Perfume

Materials of Perfumery: A Bouquet, All Bottled Up

Hold tight. Spring is on the horizon. Soon, the scary, barren branches you see will be covered in greens and blooms. Buds will reach out of the ground, turn their childlike heads toward the sun, unfurl their petals, and offer up their intoxicating fragrances to all that pass. After the year we’ve had, we suspect their heralding of new growth to come will be appreciated like never before.

So, why not get better acquainted with the lives of our flowery friends all around us? 

And hey, guys! Don’t dip out here. Every single one of these blooms we’re about to cover have easily appeared in some of your favorites, and in scents men have rocked since time immemorial. 

Not only are we surrounded by blooms, florals are the undisputed backbone of perfumery, and the largest scent category in all of fragrance. Indeed, flowers themselves were the universe’s first perfumers, blending the perfect ratios of an array of molecules within themselves, only to become irresistible to anything downwind.

So, how about we welcome the Spring to come and shine a little (sun)light on them. 

And as an added bonus, each one of these are making very special guest appearances in your Olfactif boxes this month, in our Bottled Up Collection

Jasmine’s name, from Persian origin, means ‘gift from God’ – and rightly so, as you would be hard-pressed to find many perfumers that would disagree with this moniker.

While jasmine is a narcotic white floral (really, narcotic is the technical term for its scent categorization, given due to its extremely overt sensual, intoxicating fragrance elements) with scent layers of sweet, white petals, luscious musks, and creamy aromas, but if you take a long enough whiff…  you’ll very prominently notice something quite ‘off’ at the end.

What you’re smelling are fairly sizeable doses of indole and skatole(both emanated from feces and decaying bodies) and cresol (a sickeningly sweet, musty, tarry scented molecule most commonly given off by its namesake, creosote). 

As gross as this is, this is precisely what makes jasmine so alluring – imperfection in just the perfect amounts enough to be made beautiful. Skilled perfumers are able to manipulate and heighten any aspect of the multiple layers within jasmine, whether it be gentle floral aspects, or the off-putting animalic ones.

If this wasn’t enough, there are 200 different species of jasmine, many giving off wildly different and varying brands of its aroma.

Not to be trifled with, this floral diva’s magic cannot be extracted with typical steam distillation (the flowers will degrade) but must be extracted by solvent into an absolute or concrete, or by a rarely-used, old school extraction method called enfleurage.Smell jasmine sambac (the greener, lighter, fresher jasmine) beautifully blended with another floral, cherry blossom, in Somei Yoshino by Berdoues. You’ll find a sample of it in the March Collection too! 

Not in everyone’s common vocabulary or garden, this is actually an herb native to India and a member of the Artemesia family – the one that wormwood and tarragon come from.

This shrub, with its eye-catching and intricate leaves, bears small and fragrant yellow flower heads, which are often offered to the God Shiva, decorating his altars wherever they’re found. 

Davana has a sweet, softly fruity, tea-like fragrance. But the story of its smell doesn’t end there. Davana is actually prized by perfumers for being a chameleon-like scent.

Have you ever smelled a fragrance on your friend, thought you loved it, and then tried it on yourself, only to have it smell nothing like it did on your friend?

Well, Davana is known to do this to the extreme, smelling and unfolding differently on each individual, known as an adaptive fragrance.

You can try it in Humilitas  by Memoize London in the March Collection and see how it blossoms on you.

This famed aromatic flower of the mint family (but not all lavenders are – there are a few) is probably one of the most widely recognizable scents, even to blindfolded novices, which might explain why it’s so commonly used. It’s suspected to be native of India, but today, France is the heart of lavender production, along with the perfumes it’s found in.

But lavender isn’t just mere lavender – there are about 450 different types of lavender, and each type lends its own special take on the scent, ranging from an airier floral quality, to a medicinal and/or herbal quality. Thankfully, not all 450 types are used in fragrance, or prized for scent. Being a perfumer is hard enough.

While lavender will bloom with many small purple, pink and white flowers, in perfume, it’s known as an aromatic  or herbal note, a scent family with an herbaceous quality and a sort of grassy-spicy undertone.

This is one flower that’s exceedingly popular in men’s fragrance compositions, heavily dosed in classic eau de cologne formulas, alongside other aromatics and citruses. However, it’s an extremely versatile little bud, doing triple duty and appearing in many feminine, or shared, scents.

Lavender mingles with black pepper in the most curious of ways in Santal Woods by Noteology. It’s also in the March Collection

This jack-of-all-trades bud is an edible flower too, and you’ll find it in culinary ventures, confections, and beverages. It also has well-established calming properties, and pro tip: The buds make a phenomenal, effective, absolutely heavenly night time tea.

Irises clock in at having about 300 different species, named after the Greek goddess of rainbows, and the name would make sense. Irises are prized for many reasons, but one is due to their varied, vibrant, showy flowers.

Iris grows from either rhizomes or bulbs, and it’s not just the blooms that are coveted in perfume – the root stock is also used, known as orris. Although, this little root is one of the most costly materials in perfumery.

It’s because orris must be left for 3-5 years to mature and develop its singular dry, powdery, dusty scent – and time is money in many things, especially fragrance.

The iris flower itself is known for its dry, powdery aromas, but the blooms of iris have a sweeter, floral aroma, while orris is significantly more earthen and woodier.

Its famed scent comes in large part from molecules called ionones,that violets also share. Not only do ionones impart the sweet, dry, powdery scent, they pull off an awesome magic trick.

Ionones actually bind to scent receptors in your nose, and after stimulating them, they completely shut them off and on, like a flick of a light switch.

Thus, these can’t be smelled for more than a moment at a time, as they’ll disappear and reappear – your brain continually registering them as novel stimuli. No wonder the iris and violet fan clubs are so ardent. The smell is literally like a magic show – now you see it, now you don’t – to your olfactory bulbs.

Feel the magic of iris in D600 by Carner Barcelona in the March Collection.

Fun Fact:Anne Frank said that that the dead receive more flowers than living people. Maybe if you’re reading this, you can help change that? And yes, it’s completely acceptable for your favorite bouquets to be found in a bottle.

They trumpet new beginnings and growth. They roll out the red carpet for some of our favorite seasons. They seem to somehow make an appearance in most every smell that people of all walks of life, love. Stop and smell them.

So, whether you’re a boy, a girl, or identify as neither, we promise, there’s at least a petal or two growing somewhere for you.

So, open up your Olfactif March Collection, Bottled Up, and bloom with us, why don’t you?

Not a subscriber yet? No worries, you can do that HERE. Subscribe by March 15th to get this collection in your mailbox!

Photo credits: Gilmour;  Photo by Ales Maze; Photo by Maureen Astrid.

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