Jasmine: Fragrant Stars

Flowers-15 - 091-jasminum grandiflorum, Spanish or Catalonian Jasmine

Have you ever smelled jasmine? If you haven't, how could I communicate to you the sublime beauty that is engulfed in these tiny fragrant stars? To describe a scent that was never experienced is even more difficult than describing a complex dance choreography over the phone to a blind person. But I will try my best: 

Jasmine is as dewy as dawn itself, as sultry as a humid summer night. It's the first rays of sun through your bedroom window, and as dark as an insomniac's never-ending night. It's the sunny honeybee and at the same time a grey, dusty moth. Jasmine's elusive blossoms correspond to Luna, the moon, yet are able to create a solar energy within a dark, brooding perfume. Jasmine is associated with the sign of Cancer that is in rule most of July, and which is the only zodiac sign that is is ruled by the moon. And also, this is partly the time of the year when it is harvested for perfumery. 

Jasmine is the morning sunlight through a petal, freshly opened buds of tea-like heaven, a shining evening star, and at the same time the decaying dying blossoms with brownish indole edges, the haunting fragrance of an overindulged romance that can ran itself to the ground. Jasmine is as high-pitched as Mozart's Queen of the Night yet has Joan Sutherland's warm timbre, so that even the most volatile notes do not sound shrieking. Jasmine blossoms open both at dawn and dusk, has been cultivated for hundreds of years, and continues to inspire poets and perfumers.

The complexity and emotional impact of jasmine are both beautifully portrayed in the following two poems, by Yusef Komunyakaa and Giovanni Pascoli: 


by Yusef Komunyakaa

I sit beside two women, kitty-corner
to the stage, as Elvin's sticks blur
the club into a blue fantasia.
I thought my body had forgotten the Deep
South, how I'd cross the street
if a woman like these two walked
towards me, as if a cat traversed
my path beneath the evening star.
Which one is wearing jasmine?
If my grandmothers saw me now
they'd say, Boy, the devil never sleeps.
My mind is lost among November
cotton flowers, a soft rain on my face
as Richard Davis plucks the fat notes
of chance on his upright
leaning into the future.
The blonde, the brunette--
which one is scented with jasmine?
I can hear Duke in the right hand
& Basic in the left
as the young piano player
nudges us into the past.
The trumpet's almost kissed
by enough pain. Give him a few more years,
a few more ghosts to embrace--Clifford's
shadow on the edge of the stage.
The sign says, No Talking.
Elvin's guardian angel lingers
at the top of the stairs,
counting each drop of sweat
paid in tribute. The blonde
has her eyes closed, & the brunette
is looking at me. Our bodies
sway to each riff, the jasmine
rising from a valley somewhere
in Egypt, a white moon
opening countless false mouths
of laughter. The midnight
gatherers are boys & girls
with the headlights of trucks
aimed at their backs, because
their small hands refuse to wound
the knowing scent hidden in each bloom.
- Poem via PoetHunter.com 

Night Blooming Jasmine

by Giovanni Pascoli

 And in the hour when blooms unfurl
thoughts of my loved ones come to me.
           The moths of evening whirl
           around the snowball tree.

Nothing now shouts or sings;
one house only whispers, then hushes.
           Nestlings sleep beneath wings,
           like eyes beneath their lashes.

From open calyces there flows
a ripe strawberry scent, in waves.
           A lamp in the house glows.
           Grasses are born on graves.

A late bee sighs, back from its tours
and no cell vacant any more.
           The hen and her cheeping stars
           cross their threshing floor.

All through the night the flowers flare,
scent flowing and catching the wind.
           The lamp now climbs the stair,
           shines from above, is dimmed...

It’s dawn: the petals, slightly worn,
close up again—each bud to brood,
           in its soft, secret urn,
           on some yet-nameless good.

- Poem via Poets.org

Botanical History

Jasmine is from the Oleaceae family and has originated either in either Persia, the Himalayan valley or India. Planting of jasmines (both official and sambac) were recorded as early as 3rd Century CE in China, and in the 9th Century, where it was indicated the plants came from Byzantium.But it was not until the 16th or 17th Century that it has found its way to Europe - with the Arab trade and Muslim concurs in the Middle Ages. It has been naturalized and cultivated in southern Europe as well as North Africa, and was adopted as an ornamental garden plant, where its scent can be enjoyed also in the evening after dark. Ecologically speaking, flowers like jasmine provide nectar and pollen for nocturnal insects such as moths. Their milky-white petals were also appreciated by other nocturnal creatures such as the Goth-inspirin ladies of Victorian times, who were eager to preserve their pale complexion and for them Moon Gardens were planted, with white night blooming flowers, among which was jasmine. 

Traditional and Modern Extraction Methods

The Indians employed a "Sesame enfleurage"of sorts to obtain the fine perfume of jasmine. This was achieved by scattering jasmine blossoms among sesame seeds, in several batches. Once the seeds have absorbed the jasmine's fragrance, they would be pressed to produce a fragrant oil. Hot oil infusion of jasmine flowers - either J. grandiflorum or J. sambac - which then may or may not be blended into a sandalwood oil to produce the prized Attars - traditional Indian perfumes. The one from sambac is called Attar Motia; and the grandiflorum produces an Attar Chameli or Chambeli. 
Image from page 419 of "Chambers's encyclopedia; a dictionary of universal knowledge for the people" (1871)
Enfleurage, one of the earlier modern methods (only about 250 years old) to obtain the scent of flowers that do not yield themselves to steam distillation such as jasmine, was developed in Grasse, France. With this extraction method, freshly picked flowers are arranged on trays onto which semi-solid fat is spread (usually of animal origin, with a mixture of tallow and lard achieving optimal results). This fat has to be as odourless and as insoluble in alcohol as possible. Flowers are left on these trays for extended periods of time to lend their fragrance to the fat; then, they are replaced with a new batch of flowers. It typically takes 36 batches of flowers for the desired result to be achieved before the pommade is ready for extraction. It is then washed by alcohol to produce an extrait, from which an absolute from pommade is the final result (used very much like other absolutes).
Most jasmines nowadays are produced by solvent extraction (using either hexane or previously, petroleum ether). That produces a concrete, which is treated with alcohol to separate the fragrant and precious absolute. Some of the jasmine odour stays behind within floral wax (a by-product of the solvent extraction), which is an interesting material to use in body products (body butters, soaps, etc.) and candles. I've seen references in literature to a "jasmine essential oil" that is produced from steam distillation of the absolute [4], but have never encountered it in real life, and have no idea what value such a product will hold - as many of the volatile materials in jasmine will be ruined in such high temperatures, making it a wasteful and costly raw material. I also can't see the value of this from a therapeutic standpoint - as the essence would have been already treated with synthetic solvents in the earlier stages of extraction. Traditional aromatherapists wouldn't be using either method because of their belief that trace amounts of the solvent are present in the finished product (which is highly unlikely).

191/365 - short-lived sweetness

Another interesting jasmine product is absolute from châssis: The exhausted flowers of enfleurage are called “châssis” (also the name of the trays in which the flowers and fat are arranged). These are further processed in hydrocarbon solvent to produce concrete from châssis, after they’ve been recovered from the solvent. Jasmine châssis is the most famous example of such a product that can still be obtained today. It provides an unusual scent, that is indole-free, and more reminiscent of orange blossom in its dark, fruity earthiness.

CO2 extraction of jasmine is also available, but only from the concrete. So again, we meet with a  similar problem - it really poses no real value as far as the trace amount concerns (or any other issues with having synthetic solvents involved in the process of extraction). I've also found the finished products both inferior to the absolute with alcohol; and also just as expensive as the jasmine absolutes on the market - if not more. It is likely to include some of the floral waxes though, so that will give a more complete representation of the flower. However, floral waxes don't dissolve in alcohol so they will be filtered out in the process of perfume-making anyway, and will only hold value in oil-based products or cosmetic formulations such as lotions, creams and butters.

Alternatives to solvent extractions are currently being tested on small-scale, for example: vegan enfleurage, and using benign solvents to produce truly organic products from start to finish. I have sampled some of these products, but have found their quality to be inconsistent so far and the price far from competitive. Considering the high cost of jasmine absolute, this makes it very difficult to consider for commercial production, even on a small scale in an artisan fragrance house. These products are mostly valuable for personal use and in aromatherapy or other holistic, natural healing models.


Arabic, Persian, Hebrew: Yasmin
Chinese: Yeh-hsi-ming
Urdu: Motia (usually found in the form of Attar Motia - Jasmine sambac distilled into sandalwood oil)
Italian: Gelsomino
French: Jasmin (silent "n")
In English, it is also referred to as Jasmine, Jasmin, Jessamine, Poet's Jasmine and Common Jasmine.

In India, jasmine is referred to as "Queen of the Night", because its perfume intensifies after dark. Also, Motia is the name for the essence of J. sambac, and that from J. grandiflorum is called Chembali or Chemali.

Faux Jasmines

Other so-called "jasmines" that should not be confused with the real thing:
1. Confederate Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides), AKA Star Jasmine.
2. Poor Man's Jasmine (Ylang Ylang) neither looks nor smells remotely similar to jasmine, and deserves much more credit and admiration than just being a substitute for something it is not. If your nose has hard time discerning between the two - note that jasmine has significant amount of
3. Madagascar Jasmine (Stephanotis floribunda) is a tropical plant that despite its white flowers and heavenly scent, is not related to jasmine in any shape or form; but rather belongs  to the Asclepiadaceae family.
4. Jasmine nightshade (Solanum jasminoides) is a plant I'm unfamiliar with, but judging by its name, is also fragrant and reminiscent of jasmine. 
There are other species with the same "surname", i.e. Gardenia jasminoides, which is also called "Cape Jasmine". 
5. Gelsemium is also known as Carolina Jasmine 
6. Jasmine rice is a type of long-grain, flavourful rice from Thailand, that owes its pandal-leaf-like aroma to 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, the same molecule that gives basmati rice its distinctive fragrant quality. It has a more subtle aroma than basmati rice though.
7.  Brazillian Jasmine 
8. New Zealand Jasmine (Parsonsia capsularis)
9.  Red Jasmine is really a red frangipani (Plumeria rubra)
10. "Night Blooming Jasmine" really is Nyctanthes arbor-tristis and "Night-Flowering Jasmine" is the sweetly fragrance Cestrum nocturnum, which is also mis-named "Honeysuckle", at least in Hebrew (Ya'ara).

Cultural Significance of Jasmine 

Jasmine is held in high regard the world over, and particularly in Asia and the Middle East. Kama, the Indian god of love, pierces people's heart with arrows that are topped with jasmine flowers. Sufi poets  mention jasmine in their poems of longing for the divine and to express sensuality and love, for example: The Jasmine of the Fedeli d'Amore by Ruzbehan Baqli (a Persian sufi poet that lived from 1128–1209). [2]

Jasmine sambac is the national flower of the Philippines and Indonesia; Jasmine officinale is the national flower of Pakistan, and the symbol of Damascus, Syria, which is also called "The City of Jasmine". Jasmine is a symbol of motherhood in Thailand, and is used as leis or necklaces during weddings in India and several other Southeast Asian cultures. Jasmine buds are stored on moist clothes in flower markets in India and are sold while still closed - only to be opened later at night when already adorning a woman's hair both visually and fragrantly. Jasmine flowers were used in China to decorate boat houses and in hair ornaments and bouquets for the (lunar) New Year's Day. [2]

Traditional and Medicinal Uses of Jasmine

In aromatherapy, jasmine is considered both a sedative and a stimulant, depending on how it is used and for whom. It is used to relieve headaches, and is considered to be both intoxicating, uplifting, warming and a tonic (therefore helpful in nervous exhaustion and fatigue). Western traditions associate it with the moon and the womb. It is used to assist women in childbirth and other issues with the womb (as it is considered to bring warmth to that organ), as well as for coughs, breathing challenges, cold and catarrh.

In the emotional realm, jasmine's effect on the brain  is fascinating: it releases encephalon - a neurotransmitter which has a mild analgesic effect. Hence, the smell of jasmine alone can bring a sense of happiness and euphoria, and reduce inhibitions and act as an aphrodisiac. [2] 
The Muslim doctor Al-Khindi entails in his book "Medical Formulary" a "Drug to excite intercourse: Throw in a good oil of jasmine and asafoetida and leave it for some days. Then the male organ is oiled with that oil of jasmine at the time of intercourse. The woman is excited by its contact and she experiences a strong lust". [2]

The Chinese used the J. grandiflorum flowers to treat hepatitis, liver cirrhosis and dysentery. J. sambac was used to treat conjunctivitis, dysentery, skin ulcers and tumours. Jasmine's root was used against headaches, insomnia, and to reduce pain from rheumatism or dislocated joints [4].

Beauty and Cosmetics

Jasmine's beneficial effects on the skin makes it a popular additive to skincare products, particularly facial creams where it can be enjoyed in small proportions - despite its costs. It is helpful for both dry, greasy and sensitive/irritated skin. Aside from its hefty price - the only downside for its use in creams is that due the indole causes them to get a brown discolouration. This can be avoided if using jasmine from châssis.

Varieties of Jasmine

There are about 200 varieties of jasmine. The following summary focuses on those which are most fragrant and are in use in the fragrance and/or flavour industry. 
Jasmine Stars

Jasminum grandiflorum - a variety that is very similar to the J. officinale. Originates from East India, and the most commonly grown for perfumery uses. Unusually, their scent remains even after the flowers have dried - making them a good choice for tisanes and tea blends, as well as potpourri. Other names for it are Royal Jasmine, Catalonian Jasmine, Spanish Jasmine and Chambeli or Chameli (the Indian names for their attar, produced by hot oil infusion).

Jasminum officinale - with golden and silver-edged leaves, and the underneath of the flowers has a pink tint to it. It is used as the base for grafting J. grandiflorum in the South of France.

Jasminmum sambac (AKA Arabian Jasmine) - native to Arabia, and grows wild in India too. Some are single flowered, and some are double-flowered. Some varieties of J. Sambac also have multi-layered petals, similar to gardenia. Sambac jasmine is also called Sampaquita in the Philipines, Pikake in Hawaii, Tea Jasmine and Maid of Orleans.

Jasminum auriculatum, AKA Jasminum trifoliatum (AKA Tuscan Jasmine) - a variety of the Sambac jasmine that has three flowers.

Yellow varieties:
Jasminum nudiflorum (Winter jasmine) and Jasminum revolutum are fragrant yellow-flowered jasmines that original in China.

Jasminum odoratissimum is a Madeira (Portugal) variety but due to its quality of retaining its fragrance after drying, it is also grown in Formosa (Taiwan) where it is used to perfume tea. There have been successful attempts at extracting J. odoratissimum with solvent extraction, albeit with a low yield. The oil was analyzed and revealed to contain zero jasmone (the characteristic jasmine aroma), and the following constituents (compare to J. grandiflorum breakdown above):
6% Linalool
6% Linalyl acetate
1.6% Benzyl acetate
10% Indole and Methyl anthranilate
57% Diterpene or sesquiterpene alcohol

Quelques étoiles de lumière dans notre ciel plombé :)

History and Significance of Grasse Jasmine

In 2009 I've visited the rose and jasmine fields at Mul, in Le Petit Champ de Dieu valley near Grasse. This are one of the very last few growers that still grow jasmine in the region. They have 3 hectares of Jasminum grandiflorum which are the home to about 60,000 jasmine shrubs. These fields are owned by the company of Chanel and are used exclusively for No. 5 parfum extrait. These fields were originally planted by monks who were faced by a common problems: shortage of pickers. This is especially true for the jasmine, since the pickers are paid based on how much they pick - where as in rose harvest, they are paid by the hour. The other problem is finding the market for the finished product. In the olden days, most of the homes in Grasse had little jasmine fields next to them, and they only had to pick the flowers, which they then brought to a cooperative extraction plant in the city for extracting the concrete and absolute (and before that, for enfleurage process). The cooperative took care of the marketing and sales of the finished products. Now most of the jasmine fields are gone because of land development (and the issues mentioned above - which most like has caused the former jasmine growers to sell their land).

Jasmine Harvest

The Jasmine harvest happens in the heat of the summer between August and September between 6-8 weeks, and takes place between 6am-2pm, with two weighings during the day to ensure quality. The jasmine that grows in the microclimate of Grasse produces a very fine aroma - it is far lower in indole, which is higher in Indian Jasmine.

Jasmine Yield

As expected, the yield of jasmine oil varies depending on the the method used (i.e.: enfleurage or solvent extraction). You may be surprised to find out that the yield from enfleurage is much higher than from solvent extraction: 700 kg of flowers are required to produce 1 kg of absolute via solvent extraction; while only 250 kg were needed to make the same amount by enfleurage! 
Yet, in another strange turn of events - it is enfleurage that fell out of favour, while solvent extraction has taken over the majority of production of jasmine extracts. 

How could this be so? The answer lays not only in quantity, but also in quality. The economic reasons of labour-intensive enfleurage are an obvious reason to switch to solvent-extraction. In addition, the quality of the absolute from enfleurage that is produced form flowers that have been macerating in animal fats for 24-48 hours or so is significantly quite different from the absolute. While the yield of enfleurage vs. solvent extraction stands at a ratio of 5:2 - we should not overlook the fact that the dying flowers change their aroma within that wide of a timeframe, and create a finished product with different characteristics and spectrum of odours. 

What Does Jasmine Smell Like? 

Jasmine is an exotic, narcotic and heady white floral note with luscious, fruity, tea-like characteristics. Generally speaking, "White Florals" are very complex, have many aspects because of the may molecules in their chemical makeup (over 100 in jasmine).
Jasmine is particularly interesting because it is simultaneously intoxicating and fresh, heavy when smelled on its own yet shines light on a composition. This is true for  jasmines, although it goes without saying that different jasmine varieties have distcintive odor characteristics (see more below). Likewise, different jasmine extractions highlight different qualities of the flower:

Jasmine grandiflorum absolute: Rich, opulent, special floral animalic notes (such as indole, skatole and paracresol). Floral, animalic, a little orange-flower like. It has a lovely, full-bodied fruity aspect that smoothes it out, giving it a creamy, delicious texture. The fruity note is somewhat reminiscent of white peach, but creamy rather than juicy. I have absolute from India, which is more earthy and indolic; and an absolute from Egypt which is lighter and smells like it has less indole and more hedione. This is how I would imagine the Grasse jasmine to be (although I have yet to encounter the absolute from this region).

Jasmine grandiflorum floral wax: 
Less indolic and of course less strong and complex than the absolute or concrete; but nevertheless holds a true jasmine scent that is unmistakable. My only complaint about this material is that its fragrance fades quite rapidly - so use it up within a year of purchase to prevent disappointments.

Jasmine sambac absolute: Lighter and more fruity than the grandiflorum. Tea-like (because this is the variety used for scenting the famous Chinese green tea). Very close in odour to gardenia. To me it also smells more similar to orange blossom (the methyl anthranilate really comes through). It is not nearly as popular in the West as it is in India, which I think is a shame. I love working with this note to create light, modern and exotic compositions. 

Jasmine grandiflorum concrete:  An even richer form of jasmine, as it encompasses both the floral waxes and the absolute. It is rich, complex, sweet and tenacious with a creamy, smooth backdrop.
Less indolic and of course less strong and complex than the absolute or concrete; but nevertheless holds a true jasmine scent that is unmistakable. My only complaint about this material is that its fragrance fades quite rapidly - so use it up within a year of purchase to prevent disappointments.

Jasmine auriculatum absolute: The greenest of jasmine essences I've ever encountered. I am not at all fond of it, as I feel it is excessively grassy. There might be a problem with the particular specimen I have in my possession, but I can't comment as I haven't smelled others. I have used successfully in moderation to uplift green-floral compositions or to add to masculine fragrances, i.e. Gaucho.

Chemical makeup of jasmine: 

Jasmine contains around 100 constituents, not of all have been identified, and many are present only in minute amount. A general idea of what jasmine absolute (from j. grandiflorum) roughly looks like this:
65% Benzyl acetate
15.5% Linalool
7.5% Linalyl acetate
6% Benzyl alcohol
2.5% Indole (dirty, fecal, animalic, also present in civet – and feces)
3% Cis-Jasmone (the heart of a jasmine, unique to jasmine alone). Please note that there is also another isomeric form of jasmone - trans-jasmone, which is synthetic and usually will be present along synthetic cis-jasmone.
0.5% Methyl anthranilate (a Concord-grape-smelling component that gives jasmine its orange flower characteristic – also present in orange flower absolute, tuberose, ylang ylang and neroli)
Other components are present at trace amounts, of which the following were identified:
Paracresol (also an animalic component, almost leathery-smelling, present in narcissus)
Geraniol (hint of rosy/citrus)
Skatole (gives it a hint of earthy, dung-like smell)
Phenyl acetic acid
Methyl jasmonate
Methyl dihydrojasmonate (Hedione) - which smells floral yet light spacious, and is likely the main ingredient that gives jasmine its unique ability to make any composition feel lighter and more radiant.
Cinnamyl aldehyde (which lends jasmine its warmth and hint of spiciness)

Jasmine Compounding and Reconstitution

Jasmine can be reconstituted from synthetic materials, but the imitation leaves much to be desired.
Generally speaking, cheaper raw materials are used to substitute for the authentic molecules that naturally occur in the absolute or enfleurage.

Benzyl acetate and and amyl cinnamic aldehyde (the latter at no more than 10% of the composition) provide a convincing imitation [4], and to that other elements which may sound surprising may be added to create a more realistic, natural and interesting jasmine base: maté absolute or tea absolute to bring forth the tea-like elements of jasmine; honey absolute to give it more rounded sweetness, tobacco-like raw materials such as chamomile or other "tobacco-leaf-like notes from ester of nicotinic acid (methyl or propyl)" [1] to give it a more believable character that is less flat or harsh. And of course - undecalactone (the "peach aldehyde") can be added to accentuate the fruity/juicy nuances, as well as ethyl methyl phenyl glycidate. Paracresols further enhance the animalic component of a jasmine base (reminiscent of narcissus); while civet, indole or skatole to add the animalic effect; and other floral notes such as ylang ylang, orange blossom absolute, tuberose absolute to round off and complete the methyl anrhanilate theme. One should use caution when using high levels of indole and methyl anthranilate - as they tend to develop a sour aroma over time that is quite unpleasant.

I have a couple of jasmine bases in my possession, both quite well-done - at least enough to fool me in my early days as a perfumer. One is a either a "nature identical" or a fragrance oil that was sold in health food stores in Israel. It's hard to say based on the labeling, and it is quite convincing so I used it before I knew any better. It has a bit of the tea-like quality, as well as a very pleasant fruity aspects of jasmine. It's not too indolic, but just enough to make it believable. I used it primarily to scent the room back in the day, and then in my early attempts at making high-class, resinous loose incense. It's when you burn it that it really gives away the fact that there is something synthetic in there.

The other is a vintage jasmine base that probably originated in one of the reputable European fragrance houses. It came my way as it was used to be sold at an antique jewellery shop, where the naïve owners believed these were vintage extractions or essential oils of labour-intensive flowers that were no longer in production. They had some exceptionally good bases there (even if labeled as essential oils) that they smelled quite believable for the most part, including narcissus, violet flowers, carnation, sweet pea, heliotrope and more. Of course I learned after a while what these are - and stopped using them in my perfumes altogether (I only used a handful of them anyway - ones I could not find anywhere else but thought they were possible to produce naturally, like the narcissus, orange blossom absolute, violet and carnation). Smelling them now is quite fascinating, because I have smelled many more essences every since and I can actually detect particular molecules within them (i.e.: heliotropine, ionones, anisaldehyde, paracresyl, etc.) In any case, this particular jasmine base was more animals, dense and heavy. I think I can detect more paracresol in there. It smells more like decaying jasmine flowers on an enfleurage tray, then the fresh dewy flowers in the (cheaper) nature-identical compound I found at the health-food store in Tel Aviv.

Jasmine's Role in Perfume

"There is no perfume without jasmine", the saying goes. And it is no exaggeration. In many compositions, it is thanks to jasmine that harmony and the feeling that something greater than the sum of its part was achieved. 

Composing with jasmine is a most satisfying, magical experience. It creates space when there was no room to breathe, it shines light on the darkest corners of a composition. The only other material which has a similar importance is rose - both having the ability to round-off a composition, smooth out rough edges, in other words what is called "bouquetting". But while rose can easily dense-up and clutter a composition (especially if it's already heading this direction) - jasmine has the talent of making any accord seem lighter, more put-tother, more pleasant, even if it wasn't quite so before it entered the beaker.

Jasmine is employed in all genres of perfumes. While its appearance is crucial in floral bouquets of the White Floral type and in Ambery Florals, AKA Florientals, it is also important as part of the bouquet of other Floral perfumes where it may play a less central role, contributing to the overall "floral" feel.

Jasmine makes more subtle appearances in the floral bouquets of any genre, including masculine fragrances:

Oriental Ambery perfumes need jasmine like air to breathe. In the first perfume of that genre, Shalimar, the jasmine's fruity and sweet character helps to create a more smooth transition between the bergamot top notes and the syrupy sweet amber base (vanilla, labdanum, tonka bean, benzoin...) and creates not only a seamless ambreine accord but an entire symphony that plays fluidly from start to finish.

Oriental Spicy or Oriental Woody compositions require jasmine's lighthearted character to create a more spacious feel in what otherwise would have been a depressing pile of sawdust or heaps of medicinal-smelling spices. Even the tiniest amount of jasmine creates that feeling in such compositions, lifting up notes that could otherwise be overbearing, i.e. patchouli, cloves, etc. Opium is one excellent example, where the jasmine and mandarin oranges lighten up a dark melange of opoponax, myrrh, patchouli and eugenol-rich spices. Eau d'Hermes creates a similar juxtaposition with citrus and spice when it pairs jasmine with lemon and cumin to creates an original and timelessly off-beat masterpiece.

Chypre could never be the harmonious, cohesive, unified entity that we know from masterpieces such as Mitsouko, Femme, Miss Dior, No. 19, Crépe de Chine and countless others. Without jasmine, these masterpieces could have easily been a brown-mishmash of herbs and moss. It's jasmine, first and foremost that puts them in order and makes them smell like perfume.

Masculine fragrances such as the Fougère and Citrus Aromatic families benefit form jasmine's harmony-inducing qualities. Even the tiniest amount of pure jasmine absolutes adds its sunny presence, and brings out the best of otherwise contradicting elements. Case in point are Eau Sauvage, in which the methyl hydrojasmonate (Hedione) makes a staggering 40% of the composition, and making an otherwise dark and geriatric melange of moss, hay, basil and medicinal herbs smell happy and confident. Eau Sauvage's creative use of jasmine influenced countless other manly scents, including the iconic Azzaro. With its anisic and herbaceous character, it could have easily been a soapy, powdery Fougère like Canoe. However, the liberal use of citrus and the addition of a rather small amount of jasmine shines light on those elements and makes them look so much better than before.

Notable jasmine-y perfumes

The following list includes some fragrances in which jasmine plays a significant role, or at least is supposed to - but mostly perfumes that focus on jasmine as a theme (as a soliflore of sorts - some of which I don't necessary love or recommend). As it turns out, it is very difficult to find a remarkable soliflore jasmine, Companies are simply too cheap to use enough of the real thing to make it convincing, so sadly jasmine soliflores are in my opinion, leaving much more to be desired. Add to that the fact that I've grown up surrounded by the real flowers, and been fortunate to work with the best jasmine absolutes for the past 14 years - and you'll see why it's easy to disappoint me. I'd be curious to hear which jasmines are your favourites and continue my search for the perfect jasmine perfume!

A La Nuit (Serge Lutens)
Alien (Thierry Mugler) - Jasmine sambac blown up by Helional
Arpége (Lanvin) - a succession of floral notes, jasmine being one of them
California Star Jasmine (Pacifica) - not even a star jasmine, and only barely-wearable
Diorissimo (Dior) - Breathtaking Lily of the Valley masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska. Look for the vintage or better yet - the extract, where the jasmine absolute is quite evident, as are the green notes and boronia.
Donna Karan Essence: Jasmine (Donna Karan) - realistic jasmine
Drama Nuii (Parfumerie Generale) - fruity-lemony jasmine with musk 
Eau d'Hermes (Hermes) - jasmine with lemon and cumin 
Emotionnelle (Parfums DelRae) - Jasmine, violet and cantaloupe
Eau Sauvage (Christian Dior) - Hedione galore (a staggering 40%) in the heart of the father of all masculines. 
Masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska, which means you must try it (look for vintage)
Éclat de Jasmin (Armani Privé) - soapy yet raspy jasmine-rose riding on a well-behaved fruitchouli and turning into Narciso Rodriguez  shortly after 
Fig (Aftelier) - jasmine and fir absolute
Honeysuckle & Jasmine (Jo Malone)
Ikat Jasmine (Aerin) 
Jasmal (Creed) - jasmine and rose 
Jasmin Full (Montale) - tropical jasmine candy
Jasmin de Nuit (The Different Company) - jasmine popsicle, with lemon and vanilla 
Jasmin (Maître Parfumeur et Gantier) - Peachy jasmine 
Jasmine AKA Clair-Obscur (Keiko Mecheri) - Soapy lily of the valley and jasmine 
Jasmine (Madini) - jasmine fragrance oil, that is priced high and smells cheap
Jasmine (Scent Systems) - grassy-fresh jasmine  
Jasmine Dawn & Dusk (Velvet & Sweetpea's Purrfumery) - herbaceous, indolic jasmine (botanical perfume)
Jasmine Phoclear and transparent jasmine tea against fresh cilantro, basil and lime as they steep in a freshly brewed Vietnamese Pho noodle soup (botanical perfume).
Jasmine Tea (Artemisia Perfumes) - bejewelled jasmine green tea, with fir, osmanthus and green tea
Jasmine Rouge (Tom Ford) - realistically luxurious jasmine
Joy (Patou) - jasmine and rose
Le Parfum de Thérèse - jasmine, plum and basil sorbetto. Masterpiece by Edmond Roudnitska 
Moon Breath - jasmine and incense (botanical perfume) 
Opium (YSL) - jasmine, orange, patchouli and spices
Pink Jasmine (Fresh)
Poet's Jasmine (Ineke) - jasmine and tea

Private Collection Jasmine White Moss (Estee Lauder) - hedione and evernyl, rebranded
Sarrasins (Serge Lutens) - scary jasmine, or more accurately: a bucketful of indolic buckwheat honey.
Samsara (Guerlain) - jasmine and sandalwood

Sampaguita Jasmine (40 Notes)
Sampaquita (Ormonde Jayne) - modern Chypre with grassy jasmine
Sira des Indes (Patou) - jasmine banana

Songes (Annick Goutal) - jasmine ylang ylang heaven
White Jasmine & Mint (Jo Malone) - refreshing play on jasmine, with the addition of spearmint

Yasmin - jasmine soliflore (botanical perfume) 

[1] Arctander, Steffen, “Perfume and Flavor materials of natural origin,” Allured Publishing, 1994
[2]Lawless, Julia "Aromatherapy and the Mind: The Psychological and Emotional Effects of Essential Oils", HarperCollins Canada/Thorsons, 1994
[3] Lawless, Julia "The Encyclopedia of Essential Oils: The Complete Guide to the Use of Aromatics in Aromatherapy, Herbalism, Health & Well-Being" Element Book Limited, 1992
[4] Poucher, W.a., “Perfumes, Cosmetics & Soaps with Speical reference to Synthetics Vol. 2 Being a treatise on the Production, manufacture and application of Perfumes of all types,” d. Van nostrand Company inc., 1959 (7th edition)

Olfactory Orientalism

Most fragrance families have strange, if not weird names. But "Orientals" almost sounds racist... And it kind of is. The term originates in the "Orientalism" movement in art, architecture and design which was most prominent in the 19th Century, but began before and continued after as well - and is still alive and kicking in the world of perfumery. Orientalists had one thing in common - what seems like an obsession and perhaps even idealization of cultures in the Middle East, Asia and North Africa. But there is also a sense of condescending. A view that has a subtext that says that Western culture is better, and could imply a view that these cultures are static, primitive or inferior. Which of course is far from the truth. 

The Orientalism in 19th Century Europe was largely related to imperialism. It romanticized Asian, North African and Middle Eastern cultures, in a way that is neither authentic nor free of prejudice. With that being said, it has largely influenced popular culture as well as perfume and the design and art that go with it. From bottle design to the actual "jus" - the Orient was infused in many perfumes of the early 20th Century - and beyond. Names such as Mitsouko, Shalimar, Crepe de Chine were some of the first to derive their inspiration, name and design from "Eastern" themes; perfumes such as Opium, Cinnabar and Samsara revived the interest in Orientalism towards the end of the 20th Century; and now we have Tom Ford and Serge Lutens as the leaders of the post-modernist Olfactory Orientalism movement, with perfumes bearing names such as Shanghai Lily, Japon Noir, Plum Japonais, Bois Marocain, Arabian Wood, Ambre Sultan, Arabie, Borneo 1834, Muscs Kublai Khan, Fumerie Turque, Rahat Loukum, etc.

Besides the aesthetic idealism of this style and movement, there is also a clever marketing decision, cashing on the Westerner's constant desire to be swept off their feet by an exotic culture; be transported into distant places with only a whiff from a bottle. Admittedly there is much magic in this; but also the danger of caricaturization an entire culture, and innocent yet wrong interpretation of names, concepts and symbols. One such example is Samsara - a wonderful floriental by Guerlain created in the 1980's, with an evocative name that mean "seven heaps of dung" - a metaphor to the material body's various stages of life. Hardly a romantic meaning for this gorgeously orchestrated jasmine-and-sandalwood perfume.

As one can see by the choice of name, marketing and advertising materials - there are plenty of stereotypes packed into each one of these, perhaps all exemplified and demonstrated by this long-yawn-inducing video clip for Guerlain's iconic Shalimar, a mega production that seems to cater to the teenage male fantasy of computer-games and completely unrealistic courtship: misogynistic as well as patronizing a bundle of Eastern cultures (kind of hard to tell where one begins and another ends - we have here an amalgamtion of what seems like an Arab prince on a white stallion, the iconic Indian Taj Mahal, and a passively bathing gal in what seems like a Turkish hammam). FYI: This main female character is blonde and blue-eyed, and does nothing the entire 5:44min film except fantasize about her prince and prepare for his return from the trip to save her from months of boredom in the palace (which will be achieved, of course, by building her another palace). What a shame, since Shalimar was inspired by a very tragic love story - Mumtaz Mahal died in childbirth, and the Taj Mahal was in fact a giant tomb which once completed, her lover was buried in it too.

There is no shortage of Orientalists-inspired perfumes, Opium being one of them - launched in 1977, alongside Yves Saint Laurent's Chinese-inspired haute couture collection. It's a wonderfully spicy oriental, with balsamic-resinous counterpoint as well as fresh citrus, and yet the cloves and patchouli at its centre make it unmistakably connected to China (the first place to distill cloves, by the way). Opium has always been provocative with its ads, walking a fine line between portraying languid, opiated women as if they're in the midst of sexual climax. No matter how wonderfully they are photographed - they are highly objectified: the woman in the 1977 ad above seems like part of the tapestry and design, not really like a flesh-and-blood person - at the time of launch criticized more so for the name, suggesting a legitimization of drug use; and Sophie Dal from the more recent (and even more provocative campaign) looks as white as a dead petal of orchid or a marble statue (not to mention completely naked except for her jewellery and stilettos). But no matter how you slice it - there is more than just a hint of suggesting that Asian culture can be shrugged off by these opium-den references, never to be taken seriously.

Orientalism and exoticism has also found traction in European culture through the performances of the legendary Mata Hari (the stage name for a Dutch exotic dancer, whose olive skin and darker hair, complete with Indonesian (then known as the Dutch-East-Indian) inspired outfits and music. Mata Hari was executed by a firing squad after being prosecuted for espionage during World War I (in 1917)*.

On a more nerdy and technical level, there is much more to be said about Oriental perfumes, besides bottle designs, names, or using exotic materials. Historically, perfume technology evolved in the East first - beginning in Mesopotamia, where fragrant resins were discovered, and continuing to Egypt, where the first perfume-incense-blend Kyphi was created, using no less than 16 secret ingredients (the formula was written on the walls of a temple, and re-discovered thousands of years later).

From Egypt, the knowledge and technology of perfume making (which was strongly tied to practical as well as spiritual practices of alchemy) moved to the Mediterranean region. In the island of Cyprus archeologists recently found the remains of the first perfume factory that was destroyed by an earthquake in 1850 BC were discovered.

In Asia - primarily in India and China - there were also (probably parallel) developments, where the Indian and Chinese alchemists were hard at work looking for similar things though with different names than the Western ones - Chrysopoeia (transmutation into gold, which was universally considered by alchemists as the ideal physical matter), the Aqua Vitae aka elixir of life or longevity, and Panacea (the cure-all medicine). The Indians knew how to distill essential oils as early as the 6th century AD.

"The first evidence of distillation comes from Greek alchemists working in Alexandria in the 1st century AD" - mostly of hydrosols; and around the same time (during the Han Dynasty), the Chinese also got their hands in distillation - although it won't be till hundreds of years later that they would widely use that technology for distilling beverages.

In the 6th century, the Indians were also distilling their own essential oil, from agarwood; and the Arabs and Muslims, who likely learned this from the Alexandrians (in Egypt) and India (by way of Persia). Nevertheless, the Arabs and Muslims are credited for perfecting this technology, and for discovering alcohol (ethanol) and how to separate it from wine, and last but not least - spreading their advanced technologies to the West as they concoured Europe.

Ibn Sinna (aka Avicenna), a Persian doctor, have found a way to separate ethanol (alcohol) from wine - not an easy feat, especially considering its low boiling point and high evaporation rate and flammability. And if it weren't for the Muslims concurs of the Balkan, North Africa and then Spain - Europe might be never become fragrant at all. The Muslims brought their technological advances with them to wherever they traveled. And these have made their mark on today's chemistry and medicine.

The Chinese as well as the Indians have perfected the art of incense, which transformed from a crude burning of resins, gums and woods into a technologically advanced  and the beginning of distillation technology was developed. It was not until the Middle Ages, that thanks to the Muslim alchemists and doctors, the science of distillation have been truly perfected and distilling delicate flowers such as rose and orange blossoms became possible - first as hydrosols (floral waters) and then as attars (the Arab name for essential oils). The term "Attar of Rose" means "rose essential oil" (Attar is an Arabic word, which refers to the spirit or “ether” of the plants, i.e. the essential oil. The word “attar” or its permutation “otto” is often used to describe rose essential oil (in perfumery literature, it is referred to as “rose otto” or “attar of rose”).

There is much more to "Eastern" perfumery than meets the eye. And this is owing greatly to the fact that the knowledge and formulae were not typically recorded - but passed from generation to generation as oral tradition and through apprenticeships. Till this day, Indian and Arabian perfumery spark one's imagination with their exotic raw materials and dreamy compositions unlike any others found in the West (though imitations abound).

How Indian perfumes differ from Western perfumery is first and foremost in that the perfume is blended before it is actually distilled. You make a "masala" of perfume materials, then distill them in the traditional copper still, into a receiver full of sandalwood oil. It's a completely different mindset, thinking of the finished blend in advance, before measuring the ingredients into the still - as well as predicting how they will behave in a sandalwood oil carrier. It requires the ability to envision how these essences will be transformed in the still together, mastering the unique temperature and pressure needed for best results; and thinking in advance about the raw materials before you actually have in your hand the finished essence. It requires a similar mindset to that of making incense: You need to not only know how things smell; but also how they smell when they burn, and how to make them smell wonderfully while burning together, not to mention the technicalities of getting them to burn through, but not too fast, so you can smell their essential oils before they turn into scorched spices... 

The traditional Indian perfumer is not only an olfactory artist and a master distiller - but also a forager of wild treasures. Armed with a copper still small enough to carry on their backs, they travel the jungles and fields, collecting seasonal perfumed plants and distill them fresh on the spot into sandalwood oil, creating rare attars such as blue lotus, white lotus and pink lotus (which they need to harvest while immersed as high up to their waists in marshes and ponds). You can read more about Indian perfumery in White Lotus Aromatics' newsletters, such as this one about making Hina.

Traditional Indian perfumes are also called “attars” and are created in a completely different technique and approach than Western perfumery. Indian attars differ from modern perfumery on several levels. The most obvious are the technical ones:

1) The formulation process takes place with the raw materials prior to distillation. The spices, woods, resins, herbs, flowers and so on are measured and blended together in their raw state and only than placed in the still. My guess is, that the principles of blending these perfumes may be in tune with Ayurveda or spiritual and religious principles such as the chakra systems. Rather than blending based on technical qualities such as volatility rate and tenacity - plants and raw materials are chosen for their elemental affinity, energetic qualities and healing powers (i.e.: moist/dry; warming/cooling). 

2) Sandalwood oil forms the base or “carrier” for Indian attars (much in the same vein that rather that alcohol or a fixed oil are used in modern perfumery). Thus, even the simplest attar will contain at least two botanicals. For example: Attar Motia is made from jasmine sambac (Jasminum sambac) which is distilled into the sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oil. Sandalwood oil is one of the few oils that can be worn neat on the skin, it has a rich, viscous and sensual teqture, and a very subtle aroma that deepens the perfume of single flowers and adds fixative qualities to the attar.

3) Last but not least, unlike modern Western perfumers, the Indian perfumers actually distill their own essence. They are in touch with the plants in their original raw state, and at times even pick them from the wild. Using a light, portable copper still, the perfumer can carry it on his back while entering the wilderness to collect flowers in their blooming season, be it from the coast, the jungle or the pond For example: lotus and water lily have to be harvested while the perfumer goes into the marshes, and immerses himself waist-deep into the murky waters.

Arabian perfumery is also rather secretive, as they were strongly associated with religion. Mohammed was particularly fond of roses and perfume and saw the importance of bathing and perfuming one's body: "The taking of a bath on Friday is compulsory for every male Muslim who has attained the age of puberty and (also) the cleaning of his teeth with Miswaak (type of twig used as a toothbrush), and the using of perfume if it is available" (Sahih al-Bukhari).
 Arabian perfumes were at first macerations of various spices, woods, resins and animal materials (i.e.: ambergis, musk) in a fixed oil (such as olive). When advancements in distillation technologies took place, their perfumes became more refined and sophisticated. Similarly to the Indian "Attars", suspended in sandalwood oil - the Arabian perfumes were carefully blended oils of rose, musk grains, and other costly essences, in a base of non other than the rare agarwood oil. This gave them an over-the-top richness that even surpasses that of Indian Attars. In additional to oud, the Arabs were - and still are - very fond of musk (which they mixed with the mortar when building some of their mosques), rose, ambergris and saffron. These potent essences were blended in full-on concentration into the agarwood oil, creating at times very richly animalic perfumes, sometimes smelling almost like "barnyard" - for example when darker, more animalic ouds formed the base for even funkier animal essences.

To summarize: Egyptian perfumes, Asian perfumes, Arabian perfumes and Indian perfumes are created with completely different principles in mind. Although  literature in English barely exists on the subject, I have my guesses on what these guiding principles are. What is common to all these traditions, is that they are the true origin of perfume, and it is strongly tied to spirituality. Perfumes were first viewed as the spirit of plants, and as having the ability to alchemically transform those who smell them and use them. A far cry from the passive opium-den, harem-bound women portrayed in the "Orientalist" fragrances, these perfumes were meant to transform the soul, heal the spirit, and invite it back to the body and connect it to the divine force and bring it renewed health and vitality. 

*Another not any less famous dancer, who was also a spy but did not suffer a tragic death as a consequence was Josephine Baker, who inspired at least two perfumes that we know of: Bois des Îles and Sous la Vent.

Structure and Philosophy

reflection symmetry, originally uploaded by Ray Wise.

Fragrance is a fleeting thing.
Fleeting, moving, ever-changing and not quite tangible – this art form demonstrates the passage of time in the most profound way and forces us to “live in the moment” so to speak. Even music, which acts in a similar way, can be re-created and re-lived by most people, simply by humming the tune.

The notion of something so fleeting having a “structure” always struck me as odd. I’m puzzled by it even more than how it is used in reference to music. I still remember that one piano lesson to which my stepfather unusually accompanied me. I was studying a sonatina by Mozart. My teacher and him were keenly trying to explain to me the concept of “symmetry” in classical music and how it is parallel to symmetric visual art. I was trying hard to grasp it, until I gave in and just pretended that I got it (incidentally, my stepfather, a painter, was obsessed with symmetry art all his life; which is perhaps why he always thought that if something goes wrong in his life, it should also go badly for everyone else – just for the sake of making things nice and even).

Things that pass through time work differently than still images or sculptures. The only way symmetry can be created is by perceiving the present and the future as relating to the past; being able to recreate the past while experiencing the present, and having some kind of anticipation of the future, based on a gestalt that was molded in the brain (although could be proven completely wrong).

Western perfumery is a relatively new invention; and like many things that travel from the East to the West (perfumery was developed in the Middle East and in Asia before anywhere else in the world) – it has taken a path of its own, making some things far more advanced (technology-wise), yet remaining rigid in many other ways. The “pyramid” structure that is so popularly used to explain and describe the evolution and so-called “structure” of perfume, although shaped like a pyramid, has nothing to do with Egypt (the culture that developed the first most complex perfume in the form of Kyphi incense); and says very little about a perfume’s behaviour and characteristics. The breakdown of notes into three stages is rather random, too. Even perfumes that have been designed to fit this paradigm, there are many more stages than that.

Ancient perfumery did not have “structure” in the sense that Western perfumery perceives its art form now. Egyptian perfumes, Asian perfumes, Arabian perfumes and Indian perfumes are created with completely different principles in mind. I am still trying to figure out what that might be, as literature in English barely exists on the subject; and I doubt if there is any official literature either. In India, perfumery is a family secret that is passed from father to son, and outsiders are rarely privy to this knowledge. What we do know is, that traditional Indian perfumes, which are called “attars” are created in a completely different technique and approach than Western perfumery. Attar is an Arabic word, which refers to the spirit or “ether” of the plants, i.e. the essential oil. The word “attar” or its permutation “otto” is often used to describe rose essential oil (in perfumery literature, it is referred to as “rose otto” or “attar of rose”).
Indian attars differ from modern perfumery on several levels. The most obvious are the technical ones:

1) The formulation process takes place with the raw materials prior to distillation. The spices, woods, resins, herbs, flowers and so on are measured and blended together in their raw state and only than placed in the still. I can only guess that the principles of blending these perfumes may be in tune with Ayurveda or spiritual and religious principles such as the chakra systems.
2) Sandalwood oil forms the base or “carrier” for Indian attars (much in the same vein that rather that alcohol or a fixed oil are used in modern perfumery). Thus, even the simplest attar will contain at least two botanicals. For example: Attar Motia is made from jasmine sambac (Jasminum sambac) which is distilled into the sandalwood (Santalum album) essential oil. Sandalwood oil is one of the few oils that can be worn neat on the skin, it has a rich, viscous and sensual teqture, and a very subtle aroma that deepens the perfume of single flowers and adds fixative qualities to the attar.
3) Last but not least, unlike modern Western perfumers, the Indian perfumers actually distill their own essence. They are in touch with the plants in their original raw state, and at times even pick them from the wild. Using a light, portable copper still, the perfumer can carry it on his back while entering the wilderness to collect flowers in their blooming season, be it from the coast, the jungle or the pond (for example: lotus and water lily have to be harvested while the perfumer goes .

The roots of modern Western perfumery are in alchemy – an art and a science that has began as early as ancient Egypt and later on re-discovered by the Muslims in the Middle Ages. The Arabic and Muslim alchemists further developed this esoteric mysticism into the scientific realms of chemistry and medicine as known today. The three principles of the Western “pyramid structure” actually correspond to the three alchemical principals – the “Tria Prima” which make up all matter: sulfur, mercury and salt.

Mercury is a passive principle, yet it is also very dynamic, which makes it a little more confusing to grasp, just as it is difficult to catch quicksilver, being both a metal and a liquid. It is associated with Luna, the feminine archetype; as well as the element of air or with water, cold and moisture. It is the most volatile. It also represents the human soul. The alchemical symbol is identical to that for the planet mercury: a circle with a crescent atop it, which does not represent the moon, but the winged messenger (the Greek god Hermes, aka as Mercury to the Romans). I find this interesting: being so volatile makes it transcend above matter and connect to the spiritual world. The top notes in a perfume have very much the role of “Mercury”: they are the most volatile, fleeting and difficult to grasp. Yet they are what gives the perfume vibrancy and are the first contact we have with the perfume. In a way, they are the “messenger”, the medium rather than the message... They invite us in to further explore what the perfume has to say.

Sulphur (the original spelling for “sulfur”) is the active principle, “The Red King”, Sol (the sun), associated with the element of fire – heat and dryness. The symbol for sulphur is a fire triangle mounted on the earth cross. It has a masculine and expansive force, and creates evaporation and dissolution. Within the aesthetics of Western perfumery – the heart notes are what make perfume a true perfume.

Salt is the stable, solid foundation. It is analogous to the physical body and to the earth. The alchemical symbol is of a circle with a horizontal line dividing between above and below; very similar to the symbol of the planet earth (a circle with a complete cross in the middle). It only is missing a divine force from above (a vertical line) to make it complete and complex with potential for life, like the earth. The base notes in the perfume are like salt: they provide the stability and the foundation for the perfume. They are what gives it a form. Being so less volatile makes the reliable and solid like salt. And with the added elements of the top notes and the heart notes, a dynamic entity is created, with vitality and movement. And of course the final and most important element which makes perfume complete and alive is the person wearing it.

Western perfumes were created with that philosophy, aesthetic values and “structure” in mind for hundreds of years, until commercialism got in the way, so to speak. In the early 1990’s, perfumes began to create linear perfumes. Sophia Grojsman’s Trésor (1990) was especially groundbreaking because it used very few ingredients to bring forth an abstract rose, instead of using many complex bases with hundreds of ingredients. “It is like drawing a flower—at first, you draw a heart and then you start by painting petals” – described Grojsman her process in an 2006 interview to Bois de Jasmine. Her approach was revolutionary at the time, and her perfumes have an unmistakable style – bold yet tender, focused (usually around rose) yet dynamic.

Trésor was just one of the first perfumes signaling the beginning of a trend of linear perfumes – it was not only simple (rose, vanilla and peach seem to be the main three notes), but also had very little in the way of evolution. But the first linear perfume per-se, created solely with that intention is Toacde (Maurice Roucel, 1994, for Rochas), where rose, magnolia, vanilla and a flat freshness of bergamot persists through the entire composition. Poême 1995 Jacques Cavallier was also an epitome of linear thinking.

Linear perfumes change very little if at all from start to finish, disregarding the element of time and replacing it with a static sculpture of molecules hanging in mid-air, and avoiding any relationship with the wearer’s skin.

It’s interesting that the first linear scents were so rosy… But the first ones were at least interesting. They were soon replaced by a humdrum of gourmands (a-la Angel, which also does not change much with its patchouli and caramel persistence) and clean, paired-down musk accords which are at times nothing but an insult to the consumer’s olfactory intelligence. While the first compositions seemed to have poise and elegance and purpose or thought behind them, the current state of affairs is that linear scents were adopted by the mainstream perfume industry as means to make more sales: what’s the point of having top notes if they disappear after half and hour or less? What’s the point of having any evolution at all, if the customer needs to spend days in sampling, experiencing the scent and making up their minds? It’s easiest to create something 100% homogenous, that will not be affected by factors as skin chemistry and just remain as the “trailer” (i.e.: the scent strip or fabric ribbon) promised.

Another confusing structural approach was presented in Allure (Chanel’s house perfumery, Jacques Polge). When it was launched in 1996, it promised a revolutionary structure where “facets” rather than an evolution from top to heart to base:
“No more top, middle and base notes. ALLURE dispenses with these traditional notions to embrace a multi-faceted approach. There are six of these facets to be exact, which overlap and harmonise with each other, no single facet becoming dominant over the others…”
(from Chanel's website).

The six facets were illustrated by a hexagon, divided into 6 triangles:
1) Fresh : Citron note.
2) Fruity : Sicilian Mandarin.
3) Timeless Floral : May Rose, Oriental Jasmine.
4) Imaginary Floral : Magnolia accord, Honeysuckle accord, Water lily accord.
5) Woody : Haitian Vetiver.
6) Oriental : Vanilla from Réunion.

A quick glance at this makes one wonder. After all: citron and mandarin (Sicilian or otherwise) are both top notes. The florals in facets 3 and 4 are all heart notes; and lastly, vetiver and vanilla (facets 5 and 6) are both base notes. What are they trying to say? That the perfume progresses gradually through its various notes (which is true to some extent)? That it revolves like a circle between those various facets? There is only one way to tell, which is to wear it and try it for yourself. I experience it mostly as a linear scent. There is none of the complex evolution that can be found in other Chanel perfumes (say, Bois des Îles).

Recently, I stumbled upon CrazyLibellule and the Poppies website, where the “Etoile Olfactive” (olfactory star) is used to illustrate the different notes. Which kind of olfactory evolution would this be? An explosion, perhaps?

The more I think about it, the more confused I become. And than I get back to my original view and perception of perfume: an art form that takes place in time, rather than space. If it has any structure it would be similar to that in a music, film or storytelling. And the perfumes that I want to create, wear, smell and experience are those that tell a story. And stories have a beginning, middle and an end.

Purple (p)Rose

Purple rose of Cairo, originally uploaded by ay_caramba_nz.

This perfume was created after exploring Indian roses and exotic attars while watching The Purple Rose of Cairo. The name was selected as a tongue-in-your cheek gesture to fluffy perfume ad-copies and fragrance literature laden with purple patches. Consider this to be the part of the film where the screenwriter converses with its characters while they step out of the silver screen attempting to get a life.

Purple (p)Rose is rosy and exotic. Many essences extracted from plants grown on Indian soil seem to have a certain sweetness, depth and spicy richness. I sometimes wonder if there is curry in the Indian soil that affects the aroma of these plants and make them stand apart from those grown in other countries. The essences I chose are mostly ones that I associate with the colours purple and blue. There is no particular logic behind that notion, it's completely intuitive. There is no way for me to explain why I think champaca smells purple or Buddha wood smells blue. I can only hope you will understand me if you smell them.

The opening notes are rosy with hints of spice and fruit, evolving into a plush floral heart with traditional Indian rose attars of rose and oud, ruh gulab (a traditional Indian distillation of rose), red champaca, blue lotus and blue waterlily to compliment the purple theme. And finally, deep woody notes of sandal, oud and Buddha wood, precious and sublime encompass all and invite meditation.

Top notes: Chinese Five Spice, Magnolia Lily, Cassis

Heart notes: Indian Summer Rose Attar, Ruh Gulab, Red Champaca, Blue Lotus, Blue Water Lily

Base notes: Agarwood, Amber Oudh Attar, Bakul Attar, Buddha wood, Sandalwood

Now available via Etsy under the One-of-a-Kind Perfumes section.

47-Purple Rose Of Cairo.JPG, originally uploaded by Tania Conrad.

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