Creamy Sandalwood

Coconut Love

Driven in part by my disappointment from Santal Massoïa (too cold, linear and paper-like) I've decided to smell for myself what sandalwood and massoia bark smell like together. Intuition tells me it should be smelling creamy, rich, warm and seductive, and not like a glass of cold milk spiked with iso-E super.

Sandalwood is a tricky note for me: one that does not develop very nicely on my skin. That is to say, the sandalwoods that are available nowadays don't agree with my skin. Unless you're attracted to sawdust and soured sweat. So intuition told me that adding a creamy aspect to it, which is what most contemporary sandalwoods are lacking, is going to allow me to enjoy sandalwood even on my finicky skin.

Massoia bark oil and CO2 extract have a unique aroma in the world of natural essences: intense, fruity, fatty-buttery with pronounced oily, lactonic notes of toasted-coconuts that comes from massoia lactone (the IUPAC name is (R)-5,6-Dihydro-6-pentyl-2H-pyran-2-one). It also naturally occurs in osmanthus absolute, which is why in some combinations, and when used sparingly osmanthus gives off a coconutty aroma to a composition without even being noticed on its own. Case in point is my Charisma perfume, which took on this character only once I've added the osmanthus absolute. 

Other milky notes were also taken into consideration, including a milky oolong tincture which I haven't used in any of my ready-to-wear line yet, although it is absolutely stunning. The idea was to create a very rich, opulent sandalwood perfume that is both sophisticated and a little beachy and fun-loving.

I used a smidgeon from a sample of Royal Hawaiian sandalwood oil I recently received, as well as my personal stash of Mysore sandalwood oil and Vanuatu oil (the latter is my favourite). Add to that a healthy dose of massoia bark, milky oolong tincture and a handful of secret spices - and you get the broad picture.

The next step was to balance it with something floral, so it's not just an accord of woods. I was on the fence between champaca's incense, fruity undertones; and ylang ylang's creamy, banana-ish character. Then there is the question of warmth and spices: shall I add cloves, cinnamon, allspice, or nutmeg? I wanted their warmth, but not the culinary associations. So I opted for coffee instead - to give it a roasted, spice-like edge, but not mess up with the woody-coconutty context. This perfume is still in the works, so I will stop right here and will continue testing and tweaking until I'm perfectly happy with it. For now, I'm just enjoying dousing myself with it on those early days of summer. And it's especially appropriate to wear today, as it is Shavuot!

P.s. It's interesting to note regarding Massoia: Massoia lactone is produced synthetically, mostly, for both perfumery and flavouring purposes. Peeling the bark eventually kills the tree, so it's not exactly a "sustainable" ingredient, even though a little goes a very long way...

Intoxicating Flowers: Tuberose Demystified

Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)
Polianthes tuberosa - single stemmed flowers, the ones that are used for perfumery. 

To the layperson, the mention of tuberose usually brings to mind “rose”. The name, however, refers to the tuberous roots of the plant, which is related to narcissus and is native to Central America and Mexico. Nowadays, it is mostly cultivated in India and to a lesser extent in Egypt and in Southern France. Currently there are only two tuberose fields left in Grasse, which are processed by enfleurage: the preferred method for this flower, which possesses the rare quality of emitting more scent after it’s been cut and separated from the plant. Therefore, enfleurage is actually more cost effective as it yields much more absolute than by solvent extraction. Enfleurage, however, is not possible in India because of cultural and religious restrictions: for enfleurage requires two types of animal fats - and tallow. Cows are sacred to the Hindus, and pork is prohibited by the Muslims - two major populations in the flower growing regions of India. The good news is, that Indians are currently exploring enfleurage with vegetable fats - certainly something to look forward to!

The flowers themselves look somewhat like lilies arranged on a tall stalk that is one meter in height. The plants grow from a bulb for 4 years before they bloom in July! This of course furthers the cost of the absolute as the land remains in use but with no profitable crop for so long.The tuberose for perfumery is different species than the one for bouquets that you’d find at the florist (though their scent is similar) – they are from the single flower variety, where as the ornamental ones (grown in gardens and available in the flower shops) have two flowers clustered together on the stem.

As far as the fragrance goes - tuberose has made a name for itself as a narcotic, sedative scent that is dangerously seductive to the senses and even has the powers to make innocent girls unable to control themselves sexually. Virgins and young girls are not permitted on the tuberose fields after dark from fear that their innocence will be compromised... As a perfume, tuberose scents are known for being grand and at times even obnoxious (i.e.: Poison, Fracas, Jardin de Bagatelle, Carnal Flower, etc).

Tuberose absolute, however, is everything but loud and obnoxious. It is soft, smooth, waxy, with hints of green and almost mushroomy qualities. Some specimens might feel a bit rubbery or medicinal - and this can be either an interesting and desirable quality or an unwanted one, depending on the perfumer's perspective. The best tuberose would feel buttery, creamy and with sweet grape top notes from methyl antrhanilate (also present in large amounts in orange blossom, ylang ylang and other white floral notes). A somewhat off-putting medicinal note may also be present, reminiscent of wintergreen or birch - which comes off the methyl salicilate that is also one of the constituents.

According to Bo Jensen, tuberose’s chemical makeup comprises of “benzyl alcohol and -acetate, methyl and benzyl benzoate, methyl salicylate, methyl anthranilate, eugenol, geraniol and nerol and -acetates, and farnesol, but its power and original effect is due to a multitude of gamma- and delta-lactones, some of them only found in tuberose” (i.e.: 6(Z),9(Z)-dodecadiene-4-olide, tuberolide and tuberolactone). It is probably those lactones that account for that creamy-dreamy, buttery characteristic of a good tuberose absolute, which is even more obvious in the tuberose floral wax.

Tuberose in the Flower Shop
Tuberose at the flower shop - this is a different variety, that is double-stemmed. 

To say that tuberose is one of my favourite raw materials would be an understatement. It's the queen of the flowers, mistress of the night and a welcome participant in too many perfumes I've created. I say "too many" because it is a very costly raw material, going for about 8,000 per kilo, making some of my perfumes almost unrealistic for commerce.

White Potion was the first perfume I've created with it, back in my very early days in 2001. In White Potion, the tuberose plays centre stage but has a very muted, well-mannered persona (thus making it a perfect member of the Language Of Flowers - my soliflore collection that is an homage to time past where soliflores were synonymous with elegance and refinement. And it was particularly fun to use tuberose in the other spin-offs of White Potion: the body oil, which only "opens up" once it's on the skin (due to how the salicilates are behaving in the oil base - they are almost "invisible") and in the fragrant white chocolate bar. I used it later in my contemporary, all-natural soliflores to give a white floral, creamy nuance in Gigi (gardenia soliflore, where tuberose has a traditional place to accentuate the big white floral qualities of gardenia), InCarnation (carnation soliflore) and Zohar (orange blossom soliflore).

, also created in 2001 - was an outrageous Chypre floral animalic, with all the white florals imaginable (tuberose, orange blossom, sambac and grandiflorum jasmines), counterbalanced with dry cedarwood and salty oakmoss, and a touch of tart mandarin and savoury cepes and black pepper.  Schizm was the first perfume I created with a name in mind first - and than the perfume came along. The concept was for a perfume with "schism" or division with it; and indeed, it begins more dry and almost acrid; yet develops into this sensual, floral-musky chypre.

In Razala, tuberose plays in the exotic, nearly erotic fantasy of an animalic, Arabian-inspired perfume. It has all the makings of a harem perfume: myrrh, oud, ambergris, saffron, rose... Tuberose gives it a creamy touch which along with the magnolia brightens it and brings some light into a rather dense and seductive composition.

l'Écume des Jours is that rare place where my wildest imagination followed Boris Vian's book of the same name. It is a true fantasy perfume, and the tuberose played a role in the deadly "lung water lily accord" - which is simply a made-up illness that only Boris Vian could come up with and make it seem beautiful.

Last but not least is Treazon: my newest perfume, which is a study in tuberose that has gone wild (more on that in a separate post). It's like White Potion's evil sister, accentuating all the aspects in tuberose that are more controversial and disagreeable. It was done before me (it was compared to Tubereuse Criminelle, which does not surprise me), but this one is with natural ingredients, exaggerating the salicylic aspects with an overdose of wintergreen and utilizing lactonic notes such as massoia bark to bring forth that creamy, milky and sweet aspect of tuberose, yet keep it dark and extreme.
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