What IS a fougère? Pteridomania & the frenzy for fern fragrances

When describing types of fragrance, the term fougère can seem bewildering – both the meaning and how on earth to pronounce it.

French for ‘fern-like’, you say it ‘foo-jair’ (with the ‘j’ a little soft – almost ‘foo-shair’), when you think of a fern’s smell, what comes to mind? Whatever you think of, that smell memory is quite likely to have been influenced by Houbigant’s Fougère Royale – created in 1882 by Paul Parquet, and much copied by those who clamoured to achieve a measure of its success.

While we might imagine a shady-forest smell emanating from a fern, the majority aren’t fragrant to any great extent. And although the ingredients so key to Parquet’s original accord – oak moss, geranium, bergamot and (most notably) coumarin – are now collectively referred to as ‘fougère’ (often with lavender or other aromatic herbs thrown in for good effect), it’s the alchemy of the perfumer recreating that ‘natural’ smell memory: the whole woodland seemingly wafting from the bottle.

“Gathering Ferns” (Helen Allingham) from The Illustrated London News, July 1871.

Some time before Parquet’s fragrant foragings, ‘fern mania’ was sweeping the nation, and it caused an amount of worry when women began wandering, sometimes alone or – worse! – gambolling with groups of young man in the woodlands, in search of their charms… What business had women convening with nature outside of their perfectly manicured cottage gardens? Well, ‘Pteridomania’, meaning Fern Madness or Fern Craze was the term for this frenzy, coined in 1855 by Charles Kingsley in his book Glaucus, or the ‘Wonders of the Shore’. In it he sought to reassure anxious parents:

Your daughters, perhaps, have been seized with the prevailing ‘Pteridomania‘ … and wrangling over unpronounceable names of species (which seem different in each new Fern-book that they buy) … and yet you cannot deny that they find enjoyment in it, and are more active, more cheerful, more self-forgetful over it, than they would have been over novels and gossip, crochet and Berlin-wool.

So – society’s nerves soothed and the morals of females intact – the time was ripe for fern fragrances to unfurl; but it took a unique olfactory discovery to kickstart that particular perfume craze.

It was the extraction of coumarin ­– one of the first synthetics to appear in perfumery – which made the fougère such a landmark scent. But how many people outside the industry would be able to describe coumarin’s smell? Not many, I’m guessing.

A plate from The Ferns of Great Britain and Ireland, a book from the era of Pteridomania.

Coumarin is found in tonka beans and cinnamon, but also occurs naturally in bison grass and green tea. It’s classed as a ‘lactone’ – (milky, skin-like) – a complex molecule that’s the scent of sweet hay drying in the sunshine with a slight waft of warm horse; a cold glass of fizz sipped on newly-mown grass, a fine cigar fresh from the humidor, a warm cookie dunked in cold milk. All of these things and not one in particular: the scientist’s hand working in harmony with the artful perfumer to create a magical realism. Because the true skill of a perfumer is to take ingredients and transform them into something we think we already recognise, sparking those scent memories and creating new ones to fill the gaps.

In fact, Parquet was called the ‘greatest perfumer of his time’ by no less than Ernest Beaux, the creator of Chanel No. 5, and was the first to truly understand and appreciate the use of synthetic aroma materials in fragrance composition. Previously used as mere substitutes for naturally derived raw materials, Parquet saw a chance to deploy them as unique smells in their own right – adding structure, poetry and space within perfumes that sought not to mimic the natural world but to add to it, to improve on perfection. And so the fougère fragrance family was born.

Traditionally seen as a scent for the chaps – possibly sporting tweed and a monocle – in fact Guerlain’s masterpiece of Jicky, launched in 1889, is a more ‘feminine’ fougère (the first unisex scent, too) which ramped up the crackle of dry lavender, adding sweetly mown hay and toasted almond-like flourishes of coumarin. More recently, we’ve seen an increasing number of gender-fluid fougères striding forth – perhaps chiming with our collective urge to ‘return to nature’ during the pandemic; or simply an urge that preceded Covid-19, a perfumed riposte to political unease?

Whatever the reason, the resurgence of the fougère is to be celebrated. Cooling on steamy days, comforing in more inclement weather, these are the type of scent to boost your spirits while patting your hand and telling you everything’s going to be okay. Wander into the woodland yourself, awhile, and try these fougères – from classical forest to contemporary fairytale…

Houbigant Fougère Royale A sprig of herbs carefully tucked into the lapel of a herringbone jacket, the olive from a dry Martini sucked in a slightly lascivious manner while they’re looking the other way. £130 for 100ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com

Guerlain Jicky Somewhere between breakfast and midnight, fog-shrouded moorland; pale wool blanket clutched close, bare feet on flagstones, forbidden hipflask swigged reading Wuthering Heights. £96 for 100ml eau de toilette houseoffraser.co.uk

Yves Saint Laurent Kouros Freshly-scrubbed and shining with smooth words and practiced simplicity, but clean sheets cannot hide the indiscretion and animal instincts of the night before. £50 for 50ml eau de toilette theperfumeshop.com

Creed Viking Cologne A bountiful burst of freshness leads to explorations of verdant landscapes re-awakening; geranium, herbs, lavender and nutmeg atop glacial lakes reflecting shinshine. £175for 50ml eau de parfum  creedfragrances.co.uk

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Milano Cento HIM A woodland wander with someone dashingly Italian (who knows not to wear sandals with socks), the citrus breeze segues to an herbaceously dappled grove and aromatic amour. £49 for 100ml eau de toilette roullierwhite.com

4160 Tuesdays The Lion Cupboard Ferns pressed between pages of a diary, love letters tied in faded ribbons, a lipstick kiss on a foxed mirror, silk scarves with the faint tang of a gentleman’s Cologne. £55 for 30ml eau de parfum 4160tuesdays.com

Partere Run of the River A bare-foot meander through clover-strewn lawns, budding freshness in the air, lemon-thyme and clary sage encricled by a languorous caress of incense and oakmoss. £95 for 50ml eau de parfum parterrefragrances.com

By Suzy Nightingale

Choosing a fragrance for Fathers Day (or whenever!) Male scents we’re swooning over

Choosing a fragrance for Fathers Day (or, you know, whenever) can seem overwhelming, but the best way to match a particular chap to a certain scent is think about their personalities. So, ditch the old-fashioned ‘pipe and slippers’ image still portrayed on many a Fathers Day card and consider his character. Is he…

 

Timelessly Stylish?

 

If he fancies himself as rather dapper and wouldn’t dream of stepping outside the house in joggers and an old t-shirt, we think he’s likely to favour a classic but characterful fragrance. This collection was designed with such men in mind, but here at Perfume Society HQ we implore everyone to explore this divine collection and discover the timeless aromas loved by the stars of old Hollywood.

Created by Albert Fouquet, a member of the French aristocracy, who would surprise his loved ones with exquisite homemade perfumes, blended lovingly with the help of his family butler, Philippe. One evening in 1937, Albert met an American student named John F. K. mesmerised by Albert’s scent, John persuaded him to leave him a sample. The rest, as they say, is history…

Now you can get set to feel truly special by spritzing these timeless and decadent scents, six true icons in fragrant history ready for you explore.

Eight & Bob Iconic Discovery Set £20 for six fragrances

 

Eclectically Heroic?

Okay so he might not exactly be a caped crusader but he tries his best, and he’s your hero. If his taste mightbbe described as ‘changeable’ or he’s not really sure which style of fragrances he likes, this discovery box is your scent saviour! Filled to the brim with something to suit all, it’s for super men everywhere.

We’ve included independent perfume houses making their mark: recently launched ånd fragrance with sustainable and ethically sourced ingredients at the forefront, decadent Italian niche with Laboratorio Olfattivo and Jovoy with their new creation based on the Mayfair store 21 Conduit St. Also including newness from loved names including St Giles, Parfums de Marly, Ruth Mastenbroek, Floris, Caron,Initio, Atelier Des Ors, Kierin NYC and Anima Vinci.

We also bring you TWO GROOMING PRODUCTS! FISH Memory Fish Flexible Gel (50ml), and the divinely scented beard savour WELEDA Skin Food (10ml). Up, up and a-spray…!

The Super Man Discovery Box £22 / £18 VIP price for 14 fragrances + two extra gifts

 

Rebellious Rocker?

 

If he’s still firmly attached to his skinny jeans and faded band-t-shirts (or can sometimes be lost for hours playing along to vinyl rarities) chances are he’s not going to want to smell hum-drum and ordinary. Offering a true sense of olfactory rebellion, dance into this so-sassy collection, all of which should be worn with a devil-may-care attitude.

ROOK PERFUMES are the perfect meeting place between art and science – with more than a little rock ‘n roll in their DNA. They were launched by a frontline doctor/actor (yes, really), Nadeem Crowe, who became enraptured with the world of perfumery, who says ‘I feel totally comfortable with pipettes, beakers and weighing scales. The outcome, though, is a piece of art.’

Discover ALL THREE UNISEX FRAGRANCES, Undergrowth, Forest and ROOK. The latter was created by Nadeem for himself, inspired by his Middle Eastern roots, and described as a ‘diplomat dressed up as a punk rocker’. Nadeem loves to hear the stories of how his fragrances transport others – so let us know which transported you…? 

Rook Perfumes Discovery Set £15 for three fragrances

 

Modern Maverick?

If he’s slightly eccentric, obsessed by science or futuristic technology and always ahead of his time, he’s bound to appreciate the loving fragrance nerd-ery behind this iconic cult house. Perfumer and founder Geza Schoen is, himself, a bit of a maverick. If you’re new to the Escentric Molecules world, you should know that Geza was dedicated to trying something new – and it was seen quite shockingly brave, but caused a scent storm of interest.

The reason? Schoen shook up the perfume world by creating a scent with one ingredient – an aroma-molecule non-existent in nature, called Iso E Super. Now this molecule has been expertly blended with other ingredients to really ramp up the individuality.

Geza says: ‘I’ve used two qualities of patchouli here. The biggest chunk is Patchouli Coeur which is a very clean, soft patchouli oil fraction with the camphor-like topnote removed. I have also included a patchouli oil from Indonesia to round it out with a little bit of a topnote. The result is a sophisticated, clean patchouli that pairs fantastically well with Molecule 01.’

Escentric Molecules M+ Patchouli £95 for 100ml

Geza says: ‘Mandarin is all about the instant hit. It’s so alive, the way it radiates off the skin with that citrus zestiness. But there’s more to mandarin, it’s very fruity and aromatic as well. It’s a beautiful ingredient. Its transparency means that it vanishes quickly. I’ve touched it up with a little extra shading to extend it, adding a mandarin ingredient used in flavourings to give it super-juiciness.’

Escentric Molecules M+ Mandarin £95 for 100ml

How to find a new fragrance – tips & tricks to try before you buy

We’ve learned all manner of tips and tricks at The Perfume Society, which we’re thrilled to share with you, here. We’ve been privileged to meet some of the world’s best perfumers and foremost fragrance experts over the last seven years we’ve been going, and want to share their advice with you, below.

If you want a fabulous new fragrance to try, need tips on how to smell it as a perfumer does or how to describe what you’re smelling, consider some of these most useful fragrant facts to help you enjoy your fragrances even more…

Your taste in fragrance changes over the years – just as in food preference – and depends on weather, what you’ve eaten recently, your mood and hormones. So, take your time to explore a new scent out of your comfort range.

Spray on a blotter first and come back to it at hourly intervals. Write down your initial thoughts, then re-try a few days (and weeks) later.

Many perfumers trained for more years than a heart surgeon, memorising ingredients by connecting their smell to personal scent memories and images that immediately spring to mind, unbidden.

Smell has no distinct language. If you’re struggling to describe a scent, try likening it to fabric (is it velvety, suede-like, cotton fresh, silken or fluffy?) Perhaps it reminds you of music (played on which instruments? Fast or slow?) Or you might picture a place – imagine the air temperature and scenery it evokes…

Your nose gets used to smelling the same things, so avoid wearing the same thing daily. Try layering to re-awaken your senses or branch out with exciting new discoveries!

Like all artists, perfumers tend to have a certain style. If you fall in love with one (we’re predicting several) of these, research them online: we bet you’ll fall for others.

Scent molecules are volatile and evaporate at differing rates. Citruses are lightest, often found in top notes and disappearing rapidly; florals tend to be in the heart while base notes are heavier, woody or resinous. Make these stages last FAR longer by using matching or unscented body lotion, spray into your hair or on clothes (after testing on tissue!)

Undecided? Spray on a scarf rather than skin: you can take it off and sniff again, later! Spraying on fabric (or your hair) also helps make it last far longer as the molecules don’t warm up so quickly (or evaporate) as on skin. As does…

Use an unscented (or matching) body lotion or oil. Fragrance doesn’t last long on dry skin (or in hot climates). It clings far longer to moisturised skin – so slather up, then spray.

Don’t know what to try next? Use our simple Find a Fragrance tool: just type the name of a fragrance you already know and love, and the so-clever algorithm suggests six new scents with similar characters to try.

Fragrance samples are THE best way to try new things, dive nose-first into a whole new house you’ve never tried or perhaps a differing perfume family than you’d normally go for.

We know that a full bottle can be a big investment and not everyone happens to live near a shop with a great selection. That’s why we put together carefully curated Discovery Boxes. Our Launches We Love Discovery Box is a stunning selection of new names, with gorgeous mini bottles and generous samples from niche and luxury houses we know you’re going to love as much as we do…

By Suzy Nightingale

Ask Uncle James – Perfume problems? Our agony uncle has all the answers…

We’re so happy to have Uncle James (a.k.a professional fragrance consultant and expert, James Craven) on board with The Perfume Society. He’s the ‘agony uncle’ here to answer all your perfume problems and solve your scent woes…

In the first part of his answers to your queries, James explained where to spray fragrance to make it last longer and radiate on your skin, and how to go about choosing a ‘seasonal scent’. This time he’s been tapping away at his typewriter to help with questions about allergies and what fragrances might be best to start a budding 15 year old perfumista with.

Don’t forget you can ask your questions using the form below (scroll down) and they might get featured in the next edition of The Scented Letter Magazine. But for now, Uncle James, it’s over to you!

Uncle James Craven

I think I’m allergic to some fragrances as I get a rash on my skin and some make me sneeze. How do I find out what’s causing this, and any suggestions for how I can still enjoy fragrance? 

James says: Keep calm. Make a list of all the perfumes that you think have caused adverse reactions. Establish what notes they have in common by reading up on them online (I would of course point you in the direction of The Perfume Society), then by process of trial and error try to discover the ‘joker’ in the pack. The help of an experienced sales assistant in a sympathetic perfumery can be very useful here – and hopefully before very long at all, we will once again be able to venture into stores. Talking it over often clarifies matters no end and sudden enlightenment dawns.

Allergies come and go, often abruptly. Don’t automatically blame chemicals and synthetics: natural organic oils are now recognised as equally liable to be allergenic. Meanwhile you might still enjoy perfume as our ancestors did – anywhere but on the skin, so instead on scarves, the linings of coats, soft furnishings… And remember, sublime fragrances are all around us, not just confined to bottles.

Uncle James Craven

What styles of fragrance might be suitable for a 15-year-old who’s just starting to get into perfume? And how can I tell her to wear it so that it doesn’t overwhelm those around her? 

James says: Your young friend is lucky to have you. Most 15-year-olds love analysing themselves so encourage this young woman to do just that. Ask her to define her personality in her own mind, and then introduce her to the most empathetic sales consultant at your favourite perfumery. This maven – if worth her salt – will assist the young person in interpreting and expressing herself via a fragrance that fits like a handmade glove.

Youth is best showcased by light, subtle – but not necessarily naive –scents. We are all allowed a few garish fragrance mistakes as we develop our tastes, and perfume picking should always be fun. But I have found that most teenagers naturally actually tend to shyness and restraint when it comes to choosing and spraying fragrance.

I hope I have not grown cynical with the years – but the surest way to ensure an ingenue will NOT do something is to beg her to do that very thing. So maybe pass her the Giorgio and the Poison!

What questions have you always wanted to ask an expert? Put your perfume problems to Uncle James and he’ll get thinking…

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

Ask Uncle James – our new ‘agony uncle’ James Craven solves your perfume problems

We’ve a brand new team member for you to welcome – our agony uncle, James Craven (a.k.a. ‘Uncle James’). We asked you to pour out your perfume problems, Cologne conundrums and scented setbacks to him in The Scented Letter magazine, and with his years of experience and expert eloquence, he has answered!

‘Helping a client to find the perfect scent requires the combined skills of a psychologist, palmist and priest’ James always (half) jokes, and his career has been defined not only by the vast knowledge he’s gleaned over the years he’s worked in retail as a fragrance expert, but his ability to ‘match’ people to their perfect perfume and answer any number of queries.

 

 

The Perfumed Agony Uncle column debuts in the latest ‘Perfume’s Bright Future’ edition of our award-winning magazine, The Scented Letter, (free to VIP Subscribers, also available to purchase in glossy print form and via International Online Subscriptions) but we wanted to share some of his words of wisdom with you here, too.

Truly, what James doesn’t know about perfume could probably be written on the back of a stamp. His advice is gold dust, and so we’re sprinkling some of that here for you (along with many scented spritzes, of course!)

Where should I apply perfume so that it lasts? I know Marilyn Monroe apparently said she sprayed it wherever she wanted to be kissed, but I’m more interested in smelling fabulous all day! 

Uncle James says: ‘Crucially, apply to the pulse points of the body: these radiate heat, thus intensifying the expansion of perfume. But also spray on clean hair: being porous, hair is an excellent retainer and diffuser of scent. (If you’re worried about the alcohol in a perfume drying out hair, try one of the many, many hair fragrances which have been launched in the past few years.

Spray on washable natural fibre clothing and dab perfume on the eyebrows and ankles – yes, really! (They certainly do that in France, where they surely know a thing or two about the delights of parfum.) But please also understand that perfume is a poignantly fleeting pleasure : like a lovely piece of music it enchants and then it fades. Reapplication is a gracious and seductive ritual, not a chore. Enjoy it!’

Is it true that fragrances are seasonal and, if so, which styles of fragrance are best for spring?

Uncle James says: It’s certainly understandable that anyone might want to celebrate the emergence from an especially grim winter with a new scent for a ‘new you’. If you want to personify spring in your own aura, then try leafy greens (see the question below), light woody colognes and fresh florals that echo the stirring natural scents outside. You should always wear what excites and pleases you, and the start of a new season is a great time to kickstart exploring new scents, ingredients and fragrance families.’

Do you have a scent query you need solving? Don’t forget to add your questions for James in the form, below, for the next issue…

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

 

By Suzy Nightingale

Nose – the ‘smell good movie’ revealing the scent secrets of Dior perfumer, François Demachy

Nose is a more than a documentary following Dior perfumer François Demachy, it’s a paean to the raw ingredients of perfumery, and the hardworking people who grow and harvest the ingredients around the world.

Having first premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival, the film has just been released – watch the trailer, below, read our review and find out where you can watch…

 

 

Dior describe it as ‘A true “smell good movie” Nose sheds light on one of the most secret jobs in the world.’ And while we mostly remainly quarantined, what a wonderful way to travel by your nose it is.

‘Perfumes are a language everyone understands, but few people can speak’ Demachy explains as he sits in his office, filled with endless bottles and piles of books, later commenting that ‘For me, a perfume is a land of sharing.’ Fascinatingly, when asked what his first ever perfume was, he reveals ‘The first thing I did was a perfume intended to whet the appetites of bovine, so they would eat the fodder.’ Quite a leap to his life, now, and yet in this film we get to see how he works with the growers of the materials he so loves, eventually whetting all our appetites with their distilled passion.

In Sulawesi, Indonesia, Demachy travels for three days to visit the patchouli plantations, and says for him, it was the most rewarding part of filming Nose.

‘We took a small plane, then a four-wheel drive, followed by a hike through a few isolated villages in the middle of nowhere. That in itself was already an enjoyable adventure, but then there was this magnificent reward at the end, and I finally got to see my favorite ingredient in its natural environment, on these steep slopes… It’s quite moving to see this… This is where it all begins for perfumery.’ François Demachy remarks as he watches the freshly picked patchouli being washed (and having covered his arms in the fragrantly oily residue).

Fragrance writer Eddie Bulliqi makes an apperance at several points during the film, discussing the links between music and fragrance, and the creative process; but again, it’s the growers who are most celebrated in Nose, even more than the often romanticised life of a great perfumer.

From the idyllic fields of jasmine and rose in Grasse, we meet the women who own the land and discover exactly how hard it is to work those so-pretty fields. And we hear from Patrick Lillis, a ‘Celtic ambergris broker’ from County Clare, Ireland. As the wind and rain lash the shore, Patrick and his dog walk beside the broiling sea, and this gruff-voiced, sou’wester-wearing man waxes lyrical on the magic of ambergris in perfumery.

‘It’s a personal taste thing, you know?’ he says, while sniffing a white (and therefore older, stronger) lump of the precious material. ‘It’s quite a profound, animatic smell… Some people say it adds another dimension to perfumery, that a normal perfume is 2D and this is 3D. It’s the best natural fixative for perfume, and it’s oleophilic – it grabs hold of the oils. But it also does another thing which is a little bit magical: it transforms other fragrances.’

Simply put, Nose is a feast for the senses, and a much-needed way for us to feed the wanderlust we’re all experiencing. Gorgeous, swooping shots of landscape and sumptuous close-ups of dew-speckled flowers accompany this portrait, that goes beyond the work of Demachy, and invites the viewer to fall as passionately in love with the world of perfumery as he and all the people behind the scenes so obviously are…

Nose is now available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV and Google Play.

By Suzy Nightingale

James Craven is our new Perfume Agony Uncle – and he wants to answer YOUR questions…

James Craven is famed in scent circles for his extraordinary depth of knowledge, and we’re thrilled to announce he will be our new ‘Perfume Agony Uncle‘ for The Scented Letter magazine – answering all your fragrant questions and scented conundrums!

‘Helping a client to find the perfect scent requires the combined skills of a psychologist, palmist and priest’ James (half) jokes, and his career has been defined not only by the vast knowledge he’s gleaned over the years he’s worked in retail as a fragrance expert, but his ability to ‘match’ people to their perfect perfume and answer any number of queries.

We want YOUR questions to put to James, which he will answer in the forthcoming issues of the magazine. Sadly he wont be able to reply to them all, but will read through, pick some favourites and gift you his wonderfully eloquent wisdom. Think of him as the Olfactory Oracle, if you will!

Ask James Craven (The 'Perfume Agony Uncle')

Your questions for James Craven, The Perfume Society's 'Perfume Agony Uncle'
  • Could it be 'how do I know when a fragrance suits me?' or 'How can I make scent last longer on my skin?' or even 'Which fragrance should I wear to make me feel invincible?!'
  • (You can remain 'anonymous' if you wish, but please make up a nom de plume so we can separate questioners!)

James first earned his scented stripes in Harrods, where he recalls such glitzy occasions as ‘…state visits from Paloma Picasso, a bevy of glamorous Fendi sisters, or even Mrs Lauder herself. It was enormous fun; this was life on the grand scale, such as the Guerlain sales team being treated to a trip to Venice on the Orient Express after an especially successful Christmas.’

But later, the allure of a more intimate, independent perfumery called to him, and James ‘…found myself enchanted by an opening which arose at Les Senteurs, a tiny jewel of a shop, then in Pimlico’s Ebury Street, which first defined niche perfumery in the UK 36 years ago.’

Having reigned as the doyen of retail consultations, we’re so happy (and you are SO lucky!) to have James turning his expert attentions to your questions in what will be his regular column within our magazine, The Scented Letter. This multi award-winning publication is FREE to read for our VIP Club Members, or can be purchased as a glossy Actual Real Life Paper Format for either individual editions or an annual subscription. International readers are also now available to sign up for the online edition.

Whatever your own level of knowledge – from complete perfume novice to utter fragrant fanatic – NO question is too big or too small. Simply fill in the form on this page, or put your question in our Instagram Story. We can’t wait to hear what you ask and, of course, read James Craven’s brilliant replies…

By Suzy Nightingale

From harlots & hippies: how patchouli got cool again

Patchouli might as well be called the ‘Marmite of the perfume world’ as those of us who fall firmly in the LOVE IT camp have our passionately held views matched only by those who devoutly HATE IT. But perhaps if you have always languished on the loathing side of the fragrant fence, you might have your mind changed by this book we’ve recently added to our Fragrant Reads bookshelves…?

Part of a series of extremely informative ‘naturals notebooks’ on some of perfumery’s key ingredients, written and published in conjunction with NEZ (the French olfactory magazine) and LMR (Laboratoire Monique Rémy – one of the world’s leading producers of naturals used in the fragrance industry); Patchouli is a fascinating read for anyone who wants to take a deeper dive into their favourite fragrance notes. As confirmed patchouli-heads, here at The Perfume Society, of course we had to begin with this one!

 

‘Once seen as a scent favoured by courtesans and hippies,’ NEZ explain (hello, yes, we feel seen) ‘patchouli has become a key ingredient in today’s perfumery. Its warm, woody and complex fragrance provides the perfect setting for fresher notes to run free, especially in chypre and oriental perfumes.’ (Two of our favourite fragrance families there, so yes and yes again). An easy read, it manages to walk that fine line between interesting snippets of fragrant facts and a more in-depth and technical look at the processes behind how patchouli is produced. Indeed, NEZ say they wanted to ‘Explore every aspect of this exotic plant, from botany, history, art, gastronomy, literature, agriculture and chemistry, to the perfumers who use it and the perfumes they create.’

FYI: If you’re looking to learn more about patchouli, do have a look at our always-useful Ingredients section.

We really enjoyed the quotes from perfumers who adore patchouli – Bruno Jovanovic saying that ‘…if magic had a scent, it would smell of patchouli!’ and describing why he chose some of the other notes he added to his composition of Monsieur for Éditions de parfums Frédéric Malle, ‘To clothe, enhance, envelope the patchouli so it could become a flagship fragrance in Frédéric’s catalogue.’ With diagrams of historical timelines and distillation techniques, along with reviews of key fragrances to try patchouli in, it’s a short but fact-filled book that’s great to dip in and out of rather than read cover-to-cover, perhaps.

Patchouli NEZ + LMR the naturals notebook, £15.99
Buy it from shymimosa.co.uk

By Suzy Nightingale

What to do…if you hate your perfume present? 7 tips to try before you cry!

Well firstly, ‘hate’ is a very strong word. If you’ve been landed with the favourite fragrance of your current partner’s ex, we’re not going to pretend to make you suddenly adore it, so maybe re-gift that one – see tip #7 – and treat yourself to one of our Discovery Boxes of fragrant delights, and perhaps a new partner, instead?

But there are things you can try before you completely ditch a scent – we can’t tell you how many fragrance experts (ourselves included!) and even perfumers have drastically changed their minds about a fragrance by trying some of these top tips…

#1 – Seasonal changes
Did you know that the weather, your mood and even what you ate up to *two weeks ago* can dramatically alter how scent smells on your skin? Skin and climate temperature are vital to a perfume’s performance, so even your favourite fragrance will smell different based on the time of year. When perfumers test the scents they’re creating they often use climate-controlled booths to check how they smell in hot and colder conditions (depending what countries they’ll be selling in). Don’t re-gift until you’ve tried the perfume again later in the year, or even on holiday (remember those?)

– Similarly, strongly spiced foods can change how a perfume smells on your skin, and when testing fragrances under lab conditions, the ‘skin model’ volunteers they use are often specifically asked to refrain from eating such foods up to two weeks prior to testing, so the perfumers can smell a ‘true’ representation of the scent. Though sometimes the reverse is true: if a fragrance is to be mainly sold in a country where people eat lots of spicy foods, the ‘skin models’ are asked to replicate that diet to ensure the scent works efficiently.

– We now know that mood plays an important part in how we select a fragrance – try a scent when you’re feeling a particular way, and it colours how you feel about the fragrance itself. If you’re feeling stressed or upset, a bit under the weather or just overwhelmed, these are not ideal conditions for testing out something new. Wait until you’re feeling calmer, or simply have more time to really explore what you’re smelling. That’s when you can try to…

 

#2 – Improve your sense of smell
Absolutely everyone can benefit from this – we’ve had people from normal perfume-lovers, complete novices to industry professionals telling us how trying these techniques have changed the way they smell for the better (for good). This doesn’t mean suddenly gaining the ability of being able to detect every single ingredient within a bottle of perfume, but rather learning to train your nose the way a perfumer does: by deeply exploring the emotions it makes you feel, colours, textures, places and people it reminds you of.

This is why we developed our so-popular How to Improve Your Sense of Smell Workshops, which we have regularly held in London and, sometimes at independent perfumeries around the UK. We’ll be adding new dates as soon as we’re able to hold face-to-face workshops again, and plan to make a video available online.

Meanwhile, here are a few simple tips to try every day:

Spray a scent on a blotter, preferably; close your eyes and keep sniffing for several seconds, then take the blotter away, inhale deeply, and re-sniff the blotter again. Repeat this for a minute or so, and then begin writing a few words in a notebook. It doesn’t have to be a description, and it shouldn’t ‘list’ notes – try to use words that make you think of other things. For example…

If this scent were a fabric, what would it be? What colour? If you made someone an outfit from that fabric, who would they be, where would they be going?

If it were a piece of music, what instruments would be playing? Is it classical, rock music, pop, rap or jazz?

Really attempt to get past thinking ‘I don’t like this’ and focus instead on the mood it’s creating. Is it too deep or too fresh or floral for your personal taste? Give it time and then, if needed, move on to one of the tips, below…

 

#3 – Layer up!
Layering fragrances used to be seen as a scent sin, but we’ve all gotten over ourselves a bit (well most of us have). You don’t have to do this to a perfume you already love on its own – why would you need to? – but there are brilliant ways of beefing-up a sadly flimsy fragrance, or adding a zing to something that’s a bit too dark or cloying on your skin. Give it a go, because, as we always say: perfume isn’t a tattoo – if you don’t like it, you can wash it off!

Add power: ramp it up by adding more base notes like patchouli, labdanum, vetiver, woods or musk.

Add freshness: look for citrus notes like bergamot, neroli, lemon, lime or ‘green’ notes such as galbanum, tomato or violet leaf, green tea, marine/aquatic accords (synthetic recreations of sea-like, watery smells) and aldehydes (often desribed as being like Champagne bubbles).

Add beauty: find a scent too ‘harsh’ or clinical? Look to layer it with decadently velvety or lusciously fruity rose oils, the sunshine-bottled scent of orange flower, a heady glamour of tuberose or a luminescent jasmine; try an apricot-like osmanthus flower, the fluffiness of mimosa or the powdery elegance of iris/orris.

Add sweetness: vanilla and tonka bean can ’round’ a perfume, making it swoon on your skin (and addictive to smell), as can touches of synthetic notes described as ‘caramel’ or ‘dulce de leche’, ripe fruits, chocolate or even candy floss. Try to add less than you think you need, as adding more is always easier than taking away, and a little of these can go a long way!

For layering any of these, you can either try layering over other fragrances you have in which the above notes dominate, with a single-fragranced ‘soliflore’ (one main note) fragrance oil or spray, or try layering the scent you don’t currently like over a differently perfumed body lotion or oil (see below or the added benefits of doing this…)

 

#4 – Boost the lasting-power
If the reason you don’t like a perfume is because it just seems to ‘disappear’ on your skin, you’re not alone. We often find those with dry skin have this problem, and it’s even thought genetics and things like hair colour may play a part. Scientists are still finding this out, but while they do, there are ways you can make perfume last far longer:

– Try using a body oil, rich body balm or moisturising lotion before you put any fragrance on (and even afterwards, too), as scent takes longer to evaporate on nourished skin. This helps the fragrance ‘cling’ to your skin more easily, and so you get to actually smell if for more than a few minutes without frantically re-spraying.

– Spray pulse-points you might not usually think of. Behind your knees is a good example – it’s a warm spot that, once spritzed, will mean you leave a fragrant trail…

– Spritz the perfume at the nape of your neck, even into your hair and on clothes – BUT do check by spraying a tissue first that it isn’t going to mark your hair or fabric a strange colour, or leave an oily residue! We adore this way of wearing perfume, as hair and fabric are porous without heating up as much as your skin, allowing the perfume to stay all day.

Spraying a fragrance on to a scarf is a particularly good idea if you want…

#5 – A part-time perfume
There are days we feel the need to try something completely different, but perhaps don’t want to be stuck with that scent all day, so what to do?

– Consider spraying a scarf (preferably not silk or a light colour, unless you’ve patch-tested it as above, first!) with this perfume you’re unsure of, that way if it gets a bit ‘too much’ or you want to wear something different, you can simply take the scarf off and you’re not stuck with it on your skin all day.

Nope? Tried all that and still struggling? All is not lost, don’t give up yet…

 

#6 – Scent up your life
We all have certain scents or fragrant ingredients that, for one reason or another, we might not wish to wear but do like to smell if it’s scenting something else.

– Why not try spraying off-cuts of pretty wrapping paper or tissue paper, and using this to line your lingerie or sweater drawers?

– Or, how about being utterly fabulous by spraying your note paper and insides of envelopes (the fancy ones lined with tissue paper are particularly good for this), and writing a few actual letters or thank you cards to loved-ones you’ve not seen for a while. Everyone loves getting proper post!

– The truly decadent could try scenting table linen – again, PLEASE patch test, as above – for lavish dinner parties to rival Marie Antoinette – spraying on cotton wool and putting inside a deocrative ceramic or pottery vase, on wooden ornaments or ceramic discs you hang over radiators to scent the whole room as they heat.

We so hope you can find a way to try this poor perfume again and give it some love, but if all else fails and you still can’t bring yourself to use it, well at least you tried! Why not…

#7 – Have a perfume-swapping party / re-gift
Um, remembering not to invite the one who gave you that particular perfume… otherwise, major awks. Or, if you’re looking to re-gift, have a look at our brilliant Fragrance Finder.

Simply put the name of the fragrance into the search box, and it’ll suggest six scents that are similar in character and style, or share a number of significant notes – this way you can see if anyone you know already has one of these, and it means they’ll very likely love to receive this one from you.

Genius!

Written by Suzy Nightingale

Comfort & Strength: scenting your mood with whispers and shouts

Comfort & Strength are feelings we’re all needing more of these days, and oh goodness, wearing the right fragrance really does help. But should you reach for something loud and proud or softly soothing…?

‘…Smell is a language of airborne shouts and whispers that travels across rooms. Smell is suggestive.’ – Sarah Knott, Mother: An Unconventional History (Penguin, 2019)

 

In the just-published Beyond Fashion & Fragrance edition of The Scented Letter magazine, I focus on the post-pandemic perfume landscape – reporting how fragrance sales actually grew during the first #lockdown, as people swathed themselves in familiar scents to comfort themselves; or tried a whole host of new fragrances to feel more alert and avoid associating their usual favourite with negative emotions. Similarly, the worldwide taste in perfumes seems to now vacillate between the big-hitter room-fillers and the altogether softer, more contemplative scents that remain closer to one’s own skin.

So which do you prefer? I know some days I crave the quietude of something gentle – an olfactory caress akin to wrapping myself in a cashmere blanket. At other times, I’ve desperately sought out scents to wear as a kind of fragrant armour against *gestures at everything* – some scented ‘backbone in a bottle’.

Whether its whispers or shouts you’re seeking, here’s a very small selection of fragrances I have been reaching for to scent my mood…

 

 

KAYALI VANILLA | 28
Creamy jasmine swirled through a cloud of vanilla is sheer bliss on the skin, a sensation of intimacy elegantly rendered in addictive tonka, musk and amber-rich patchouli sprinkled with brown sugar.
£67 for 50ml eau de parfum

Try it at: cultbeauty.co.uk

 

 

Olfactive O Skin
A soothing hush of ambrette seed, orris and magnolia unfurl from the sensation of cool, cotton sheets to a sweeter nuzzle of sun-warmed skin via beeswax absolute and sandalwood. An incredibly long-lasting hug – something we could all do with right now.
£100 for 30ml extrait de parfum

Try it at: olfactiveo.com

(You can also try Skin, along with all their other fragrances, in the Olfactive O Discovery Set: £30)

 

 

L’Orchestre Parfums Pianao Santal
A lullaby of languorous warm skin wraped in silky sheets, the sandalwood, cedar and ethereal white musks feel milky, mystical and dream-like; finally caressed by caraway, carried like motes of dust.
£129 for 100ml eau de parfum

Try it at: harveynichols.com

 

 

 

Kierin NYC Nitro Noir

A powerhouse contemporary Chypre/floral that positively swings its hips, with ripe pink berries swirled through rich patchouli and dusted with powdery orris for a hypnotic, individualistic hurrah.
£65 for 50ml eau de parfum

Try it at: theperfumeshop.com

Available in the Kierin NYC Discovery Set (all four fragrances to sample at home) for £15

 

 

 

THOO Live in Colours

Punchy grapefruit and lemon are paired with juicy red fruits before the heart fizzes pink pepper and ginger: exhilaration guaranteed. Hinoki wood and musk in the dry down help ground you, confidently.
£190 for 75ml eau de parfum

Try it at: jovoyparis.co.uk

 

Tom Daxon Iridium 71%

Proof that cashmere can be worn as armour, the original scent’s intensified to over three and half times the strength. Piquant juniper’s enfolded in layers of powery iris: silkiness draping the steely scaffolding.
£245 for 50ml extrait de parfum

Try it at: tomdaxon.com

Quite apart from using scent to smell nice, trying a variety of fragrances also helps to deleniate the days, don’t you think? At a time when travelling is almost non-existant, we’re pining for new experiences. Trying an unfamilar scent can genuinely jolt you out of feeling quite so… trapped – opening the world as your olfactory oyster, if you like, to explore.

With that in mind, we have a wonderful selection of Discovery Boxes of samples and ‘try me’ sizes we’ve specially curated for you to try at home, as well as fabulous Brand Discovery Sets where you can sample the entire offerings of niche houses.

Comfort and Strength: why not have both?

By Suzy Nightingale