A Short History of PERFUME
by Gary Sargent
I’ve been invited to give a tutorial on men’s fragrances, and it will be my pleasure to share what I’ve learned with you.
THE FRAGRANCE FAMILIES
I think the major bugaboo among the more snooty perfumers (if that's what we can call them), especially in the club is that it's somehow cheating to use bases. Some of the new fragrances that have hit the market are nothing more than old fragrances that have had new materials added to them to create a variation on the original. In short, they've used the original as a "base" on which to build a totally new perfume. With the public wanting newer and more original fragrances, the pressure to produce them in shorter lengths of time requires the use of premade bases as starting points, saving months of experimenting. The public is familiar with the basic fragrance groups and using these base groups as starting points, the perfumers can crank out variations in jig time, and under budget, which has shrunk to less than a third of what it was ten years ago, hence the use of more and more aroma molecules. As Luca Turin said in his book, the budget used to be anywhere from 200 to 500 Euros a kilo for the base, from which the finished product was made. Now, it's more like 100 Euros a kilo. It's no longer the perumers that control the creativity, but the accountants, paring every excess cost off the budget. Sandalwood is so expensive now that overharvesting has brought the Indian trees to the verge of extinction. So Givaudan analyzed the molecular structure of the oil and came up with their own version "created" molecule. The cost? Less than one fiftieth of the natural, and of consistant quality every time. Some of the cost cutting creations have made creating fragrances cheaper, but at the cost of the complexity of the fragrances. The Sandalwood from Givco is great, don't get me wrong, but it just doesn't have the nuances of the natural. But what the hell, the general public can't tell the difference between the two so they use the synthetic. If they did use the natural, the finished cost of the product would make it prohibitively expensive.
What exactly is a base?
Let's say that you love Geranium but you'd like it to smell a little more green, perhaps a tad more spicy, and just a bit exotic. Then you'll add some violet leaf for the green component, some pepper or clove, for the spicy note, and a bit of frankincense for the exotic smell. Now this becomes your interpretation of what Geranium should smell like. This, in effect, becomes your Geranium "base".
It entails a lot of work, every time you want to add your Geranium note to a fragrance, to drag out all the components just to add that one note to a blend. By making the bases for the notes, as you want them to smell, you save a lot of time, and the results will free you to be more experimental. It's a given, that this is the way you want Geranium to smell, and every time you add your base to a fragrance, the results will be consistant. Perfume houses use this system all the time. Caron has their own signature rose note, as does Guerlain, Dior, Laroche, and so on. If you smell their fragrances, you'll see that the rose note, in each, is slightly different. In one, it's slightly musky; in another, a bit more spicy; still, in another, a bit more citrusy. In your case, this will be your signature note that will enable any man who smells one of your blends to instantly know that it comes from you and no one else.
So, in the end, you're tailoring your perfume organ to reflect your own personal interpretation of how certain elements should smell. And each time you use these element bases in your blends, you'll be cutting out some of the work you have to do to arrive at that point. It's a kind of fragrance shorthand.
I have a Fougere base that I use all the time. When I'm blending something and I want to add a fougere note, rather than dragging out the various oils that make up that element, all I have to do is add the base, drop by drop, til I have just the right balance.
Basic Fougere formula for those who'd like to try a little blending.THE FRAGRANCE FAMILIES
This is what is called a base. These are the basic materials that make up the skeleton, to which the perfumer adds other notes to create the scent that he/she has in mind.
You can add a drop or two to an existing fragrance you may have that needs a little lift. After you do, shake the bottle and let it sit for two weeks to allow your addition to marry with the fragrance. I think you'll see a difference in the character when you try it next.
GARY'S FOUGERE BASE
Lavender 14 drops
Bergamot 8 drops
Coumarin 12 drops
Rose 5 drops
Jasmine 4 drops
Patchouli 2 drops
Vetiver 10 drops
Rose Geranium 2 drops
Isoamyl Salicylate 3 drops
Most of the essential oils can be gotten at most health shops. Of course, with the addition of alcohol, perfumer's grade, it makes a pretty decent fragrance all by itself. The trend, today is toward more "transparent", lighter fragrances. Insipid, is what I call them. They use the buzzword "linear" to describe the fragrances. What that really means is that the entire spectrum of the fragrance hits you, all at once, not evolving like classic fragrances; top notes first, followed by the middle, and finally the base notes. It's almost like having your dinner; appitizer, entree, and dessert, served to you all at once, on the same plate, mixed up. You don't get to savor each of them separately, enjoying the experience of a dinner, but get them shoved in your face, all together. That's probably why so many fragrances come and go so quickly today. Fragrance is like seduction. It starts with hand holding, caresses, then kissing, and finally, the ultimate act. Today, it's more like "Wham, Bam, Thank you, ma'am, but I've got to get back to the office, goodbye".
I rather prefer the "big boobs and balls" types of fragrances. When a man or woman walked into the room wearing them, they had a presence. Their choice of scent said that they had taste and refinement. It invited you to approach them. You were drawn to them. Their fragrance seduced you with its allure. You were surrounded by that cloud of fragrance and they became the center of your universe for that stretch of time you were in their company. Now that's what I call wearing a scent! We have entered an era of not only political correctness, but olfactory correctness, as well. No overt, sensual, smelling fragrances. Someone might get the wrong idea. The fragrance industry is all set to turn us into scent eunuchs. Little smell alike clones. But as for me, give me Fougere or give me nothing.
Before we go into the actual fragrance groups, I think we should start by understanding the mechanics of a fragrance.
The skin is one of the most remarkable organs of the human body. It acts as a barrier against invading germs and bacteria by virtue of its PH value of 5.7, just acid enough to discourage all of those little nasties, regulates our internal temperature by sweating, the evaporation of which cools us. Our skin is equipped with countless sebaceous glands that secrete sebum, keeping our outer covering supple and moist. It is these two actions of the skin that also do the most marvelous thing when fragrances come in contact with them. They become the final ingredients that make a fragrance truly yours. It is that skin acid, and oils, slightly different in every one of us, that causes one particular fragrance to smell different, from person to person. The acid will react with some of the ingredients, causing them to become sharper. Other ingredients will become more rounded in character, while still others will become more intense. The skin oils add their changes as well. Some wood oils, such as Sandalwood will become sweeter and heavier, lingering on our skin for a longer time than normal. Musks will intensify; mosses become more earthy smelling, flower components more floral. In short, our skin will tailor the fragrance to our bodies, creating an olfactory signature that that is uniquely ours.
Now perfume is an incredible concoction, made up of as many as 500 different materials, or as few as 2, as in the case of Fragonard’s Zizanie, an artful blending of Sandalwood and Patchouli that produces a male fragrance that is both sensual, yet refined. These many raw materials, as they are called in the industry, are not just thrown together, willy nilly, but carefully composed, much like a great symphony. Just as that symphony is made up of carefully arranged high, middle, and low notes, the perfume is composed much the same way with natural and synthetic materials, replacing the musical tones with olfactory notes. There are a number of notes in a fragrance composition, but for the sake of simplicity, and clarity, we will address the classic three. They are known as the Top note, the middle note, or heart, and finally the base, or bottom note.
When we apply the fragrance, we are introduced to it by way of the top notes, mostly citrus oils, such as Lemon, Lime, Bergamot, Yuzu, Tangerine, Orange, Petitgrain and Lemon Verbena. There are certain flowers that have the same fleeting quality, like Lily of the Valley, Jasmine, Neroli. These are the opening trumpet notes that introduce us to the fragrance, sometimes brash and powerful, other times softly. These oils have a low boiling point, and the heat of our bodies causes them to evaporate quickly, along with the alcohol, within the first twenty minutes to an hour.
As the last of the top notes disappear, we are introduced to the middle notes, or the heart of the fragrance. By now, the middle notes have mixed with the acid and oils on your skin and marries to them, creating that signature fragrance that is yours alone. This heart lasts on the skin for up to two to three hours, evoking the emotion that was the raison d’etre for its composition.
Finally, with the middle notes fading, we are left with the bottom, or base notes. These are the heaviest of the materials and are generally used to anchor the middle and top notes, making them last longer. These base notes pull the other two together and make them work together as a seamless whole. They are the ones that linger for several hours and are like the coda in that olfactory symphony.
We will be covering six of the groups that are commonly used in men’s fragrances. It should be interesting to note that even within the groups, there are variations, different twists that alter the basic scent and make for an infinite menu of choices for every personality.
Our first group is one called Chypre (pronounced sheep-er), named after the island of Cyprus. The originator of this fragrance was the famed Francois Coty who introduced the public to it in 1919. This fragrance was a departure from the sweet ones that were the norm, at the time, and the incense smelling Orientals. Heavy, dry in character, with occasional leather notes, the Chypres used an innovative base composed of Oakmoss, Patchouli, Bergamot, Labdanum, and Sandalwood. The women’s versions sometimes used Rose and Cassie to achieve floral notes. Tobacco Absolute may be added for a smokier note, as in Cigar Aficionado Cologne. Some of the other Chypres in this group are Aramis, one of my personal favorites, Salvador Dali, and Dunhill. The heaviness can be lifted by the addition of citrus notes like Lemon, Lime, or Verbena.
The next group is the Citrus. We’re all familiar with them and may have found that they’re not very long lasting. The function of the Citrus group is mainly as a refresher, perfect for the summer, where heavy fragrances would be overpowering. Originally compounded for the Russian Imperial Court, this light, sparkling fragrance became synonymous with the German city which lent it its name, Cologne. It reached its peak of sophistication in Guerlain’s Cologne Imperiale. Crisp, sharp, at times, and able to lend a feeling of coolness, the Citrus blend is often composed of Lemon, Lime, Tangerine, Bitter Orange, and Bergamot. 4711, the oldest eau de Cologne, still in production, is a prime example of this group. Penhaligon’s Blenheim Blend and CK One are two more examples of this vast grouping.
But let’s not think that that’s all there is to Citrus blends. Its character can be changed in wonderful ways, making it more exciting, and in some cases surprising. They can segue into the evening with aplomb with the addition of some floral notes like Rose Geranium, Carnation, Ylang Ylang , Iris, and Jasmine. The addition of Chypre notes will turn it into what is called a Romantic Fragrance, suitable for formal wear. Now add spices like Cassia, Nutmeg, Clove Bud, and pepper, both Pink and Black, and you have a Citrus that is warm and exciting. Woody notes like Vetiver, Sandalwood, the Cedars, and Patchouli will take it to a now sensual level. And finally, the addition of aromatics, such as Thyme, Rosemary, Spikenard, and Lavender changes our lowly Citrus into the star of the tennis court and golf course. Yes, this variety is known as sport scents, suitable for the daytime. Although they’re at home on the playing courts, they’re also the perfect compliment to the corporate business suit. They are the least distracting of the fragrances for office wear, lending an air of quiet sophistication.
We now move on to a group known as the Orientals. These are the heaviest of the male fragrances, best reserved for evening, formal wear. They’re often described as incense smelling, and for good reason. Most of the materials used in them were once burned in temples as offerings to the gods. A few of them are; West Indian Nutmeg and Bay oil, Cinnamon and Cassia, from Asia, Clove bud oil from Zanzibar, fragrant Basil, from the Mediterranean, Patchouli oil, distilled from leaves grown in India, British Malaya, Sumatra, and South America. This oil imparts a musty note and a sweet, herbaceous, spicy, woodsy-balsamic odor. Spicy Carnation, tangy Ginger, and the camphor like Lavender are often used as well. These materials can be found, in some part, in male fragrances like Jaipur Homme, Joop!, Gucci Envy, Tiffany for Men, Opium for Men, Le Male, and Contradiction for Men. The key word here is discretion in application. Since they are heavy, a very light hand is called for. Too much can be overpowering and wind up filling up a room. The proper fragrance aura should be no more than your outstretched arms; your personal space. When you enter a room, you want your fragrance to announce your presence, but not five minutes before you actually enter.
The next oldest of the fragrances is the group called Fougeres. The word, translated from French means Fern. Although ferns don’t really have any fragrance, Fougere is used to imply a forest-like smell, earthy, mossy and green. This is achieved with French Lavender, Spanish Labdanum resin, Venezuelan Coumarin, tinctured from the Tonka Bean, Bergamot and Geranium oils from the Island of Reunion. For men, this is often rounded off with Citrus and Tobacco notes, giving it a masculine appeal. Good examples of the Fougere family are Canoe, Paco Rabanne for Men, Monsieur Givenchy, and Kouros. To explain Fougere more clearly, you have to realize that ferns don't really have a smell. As the article says, it just happened to be a name flight of fancy of the perfumer because it probably reminded him of the woods when he first blended it. It does happen to be the major component of most men's fragrances because it does have a rather robust, masculine smell. If you'll take a trip to www.basenotes.com and type in the word fougere in the search engine, it'll pull up a lot of men's fragrances that fit that profile. I love Basenotes because I can look up any fragrance and get a basic guide to what's in them. Then I can go to the blending table and try to recreate the aroma. Usually, I wind up adding my own touches to it and, voila, I have something new and all my own.
Next on our list are the Woodsy-Mossy fragrances. Probably the most popular in men’s scents, the number of them is too numerous to count. If anything typifies the Great Outdoors, this does. Basic to this blend are Vetiver, from Haiti and Java, Sandalwood, from India, Cedar, from the Himalayas, China, and Virginia, and Cade. Earthy Oakmoss, Rosewood, and notes borrowed from the Fougeres round out and accentuate this fragrance. Good examples of this group are Dunhill Edition, Bulgari for Men, and Vetiver. Now, in my opinion, the best Vetiver was from Caron. Sadly, it’s been out of production for years, and you still may find vintage bottles of it on eBay, and other auction sites. This Caron fragrance is definitely a “babe magnet”. It seems to affect women like catnip does a cat.
Our final stop is the group called the Fresh Aromatics. When DuPont coined the phrase “Better living through chemistry” they opened a whole new realm for the perfumery world. The chemists at large companies like Givaudan, IFF, and others have engineered new aroma molecules that have replaced the more traditional essential oils that would vary in quality, depending on the climate in the areas that grow them, assuring the perfume companies a steady supply of consistent quality scent material. Some of their creations have been a result of environmental concerns. Sandalwood, the most popular woody essential oil is in danger of complete disappearance because of over harvesting. Others have made their appearance because of animal protection legislation. Ambergris, Castoreum, Musk, Civet, are all animal derived and the harvest of these materials involves the slaughter of these creatures so chemical substitutes have been created that rival the natural article.
Aside from these concerns, the fragrance market demands new and innovative aroma chemicals to fill the ever growing needs of the industry. Some of these new aroma molecules are smells that don’t exist in Nature, and in many cases, don’t smell like anything we’ve ever experienced before. One case, in point, is the aroma molecule, dihydromyrcenol, which is responsible for this new category of fragrance. When dihydromyrcenol was added to materials, formerly in the Fougere family, a new fragrance emerged, soapy clean and smelling of the salt ocean. Another aroma molecule, ambroxan was added to the compound, contributing a Pineapple, Apple, and Woody note. In the end, the fragrance is not of any of the other groups, but fresh, having no identifiable connection to anything else in the other groups. It is more of a feeling than a scent. Examples of this group are Tommy Hilfiger’s Cool Water, Armani’s Aqua di Gio, Dolce & Gabanna pour Homme, L’eau D’Issey pour Homme, and Davidoff’s Good Life.I’ve been invited to give a tutorial on men’s fragrances, and it will be my pleasure to share what I’ve learned with you.
Let me start with one important statement that you should remember, something that is basic knowledge among perfumers. There is no such thing as men’s or women’s fragrances. There is only perfume. Yes, that’s what all fragrances are. Perfume.
Let’s take a look at the word. Perfume. In Latin, perfume is comprised of two words; per, meaning through, and fume, smoke. Early man discovered that certain woods, when thrown on fires, produced fragrant smoke which was pleasing to the nose. In the worship of their gods, they surmised that the smoke from these fragrant woods would be pleasing to them, as well and influence their bestowing bountiful harvests, successful hunting, and fair weather. As their civilizations flourished, trade brought in more exotic woods, like Sandalwood and Cedar. As the cities traded with more far flung peoples, resins like Frankinsence, Myrrh, Benzoin, Balsam made their appearance in the religious ceremonies, cast into braziers, their sweet smoke serving two purposes; one, a propitiatory offering to the deities, and secondly as a fumigant to cover the stench of the many animal sacrifices.
It wasn’t until the Egyptians that we saw the start of of perfumery as a form of personal adornment. Flowers were a part of everyday life to them, scenting their domiciles, and their persons, when they were worn, as well as gifts to the gods. It was some enterprising person who discovered that the fragrance of these flowers could be transferred to oil, which could be rubbed on their bodies to scent their persons. Effleurage, the art of capturing the scent oils of flowers by laying them on a layer of purified fat, enabled them to make the perfumed cones that were placed on the heads of guests at feasts. The heat of the body caused them to slowly melt and release their fragrance. Pleasant, no doubt, but messy, as well.
Now these oil and fat based fragrances were pretty much the norm for centuries. Herbs and flowers petals were crushed and steeped in oil filled jars until they were infused with the scent of the ingredients. By today’s standards, they were pretty heady brews, crude and not very long lasting. It was an Iranian doctor and chemist, Avicenna, who introduced distillation and perfumery, took a turn for the better. Roses were the most plentiful flowers available and their petals ideal for the process. Gone were the heavy scents, to be replaced by the more delicate fragrance of rose water. Needless to mention, it became immediately popular. Soon, everything that had a fragrance that was pleasant was being distilled and the art of perfume blending gained sophistication. The development of perfumery was not an isolated event. Chemistry was developing at about the same time, and in the future, it was to play a major part in taking perfumery to the next level.
As wonderful as these new fragrances were, they still were mostly single note scents, based on one flower or herb, and it was to remain so until 1370 when the first modern perfume, comprised of scented oils blended into a solution with alcohol at the request of Queen Elizabeth of Hungary, burst on the scene, and in short time, was known and worn all over Europe.
With the coming of the Renaissance, perfumery took another giant leap forward. With Italy’s temperate climate, the flowers and other herbal commodities could be grown with regularity, assuring the perfumers a steady supply to fill the increasing demand for their fragrant concoctions. More refinements enabled these Italians to blend more complex fragrances that became the hallmarks of the perfumers who invented them. When Catherine de Medici married the King of France, these refinements went with her, in the form of her personal perfumer, Rene le Florentin. By this time, the competition among perfumers was so intense that it was not unusual for formulae to be stolen from one perfumer, to be produced and sold as another’s original creation. Catherine ensured that her perfumes remained in the palace by having Rene’s laboratory connected to her apartments by a secret passageway.
During the Renaissance, perfume was only used by royalty, and the very wealthy, partly because they were the only ones that could afford such a luxury, and also as a masking agent to cover body odors due to the sanitary practices of the day. However, with discovery of Grasse as an ideal growing area for flowers, perfume and cosmetics became a major industry and France became its leader, affording even the meanest citizen the ability to afford scent, perhaps, not of the quality royalty used, but something that could make life just a little less dull and a little sweeter. By the 18th century, France was the undisputed leader in perfume design and trade, a position it still holds to this day.
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