Showing posts sorted by relevance for query sandalwood. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query sandalwood. Sort by date Show all posts

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Perfumery Material: Sandalwood & Synthetic Substitutes

"None but the Mali Mountains contain Sandalwood" is written in an ancient Buddhist scripture. We know this is not the case, but the essence produced by Santalum album (a member of the Santalaceae family) has captured the imagination of man for 4000 years. Sandalwood is the natural product par excellence: a scent so fine, so rich and yet with a fresh top note, so creamy sweet and so enduring that it has inspired generations of men and women to harvest its precious, sacred trunk in order to imbue products for personal and public use with its fine aroma. I vividly remember the sandalwood soaps I received as a gift when an impressionable teenager by a well travelled, older cousin: the creamy, woody, incense-y ambience was irresistible, to the point that a bar was tucked intact in my drawer of small tops to produce a spontaneous "aaah" of rediscovery each time it was pulled out.

Japanese temple incense is most often infused with the aroma of sandalwood in tandem with agarwood. Indian incense often is nothing but. From soap to shaving cream and from essence oil to fine fragrances, sandalwood is one of the most traditional and yet still popular "notes" in all of perfumery.

As I bathe my skin with real Mysore sandalwood soap, stockpiled a while ago as mentioned, I can very well see why: the suds retain a smell that is beautifully nuanced, clean yet rich, midway between masculine and feminine, with a beautiful lingering effect of polished creaminess on silky pyjamas and dressing gowns.

The production of sandalwood essence 

It is a time consuming process and depends on the maturity of the trees, the length of distillation time and the experience of the person distilling. Most time-honoured method of extraction of sandalwood oil has been hydro-distillation, lately phazed out by steam distillation and CO2 extraction (which is more realistic to the raw material of the wood, due to the reduction in heat processing)

The endangerement of natural Indian sandalwood
Especially in the famous Mysore region of Karnataca and of Tamil Nadu where they're protected by state law, even as early as the 1980s, the depletion of the trees due to over-harvesting has had several adverse effects:
1) sandalwood oil is one of the most-often adulterated essential oils; 
2) the cost of sandalwood oil is rising dramatically (about 25% per year); 
3) due to the value of sandalwood oil, the trees are being illegally cut, leading to the waste of this precious resource as trees that are too young are cut, or trees are cut but the roots are left to rot (the roots are the most valuable part of the tree from which to extract the oil). Additionally, this illegal poaching has lead to several murders of forestry officials and other crimes indicative of the black market; 
4) the resource is becoming scarce. The current production of sandalwood trees is not enough to meet the demand of consumers. The trees are difficult to propagate and must grow for at least 30 years to become suitable for harvesting. The forestry departments in India are regulating the amount of material that is cut and sold, but there are many demands for other use of the land – for example, cattle grazing, the need for wood to keep people employed, etc. [1]

This situation has required the gradual substitution of this precious ingredient in fine fragrance with synthetic varieties (gradually and to the rhythm of depletion of any given brand's inventory of raw materials), such as isobornyl cyclohexanol. Some of them are quite costly in themselves and beautiful to smell, as evidenced below, possessing some of the beloved "creamy", milky facets of natural sandalwood. From a technical standpoint the natural consistutents of sandalwood comprise terpenes, terpenols and terpenals, i.e.terpenoid alcohols.

  • Sandalwood-Smelling Synthetic Ingredients
Several sandalwood synthetics nowadays comprise part of a perfumer's palette for both their technical merits (they are capsule forms of the effect of an otherwise very dense and demanding essence that is amazingly complex in nature), as well as for their isolated facets that boost one aesthetic choice over others, according to said perfumer's mood. Sometimes they can even co-exist as in the case of Guerlain's Samsara, the beautiful balance of natural and synthetic in one.

Among those synthetic sandalwood notes, Polysantol, a former Firmenich trademark, is quite popular thanks to its intense diffusion and realistic replication. Otherwise known as santol pentenol due to its structure it enters many a fragrance composition imparting herbal and almost tropical nuances with an animalic touch.
Beta santalol or technically (-)-(1'S,2'R,4'R)-(Z)-beta-santalol (interestingly its positive entaniomer is odourless) is also a nature identical typical sandalwood note. It's the reverse case for the enantiomers of alpha Photosantol, the positive being strong and diffusive, the negative weak. Process producing sandalwood organoleptic substances from camphogenic aldehydes produce the prized Firsantol, another Firmenich trademark and a favourite with perfumer and writer Arcadi Boix Camps. Levosandol by Takasago introduces a sharper, more austere cedar note within the creamy sandalwood impression picture. Ebanol [(1S,2'S,3'R)-Ebanol], a Givaudan trademark, on the other hand is noted for its potency. Symrise proposes its Fleursandol which has a very strong, animalic-laced sandalwood note with floral elements surfacing. Other sandalwood substitutes present various unexpected facets, from the very clean with phenolic/guaiac notes on top and cashmeran notes at the finish like some enantiomers of HomoPolysantol to the waxy, leathery of other enantiomers of the same ingredient. The quest for sandalwood substitutes is under way as we speak with several patents from Japanese companies under way and is only going to accelarate in the coming years, despite the illegal poaching in Mysore of immature trees or the import of sandalwood from other regions of the Far East.

A recent addition is a synth blend smelling of sandalwood tagged "HipNote Sandalwood", composed by Tru Fragrance (formerly Romane Fragrances), claimed by the company producing it to be picked by perfumer Harry Fremont of Firmenich no less: “The use of synthetic substitutes within the fragrance world, like those found in "HipNote Sandalwood" and many of the season’s product launches, are essential in assisting in sustainability efforts, helping to ensure the fragrance development process does not destroy natural resources. By using these synthetic blends, we are able to eliminate any allergens that are found in nature and create consistency across different batches of the same fragrance product,” adds Amy Braden, director of product development for Tru Fragrances. The limited edition HipNote Sandalwood is available by request in limited quantities via “Hipnozes by Tru Fragrance” on Facebook, a dynamic, interactive online community which you can visit at

  • Other Sandalwood Varieties of Different Origin
But not all perfumers or all fragrances aim to merely replicate that classic Indian sandalwood scent: In Le Labo's case in Santal 33 for instance they're quite clear on using Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), which is a different variety than Mysore sandalwood (Santalum album): indeed the Australian variety is more pungent, sharper in its dryness, with less density, almost metallic in its fine smokiness, still compatible to scent of skin.

Another sandalwood tree variant sometimes used for its rich essence oil is Amyris balsamifera, or West Indian sandalwood or simply amyris: Though not a true sandalwood, it still bears the nuanced, distinctive smell and is useful in soap production (and increasingly fine fragrance, such as the latest Francis Kurkdjian Amyris duo of fragrances) where the Indian variety would rocket the cost to stratospheric heights.  

Finally the New Caledonian sandalwood variety is yet another species with a scent profile between that of the Australian and the Mysore varieties and it looks like it's going to be supremely popular in the near future.


01 Nomad by Odin New York
1725 Casanova by Histoires de Parfums
Alain Delon pour Homme
Aramis by Aramis
Basala by Shiseido
Bel Ami by Hermes
Black Jeans by Versace
Bleu by Paul & Joe
Bleu de Chanel
Bois de Santal by Keiko Mecheri
Bois de Turquie by Maître Parfumeur et Gantier
Bois des Iles by Chanel
Boucheron femme by Boucheron
Burberry for Men
By Man by D&G
Cannabis Santal by Fresh
Cefiro by Floris
Chaos by Donna Karan
Chinatown by Bond no.9
Classic 1920 by Bois 1920
Comme des Garcons by Comme des Garcons
Contradiction for Men by Calvin Klein
Dolce Vita by Dior
Eau de Monsieur by Annick Goutal
Eau de Sandalwood by Le Jardin Retrouve
Eau de Santal Extreme by Floris
Egoiste by Chanel
Fahrenheit by Dior
Ginger Essence by Origins
Hasu-no Hana by Grossmith
Idole de Lubin
Jazz by Yves Saint Laurent
Le Male by J.P.Gaultier
Le Roi Santal by Comptoir Sud Pacifique
Les Saisons: Automne by Van Cleef & Arpels
Macassar by Rochas
Magical Moon by Hanae Mori
Maharadjah by Patricia de Nicolai
Mahora by Guerlain
No.1 for women by Clive Christian
Original Santal by Creed
Pleasures Sandalwood Amber Splash by Estee Lauder  
Samsara by Guerlain  
Sandalwood by Elizabeth Arden
Sandalwood by Pacifica
Sandalo by Lorenzo Villoresi
Santal by L'Artisan Parfumeur
Santal by Roger & Gallet  
Santal 33 by Le Labo
Santal blanc by Serge Lutens
Santal de Mysore by Serge Lutens
Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens
Santal Imperial by Creed
Santal Noble by Maitre Parfumeur et Gantier
Santalum by Profumum
Tam Dao by Diptyque

Ref: Christian Chapuis, In the Quest for a Virtual Pseudo Receptor for Sandalwood-Like Odorants, Part I, Chemistry & Biodiversity, Volume 1, Issue 7, July 2004 [1] Eden botanicals

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule: fragrance review & draw

The majestic scent of sandalwood stands as the benevolent Hitopadeśa tales of the Far East, a fan of fantasy woven in didactic morals for princes, much like the precious real fans carved out of the prized wood for cooling off in the intense heat of the Indian peninsula; rich, milky-smelling, with a hint of incense and fresh greenery at times, still retaining their scented glamour as decades go by. The intimate, elegant aura of woody fragrances finds its apogee in sandalwood; perfumes plush and collapsingly soft but with the promise of intelligence. Santal Majuscule by Serge Lutens just comes to reinforce this notion as introduced on these pages a while ago, being the perfect sandalwood starter fragrance for those seeking such a thing, but also a welcome Lutensian offering to make me fall again headfirst into his Alice in Wonderland private cosmos I found myself tangled in ever since he issued the sumptuous La Myrrhe. Lutens however remains Lutens: the orient is ever present, but it is the occident which defines his torturing demons. His new Santal Majuscule is an assured step in his Camino de Perfección, modeled after St.Teresa of Ávila whose Latin motto seals the fate of the fragrance: is it the throes of passion or the throes of divine ecstasy that mark the lines of her face? Where does one end and the other begin? Her devotion of silence is symbolic of the enigmatic nature of the Lutensian opus itself.

 "Pride must be celebrated. Thus the boy, clad in armor and perched on his horse, along with a terrible princess in full mourning dress, pictured himself arriving at the Coronation Mass to the sound of thundering hooves, just at the moment of the transubstantiation, that very moment when the priest holds the host up to the cross, to the one agonizing on it."

"As you know, there are a wide variety of sandalwoods. Mysore is one that has been subjected for some time to a hidden trafficking. I had used it in the mid 90s, during the creation of Santal de MysoreSantal Blanc is another thing. Regarding Santal Majuscule, this is an Australian sandalwood, high quality, but with this release, I 'sensationalized' it so much that in the end, it is impossible to tell if it comes from India, Australia or elsewhere. What interests me is what I can do with it. Moreover, using sandalwood for itself alone would be a little 'Sandalwood of misery'...."               Serge Lutens quote from  interview bestowed to Elena Vosnaki

It's not hard to see why sandalwood ~despite having another two in the line already (Santal Blanc recently being moved into the Paris exclusives line to couple with the resident Santal de Mysore)~ was picked yet again as the foundation on which Lutens built his church, to paraphrase another religious reference. Sandalwood is the natural product par excellence, nature's agony and ecstasy: a scent so fine, so rich and yet with a fresh top note, so creamy sweet and so enduring, that it has inspired generations of men and women to harvest its precious, sacred trunk in order to imbue products for personal, religious and public use with its fine aroma. Although as explained in my Raw Material Sandalwood article the Mysore variety is rationed for fear of depletion (hence the wealth of synthetic sandalwood substitutes enumerated), the polished silkiness of the Indian variant could be mimicked creatively only by the choicest wizards of perfumery. And who more excellent than the mercurial figure of Serge Lutens to offer us a vista into the orientalia of a "nouveau sandalwood"?

The maestro revealed to me in an interview (replete with his childhood reminiscences of classroom ennui) that Santal Majuscule is technically based on the Australian sandalwood variety (which smells different), but I can attest the perfume ends up smelling like an radiant attar procured somewhere close to King Víkrama's lion-throne, creamy and luminous in its rose-distillate facets, sprinkled with promise of cocoa and soft spices (cinnamon), silky sheen with a hint of orange blossom honey and sweet incense in the background. After all, Lutens managed to inject a delicious effect of sandalwood in his savory gourmand fragrance Jeux de Peau, where the impression is again built on fantasy.
 For Santal Majuscule, perfumer Chris Sheldrake and Lutens weaved the familiar web of woody tonalities which they have composed a thesis and a meta-thesis on, ever since Feminite du Bois (the latter alongside Pierre Bourdon). But whereas their other woody compositions can veer dark and rather brooding (see the patchouli & cocoa fantasy of Borneo) and we know from Iris Silver Mist and Tubereuse Criminelle the master has a taste for the morose and the morbid, here the treatment is smiling; petal-soft, sweetish (but never much) and with an elegance and refined allure that defies preconceived notions. The rose is perceptible, but not "dated", The apricoty tinge gives just the right fruity, almost edible tenderness, an ally to the liqueur-like essence of Damask rose and the creaminess of the woods. But the fragrance is far from his Rahat Loukhoum gourmand quality you can give yourself cavities with, making it pliable enough for people who don't like double helpings of anything.

The composition of Santal Majuscule also defies ~especially upon drying down on the skin~ the familiar, been-there-done-that rose attar model of the Middle East: that traditional "A Thousand and One Nights" melange of rose and sandalwood, as recognizable as Aladdin's cave in the desert. The longer the fragrance stays on skin (and it stays on very long) the more it gains a skin-scent aura of musk and honey, animalic yet elegant, with an addictive character, unisex and inviting; like living, breathing, caressed human skin this close to the throes of (divine?) ecstasy.  As Serge says: "Obey what you smell, feel, love. Do not obey what you're told, and do not believe it too much!"[from same interview to the author]
Given all this, I just can't wait for Une Voix Noire, his next installment in the canon.

Compared to the other two sandalwood fragrances in the Serge Lutens line of perfumes, Santal Majuscule is less sweet than Santal Blanc, less daring and austere than Santal de Mysore. Contrasted with that other golden standard of sandalwood perfumes, Tam Dao by Diptyque, I find myself ensnared by the Lutens, mainly because where Tam Dao used to be true and rich, it now boasts a pronounced pencil-shavings cedarwood note which limits its prior rich versatility.

Santal Majuscule is available in Eau de Parfum "haute concentration" (i.e. the slightly pricer than normal black label line of high concentration) at Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris and online. Starting September 1st 2012 the new "export" fragrance will be sold worldwide.

A generous decant sprayer of the latest Lutens perfume is available for one lucky reader! Please let me know in the comments what you like or not about Lutens and sandalwood perfumes in general. Draw is open till Friday 27th midnight internationally. Draw is now closed, thanks everyone for participating.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Serge Lutens perfume reviews & news, Sandalwood in Perfumery, Woody Fragrances

pic of statue via

Monday, May 9, 2011

Le Labo Santal 33: fragrance review

One of the most common questions I get in the mail revolves around the nuances, replication and substitution of perfumery ingredients, accounted by the perceived authority that Perfume Shrine has won in the hearts of perfume aficionados regarding the research on perfumery raw materials (we've tackled most in detail). Sandalwood and its varieties had escaped us and this should be amended soon. In the meantime, we got the chance for a preview sampling of Le Labo's Santal 33, a fragrance onomastically loaded and inspired by "a man and his horse in front of the fire on a great plain under tall, blue evening skies [...] firelight in his face, leaning on the worn leather saddle, alone with the desert wind".

In short, the Marlboro Man, all tough bravado and that special kind of personal freedom only available in a place where no one would be nagging about worn clothes scattered on the floor, or missed orgasms via hitting the snore button too soon. Ah, cowboy country bliss; a man's man land! But there you are and history places its mark of irony once again on what we thought one way but used to be another.

Marlboro was originally introduced as a feminine cigarette, philtered and all, and tagged "Mild as May". It took the creative genius of Leo Burnett in the span of a few months in 1954 and the rugged tawny face of Darrell H. Winfield to transform one appearence to another. And boy, did it ever came through! It's a comparable case with sandalwood and its substitutes: We tend to imagine one thing when we reference sandalwood, we come up with another reality when faced with it in a fragrance. The endangerement of natural Indian sandalwood, especially in the Mysore region, has required the substitution of this precious ingredient in fine fragrance with synthetic varieties, some of which are quite costly in themselves and beautiful to smell, possessing some of the beloved "creamy", milky facets of natural sandalwood. But not all perfumers or all fragrances aim to merely replicate that scent: In Le Labo's case it would be a gross miscomprehension to assume that they were in the first place. They're quite clear on using Australian sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), which is a different variety than Mysore sandalwood (Santalum album): indeed the Australian variety is more pungent, sharper in its dryness, with less density, almost metallic in its fine smokiness, still compatible to scent of skin. These attributes are highlighted in the newest launch of Le Labo. Like its creator, perfumer Frank Voekl had divulged a while ago:
"I’d like to design something that highlights one’s natural smell, as opposed to a scent to cover it up. It would be a skin product that blends with your scent rather than scenting you. Like an outfit woven from fragrance" [1]
Lovers of the musky woody Gaiac 10 by Le Labo might find a similar outfit in the new Santal 33, although the latter is sharper, less round than the afore mentioned, with a woodier rather than muskier core structure.

Santal 33 develops in roughly two main stages, not wildly opposed: The opening is full of the roughened up dry woodiness, as much due to Australian sandalwood as to cedarwood and its synth conspirators, with that characteristic duet which makes its appearence in masculine perfumery to great aplomb, and cardamom making a welcome respite, although nowhere as prominent as in Cartier's Déclaration. The woods are fanned on copious amounts of ionones from the violet & iris "note" listed, a hint of fruity coconut in the background. Nota bene this stage is brought to greater advantage on skin than on the blotter (where the fragrance can be rather screechy), while the latter stage includes an amplifying of the ambery-woody tonalities due to the marked presence of Ambrox. Despite assurances to the contrary, I cannot find any "leathery" accord to speak of, apart from the naturally pungent facets of the Aussie sandalwood raw material itself. Perhaps my own leather receptor is set on rather high. But rest assured the fragrance is as butch and rugged as a real rancher riding on a leather saddle.
The fragrance was composed byGerman-born perfumer Frank Voekl (He created Le Labo Baie Rose 26 with its peppery pink peppercorns rose, Iris 39, the quiet Musk 25 and indeed the Santal 26 candle on which the idea for Santal 33 sprang from; but he also authored fragrances for such diverse clients as Chantecaille, Tommy Hilfiger, Guerlain, Cerruti, Dior, Colette, Kenneth Cole and Laura Mercier).[2]

Overall Santal 33 is more masculine than feminine, as befitting its reflected image of distorted marketing genius, or rather it is a unisex fragrance for those who shy away from gender in their fragrances. Girly girls should therefore not apply. Still, I consider myself a rather girly girl and I found things to like in Santal 33, especially the phenomenal tenacity and the humming but always perceptible projection in terms of fragrance volume.

Notes for Le Labo Santal 33:
Australian sandalwood, papyrus, cedarwood, cardamom, iris, violet, ambrox and leather accord.

Santal 33 is an Eau de Parfum which forms part of the permanent collection, available from Le Labo, Barneys. It is a Colette exclusive in Paris at the moment, retailing €110 for 50ml, €170 for 100ml and is on pre-order online (it will be shipped in a few days).

A footnote on the accompanying images:
The Marlboro Man is such an American icon that I couldn't but pick an American actor who embodies those values to accompany my review, yet I couldn't bring myself to use the actual faces of the Marlboro brand. Hence rangy Sam Elliott of the mustachioned magnificence. As one writer writes: "Not since Scottie Pippen's nose has a (visible) body part taken on such a life of its own. It strategically hides the mouth of this modern cowboy, not letting any potential foes realize that he's already whispering their last rites."
The second picture comes from and showcases perfectly the sheer irony. I thought you'd get a kick out of it!

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Le Labo news & reviews

[1] interview on Osmoz

Disclosure: I was sent a preview sample by Le Labo.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Serge Lutens Santal Majuscule: new fragrance

A new fragrance by Serge Lutens is always news on Perfume Shrine. In addition to the Paris exclusive Lutens Une Voix Noire which we announced a while ago on these pages (and the accompanying Le Vaporisateur Tout Noir, an all black portable atomiser for carrying your favorite Lutens fragrance in your handbag in total style, coming out in October 2012), the maestro is bring out another fragrance this year.

Set for launch in July and destined for the export line (black label high concentration oblong bottle), Lutens presents his third fragrance with Santal in the name, after Santal Blanc (recently upgraded to the exclusives line) and Santal de Mysore; this time it's Santal Majuscule! (Meaning "capital sandalwood", sandalwood in capitals, sandalwood to the max; or perhaps thus implying it's un parfum capiteux, which means heady, intoxicating in French).

We can also hypothesize whether it will be a classic interpretation of sandalwood (not very likely given the rationing of the Mysore variety) or an etude on the different species of Australian sandalwood with its interesting facets. Newer info right off the source suggests this is a study on the scent of Indian sandalwood (which means anything!), which I find imaginative; this is what they told me for all it's worth.

As correctly surmissed on Basenotes back then, at any rate this is the name of the new Lutensian opus (this is official) and we can get an appetite till July rolls.

EDIT TO ADD: The new Santal Majuscule revolves around three main notes: sandalwood of course, bittersweet cocoa absolute and Damask rose, fresh and slightly spicy. 
As Serge, cryptically as usual says: "Provoked by the fresh and peppery prickle of the Damask rose, it reflects the sweet bitterness of childhood memories via cocoa absolute. Medieval legends recounted in precious books ...creamy spicy dressing for a majestic Sandalwood. Its name? Sandalwood: The Sacred Wood / Capital: The Rare Illuminations."
And the motto as seen in the ad, in Latin no less? "Oboedi silentiis meis, non imperii" (Obey my silence and not my orders)

official ad of Serge Lutens new perfume Santal Majuscule

Additionally, if you haven't read it yet, there's a short interview (in English) with Lutens on Botanical Inspirations on Another Magazine, on his previous fragrance L'Eau Froide and his home on Morocco.

photo by Lutens, Despointes (Unknown Lady in a Hat), 1972.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hermes (Hermessence) Santal Massoia: fragrance review

“Virtuosity,” star perfumer Jean Claude Ellena says “is a form of seduction.” In the latest Hermessence, Santal Massoïa, virtuoso Jean-Claude Ellena is quoted as wanting to evoke "what is beneath the air" in an Indonesian forest, and to that end he interweaved an airy fig note amongst the woody ones: fresh rather than creamy, with his trademark space between the notes casting rays of welcome luminescence amidst the dense forestry. Santal Massoia is a luxuriant fresh woody for those of us who appreciate the understated luxury of opting for one piece of jewelry over two; one lump of brown sugar in our tea instead of heaps of caramel corn syrup; and an original art work by an unknown painter, who moonlights as a newspaper illustrator, rather than reproductions of Monet's celebrated oeuvres on our walls. As Mr. Ellena points out in his book "Perfume, the Alchemy of Scent", any perfume is only “a succession of olfactory moments” after all. And living from moment to moment is a small proof of happiness, isn't it?

Hermès Santal Massoïa is such a succession. It opens with a greenish impression of fig skin and leaves, a footnote taken from Hermès Un Jardin en Meditaranée, but at the same time tinged with the unmistakeable scents of sandalwood and coconut, milky notes that combine to create a soft-focus effect like Sarah Moon photography. His green-creamy accord of stemone and octolactone gamma is among his signatures. The coconut note is subtle, watery, not very sweet, more reminiscent of coconut milk or a milk pudding. The wood dries that soft way, not fatty or especially fruity, and do I smell a hint of woody vetiver? I believe so. It doesn't change much beneath those two phases, much as most of the fragrances in the Hermessences boutique line; these are impressionist scents, with no pretense of going for the dense composition of Velázquez's The Surrender of Breda.

Massoia bark of Cryptocaria massoia gives an alkyl lactone (lactones are milky-smelling substances) which would naturally provide the lactic element of natural sandalwood. Massoia lactone (possessing a coconut-like, green and creamy scent) interestingly can also be found in molasses, cured tobacco and the essential oil of osmanthus fragrans. The material has facets of dried fruit and dulce de leche, which would lend themselves to a Lutensian opus easily. It's an unusual material to be sure and one which is not especially used in perfumery. The latest IFRA restrictions in fact target it, which is why perfumers have to resort to fractioned versions that result in a pure material with no risks.

Sandalwood on the other hand is a perennial classic: There are many established sandalwood fragrances in the market, from the mink-stole old-world plush of Bois des Iles by Chanel with its sparkling overlay of aldehydes (especially delightful in vintage extrait de parfum) to the classic woody bonanza of Tam Dao (aerated and creamy at the same time), all the way through the subtlety of Etro's Etra or the gingerbread complexity and heft of Jungle L'Éléphante (Kenzo). Sandalwood is making a come-back (did it ever go away?), with the challenge of coming up with a reputable & sustainable source of the material (the Mysore region in India is protected since the species is on an endangered list) or a composition of a base that imitates it satisfactorily. Recently Le Labo Santal 33 proposed a butch rendition highlighting the Australian variety of sandalwood (which is different than the creamier Mysore sandalwood) with a passing hint of coconut, while Tom Ford offers his own delicious, smooth cumin-laced Santal Blush in his Privé line of upscale fragrances, while Wonderwood by Comme des Garcons is another one.
Hermès Santal Massoïa offers a new, admittedly luxe and subtle version of the prized wood which is mysterious and retains a refined freshness at all times; as with everything Jean Claude Ellena there is no hint of "notes lourdes" (fatty notes). This streamlined composition is not meant to be a diet sandalwood, but an elegant gouache that can remain contemporary, fresh and natural-feeling. Much like Iris Ukiyoe, it's a poetic formula. No one who follows the sensibilities of Jean Claude ~and I'm one of them~ expects a tooth-aching diabetes-coma-inducing dessert from him, nor a cheap "tropical" with that trademark sickening coconut note which obliterates everything within a 4 feet radius. In that regard, the man is consistent.
Hermès Santal Massoïa will therefore satisfy lovers of sophisticated, green woody fragrances, while it might seem too refined (or too sparse or possibly too green) for those who prefer their wood fragrances heftier, more calorific and direct-aiming. Personally I find Santal Massoïa luxuriant and quietly sexy, a radiant composition perceived by people around that lasts well on me (five hours and counting, someplace between Vétiver Tonka and Ambre Narguilé) and totally unisex. In fact it would be totally delicious on a man, a welcome break from "aromatic" woodies that make everyone smell the same.

According to Jean Claude himself (via « Il est des bois verticaux et linéaires comme le cèdre, et d’autres horizontaux, ronds, souples et veloutés tels que le bois de santal et le massoïa. De cet entendement j’ai composé ce parfum de bois lactés, énigmatiques, invitant et distant, aux odeurs âpres et étranges de résine et de fruits secs, et familières de confiture de lait et de fleurs. Ca ne ressemble à rien d’autre et pourtant on est prêt à l’accepter. J’aime cette ambigüité, ce paradoxe ».
Hermès Santal Massoia includes notes of sandalwood, massoia bark, and coconut. It is set to be available at Hermès boutiques around the world from November 11th 2011.

Related reading on Perfume Shrine: Hermes fragrance reviews & news, Sandalwood: the material, synthetic replications & fragrances highlighting it, the Hermessences fragrance reviews.

photo via

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tom Ford Santal Blush: fragrance review

Sandalwood comes with all the trappings of voluptuous legends told off the cargo ships coming from the Indian peninsula. The myth of the imperishable sandalwood (so sacred even termites abstain from it) informs many an old tale in the East, where sandalwood is the oriental wood scent par excellence.

Among the many scents inspired by this mystical material Tom Ford's Santal Blush is a gorgeous, clean, dry and creamy sandalwood fragrance with an immediate message of sensuousness and no boozy aftertaste. Both beautiful and wearable, it was composed by talented perfumer Yann Vasnier.

The bet wasn't an easy one: Composing a sandalwood fragrance evocative of the Indian splendors of the Mysore variety, revered for centuries, but without actually using the raw material due to its regional restrictions on use as an endangered species, was a Herculean feat. The result however more than compensates, entering into sandalwood fragrances' Hall of Fame, a genre always popular with perfume lovers. If you like Tam Dao, but prefer a luxe rather than bohemian presentation, this is a refined take on that scented cult memory.

Dependent on skin Ph acidity, the opening spices (I pick fenugreek and cumin especially) might be acrid or nicely piquant and maple-y on the skin. You probably need a small skin test before you get out that credit card.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Amouage Interlude (man & woman): new fragrances

Creative Director Christopher Chong presents us the next chapter in the Amouage legend...Interlude Woman and Interlude Man, two aromatic stanzas steeped in the tradition of the Omani firm but with modern elements thrown in too. 

Interlude Woman is a floral chypre fragrance projecting unity and serenity. Tart and bittersweet citrus notes of bergamot & grapefruit in the top notes allied to ginger and tagete create tension while rose, frankincense, jasmine, orange blossom, helichrysum, opoponax  and sandalwood appear in the complex heart. This gives an unconventional combination of nut, coffee, kiwi, honey and agarwood. The base comprises sumptuous vanilla, benzoin, amber, sandalwood, oakmoss, leather, tonka and musk to provide the necessary warmth. The perfumer for Interlude Woman is Karine Vinchon Spehner .

Top notes: Bergamot, Grapefruit, Ginger, Tagete
Heart: Frankincense, Rose Absolute, Orange Blossom, Helichrysum, Jasmine, Opoponax, Nut, Honey, Kiwi, Coffee
Base: Vanilla, Benzoin, Amber, Sandalwood, Agarwood, Oakmoss, Leather, Tonka Beans, Musk

Interlude Man is a spicy-woody fragrance opening on zesty bergamot, oregano and pimento berry oil, with conflucting intervals of notes of amber, frankincense, opoponax, cistus labdanum and myrrh. Eternal notes of leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli and sandalwood provide the anchoring base. The perfumer for Interlude Man is Pierre Negrin. 

Top notes: Bergamot, Oregano, Pimento Berry oil
Heart: Amber, Frankincense, cistus, opoponax
Base: Leather, agarwood smoke, patchouli, sandalwood. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dries van Noten par Frederic Malle: new fragrance & draw

Frédéric Malle has a few tricks up his elegant sleeve for catering to jaded perfume lovers still. In a new project involving collaborating with various designers, offering his editorial skills and his liaisons with the best perfumers in the business, I learned that Malle is going to launch a line of eponymous designer scents that go off the beaten path. The first fruit of this collaboration is a fragrance for Dries Van Noten, one of the pioneers of the Antwerp "School of Six". The collaboration isn't that out of the blue as one would think: Van noten distributes fragrances in the Éditions de Parfums Frédéric Malle in his boutiques for some time now; Dries Van Noten par Frédéric Malle is the natural outcome.

Although the formula was being developed for the past year and was originally set for an autumn 2012 launch the perfectionism of Malle prevailed and the launch is set for February 15th. But that's not all.

Not only is the collaboration with a fashion designer news, it's also an innovation on the formula front, as the new Malle perfume is touted to be inclusive of a new, natural Indian sandalwood from a sustainable source. Indian sandalwood, for those who didn't know, had essentially been eradicated from perfumery in the last 20 years or so, due to concerns and regulations on the sustainability of the Mysore sandalwood. The news therefore is a leap of hope for the industry in general and sure to create a real peak of interest in the heart of every perfume fan out there. The new fragrance is an oriental woody, smooth and polished like the designs of Van Noten.

The composition has been undertaken by rising perfumer Bruno Jovanovich of International Flavors and Fragrances (IFF) The fragrance notes for the upcoming Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle are citron, sandalwood, guaiac wood, saffron, Spanish jasmine, tonka beans, Cashmeran/blonde woods, vanilla and musk.

As you can see the presentation of the bottle is also different than the rest of the Malle portfolio, as this is a separate line.

A lab batch sample is trickling my way and after a percursory sniff I'd love to offer it to one of our readers before its official launch. Please enter a comment with any of your thoughts on the Malle line or on sandalwood, or anything perfume related and I will draw a winner on Thursday.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Tom Ford Violet Blonde, Jasmin Rouge and Santal Blush: new fragrances & initial previews

New Tom Fords fragrances are going to launch officially very soon: Jasmin Rouge, Violet Blonde, and Santal Blush. After a successful course and some discontinuations (such as the compelling Velvet Gardenia), Tom Ford continues to expand his line, this time in a curious mix of Anglo and Franco languages in their names; perhaps in the case of Violet Blonde the implied wordplay is it might look like "violent blonde" to the casual onlooker, thus instigating a second, closer look. Given the steamy ads for Neroli Portofino, a best-seller in the line with matching body products, the anticipation for the new images is palpable. But let's see how the new fragrances smell and take a look at their respective bottles.

Violet Blonde is a complex scent with a nuanced character, woody and vanilla/benzoin laced, without too much sweet violet notes, but rather the powdery, soft scent of iris. The bottle designof Violet Blonde is the same as Tom Ford White Patchouli in the transparent glass used for Tom Ford for Men bottles. The square Tom Ford gold name-plate is given a twist into a rectangular gold name-plate that stretches across the bottom front of the bottle (as seen in the photo of the ad below) and in each corner of the plate a small gold bolt is added.  
Violet Blonde is available in 30ml and 50ml of Eau de Parfum and is part of the regular Tom Fod line (alongside Black Orchid and White Patchouli), available at major department stores.

Notes for Tom Ford Violet Blonde:
Top: Violet Leaf Absolute, Italian Mandarin, Baie Rose
Middle: Tuscan Orris Absolute, Tuscan Orris Butter, Jasmin Sambac, Sampaquita
Bottom: Benzoin, Cedarwood, Vetiver Absolute, Musk, Soft Suede

Santal Blush and Jasmin Rouge on the other hand belong to the Private Blend line by Tom Ford with the hefty price-tags.
Tom Ford Santal Blush is a gorgeous, clean, dry sandalwood with an immediate message of sensuousness and no boozy aftertaste, beautiful and wearable, composed by talented perfumer Yann Vasnier. The bet wasn't an easy one: Composing a sandalwood fragrance evocative of the Indian splendors of the Mysore variety known from the past without actually using the raw material due to its regional restrictions on use. The result more than compensates, entering into sandalwood fragrances top list, always popular with perfume lovers. If you like Tam Dao, this is a refined take on that scented memory.
"Masala spices from India, Cinnamon Bark Oil Sri Lanka ORPUR, Cumin Seed Oil, Fenugrec Absolute and Carrot Seed Oil, are enriched by a floral blend of Jasmine Absolute, Rose Absolute and Ylang Madagascar. An infusion of richly textured Sandalwood captives, Australian Sandalwood, Benzoin, Agarbois and Skin Musks, transport the scent of Santal Blush to another level". It's highly recommended and I predict it will be supremely popular among the cognoscenti!

Tom Ford Jasmin Rouge is perhaps the weakest link, since it has a sweet character that can turn a bit plastic on some skins. Of all the jasmines I have recently tried it's the one that impressed me least because I had the highest expectations from. Still a new jasmin from a niche line always sends a kind of frisson down some spines!

Violet Blonde, Jasmin Rouge, and Santal Blush by Tom Ford are now available for testing at Saks New York and Bergdorf Goodman in NYC, though latter store mentions a September launch date for the US and a later date in October for the international market.The launch will coincide with the new make-up range and a new male grooming products launch.

images via basenotes and scents of arabia

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Samsara by Guerlain: fragrance review and history

~by guest writer AlbertCAN

Pronunciation: \səm-‘sär-ə\
Function: noun
Etymology: Sanskrit saṁsāra, literally, passing through
Date: 1886
: the indefinitely repeated cycles of birth, misery, and death caused by karma

—Merriam-Webster On-Line Dictionary Definition.

Years later I’m still surprised by the paradoxical creature known as the original Guerlain Samsara marketing campaign (1989). Although the fragrance itself has now recognized as one of the diffusive bombshells of the 80s (partly contributed by women who unabashedly applied reapplied ad nauseum back then), the concept was infused with a subtle ironic tone which few had recognized to this day—tongues firmly planted in cheek from day one. In fact, the overall concept can be interpreted in so many different ways that, combined with the subsequent urban legends, I have no choice but hail the whole thing as a marvel. After all, how can a seemingly innocent tale of oriental incarnation points(slyly) to the truth about the eventual corporate fall of venerable perfumery house, in ways that I suspect few still fully comprehend?

Few may dismiss my claims until one realizes that the development process of Guerlain Samsara was a grand departure from its predecessors, for it was the first project which utilized fragrance marketing. (Yes, I understand how vulgar the “m” word may be to some Perfume Shrine readers—but read on.) Before Guerlain Samsara the fragrance formulation was the exact opposite: juice first, concept second. In fact, the developmental processes of classics such as Jicky, Mitsouko, Shalimar were not fully indebted to their romantic muses, be it personal anecdote (the British Jacqueline who couldn’t marry Aimé Guerlain), heroine of a novel by Claude Farrère (homage to the heroine of "La Bataille"), or the Mughal architecture wonder in Lahore, Pakistan (a.k.a. “the abode of love” in Sanskrit). No, the business model in the pre-Samsara era was akin to home-style pasta cooking: if it was any good the fragrance would stick.

However such a R&D method was not a mean of effective business management in the post-Opium era, especially since other designer fragrances such as Givenchy Ysatis (1984), Chanel Coco (1984), and Calvin Klein Obsession (1985) were dominating various markets while Guerlain Nahéma (1979) and Guerlain Jardins de Bagatelle (1983) flopped, especially in the North American market[1]. With this in mind Guerlain did two unusual things when developing the next massive launch: requested submissions from the Big Boys and initiated a project with a fragrance brief. Eventually the name Samsara was officially chosen as the name of the fragrance.

By now most people probably have seen the following PR write up: "Jean-Paul Guerlain was so moved by a woman whose inner beauty evoked a serene sensuality, he created a perfume just for her - Samsara. A fragrance that embraces and intoxicates, it is a seductive oriental made for a woman who conveys harmony and spirituality. Jasmine combines with the warmth of sandalwood, while powdery and vanilla notes magnify this blend".
The statement above is almost a direct contradiction to the official definition of the Buddhist term! In fact, when Samsara was launched in Asia it received its share of puzzled looks: in my memory serves me well one of the spiritual writers from the Mandarin-speaking regions (林清玄) actually published articles about how the newest fragrance illustrated the lure of the material world and the emptiness it implies. (I read that article once back in 1990 so please do not quote me—still, I remember the author’s view on Samsara was less than stellar because of its supposed connection to the “harmonious reincarnation”.) To be fair Guerlain did not do itself any favour when it announced (upon its Asian launch at least) that the perfumer (supposedly Jean-Paul Guerlain), was “enlightened” after praying for hours in a remote temple…So why the whole fuss? If Guerlain wanted to appease its Asian market wouldn’t it be easier to call the scent Nirvana? (Remember, the grunge band didn’t its first album until 1988.) Well, the questions ultimately point to the basis of Buddhism: while explaining the paradigm of Buddhism is beyond the scope of this review I shall offer a part of my understanding since it ultimately points to an interesting truth.

One of the major issues that many religions need to address is the sufferings experienced by mankind: how can one elevate from the everyday spiritual sufferings? Legends have it that Buddhism originated when Prince Siddhārtha Gautama, upon meeting his subject for the first time, discovered earthly pains associated with aging, disease, and corpses. Since he father forbid the prince to study all spiritual matters the young man later set out to uncover the root
of the problem. (It was prophesized upon Gautama’s birth that the prince would become either a great king or a great spiritual leader: naturally the king forbid his son to study spirituality.) Of course, Siddhārtha Gautama later gained enlightenment and became Buddha.

What Gautama supposedly envisioned during his meditation right before the enlightenment is worth repeating. Under a Bodhi tree, Gautama witnessed the human cycles and the consequences as a result: a perpetual motion of greed, jealousy, hatred, all of which are caused by ignorance. In fact, finding to starting point of such suffering is futile, much akin to finding the starting point of a circle. The cycle of such troubling human experience, of course, is samsara.

At this point you might be wondering how the first photo featured in this post fit into the grand scheme of things—it is, in fact, a samsara wheel, complete with all the states associated with the phenomenon. Of course, samsara is not merely reincarnation or karma: from my understanding the pains of repeating oneself due to karmic bonds and/or debts that allows the samsara cycle to continue...(for more information on the stages within a samsara wheel, as well as the meaning behind various depictions within the thangka above, please refer to the excellent interactive guide here.) Well, does the projected image much more akin to nirvana? Not exactly—in fact I think nirvana will be a fairly poor choice upon examining the official definition by Merriam-Webster:

Pronunciation: \nir-‘vä-nə, (,)nər-\
Function: noun
Usage: often capitalized
Etymology: Sanskrit nirvāṇa, literally, act of extinguishing, from nis- out + vāti it blows — more at wind
Date: 1801

1: the final beatitude that transcends suffering, karma, and samsara and is sought especially in Buddhism through the extinction of desire and individual consciousness
2 a: a place or state of oblivion to care, pain, or external reality

The real essence of nirvana isn’t the equivalent of an oriental heaven, full of exotic pleasures. (Such earthly thoughts create more earthly delights until the karmic force runs out, remember?) Instead, nirvana is the cease and the decease of earthly desires, thereby wiping out samasara. All of which makes nirvana, by definition, an indescribable state—since nirvana is beyond the use of the five senses or even the duality-driven state of the human experience. Yet, Buddhism advocates that such surrender is merely a choice to go beyond the transient entertainment of the human experience and realize that the greater truth is the integration of everything in life—thus can only be experienced, not said in words since describing the state requires choosing one’s words, thereby separating some experiences from others [2]. In the end, I suppose Guerlain can’t pick a name that implies the cease and the decease of the consciousness!

Aside from the incoherence of between the projected image and the name the olfactory theme of Guerlain Samsara couldn’t have been more appropriate. Jasmine and sandalwood, aside from producing a sensual oriental alliance when expertly combined, actually capture the imagination of many Asian countries despite the cultural differences within the regions. While Helg has kindly explored the use of jasmine in perfumery in ways that I can never imagine in her excellent jasmine series, it’s worth noting that to many Asians the flower serves as spiritual shorthand of the various cultures within this region—there’s more to jasmine than, for instance, the vital ingredient in the classic jasmine tea. For instance, the iconic Mandarin folksong “Muo Li Hua” (茉莉花), taught in Chinese elementary schools as soon as the second grade, becomes the symbol of Asian aesthetics. (It is even used by Puccini as a theme in Turandot, most prominently in the middle of Perché tarda la luna? in Act I. More recently the famed Chinese director Zhang Yimou had used it liberally when directing various events related to the Beijing Olympics.) I’ve heard of many versions of this melody and to demonstrate the phenomenon I have a YouTube concert highlight featuring the Vienna Boys Choir (the pronunciation and intonation are quite spot on, by the way). I think all this indicates how the jasmine has become to represent oriental aesthetics.

Jean-Paul Guerlain’s source of inspiration might turn out to be different from a Buddhist temple after hours of meditation. Michael Edwards reported in Perfume Legends: French Feminine Fragrances that Jean-Paul was set out to seduce Decia de Powell, an English woman who shared his passion for equestrianism. Upon being asked what fragrance would she like to wear, Decia supposedly asked for a concoction of jasmine and sandalwood as far back as 1985—and the final result supposedly contained up to 30% of sandalwood extract, one of the precious perfumery ingredients due to the diminishing population of the sandalwood tree and its slow-growing nature. (Jean-Paul also added, among many other things, Sandalore in order to create a powerful sandalwood effect.)
But the perfumery industry can readily reveal contradictory stories and this is where Samsara’s story starts to take on a colourful spin: did Guerlain ultimately picked Jean-Paul’s submission for Samsara?

While nearly all official Guerlain PR material back up the master perfumer fully for years the perfumery industry members whisper among themselves that Guerlain Samsara might have been the first Guerlain fragrance created by an outsider. (Quel horreur! C'est absolument incroyable!) The story is even more bizarre when CNN reported nearly three years ago that nose Jacques Chabert was the nose behind Guerlain’s Samsara (and Chanel's Cristalle)…, further adding confusion and complexity to the urban myth…

Of course, Guerlain isn’t completely innocent in this regard: when Mathilde Laurent joined Cartier a few years ago the creator Shalimar Eau Légère (2003) strangely became Jean-Paul Guerlain after the master perfumer supposedly “optimized” the fragrance with citrus oils such as bergamot according to the Guerlain PR team. (How can the original be short of hesperidic top notes is still beyond me.) Champs- Élysées (1996) might have received a similar treatment since the olfactory strokes [3] are a bit different compared to the classic Jean-Paul Guerlain creations. (My guess would be Dominique Ropion after sampling Une Fleur de Cassie by Frédéric Malle, though the depth of the latter is unquestionably better honed.) Mostly interestingly, many Guerlain sales associates are still taught that L’Instant de Guerlain (2003) was created by a Guerlain family member despite the fact that Maurice Roucel was officially credited as the nose behind the project—the training documents supposedly indicated otherwise in some cases...
Sure, many people have attributed Guerlain’s recent perfumery downfall from grace to the corporate greed of LVMH—but I feel that there must have been something wrong in the first place that caused the family to sell the corporation to the conglomerate. After all, as opposed to the Givenchy takeover (hostile in nature by all accounts) LVMH bought the brand upon years of mismanagement. I don’t believe for a second that it was simply a case that someone spending too much on guaranteeing the supply of costly essences, not after knowing the factors behind the failure of Nahéma, for instance. Management problems existed before the LVMH takeover—it wasn’t simply a matter of under finance that plagued many French luxury firms.

Years ago I read a short paragraph that ended up saying more to this day than many sources could articulate. Cathy Newman, a reporter for the National Geographic and the author of "Perfume: The Art and Science of Scent", once interviewed a noted industry member. While the man didn’t go into the specifics he indicated that the Guerlain family was a group of “octogenarians” who constantly “squabbled” over money and other matters. The traditional Guerlain management structure used to dictate the separation to duties among siblings and/or cousins, which potentially created strains even during fragrance formulation (as Jean-Paul Guerlain said during some interviews) as the cost of material may exceed the limits imposed by the other departments…
Please don’t get me wrong: I’m not indicating that the Guerlain legacy less than it should have been—but to say that the family dynamic was a smooth sail and placed the LVMH acquisition squarely to the lure of the global corporation was not exactly correct either. Guerlain got sold not because the audience didn’t get the fragrance masterpieces—Guerlain got sold because the namesake family couldn’t identify the effective management strategies. (Interestingly enough, LVMH is still looking for ways to properly manage the Guerlain portfolio, as many perfumistas will sadly tell you. I suppose history does repeat itself.)

So the fragrance that was released 100 years after the launch of Jicky said so much more with its name than it should when the Sanskrit word originally described the sadness associated with karmic bonds: suppose Samsara also indicated all the emotions that the Guerlain (corporate entity) must have gone though over the centuries?

Fragrance-wise Samsara is arguably beyond just a simple combination of jasmine and sandalwood. Dr. Luca Turin once commented how the classic Guerlain compositions used quite a bit of Provençal herbs such as thyme and rosemary: Samsara subtly opens with lemon and tarragon, although the jasmine-sandalwood alliance can be strongly felt from the get go—making the bouquet largely powdery with a 80s lilt. (Peach is also mentioned as a top note in some sources, although to me it isn’t a prominent player—at least not in the famed Mitsouko context.) As the scent progresses ylang ylang further supports the jasmine idea with a spicy touch, concurred by carnation and rose. The overall aesthetic is round and smooth—as if invisible hands are arching the elements into concentric spirals, leaving an interesting sillage—sophisticated but strong-willed before the fragrance settles into the typical Guerlain balsamic-amber base with the aforementioned sandalwood as the main lead.

(I hate to say this…but I wonder more than once if Catherine Deneuve used Samsara during the filming of Indochine, for the complex love story can certainly be described as heavily karmic in nature![4] )

As for the famed packaging Michael Edwards reported that the pagoda-shaped bottle was in fact inspired by a Cambodian dancer statue displayed at Musée Guimet: the legs forms the outer shape of the bottle as the head forms the stopper…(no prize for guessing why red and gold are chosen as the colours).

Helg talked about how Guerlain’s model profiling in its ads and her theory certainly bears some interesting truth when considering the following ad:

So I urge everyone to re-examine this creation more than a blast from the past—the stories behind the creation itself are more than what one can bargain for!

Notes for Samsara by Guerlain: jasmine, ylang ylang, narcissus, sandalwood, iris, tonka bean, vanilla

Samsara is available wherever Guerlain perfumes are stocked. Two " discontinued "flankers that bear no olfactory relation are Un air de Samsara and Samsara Shine.

[1] Although the concept would be considered very foreign to the non-French speakers, Guerlain’s problem with the North American market might also have to do with its refusal to deliver extra sales incentives, a practice that was commonplace in North America. In short, I don’t believe it’s simply the diffusive juice that ultimately caused the failure of a juice: after all, as we all know a terrible juice can be quite profitable if managed properly (much to the horror of perfumistas).
[2] I’m not a Buddhist and an even lousier student in religious matters: my little write-up on Buddhist terms only serves as an illustration to the terms associated with this fragrance.
[3]Similar to writers and painters perfumers (especially the established ones) do have their olfactory styles, mostly due to their preferred ingredients and aesthetics. People who are highly trained can even conduct personality tests based on the olfactory signatures. According to Sophia Gorjsman the perfumers actually recognize each other’s olfactory signatures upon smelling a fragrance.
[4]The Tale of Genji, the world’s oldest novel by Murasaki Shikibu, certainly attribute the protagonist’s often futile (and nearly incestuous in some cases) relationships with various female leads as deeply karmic.

Pics via Wikimedia and Fragrances of the World.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Definition: Creamy, Milky, Lactonic, Butyric in Fragrances

What does "creamy" mean to you in relation to fragrance? Is it the rich, sundae vanilla feeling you get while licking a cone, the thick yet refined taste of a bavaroise or is it the beachy tropical scent you get from a lush floral perfume? And what about lactonic? You hear this term brandished a lot, especially in relation to vintage fragrances, but where does it lead you? What does lactonic mean and how do you differentiate between it and "milky"? And, oh gods, where does "butyric scent" come into all of this? Let's try to define some confusing perfume terms on Perfume Shrine once again.

Creamy fragrances are more in reality more straight-forward than you'd expect: The term "creaminess" usually denotes a rich feeling, infused with silky, sensuous and lightly or more heavily sweet notes which may derive from soft vanilla, sandalwood, or coconut and sometimes from rich, lush florals that naturally have nectarous qualities, such as jasmine or honeysuckle. Vanilla in itself is usually described as creamy: Indeed Vanilla tahitensis pods have a complex odour profile, with notes of raisin, musk, cherry, lactones and anisic aldehydes.
Often tropical florals combine with coconut and coconut milk to produce that suntan lotion feel that we describe as "creamy". These would also fall under the umbrella of "exotic", as many people's vision of exotica is tan skin, dark almond shaped eyes and the scents that are exuded in meridians where leis are worn around the neck at all occasions. Delta jasmolactone exhibiting a coconut facet (and a creamy tuberose basenote as well) makes it a natural match for this sort of thing.
Fragrances of this type include Juste un Rêve by Patricia de Nicolai, Datura Noir by Serge Lutens, Champaca Absolute by Tom Ford Private Line, Gai Mattiolo Exotic Paradise LEI (coconut, vanilla and exotic flowers) and Jil Sander Sun Delight (with frangipani and vanilla). Ylang & Vanille in the Guerlain Aqua Allegoria line is a small gem of creamy floralcy: the naturally piercingly sweet scent of ylang is given a meringue treatment via fluffy vanilla and the eau de toilette concentration never allows it to become cloying or suffocating. Even the dicontinued Sensi by Armani was great in this game of uniting flowers with soft, tactile woods.

Almond fragrances when air-spun and given the dessert, gourmand treatment with lots of heliotropin, instead of the more medicinal bitter almond iterations (as in Hypnotic Poison by Dior), can fall under the "creamy, soft" spectrum as well: Try Heliotrope by Etro or the very friendly Cinema by Yves Saint Laurent. A popular choice in the genre is Comptoir Sud Pacifique's Vanille Amande. Their silky veil is soft, enveloping, tactile. When coupled with a lot of vanilla and some musk they can become almost a visible cloud around you, such as in Ava Luxe Love's True Bluish Light. On the same page, Lea by Calypso St.Barth is a cult choice and Sweet Oriental Dream by Montale (with its shades of loukhoum) is among the best in the niche line. Tilt the axis into woody-creamy and you get Sensuous by Lauder; a literal name for once.
An elegant version of this genre, holding the sugar at an optimum medium, is Eau Claire de Merveilles by Hermes; a more mainstream one Omnia by Bulgari. Men are not forgotten in this field: Pi by Givenchy and Rochas Man in the phallically siggestive rocket-bottle are great examples of creamy fragrances for men.

Among modern molecules, Methyl Laitone (patented by Givaudan, from "lait", French for milk) is a powerful aroma-material with a diffusive, milky, coconut-like coumarinic odour character. Its use as a milk note in soap formulae is now a given, but it also aids in providing a creamy scent to perfumes too.

It's detabateable whether creamy and milky are the same, though: The difference isn't just a game for scholars. The condensed milk sweetness and "fattiness" of certain gourmand fragrances, such as the latest caramelic benjoin-rich Candy by Prada, can evoke visions of both clotted cream and milk desserts and rice-puddings, melding the two notions into one. Jo Malone utilizes the cozy, familiar note of condensed milk in black tea in her Tea Collection Sweet Milk. Kenzo Amour goes the way of a rice pudding: it's lighter than a pannacota, and has a steamy rice note in there too. Organza Indencence by Givenchy has a custard-like base, sprinkled with cinnamon, while Saffran Troublant by L'Artisan Parfumeur is like a milk dessert hued a vivid crocus-yellow by saffron served in bowls dressed in sturdy suede. Flora Bella by Lalique hides a milky facet under the soft, clean, fabric-softener violet core, while Etro's Etra is a milky floral as pretty and polite as this genre gets.
Sandalwood from the Mysore region in India in particular is famous for having a rich, satisfying milky scent. But smell a pure sandalwood-focused fragrance, such as Santal Blanc by Serge Lutens and see how a "milky scent" can be subtler, drier, less sugary than "creamy"; more opalescent than fatty glistening. Contrast now with a heavy bad-ass sandalwood perfume (boosted by powerful synthetic Polysantol), such as Samsara by Guerlain, and you are at a crossroads: that one's creamy rather than milky, va va voom sexy and enhanced by the richness of jasmine. Smell a virile, masculine sandalwood, ie. Santal 33 by Le Labo and you're back at square one; not a hint of cream in sight. No single ingredient can sattisfyingly give the full effect, obviously.

Take things too far on the dairy scales and you end up with "butyric". The word comes from the Greek for butter: βούτυρον/butyron. Usually butyric smells are due to either a single molecule (butyric acid) or, in the case of butyric esters, to part of a molecule. Butyric refers to a sharp cheesy scent, reminiscent of parmesan cheese (or even vomit and really stale, stinky socks; take your pick!), but some butyric esters, such as ethyl 2 methyl butyrate which has a fruity facet like pear or apples, are used in perfumery (and in the flavouring industry as well). And yet, and yet... irony has a place in perfumery; it's the buttery taste of tuberose-drama-queen Fracas by Piguet that makes it the unforgettable classic that it is! 

"Lactonic" however is specific perfumery jargon. It's not just a descriptor, hence I differentiate. (Though the feeling can read as "milky" or "creamy" too, as you can see further on!) Picture  lactonic as a subgroup of the greater milky/creamy continent, reached through specific vessels (called lactones).
Lactonic fragrances derive their name from Latin for milk (lac, hence lacto- etc.), and lactones are cyclic esters, a very specific chemical compound group, uniting an alcohol group and a carboxylic acid group in the same molecule. Therefore describing a fragrance as "lactonic" transcedes mere smell evocation and enters the spectre of analytic chemistry.

Why the confusing name, then?

Because they're produced via the dehydration of lactic acid, which occurs in...sour milk (and is found also in some dairy products such as yoghurt and kefir etc). You could begin to see the connection if you get the brilliantly synthetic Rush by Gucci, a lactonic modern chypre rich in a patchouli-vetiver-vanilla base and squint just so; a hint of sourness is its crowning glory. This is also the weird baby-vomit "note" in the iconoclastic Le Feu d'Issey (possibly accounting for the fragrance's commercial flop!).
Far from smelling sour, however, lactonic fragrances fall under 2 main schools, according to which of the most popular lactones they're using: milk lactone/cocolactone (i.e. 5,6-decenoic acid) or peach lactone.

A classic example of the latter is Caron's Fleurs de Rocaille or Mitsouko by Guerlain; Mitsouko's infamous peach-skin heart note in particular is due to undecalactone (referred colloquially as "aldehyde C14"). Peach lactone can sometimes veer into coconut territory smell-wise, thus giving rise to "creamy" descriptors! Indeed gamma-nonalactone is the popular coconut additive in suntan lotion.
On the other hand, demethylmarmelo lactone has a milky, butter cake scent, as does delta decalactone which has facets of coconut.
Milk lactone or cocolactone has a silky, balsamic almost burnt butter odour which pairs exceedingly well with white flowers (jasmine, gardenia), as it is reminiscent of naturally occuring jasmolactones, hence its use in white floral blends. Dis-moi Mirroir, in the more esoteric Mirroir line by Thierry Mugler, is a characteristic example showcasing a white flower top (orange blossom) and a white floral heart (lily) plus peachy lactones (smelling of apricot and peach) flying over a milk lactone base, producing a milky-fruity floral.
Massoia lactone is an individual case, as it produces a note that is poised between woody and coconut; it is what will be featured in the upcoming Santal Massoia by Hermès in the more upmarket Hermessence line.

But not all lactones are created equal: the whole group of octathionolactones has a fungi smell, reminiscent of the refrigerated mushrooms aroma of some white flowers, such as gardenia and tuberose.These flowers also exhibit creamy facets side by side, so the whole issue of describing a fragrance is far more complex than expected; as with most things in life, it all depends on context and proportions!

Related reading on PerfumeShrine:  
If you haven't caught on the Perfumery Definitions series till now, please visit:

This Month's Popular Posts on Perfume Shrine