
    I love a good saffron frag, but they do often seem pared with either (too much) rose and/or the leather/ oud, it would be so interesting to see if it were possible to come up with some different partners for the spice. I tend to think of Olivia Giacobetti as the master of saffron; the triptych of Idole, ST and IUNX L’Ether being my three go to saffrons with a fourth special guest star (not OG creation) Cuir Noir – which doesn’t have saffron listed, but smells like it. Songe d’un Bois d’Ete is another favourite. I need to try Rose Kashmiri, but I fear too much rose for my taste…

    • Hi Asali,
      First of all, I envy you your familiarity with the Iunx line, which just managed to disappear before I had a chance to smell it! Very annoying!

      Saffron goes well with floral notes, and I agree with you that the partnership of rose and oud with saffron is getting a little repetitive. I too, liked Idole, and in general like the work of Olivia Giacobetti.

      Wouldn’t it be nice if someone came up with a big orchestral Spring Flowers perfume that contained lots of naturals and a nice saffron note? Ms. Giacobetti could do a very job of that I think. Sort of a Joy for the 21st century?

  2. Have you tried Black Cashmere? There’s a saffron note in among the clove and incense and woods. It’s a lovely perfume, if a bit fleeting, and not at all gourmand (if not exactly floral).

    Your daughter’s saved crocuses made me think of my parents’ crocus lawn. My mother planted a ring of crocus around the base of a seckel pear tree when she moved into the house where I grew up. They gradually spread over the years and became interspersed throughout the grass so that the entire back yard became a sea of different shades of purple throughout late February and March. Sadly, the people who bought the house after we sold it wanted a more conventional suburban yard and sodded it over.

    I once tried planting some true saffron crocus in my own garden. They have much more prominent stigmas and bloom in fall rather than spring. That first fall they were beautiful, but, come spring, the moles found them: a little hole marked the precise spot where each crocus had been planted and that was the end of my tiny New Jersey saffron farm.

    • Yes I tried Black Cashmere a long time ago and had forgotten it. You’re right it does have a saffron note in it, and isn’t the kind of obvious saffron and food fragrance that crops up nowadays.

      The crocus lawn is one of the more charming uses for crocus. I’ve also seen the Fall saffron crocuses dotted about on lawns, because some of my neighbors grow them. It’s a shame the moles came and ate yours. My cat (if she had been there) would have taken care of the problem for you. She has a wonderful way of keeping down garden pests, being an enthusiastic hunter of mice, moles, voles, squirrels and bunnies. She and I make common cause in the front garden, with the understanding that I will always keep a shady hollow under the rose bush clear for her to nap in.

  3. It’s so interesting that you associate saffron with spring! In Sweden, saffron is traditionally used in a pastry that is eaten on December 13 to celebrate the saint of Lucia. For a lot of people that is the only time they’ll have saffron. Therefore, to me, saffron is firmly a winter spice. But, of course, it can be used any time of year. I, personally, tend to prefer it in the height of summer, with lots of oud and rose to go with it, yum!

    • Who knew? Digging further, I find that America’s current favorite Swedish chef, Marcus Samuelsson, gives us the recipe for St Lucia Saffron Buns, and now I have no choice but to try them, December or not. (He has got it right, hasn’t he? The recipe, I mean. Celebrity chefs sometimes tweak things when they really should just leave them alone.)

      • He does jazz them up a bit, the traditional kind do not call for vanilla, brandy, cardamom or tangerine zest. Saffron is the only flavoring apart from some sugar. And we use raisins instead of dried cranberries. But I do think Marcus version is tastier than the original, so I’d opt for that one if I was you ;)

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