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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Three Cheers for Perfume Chemistry

Much as perfumery has often been the marketing story of virgins amassing jasmine petals at the crack of dawn in endless emerald fields on exotic lands (and it is a lovely image), some synthetic molecules created in the lab have irrevocably revolutionized the fragrance industry as we know it: Hedione, Galaxolide and Calone for instance have left a footprint as big as the Yeti’s in modern perfumery, accounting in some cases for a big percentage within a formula in and of themselves (see Trésor and Cool Water or the odd case of Dune for instance ~also the iconic fragrances touched by hedione).


Sometimes these molecules were arrived at years before they were popularised in mainstream compositions the consumer buys off the counter today: Calone for instance, which catapulted the "marine scents" trend in the 1990s, was patended as "Calone 1951" in as early as 1966 by the pharmaceuticals collusus Pfizer. Sometimes, on the other hand, new molecules are the very reason why specific styles of fragrances multiply like Gremlins: see the recent cases of Ambrox and synthetic oud.

Damascones and ionones have brought their own particular challenges and risk-taking through the course of the 20th century, ending in beautiful specimens (examples include Nahéma, Féminité du Bois, Nombre Noir). I have always had a soft spot for nitromusks myself, which I absolutely love in vintage creations due to their intimate and warm character, but of course science and the industry go on and we must adapt with the times...

I like to think that we’re upon a Brave New World in which the not-forgotten old artistry of naturals alongside the sleight of hand, that relies in the proper dosage of synthetics, will produce astounding and unprecedented results: Safraleine is a beautiful example, exactly because it brings on both spicy and subtly leathery facets to the fore with a restrained hand. We’re seeing a new sophisticated generation of aqueous and “ozonic” molecules too, away from the obvious “watermelon slap” of Calone: Scentenal (Firmenich), Cyclemone A and Floralozone (both IFF); for instance the latteris featured in otherwise earthy Vétiver Extraordinaire in Editions des Parfums Frederic Malle, where it juxtaposes freshness to the mustiness of the grass.

Alternatively, in some cases, modern technology aims to replicate retro effects which we used to miss due to depletion of the original and shortage of technical solutions. Let me mention some examples:
White Moss is an IFF patent to create a green-mossy accord at the base of some nouveau chypres such as Lauder’s Private Collection Jasmine White Moss. I think it’s an excellent addition to IFF's already impressive stable as it manages to bypass the “problem” of oakmoss restrictions (as inflicted by the industry-self-regulating body IFRA) while at the same time smelling as a proper green chypre base-accord should (comparable to the original Cristalle for instance).
Jovanol by Givaudan is creating the creaminess and intense lasting power which we had come to associate with the “creaminess” of sandalwood, its lactonic facet ~perfume speak for that warm, milky cozy, cuddly effect that older Orientals and woody fragrances with a preponderance on Mysore sandalwood used to have. The anisic note which we have come to associate with anisaldehyde and retro effects such as those in L'Heure Bleue is given new lease by Givaudan's captive Toscanol (which is in its turn substitutes the similar chavanol), used to mollify lavender compositions. And who can disregard Cashmeran, that tactile "cashmere woods" note embraced so lovingly by both mainstream fragrances (DK Cashmere Mist, Alien by Mugler, CKin2u, Fleur de Cristal by Lalique) as well as niche (The Beautiful Mind series Intelligence & Fantasy)? Its encompassing woody-musky-soft and sensual profile makes it a passe-partout ingredient.

I like one small detail about musks in particular, how the newest mascrocyclic Cosmone by Givaudan (a warm musk with a nuance of ambergris, smell in DelRae's Panache for instance) is taking on the expanse and beauty of the Cosmos to graft it unto its name. One better from the previous Galaxolide which was also astro-inspired in regards to nomenclature! And the ironic touch that it’s used in a fragrance bearing such a cunning name as Pi Neo, which means "new" in Greek. Isn’t perfumery dreamy?

picture of perfumer at Lever Laboratories in New Jersey, c.1950 via howstuffworks.com

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous20:48

    I've had safraleine in my organ for sometime (3 years?). I'm ashamed to say I have had no success with it until recently when I was seeking a subtler leather note (think chamois). All this by way of saying that it takes time to learn how to use these new things especially by plodders like me.

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