Thursday, September 27, 2018

A Taste for Rhubarb: Modern Incarnations of an Older Idea

Although rhubarb may sound totally contemporary, classical stuff like Ma Griffe by Carven has hinted at the tart juiciness in the context of a "green scent" in order to give a little mouthwatering taste alongside the pluck your lips bitterness. In fact rhubarb shares olfactory facets with rose and berries (another trendy note) therefore its inclusion in fragrant compositions comes easily enough. It also pairs beautifully with jasmine and tuberose which is a distinct plus.


Several years ago the Renaissance of rhubarb note started, however and today it is quite popular - in the niche segment at least most certainly. In the mainstream previous attempts at incorporating a rhubarb note were not met with great success: Burberry Brit Red, Alexander McQueen Kingdom, and Hugo Red by Hugo Boss were all commercial flops; some quite undeservedly indeed.

A slew of brands issued rhubarb notes in the interim with varying intensity and dare: Comme des Garcons Series 5 Rhubarb (which is very fruity and candied), Ricci Ricci, 4711 Aqua di Colonia Rhubarb & Clary Sage, Guerlain Homme Intense, and the Aedes de Venustas eponymous eau de parfum with its bold spicy basil and smoky incense context.

But the highlight into the public consciousness probably came with Hermès’s Eau de Rhubarbe Écarlate (review coming up); a fragrance that took the unusual note into central focus cutting it with a laser beam and flanking it with soft musks that would please the consumer into a false sense of familiarity. The trick worked. Suddenly everyone was crazy for rhubarb!

Of course Hermès had dabbled their hand in rhubarb before; the footnote in Rose Ikebana in the boutique exclusive line Hermessences was notable and created by Jean Claude Ellena who loves tart and saline effects in perfumery.

If Hermès was quirky and defiant enough to showcase the vegetable in the advertising images though, Cartier's La Panthère was the major feminine perfume which featured rhubarb notes unashamedly in a posh and chic context. It seemed to go down well so creators were becoming bolder.

The "Rhubarb leaf" in the recently launched Mugler Aura is a chord based on the long familiar and widely used material called styralyl acetate, or gardenol; its tartness is a good aesthetic match for rendering a shimmery effect in a gourmand composition. Kokorico by Night (Gaultier) is a lighter interpretation with cooler hesperidia as a counterpoint.

The new Champ des Fleurs (L'Artisan Parfumeur) is another testament to the power of vegetal notes lending freshness to contemporary compositions. The crunchy texture of rhubarb is something that should pair well in that context.

On the other hand the evocation of gardens is going well in the advertorials of Lovely Garden (Oriflame) and White Lilac & Rhubarb (Jo Malone). Nevertheless the former is more of a creamy and delicious compote of fresh rhubarb dressed in milk rather than anything green as implied by its design and naming. It's really something which anyone who is hesitant of rhubarb should try out; they'd be faced with a very surprised nose! Malone's rendering is more traditionally English garden with the tart interplay of rhubarb providing an anchor to the watery and heliotrope-like softness of the lilacs. It's a vignette out of an afternoon in the countryside.

Rhubarb only sounds weird in a fragrance till you try it. Like with many other things in life.


  1. White Lilac & Rhubarb has long been discontinued, no?!

  2. Thanks for commenting and your statement. Probably yes, but discontinued fragrances continue to be found on eBay, plus a good scent in a particular genre is a good scent in a particular genre and needs to be referenced when talking about said genre.


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