Fragrances today are mostly a fusion of ingredients taken from nature – or inspired by nature – together with the synthetics (man-made ingredients) that are used to make them last longer, ‘carry further’, or stay ‘true’, when worn on the skin.
Here, you can read about literally hundreds of the different perfume elements in use today. If you know which ingredient you want to read about, you can either input the name into our ‘search’ box (top right). Or click on a letter of the alphabet below – and it’ll take you to a collage of all the ingredients that start with that letter. Alternatively, let your eye travel over the scrolling, rolling collage below – and click on whatever takes your fancy: a visual ‘lucky dip’…
Cranberries and blackberries have similar aroma chemicals, but mostly, perfumers turn to one of two synthetics to recreate raspberry-ness: ‘frambonine’ or ‘raspberry ketone’ (which can also be used as a raspberry flavouring).
Most of us know and love the fruit of the plant – which is a member of the rose family, and is grown all over the world – but just occasionally, the scent of its lightly woody-floral blossom makes an appearance in a perfume construction, too.
'The natural extract is tooth-shaking sweet, seemingly (of course, it isn´t in reality),' explains perfumer Andy Tauer, 'and smells like a raspberry under LSD influence. (I miss any experience there, but I imagine what it might be like!) In my perfumery work, I use synthetics for raspberry chords, too. Let´s call them "raspberry coupé". They're like berry clay that you can form and shape in all directions.'
He continues: 'I do not use that many fruit chords in my creations, but raspberry is just perfect with roses. And jasmine. I sometimes wonder why the combination of fruits and berries with flowers are so enchanting. Maybe it is because it brings together the ethereal pleasure of scent and the down-to-earth joy of pampering our body with food. One fine day I will buy a few kilos of real raspberry extract, though, and make my ultimate fruity Tauer.'
Smell raspberry in:
Britney Spears Circus Fantasy
By Kilian Back to Black
Donna Karan DKNY Red Delicious
Andy Tauer Une Rose Vermeille
Lanvin Jeanne Lanvin
Marc Jacobs Daisy Eau So Fresh
Marc Jacobs Oh Lola!
Paco Rabanne Lady Million
Run your fingers over the leaves of a redcurrant bush, and you’ll get a ‘catty’ quality that’s distinctive, intriguing – but not to everyone’s taste. The fruit of Ribes rubrum itself, though, is fruity, green and tart, often incorporated into a ‘cocktail’ of fruity notes which are then woven mostly into fruity-florals: that category of perfumes whose star has been in the ascendant, in recent years – often fresh, youthful and vibrant. (Whitecurrants, which have a slightly sweeter quality – almost an ‘albino’ version of the redcurrant, and also a member of the gooseberry family – are also very occasionally used.)
Smell redcurrant in:
Tart and sweet. Delicious mixed with lots of sugar and baked into pies and tarts; delicious when used to add a fresh, sharp edge to fruity florals and sheer aquatics, in perfumery. It pairs beautifully with rich flowery notes like jasmine, tuberose and rose. This long-stalked plant has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, as well as in cooking – but with a little caution: the stalks may be edible, but the leaves are poisonous. Not the best-known fruity note – but rhubarb’s popularity is on the up, from all we’ve seen lately.
According to predictions, rhubarb is set to become even more of a key ingredient in future fragrance trends...
Smell rhubarb in:
Aedes de Venustus Eau de Parfum
Byredo La Tulipe
DSquared Potion for Women
Jo Malone London English Pear & Freesia
Jo Malone London Pomegranate Noir
Miller Harris Le Pamplemousse
Miss Sixty Miss Sixty
Nina Ricci Ricci Ricci
Ulrich Lang Anvers 2
A fragrance without roses is almost as unthinkable as a love affair without kisses. Not only are roses the most romantic of flowers to look at: they’re an absolute cornerstone of perfumery – the most important flower of all, from the point of view of a nose: sometimes powdery, sometimes woody, musky, myrrh-y, clove-like, sometimes fruity, or just blowsily feminine – but always, intensely romantic. Roses are said to feature in at least 75% of modern feminine fragrances, and at least 10% of all men’s perfumes.
Today's savvy perfumers, however, are far from the first to recognise the sheer sensual potential of this 'Queen of Flowers'. In Classic myth, the rose was linked both with the Greek goddess Aphrodite and her Roman counterpart, Venus. When Cleopatra welcomed Mark Antony to her boudoir, her bed was strewn with these aphrodisiac blooms and the floor hidden under a foot and a half of fresh-picked petals. Who could resist rolling around in that? Certainly no hot-blooded Roman, homesick for a city where rosewater bubbled through the fountains, awnings soaked in rose oil shielded VIPs in public amphitheatres from the baking sun, pillows and mattresses were stuffed with rosepetals (the better to propel the weary towards dreamland) and where rose garlands were the ultimate Roman must-have status symbol. The same flowers turned up in delicately-scented puddings, love potions and medicines. At one bacchanale, the Emperor Nero, clearly no tightwad, had silver pipes installed so guests could be spritzed with rosewater between courses.
The fragrant liquid which refreshed Roman guests and was flung up by fountains all around town, however, was rosewater - the water in which roses have been steeped, then discarded. In reality, rosewater is the poor relation of the ‘true’ rose scent, from the oil that’s so essential a component of the perfumes which today send our senses into a delicious spin.
Rose essential oil can come in the form of rose otto (also known as attar of roses), or rose aboslute. Rose otto’s extracted via steam distillation, while the more precious rose absolute, via solvent extraction, or CO2 extraction.
The roses most commonly used in perfumery are the Turkish rose, the Damask (or Damascene rose) and Rosa Centifolia (the ‘hundred-leafed rose’), which is grown around Grasse in the south of France, and generally considered to produce the highest quality rose absolute. (This rose is also known as Rose de Mai, because it generally blooms in the month of May, and – romantically – ‘the painter’s rose’, because it features in many works of the old masters.)
Around 70% of the rose oil in the world comes from Bulgaria; other significant producers are Turkey, Iran and Morocco, and precious, limited quantities from Grasse. The task of the rose-picker is to pick the dew-drenched blooms before 10 a.m. at the latest, when the sun evaporates their exquisite magic. So fast does the rose fade, in fact, that some farmers in Turkey and Bulgaria transport their own copper stills to the fields, heating them on the spot over wood fires to distill the precious Damask Rose oil, which separates from the water when heated in only the tiniest of quantities: 170 rose flowers are said to relinquish but a single drop.
Smell rose in:
Goutal Paris Rose Absolue
Maison Francis Kurkdjian À la rose
Editions de Parfums Frédéric Malle Lipstick Rose
Chloé Eau de Parfum
Goutal Rose Pompon
Acqua di Parma Rosa Nobile
Tom Ford Café Rose
Floris A Rose For...
Floral Street Neon Rose
Jo Malone London Red Roses
Serge Lutens Sa Majeste La Rose
Yves Saint Laurent Paris
Half-way between a berry and a rose, we’d say this note is. From the berry of the rose – one of the richest sources of vitamin C, in nature – rosehip’s floral-fruity tang mostly makes its way into feminine fragrances, and the odd masculine scent.
Smell rosehip in:
Pungent, lavender-like, aromatic: nothing smells quite like rosemary. (Well, camphor and eucalyptus and even mint smell a little bit like rosemary - but most of us could still make out its distinctive ‘whoosh’ if blindfolded). Julie Massé, whose many fragrance creations include Shay & Blue's portfolio, explains: 'I use it to give a Mediterranean sensation - to create the impression of a cocktail of herbs...'
Because of those herby qualities, rosemary’s used with only the lightest touch in female perfumes, though more widely in so-called ‘men’s scents’. Its use actually goes way, way back: the Ancient Greeks burned rosemary as incense, and it became part of religious ceremony (and even exorcisms): the smoke of rosemary is deeply cleansing. Rosemary wasn’t known to the Arab perfumers, but it started to be distilled as an oil in the 15th Century, and was a key ingredient in one of the first ‘modern’ perfumes, Hungary Water.
A woody evergreen, rosemary has super-fragrant needle-like leaves, and white, purple, blue or pink flowers, depending on the variety. It’s seriously low-maintenance: the name ‘rosemary’ comes from the Latin for ‘dew’ (ros) and ‘sea’ (marinus), because all it needs is the humidity of a sea breeze to flourish. Today, no home herb garden’s complete without rosemary – which was once planted to repel witches. This somehow led to the idea that where rosemary grew outside a house, it symbolised that a woman ruled the household. (And around the time of the 16th Century, not a few men could apparently be found ripping out rosemary bushes to show that they, not their wives, were boss.)
It’s also said to be good for memory (as well as for stimulating hair growth), and is used symbolically in weddings, funerals and war commemorations in the UK and Australia: ‘Rosemary for remembrance’.
Smell rosemary in:
Dior La Collection Couturier Parfumeur Granville
Diptyque L’Eau de Hesperides
Jo Malone London Grapefruit
Lancôme O de Lancôme
Miller Harris Fleur de Sel
Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps
Yardley English Lavender
Rosewood has been prized by carpenters and furniture makers for centuries: we know it as rock-solid, strong, darkly handsome and perfect for everything from guitars to chess pieces.
But wait! It’s not that type of rosewood which perfumers use, with its floral, slightly rose-like odour: that’s from the Aniba rosaeodora tree, better known as Brazilian rosewood. It takes a massive amount of the tree’s wood to produce the oil: each tree’s said to yield just 1%, by weight, of oil to wood. With such huge amounts of timber felled to extract teensy qualities of oil, it’s no wonder that Brazilian rosewood trees – which are grown in the rainforests of Brazil, Mexico and Peru – are now protected, under CITES (the convention which safeguards endangered flora and fauna). It’s also on the official list of endangered flora of Brazil. So: how come rosewood still turns up on ingredients list…? Clever perfumers know that other woods deliver similar effects, and can be used to replace its richness.
Smell rosewood in:
Goutal Eau du Ciel
Cartier Must de Cartier
Dior Hypnotic Poison
Diptyque Tam Dao
Giorgio Armani Sensi
Givenchy Ange ou Demon
Jovoy Paris Boisé
Nina Ricci L’Air du Temps
Paco Rabanne Ultraviolet
Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely
Tom Ford Oud Wood
Yummy, yummy rum: wonderful in cocktails to drink, glorious in perfumes – an appetising ‘gourmand’ ingredient that pairs well with woods, adding complexity, sweetness and intrigue. (Though rum’s more widely used to add swagger to men’s perfumery, quite a few opulent women’s scents also feature a slug of this multi-faceted ingredient, which can have hints of vanilla, clove, ginger or ripe fruits). Rum itself dates back to the 17th Century and Caribbean sugar plantations: it’s distilled from molasses, the dark and syrupy by-product of sugar cane, and when aged in oak barrels takes on deep golden tones, and rich flavours. The name? Short for rumbullion or rumbustion, slang words which meant ‘tumult’ or ‘uproar’ (which can be what happens after one rum cocktail too many, even now). For a while, it was actually an accepted currency in Europe – ah, those were the days…
Smell rum in:
By Kilian Straight to Heaven
Byredo Accord Oud
Carolina Herrera 212 VIP
Guerlain Elixir Charnel Gourmand Coquin
Nez à Nez Atelier d’Artiste
Olfactive Studio Still Life
Thierry Mugler Alien Liqueur de Parfum