Friday, October 12, 2018

Fiery Ginger Gingerly Scenting

Ginger is older than we think of but its prevalence amongst the Eastern tradition is what makes westerners regard it as "new". The warming effect of this wonderful spicy oil is part of the reason it lends itself so well in cuisine and why oriental but also floral compositions benefit from its shimmery aura. It shares DNA with turmeric and cardamom and the commercial rise of the latter in perfumery (notably through Jean Claude Ellena's many creations extolling its refreshing qualities) probably aided ginger as well.


I should probably begin my exposition of newer ginger fragrances with a respectful nod to their precursor. The "humble" Ginger Essence by Origins was launched in 2000 but it soon gained something of a cult status thanks to its simple but uplifting properties which married the hot and sensuous qualities of ginger root oil to the aromatic and happy disposition of lemony essences. It's still cheerful after all those years and highly recommended to women who can't stomach perfumes around pregnancy (much like ginger itself is recommended for morning sickness) but it lacks the complexity that makes for a classic. Still it gave wings to a rising star.

Of course ginger can be treated two-fold.

On the one hand, there is the spicy aromatic quality that pairs well with citruses and men's colognes, such as Dior Homme Sport and L'Homme (YSL), where it gives that delectable sheen we associate with summery skin.

On the other, ginger has the association with that traditional wintery treat, the gingerbread, going for it for those who have more of a sweet tooth. Even the Japanese appreciate ginger for its dessert-leaning properties; when they don't pickle it, they turn it into a candy.

Nutmeg & Ginger (Jo Malone) as well as Vaniglia e Zenzero (L'Erbolario Lodi) both treat ginger as a spicy component of a delicious dessert.  Tonka Impériale (Guerlain) smothers the gingerbread with the almondy goodness of tonka beans and honey; it's a cashmere wrap for cold winter days. Five o'clock au Gingembre by Lutens on the other hand is as if dipped in brown sugar and molasses; the ginger turns ambery. For a while gingerbread in gourmand renditions was the golden rule of thumb. Then something shifted.

The re-emergence of fresh ginger notes came to the fore with a bang via Hermès; the brand as we will see is really on the vanguard of major trends and I consider it a pioneer in consolidating newer directions to the mind of the public. With Un Jardin Après La Mousson Hermès managed two things at once: evoking the Kerala landscape in all its humid monsoon glory without using the melon-smelling Calone aroma chemical, and injecting the whole with that precise amount of subdued spiciness which would never make the folklore element of an India-inspired scentscape appear maudlin or condescending.

The only logical next step for Hermès would be Twilly d'Hermes and indeed its novelty factor lies in upturning the tables once again. Twilly as I have analysed in its "sparring" with Chanel's Gabrielle hits all the right spots with street smarts coupled with an impressive pedigree; it basically had Gabrielle for lunch. But that's beside the point when it comes to its composite elements that help make it memorable. The ginger is treated like a gauze. It's never scathing or too hot to handle and its interlacing with the white floralcy of tuberose seems novel and familiar all at once. It's impossible not to like it. Twilly's success on the market will probably be used as a focus group litmus test for other perfumes to come... so its ginger note is one that begs attention.

Meanwhile other scents by niche or smaller as well as big companies have cornered ginger for its exceptional olfactory profile which elevates the rest of the composition. If you want to have an unusual combination with powdery iris and abstract cedar notes look no further than the woody muskiness of Arz el Rab (Berdoues). Korres, the Greek pharmacy brand that is exported in several countries, has recently introduced Ginger Mint Eau de Cologne, which is probably what someone going on a warm place vacation should stock up on; the tingling of the nose helps keep you going when it's muggy or hot.

Last but not least, the fact that Dior has followed on their surprisingly OK Poison Girl (more on the happy paradox HERE) with  Poison Girl Unexpected makes us pause and consider how ginger has its place even in a young girl's fragrance wardrobe.

We surely haven't seen the last of ginger yet!

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