It's not unusual that my mind reels into well known quotes/parables/phrases that get twisted to serve my purposes. I'm weird like that I guess and words have always being a playground. However the assonance of "s" in the above paradigm is testament to the powers of suggestion as it combines two languages, english and french, both foreign to me. "Sel" means of course "salt" in english and it rhymes quite nice with the original "shell" of the english exercise phrase.
So what does salt have to do with a perfume article, you might ask. As promised, this is part of a new trend in perfumery that is making waves as we speak (it seems that I am very bent on wordplay and puns today).
For the past year there have been many new releases that capitalize on a new aspect, an aroma that would be better appreciated with our taste buds rather than our olfactory skills. I am talking about the salty aspect that several new perfumes have veered into. Taste really encompasses very few variations: there is sweet (primeval like breast milk and thus a little juvenile), sour (for those who prefer a little animation to their palate), salty (a memory of the ocean and minerals, a grounding experience and a health concern for most), bitter (a taste for the adventurous and oh, how appreciated it is in combination with other tastes!) and finally umami (rich, fatty, meaty, the effect of many foods that transpire as full).
And that's it! All tastes are basically a combination of those basic categories. The rest is flavour ~the mystical tryst of taste and olfaction that gives us real pleasure in savouring petit fours and enjoying tiramisu. And of course other factors such as the food's smell, detected by the olfactory epithelium of the nose, its texture, detected by mechanoreceptors, and its temperature, detected by thermoreceptors, come into play.
So it comes as no surprise that experiments conducted with willing volunteers eating potatoes and apples with their nose closed revealed a complete confusion as to what they were consuming, resulting in hysterical results.
So how can a taste experience such as salty be translated into the olfactory realm of perfume? This is where art and innovation come to the fore. And it is very appropriate that we discuss this now that summer is well upon us.
It all began by Eau des Merveilles (=water of wonders), an Hermès fragrance developed a few years past that took the last available batches of real ambergris (suppossedly; there is no way to confirm that) and made them into a limpid, salty, woody alloy fit for women who were not into florals or citrus for summer, yet who wanted a light and refreshing scent nonetheless. A unisex triumph had just erupted.
And then came The Different Company with its Sel de Vetiver in spring 2006: the olfactory rendition of dirty vetiver roots into a glass of marine water. Many proclaimed that it smells like an unwashed sailor, and for that reason it made an impression. Composed by Celine Ellena, Jean Claude's daughter following the illustrious dad's footsteps, it encompasses notes of grapefruit, cardamom, Bourbon geranium, lovage, Haitian vetiver, patchouli, iris and ylang ylang.
Apparently the inspiration was the "scent of salt drying on the skin after bathing in the sea", which is an image I can very well associate with.
Then came in summer 2006 (for Europe at least) the completely mesmerising and delectable L de Lolita Lempicka(for a full review click here). A fragrance that combined the salty aspect of a mermaid with the opulence of vanilla, tonka and musks for an effect that is like skin baked under the sun on a hot secluded beach on a mediterranean isle.
By then the ground was ripe for more launches that viewed the salty note as an intergral part of their formula.
This past winter saw the launch of one of the best salty-sweet compositions for those who appreciate a few M&Ms scattered into their pop-corn like Sarah Jessica Parker apparently does or for those who like to combine fresh watermelon with greek feta cheese for dessert, like it's customary here. I am talking about Elixir des Merveilles, a take on the original that takes the salty element and incorporates it into an orientalised composition that could be worn in any season. It includes notes of orange Peel, , caramel, biscuit accord (vanilla, tonka bean, milk), sandalwood, incense, resins: Peru balsam and balsam of Siam, oak, patchouli, cedar and ambergris, echoing the original Eau des Merveilles.
For a full review, click here.
Terre d'Hermès , the latest men's fragrance by the luxury house, could also be classified under the salty, although it's more mineral than sea-like and has an earthy quality to it that denotes the light touch of the masterful hand of Jean Claude Ellena, a self-proclaimed lover of the salty and bitter.
And soon everyone seemed to be doing salty fragrances: Jo Malone announced the launch of Blue agave and Cacao (news reported here) with notes of cardamom, agave cactus, sea salt and chocolate. Miller Harris came up this May with the new Fleurs de Sel, part of her New Edition collection, inspired by the childhood home of its creator Lyn Harris in Batz sur Mer, which is a village in Brittany located between beaches and salt marshes. Based on the salty facets of vetiver, with mossy and leathery chypre accords it features notes of red thyme oil, rosemary, clary sage, iris nobilis, narcissus, rose, ambrette seed, woods, vetiver, moss, and leather.
And of course Bond no.9 wouldn't be left out of the game, giving us on June 1st their newest and very refreshing scent Coney Island, the equivalent of a salt-rimmed glass of frozen margarita for when languorously lounging by the pool with notes of margarita mix (tequila included), melon, guava, cinnamon, chocolate, caramel, musk, vanilla, cedar and sandalwood. For a full review click here.
All in all, this is a promising market and a new trend that is set to get us out of the well-established sweet tooth of the fruity florals and into the more aspiring compositions of slightly weird yet savoury compositions that call upon our summery disposition and our memory of the ocean from which we came. I don't call this a bad sign. Do you?
Top pic is of Faneromeni Beach at Lesvos, Greece, courtesy of Lesvos.gr
Bottom pic is painting Waves by Katsushika Hokusai (1831) courtesy of allposters.com