Monday, January 7, 2013

Perfume Primers: Gourmand Fragrances for Beginners & Beyond

Soft Turkish delight, gleaming lollipops swirled with creamy caramel, bright red candied apples at the fun fair, the delicious creaminess of rich ganache, bittersweet anise-inflicted licorice sticks and the temptation of fine cognac-filled nuggets of chocolate...If you mentioned these aromas as springboards for composing to perfumers 30 or 40 years ago they'd laugh at you. And yet the novelty of gourmand fragrances came to stay, highlighting perfume "notes" such as chocolate, coffee, cupcakes, whiskey, sugared almond and marzipan, even cotton candy/candy floss!
But what is the definition of a gourmand perfume? Simply put "gourmand" (French: [ɡuʁmɑ̃]): perfumes smell almost "edible" and have"dessert-like" qualities that tickle our taste buds as well as our nose. In French the term only slightly overlaps with "gourmet"(connoting discernment), adding a "greedier" nuance which seems to fit; just reading a notes list of a gourmand fragrance is enough to make one salivate!
Technically as they're built on vanilla and sweet ingredients they're a subcategory of the oriental family of fragrances. Talking with perfumers however I realized their appetizing quality is markedly different from perfumes in which succulent notes -such as peach, spices or vanilla- appeared previously, in that gourmands actually evoke desserts in a more concrete way, whereas the classics only hinted at the pleasures of food & drink they were meant to accompany, via abstraction (the delicious duvet-appeal of Farnesiana's sweet acacia, the cinnamon-sprinkled peach skin of Mitsouko).

In aesthetic terms gourmands are the polar opposite of the inedible feel of most chypres and fougeres whose traditional aim was to conjure grooming products such as powder, soap and shaving cream and thus denote a "polished" appearance. In contrast gourmands are not concerned with that, unless it's the polishing off a particularly tasty dish!
Comfy and delicious, their more laid-back, casual approachability (everyone eats, after all) accounts for their non-snob factor, making them a perfect fit for the end of the 1990s and the 2000s, when they flourished. Could that surge speak of misspent childhoods pampered by a sugar-riddled diet, of a regression into the protective cocoon of kindergarten, or of the desire to at least partake of the olfactory pleasures -if not the gustatory ones- afforded to people on a diet?
The too sweet stuff can be rather nauseating. Some of the Comptoir Sud Pacifique fragrances for instance seem to cater to the hardcore baked goods lovers, being particularly "foody", a looked down upon term by serious perfume lovers who opt for the more refined within the genre.

History of Gourmand genre

Angel by Thierry Mugler (1992) is generally considered the first gourmand with its overdose of ethyl maltol (the scent of cotton candy/caramel) paired with natural patchouli, plus sweet red fruits and a floral "base". Patchouli has an inherent facet that recalls chocolate, boosting the dessert angle of the Mugler pefume. But perfumer Yves de Chiris (alongside Olivier Cresp) put a staggering 30% of camphoraceous patchouli in the compound to counteract the aching sweetness of the sugar note. Its genius lies in its semi-poisonous subtext under the deliciousness: this is dangerous, dark, powerful perfume, almost masculine, reminiscent of the childish joys of the fun-fair but also of its disturbing aspects...Vera Strübi, at the time CEO of Parfums Mugler, says: ''The feminine is not our aesthetic approach.'' Strübi, having met Mugler and the Clarins Group in 1990, has been recognized as "the most audacious and creative president by the entire perfume industry"; the prototype gourmand only later took on the childhood story of Thierry's love of fun-fairs, but still it never was a marketing "recipe" which is probably why it became so successful in the end...
Molinard already had Nirmala in their catalogue since 1955, a scent that smells so close to Angel in its current form that it ignited a heated legal battle about intellectual rights in regards to perfume in France. The truth is the 1990s revamped Nirmala purposefully twisted its recipe to adhere to a more "Angelic" principle...The pioneer claim of Angel is contested nevertheless: Angel was not the first perfume to bring pure, sweet ethyl maltol into the spotlight; that distinction belongs to Vanilia (1978) by L'Artisan Parfumeur, the scent of a "vanilla ice-cone" as per aficionado supermodel Paulina Porizokva.

Still, the caramel-patchouli wildcard juxtaposition of Angel was like nothing else on the market when it came out (the same year as the limpid, totally "clean" L'Eau d'Issey!) and slowly built a cult following, eventually becoming the reference point influencing the entire market to this day (and being a marketing case study!). Angel's spawn is Gremlin-like: 20 years later every house has their "Angel wannabe" (hoping to usurp some of its share on the market): Armani Code for women, Calvin Klein Euphoria, Lancome Miracle Forever, Prada by Prada, Paco Rabanne Black XS, Nina (Nina Ricci), Chopard Wish, Hanae Mori Butterfly...the list is endless! You may see these fragrances colloquially mentioned as "fruitchoulis" in perfume fans conversation, as they all rest on sweet fruits on patchouli; the term is anecdotal.

Source: via Ali on Pinterest

Of all the variations on the theme, only Lolita Lempicka and Angel's own flanker Angel Innocent (and possibly Sonia Rykiel in the orange sweater bottle and Missoni by Missoni) manage to differentiate themselves enough and inject new ideas; the former through an emphasis on the anisic facets of licorice, the latter by adding a praline note and subtracting the patchouli.
Aquolina Pink Sugar (2003) is another emblematic gourmand, its name an uncontested allusion to pink cotton candy. Again based on ethyl maltol, but with less of the bittersweet edge of Angel that makes it so compelling, yet an equally love-it-or-hate-it fragrance, Pink Sugar smells like overripe strawberries melting into the candy machine.
Dior straddles the category with three of their perfumes in different measure with polarizing results: The original Addict is boozy vanillic and yet with a hint of vulgarity; Hypnotic Poison is the most accomplished in its dark, edible powdery evocation of bitter almonds & musks, whereas the original Miss Dior Cherie from 2005 (before being so messed up with) was a medley of sweet kid's strawberry syrup drizzled onto caramelized buttery popcorn that smelled as cheeky as it sounds.

Gourmands wear nicely in the cooler seasons, although lighter ones, such as Theorema (Fendi) with its orange-filled chocolate note, are fine in summer too. Especially marketable to women (perhaps because they're more mindful of calories or due to indoctrination of adage "sugar and spice and all things nice") gourmands do not exclude men. Some are specifically addressed to them, such as the delicious Lolita au Masculin by Lolita Lempicka, Rochas Man, the so called "Angel for men" A*Men by Mugler (as well as its variations) and Guerlain's L'Instant pour homme Extreme.

Niche gourmands
If the mainstream market is intent on just "copying" Angel without furthering the conversation, the niche fragrance sector seems to offer varied takes on the gourmand genre, some "dark" and sinful, others airier: Annick Goutal Eau de Charlotte, Serge Lutens Five O'Clock Au Gingembre and Arabie, Hermèssence Ambre Narguilé, Lostmarc'h Lann-Ael, Guerlain Gourmand Coquin, Spiritueuse Double Vanille, and Iris Ganache, L'Artisan Parfumeur Jour de Fete, Bois Farine, and Safran Troublant, Laura Tonatto Plaisir, Hilde Soliani Cioco Spesizissimo, Montale Chocolate Greedy, Tom Ford Tobacco Vanille, Frapin 1270, Ginestet Botytris, Parfumerie Générale Aomassai, Serendipitous by Serendipity 3, Luctor et Emergo (People of the Labyrinths), Love by Kilian,  Bond No. 9 New Haarlem, Ava Luxe Milk, Etat Libre d'Orange Like This.
Honorary mention for the loukhoum/Turkish delight fragrances, replicating the famous dessert with rosy and/or almondy notes. Notable examples include Rahat Loukhoum (Serge Lutens), Traversée du Bosphore (L'Artisan Parfumeur), Loukhoum (Keiko Mecheri), Loukoum (Ava Luxe). Although figs are certainly edible and there are many "fig scents" on the market, these are technically classified in the "woods" category, as they evoke the leaves as well as the tree sap in most cases (i.e. Philosykos, Premier Figuier, Figue Amère)

A rather recent sub-category within the gourmand orientals is the "savory gourmands", fragrances which replicate foodie smells but of a non specifically sweet persuasion. One could classify Champaca (Ormonde Jayne) with its steamed rice note in this category, Parfumerie Générale Praliné de Santal with its roasted hazelnuts, Jeux de Peau by Lutens evoking toasted bread, Jo Malone Blue Agave & Cacao, as well as the groundbreaking Womanity by Mugler pairing salty caviar and sweet figs.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Perfume Primers: concise intros for beginners


  1. Anonymous00:22

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Miss Heliotrope00:45

    Fascinating, but I still dont get the whole idea -

    Sad yet typical that the perfume/marketing mainstream sees a new idea & copies, rather than taking away the message that trying new things is a good move.

  3. I seldom see a post on gourmands that hits everything *I* would consider a high note in this category (which is my favorite). Brava!

  4. Astrid11:02

    It's amazing this dessert stuff sells enough to spawn imitators. I can remember when Obsession came out & I didn't like it...because I thought it was too foody!

  5. C,

    indeed it's sad... This was exactly what one perfumer had told me when I was discussing how most of the classics have been bold perfumes rather than meek.

    The whole idea of gourmands probably has to do with the "I want to eat my arm (where I applied said scent)" popular catch-phrase (i.e. so delicious you'd want to chew on it).

    My personal theory is that it all started with the pop-psychology "rumor" that men are drawn to vanilla (and therefore vanillic scents) because it -supposedly- reminds them of breastmilk, which is indeed sweet and rather vanillic (and therefore all of us have good memories with it, making vanilla a somewhat universal pleaser). One might of course argue how this can reflect well on any male that has such Oedipal associations!! (but I think they didn't think that far into it) :-D

    This seeped into some fragrances tentatively (vanilla after all is a classic scent in many classic and popular fragrances from well before the 90s and a great "smoother" in blends; it acts like an eraser of mistakes), like Tocade etc.

    THAT then gave rise to a whole industry of foodie bath & body products (which is quite interesting in itself since vanillin is rather unstable for body products and there were developments into bypassing the technical problems which wasn't possible before). There were also the countless lip glosses and lip smacks and lip smears with fruity sweet scents, aimed at capturing teenagers (and thus shaping the criterion of a generation in the process) as well as those Japanese erasers and pens from the 1980s (remember those?) with the sweet, almost sickly scents.

    And THAT created such a voracious appetite for foodie smells to the consumers (who were spoilt by all those body products, as well as the increasingly manufactured added scents of foodstuff themselves) that the market demanded more sweet perfumers to go forth. The rest is history, as they say.

    Does any of this make any sense to you or am I just totally off the mark?

  6. Unseencenser,

    thank you very much for your compliment! :-)

    Gourmands are not to be scoffed at, IMHO. When they're really good, they're smashing! Of course it does take a bit more taste & good sense of proportion to actually make a great gourmand than going along a tried & tested recipe that has been around for decades. So kudos to the perfumers and art directors who produced great gourmands!

  7. Astrid,

    indeed it's fascinating to view these things in a backwards spiral, makes everything appear so very different! Great point!

    I recall I thought Estee and Aromatics Elixir smelled amazingly clean on women in my entourage when I was growing up, as if they had just stepped out of the shower. This is a VERY different notion of "clean" compared with today!

  8. Anonymous23:34

    How come gourmands are always sweet? I lived in Greece for a time and I want a perfume that smells like this: Greek curry plant, mountain oregano, fresh tomatoes, figs, lamb cooking, mitziki (sheep's milk light cheese, v milky) cinnamon and nutmeg flavoured rice pudding (ok that's sweet-ish). Olive oil, olive trees)Old boats in the sun. Maybe it would smell disgusting!

  9. Miss Heliotrope23:43

    I think you're right about the popular build up - but I think also that bc that sort of scent is associated with people's teenage years, and with younger people in general, it is now deemed youthful in that hideous way that is pushed as style these days. It's a sort of reverse old-lady-smell (& we know what we think about that).

    & scents added to food - to the point that real food isn't "right" anymore bc it doesnt smell like the fakes! Sigh. No wonder the real food/organic/homegrown side of things keeps expanding - I read somewhere (so who knows whether it's true) that in Oz tomatoes are the most GM & other stuffed around fruit/veg/whatever, but that they are also the one most often grown in people's backyards or on balconies - but who ever heard of companies & industry actually pacying attention to the customer's wishes?

  10. Rosestrang,

    having fond associations with all these things myself, obviously, I would LOVE for them to be put into a perfume! No it wouldn't be disgusting, some would pair very well together.
    (I would even settle for a jasmine-car exhaust-coffee house-bakery wafting mahlep perfume too to represent some emblematic Athens smells...).

    But honestly the only person who would do that justice would be Jean Claude Ellena. He seems the only one who has the Mediterranean sensibility so finely tuned and who doesn't shy away from doing an at once refined and very humanity loving scent, which is the whole focus of the Greek ideal. :-)

  11. C,

    that's an exquisitely astute observation! Reverse old lady, you're right! I think teenagers are very condescended by companies. They're more intelligent than what they're offered.

    Scary about the GM tomatoes. They taste like potatoes. I miss the home-grown tomatoes of my childhood. You cut one up and the whole house was smelling of it. Mmmm....

  12. Having no experience with the perfume ANGEL, still I tried to ferret out this category. New to the vocabulary, but a leather person, most perfumes from the 70's, except for Gucci Rush, I love delicate flavors, and have enjoyed the Monin natural flavor syrups, but for a perfume I must have something that flutters about like the small moths and drifts around and is only experienced visually.

  13. ellina06:19

    Hello Elena! I used to adore gourmands (or think I did), then at a certain point I realized I didn't want to smell edible, but sophisticated and refined. I did, however, purchase a bottle of Lalique Satine a few days ago. Fragrantica classifies it as an Oriental Woody, but I do think it could be an oriental vanilla, and that it borders on the gourmand, with its lovely, spicy, plush vanilla and tonka. Have you tested it? Do you have any thoughts on it?

    1. Hi there!
      Some gourmands do tend to be a little too sweet for my tastes as well; especially the too cupcake/candyfloss ones.
      But let's not forget that gourmands are a subdivision of the Oriental family, so the vanilla is a natural component in there and I suppose an oriental woody vanilla could border on the gourmand; it all depends on balance. Tonka is certainly a note that can go into almond territory, so close to gourmand.
      Haven't tested Satine by Lalique, but now I'm interested to do so! Thanks for the recommendation, you do make it sound very lovely. :-) And thanks for commenting of course.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu, below text box (Anonymous is fine too!) and hit Publish.
And you're set!

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine