Thursday, April 3, 2014

Springtime awakenings: Green Fragrances & Green Shades in Perfumery

Among fragrance families, only "green" scents are classified through a visual connotation, specifically a color coding. You could argue that color plays an important role in the perception of fragrance anyway: "noir" or black connotes a sense of nocturnal danger, of priceless and unusual objects or of mighty seduction; spicy orientals are routinely being encased in reddish or brown boxes to evoke the materials associated with their make-up and the exotic East artifacts and textiles they are inspired of; marine scents come in blue bottles to recall the "big blue" of the sea they try to reference etc. And you would be right.

via pinterest

But green is a category all its own because the smell so categorically corresponds to the color for once that there is just no other way to "view" them: snapped leaves, mown grass, young stems retaining the dew, young buds striving to grow, pine needles all fresh and tingling in the forest air ... there's something about green scents that makes even the most die-hard urbanite of us yearn for the call of nature, of open spaces and of the freedom of an existence lived in a timeless way, in unison with earth. Today when the Green Movement is rampant, they seem particularly "now."

Green scents can be said to be unisex, though many women consider them more masculine or casual. But shed a thought for supermodel "The Body" Elle McPherson, a legend in the late 1980s and early 1990s and still a force to be reckoned with: her signature scent has always, famously been Guerlain's masculine Vetiver. Think of Sycomore by Chanel too: the concept was to offer a classically masculine targeted scent (a vetiver) to women who were busy buying off Les Exclusifs range. Or consider that super-sexy Christina Hendricks (of Mad Men fame) is a fan of the smooth green of Premier Figuier by L'Artisan Parfumeur!  Vetiver is technically a woody scent, coming from an exotic grass, yet because green packaging was first used for the first "stand alone" Vetiver (that of Carven in 1957) and all the others copied the color scheme, the association of vetiver with "green" has stuck!


Green fragrances are not necessarily always "earth mother" types, "Om" chanters, dressed in hand-knitted woolies. They can be refreshing, upbeat, cheeky even! Etiquette Bleue by Parfums d'Orsay is a lively, citrusy scent which is underscored by greenery to render a playful and classic herbaceous ambience. O de Lancome is as fresh as tomorrow, its geometric packaging (in the words of Susan Irvine "reminiscent of 1960s wallpaper") denoting a modern sensibility; the basil, petitgrain, rosemary, witch hazel and vetiver notes give a decidedly green character to the hesperidic and floral notes that would speak of a simple cologne. Green fragrances can lean a bit more sophisticated too, borrowing facets from the fougere and chypre classification: Koto by Shiseido, Eau Parfumee au The Vert by Bvlgari, Diorella, Givenchy III, Safari by Ralph Lauren, Jacomo SilencesNiki de Saint Phalle and Eau Sauvage by Dior are all class acts in their own way and they all have perceptible "green" elements.
via pinterest

So beloved were these green scents once upon a time that the inclusion of a "herbal green" aroma in a functional product (namely the original "Herbal Essences" shampoo) has nostalgizers scouring Ebay for remaining bottles fetching stratospheric prices, even if only for opening the cap and getting a good sniff!

Green shades can technically veer into two main directions: fresh or resinous; leaves, floral notes with green elements such as lily of the valley/muguet and herbs are classified in the former (and accounting for green florals), with some citrus peel materials (bergamot notably) and grasses (such as galbanum) classified in the later, accounting for green chypre perfumes and green citrus fragrances.

Certain raw materials naturally tilt the scales into greenery indeed: galbanum, the driving force behind the classic green Vent Vert by Balmain (1945, its very name meaning "green breeze"), but also an indispensable addition to Chanel No.19, a green floral; pine needles (is there any other way to think of classic Italian Pino Silvestre but as intensely green?); cut grass, lemon leaves, petitgrain and eau de brouts (a by-product of the distillation of the Citrus aurantium tree), violet leaves (as opposed to violet flowers), mint leaves, spearmint, angelica, wormwood, lily of the valley (a green floral note indispensable to perfumers), even absinthe notes, all lend that touch of emerald that makes a composition at once majestically glow and refresh. Bring on the springtime greens!


  1. Anonymous00:30

    You are *really* tempting me into going backwards here: I used to wear O de Lancome many, many years ago but I might have to seek it out once more. (I generally don't do this!)

    It was so good though ... so fresh and uplifting. That's me on the horns of a dilemma now so I'll have to try some from a store tester:-)

    cheerio, Anna in Edinburgh

  2. I am a fan of Chloe Eau de Fleurs Capucine. (Is it wrong that I spritz it on before going to the gym?)

  3. Miss Heliotrope07:13

    I love green - in both scent & colour.

    Shall have to check out those I havent yet...thanks -

  4. I do really love green florals - they're probably the most significant portion of my collection.

    It's funny, though, vetiver and citrus scents never seem green to me at all.

    1. Generally I agree; vetiver has always seemed 'brown' to me, being roots, with that earthy, woody odor, however I have some ruh khus, vetiver essential oil from India that is distilled in copper pots. It IS green, both in color and scent; over the typical vetiver odor is the essence of leaves and grass.

  5. Anonymous14:51

    Another fan of green perfumes here! A lot of my favourites are green - Ninfeo Mio, Philosykos (more of a woody green), No 19 of course! Also Infusion d'Iris and Baiser Vole which has lovely green notes. Poeple tend to think of them as unsensual but I think the fact they recall nature makes them sensual in a different way

  6. I love vintage Vent Vert. I tried its reformulation and as it is always the case, it paled in comparison :(

  7. Anna,

    thanks for being tempted I guess!! I believe O de Lancome is pretty good still, last time I checked, and easy to wear in semi-warm weather and hot weather, so with prices low on testers, why not? :-)

  8. Melanie,

    that's another good one! No problem with a hint of something light at the gym. The massive amounts of sweat (stale sweat sometimes!) can really "cut" some light green perfume. (But I'd discourage from wearing heavies when working out)

  9. C,

    I think you might be pleasantly surprised! ;)

  10. Mals,

    vetiver is more of an association due to the packaging (so many vetiver scents are packaged in green boxes or have a green hued juice, which is rather odd as vetiver oil is a very dark viscous brown).
    Citrus peel scents have a green resinous touch to them, sometimes aided further by a helping of the snapped leaves of said citrus tree. That's all.

    Enjoy your green collection, it's such an uplifting and relaxing one at once.

  11. Rose,

    yes, good additions, NM has that resinous citrusy aspect to it while at the same time the green woodiness. I also like that green tinge of BV alongside the powdery lily.

    Great point about the sensuality of nature: it's a different kind of sensuality for sure, as the media has so much pummeled our heads that sensual=sexual.
    Excellent point!! Thank you :-)

  12. WFTG,

    it's true that Vent Vert has lost much of its "bite" in recent years. It's nicely green but not what it used to be, it was Brigitte Bardot free and has become a tamed Mila Cunis. :-(

  13. Anonymous18:06

    I love Irisia as a green fragrance-a green chypre, IMHO. i don't see it on their website anymore, and I suspect it is out of step with the times.

    Guerlain Vetiver is wonderful-sometimes i spray my sheets with it. Kind of a waste of good fragrance, but it makes me feel so relaxed.

    L'eau de L'Artisan is another green favorite of mine-green, with seaweed and iodine, and oakmoss in the base.

    Fidgi is a great green fragrance too, and has lots of good memories for me.

    And my Eau de Patou-not so much green as just very special to me-i bring it up at every opportunity, just to talk about it!

  14. Carole,

    ahhhhh, wonderful additions!

    Is Irisia discontinued? It would figure, though a shame, if so. You make want to reacquaint myself with L'Eau de l'Artisan. Wrapped up in my favs from the house I have neglected it, but it's truly very good, as you say. And I do love Fidji. Eau de Patou is in a class of its own, a very classy one ;-)

    As to spraying your sheets with Guerlain's Vetiver, why a waste? (I do comparable things myself so I know what you mean but have overcome the feeling personally). It helps you have a pleasant sleep and happy dreams. Life is short. Making it feel better is NEVER a waste IMHO!!

  15. Ingeborg23:53

    Loved this text and love green scents, even if at times I find some smell too much of pine needles (that reads cleaning to me) or too much of juniper (more suited for sports body products). After a few disappointing samples I am so happy to test Sous le toit de de Paris, so easy to wear and yet interesting. And it is really green.

  16. Ingebog,

    thanks for saying so, I appreciate it.

    Pine needles do have the unfortunate association with cleaning/polishing products for Americans I hear (lavender has that effect in Europe). Hadn't thought of juniper in relation to sports products, more like with gin but you have an excellent point!

    Maybe you can veer off to green in relation to fig leaf notes (Un Jardin en Mediterranee, also by Hermes, might please and intrigue) or to mossy stuff with vetiver like many green chypres. Or tomato leaf!! (Eau de Campagne by Sisley?)


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