On Cats & Cassis

Cassis Bush (Black Currants)

The cassis and cat-urine analogy is nothing new. But I have always found it puzzling. Perhaps because I can't say I ever smelled a cat pee. And judging by how their other secretions smell, no matter how deep in the sand they try to bury them - I don't really want to know. 

To me, blackcurrants (Ribes nigrum) have always been this peculiar, juicy yet funky berries, with sophisticated profile of very pungent odour that comes through the nose when eaten (or drank), a full-bodied aroma hiding behind it, yet contrasted again by a sharpness in the palate from their intense tangy taste - sour, if I'm allowed to use that word without offending anyone (I heard that vintners get particularly insulted if you use this to describe tart/tangy wines!). 

Turns out there is an explanation to this unsavoury association: blackcurrants contains several sulphuric compounds called thiols. Namely, we're looking at p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one, 4-methoxy-2-methyl-2-butanethiol and last but not least: 4-thio-4-methylpentan-2-one, which is identical to the compound found in fragrant feline urine. In fact, it is also called Cat Ketone! 

Although sulphur is one of the CHNOPS - the six elements that make up all compounds of organic chemistry (along with carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen), sulphur-containing compounds are not very common in perfumery ingredients. You are definitely familiar with sulphur compounds from the culinary worlds - sulphur is found in many edible foodstuffs, from staples such as eggs, garlic and onions to less obvious grapefruit and asafoetida (the latter is used as a substitute for garlic and onions among Buddhist monks that are forbidden from eating these lustful substances). 

In Europe, and especially Eastern Europe and Britain, cassis is a very popular flavour (and crop). In the USA - not so much (and there is a technical  explanation for that which has to do with a ban due to white pine blister rust as well in the article sited before). Generally speaking, blackcurrant bushes are susceptible to too many diseases and pests, and this is a problem that is constantly being a challenge to agricultural plants breeders. Another possible explanation for its popularity in Britain in particular is that in WWII, cassis syrup from local was distributed free of charge as a source for vitamin C, to counteract disease and malnutrition whilst the island was isolated and deprived from its citrus supplies from the continent. 

I've experienced it in teas, cordials, fruit juices (Ribena being a famous brand of those) and sodas, fruit wine (amazing!), liqueur (Créme de Cassis, Cassis Vodka and more) and cocktails (Kir Royale, anyone?), candy, and even as a flavour for pastilles of Bach's Rescue Remedy. Then there is the famous savoury condiment: Dijon grainy mustard with cassis (try them in a brie & pear sandwich!) I particularly enjoy blackcurrants as a flavouring for black tea, and also it works in teas and tisanes blended with elderflowers (which has some surprising berry qualities that echo those of cassis). It is also wonderful in desserts (of course!). One that left a life-long impression on me are Violet & Cassis macaron by Pierre Herme. I also love adding some Créme de Cassis liquor to upside-down cherry-chocolate cake, as well as to a blueberry-sour-cream tart. If I happen to have the berries I would also mix them along with the blueberries for interest (and also to mellow out the intensity of the blackcurrants). The fresh or frozen berries can be added to strudels, pies, tarts, crumble and coffeecakes. Jams, jellies and syrups are enjoyed in or on yoghurts, cheesecakes, puddings, custards such as the specialty Danish and North German desert Rødgrød. Try my recipe for Lavender-Violet-Cassis Cupcakes,

Lastly, their aromatic, slightly bitter and astringent, intensely tart qualities make blackcurrant a suitable companion to savoury dishes such as meat stews and roasts (lamb in particular), seafood and fish, and even in barbecue sauces. The leaves are used in Russia as a tisane, and to flavour pickles.
I must try them fresh in a salad with tomatoes and mint - this actually sounds divine. I am actually feeling inspired to try them in a (cooked) beet salad with onion, spearmint and balsamic vinegar. 
Cassis (Black Currants)
In perfumery, we don't use the berries, but rather the unopened buds, which are solvent-extracted to create to create blackcurrant buds absolute. This sticky, highly viscous liquid has a very dark green colour and is difficult to work with not just because of its challenging consistent, but because of the aroma profile: Intense, warm, pungent, fruity, berry-like scent. This note is often perceived as unpleasant, almost urinal when undiluted. It is only in high dilution that its delicious fruity cassis aroma comes out in its most appealing manner.

With all these challenges, it is invaluable in perfumery, because it is one of the few natural essences with a fruity aroma. Also it is unusual in that it is an animal top note! We use it in perfumes of the Floral Fruity and Chypre Fruity families as well oriental and gourmand compositions where a sparkling berry note is required. A little goes a long way with this intense absolute. Dilution to 50% in alcohol is recommended before using, especially if you're just beginning to work with this. This will help you both with the dosage and also to smell it more imaginatively. Even than, you will need only very little to add the unique cassis effect to your perfume. 

Cassis aboslute is a very, very, very light top note. So whomever does not like it can rest assured this phase in the perfume they're experiencing is sure to dissipate within minutes. For the bold accessory note that it is, you might find it surprising how widely it is used, and also how versatile it is. Because it has both fruity, animals and green aspects - it really can contribute something special to composition of almost any genre - Floral, Chypre, Green, Oriental...   

Blackcurrant buds absolute pairs particularly well with sulphur-containing grapefruit oil, rhubarb compounds, pineapple, strawberry and other fruit extracts, davana, cacao, ylang ylang, marigold (tagetes), vanilla, rose, galbanum, tomato leaf, boronia, violet leaf and most fruity citrus notes such as clementine, mandarin, blood orange, etc. It also works with animalic notes  such as civet, oud and beeswax absolute, giving them a lift to the top. 

Famous perfumes containing cassis: the wonderful Chamade (Guerlain), with its contrasting galbanum, vanilla, oakmoss and hyacinth. Van Clef & Arpel's First (designed by Jean Claude Elena) - I must stress that although it was marketed as such, it was absolutely not the first to use this raw material. Also Aqua Allegoria Pampelune, notorious for its sulphurous qualities; l'Ombre Dans l'Eau (Diptyque) which is intensely green and rosy; AnaïsAnaïs (Cacharel), Black Orchid (Tom Ford), as well as troves of other "Fruitchoulis", Baby Doll (YSL), Ode a l'Amour (Yves Rocher), and Naomi Campbell's aptly named Cat Deluxe at Night. 
Among my perfumes, Tamya, Treazon, Coralle and H21 contain notable amounts of this ingredient. 

Sinister Greenness Meets Floral Decadence

"Treazon, an all naturals composition by Vancouver-based indie brand Ayala Moriel Parfums, unites the oboe-soft timbre and a sinister greenness with the decadence of a flower entrenched in complexity". 
 Incredibly sensual review of my newest creation, Treazon:
"There's a hint of sweet floralized suede, of skin warmed by friction, of sweet spices folded into milky butter". For more delicious details - read all of Elena Vosnaki's review on Fragrantica!

2013 Indie FiFi® Nominees

 This morning I got the exciting news that Treazon by Ayala Moriel Parfums has been confirmed as an official 2013 Indie FiFi® nominee. 
The winner of the “Indie” FiFi Award will be announced at the “Indie” FiFi ceremony to be held at Elements Showcase in New York city on Monday, Jan 28 at 7pm.
I'm looking forward to see who the other nominees are - and will post a link for the full list as soon as it becomes available.
Update: The nominee list can be found here.

It's very heartwarming to see how well received Treazon is - I just recently found out that is was chosen as "sexiest perfume of the year" by The Non-Blonde!

Behind the Scents wtih Treazon

Treazon by Ayala Moriel
Treazon, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
I kept the creative process of Treazon concealed from you for the most part. A little glimpse into the artistic direction have been published last year - at which point the formulation was actually ready!

Treazon perfume has been a raw concept for quite some time now. It all began as an impromptu study of tuberose, broken down into its many components - specific molecules, and raw materials that help coax the tuberosiness out of the rather subtle absolute.

Poucher's book played a big role in helping me discover aspects of tuberose I've never before thought would be so important and prevalent in creating a "big tuberose":
From that, I created a sketch that was very simple, yet powerful: tuberose, birch, vanilla, anise, cinnamon and cassis. I blended them up guided by my nose, and set them aside to oblivion with a random name "Treazon" sketched all over the formula and the lab bottle. That was back in October 2005!

This simple little perfume turned out to be crucial in creating the effect I desired so much years later, after experiencing the epiphany of Tubereuse Criminelle in Paris; yet being disappointed at the drydown (too similar to Fleur d'Oranger, in my humble opinion): the almost disturbing scent that takes over the room after dark after bringing home a stem or two of tuberose from the flower shop. It usually happens only in the summer time. And when I find them - I always feel particularly lucky. They are often hard to find, and even once you do find one or two - they tend to be either buried in a bouquet with a bunch of indolic lilies; or very unimpressive visually as they travel long and far and the edges of the petals are often browned and damaged.
 Yet non of this prevents the flower from taking up the entire house (I live and work in a two story apartment) and it makes the few days of living with a tuberose stem quite memorable. Across the street from my home there is a retirement home, and more often than never there are service cars that take folks to their last trip, which is rather sad to watch; but is also a constant reminder of the frailty and preciousness of life. I feel like we live in a very unhealthy segregated society where we separate ourselves from the threatening realities of illness, death and depleted youth; not to mention the "inconvenience" of chattering children, toddlers etc.

So imagine the evening coming down, the bone-flower  placed on my windowsill facing downwards on an ambulance across the street... And the scent of heady flowers coming off strong and potent, non apologetic, and invisibly takes over the scene. That was the inspiration for Treazon at its final stages, which helped me refine my vision for it and also develop a visual representation for the perfume - an aspect that is challenging for such a small establishment; yet sometimes very helpful not only for marketing but also for creating the right mood and being able to communicate my olfactory "story" to my audience. Which is what I'm trying to do now.

It's also a challenge to explain how or why I pick the names for my perfumes. You will notice, if you glance at my perfume collection, that there are some scents that are particularly bold and have big somewhat political names - Espionage, Schizm, Sabotage... These always have a healthy (I think) dose of humour in them but are tackling rather heavy political phenomenon that have caused mankind much pain and strife. I suppose it's just my way of dealing with the things that constantly cast a shadow over our lives and my particular life story (which thankfully is only "not-directly" affected by all the big wars that have been fought by my ancestors and all their resulting misery - displacement, wounding and so on and so forth).

Treason is perhaps the most unforgivable thing: betraying your own people for a very questionable and doubtful cause. Yet it is something we do on a daily basis without even noticing: we betray the people we love the most. We do that unknowingly by revealing something personal about them to someone else who wants to hurt them or gain from their loss. We say bad things about those who are near and dear to us and betray their secrets just because we are weak and need someone to listen to our troubles. And simply because we don't know any better. So you see, treason is not something that is only reserved for heroic wars and to great betrayers of countries, spies and defectors. It's something that we commit in times of truce - or peace - as well.

And to me, all those things associated with treason and treachery have that toxic, bittersweetness of seductive poison. Which is why I picked notes that are rather strange and unusual and controversial. The original sketch has all these components: birch, which is full of salicilates, feeling simultaneously medicinal (wintergreen, menthol and cough syrup) and candy-like (grape and cherry). Cassis is at the same time delicious and berry-like, yet also has what many refer to as "cat pee" smell.

And last but not least: tuberose itself is a flower that people tend to either love or detest. So I won't be in the least surprised if this is the reaction that Treazon will garner: people will either love it, or hate it, for what it is, what it smells like, what it represents - and the name (spelled with a "Z" to make it a little more fun and less literal; besides, I love the look of the letter "Z" and I've been traditionally substituting it for the "s" in many of my perfume names where it is slightly possible).

To the "basic" sketch of Treazon I gradually added other notes to fine tune it and create more complexity and sophistication. Massoia bark for extra milky lacontic goodness. Wintergreen to make it even more medicinal and grape-like. Yellow mandarin for intense floralcy. And that spectacular orange blossom from Egypt for it's particularly grape-like quality, only to intensity the tuberose effect. There is also a tea rose from China (a thing of a rarity), and orris butter and load of vanilla absolute - the dark, slightly woody, real stuff. And did I mention the African stone tincture yet? It brings forth the animalic quality and makes it just ever so slightly meaner - and deeper. And most importantly: a very salicylic tuberose from India, to balance the more buttery and slightly green one I had. All in all, there is 34% tuberose in the entire formula. And at $8,000 a kilo, this makes the final (aka retail) price of Treazon hardly a profitable affair. But I want you to enjoy it while I can make it - so please do!
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