We’re excited to announce the latest issue of our multiple award-winning magazine, The Scented Letter: Fashion, Fragrance & the Future is now LIVE!
Each autumn/winter, our award-winning magazine, The Scented Letter, celebrates the links between fashion and fragrance. But this season, the 64-page magazine has a futuristic edge, as we explore ways that Artificial Intelligence is impacting the world of perfumery.
Following on from our feature on the first five wedding anniversary scents, based on the symbols traditionally used to mark their occasion, this week we are continuing the theme with a look at years six through to ten, each rendered in fragrant form.
Now, these scent suggestions aren’t merely for those celebrating to give each other as gifts (though of course that’s a lovely idea!) but as jumping-off points for some new perfumes everyone should explore. Which symbol and year takes your fancy in these fragrances…?
6th Wedding Anniversary – Sugar
Scent Suggestion – Memoize London Humanitas
According to weddingplanner.co.uk the reason sugar is the symbolic offering for a sixth wedding anniversary is because ‘…now your marriage is getting really sweet! Six years is the perfect time to indulge in some sugary treats or go out for tea and plenty of cake.’ Might we suggest a longer-lasting gift would be the sweetness captured in fragrant form (but definitely not tooth-rot-inducing)?
This emotional scent memory-capturing house evoke deep-seated fragrant connections to our innermost feelings, here swirling joyously fruity top notes of lusciously piquant passion fruit, juicy peach and fresh orange zest into a heart of powdery iris, addictive heliotrope, gorgeously waxy magnolia, rose and lily. The abundant bouquet of floral notes sits so perfectly atop the warmth of the base: amber crystals, musk, silky Indian sandalwood, Kashmirwood all dusted with icing sugar that feels as though it dances in the air.
‘Wool keeps you snug and warm – as does the love you and your partner provide for each other’ offers the wedding planning website. They continue: ‘Some cosy clothing or throws make great gifts for year seven.’ Indeed. But make sure it’s not seven year itchy! We’d suggest investing in a scnt you could both share and adore (if you feel generous enough, that is, once you’ve smelled this…)
A fragrance to ride with us amidst a marriage’s moods, maybe? ‘The most popular of the gods, Mercury was adored for his irresistible charm and wit and the inspiration for this sensuous and seductive scent.’ With an alluring character, the cloud of cardamom-flecked iris swirls to the buttered warmth of tonka and amber touched by cashmere’s creamy caress. Especially good at granting you backbone and strength, we say: wear this fluffy, irresistible scent and feel better for every possible perfumed mood-swing!
‘Salt provides flavour in every meal; here it represents the fact that your love is a necessity in your life, adding flavour. We have to admit we’re a little stumped for gift ideas for this one – try a set of luxury salt and pepper shakers, or cook a delicious meal for your partner (with just the right amount of salt!).’ Well, we think most couples have salt shakers by their eighth year together, and offer a more creative suggestion, here.
Cast away thoughts of old-fashioned 90s beach scents and allow your dreams to drift to this blissful, contemporary evocation instead. Close your eyes and imagine the salty kiss of warm skin, a sheer, breezy orange blossom shot through with the zesty, uplifting sparkle of grapefruit and crunchy green galbanum. It’s the scent of sunlight dancing on waves, somewhere fabulously expensive. Perhaps this could be your ‘second honeymoon in a bottle’ scent? Or, if you’re feeling truly moved to celebrate, why not book a romantic seaside getaway to accompany the fragrance?
£155 (at time of writing, on offer for £108.500 for 100ml eau de parfumharrods.com
9th Wedding Anniversary – Copper
Scent Suggestion – Commes des Garçons Copper
‘Like a 9-year marriage, copper conducts and generates heat. Gorgeous copper cookware would make a great gift for a 9th wedding anniversary – or if you are more artistic, perhaps a sculpture.’ Again, we’re going to go all out on a limb and say we think the majority of couples who’ve been married nine years probably have cookware coming out of their ears and would welcome more cupboard space. We’d go for this modern beauty, instead.
A scent like no other, the design house continued their exploration of un-tapped sensorial scents in Copper, with perfumer Alienor Massenet creating an ethereal gleam that feels like alchemy on the skin. Going from ultra-green sap-laden notes of verdant new shoots it segues into a brightness of blackcurrant softened by tobacco leaf and a tingle of ginger. As it warms further, the deliciously smooth base notes emerge – rich vanilla rippled with glowing amber and resinous myrrh. It’s quite a thrilling journey – just like the best relationships can be.
‘‘A decade of marriage is an incredible achievement. The use of tin as a symbol of a 10th anniversary comes from the fact that tin is durable, does not corrode and is used to preserve food. With metal, gift ideas can either be practical – home ware or cookware – or more decorative like vases, engraved goblets or candle holders.’ Yes, okay. Practical can be good. But to celebrate a decade of being together? Let’s try creative…
This soul-led independent scent house say the inspiration here was that ‘…Metal is about wisdom, true leadership and introspection. ELEMENTALS Metal sparkles with the brilliance of courage, strength and inner wisdom.’ There’s a metallic glint here, too, which so beautifully cuts through the ‘innovative marriage of pungent herbs and spices’ as they put it. We particularly love the beautifully balanced birch tar that simply swoons into the arms of white blossoms. Both emboldening and romantic, it’s the scent to reach for when you realise how far you’ve grown together.
The turning of the seasons is the perfect time to explore a new scent, to draw a metaphorical line under the colder months behind us and look forward to brighter days in fragrant form! Spring can be beautifully welcomed-in with these softly blossoming (and blooming lovely) recent launches. Which would you like to try, first, we wonder…?
COLLEZIONE PRIVATA BY VALMONT Collezione Privata Just Bloom
For the fourth fragrance in the collection, we’re presented with a stunning bouquet of white flowers, traditionally a symbol of femininity but chicly paired back, here, allowing the blossoms to fully bloom. CEO Sophie Vann Guillon’s favourite flower happens to be lily of the valley, so joyfully evoked in the top notes, and complemented by the creamy exoticism of gardenia in the heart. Finally caressed by the ethereal woodiness of ambergris, it’s a sun-dappled delight. £230 for 100ml eau de parfum harrods.com
CHLOÉ Nomade Eau de Parfum Naturelle
Celebrating ‘the merging of cultures and the poetry of encounters’ this new, 100% natural origin evocation is an olfactory exploration that whisks us to distant landscapes as dusk falls. Bergamot breezes its zesty freshness over sandy dunes, Egyptian jasmine absolute’s joyful glow meets the addictive smoothness of succulent date accord, rippled with creamy sandalwood and vanilla. It seems to billow hopefulness, somehow: soothing memories of skin still warm from a day’s adventures. £54 for 30ml eau de parfum lookfantastic.com
BVLGARI Rose Goldea Blossom Delight
Swapping out heavier scents for fresher fragrances feel like a proper escape from winter, an exuberant change in the weather here evoked by the delicacy of lily of the valley, powdery peony and a kiss of musk. This pretty bouquet is further refreshed ‘by incorporating the freshness of the rosebuds at sunrise, embraced by just-picked spring flowers.’ We’re dropping down the denier scale in olfactory form, wearing this joyous ode to spring. £65 for 50ml eau de toilette bvlgari.com
CREED Wind Flowers
Inspired by the flowing movements of a dancer, this feminine fragrance feels like a handful of petals tossed to the breeze. Indian jasmine and Tunisian orange blossom are twirled with a peachy softness, the perfumer adding a further flurry of jasmine sambac, tuberose and the fruity notes of the Centifolia rose into the fragrant ballet. Orange blossom blankets the base, with a delicious praline that swirls to a finale of hushed musk. £260 for 75ml eau de parfum creedfragrances.co.uk
GABAR Ground II
‘We’re rooted in Myanmar and made for the world,’ the founders of this niche house rather beautifully explain, and the inspirations are firmly planted there, too. Based on traditional La Phet (tea leaf salad) and Thanaka (tree bark) the verdant crunch of stalks is seamlessly stirred into dough-like orris, fig, saffron and sandalwood silkiness that had us burying our noses in our wrists. A majestic oudh, patchouli and vetiver trail truly feel grounding, hours later. £120 for 50ml eau de parfum gabarmyanmar.com
January often feels like a month (or two!) of Mondays, so we’re reaching for bright and brilliant fragrances to help us look forward again. From vibrant, luminous florals to lightly frosted but sunshine-filled foresty walks and fruity, opulently warm concoctions; why not seek these recent launches out to try on your own skin? The future is bright(er), so let’s still snuggle-up, but also welcome the turning of the seasons, looking forward with these fantastic scents…
We love Carole Bamford’s description that her new fine fragrance duo is ‘layered, rich and uplifting, much like the natural ingredients in which they are so deeply rooted.’ The ingredients in Woodland Moss and its ‘sister’, Wild Meadow, definitely evoke a sense of the natural world, harnessed here in a woody masterpiece that is at once damp and mossy, earthy and intriguing, rendered elegant and soft by an exquisite garland of dew-drenched rose. From £25 for 10ml eau de parfum bamford.com
BYREDO Young Rose
Debuted in China – a country just awakening to the joys of perfume –Ben Gorham refers to this as ‘an ode to the perennial restlessness of youth: an olfactive diary of those who are writing their own future.’ But we’d say this should most definitely appeal to those outside the ‘Gen Z’ or ‘millennial’ age brackets, a joyous clash of Sichuan pepper and Damascus rose, buffed by orris, musk and Ambroxan. What is Mandarin for ‘fabulous’, again? £122 for 50ml eau de parfum byredo.com
Jeroboam pioneered downsized flacons: easy on the back, easier on the pocket, now offering this ‘flurry of flowers’. Fruit notes first capture the attention: green and red apples, and luscious pineapple. Then the flowers burst open: jasmine and airy, transparent petal notes, rendered a touch creamy by sandalwood and finished with a flourish of dry woods, white musk and cedar. Eminently shareable, Jeroboam suggest (and oh, we do love flowers, on a chap!) £90 for 30ml eau de parfum jovoyparis.uk
DUNHILL Icon Racing Red
There’s some extra pep in this engine – perhaps the sizzle of spicier notes with the warm glow of that rich amber base does it, but nonetheless we can say the red is – racier than its somewhat sleeker Racing Blue garage-mate. Solar notes remind us of driving, top down, ‘round winding lanes on holiday with a carefree abandon, the citrus speeding leafy fern and geranium before the frankincense-like base kicks in. £88 for 100ml eau de parfum fenwick.co.uk
JIMMY CHOO Urban Hero Gold Edition
Luscious pineapple and ripe blood orange offer the most welcome kind of bracing opening, perfectly offsetting the more balsamic sweetness of soothing lavandin and rich, creamy tonka bean (think roasted almonds, lapped in milk) at the heart. This fragrance of contrasts, reflecting the inspiration of street art and free-spirited creatives amidst a city environment, is captured in a special edition golden bottle that will steal the show on his side of the bathroom shelf. £72 for 100ml eau de parfum boots.com
Our Fragrances For series continues with a look at perfumes we think are perfect to celebrate with. We must admit the theme was inspired by our recent trio of Jasmine Award wins, but let’s take time to celebrate the every-day wins, too. Scents have soothes frazzled nerves, reminded us of happy holidays and people we love, and they can add much-needed razzle-dazzle to the dullest of days. Now, what do YOU deserve to celebrate with…?
CAROLINA HERRERA 212 VIP Wins Woman
Symrise perfumer Emilie Coppermann definitely evokes the vibrant green of the bottle in her verdant composition. Can a fragrance smell ‘shiny’, too? Somehow this does – the bracing chlorophyl of the top notes freshened further by a squeeze of mandarin’s juiciness. Luscious pomegranate marries perfectly with a fruity rose, while the fizzy delight of the heart mellows to a smooth base as it warms to a trail of musk and silky woods. £89 for 80ml eau de parfum carolinaherrera.com
JEAN PAUL GAULTIER So Scandal!
Unapologetically naughty: a scandalous interlude conducted on silky raspberry velvet, the milkiness of warm, bare skin caressed by softness and ‘a threesome of white flowers.’ Oh, my! Bright orange blossom, opulent jasmine and heady tuberose are dusted in powder, a feeling of feathers exploding from the tussle of a pillow-fight. Most of all this is fun, fun, FUN – and gosh, how we’ve needed frivolity, granted by perfumers Daphne Bugey and Fabrice Pellegrin. £68.50 for 50ml eau de parfum boots.com
MUGLER Angel Iced Star
Housed in what is possibly Mugler’s most stunning, kaleidoscopically colourful flacon yet, this latest twist offers up a cocktail of mouth-watering deliciousness from the get-go. Imagine celebrations by a pool (oh, HOW we imagine!), sipping a cool concoction of coconut water and juicy pineapple. The praline base feels suitably icy – a freshly-scooped gelato, perhaps, and not over-sweet – and we’re sure the many Angel collectors will be snapping this up, pronto! £50 for 50ml eau de toilette escentual.com
PACO RABANNE Lady Million Fabulous Intense
Perfume Anne Flipo goes deeper and darker with this iteration of the golden scented success story. Pink pepper-flecked mandarin and orange fizzes appealingly to the addictive note of tuberose. Jasmine is again described as ‘solar’, its luminescence draped in the liquid, languid glam of ylang ylang. Toasty tonka bean and vanilla are finally swathed in moss as the base swoons on warm skin. One for the roof-top parties and VIP areas. £87.50 for 80ml eau de parfum pacorabanne.com
BVLGARI La Gemme Azaran
The polished-in-every way counterpoint to La Gemme Astrea, this celebratory creation is by none other than Jacques Cavallier – more usually to be found pursuing his craft elsewhere in the LVMH empire, nowadays, for Louis Vuitton. Taking fiery aventurine as his mineral muse, this eau de parfum showcases leather, precious saffron and red cedarwood, to create (in Cavallier’s own words) ‘a sophisticated and powerful fragrance leaving a luxurious woody signature in its trail.’
£268 for 100ml eau de parfum harrods.com
Sometimes we all need the help of a fragrance to feel stronger – something that does more than simply smell lovely, but can lift our spirits and almost act like a pair of shoulder pads in scented form. These are fragrances that we feel go beyond comfort – evoking adventurous journeys, friendship and inner strength via hemp leaf, smouldering amber, silky smooths woods and bison grass…
BYREDO Open Sky
‘While being stuck in one place, our memories have become particularly vivid,’ muses founder Ben Gorham. Capturing our collective desire to travel, the scent segues from the pepper-flecked freshness of pomelo to the mind-expanding hemp leaf and spiritual palo santo hushed by vetiver in the base. ‘Beyond the physicality of spaces,’ Gorham explains, this celebrates ‘that idea of movement – of journeys, being on your way somewhere…’ Plane tickets and a plan, bottled. £178 for 100ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com
COMME DES GARÇONS Rouge
A warm, ambered base grounds this wonderfully weird (and very wearable) concoction. CDG never do anything humdrum, so our eyes were immediately drawn to the beetroot note listed. Of course, we’re used to it combined with chocolate in cookery, and it blends just as well here with the Egyptian geranium to create an almost-rose. Pink pepper simmers through the layers to the smouldering incense and refined patchouli base. Clever and intriguing. £120 for 100ml eau de parfum Exclusive to selfridges.com
DIESEL Sound of the Brave
Employing the talents of Fabrice Pellegrin – one of the world’s top perfumers – Sound of the Brave resonates with a unique heart of Bison grass accord. A reminder, says Pellegrin, of good times with friends. The sizzle of bold spices vibrate through vibrant lemon as a powerful base (or should that be ‘bassline’?) throbs with amber wood and musk. Electric blue juice inside the clenched-fist flacon and hip-hop legend Skepta as ambassador ensure it’s a hit. £69 for 125ml eau de toilette boots.com
The latest incarnation of the heroically themed fragrances ‘seizes with its power and seduces with its freshness.’ Freshly squeezed lemons offer the juicy bite here while the woody notes of incense wrap tendrils of soft smoke around a purr of vanilla in the base. Spiced tonka bean is the delicious finale for this scent inspired by ‘subtly celebrating modern masculinity.’ Give this to someone you consider your personal hero – beats a golfing trophy, any day! £56 for 50ml eau de parfum pacorabanne.com
It’s World Book Day so we’re celebrating by perusing our Perfume Society bookshelf, which is filled with Fragrant Reads – from novels and books of poetry inspired by scent to technical tomes and books that explore the history of fragrance in so many fascinating ways.
Here are just a few of our ‘must reads’ to get your nose stuck in to…
Atomizer poems, by Elizabeth A.I. Powell
A professor of writing and literature at Northern Vermont University, Elizabeth Powell writes poems that immerse us in what fellow author Dianne Seuss describes as ‘the perfumery of seduction.’ Harnessing her sense of smell and recalling often painful memories through scented snapshots, we are plunged into her world, seeing the world not only through her eyes, but through Powell’s nose.
The Book of Scented Things – 100 Contemporary Poems About Perfume, Edited by Jehanne Dubrow
The culmination of a unique aromatic and poetical experiment – an anthology based on this original concept of deliberately provoking with perfume and collecting the results. Hence we discover poems of deeply personal childhood memories, that relate directly to a sense of place and more deep-seated philosophical longings.
The power of smell
The Smell of Fresh Rain, by Barney Shaw
From describing petrichor (the actual smell of fresh rain) to researching the scent of fresh paint, frying bacon and pondering the question of what three o’clock in the morning smells like, it’s a fascinating journey to be part of. Merely reading this book expands your mind to the possibilities and scents you take forgranted every single day.
A Natural History of the Senses, by Diane Ackerman
The title doesn’t do this justice: Diane Ackerman’s writing is exquisite, exploring and explaining not just the sense of smell, but all the senses. In the first chapter – Smell – she looks at scent and memory, at roses, at sneezing, at the way our health (and what we eat) impacts on our body odour. Something to read that shakes the very foundations of how you’ll look at smell and fragrance.
The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro
Traversing decadently through the decades in New York, Monte Carlo, Paris, and London, Grace discovers she’s the beneficiary of a famed fragrant muse who inspired one of Paris’s greatest perfumers to immortalise her in three groundbreaking fragrances. As she finds out more, Grace is forced to choose between the image of what society experts of her, and who she really is…
The Scent of You, by Maggie Alderson
‘I experience the world through smell – I always have.’ We couldn’t agree more, and Maggie was inspired to write this novel by spending time in our own Perfume Society office! The central character, Polly, is a perfume blogger who loses herself in the world of fragrance while her own world falls to pieces around her – something many of us can connect to.
Why not have a good browse of our Fragrant Reads for more suggestions and reviews of scent-themed books we think you’ll fall in love. We’re always adding more, so having treated yourself to a tome for World Book Day, do check back often!
If you’ve been on a no-buy or slow-buy regime of late – or are impatiently awaiting payday – but want a fragrant fix RIGHT NOW: we totally understand, and have you covered. We think the best collections have a mixture; so yes, perhaps some of those high-end scents we save up for, but also a good selection of the more pocket-friendly purchases we can collect and enjoy along with them.
These budget friendly fragrances have been selected to showcase a range of our favourites available on the high street – perfumes that really pack a punch and smell incredible (of course); and with many of them having been made by some of the world’s best noses, they may surprise you.
So which of these will you treat yourself to…?
If you have shied away from ‘celebrity perfumes’ or thought them dull, prepare to have your mind blown. This is properly weird – and I mean that with the greatest of respect. Hold onto your hats because the first few seconds (and it’s only seconds, I promise you) smell like a hot photocopier: warm paper and wet ink. Now that surreal image has dated me, buckle up because you’re about to be propelled straight into the heart of a forest, a tunnel of trees with tender green leaves unfurling. An hour after spraying, I feel as though I have built a secret den from twigs and moss, lined the floor with slightly damp cardboard and garlanded the walls with sprigs of lilly of the valley and swags of honeysuckle. Snug in this scented hideaway, the drydown becomes a hazy reverie of joyfully sucked chocolate squares, a daydream to savour. Think ‘celebrity’ ‘fumes are humdrum affairs? Ditch your snobbery. This is like wearing a legal trip (half a tab, anyway). The perfumer was Frank Voelkl – chappie who also did Le Labo Santal 33 and Chantecaille Tiare. And look at that price (currently on offer – snap them up before they disappear).
Big name houses doing collaborations with clothing brands? I’m a huge hands up for such enterprises, and the new Jo Loves fragrant offshoot at Zara created by Jo Malone is going great guns, if the breathlessly excited reviews by our friends are anything to go by. It’s hard to choose, as they’re all very well done, but I’ve plumped for this one simply because it’s not something I’d normally try, and that’s half the fun. Think of early spring days when the fat buds are bursting and signs of life stirring, a drafty picnic in a bosky dell, wrapped in a cashmere jumper and smiling at clear blue skies. The lavender, musk and sandalwood noted become a swirl of slightly subdued laughter on a lightly frost-tinged breeze. Delightful. (PS: The 10ml bottles are just £5.99 and full-size £25.99).
Zara Bohemian Bluebells, £15.99 for 40ml eau de parfum zara.com
Perhaps there are times you want to feel swathed in comfort and warmth but with some sunlight filtering through and room to breathe? This is just the ticket: the richness of patchouli and oak moss tempered with transparency and shot through with shards of pink pepper. The cedarwood offers a soothingly dry shadiness, the sense of a late-afternoon stroll with the sun gently dipping and long shadows stretching to infinity on the grass. Before a chill sets in, the dry-down emerges – a splendidly sheer cocoa that enhances the airy earthiness of the patchouli and feels more of a dusting atop a latte than a ribbon-wrapped box of chocolates. Rather lovely on the chaps, of course, but at this price I’d buy myself a bottle, too, instead of nicking his. (This comment is not legally binding).
Now here’s a little gem you may have overlooked – and one created by Francis Kurkdjian no less. An incredible burst of freshness that encapsulates the drowsy luxury of basking in Provençale sunshine, from the first sniff I’m transported to sunnier climes and can practically feel the warmth on my skin. It’s just the perfect balance of sparkle with that lactic lap of milky figs a balm for the soul. A fizz of mandarin fruitiness and the aromatic air of lightly spiced caraway seeds is sliced by a zing of grapefruit to awaken the senses, stirred through with fig pulp and grouded with the greeness of fig leaves. But it’s the dry-down I find particularly swoonsome, with a delightfully dry cedar smoothed into perfection by a creamy base of that fig milk. It’s something I find myself reaching for throughout the warmer days and whenever I need a happy holiday memory to get me through more challenging times; so often.
If you don’t have days you want to be wrapped in a whisper of white, soft cotton and powdery peonies, are you even alive? I adored this the moment it came out (1998, fact fans) and simply haven’t stopped. It’s somehow both effortless and uncomplicated but soothingly nuanced, and full of the most tender poignancy. The darling little bottle resembles a pearl in perfume form, and wearing this does feel as though you have become subsumed in that pearlescent radiance. Delicate blooms of freesia nuzzle fuzzy peach skin and ylang ylang dances with a shower of sheer rose petals to an intriguing base of coffee, silvery wisps of incense, and an aerated ivory smoothness akin to a long, cool glass of cream soda. Created by Olivier Cresp – of Mugler’s Angel and Penhaligon’s Juniper Sling fame, among many others – it’s a masterpiece in understated loveliness that I like to wear on lazy sundays.
Now there’s a distinct nip in the air, now is the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book – and we have a whole scented selection of great books to recommend you in our Fragrant Reads library of reviews. All of them focus on our favourite subject (obvs), with some specifically on the topic of perfume, while others explore the wider scent-scape of our sense of smell.
We read A LOT of books about perfume, but we don’t always have time to write up our reviews in full. So lately, we have been concentrating on updating our virtual library with some of the more recently published books we’ve come across, including this FANTASTIC volume by longtime Perfume Society subscriber, Catherine Maxwell, which we will pull out of the bookshelf for you now and examine below…
Scents & Sensibility: Perfume in Victorian Literary Culture, by Catherine Maxwell
We’re honoured that Catherine has been a Perfume Society subscriber pretty much since day one, so when we heard she’d published a book, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on it. And even more wonderful was the realisation that her choice of subject tied together two of our greatest loves – perfume and books. Delving deep into literary culture, she explores the myriad ways writers have been influenced and inspired by perfume, and how scent can become an invisible ‘character’ or reflect the inner workings of an actual character’s mind. More than that – the way a writer describes and uses scent can give us an insight into their own personality. We were particularly fascinated by how outrageously catty Virginia Woolf, for example, could be!
Catherine’s inclusions from her personal diaries and correspondence reveal Woolf loathed strong perfumes, and had very exacting opinions about those women who wore it (we feel she definitely wouldn’t have approved of us!) On meeting the writer Katherine Mansfield, Maxwell relates, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary that she wished ‘that one’s first impression of K.M. was not that she stinks like a civet cat that had taken to street walking.’ Later, Maxwell cites Woolf’s further biting comments regarding overly scented women, quoting an occasion Woolf condemned some women she’d met in the library, saying ‘A more despicable set of creatures I never saw. They come in furred like seals and scented like civets.’ Don’t hold back, Virginia – what do you really think?! Further writers and their works are examined – from Oscar Wilde – Catherine also draws on a wealth of contemporary material such as ettiquette guides, advertising, beauty manuals and perfumer’s guides. Altogether, it’s the most eye-opening account – a scented snapshot of perhaps the greatest literary period in history – and a must-read for anyone who loves literature and wants to enhance their sensorial understanding (and enjoyment of literature.
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 Ambrées 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 Ambrée – 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…