The Perfumer's Purple

Lavender Soliflores

Lavender on the perfumer's palette provides for a range of purplish-blue hues, metaphorically speaking, of course. The oil itself is clear; and the absolute literally is a turquoise colour.

Lavender Toilette Waters
The earliest application of lavender in perfume is in the classic Lavender Waters - which the English perfected. Many historic recipes can be found for these type of eaux. Another sub-category of which is the lavender-amber waters, which include, in addition to lavender, either amber or ambergris.

Eaux de Cologne
Another important historic use of lavender oils is in the Eaux de Cologne type of fragrances. Here both lavender and lavandin are used extensively. Lavender imparts a softer, more floral nuance, where as lavandin gives a more herbaceous edge, often in synergy with rosemary or mint. Lavender can be found in countless classic eau de clone formulations, such as 4711, Guerlain's Eau de Cologne Impériale (1853) and Eau du Coq (1894) etc. Florida Waters are a New World interpretation of the Eau de Cologne in which lavender takes a more prominent role, and also includes lime, cloves and cassia bark. 

Lavender Soliflores & Gems
Lavender soliflores are a richer, more developed and rounded version of the lavender waters; or simply a more concentrated form. Classic examples are: Yardley's English Lavender (1873), Lavande Velours (Guerlain), Floris' Lavender, etc. Then there are some more sophisticated, layered and exciting renditions such as Jicky (Guerlain), the liquorice-velvety Brin de Réglisse (Hermes), my own Lovender (part of The Language of Flowers soliflore collection) and let's not forget the underrated, wonderfully vanillic Caron's Pour Une Homme.

The first use of synthetic aroma chemicals was marked by the creation of Fougère Royal, a concoction that used for the first time a laboratory-made coumarin. But coumarin is only one of four key components that are crucial for creating fragrances of this genre, the other three being oakmoss, linalool and lavender. One could argue that the bare bones of Fougère place lavender in an even more important place, if you strip it down to an even more simple accord of oakmoss-and-lavender, since the other two components (coumarin and linalool) naturally occur in lavender.
Other famous members of this family are Azzaro, Grey Flannel, Brut, Canoe, Amber & Lavender Cologne (Jo Malone's), Jazz (YSL), Xeryus Rouge (Givenchy), etc.


Writing letters to YOU, originally uploaded by !!! Monika !!!.

It’s impossible to write about Jicky (Aimé Guerlain, 1889) out of its historic context. Therefore it is mentioned here as the closing entry for the spontaneous Fougere series that has reflected my train of thought during my work on a particularly challenging perfume.

It was Fougere Royal and Jicky that marked the end of an era of single-note scents, and birth was given to sophisticated perfumes that represented abstract concepts rather than trying to duplicate nature (i.e.: soliflores and citrus/herbal colognes). It was also around the same time that the use of synthetic molecules commenced – first with coumarin, and a little later with vanillin. But you probably know that already… What I would like to mention is how remarkably similar is Jicky to Shalimar. Yes, yes, yes, we all know the story about how Shalimar was supposedly created by Jacques Guerlain dumping a sample of vanillin into a bottle of Jicky. This may or may not be true. But what’s certain is that the two are utterly similar. And more importantly – regardless of Jicky’s role in the birth of modern perfumery, it has, nevertheless, provided the blueprint of future Guerlain masterpieces to come. The structure, evolution, and last but not least – the Guerlinade at its root – are quite familiar, especially when smelled after experiencing scents such as Vol de Nuit, Shalimar, and even later creations as Chant d’Aromes and Chamade. When it boils down to the drydown, you’ll always find the Guerlinade in all the classics designed by the Guerlain dynasty.

Jicky opens with a burst of herbaceous freshness, marked by the presence of lavender and rosemary. Citrus is also an important component at the opening – some bergamot, but mostly - lemon singing in harmony with the underlining sweetness of tonka bean, it’s a luscious sorbet ready to be licked. Vetiver shows a glimpse of itself early on too, than dives back in and disappears into the landscapes of animalic woods. The heart, although containing some florals (rose, jasmine) does not feel floral. Just as in Shalimar – the bouquet’s role is to transform a collection of essences into one seamless olfactory tale. This is where the signature Guerlinade accord of iris, tonka bean and vanilla begins, creating a sensual skin-like warmth underlining what otherwise would have been a herbaceous-citrus cologne-type fragrance. With the animalic vibrations of opoponax, civet and a touch of leather, vetiver and the most miniscule hint of patchouli. When experiencing the parfum extrait the similarities to Shalimar become quite self-evident, from the overall bouquet to the final dry down stages, and with its overall skin-like sensuality.

The mood for Jicky, however, is completely different than Shalimar. While Shalimar takes you directly to the depth of seduction and desire, Jicky does so in a most subtle way. I wore it and wondered how strangely narcotic a lavender is in that context, all the while maintaining its dignified antiseptic qualities. Was it the English lavender that pinched Aimé Guerlain’s heart? Or was it something else he missed about his mythical first love in Engladn? Or, perhaps, it wasn’t meant for a woman after all, but rather for his young nephew who will later on follow his footsteps and unleash many more Guerlain fairytales.
Jicky is said to be initially difficult to accept by women to whom it was created, and was more popular with men. (Mouchoir de Monsieur, created by Jaqcues Guerlain in 1904 was meant to answer to that demand). It may not smell as significant or original at the moment, among the myriads of scents, not to mention lavender scents alone – but its remarkable survival over the past 118 years speaks for itself.

This review is for the pure parfum, which is far more concentrated and less citrusy/herbaceous than the Eau de Toilette.

Top notes: Lemon, Bergamot, Rosewood, Lavender, Rosemary
Heart notes: Vetiver, Jasmine, Rose, Orris Root
Base notes: Tonka bean, Opoponax, Patchouli, Civet, Benzoin

P.s. A couple of words regarding the bottle design: although the same bottle is often used for both Nahema and Vol de Nuit parfums, as far as I know, the champagned-stoppered bottle is the one originally designed for Jicky, apparently by Gabriel Guerlain – Aimé’s brother and Jacques’ brother, who was the manager of the Guerlain company at the time. If you know anything else about the bottle design, please share your knowledge with us.

Interested in reading more about Jicky? Visit:

The Scented Salamander

Bois de Jasmin

Fragrance Bouquet

Fougère, Coumarin and the Bittersweetness of Green

Fougère, originally uploaded by Christian Bachellier.

It is the coumarin that adds the crystalline quality to Fougères, as well as its over all warm bitter-sweetness. Perhaps this is why I enjoy wearing Fougères at this time of year. It has the quiet melancholy of Fall, yet with a cuddly softness added to it.

It was Fougère Royale (1882) by Houbigant that marked the birth of modern perfumery. While many consider Jicky (1889) as the mother of modern perfumery, it was in fact precedent by the legendary Fougère Royale, unlike the prehistoric fern it was named after, didn’t survive as well and the fragrance is no longer in production. However, it’s fame can be measured not by its survival achievements, but by the fact that an entire masculine fragrance family (or perfume genre) is named after it. Despite of that, a closer look at the perfume timeline reveals that the concept of Fougère has existed earlier:

In 1873 English Lavender by Yardley was released, blending notes of Lavender, Bergamot, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Geranium, Clary Sage, Cedarwood, Tonka, Moss and Musk. Considering that tonka bean contains mostly coumarin, and that all the other important elements of Fougère (lavender, oakmoss, coumarin and herbs) are present, this might have been the first Fougère .

1877 brought Wild Fern by Geo F Trumper (with notes of oakmoss, basil and amber), again with both a name and a composition that suggests a Fougère (but who had smelled it that could confirm???).

Fougère, or Fern in French, is most known for its remarkable botanical versatility and resilience (as I said earlier, it has been probably been around since the days of the dinosaurs, it is such an ancient life form that it reproduces with spores and has no real leaves, but “fronds” ) and little known for its scent. However, ferns have a rich usage in human history for various uses: the dried underground stems of several species used to be ground into a starchy meal-like substance that is nourishing in times of famine (and in particular - Pteris esculenta in the Pacific Islands they have been a staple food); and the ashes of burnt fern in Wales were formed into balls and sold as “Ash Balls” and performed similarly to soap because of their high alkali levels (Poucher, W.A., “Perfumes, Cosmetics & Soaps, Vol.2). Certain ferns might be extracted for medicinal purposes (for their filmarone content – a yellow, amorphous acid which chases away worms).

Natural Sources of Coumarin, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

In perfumery, however, any Fougère composition will have very little power for vermifuge purposes. It is simply a name for a complex blend of an aromatic, herbal nature. The key for compounding a Fougère is using the essential accord of lavender and linalol (either synthetic or from natural source – i.e. Ho Leaf or Rosewood), oakmoss absolute and coumarin (of synthetic or natural source – i.e. tonka bean or liatrix).

There are several sub-categories for the Fougère family:

Fougère Fresh
Dominant lavender freshness and dryness. These Fougères are herbaceous, spicy, fresh and woody. For example: l’Herbe Rouge

Fougère Ambery
Additional vanillic notes may increase the softness, to create a Fougère Ambery fragrance. These are soft and enveloping, and somewhat powdery. Canoe by Dana is an example of such composition, which is further sweetened by tonka and heliotropin.

Fougère Woody
Additional woody notes such as sandalwood, agarwood and vetiver create a cleaner and drier impression.

Fougère Floral
These Fougères are very complex, with the addition of bright florals such as neroli, lily of the valley, and cyclamen. The dryness of lavender and spicy, ambery and woody notes makes these more masculine. Jicky (Guerlain) is a good example for such floral – with neroli at the heart, and a soft tonka and amber base accompanying the Fougère accord.

The Modern “Face” of Fougère
Many modern masculine fragrances are touted as being Fougère. Scents such as Cool Water (for men) by Davidoff are such examples, and so are many others. However, the overdose of synthetic molecules (such as calone and other aquatic aromachemicals) and the declining percentage of important natural such as lavender and oakmoss in those compositions render the Fougère in these perfumes nearly absent. A good fougere in my mind has a balance of those intense, isolated molecules with a good measures of naturals that give it its aromatic flavour.

How To Make A Natural Fougère?
Start with the basics – excellent quality building blocks that are essential for Fougère: oakmoss absolute, lavender essential oil, absolute and concrete, rosewood or ho leaf (for a touch of linalool), and last but not least – a naturally sourced coumarin note, either from tonka bean absolute or liatrix tincture (you can make your own by soaking the dried leaves in 200 proof alcohol). Other useful notes are patchouli and vetiver. To these essentials, you may want to choose additional notes that would add a particular character to your Fougère. The following are suggested notes to choose from for a Fougère composition:

Top notes:
Ho Leaf
Rosemary essential oil
Cedarwood, Virginian
Petitgrain, French
Neroli, French
Bitter Orange
White Grapefruit
Juniper Berries

Heart notes:
Lavender absolute
Clary sage
Rose Geranium
Jasmine absolute
Rose absolute
Rosemary absolute
Ylang ylang
Tuberose absolute
Litsea Cubeba
Orange Blossom Absolute
Clove bud
Carnation absolute

Base notes:
Oakmoss absolute
Tonka bean absolute (or tincture)
Liatrix tincture (or absolute)
Cedarwood, Atlas
Tarragon absolute
Clove bud absolute
Back to the top