Bambi Meets Bamboo

Forest Musk Deer by siwild

Forest Musk Deer, a photo by siwild on Flickr.

Green at first, a shy musk deer is hiding among tall grasses, digging its nose deep in the ground, as if in search for truffles. Earthy-green notes are the first to show through the blades of cut-grass muskiness: Egyptian geranium, with it’s baby-powder muskiness and looming above all is rooty-green angelica with its sharpness tempering its otherwise candy-sweet. Ambrette seed accentuates the wine-like qualities of geranium and brings out the musky qualities even more. Frankincense adds more depth and bright mystery, deepening its desert-like dusty and musty-urine aspects. The entire ensemble sings in an alchemical unison that hardly reveals its components to the untrained nose, and creates a rather striking illusion of castrated Tonquin musk – it’s disturbing sharp greenness and dusty fecal notes included, but not the cruelty involved in procuring it.

It’s hard to speak of this Musc Botanique as having top, heart or base notes. It behaves more like a single musk note or “accord” and each of the individual notes I’ll list below are just part of the whole, but not enough to describe it.

Notes: Angelica Roots, Egyptian geranium, Frankincense, Ambrette Seeds

Geranium, Green and Minty

, originally uploaded by Rod the Rabid Rodent.

, originally uploaded by Rod the Rabid Rodent.

More often than never, geranium essential oil is used for its crushed leaf effect and fresh herbaceous qualities. As mentioned earlier, the presence of menthone and isomenthone renders geranium leaf oil’s freshness and minty character. Linalol makes it a little similar to lavender, and geranium overall is often considered an herbaceous and leafy raw material. In addition to that, the citrusy elements (i.e.: limonene) make it especially favourable in masculine fragrances.

You’ll find geranium in many masculines for men, though rarely will it appear in the name of the scent (the days of Geranium Water are long gone!) or as a major theme. Geranium can be find in classi fougeres such as Azzaro and Canoe, but also in more modern ones such as Cool Water, and the new emerging classification of fougeres for women, beginning with Sarah Jessica Parker’s quirky Covet (where it’s paired with cocoa, citrus and sharp florals to produce a “fougere on estrogen”) and Deseo for women (it smells more like a fougere than the mossless “Chypre” its supposed to be).

In Fougeres, geranium is mostly used for bouqueting the composition, adding the roundness that florals such as rose and jasmine are usually utilized for in “feminine” scents; because while it does provide a similar effect, it is also far less expensive, as well as has that edge of being herbaceous and leafy, preventing it from being too flowery for a man to wear (even though the distinction of florals being feminine is relatively new even in the Western world).

In l’Herbe Rouge I’ve used geranium for exactly that purpose – it’s a fougere composition, yet I wanted to use something to create harmony among the mossy, earthy base (oakmoss, hay, patchouli, vetiver) and the crisp, sharp lavender and juniper top notes. It seems to work really well alongside the leafy lemongrass as well as the spicy clove heart notes.

In the Bois d’Hiver candle, we replaced the rose with rose geranium (for economic purposes – rose otto would make the candle prohibitively expensive, and even the less expensive rose absolute still comes at an outrageous price). In that context, it does well, even though I don’t know about using it in the perfume formulation. I think the florals make it really rich (Bois d’Hiver has rose otto, jasmine and orange blossom).

For the purpose of researching geranium, I’m now doing an experiment replacing rose geranium in a few of my more “masculine” scents instead of the rose, i.e.: Democracy and Rainforest in particular. I think these two might actually benefit from the crispness of geranium and could do without rose’s overwhelming complexity. In Democracy it seemed to have worked fine so far, with half the amount that I usually use for rose otto. Economic indeed.

These days I’m working on a geranium perfume. My main challenge is to give geranium the centre of the stage. I’ve started with a version that is leafy-green and a littly minty. Rather than pretend the herbaceous and leafy green aspects are not there and try to mask them, I’m attempting to bring them out by using several geranium kinds (Madagascan, Morrocan, Egyptian and Bourbon), paired with peppermint and rosemary to accentuate the minty-herbaceouse qualities, lemon and grapefruit to highlight the citrusy aspects, and vetiver and tobacco base notes to support the woody dry out of geranium oil.

Geranium, Red and Bold

Red Geranium, originally uploaded by kathryn45.

Red Geranium, originally uploaded by kathryn45.

There’s something aggressive about geranium. It immense odour intensity and is very tenacious and can easily overpower anything else in the perfume and just take over. When I was at the training week in Grasse, one of the exercises we were given was to guess the raw materials and the proportion of an accord. It was an accord of lavender and geranium oils, and smelled predominantly of geranium. My first guess was that it was a 60-40 ratio (60% geranium). The truth was the complete reverse: there was 30% geranium, and the remaining 70% were lavender. This would have been the case if rose absolute or even rose otto were used. The lavender would have been stronger. Which only goes to shows you how dominant can geranium be!

So what happens when geranium takes over? Whether if its sweet fruity, rosy, or minty notes come through - they becomes so intense, at times even cloying. Some become intensely musky. And this is partially why I shy away from using very much geranium in my compositions. Egyptian geranium is particularly strange and musky, which can be worked to your advantage.

At other times, the geranium can create very strong association of potpourri. In Diptyque’s L’Eau, this is the whole point. Whether or not potpourri smells are to your liking is of course entirely up to you. But the perfumer sure better be aware of the potpourri potential of a note and how to create the desired effect.

But geranium’s aggressiveness can serve you right in some perfumes. It works wonders in orientals, such as in Dioressence, or the bold ambery Anne Pliska, the legendary dense Old Spice; or Noir Epices, which is simultaneously traditional and modern with its mix of dusky dry spices and dark musk and illuminated with geranium, jasmine and sweet orange. The upfront, bold geranium note is also used to balance the over-the-top white florals in Fracas, headed by tuberose, and also in cutting edge leathers that have become classics – Knize Ten, Impreial Leather, and others. Geranium is also paired with musky vetiver and warm cinnamon and sweet orange in Aveda Personal Blends Key Element #3 Fire Nature (which I love, by the way).

In my Zodiac collection, there is geranium in two perfumes: Taurus, where it takes a second-violin role to support the rose heart, contrasted by patchouli; and Aries, where geranium’s firey-red boldness is set against a backdrop of tobacco and musk overlaid with hot spices – cinnamon, black pepper and cloves and the exotic, diffusive warmth of zantoxylum (Tomar seeds). I just recently revamped Aries and got rid of the lime top notes, I found that they got in the way of the musk and geranium creating a fresh-green distraction from what Aries is all about. Now it’s musky notes are more pronounced with a touch of cascarilla, ambrette, opoponax and bourbon vetiver.

Back to the top