And One More Word on Vanilla

Three dimensional  Vanillin

Three dimensional Vanillin

The word I have in mind is vanillin. Vanillin is one of the earliest synthetics from 1874 actually when first produced by the firm of Haarmann & Reimer, and you would recognize the smell even if you were not fascinated by fragrance because vanillin, like the SPECTRE organization in James Bond stories is everywhere, though mostly these days in food, along with its close associate ethylvanillin. If you’ve eaten candy bars you’ve eaten vanillin. Continue reading

Contemporary Heliotrope

Heliotrope in bloom photo my own

Heliotrope in bloom
photo my own

Heliotrope is one of those floral notes in perfume that everyone thinks is old fashioned-that is if they even know what heliotrope is in the first place.  So heliotrope is that delightful annual that blooms in dark purple or sometimes white flowers and produces a delicate fragrance. Some say heliotrope smells  of almonds and others of vanilla, still others liken the perfume to a freshly baked cherry pie.  That was one of the popular names for the flower back in the 1880s in fact.

In case  you’ve never smelled heliotrope one of the best places to begin to encounter the note is Guerlain’s L’Heure Bleue 1912.  The other place is Guerlain’s Apres L’Ondee 1906.  Both are re-interpretations of   Francois Coty’s L’Origan 1904, which used a heliotrope base (among five others).  All of these fragrances have made it into what you might call fragrant pop culture.  Never smelled them?  Try one and if you’ve never met the scent before chances are you’ll smell talcum powder. Continue reading

The Phlox of August

A border of Summer Phlox

A border of Summer Phlox

World War I started a hundred years ago this month. In retrospect it makes me cringe when I think of all the golden afternoons of August in Flanders being shattered by shellfire and drifting clouds of mustard gas.

Even this unfortunate anniversary does not spoil the month for me.  August strikes me as being one of the very best times to smell things in gardens and one of the best smells of the August garden is phlox. I should make myself clear and point out that I’m discussing Summer Phlox or Phlox paniculata to give the plant its right name.

If you garden with perennials you know this plant well because it conveniently blooms in August when so many other perennials have shut up shop for the season, and all you are left with is annuals. Continue reading

Old Fashioned Flowers + New Treatments = Modern Perfumes?

The Hemisphere, Valencia

The Hemisphere, Valencia

So many flowers fall out of the repertoire of perfumery. The number of flowers that are not used always surprises me, outside of such perennials as gardenia, jasmine and tuberose practically every other flower I can think of has fallen out of favor during my years smelling perfume.

These days the hardest to find are lilacs, although Lilac Faith was released last year, part of the Aerin line at Estee Lauder, Carnation, and Heliotrope are little used except as moderators in some fragrances, others: Mignonette, Stock, Nicotiana, Wall Flowers, Primroses, Dame’s Rocket, and Phlox, as well as all sorts of other garden inhabitants never make the grade for contemporary fragrances. Continue reading

Perfect Peach, Perfect Nectar

Flavorcrest peaches

Flavorcrest peaches

There is no such beast in a bottle.  I keep on looking.  There is or was an aldehyde, C14 which imitated the scent of peaches and is to be found in Mitsouko (or in older formulations of Mitsouko.  I don’t know if C14 is considered kosher by IFRA regulations) and the same aldehyde came in as a  moderator in all sorts of fragrances from Joy to Lancome’s Climat, but nowhere is there a  perfect stand alone peach. Continue reading

Realistic Lilies

Casablanca Lilies photo my own

Casablanca Lilies
photo my own

When they fester, they may smell far worse than weeds, but lilies, especially the great big oriental and trumpet lilies of July and August, are still among some of my favorite garden flowers. They’re favorites with many people. There was a time in the nineties when no chic New York interior was complete without an extravagant display of pure white oriental lilies nearly toppling out of a vase. So far though I don’t wear any lily (meaning these big lilies, not pee-wee lilies of the valley) scent successfully- that is, up to now. Continue reading

The All American White Flower

Fracas in extract

Fracas in extract

In the perfume business all sorts of quirks seem to be part and parcel of the market. Most of them are embedded deep in the psychological propensities of consumers, tastes that only seem individual and arbitrary, but are actually replicated millions of times: such as the French love of strawberries, or the Italian adoration for orange. The British are said to love any fragrance so long as the scent’s powdery, and the Germans far prefer their own products to imports. Brazilians love scent, but particularly fougeres. Continue reading

Vanilla in the Heat

vanilla ice creamVanilla almost seems made for the woolens of fall and winter, a comforting and almost a warming scent. But vanilla can also have cold aspects or allude to boardwalk in a heat friendly way, one that I’ve learned to take advantage of with both recent and vintage scents. Continue reading

White Lavender

White Spike

White Spike

There’s an anecdote going back to the end of the sixteenth century that someone wanted to present Elizabeth I with a beautifully bound book, and to finish off the attractions of that volume they were going to perfume the binding with oil of lavender. Big mistake the giver was told by courtiers in the know, for “Her Majesty could not abide such a strong scent.” She sounds like a modern perfumista to me.

Actually I enjoy lavender and such great classic perfumes as Maja and Moment Supreme are largely based on the scent, not to mention Jicky, still many modern perfume enthusiasts don’t care for it. But what if the flower smell of lavender could be amplified, and the herbal side muffled? Continue reading

Pot Pourri for Beginners

Potpourri by George Dunlop

Potpourri by George Dunlop

Now I’m aware that the very word potpourri conjures up images of cellophane bags full of what look like wood chips and which generally smell a good deal worse. This is because I suspect that a good deal of what passes for pot- pourri has been made in China and is wood chips, frequently dyed improbable colors such as turquoise, and other bits and bobs that ought properly to have ended up in the trash but in a bag, with a ribbon can be sold for $4.95 in some mall to some luckless shopper looking for something to take along with them to Thanksgiving dinner. The less said about this kind of potpourri the better. Continue reading