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
We’ve been focussing on those ‘forgotten flowers’ in perfumery, perhaps seen as a little old fashioned once, but which are re-blooming once again…
Last time we looked at freesia, and in the most recent edition of The Scented Letter Magazine, we invited you to Step Into the Gardenwith the main feature dedicated to re-exploring roses, magolias, violets, peonies and osmanthus. But today, we’d like to tempt you to try: lily of the valley.
Regarded as a lucky charm ever since its first introduction from Japan to Europe in the Middle Ages, lily of the valley has become synonymous with the month of May and ‘the return of happiness’. For the French, May 1st traditionally represents the start of gifting bouquets of “muguet” to loved ones to signify the regard in which they’re held and as a token of prosperity for the year ahead. A tradition supposedly begun when King Charles IX was presented with a bunch of the delicate blooms, and decided to gift the ladies of his court, too.
In Europe, ‘bals de muguet’ were historically held – lily of the valley themed dances that offered the tantalising prospect for young singletons to meet without their parents’ permission.
An iconic (and ultra-chic) lily of valley fragrance was the original Dior Diorissimo, designed in 1956 by Edmond Roudnitska. Composed in homage to Christian Dior’s favorite flowe, the lily of the valley was to be found on his personal stationary, jacklet lapels, printed on his fashion designs, and, on one occasion, inspired his entire 1954 spring collection.
A more recent icon is Penhaligon’s Lily of the Valley, which was launched in 1976 – tapping into the fashion trend for romantic nostalgia – and which is wonderfully described as ‘Lacey leaves. Dappled light. Green, clean, wholesome. Lily of the Valley is as fresh and optimistic as the morning dew, grounded by notes of bergamot and sandalwood.’
With the young gals dressed in white gowns and the dapper chaps at those historic bals wearing lily of the valley as a buttonhole, we’re sure there was many a ‘return to happiness’ on such evenings… Now the custom is tied in with France’s Labour Day public holiday, and the tradition of giving lily of the valley to loved ones during May still holds strong.
But perfumers love using this elusive scent all-year ’round, and we’ve seen an increasing number of fragrances using lily of the valley once again.
Lily of the valley has also made its way into countless bridal bouquets (including that of Kate Middleton for her wedding to Prince Willliam); in many countries, it’s linked to this day with tenderness, love, faith, happiness and purity.
No wonder we chose this delightful, flower-filled date in the calendar to launch The Perfume Society – running hither and thither all over London handing sprigs of lily of the valley to fragrant friends!
So what does lily of the valley smell like?
Almost spicy, so green and sweet, with crisp hints of lemon: that’s lily of the valley. The flowers themselves are really mean with their oil, though, and synthetics are more often used to recreate lily of the valley’s magic: Lilial, Lyral and hydroxycitronellal are among them.
Far from reserving this magical note for May, or thinking that it has to be ‘old-fashioned’ smelling in a scent, we love the way perfumers use lily of the valley to ‘open up’ and freshen the other floral notes in a blend. It can smell like a woodland walk just after a rainshower (so very apropos for our weather right now, in the U.K.) or add some gentle sparkles of sunlight amid more verdant or deeper, shady phases as a scent unfurls on your skin.
Try these five fragrances in which lily of the valley is resplendent, and discover why we love this note so much…
Perfumer Jordi Fernandez’s exquisite layering of iris, lily of the valley and Egyptian jasmine over a hazy layer of musks, is designed to conjure up the scent of an Italian stately garden, the sun setting and the hedgerows scenting the alleyways. Merchant of Venice Imperial Emerald£250 for 100ml eau de parfum harrods.com
Oh, this is a crisp stroll, bottled. Pears, bergamots and black currants drip onto aqueous blooms, sunlit lily of the valley and dewy roses, with musks softening a woody trail. Close your eyes and dream of spring already. Maison Margiela Springtime In a Park £98 for 100ml eaux de toilette harveynichols.com
Lily of the valley adds a weightless airiness that manages to be discreet, mysterious and sexy all at the same time. Infused with the signature musk, it sighs to a heart of roses, the dry-down a vibrant hum of black cedar, white cedar and tonka bean. Narciso Rodriguez Eau de Toilette Rouge From £41 for 30ml eau de toilette debenhams.com
This gauzy tapestry of petals feels like wearing a tulle gown sprinkled with sequins. Jasmine and rose are laced through with bright violet leaf and a shivering flurry of lily of the valley; while ribbons of white musk and ambergris weave through succulent papaya. Goldea Blossom Delight £74 for 100ml eau de parfum harrods.com
Cast off any grey clouds with this delightful zing of a scent – the lily of the valley’s so crisp in here it practically makes your mouth water. Twisting with tendrils of honekysuckle and grounded on a base of akigalawood and transparent patchouli, it’s a winner no matter the weather. Miu Miu L’Eau Bleue from £50 for 30ml eau de parfum johnlewis.com
Love it or loathe it vanilla is everywhere. Touted as the aroma found most universally pleasing, there are many who reel back in disgust at the mere mention of the ingredient. But vanilla doesn’t just smell like an explosion in a cake shop: it’s kind of magic, in flavour and perfume terms.
When we smell or taste anything, our ‘receptors’ constantly wipe those fleeting encounters to prepare for the next flavour or a smell. But when vanilla is added to food or fragrance, naturally-present vanillin (and other vanilloids, which we’ll talk about in a moment) work to ‘hold open’ our vanilloid receptors, slowing down this wiping process – which in turn gives us more time to perceive, experience and enjoy both scents and flavours. (Vanilloids are also found in cocoa, allspice, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and hot peppers – which partly explains why they’re all such ‘taste sensations’.)
Vanilla comes from the seeds of a dried pod from a climbing orchid-like plant which flourishes especially well in Madagascar; the very best quality of vanilla comes from the Île Bourbon, now known as Réunion. It gets its name from the Spanish word ‘vaina’ (meaning sheath or pod, and translates simply as ‘little pod’. (Strangely, the flower itself is scent-less.)
Perhaps because vanilla is the second priciest spice in the world, after saffron, the vanilla you smell in many perfumes today is synthetic vanillin: clever chemists have worked to mimic the real thing – although the most gifted noses will probably tell you that real vanilla is earthier, with touches of treacle and a touch of ‘booziness’.
We love this legend about vanilla which we found on the excellent Perfume Shrine blog. ‘According to the Australian Orchid Society, “Old Totonac lore has it that Xanat, the young daughter of the Mexican fertility goddess, loved a Totonac youth. Unable to marry him due to her divine nature, she transformed herself into a plant that would provide pleasure and happiness – that plant was the Vanilla vine. This reputation was much enhanced in 1762 when a German study found that a medication based on vanilla extract cured impotence — all 342 smiling subjects claimed they were cured.”’
Vanilla’s reputation as a powerful aphrodisiac endures, and it’s often present in ‘sexy’, come-hither fragrances, especially Orientals and gourmand fragrances, as well as ‘girly’, ‘younger’ creations (and perhaps why vanilla naysayers have come to shun it).
Times have changed, and vanilla is used in all sorts of interesting, innovative ways within fragrances, now. I guarantee that none of these smell like cupcakes, so come on: it’s time to challenge your own perfumed preconceptions once again…
JULIETTE HAS A GUN VANILLA VIBES
This vanilla’s sliced through with a healthy sprinkle of sea salt, plunging us immediately to childhood memories of the beach, sandy picnics and sticky fingers hastily licked as ice cream melts. Natural vanilla absolute is noticeable in the opening, but take a while to drip fully to the orchid-laden heart – and all the while a transparency completely prevents the sweetness from overtaking, it’s the salt on centre stage: a tremulous sunshine-filled daydream that shivers in the breeze. £110 for 100ml eau de parfum harveynichols.com
PERFUMER H DUST
You need to move fast to catch this intimate and intriguing take on vanilla, for twice a year, like the scent couturier that she is, Lyn Harris unveils her seasonal offering of (mostly) new fragrances. Spring/Summer 2018 sees citrus Petit Grain, floral Suede, fougère Pink Pepper and woody-as-it-sounds Indian Wood in the collection. But the compulsive wrist-sniffer this time, for us, is this exquisite Oriental – a gentle, powdery miasma of iris, raspberry leaf and orange flower, benzoin resin, opopanax, sweet musk and that deliciously dry vanilla. £130/£350 for 100ml At Perfumer H
ANNA SUI FANTASIA MERMAID
Like the sparkling light reflections that shimmer on the sea, Fantasia Mermaid weaves radiant ingredients together. Blood orange, mandarin and cooling cardamom make for an effervescent start. Aqueous blooms float together in the heart of this scent, with peony, jasmine and watery lychee. An incredibly uplifting floriental, soft wisps of spices are woven throughout, and the vanilla is a cushion for the other ingredients, not a smothering blanket. £40 for 50ml eau de toilette qvcuk.com
[You can try BOTH the Juliette Has a Gun and Anna Sui scents in our Globetrotter Discovery Box, £19 / £15 for VIP members, part of ELEVEN fragrances to try at home with extra beauty treats – perfect to take on you travels…]
VAN CLEEF & ARPELS COLLECTION EXTRAORDINAIRE RÊVE DE YLANG
Concocted around one of perfumery’s most noble ingredients, the ‘flower of flowers’, here we see how vanilla can whisper to a flower, and Rêve de Ylang captures the heady, exotic, intoxicating and spicy aroma of the ylang ylang flower being softly seduced. Perfumer Fabrice Pellegrin used an invigorating cardamom and a whisper of saffron to enhance the opulent spiciness and warmth of ylang ylang, while an aromatic vanilla and rich patchouli add depth. The result is a fabulous, ultra-luxe floral nectar, pierced with light. £260 for 125ml eau de parfum harrods.com
GIORGIO ARMANI SÌ EAU DE PARFUM FIORI
The gifted Julie Massé reinterprets Sì’s so-classic Chypre theme in a fragrance that bursts into life with sparkling green mandarin and blackcurrant – the familiar twin signatures of this contemporary classic – before white floral neroli unfurls its lush petals. As the temperature rises, prepare for an encounter with the vanilla – all diaphonous gown barely concealing the va-va-voom, leaving with a trail of white musk. From £54 for 30ml eau de parfum Armanibeauty.co.uk
Perhaps you’re thinking that, apart from the name of the first fragrance suggested, here, there’s no overt focus on vanilla, but that was the whole point of this post – to show just a fraction of the ways vanilla can surprise, cosset, whisper or seduce. To put it another way: we didn’t want to ram vanilla down your throat. But, we have to say, if you try some of these, we feel you’ll be reaching vanilla again and again – there’s a reason it has a reputation for being addictive, you know…
Ah, patchouli… Deep, dark, earthy and present in plenty of Oriental perfumes, patchouli’s still somewhat tainted with a hippie-dippy aura, even now. (It’s been called ‘the scent of the Swinging 60s’, because the essential oil was often worn neat on the skin of music-loving, party-loving – and sometimes drug-loving – youth.)
It’s always blown our minds that despite it’s earthiness, patchouli isn’t a wood, or a root: it’s actually a frilly green-leafed, purple-flowered member of the mint family, called Pogostemon patchouli.
Amazingly, from those fragile-looking leaves comes a sweet, spicy, smoky, cedar-y scent so powerful it has to be handled with care: patchouli is the most powerful of any plant-derived essence. But perfumers wouldn’t be without patchouli, for the richness that it gives to fragrances – and not just those heady Orientals: patchouli makes its way into many chypre and powdery fragrances, swirling exotically alongside lavender, sandalwood, labdanum and bergamot, clove, clary sage, as well as vetiver. (It’s a little like vetiver, if you close your eyes.) Used alongside rose, it extends and ‘fixes’ rose’s sweetness.
The name, quite simply, comes from the old Tamil words patchai (‘green’) and ellai (‘leaf’). It originated in India, Malaysia and Indonesia and made its way to the Middle East via the exotic silk route: patchouli is a fantastic insect repellent, effective against flies and other bugs. (We’re going to try it out on our cashmere, and will report back.) Paisley shawls were traditionally layered with patchouli leaves in transit. Frenchwomen in the 19th Century swathed themselves in these patchouli-scented shawls against the cold – a fashion started by the Empress Eugenie – and patchouli became desirable, as a fragrance ingredient.
The quality of the oil can vary hugely. The very best stuff comes from the three or four top pairs of leaves, where the highest concentration of the fragrant oil is found. Once cut, they’re turned frequently to prevent them breaking down too quickly. Then the leaves are stripped and placed into woven baskets, where a process of fermentation takes place that releases the incomparable fragrance. Then the leaves are either CO2-extracted, or steam-distilled. It’s highly skilled work, and only a few distilleries produce patchouli of a high enough quality to please a VIP ‘nose’, or creator. On a blotter, meanwhile, a single drop of patchouli can last for months.
For many today people, it’s still a love-it-or-hate-it ingredient, evoking plenty of prejudice. But we happen to adore it, and think even if you’re a naysayer: if you give some of these scents a try, you’ll likely develop a passion for patchouli…
In Bella Oudh there’s an exoticism of precious spices from Venice’s Trade Route, married with unashamedly plush flowers – all tempered by the mélange of sweet, earthy patchouli, slinky as a black velvet dress, and the freshly polished woods glowing warmly in the base. A fairytale of a fragrance, it’s impossible not to succumb to its colourful, overlapping dreaminess.
Intriguingly smoky, velvety wine-dark petals unfurl in the heart of A Rose For… Revealing a sophisticated sprinkling of powdered iris root (orris) and a wisp of carnality with the rich seam of smouldering patchouli. The amber-y base swathes you in vanilla’s gossamer embrace that makes you feel is the way your skin should always smell.In hot weather it absolutely blooms, and in cold, you’ll want to cuddle closer.
In Fortitude, we find ‘The art of magnetism and sensuality, for those with a bit of swagger’ – a green Swarovski crystal-eyed horned ram atop the magnificent cap, and a clue to perfumer Ilias Ermenidis’s uninhibited, rambunctious composition. Overtly addictive tobacco absolute segues to rich, sticky patchouli swirled with creamy, almond-like tonka beans – a distinctive blend that’s seriously hard to resist.
L’Homme Idéal Cool wraps the original almond olfactory signature in three utterly refreshing accords. At first whoosh, experience the effervescence of bergamot, orange and a handful of mint leaves. In the heart, neroli makes a reappearance, with aquatic notes lapping alongside. And in the base – ensuring this has staying power on the skin – encounter vetiver and the dappled shade of that so-welcome patchouli. £56 for 50ml eau de toilette johnlewis.com
Here’s proof that patchouli can throw off its deep, dark and sometimes dark past to be reinvented as something sheer, summery and fresh. Unexpected bedfellows of pear, Bourbon pepper, jasmine and white musk – as well as more expected notes of bergamot in the top, guaiac wood in the soft base, offer further proof of perfumer Nathalie Lorson’s talent for reinventing notes, the better to delight and surprise our noses. £175 for 125ml eau de parfum Harrods.com
Whichever of these fragrances you seek out, we urge you to try them on your skin and cast aside those ‘hippy’ preconceptions about patchouli. Truly, so many fragrances have patchouli in them that we bet many you already love contain the ingredient somewhere in the mix!
Lavender is having a moment in fragrance right now – according to a repot by the NPD group, sales of prestige lavender beauty products in the U.K. have increased by a staggering 552% from January 2019 to the end of April 2019. So you might have previously dismissed it as ‘grandma’s scent’, but get ready to leave your lavender preconceptions at the door…
When you think of a purple swathe of lavender being harvested for the perfume industry, your mind possibly strays to the fields of Provence. But did you know we have our own beautiful lavender farms right on our doorstop in the U.K?
We paid a visit with the British Essential Oil Association on a field trip to Castle Farm in Sevenoaks, Kent, to see the lavender harvest in action and – most excitingly – to see their very own distillery, and watch those tiny flowers be turned into the most lusciously fragrant essential oil: from field to bottle, in front of our very eyes (and noses)…
Starting our day with a glass of apple juice from the farm and a lavender shortbread biscuit, we ignored the gathering clouds and headed out to the fields to learn about the differing types of lavender they grow there, and how the oils from them are used.
The Alexander Family have been farming in the Darent Valley since 1892, when the enterprising James Alexander apparently brought down 17 milking cows on the train from Ayrshire in Scotland. Today, the farm is managed by William and Caroline Alexander, with involvement from each of their children, Lorna, Thomas and Crispin, and supported by the hard-working Castle Farm team.
The lavender farm was established in 1985, when William and Caroline went to market – Covent Garden as it happens – selling dried hops. By 1990, The Hop Shop (as Castle Farm is also known) was a major producer of dried flowers, growing over 70 different flowers and won many awards, including 5 consecutive Gold Medals at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. Now the farm is a sprawling 1,100 acres, with crops of wheat, barley, rapeseed, hops, apples, pumpkins and a grass-fed herd of beef cattle. And, of course, the magnificent fields of lavender – the largest lavender farm in the U.K.
In the distillery, they had the ingenious idea of using the trucks that harvest the lavender to directly distill the essential oil from – time is of the literally essence for the highest quality yield – and so they put a lid on top of the container, in which 7 tonnes of lavender are heated to 100° in just ten minutes. From there, a huge pipe is attached to catch the and filter the steam to the tanks in a large barn.
As we stood with steam wafting around our ankles, the smell became almost overpowering – it felt like the lavender fields had been turned into a sauna, with misty swirls of mineralic steam mixing with the scent of drying hay and engine oil. A bit like being on a steam train in a dream. A truly surreal and unforgettable experience. And then, of course, we got to smell the oils themselves…
Premium Lavender Oil: An elite single origin oil – luxuriously delicate with exceptional fragrance notes for aromatherapy. Intensely pure. ‘This oil is extracted solely from our Maillette Lavender plants – and taken in the first 20 minutes of distillation only – making it the finest and most delicate of our lavender fragrances.’ With all the characteristics of a ‘high altitude Lavender Oil’ (which, we learned, has nothing whatever to do with the altitude a lavender’s grown at, and everything to do with the type of lavender and how long it’s distilled for!)
Kentish Lavender Oil: A high-grade, honeyed, gentle Lavender essential oil with antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and mild anesthetic properties. This oil is made from their Lavandula Angustifolia, grown and distilled on Castle Farm. Widely used in aromatherapy, perfumery and medicine, the pure oil is safe for use directly on the skin.
Kentish Lavandin Oil: Lavandula x intermedia is extracted from Castle Farm’s Grosso plant variety and has a strong, cleansing and refreshing scent with elements of camphor. Often used for room fragrancing, candles, as a moth repellant and to clear cold-sufferers’ heads, the fragrance is comforting but less nuanced than the others, which are more suitable for perfumery.
The oils are sold in the farm shop, and online, and also sold to private companies for use in the fragrance and beauty industry.
The Hop Shop – is open daily throughout the year, however the Castle Farm Lavender fields are only in flower from late June until late July. Lavender plants for sale from the shop from late April/early May, but they explain, ‘the Lavender season really gets underway in mid-June and the glorious scent and vibrant colour of the fields fill the valley and we start to hand cut fresh Lavender bunches. Harvesting for oil starts in mid July and continues until early August, but is obviously weather dependent.’
Of course, on the day they began harvesting and the morning of our field trip – the heavens opened. If the rain lasts too long, half the entire crop can be lost in under an hour. Luckily, it wasn’t too long before we could venture out from under the trees and take photos – Castle Farm had the brilliant idea of including an Instagram Field, complete with perfectly positioned bench, so people can take scented selfies to their heart’s content, without disturbing the harvesting. Genius!
And to show it really is a family affari, this photo (above) is of William and Caroline’s grandaughter, taken by their talented son.
Castle Farm began harvesting while we were there, ‘…but it takes us over a week to clear all the fields, and the distillery is now running daily. We completed harvest of the large field at the back of the valley on 22nd July, but our field with the Lavender Bench and viewing area will NOT be harvested until after this weekend (27/28 July). We are still running Lavender Tours until we harvest our very last field!’
You can book online for weekday tours, or on arrival at the farm for weekend tours.
We’re not sure if it was the supremely soothing smell of the lavender or how long we’d been traipsing through the fragrant fields – possible a mixture of both – but goodness, we slept well that night.
We were also enthused to seek out four of our favourite lavender fragrances and urge you to do likewise. Forget the aromatherapy benefits for a moment and focus instead on the incredible nuances that lavender can add to a scent…
Atkinsons Lavender On the Rocks
True to the cocktail-esque name, this one has a double-shot of lavender to tickle your fancy. From the bracingly fresh opening with geranium and basil to the honeyed hay-like dry down with almond, guaiac wood and saffron, every facet is allowed to shine.
£130 for 100ml eau de parfum harrods.com
Creed Aberdeen Lavender
An Oriental fougére, absinthe is added to rosemary, bergamot and lemon before succumbing to a powdered, musky lavender ramped up with tuberose, iris and a dusky rose. Dark patchouli, smoky leather and cool vetiver make for a surprisingly sexy flourish.
£200 for 100ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com
Milano Centro HIM
Luminescent citrus segues to a herbaceously dappled breeze of rosemary, lavender and basil. As it warms, you’re swathed in the musky warmth of smooth sandalwood and suavely sprinkled spicy notes of clove, cinnamon and amber atop a darkly glimmering patchouli base.
Tom Ford Private Blend Lavender Extrême
Trust Tom to turn lavender sexy. Here it’s subverted into an electric floral ‘to be worn at maximum volume.’ Bergamot drenches the lavender with freshness at first, then it’s full-on delicious with wild-grown tonka and creamy benzoin swirled to perfection.
£220 for 50ml eau de parfum johnlewis.com
In the current issue of our magazine, The Scented Letter, we take a look at what lies in store for the future of fragrance, and what we’re likely to be spritzing in the years to come.
Of course such crystal-ball-gazing is backed up by experts whose job it is to predict which ingredients – and relies on innovative ways of growing, harvesting, distilling and filtering fragrant natural crops, or even the creation of brand new synthetic aroma molecules… smells that cannot be captured or, perhaps, do not even exist in nature. Can you imagine the excitement if we created a new musical note previously unheard by musicians, or added a new, never before seen colour to the artist’s palette?!
We honestly could have written two volumes of a book with the amount of fascinating information we discovered, so wanted to share with you in a series of scented snapshots, the thoughts of three people we talked to with experise in varying fields of fragrance. What, we asked them, can we expect the future to smell like?
Pia Long is a perfumer and co-founder of Olfiction – a UK-based fragrance consultancy that work with suppliers, contract manufacturers, brands, retailers and fragrance industry organisations. So they can be involved with a brand right from the start, helping them create fragrances and scented products; or aiding existing fragrance houses to shape and better define themselves in the marketplace. And for Pia, education, accessibility and honesty are key factors…
‘Fragrance is currently experiencing a similar breaking down of barriers to access as we’ve seen in other trades – film and television; music. The differences are, though, that we don’t necessarily have the platforms and systems in place to democratise perfumery (though organisations such as The Perfume Society and the Institute for Art and Olfaction are heading the way in acting as a bridge between the trade and general public).
What the public currently understands as perfumery has typically been communicated by brands and marketers, rather than by perfumers and the trade, and therefore the concept of what perfumery even is, remains a little bit unclear in the public’s perception. This, combined with a general greater demand for transparency from consumers, creates an interesting scenario: if perfumers and businesses become fully transparent about how perfumes are made, are consumers ready? Would they understand? Or would the information that lands on a bed of misconceptions, in fact do harm to our trade?
I think for the fragrance trade to continue to thrive, we need to do far more education and allow far more access. This will help everybody. We are already seeing an increase in queries that involve full ingredient traceability, sustainability, and other considerations that touch on the growing, harvesting, supply chain or manufacturing processes.
Specific material predictions are hard to make, but the popularity of naturals as a marketing message, and for their aesthetic beauty is an ever-growing part of the trade, and all major fragrance houses have some systems in place to obtain and supply complete natural materials, as well as their own specialities. Natural materials have always had variation due to location and extraction methods, but I see the strategy of larger manufacturers ensuring ingredient loyalty as being one of creating specialist materials that are unique to that supplier.
In general, with synthetic materials, we’re likely to see more efforts to go back to some of the classic feedstocks like wood (turpentine), versus petrochemicals, and we’ll also see novel ways to replace raw materials that have fallen foul of regulators (if not 1:1 replacements, then certainly ones that can go towards creating similar accords).’
So it seems the future is smelling distinctly woody… and with perfumers looking for ways that we can still enjoy those ingredients that end up on the ‘naughty’ list (due to concerns about allergens and skin irritants), while manufacturers further explore how to make naturals smell unique. And at The Perfume Society we share Pia’s hope that more organisations and fragrance houses will open their doors and let the light in on what continues to be a subject that excites us every day.
There’s absolutely no doubt that fragrance lovers want (and deserve) more information about how their perfumes are made; how and where the materials are being sourced and hearing directly from the perfumer’s themselves. Just ask anyone who’s attended one of our many exciting events – visiting the archives of heritage houses, seeing ingredients distilled in front of them, smelling raw materials, hearing perfumers talk about their scientific and creative process and founders discuss why they bravely – some may say madly – wanted to launch their own fragrance house in the first place.
We think there’s a buzz about perfumery, alongside the developments in technologies and public hunger for reliable information, that’s perhaps where the food industry or wine business was twenty years ago. A widening of the world of ingredients we have access to, and want to know more about – and ultimately, a hunger to smell and wear even more exciting things. Better make room on that scent shelf, then, because we’ve sniffed the future, and it’s shaping up to be fabulous…
Written by Suzy Nightingale, with many thanks to Pia Long of Olfictionfor her insights.
When you’ve been obsessed by fragrance for some time, you might think you have a good idea about how ingredients smell. I reckon I’d know a patchouli or pepper from a few yards away, for example. But suddenly, presented with an array of natural ingredients in the form of a ‘Speed Sniffing‘ game, my sense of smell was turned upside down. And I wasn’t alone…
In the august surroundings of Burlington House in Piccadilly, the British Society of Perfumers met at the Royal Society of Chemistry, where we’d been invited for an evening of exploring fragrance ingredients by IFF-LMR Naturals. The LMR refrers to Laboratoire Monique Rémy, which IFF (International Flavors & Fragrance) took over in 2000, continuing and evolving the incredible, groundbreaking work Monique began. Indeed, the company have recently rebranded with the slogan Pioneering Nature – a phrase that encompasses their ethos of always pushing the boundaries of what we can expect from natural ingredients: the way they are grown, harvested and processed; the wellfare of the those who produce them, and sustainability of the environment at large.
These natural ingredients go on to be used by the world’s top perfumers and flavourists, in every major and niche fragrance house you care to name, and there’s no doubt you’ll own many scents and have eaten all manner of foods that include them.
Esteemed members of the BSP mingled with representatives of IFF-LMR and fragrance-loving members of the public alike, and we were led into a room of eight tables for the fun to begin. Think of it as a combination between speed dating and an intense gym workout for your nose.
In groups, we moved our way around the room, being given only five minutes at each table – a bell ringing when time was up – and with an expert from IFF-LMR in place to guide us through what we were smelling. My group began at the ‘New Ingredient‘ table, and we first had to solve a word puzzle to make up the names. These were Pepper Sichuan Absolute Extract LMR and Cocoa Extract 12% PG. We might think of pepper as being punchy, up in your face and almost aggressive in character, but here we smelled something more reminiscent of citrus, with a vibrant, fruity/floral facet that astonished us all – and remember, there were professional ‘noses’ at this table, equally enthralled by what we were smelling. It was a tickle to the senses, and unlike any pepper I’ve previously experienced. The cocoa, too, was a revelation. Usually used in the flavour industry, this one is silky, nutty, warm and dry rather than overly sweet and sickly.
Resisting the urge to suck the blotter, we moved on to smelling fragrances – one without the central ingredient, one with, and this process was repeated at each table we visited. How fascinating to explore the way even a minute amount can utterly alter a finished fragrance – adding complexity and elegance, boosting the surrounding aromas or softening the edges for a comforting snuggle of a scent. I can only liken it to the difference between a landscape painting completed in oils or watercolour – the scene might be the same, but the translation, mood and emotional response has changed.
At the beginning of the Speed Sniffing we’d been given a bag containing a notebook to jot down our thoughts, along with collecting specially designed playing cards at each stage of our fragrant journey, each card explaining the IFF-LMR ingredient and what makes it so special. So here, briefly, were my thoughts on what I found to be some of the most exciting ingredients we sniffed…
Organic Notes: Ginger Oil Fresh Madagascar ORG
Produced by hyrdodistillation, this smelled of all the piquant freshness of ginger root, without any of the earthiness or almost rubbery notes that can sometimes accompany this ingredient. Their secret? A far shorter time between harvesting and distilling.
Peru Balsam Oil MD
This is harvested from wild grown plants, and was the first to achieve ‘Fair Wild’ certification. For this, they must adhere to strict standards of sustainability criteria, ensuring the continued use and long-term survival of wild species, while supporting the livelihoods of all stakeholders and respecting their cultures. To me, it smelled of heaven. Soft, creamy, comforting and cocooning – if there was a vat of it, I’d have jumped in (though this could upset their certified status, so probably best for all concerned the opportunity wasn’t presented).
This is patchouli with 99% of patchoulol (an alcohol found within patchouli, and one of the organic compounds responsible for the smell). But it’s not the patchouli you’d recognise – banish any lingering horrors of “hippie” scents, for this was an ethereal, wraith-like smell, a whisper of woodiness without the funk.
LMR Hearts: Patchouli Heart No.3
IFF-LMR’s best selling Patchouli Heart note, and it’s easy to smell why. There’s a silvery clarity that smells like bliss personified, with a touch more earthiness that the Healingwood, but it’s still not muddy. Think of a forest floor during a light Spring shower, water diffused through greenery, a shimmering transparency that’s used to ‘…bring differentiation and personality to any formulas.’
‘Blockchain’ Notes: Vetiver Heart
A Blockchain guarantees transparency throughout the supply chain, with every single step of a process being virtually stored. This way, an ingredient can be traced from being grown, harvested and processed from start to finish, with the information visible for all (other companies buying the product, right through to consumers buying a fragrance that ingredient has been used in). The Vetiver Heart we smelled was a revelation – fruity, highly complex, it was practically a perfume in its own right. Because of that complexity, if a perfumer uses this within their formula, it makes the finished fragrance far harder to copy. Win-win.
New Platforms: Sandalwood Oil New Caledonia
By ‘Platforms’, they mean new places in the world they’re now sourcing materials. Sandalwood has traditionally been sourced from Australia and India, where illegal distilling plants, smuggling and unsustainable usage have caused huge problems for the fragrance industry, and the legal growers and producers in those cultures. By using this astonishingly smooth sandalwood from New Caledonia, IFF-LMR offer a delightful new ingredient for perfumers to incorporate in their fragrances – the one we smelled had an almost milky, gourmand aspect to it.
There are many more ingredients I could mention and swoon over at length, but suffice to say, we were all left with a buzz of excitement about the future for the naturals it’s now possible to use in fragrance, and with minds officially blown. What an honour to have smelled ingredients only the noses of major perfume houses usually get to play with. Speed Sniffing with IFF-LMR resulted in my relationship status with naturals being firmly reinstated.
Interested to smell more? The BSP offer a number of exciting events each year, so make sure you check the website for other fragrant happenings.
Wish you could have been there? Then you must join us at our Perfume Society Ostens Eventon 12th February! Using IFF-LMR Ingredients, this future-forward house are revolutionising the perfume industry by offering some of these incredible materials in their highest allowable, singular form within an oil Preparation, or as hypnotically enticing eaux de parfums created by some of the world’s top perfumers around that central, natural ingredient. We’ll be smelling the ingredients, learning how they’re processed and sniffing the divine results…
Ostens have burst into the olfactory world by offering a unique concept in perfumery: granting perfume-lovers not only the right to at last smell exquisite ingredients in their own right (something only industry insiders had access to), but to buy them off the shelf (previously unheard of!) or try them in eaux de parfum, composed by some of the world’s top perfumers, to perfectly showcase that main ingredient’s charms…
‘I love that it’s you we’re speaking to about how all this started,’ smiles Christopher Yu – Managing Director of United Perfumes, one of the world’s most prestigious fragrance distribution and development companies, and now, co-founder of exciting niche fragrance house, Ostens. ‘You were there, at that LMR event we did with The Perfume Society…’ he continues, referring to an afternoon in which we’d invited VIP Club Members along with renowned journalists to experience the mind-blowing beauty of Laboratoire Monique Rémy – one of the world’s leading producers of natural ingredients for the high-end perfume industry, part of IFF, International Flavors and Fragrance.
Laurent Delafon is the other guiding force behind Ostens – CEO of United Perfumes, long-term colleague and like-minded friend of Chris, together they came to the realisation that something needed to change within the fragrance industry, because consumers deserved something more.
Offering a direct line from supplier and perfumers to people who crave exquisite quality perfume – a unique concept – was the propelling force for Ostens, making heroes of the ingredients and getting people excited about smelling them, in splendid isolation and then used within completely differing interpretations as part of an eau de parfum.
Tapping in to the current hunger for transparency in the beauty industry, Ostens explain, ‘In an age where we all want to understand better about craftmanship and provenance, Ostens gives you access to ingredients previously unavailable to consumers. Our aim: to celebrate and bring access to ingredients which lie at the heart of so many perfumes and to create sensory wonderment, open to all.’
And what wonders there are to explore! Smelling their Rose Oil Isparta / £65 for 9ml perfume oil – the highest concentration available – is like diving head-first into a mountain of freshly plucked petals, the vibrant, fruity scent declared by none other than Dominique Ropion as ‘the highest existing quality of rose oil.’ Used within the Impression Rose Oil Isparta eau de parfum / £145 for 50ml eau de parfum, Ropion has swathed those petals with labdanum, patchouli and Cashmeran, offering a velvety lick of alluring darkness. Fancy ramping up the rose to its fullest possible potential? Simply layer with that Rose Oil – or any of their other oils – to add your own unique signature or change up the character acording to how you feel that day.
What’s more, the oils aren’t meant to only be used with Ostens products. Chris and Laurent are realists, and they know people don’t live like that – how deadly dull it would be if we only ever wore one brand. They actively want to encourage people to experiment using them with perfumes they already own, and to tell them what combinations they’ve found really work. Thrillingly for us perfume lovers, Ostens want an ongoing conversation with the person who buys their wares, asking them what they’d like to see and smell next, what, exactly, is missing from their fragrance life, rather than dictating ‘trends’.
Ostens currently have a pop-up space in London at 62 Blandford Street, W1U 7JD, where they’ll be in residence until 28th February 2019, and we cannot urge you enough to visit while you’re able. There’s a reason fragrance experts and journalists have been buzzing since the launch, with several highly respected people we know, commenting to us that this was their ‘launch of the year’ and ‘the most exciting things we’ve smelled for ages…’
In their space, Ostens showcase one of the Préparation oils (currently Rose Isparta) on a plinth, with colourful synaesthetic backdrops of artwork created by their internal Creative Director, Mark Wilkie*. Stepping inside you are bathed in a coloured light that further represents the interpretation of the fragrance, and it feels like walking into the very heart of the scent itself. Walking through to the back room, you are then able to smell all of the ingredients and Impressions (eaux de parfum), trying them on your skin, layering as you please or simply smelling and delighting in them alone.
The whole experience is joyously like being a kid in a sweet shop once again, and if you’re looking to re-ignite your passion for perfume, or to explore and appreciate the world through your sense of smell, this is most certainly the place you need to be…
Having followed their fragrant journey from the very beginning, I was so delighted to interview Chris and Laurent at length for my Ostens feature in the just-published Stardust issue of The Scented Letter Magazine; so do go and indulge your senses fully by reading all about Ostens’ fragrant universe – most certainly sprinkled with something magical – and then smelling for yourself what all the fuss is about by visiting the boutique?
If you’re a VIP Club Member, you can download the entire issue for free by logging in to your account. Print copies can be purchased here, and we also offer International Subscriptions on electronic versions, for only £20 for a full year.
Written by Suzy Nightingale
*[In The Scented Letter, we mistakenly attributed the Ostens artworks to another artist, Philippa Stanton. In fact Philippa was the artist for a gin company also featured, elsewhere, in the magazine, and the two sections were accidentally mixed up. We do apologise for this editorial mistake – and we swear we hadn’t been at the gin!]
We whooped for joy when the 2018 Jasmine Awards Finalists were announced, with several features from The Scented Letter magazine on that list!
We are sharing those pieces with you over the next few days – exclusive content which subscribers to the print and online editions only usually get to read.
This feature concentrates on one of the most important ingredients in perfumery (and one of the most misunderstood) – a tree that in fact offers several vital materials to the perfumers’ palette. But do you know your neroli from your petit grain? Senior Writer Suzy Nightingale went on a quest to find out…
If you’ve ever wondered exactly what ingredients are in the perfumes or fragranced products you already use or want to try, Unilever announced it’s going to be a lot easier to research their range. And it reveals some interesting facts. For example, did you know that the scent of the original Dove shampoo range is actually based on a traditional fougere fragrance type?
‘Take fougere fragrances notes for example – this consists of lavender, geranium and woody notes. If you use our Dove shampoo, you will recognise this scent.’
Going beyond current labelling requirements, Unilever will be disclosing all their fragrance ingredients online in Europe, starting with France and the UK, remarkably making it the first consumer goods company to disclose fragrance ingredients within the UK.
Individual product information will now be updated to include fragrance ingredients for home care and personal care products along with details about how they are used and the role they play in creating the fragrances that people know and love.
Unilever’s Chief Research and Development Officer, David Blanchard said, ‘We know how important fragrances are to people – they want products that make them look good, feel good and smell good. We’re excited to take the next step in our transparency journey, delivering on our promise to give people the information they need to choose the right products for them.’
‘People want to know more about fragrance ingredients and how we create scents for the brands they love. We’re happy to be making this information available online across Europe in 2018.’
Stating that transparency is important to them, offering customers a way to research products and ingredients they have an allergy to, Unilever have now listed the fragrance ingredients in a searchable database called What’s In Our Products, along with articles and features describing how the products are made and why certain ingredients are used or avoided where possible.
It certainly seems that transparency is the future, with the ‘clean labelling’ movement requesting easier to understand labels on all products and customers now used to being able to research a product at the click of a button. With perfumers’ names now very well known, their methods and inspiration revealed, it seems the ingredients they use will be next under the spotlight.
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