The IFRA Fragrance Forum has been a source of awe-inspring intellectual discussion of, and future predictions for, our sense of smell – utterly fascinating lectures given by the world’s top scientists, perfumers and researchers in in the field of scent. Normally, you need to buy a ticket to attend, but this year (as with many events) it was held (albeit in a slightly truncated form) online.
You can watch the lectures here, for FREE – and get ready to have your mind BLOWN, as such scent luminaries as perfumer Christophe Laudamiel, Professors Barry Smith and Charles Spence and Claire Guest, CEO of Medical Detection Dogs talked about the new work they are doing with dogs sniffing out Covid-19.
IFRA – the International Fragrance Association – was set up in 1973, dedicated to showcasing perfumery and (crucially) agreeing on a set of international guidelines so that we are safe to wear scent all over over the world.
But IFRA does much more than advise on safety requirements. For several years, now, they have been hosting an annual Fragrance Forum, gathering a diverse range of speakers to focus ‘…on developments in olfaction in the widest possible way.’ Events we have widely reported on, and been so inspired by.
This year, the Forum incorportated IFRA’s book launch, which collates ‘The results of these fascinating talks from around fifty speakers’, and which have been have ‘now been brought together for the first time in a new book ‘Olfaction: A Journey’’
IFRA told us that, ‘The book offers a reflective celebration of the Fragrance Forum and allows readers to dip into the ideas presented by past speakers, organised by theme and offering a fascinating journey through ten years of olfactory research.
The themes covered include psychology, health & well-being, design & creativity, arts & culture, technology & innovation and business insight. From the ability of someone to detect the smell of Parkinson’s disease to the possibilities of creating an artificial ‘nose’ through machine learning, IFRA UK has brought together thought leaders and key researchers spanning a breadth of different fields to share their ideas and findings.’
Lisa Hipgrave, Director of IFRA UK said: ‘This isn’t an inward look at the fragrance industry, in fact it is the very opposite. Over the last decade we have brought together such a powerful range of speakers on such wide-ranging topics we realised we were sitting on a really wonderful collection of stories. We were really keen to share these to shine a light on the work of the amazing speakers we have had over the years, from all walks of life.
‘Where else could you find out about historical perspectives, from the ancient Egyptians to new advances by Google Brain using machine learning? And personal stories about someone who could smell Parkinson’s disease to what the impact of living without the sense of smell really means? We hope that people will be as fascinated as we have been over the years by the impact that our sense of smell has in so many different facets of our lives.’
Editor of the book, Lizzie Ostrom, elucidated her involment in the project, explaining that: ‘It is evident from the collected stories in this book that our sense of smell impacts every area of our lives, from our health to our relationships. It’s a testament to the fragrance forum that concepts seeming esoteric ten years ago – like detecting disease through our noses – are now much more in the public consciousness. We’re excited to bring this leading research to readers in an accessible and compelling format.’
Included in the book are explanations of some of the most jaw-dropping moments we’ve experienced hearing the lectures first-hand….
Sniffing out Parkinson’s
Do people with Parkinson’s smell different? A pioneering team showcased their respective expertise to show how our sense of smell could enable early detection and treatment.
Living without smell
As many as 3-5% of the population have anosmia (no sense of smell), and up to one in five of us will experience some form of smell loss. What are the future prospects for treatment?
How to make a mosquito invisibility cloak
Mosquito-borne diseases affect more than half the world’s population. More than 2.5 billion people are at risk of contracting dengue fever, and there are at least 400,000 deaths each year from malaria. Understanding body odour might help tackle this threat.
The role of smell in consciousness
Is olfaction largely conscious and we just do not notice, or does it occur largely in the unconscious, modifying mood, helping us to recognise kin or choose a mate without us being aware it is happening?
Spices, balsams and the incense of temples
What was the prominence of fragrance in the elite culture of ancient Egypt? How could this most ephemeral of histories be captured to give modern audiences a glimpse of the ancient experience of scent?
Our evolutionary pharmacy
As a sensory function, olfaction probably predates all others, primarily helping us to identify food, danger, predators and prospective mates.
‘Olfaction: A journey’ is available to purchase at for £29.95 plus postage by visiting: ifrauk.bigcartel.co
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Scent Futures by Future of Smell is …’an exploration of futuristic smell-centric concepts based on human needs and emerging technologies.’
Olivia Jezler is a someone who’s fascinated by our sense of smell, and explores it, fascinatingly, through research, events and on her website, Future of Smell. Her olfactory career has spanned fragrance innovation through new technology products and fine fragrance, at IFF, Symrise, Robertet, and she’s also been collaborating on various projects, for over a decade, with the brilliant perfumer, Christophe Laudamiel.
Olivia looks beyond mere trends in the fragrance world, thinking outside the perfume box and peering in to what role smell could hold in all our futures. And with this in mind, you are invited to join in what promises to be a brilliantly smell-centric online event – Scent Futures…
‘Tremendous shifts are occurring on global and local levels. Smell is a direct gateway to our emotions, memory and our sense of safety. Fast Forward. Now imagine a future world. How could this primal sense inspire innovations that support us and how could this also go eerily wrong?
This event is an exploration of futuristic smell-centric concepts for our immediate and distant future worlds. We will outline current projects, emerging technologies, speculations and potentials for scent and smell based technologies.
The aim of this event is to provide frameworks, visualise, question and inspire. When ideas are brought to life conversations around them can take place and more desirable products and experiences can be created. If there are infinite possibilities which one would you choose to create and how could it change our world?’
+ Intro to Speculative Design
+ Spaces (Personal, Public, Extraplanetary)
+ New Realities (Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality)
There are times when discovering a new word can ensnare you, and ‘vellichor’ is one of those, for me. So when the Odorbet online dictionary asked me to submit a piece to their collaborative gathering of fascinating, lesser-known words to describe smells, I knew immediately which one I wanted to explore.
The word’s author, John Koenig, added it to his Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows – a catalogue of terms forensically detailing emotions from ennui to existential despair, which previously we may have struggled to adequately express.
Specifically, the word ‘vellichor’ sketches the overwhelming wistfulness that can engulf us when we enter an antiquarian bookshop or library, and are plunged into an olfactory sensation far beyond smelling the paper, leather and dust. Just as the olfactory word it was inspired by – petrichor – is larger than the sum of its parts; so vellichor conjures a fragrant universe far beyond the smell of a room lined with leather-bound tomes, ‘which are somehow infused with the passage of time.’ We feel nostalgia for our own past, for the memories instantaneously triggered when we pick up a particular book, for that comfort the very act of reading and escaping to another world can bring.
Along with all the unbidden time-travelling and spiritual yearning through scent, the smell of vellichor happens to be extremely pleasant – a mixture, it turns out, of book materials begining to break down and releasing their volatile odours. A pleasing irony, perhaps, that the smell of the slow death of books can give life to such bitter-sweet pleasures as revelling in scent memories.
‘A combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness, this unmistakable smell is as much a part of the book as its contents.’
The vanilla-like smell comes from lignin, (closely related to vanillin – the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean, which can often be synthesised in perfumery) and which is present in all wood-based paper. I wonder if this is another aspect that aides vellichor in soothing troubled souls? After all, scientific tests have proven the calming powers of vanillin.
It used to be assumed this was because the scent infantilised us somehow – reminded people of mother’s milk or the childhood bliss of licking cake-batter straight from the bowl; but those tests proved it significantly reduced the ‘startle reflex’ even in animals that don’t suckle or, presumably, share our nostalgia for forbidden treats. Vanillin has since gone on to be trialled in fragrancing particularly high-stress areas of hospitals, such as MRI and CT Scanning rooms, and for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Whatever you might like to ecape from – or to – fellow book-sniffers seeking solace from daily woes should immerse themselves in the following, and enjoy a hit of vellichorian goodness whenever they wish…
The Yorkshire Soap Co, Library Glycerine Soap
Even Lady Macbeth would surely have enjoyed her handwashing had this been available: the half-remembered hush of soft tobacco, the supple leather of a friendly chair to sigh into. £3.50 for 100g yorkshiresoap.co.uk
The Perfumer’s Story by Azzi, Old Books
Whispers of incense curl through motes of dust dancing on hazy, sepia-toned memories, as patchouli, amber vetivert and cedar slowly evanesce. £95 for 30ml eau de parfum libertylondon.com
Immortal Perfumes, Dead Writers
Black tea sipped as fingers trace words known by heart, a shady nook of vetiver, clove and musk snuggled into voluptuous heliotrope and a hug of vanilla tobacco. $50 for 15ml parfum immortalperfumes.com
Maison Margiela REPLICA, Whispers in the Library
Waxed wood gleaming in the afternoon sun, drowsy days in the ancestral library (we wish), a twist of pepper adding spice to the pencil shavings of cedar and a sweetly dry rustle of vellum. From £22.50 for 10ml maisonmargiela-fragrances.co.uk
The romance of nostalgia made liquid, a fuzzy nuzzle of ripe peach and succulent plums atop a tangled posy of blowsy peonies, powdered violets and ripped, resinous leather. £115 for 50ml eau de parfum byredo.com
Scientists have developed an ‘e-tongue‘ – an electronic tool for analysing perfumes and helping decide how they should be classified. Could it revolutionise the fragrance world? Could a robot replace a ‘nose’…?
‘The identification of more than three perfumes is difficult,’ a report at sciencedirect.com begins. And as anyone who’s stood at a perfume counter, trying to weigh up the differences between an armful of scents can attest, they’re not overstating the matter.
Scientists have been trying to find a way to introduce electronic devices into the world of fragrance manufacturing for some time – the majority of large fragrance houses have used computer systems to correctly weigh and mix fragrant ingredients according to a perfumer’s formula, for years; but still a human nose is preferred to gauge the nunaces of the final fragrant result. Because, as the report continues, ‘…no analytical tool can completely replace the human olfactory system for fragrance classification.’
Last year, the annual IFRA Fragrance Forum had the theme of Artificial Intelligence in fragrance, and we reportedon a talk by Valérie Drobac, Digital Innovation Manager from Givaudan (one of the world’s largest fragrance creation houses), who talked about their latest intuitive and interactive system, ‘Carto’ – a new system that reinvents the way perfumers create fragrance. Drobac explained that ‘Carto is an AI-powered tool that brings science and technology together, to the benefit of perfumers who create Givaudan’s fragrances. The new system is designed to intelligently use Givaudan’s unique ingredients ‘Odour Value Map’ to maximise the olfactive performance in the final fragrance.’ Using the recent Etat Libre d’Orange fragrance She Was An Anomaly as an example, she explained how perfumer Daniela Andrier had been suggested to initial formulas to use, which she then worked on, evaluated and perfected.
This ‘e-tongue’ is not about the creation of fragrances, however, but the efficient analysis of a perfume, because, ‘For the perfume sector, the possibility of applying fast, cost-effective and green analytical devices for perfume analysis would represent a huge economic revenue.’
Which is all well and good, but one thing we might raise an eyebrow at is the device’s being tested to ‘…successfully discriminate men from women perfumes.’ In an age when so many fragrances are seemingly being marketed as ‘gender free’ – a phenomenon that has long transcended the niche trend that began this move (and in fact represents a return to how fragrances always used to be, with no marked difference in the scents men and women wore for centuries) – we might wonder why this is a concern. However, this ‘e-tongue’ has also been used ‘to identify the perfume aroma family,’ and for ‘assessing the perfume storage time-period.’
The future uses of such a classification device are surely far wider than we can imagine at the moment. But one thing we know for sure: perfume lovers won’t be replacing our noses with computers any time soon…
The Perfumed Plume Awards are an annual celebration of international fragrance journalism, to showcase writing that gives ‘an inside view of the cultural, historic, scientific and personal approaches to fragrance design and what it takes to create an evocative scent.’
‘While we would normally gather at MANE Gallery to celebrate with a glass of bubbly, this year is obviously a different time,” said Co-Founders Mary Ellen Lapsansky and Lyn Leigh.
‘In these very unusual times, we’re grateful to have the technology to share this occasion with you.’ Lyn continued.
The ceremony was held virtually on Zoom, and so we were excited to tune in and celebrate the winners, who were…
Perfume Stories – Print – Magazines & Newspapers
The criteria for judging: quality of editorial content; originality & creativity; accuracy & depth of information.
Perfume Stories in Mainstream Media – Digital – Magazines, Newspapers, Blog Postings, Webzines
The criteria for judging: quality of editorial content; originality & creativity; accuracy & depth of information
“Perfume Legends II: French Feminine Fragrances” – Michael Edwards
This was the first year we’d submitted entries, so we were particularly delighted to discover we were finalists with FOUR nominations (and of course, even more delighted that we won one!)
The Perfumed Plume judges commented that:
‘…these marvelous writers deserve recognition and congratulations for their perfume stories. All are factual. All are creative. All are fascinating.” It’s true to say that all the submissions were just wonderful and the results a close call. These fabulous stories are a must-read so please take a few minutes to appreciate the talents of these writers.’
The full list of entires can be found on The Perfumed Plume website, with links to each of the finalists’ work, and we urge you to grab a cuppa, put your feet up and peruse every single onefor some precious moments of perfumed escapism.
Petrichor is the term given to that unique scent following a rain shower – when the world seems to sigh with pleasure, and we, unconsciously perhaps, breathe in a little more deeply, savouring the smells in return.
petrichor /PET-ri-ker/. noun. The smell of rain on hot earth or pavement. From Greek petra (stone, rock) + ichor (or I-KORE) which, in Ancient Greek mythology, was the liquid that flowed in the veins of the gods.
Coined by scientists Isabel Joy Bear and Richard Thomas in 1964, the term ‘petrichor’ was used in their scientific article, The Nature of Argillaceous Odour, observing that cattle seemed to react strongly to this particular smell of fresh rainfall, following the scent to seek drinking water.
Some people believe that ‘petrichor’ alludes to smell of rain itself, but they are mistaken. It’s in the moment raindrops kiss the arrid land the magic happens. Rainwater releases micro-organisms hidden in the earth, mixed with the smell of plant oils and ozone itself: that’s petrichor.
It smells like a secret.
Though we’re only recently aware exactly how the phenomenon occurs, poets and artists have long been seduced by the scent following a downpour, and in 1916 James Joyce had a good guess at the science when he wrote in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, how:
‘…the trees in Stephen’s Green were fragrant of rain and the rain-sodden earth gave forth its mortal odour, a faint incense rising upward through the mould from many hearts.’
Perfumer H, Lyn Harris, bottled the smell in her utterly joyous fragrance, Rain Wood, coaxing a sense of new beginnings with the snapped-stalk freshness and lacey leaf smell of galbanum. Swirling tender shoots in a foggy haze, green angelica settles on camphoraceous cedar, punctuated by juniper berries and pine trees bejewelled with spider webs; and beneath it all a loamy rumble of rich patchouli amidst the nebulous drift of Joyce’s evocative incense. More than a perfume, it’s a thing to wear and wonder at for hours.
Petrichor led former civil servant Barney Shaw on a journey of discovery in his book, The Smell of Fresh Rain. But though we can now trace the origin, it doesn’t dampen our seemingly primal urge to rush out and gasp great lung-fulls of the smell. For, as Shaw explains:
‘…we recognise smells not as a mix of separately-identified components, but as a ‘chord’ that makes an odour we can recognise, a smell with a meaning. Not petrichor and geosmin, but the smell of fresh rain.’
I wonder, too, if we’re experiencing a kind of mass synaesthesia – an overlapping of synaptic responses – after a rainshower? Perhaps the scent of petrichor plus the soothing sound of the raindrops (so often used on sleep apps and calming soundtracks to quieten troubled minds) adds to the feeling of a slate wiped clean?
Explain it how you like; petrichor is a lullaby for the senses, and wearing Rain Wood is a precipitation of joy for we pluviophiles.
To get straight to the point (I’m not even sorry) the scent of pencil shavings is often cited as one of the most-loved nostalgic smells. One whiff can transport us to nostalgic reveries of childhood, and the giddy ‘back to school’ excitement of buying a new pencil case and assorted accessories.
‘In spite of everything I shall rise again: I will take up my pencil, which I have forsaken in my great discouragement, and I will go on with my drawing.’
So which pencil did Van Gogh for? He reportedly favoured a carpenter’s pencil for his intial sketches, at first, but later came to prefer a Faber pencil, writing to his brother that ‘They’re soft and better quality than the carpenter’s pencils, produce a marvellous black and are very agreeable to work with for large studies.’
Pencils matter very much to the writers, artists, creative thinkers, list-makers and stationery nerds among us. Because, no matter our actual experiences of school – gilded, halcyon days for some, unsettling and full of trepidation for others – that scent just takes us right back; and in a perfumer’s hands, can evoke a kind of olfactory optimism.
The pencil as we know it today was invented in 1795 by Nicholas-Jacques Conte, a scientist serving in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. Previously, pure carbon (what we call graphite) was wrapped in material or used on its own for mark-making. When it was first discovered, carbon was mistakenly believed to be lead, and, as the always excellent brainpickings.com informs us, ‘…was called ‘plumbago’ or black lead (hence the ‘plumbers’ who mend our lead water-carrying pipes), a misnomer that still echoes in our talk of pencil “leads”.’
Most often, we hear people sniffing cedar-rich fragrances ahhh-ing blissfully and saying ‘pencil shavings!’ when asked what they’re smelling. And there’s a good reason for that. As wood-database.com tells us (there really is a website for everything, isn’t there?): cedarwood ‘is the primary material for wooden pencils, because it is soft and tends to sharpen easily without forming splinters.’
Perfumers love cedar for its smooth, dry resilience, and its ability to play well with so many ingredients. It smells woody, obvs, but that’s just too simple: it also has a freshness, with hints of resin. If you’ve ever walked in a lush, evergreen forest, cedar will whisk you back there, as well as the schoolroom. It’s mostly the foliage (from trees grown in the Atlas mountains of Morocco, or Virginia in the USA), then steam-distilled to produce the intense oil, which is also used in aromatherapy for calming and balancing.
Many fragrances wishing to evoke the schoolroom must also find a way to incorporate the slightly metallic aroma of graphite – along with the cedar, wood polish and other, more abstract smells that somehow represent a sense of naivety, a yearning for a chance to start again, captured in a bottle.
Some smells associated with school are best left out of a fine fragrance – overcooked cabbage, damp mops and sawdust covering various effluvia sping to mind; but these fragranced products and personal scents are cleverly composed to provide a highly refined – and sometimes welcomingly whimsical – time-travel trip for your nose…
Noted pencil-makers Caran d’Ache have collaborated with perfumer Alberto Morillas‘ fragrance house, Mizensir, to create pencils infused with the scent, Alps Spirit. The set of four graphite pencils ‘carved from fine woods and manufactured entirely in Geneva will transport artists to the opulent Alpine region’ via foresty patchouli, musk and nutmeg and a background glow of subtle orange, to recreate ‘…the sensation of watching the awe-inspiring sunrise over the Alpine peaks.’
A novel take on the traditional reed diffuser, here Hindmarch uses ceramic pencils to draw up the scent and diffuse it into the room. The Pencil Shavings’ scent is satisfyingly dry and woody, with the cedar punctuated by mandarin, pink pepper, rose, cypress and a surrealistically realistic accord of ‘novelty erasers and fresh notebooks.’ Adding quirkiness and humour to a WFH (Working From Home) desk, the expression definitely matches my own on many a day.
Drawing a huge number of fans, this classic cedar-rich fragrance from 2008 is the daddy of pencil-shaving scents, if you like, for those seeking a hit of nostalgia. Apart from the reassuringly long-wearing drydown of cedar swirling with sweet tobacco and supple leather (the teacher’s study, maybe?) bright shards of bergamot and leafy violet atop loamy patchouli beckon lunchtime walks in the woods.
A perfumed portrait that Byredo describe as ‘A modern scent reduced to the essential,’ those seeking simplicity will sigh at the shade of Virginian cedarwood and cool Haitian vetiver, with a scatter of rose petals and silky musk in the base. Deliberately reminiscent of pencil shavings, it will immediately evoke ‘…a sense of nostalgia for school days and simpler times.’
Byredo Super Cedar £115 for 50ml eau de parfum byredo.com
A scent memory etched in time, there are wafts of old wooden school desks, pencil shavings and chalk dust – the gentle scratching sound of charcoal on paper as young artists draw their dreams. Memories are played out in hints of lemon and earthy angelica root, a joyful giggle of cocoa, geranium and the sheen of freshly waxed floors reflecting in the comfort of the cedar base. It feels like wearing the pages of Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers – she said, dating herself – or any school-set book series involving cosy intrigue, pillow fights and the alluring promise of midnight feasts.
Book nerds need to check out this fine art fragrance collaboration between Rory Sparks of the Working Library and artist and writer, Catherine Haley Epstein. ‘A collaboration combining a love for scents and pencils – a one of a kind homage to a favorite studio tool,’ this limited edition has that freshly shaved woody hit and the metallic hint of graphite illuminated by citrus. The Midi Set includes 7.5 ml of the handcrafted fragrance, a pencil with a custom message, and a letterpress insert.
I’ll leave the pun to perfumer Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, here, as she asks ‘Isn’t there something romantic about pencils? The old school kind (get it?)’ Fully fledged daydreams abound in the interplay of Atlas and Texas cedarwood amidst a hazy drift of choya ral (the smoky, leathery balsam made from the burnt resin of the Indian Shorea robusta tree) and dusty motes of oakmoss dancing in the distilled sunlight of petitgrain. Hurwitz excels at making natural fragrances slowly reveal their wonders in a way that’s astoundingly nuanced yet so delicately handled.
Although not a cedar fragrance, I simply couldn’t leave out the tender image so beautfully transcribed in scent by Memoize – a melange of memories that tumble through layers of rose, burnished leather and the smell of distant bonfire smoke in the air, conjured by the oudh wood in the dry down. Created to inspire feelings of self-confidence and self-worth (something we could all do with a dose of right now), they describe the fragrant vision ‘Recalling a first day of school, the pruned rose bushes, games in the woods, the leather strap of a satchel, a mother’s proudest moment…’
I’m fully aware that the notion of ‘back to school’ doesn’t represent an unsullied pleasure for many of us – either our own memories or the particular concerns surrounding students returning to classrooms this year, in the continuing fallout of a global pandemic. But much as learning the art of lucid dreaming can transform a nightmare into an adventure; the wonderful thing about fragrance is that we can use it to shape our own recollections, to create new scent memories. And there’s no doubt, that cedar-y smell of pencil shavings – whether deliverved via a perfume, home fragrance or an actual pencil imbued with the scent itself – speaks of simpler times, of hopes and dreams, the blank pages of life yet to be filled.
Or, as Catherine Haley Epstein so beautifully puts it: ‘the ideas of freedom, focus and unlimited possibilities in the head.’
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
I think I’m thoroughly sick of the phrase ‘staycation’ being bandied about, aren’t you?
Yes, yes, we’re all making do and mending while (hoping) the sun shines, but if you’re pining for a cancelled holiday and considering your local (likely overcrowded) beach with a jaded eye, I’m here to tell you that now is the time fragrance can lift your spirits, and I’ve chosen five favourite ‘holiday vibe’ perfumes to wear in warmer weather…
In the U.K. we’re been having what the newspapers refer to as ‘a scorcher’. This means three consecutive days when it didn’t rain, and the temperature goes from cardigan-wearing weather to blast-oven blistering in hours. While our interpretation of the word ‘hot’ may cause scorn, please understand: few places here have air-conditioning, and it’s the kind of humidity that makes you want to clamber naked into a supermarket freezer and have done with it. Also, a sudden hot spell can play havoc with one’s scent choices, and the way they perform.
When temperatures soar, what you might normally wear can behave in a strange way. Suddenly, phantom notes can waft forth from your fragrance, or people across the rooms might catch a drift as aroma molecules travel further in hotter weather. As physicscentral.com explain, ‘Just as the kinetic theory of gases would suggest, scents are susceptible to the whims of temperature, flying high in warmer climes and hunkering down when it gets cold.’
Whether you’re making the best of socially distant picnics in the park or cursing over those ‘easily inflatable’ paddling pools in the garden, here are five fragrances to transport you somewhere infinitely more exotic in a flash…
Van Cleef Arpels Neroli Amara
Lip-smackingly juicy from the get-go, radiating wave after wave of gloriously bitter orange in a transparent wash of instant gratification (that happily lasts many hours). £130 for 75ml eau de parfum selfridges.com
Escentric Molecules Escentric 05
A walk from the sea through a shady pine forest, personified. Green figs lap bergamot, salty freshness trailing through the delicious cool, camphoraceous quietude of cypress and resinous Cashmeran. £35 for 30ml eau de parfum From The Perfume Society shop
Molton Brown Flora Luminare
So crisply green the air around you seems to shiver, this luminescent white floral begins with bitter almond, then gently bathes orange blossom’s sunshine in tiaré absolute’s luscious, creamy embrace. £60 for 50ml eau de toilette moltonbrown.co.uk
Parterre The Hour of Dusk & Gold
Lean in to the balminess with this languid sunset of a scent. Verdant angelica root and a powdered glow of spiciness from wild Persian carrot seed sparkle like fire reflected in the crest of an iridescent wave. £160 for 100ml eau de parfum bloomperfume.co.uk
Elizabeth Arden White Tea Mandarin Blossom
Think sunlit skin, crisp sheets, a good book, the day’s first sip of tea – sheer bliss, but we’re in a Sicilian citrus grove (all the better). Energising, then soothing in its apricot and musky wood dry down: succumb. From £36 for 100ml eau de toilette elizabetharden.co.uk
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