Monday, May 7, 2012

Perfumery Material: Freesia, Peppery Zing, Electric Fresh

“Just because I’m resisting the wine doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate the bouquet,” he whispered. “You have a very floral smell, like lavender … or freesia,” he noted. “It’s mouthwatering.” We can forgive Edward Cullen wooing Bella in Stephenie Meyer's vampire hit Twilight the semi-true reference of lavender as floral (it's really an aromatic in perfume-speak); the matter of the fact is that freesia is mouthwatering indeed and Edward is a major heart-throb for teenage audiences (there's even an online test about how you smell to Edward Cullen).

In Meet Joe Black freesia is a symbol of the hidden sensitivity of the aging father about to meet his death, played by Anthony Hopkins:
- We do need some answers on the flowers.
- Ah, yes, freesia, freesia. Everywhere freesia. Daddy loves freesia.

Not so for sophisticated and rather cynical Miranda Priesley in The Devil Wears Prada, quoted: "If I see freesias anywhere, I will be very disappointed"...

But it is Hugh De Sélincourt in The Way Things Happen who highlights the unique heart-aching aspects of this vividly huedblossom" "The happiness of that afternoon was already fixed in her mind, and always would the scent of freesia recall it to her mental sight, for among the smells of the roses and violets and lilies and wall-flowers, the smell of the freesia penetrated, as a melody stands out from its accompaniement, and gave her the most pleasure."

Scent Profile
The cheerful bouquet of peppery zing and floral freshness projected at the right intensity, a delicious aroma that radiates for a long distance, is what makes freesia flowers so memorable. High in linalool, a major component in all freesia varieties, this small colourful blossom emits a refreshing, floral woody aroma with a subtle citrusy-terpenic note. The mollified sweet aspects, with the nectarous quality of jasmine smelt through ozone, are given a cheerful piquancy by the spicy top note which pinches you by the nose upon stooping to smell the beautiful flowers. The nuance of the blossoms themselves is beautifully varied: white ones are spicier, colourful ones are "greener". The overall character is clean and with a soapy facet, a fact that makes freesia a favorite candidate for inspiring the added scent of soaps, shampoos, body lotions and so forth. It's no wonder freesias stand for innnocence!

Little did Friedrich Heinrich Theodor Freese (1795-1876), a German physician from Kiel, know that the proposal of the name by his friend and plant collector Christian Friedrich Ecklon would result in such a popular cultivar and perfume "note". But it's perhaps even more interesting to note that a minority of Europeans have specific anosmia for freesia, although most Europeans report that freesia is one of the strongest scents known to them! McWhirter concluded that "inability to perceive the scent is a recessive character. Tests of 1,600 subjects showed that the frequency of the recessive phenotype was high in those of Eastern European and British Celtic descent (at about 10%) and low in those predominantly of Scandinavian, English, Dutch, and German descent (at about 4%)" [source]

History of a Trend
The trend for using freesia notes in fragrances began when Antonia Bellanca-Mahoney first brought out her Antonia's Flowers perfume in 1984. It is a freesia dominant fragrance because this is the flower sthe famous NYC florist was most enamoured with. The great perfumer Bernand Chant (Aromatics Elixir, Azuree, Cabochard) composed it for International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) using headspace technology to replicate that electric freshness that natural freesia exude. Antonia was adamant that her fragrance should be free of the tricks of scented seduction, she didn't want a fragrance that would "remind her of old ladies", but one that would be light and reminiscent of her flower shop; she hadn't been using perfume for these reasons and she thought it was time to find one to claim her own. She focused on freesias because they "knocked your socks off, like trumpets in an orchestra; everyone else sings backup, even the lillies". The result was the definitive scent that put freesia on the map.
Since then, not only has Antonia's Flowers become a cult favorite, it also has catapulted an entire avalanche of freesia notes containing fragrances which take this jolting, fresh, spring-like note as a departure point of clean, feminine, pretty compositions for every woman.

Constructing a Freesia Note for Fragrances
Even though a type of freesia oil can be extracted, all freesia notes in perfumery are uniformely synthesized, usually with copious amounts of linalool (the dominant constituent in over half of freesia cultivars), hints of jasmine synths and green notes. Natural freesias in some breeds also display other related monoterpenoids; 2-penylethyl acetate (sweet, honey-like) and benzyl alcohol (fruity smelling) as well as limonene (fresh lemony, sweetly citrusy), ocimene (green and terpenic with vegetable nuances), and alpha-terpinolene (fresh and delicately lilac-like) in supplementation of the linalool. Perhaps one of the most intriguing facets of freesias is that they display ionone (violet) characteristics while living, but they lose those notes when cut!!

The amateur or natural perfumer may opt to recreate a freesia note as need be via using white verbena essential oil, which has plenty of the floral woody ingredient linalool. This is not however a note you often see cited in natural blends, probably because its main use is acting as a "modifier" rather than a dominant character-giving note. Freesia in mainstream perfumery is paired with other clean, crystalline floral "notes" of lab-synthesis, such as cyclamen and lily of the valley, or magnolia, or the shriller, rosier peony.

List of fragrances with a dominant freesia note include:

Amouage Reflection woman
Antonia's Flowers Antonia's Flowers
Burberry Body
Cacharel Noa
Calvin Klein Eternity
Caswell & Massey Freesia
Cerruti Cerruti 1881 pour femme
Chanel Allure Eau de Toilette
Clinique Happy
Dior Tendre Poison
Dior Forever & Ever
Diptyque Ofresia
Escada Moon Sparkle
Estee Lauder Pleasures
Fragonard Freesia
Giorgio Armani Aqua di Gio
Gucci Envy
Gucci EdP II
Guerlain L'Instant Magique
Issey Miyake L'Eau d'Issey
Jennifer Lopez Still
Lancome Miracle
Maitre Parfumeur & Gantier  Freezia d'Or
Paul Smith Paul Smith Women
Ralph Lauren Romance
Victor & Rolf Antidote

pics via,


  1. Thanks for the very informative article as usual. To me freesia is one of he worst floral notes, sharp, too clean and loud, right next to peony as examples of flowers that should be left to the gardens. Or the flower shops: intriguing, as you report, that freesia was chosen to represent the mishmash, slightly unbreathable air of flower shops.


  2. MariaA17:18

    How I love freesia, the flowers are trully amazing for their scent but also for their colors and shape. The perfumes you mention I find them all (except from a couple I haven't tried) to be very nice especially Aqua di Gio, I still wear it in summer it suits my skin great!! I absolutely love it!!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. M,

    you're welcome, glad it's enjoyable.

    You know, this is exactly why some notes get a bad reputation: freesia isn't replicated in the realistic glory of the flower most of the times and instead is paired with other ertzaz flowers that are blindingly "clean" and sharp, i.e. peony and cyclamen. Recipe for shrill death. ;-)

  5. Maria,

    the flowers are indeed great. I wish that the synth replications were closer to the real thing.
    I suspect AdG and other such light fragrances are popular for a reason in our climate; the best parts "bloom" in the heat and the sharpness is all but gone and only coolness remains. ;-)

  6. No commercial links please. :-)

  7. Maria Haile17:11

    I first fell in love with the scent of Freesia on a visit to my parents in Canada. My mom put fresh cut flowers in my bedroom! I didn't want to leave the room! The closest thing to it that I ever smelled was a sample of Freesia by Antonia's Flowers. However, when I went to order some, she stopped making the single note perfume and only had scents of various combination. Well, I took a chance and bought 2 but was disappointed! They were disgusting! I wish she had left well enough alone! Maria H.

  8. Anonymous19:37

    Only when I started reading this article did I suddenly realise that whenever I read 'freezia' a sudden chill comes over me. I actually have no (or little) olfactory impression of it - though I thought I did! Perhaps the clean, sharp note also has a feeling of coolness? Otherwise it may just be the name that makes me pull away every time I hear/read it.

  9. Anonymous03:37

    What about Chloe? It has a lot of freesia and older than Antonia's Flowers, I believe.

  10. MariaA08:54

    Yes you are so right!! Seems to be very difficult to replicate the real thing!!!

  11. Maria,

    very interesting what you say there! Perhaps it was a marketing decision, too many single notes might be confusion, who knows. I'm sorry to hear you were disappointed. It's sad to lose something one loves.

  12. Anon,

    LOL, it probably produces a subliminal effect in you. I can understand this, sometimes certain things produce an effect that is irrational despite ourselves.
    Poor freesia, so maligned, but then perfumers don't really make it more inviting.

  13. Anon,

    you're probably right, though the way I recall Chloe the original it was a tuberose typhoon (such a potent fragrance!). I must have lost the freesia in the tube fumes!

  14. MariaA,

    it happens with lots of other things, actually, as even the essences rendered from various flowers end up smelling different than the real deal. Nature is unsurpassable, in the end.

  15. Anonymous01:07

    wow! i believe that's the first list of perfumes i've seen where i don't own a single one! and yet i love the flower itself! how funny!

    nice article!


  16. J,

    wow indeed!

    Thanks for the nice words. :-) Appreciated.

    I guess the explanation is simpler than anticipated. Most of us love the flower per se, but not the perfume interpretation! If you know what I mean ;-)
    So it doesn't really surprise me you don't own any of those.
    The Cerruti one is recommended though; nice clean but not insipid modern floral/herbal. Try it! ;-)


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