Thursday, January 24, 2008

Romancing the Scent 2

Is jasmine and powder seductive? In continuation of our previous post concerning itself with how a perfumer defines a romantic scent fit for seduction, Perfume Shrine today focuses on how Chris Sheldrake envisions such a fragrance. His comment appeared in the February 08 edition of Allure magazine.

Christopher Sheldrake, the nose rensponsible for almost the entire Serge Lutens line (with the exception of Iris Silver Mist by Maurice Roucel) and currently head of Research and Development at parfums Chanel, mentions that:
"in our industry, "bedroom smell" means the sensuality of jasmine, a powdery, musky soft entity - something that makes the wearer comfortable - and with a comfortable smell that pleases. It means not too violet or too rose or too animalic or too mossy."

He then goes on to suggest a romantic fragrance, naming Beautiful by Estée Lauder
"It has a powdery note and a fruitiness: a slightly jammy strawberry scent that as a perfumer I can appreciate."

Contrary to the infamous Alan Hirsch MD (of Smell and Taste Treatment and Research center in Chicago) study which states that men are aroused by the combined aroma of lavender with pumkin pie which facilitates penile blood flow, Sheldrake proposes a different combo: jasmine with a powdered musk.
For the record, the other arousing smells in the Hirsch study were doughnuts and black liquorice; or doughnuts and cola. (see more on the Hirsch study here).This had me rolling with laughter picturing cops in American movies eating doughnuts by the trackload. But I digress...

So, jasmine. A favourite flower for me, personally, and inexitricably linked to my childhood and growing up memories. The fascinating, presque suprenant facet of natural jasmine lies in its potent aroma of indole, a compound that is inherent in white florals and which we discussed on our orange blossom sexy scents post. Obviously, the familiarity of a smell so integrated to human existence as the fecal one breeds some form of recognition, if only very distant and not clearly perceived as such. The humanity beneath a fleshy smelling flower is therefore one of the aspects that account for jasmine's reputation as an erotogenic scent.

However there are many people who have trouble with jasmine: they find it too clotted, too dense, too sweet, too feral. Would its magic work on them as well? I do wonder. Perfumers use a wide variety of molecules in perfumes, natural or synthesized: jasmine absolute, jasmone, dihydrojasmone (less expensive than the former), methyl jasmonate, hedione, 2-heptylcyclopentanone... Sometimes the deciding factor on which to choose in a composition is the correlation betweem price and tonnage. Subtle differences account for a different perception among individuals who might respond with more pleasure to one than to another.
Musk is too complicated a matter to tackle in this short post, but it will be discussed shortly. Suffice to say that it is the par excellence essence prized since ancient times for its almost aphoridisiac abilities. The myriads of nuances in synthesized musks in the fragrance industry only attest to that effect: if there weren't a big demand, there wouldn't be as much industriousness in producing them. And some of them do smell kind of powdery: white musks, egyptian and "clean" musks especially.
Notice the reccurence of the powder element that was -arguably- so controversial in Sophia Grojsman's quote? Interestingly, baby powder does feature in the Hirsch study as arousing women! (men, please don't take this too seriously)

It is perhaps even more intriguing to note what Sheldrake denounces as appealing: an abundance of violet (green or candied? he doesn't specify), of rose (too old fashioned or pot-pouri-ish?), of animalic notes (too much stable-and-farm associations instead of basic instinct?) and of moss (too dirty/earthy or too musty-smelling? Again a definition would come handy).

And then what does dear Christopher do? He goes on to nominate Beautiful as a suggested romantic fragrance. A fragrance that has a tale made up about its name (per Lauder friends proclaimed it was "beautiful" upon smelling the mods when she was "creating" it) as it has had no less than five(!) perfumers working on it at International Flavors and Fragrances, as Chandler Burr reveals in his latest book.
A fragrance that supposedly has been composed of more than 200 ingredients, which to me doesn't smell of jasmine and powdery musks. A scent that has been reformulated to ill effect and which according to Susan Irvine is
"Extravagant, creamy, romantic and sweet. Ideal on a country and wester singer".
Is this your ideal of romantically appealing? I am really looking forward to your comments.

Top pic from eu zeen mag. Pic courtesy of Société Française des Parfumeurs, C.Sheldrake on the far left


  1. Anonymous23:17

    I don't think I have a non-biased comment on Beautiful - since my grandmother wears it. Nuff said. :)

    I will say that I love jasmine in all of it's indolic feral goodness. Give me a bottle of A La Nuit by Serger Lutens any day and I'm happy!

  2. I think Sheldrake was probably thinking of Sarrasins, a jasmine underlined with musk, but didn't say it. Jasmine is indeed headily erotic. But the appeal is not universal: I was having a conversation last week with a sexy artist friend of mine (male, straight, single) and he said that while he love jasmine in its natural state, jasmine-dominant perfumes turned him off. And this is a guy who says he loves a little stink (was very taken by the positively feral Onda).

  3. M,

    LOL! I get it.
    I love jasmine as well (and A la Nuit double so), as you might have known reading Perfume Shrine, but the feeling is not universal, from what I hear.

  4. It is interesting what you say there, D. Sarassins is indeed like that, although I hardly think Lutens' concept was a "bedroom smell". But it might be relevant to what he is saying.

    I have had the same experience with another discerning male (who likes castoreum of all things!!!): loves the actual vine, rather dislikes most jasmine-heavy fragrances. They're too artificial to his nose :-(

  5. Anonymous12:34

    What can i say... Why did he have to choose this one??! Beautiful is one of those FEW scents i absolutely cannot wear without getting a faint feeling in my stomach, a BAD feeling, mind you! It shares it with Chloé and Narcisse. Something in there makes me not feeling romantic but in the right mood to "worship the porcelain goddess"...

  6. LOL!!!!! Isn't that the greatest phrase ever: "worship the porcelain goddess"!! Brava, N! *chuckle, chuckle*

    You know, I have heard it was badly reformulated sometime in the 90s. I have this on the experience of people who liked it before, but not since. Hmmmm...

  7. Anonymous13:13

    It's not by myself, a citation by Poppy Z. Brite who i adore and who wrote that once somewhere... ;-)
    I HAD to take it into my own vocabulary!

  8. Anonymous15:41

    I love the quote about being ideal on a C&W singer!! Almost certainly unfair on many C&W singers but succinctly put. I prefer jasmine on the stalk too or mixed with other florals particularly rose as in Joy. I'm not a fan of powder in my scent but I do love animalic and mossy notes. Hm, is Christopher trying to tell me why I'm single right now???

  9. That's OK, N, it was brilliant so you were right to borrow it for our purposes. Thanks for letting me know!

  10. Donanicola,

    yes, it might be a little unfair (some of those people are indeed lovely), but it does give the perceived style of the frag well, doesn't it? ;-)

    I hope Chris isn't trying to tell you something because I bet you smell wonderful.
    (and besides it's a fact that men are highly visually-oriented animals, so I don't think smell enters the equation as much)

  11. Anonymous22:27

    After reading the first installment of Romancing the Scent, I was compelled to think...what do I own that's sexy and alluring? I can't think of one thing I own that's blatantly sexy. Powder is out, other than to bring an aura of innocence to the scent, but in certain recipes, of age and mustiness. I don't buy it. Then the white flowers...I think of them as languid, only mildly feral and sensuous, yes, and heady. Alluring in a softly carnal way, but possibly too sweet to be considered pheremonal (if that's a word.) They don't move my hubby, but I enjoy wearing them nevertheless. I just don't think of them as all-out sexy.

    Spice, pumpkin? Maybe for men...but too much cooking and fun for me.

    Now animalic scents... I think they're as close as I would come to considering a scent sexy without the sidetrack of overt sweetness. Musks, civet, and the others. Bella Bellogia's Perfect Night, Montale's rosey Musks. A hint of sweetness from the flowers, and some primal sniffage that is and was intended to be pheremonal in the animal kingdom. I may be a little biased though...I spend the best part of my day in a barn with horses, hay, wood shavings, grains, fine leather, and all good things of that nature. I adore those smells. What's more, hubby appreciates the animalic scents without a shared love of barn animals. I do think we're still as animalic as we ever were, although attempt at civilization has us pretty cleaned up. But as far as a downright irresistible and sexually commanding scent, I don't know one.

  12. Welcome vanbergc and thank you for your detailed comment.
    Very interesting.

    I guess that there is no uniform answer as to what is considered by someone as blatantly sexy and alluring: everyone brings on a nuance that the other hadn't thought of before. Therefore one is hard pressed to name one particular over others....
    "A hint of sweetness from flowers and some primal sniffage" sounds about right to me, however :-)

  13. Anonymous22:31

    I read that the article also quotes Tania Sanchez. What does she say? Can you let us know?

  14. Anonymous,

    indeed there was also some commentary by Tania, although the others' were more gist for commentary, plus more people who read here have heard about them anyway.

    Hers was more personal, mentioning some scents we have talked about here as well, such as Cuir de Russie and Mitsouko. Musks Kublai Khan will have to wait a bit, but will get its turn... ;-)

    I can't post the whole quote here (copyright infringement here it comes!), but if you want to, you can email me and we can discuss it there :-))


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