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’…
Taif rose is especially prized in perfumery, beloved for its deep fragrance – which is even more intense than the better-known Damask rose to which it’s related. It also gives hints of tea alongside the soft powderiness.
Taif roses have 30 petals and grow around the city of Taif in western Saudi Arabia, not far from Mecca. The city’s 2000 metres above sea level, and the cooler temperature may be partly responsible for how well it flourishes there, under the control of just five local families. As with all roses, it’s important to harvest Taif roses early in the morning, before the heat of the day destroys the precious essential oils. The attar of roses which is produced is powerful and expensive – and no wonder: it takes around 40,000 rose flowers to produce one 10 g bottle of rose attar.
Smell Taif rose in:
Photo with thanks to Perris Monte Carlo
How did the tangerine get its name? This is, after all, a kind of mandarin: sweet, honeyed and with lots of uplifting zest in its bright orange skin. Tangerine was named after Tangier in Morocco, which has been exporting tangerines since 1841. Tangerine and mandarin are basically interchangeable: their zestiness is instantly cheering - sweet, fruity, citrussy, with hints of neroli – and just what perfumers often look for to ‘lift’ the overture of a scent. As perfumer Christine Nagel explains, 'I like to use tangerine in many different structures for its fizzy, joyful, luminous effect in a fragrance.'
Smell tangerine in:
Britney Spears Believe
Dolce & Gabbana L’Eau The One
Fendi Fan di Fendi
Frederic Malle Musc Ravageur
Givenchy Eaudemoiselle de Givenchy
Hugo Boss Femme
Jo Malone London Grapefruit
Katy Perry Meow
Viktor & Rolf Flowerbomb
In a fragrance, tea’s almost as refreshing as in a china cup. Notes reminiscent of this favourite beverage – from the dried leaves of Camellia sinensis (seen in our photo growing on plantation slopes) - have made their way into quite a few sheer, uplifting fragrance creations in recent years, a trend kickstarted by Bulgari’s Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert. Sometimes the perfumer conjures up a black tea note, sometimes green – but the effect is always uplifting. According to experts, tea is set to be a key fragrance trend for spring/summer 2015.
Smell tea in:
Atelier Cologne Oolong Infini
Bulgari Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert
Bulgari Mon Jasmin Noir L’Eau Exquise
Burberry The Beat
By Kilian Bamboo Harmony
Elizabeth Arden Green Tea
Hermès Hermessence Osmanthe Yunnan
L’Artisan Parfumeur Thé Pour Un Eté
L’Occitane en Provence Thé Vert à la Menthe
Lancôme Aroma Tonic
Rituals No. 1 Ginger Essence & White Tea
Thyme gets its name from the Greek word meaning ‘to fumingate’ – and its fragrant use goes back that far: the Greeks used it as a powerful incense in their temples (it was even thought to repel snakes), while the Arab perfumers also used it in their recipes. There are many different varieties of this Mediterranean shrub, but today it’s the flower tops of ‘Garden Thyme’ (a.k.a. ‘French Thyme’), or Thymus vulgaris, from which most of the essential oil is steam-distilled. It’s spicy, aromatic – and surprisingly leathery, in a perfume. A pinch of thyme is more likely to be found in a ‘masculine’ fragrance than something targeted at women, though it also makes its way into quite a few unisex Colognes.
Smell thyme in:
Tiaré flowers are related to gardenias: luscious white florals which scent the breeze of Tahiti, worn tucked behind the ear or as garlands. Rich and heady, tiaré is also used to create ‘monoi’ oil (familiar from many suntanning products), by macerating the flowers in coconut oil. Hypnotic, heady, almost intoxicatingly sweet, tiaré wafts its exotic way into white floral scents and Ambrées.
Smell tiaré in:
Not everyone thinks they love the smell of tobacco – but encountering it in a fragrance is way more sensual an experience than walking into a smokey room, or dealing with the post-party ashtray challenge. It can add sweet, sexy, smoky and mysterious nuances to a fragrance, and works gorgeously alongside rich florals and Ambrée spices, giving hints of caramel or whiskey.
The dried leaves – sweet-smelling, a touch earthy and hay-like – are solvent extracted from the plant. (Which was one of the four ‘sacred’ plants of the Native American culture, alongside squash, corn and beans.) Famously, Nicotiana tabacum - member of the nightshade family made its way to Europe via the Spanish, in around 1528. Plenty of people seem to find tobacco almost as addictive in perfumery as cigarettes or cigars – but it’s a healthier way to indulge, for sure.
Here, meanwhile, is perfumer Andy Tauer's unexpected take on using tobacco notes in his creations, which he shared with The Perfume Society. 'Tobacco: loved by many when lit, smoke inhaled, brain bright and crisp. But in perfumery, I love it for its multitude of facets. There is a wood line. There are dried fruits giving it a gourmand character, supported by what brings "cocoa" to mind. There is an animalic, furry, dirty line. And there is a quality that says "bathroom, used, not cleaned for a while", and so much more. Thus, it can be combined with all sorts of other notes: Think flowers, roses. The darkness of tobacco sets the flower petals in fire. Think patchouli, think vetiver, think amber, think musks, think.... endless.'
Smell tobacco in:
By Kilian Back to Black
Chanel Les Exclusifs Sycomore
Guerlain Tonka Impériale
Nasomatto Black Afgano
Nasomatto Hindu Grass
Serge Lutens Chergui
Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille
Yves Saint Laurent Belle d’Opium
Tolu resin is tapped from the trunks of the tall Myroxylon toluiferum tree, which mostly grows in South America and the West Indies: small incisions are made in the bark, from which thick yellow-brown ‘drops’ are collected. Rich and naturally complex, there are soft, come-hither floral elements to the balsam, as well as sweet vanilla and spicy cinnamon notes; it’s often used in ambrées. (This note is also sometimes called American balsam, or even ‘opobalsam’.) Here's perfumer Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays on Tolu balsam...
'Funny how the official descriptions just say is smells balsamic. If someone asks a perfumer what balsamic means, we’d hand them a pot of tolu. It’s another one of those sticky, deep dark resins that you have to smell next to each other in order to spot the difference, another of those thousand year old base notes... In traditional perfumery you’d use it to blend with the top and mid notes, you’d leave the mixture to macerate for months, to give it weight and depth, and to help keep the lighter molecules from flying away too rapidly.
These days you’ve got synthetics which are much easier to use, cheaper to buy and hang around for longer and act more rapidly. So why use tolu at all? Because its feels like a glorious smell. It does more things to your mind and body than just set off your scent sensors. At least that’s what I believe. It makes your perfume do more than just smell good. It starts a conversation with the "still small voice of calm".'
Smell balsam of Tolu in:
Everyone, surely - even the least green-fingered person - has rubbed a tomato leaf between their fingers to get that so-green, astringent, slightly bitter smell. (We know many people who say that tomato leaf is their first scent memory, perhaps introduced by a much-loved grandparent who wants to share its so-distinctive, scented furriness.) Its bittersweet freshness works well in Colognes and summer scents, when a shot of ‘green’ is called for.
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Amazingly, tonka bean is actually a member of the pea family. The seeds - from the fruit of the Dypterix Odorata tree - are black and wrinkled, and when grated give off pleasant aromas of sweet spice, vanilla, praline and almond. The scent actually comes from an aroma compound called coumarin: traditionally, tonka beans would be dried and cured in rum, producing small crystals of coumarin. (Today, a synthetic coumarin is widely used.) Very popular in contemporary perfumery – tonka’s sweetness goes beautifully in gourmand fragrances, as well as Ambrées – it was also used in the past for making pot pourri, to scent snuff, as well as being layered between clothes. (Now that we’d have loved to smell…)
As perfumer Alienor Massenet explains, 'tonka is warm and smooth - but unlike vanilla, it can remind you of hay. I love to use it because it's big and powerful, very sensual. Used with an amber note, it creates a real addiction…' And Dior's Perfumer-Creator François Demachy adds: 'The tonka bean is a concentrate of sensations and aromas. It is dual, it has a multifarious seduction. Its milky sweetness invariably attracts. But it also reveals a soft yet surprising bitterness, when you taste it.'
Smell tonka in:
Bulgari Jasmin Noir
Chanel Coco Mademoiselle
Chloé Eau de Parfum Intense
Dior La Collection Privée Fève Délicieuse
Dior J’Adore L’Or
Evody Note de Luxe
Givenchy Ange ou Demon
Guerlain Elixir Charnel Ambrée Brulant
Guerlain Tonka Impériale
Liz Earle Botanical Essence No. 15
Robert Piguet Mademoiselle Piguet
Thierry Mugler Angel
Yves Saint Laurent Manifesto
Voluptuous, so voluptuous. Intoxicating, so intoxicating. And expensive, so expensive! It takes over 3600 kilos of flowers to produce just half a kilo of tuberose oil, with its sweet, exotic, complex, velvety floral opulence. Happily, it’s so concentrated that only a small amount need be used (although several very sophisticated scents do ramp up the tuberose, as a ‘star’ ingredient).
But in truth, the tuberose used in perfumery nowadays is often a synthetic copy – not just because of the price, but because through manipulating the aroma particles, it’s possible to bring out tuberose’s creaminess, or its more ‘camphor’-like side. Reminscent of jasmine, gardenia and orange blossom, tuberose is often blended alongside those other white flowers.)
The Polianthes tuberose plant is related to the lily - you can almost tell that, from smelling it. (Do please completely ignore the word ‘rose’ in its name.)
Known as ‘the carnal flower’ (Roja Dove also calls it ‘the harlot of perfumery’), tuberose’s blooms are so powerful that just a few stems can fill a room with their headiness, pumping out their scent for days or even weeks.
In Victorian times, tuberose symbolised ‘dangerous pleasure’ and voluptuousness – and that’s pretty much what perfumers are aiming for, when they use it. In India, meanwhile, it’s known for its aphrodisiac powers (young women are advised not to breathe its scent, after dark.) Innocent, tuberose most definitely is not…
Smell tuberose in:
By Kilian Beyond Love
Calvin Klein Beauty
Clive Christian C for Women
Dior J’Adore Dior
Diptyque Do Son
Estée Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia
Frederic Malle Carnal Flower
Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle
Jean Patou Joy
Jo Malone London Tuberose
L’Artisan Parfumeur Tubéreuse
Madonna Truth or Dare
Nasomatto Narcotic Venus
Robert Piguet Fracas
Serge Lutens Tubéreuse Criminelle