As we’re still not able to travel very far physically, so many of us have turned more than ever to fragrance as a way to ‘travel with our nose.’ Today we are traversing time and space with Celia Lyttelton‘s beautifully written and so-evocative book, The Scent Trail, that follows her journey to discover the secret of scent…
Penguin say: ‘When Celia Lyttelton visited a bespoke perfumers, she realised a long-held ambition: to have a scent created solely for her. Entering this heady, exotic world of oils and essences, she was transported from a leafy London square to a place of long-forgotten memories and sensory experiences. And once drawn into this world, she felt compelled to trace the origins, history and culture of the many ingredients that made up her unique perfume…
And so began a magical journey of the senses that took Celia from Grasse, the cradle of perfume, to Morocco; from the rose-growing region of Isparta in Turkey, to the Tuscan hills where the iris grows wild. And after journeying to Sri Lanka, the home of the heavenly scented jasmine, Celia ventured to India, the Yemen and finally to the ‘Island of Bliss’, Socotra. Here she traced the rarest and most mysterious agent in perfumery, ambergris, which is found in the bellies of whales and is said to have powerful aphrodisiac qualities.
From the peasants and farmers growing their own crops, and the traders who sell to the great perfume houses, to the ‘noses’ who create the scents and the marketing kings who rule this powerful billion-dollar industry, Celia Lyttelton paints a mystical, sensual landscape of sights, sounds and aromas as she recalls the extraordinary people and places she encountered on her unique Scent Trail.’
We say: While on the quest for ‘the perfect perfume’, author Celia Lyttelton had a bespoke fragrance made by Anastasia Brozler in London, an encounter that set Lyttelton off on a tour of the world to trace the history and provenence of the ingredients used. From a collection of precious oils contained in an old wooden box to the growing, harvesting and distilling of the materials and exploring cultural responses and mythological beliefs surroung scent, this book is a must-have for anyone who wonders where, exactly their perfume originated. And what a tour to take! With new scent adventures beginning with sentences such as: ‘We arrived on a plateau of dragons’ blood trees and desert roses…’ you will doubtless be Googling far flung fragrant climes, just as we did, while reading this (and now knowing exactly what you’d do following a Lottery win!) Movingly written, and full of the insightful, utterly fascinating pieces of fragrant history that she collected along the way, this book is a deep-dive into perfume ingredients that will satiate your travel-lust until such time we may pack our bags and set off into the scented sunset…
Celia Lyttelton The Scent Trail: A Journey of the Senses, Bantam Books amazon.co.uk
Looking for a gift or just the next thing you need to get your nose in to? Have a browseof our ever-expanding selection of favourite books – some are exclusively about perfume, others are more scholarly tomes on the history and scientific advancements of smell and the senses; while others still follow a path of examining fragrant ingredients in poetic, funny or awe-inspiring ways. Every page is a journey in itself. What are you waiting for…?
Fireworks are a celebration of light amidst these darker months – as the clocks have gone back and the nights are drawing in – and so here we present a selection of fragrances with smoky, sensual notes to smoulder in this season…
A scorching interpretation of rose, in which smouldering leather tangos with rich Damask rose against a backdrop of patchouli, amber and deepest, darkest oudh. Think bonfire-smoke still clinging to your hair, pinpricks of starlight against a velvety black sky and cold lips soon warmed by passionate kisses.
P.S: You can try a sample of Firedance in the Ruth Mastenbroek Discovery Set – featuring the first four fragrances in her eponymous collection, so perfect to explore at home – try all four fragrances here for only £17.95.
Arabic dokha tobacco’s smokiness wafts through a spicy-woody-Oriental with an unexpected note of raspberry, then a fabulous fug of full-on tobacco dust absolute and tobacco leaf, warmed by roasted tonka bean, creamy sandalwood and a delicious woody-amber blend of cistus absolute, castoreum and patchouli. This one’s all smoke – and mirrored label.
Tom Ford Oud Tobacco Intense £315 for 100ml eau de parfum harrods.com
Rip-roaring along hot tarmac on the back of a motorbike with fireworks bursting and ‘big hair don’t care’ optimism, the cypress, lemon zest freshness becomes dirty (in the best way), hugely smoke-smudged and sexy as all hell. Kudos, too, to the heavy magnetic lid, packaging and price.
Banana Republic Leather Reserve £55 for 75ml eau de parfum debenhams.com
This feels like an homage to the very origins of perfume – ‘per-fumum’ meaning ‘through smoke’ – melding incense with fruity notes of fresh Turkish rose with a fragrant drift of exotic spices. And it lingers beguilingly, waves of wamth unfurling, tendrills of woodiness creating a sumptuously smoky cloak.
Atelier Cologne Rose Smoke £325 for 100ml pure parfum Harrods
This fragrance’s Scottish geology is composed of black pepper, densely smoked minerals and rose absolute with a splash of whisky and amber-rich leather. It’s complex, fusing an invigorating opening with a trio of peaty swirls, fresh tobacco and incense metamorphosing as it warms – and wins your heart.
Whichever of these intriguingly smoke-infused scents you choose, we feel sure you will revel in their scented display for hours, days and months ahead. Now, all you need do is seek them out, choose your favourite, light the metaphorical ‘blue touch paper’ and get ready for the fragrant fireworks…
Suddenly our duvets have become irresistible and those opaque tights have made their appearance from the back of the drawer. Along with cashmere cardis and hot toddies replacing the t-shirts and G&Ts (okay, we actually haven’t quite given up G&Ts), so our fragrance tastes tend to swing toward something warmer – a snuggle in a bottle that helps you get out of bed in the morning and comforts you throughout the day.
Sandalwood-rich perfumes are great ones to look for in the autumnal months or colder climates, offering a smooth creaminess that clings to the skin like a cashmere blanket – a poncho made from perfume. Yes we may sometimes wish to be pepped up with a citrus blast every now and again, even on a chilly day; but the majority of us here at TPS Towers are longing for something to snuggle into, and sandalwood as a dominant note definitely fits that bill.
In our just-published Couture edition of The Scented Letter Magazine, my leading feature seeks out ‘The sensational history of sandalwood‘, looking into versatility of this ingredient, and finding out just why perfumers (and perfume-wearers) love it so. But the topic is so vast, I really wanted to give you even more sandalwood-filled snippets, and urge you to swathe yourself in sandalwood scents you already love, or to think about getting seriously cosy with something sandalwood-y and new to you…
Some sandalwood facts:
Sandalwood is used in the base of up to 50% of feminine fragrances.
Supremely versatile, it blends exquisitely with clove, lavender, geranium, jasmine, galbanum, frankincense, black pepper, jasmine and patchouli (among others).
It works as a ‘fixative’, tethering other ingredients and keeping them ‘true’, in a composition.
So many sandalwood trees have been cut down in India, largely for production of perfume and incense – often illegally harvested, because it’s such a valuable commodity – that it’s become endangered.
The good news is that plantations in Australia are now coming on-stream, producing (santalum spicatum) sandalwood oil of high quality – to the relief of ‘noses’ (and conservationists.)
A wide range of synthetic sandalwood-like ingredients are now used in place of this at-risk wood, to give a similarly smooth milkiness (see below for our guide)…
The synthetics now available for perfumer’s to expand their palette is now fairly extensive. With the cost of Mysore (often considered the best quality, and the most endangered) sandalwood increasing approximately 25% per year, you can understand why many fragrance brands are choosing to use these aroma-chemicals, for cost-effective (would you continue to buy a favourite fragrance if it doubled in price every four years?) as well as conservation reasons.
In my magazine feature, indie perfumer, and founder of 4160 Tuesdays, Sarah McCartney, explains why synthetic sandalwood is so vital for perfumers – and how most people asked to compare natural and synthetic sandalwood side-by-side in a blind smelling, will confidently declare those synthetics to ‘definitely be the natural’ wood. So generally, ‘…if you have sandalwood listed in the notes, it will either be accompanied by its synthetic sisters, or replaced entirely.’ Among these synthetics we have:
Beta santalol – considered to be one of the most ‘nature identical’ of sandalwood notes, this imparts the comforting creamy snuggle we expect. Polysantol – formerly trademarked by Firmenich , it has herbal depth with just a touch of filth for the animalic scent lovers out there. Realistic enough in a composition, it also has great lasting power. Levosandol – by Takasago is shot through with tang of dry cedar-like notes for an overall woodiness. Ebanol – a Givaudan trademark, is remarkably rich and surprisingly potent. The snuggle that just keeps going. Fleursandol – by Symrise, this one has a lightly floral character beneath the dominant, life-like sandalwood note.
Try sandalwood in these beauties…
But McCartney also reminds us that many naturals also ‘replace’ or snuggle up to natural sandalwood in fragrances, ‘One good natural substitute is amyris essential oil,’ she continues. ‘Mine is from Haiti and smells closer to aged Mysore oil than my Australian or modern Indian sandalwood. Amyris is known as Hatian sandalwood, but is a different species. Sandalwood has strength and richness but never overpowers or forces its way through a composition.’
David Moltz, perfumer and co-founder of cult niche house D.S. & Durga agress on this so-special charcteristic of sandalwood, explaining, ‘Though long-lasting and incredibly umami for a wood, its overall throw is soft. So it’s persistent but never overpowers other oils.’ Personally, he likes to mix the types of sandalwood he uses, depending on what he’s trying to achieve, so he uses ‘…a bunch of different sandalwoods. In the D.S. fragrance, I used top-grade Sri Lankan sandalwood which is the closest we have to the fabled and ethically challenged Mysore varietal from south India.’
Whichever character of sandalwood you choose, it’s just perfect to embrace on chillier, grey days – so do have a look for some of these, and get ready to fully embrace sandalwood’s cosy sensuality…
Molten sandalwood and cedar melds with warm amber, a wispy jasmine that fluffs itself up around ghost lily, waxy magnolia and narcotic ylang ylang. It all dries down to the most glorious pepper speckled honey for a ‘your skin but better’ daily cuddle. Self-care in a bottle. Estée Lauder Sensuous£56 for 50ml eau de parfum theperfumeshop.com
Like burying yourself in a boyfriend’s favourite jumper, textural layers of pink pomelo, ginger and green lemon brush against soft lavender and jasmine whispers. Finally, skin’s wrapped in that comforting sandalwood, with birch, oak, patchouli and musk. Sans boyfriend? I think this amply replaces many. Missoni Parfum Pour Hommefrom £33 for 30ml eau de parfum thefragranceshop.co.uk
Distant recollections of being warm without woollen undergarments evoked with the delectable creaminess of iris butter swirled into sandalwood. It’s all blissfully relaxed limbs slathered in retro-smelling coconut suntan oil and a cool lick of vanilla ice-cream. Thanks for the memories… Juliette Has a Gun Sunny Side Up£110 for 100ml eau de parfum harveynichols.com
A handsome (completely unisex, we think) scent that’s crisp as a tall G&T (told you we were clinging on) at first, then sinks beguilingly to a dandyish clove, cardamom and nutmeg-laden heart and the softness of sandalwood and vanilla muskiness beyond. Floris Santal£80 for 100ml eau de toilette florislondon.com
A sacred signal to the Gods, incense billows through saffron’s golden glow, precious frankincense swirled amidst a plush heart of rose absolute, smooth sandalwood soothing you like a whisper on a breeze of translucent white musk. Wearing it feels like knowing the very soul of perfume – ‘per fumum’ meaning ‘through smoke’. Van Cleef & Arpels Collection Extraordinaire Rêve d’Encens £260 for 125ml eau de parfum harrods.com
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