Indole is sexy, powerful, intense – va-va-voom, in a bottle. ‘A very powerful molecule, in both masculine and feminine fragrances,’ notes perfumer Alienor Massenet. It’s a naturally-occurring chemical, found in many essential oils – especially the glorious white flowers (jasmine, orange blossom, neroli), as well as wallflowers, and some citrus fruits. Grasse jasmine contains the highest natural levels of indole – one of the reasons it’s the priciest jasmine in the world.
But indole can also be created synthetically, producing a crystal-like substance that smells of nothing so much as your great aunt’s mothballs, till it’s massively diluted. It then conjures up jasmine and orange blossom, and goes beautifully with green notes, and other floral ingredients.
Just sometimes, a fragrance is described as being ‘indolic’ – which is pretty unhelpful if you don’t work in the perfume world. That translates as having an overripe character. And, adds Alienor Massenet, ‘it’s very animalic…’