Perfume Material: Clary Sage

clary sageClary sage in perfumery is ever-present yet often sidelined, playing a supporting role in fougères, chypres, lavender, forest, and floral scents. I recently got my hands on a clary sage absolute, which is rich like mulched hay, as opposed to the brighter, herbaceous essential oil.

It got me thinking that I wasn’t sure I could identify any perfumes that put clary sage recognizably front and center. Of course, when I asked Tracy at Fumerie Parfumerie in Portland, she had two excellent examples on hand: Musc Encensé by Aedes de Venustas Masque Milano’s Terralba by Delphine Thierry. Terralba is a fortifying blend of clary sage with aromatic herbs, wood, and a saline breeze, like you’re standing cliffside at the ocean, breathing deeply and feeling a sense of clarity.

Perfume Material: Vetiver

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Vetiver is a scent I had never heard of before I got into perfume, though it’s extremely common. I remember the first time I recognized it in Dasein‘s Spring—somewhere between woody and grassy, vetiver is both soothing and perpetually buzzing with kinetic energy. The essential oil is distilled from the roots of the tall vetiver grass (Chrysopogon zizanioides) with backnotes ranging from smoke to peanuts and potatoes to mint or grapefruit. It’s complex enough to stand as a perfume on its own, but it’s also widely used as a supporting note in all kinds of perfumes, lending earthiness and structure, sometimes detectable, sometimes not.

vetiver perfumes

If you’re looking for a no-fuss, pitch-perfect vetiver perfume, you want 33 by Chris Rusak. HEELEY Vetiver Veritas is another solinote vetiver, and it leans hard into the grassy, grapefruit-mint side of the material. Masque Milano Hemingway is a standout vetiver-forward scent composed by Fanny Bal, with cedar, ginger, and patchouli accents.

Hermes Terre d’Hermes by Jean-Claude Ellena is a classic vetiver scent, impeccably balanced with mineral, cedar, and citrus notes.

Nasomatto does wonderful things with vetiver in Absinth, a complex, sweet green fragrance with loamy earth and wormwood. J. Hannah Co. Skive is an exceptional leather scent woven with unmistakable vetiver and frankincense. Jovoy Incident Diplomatique is a captivating duo of vetiver and patchouli, velvety yet dry with a touch of nutmeg and juicy citrus.

Etat Libre d’Orange bridges vetiver and vanilla in the delightful, creamy-salty-grassy-resinous Fat ElectricianSerge Lutens does something similar yet more restrained with the elegant, ambered Vetiver Oriental.

Other vetiver-forward perfumes include Comme Des Garcons Clash: Radish x Vetiver (aquatic/mineral scent meets subtle dirt and grass), Essential Parfums Mon Vetiver (gin & tonic and light cotton with a touch of smooth green), HEELEY Espirit du Tigre (camphorous, herbal, energetic), Oriza L. Legrand Vetiver Royal Bourbon (spicy cardamom barbershop with an herby, grassy, leather texture), Olfactive Studio Ombre Indigo, and Escentric Molecules Escentric 03. Escentric Molecules Molecule 03 can be a helpful point of reference with its single note of synthetic vetiver—or you can just buy vetiveryl acetate from any materials supplier for a few bucks.

Perfume Note: Lychee

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After I raided my sample collection for tea scents, I found myself returning to Nishane‘s Wūlóng Chá and its delicious lychee oolong.

Then I started noticing more scents and flavors described as “lychee”—a wine with lychee notes, a lychee and coconut scented shampoo. I no longer felt sure I knew what lychee smelled like. In fact, Nishane doesn’t actually list lychee as a note in Wūlóng Chá. So I got my hands on some actual lychee, along with a lychee-flavored “pudding” (more of a jelly, which works, because lychee flesh is a little bit jelly-like). The scent strikes a balance between sweet, tart, and bitter, with a milky-watery character that could be at home alongside rosewater or fresh coconut.

In terms of aroma molecules, the scent can be loosely reconstructed with raspberry ketone, geraniol, and cassis materials (berryflor and/or labienoxime, which is also used for fig notes). Now that I’m truly acquainted with lychee, I can tell you for certain: Wūlóng Chá is a damn good lychee tea perfume.

Perfume Note: Tea

How would you describe the scent of tea? In perfume, there’s a wide range of possibilities within the idea of a “tea” scent—smoky, vegetal, nutty, milky, fruity, floral—and the texture can range from watery and refreshing to dry, even astringent. Some tea perfumes live in the sphere of wood, paper, or leaves, while some are soft florals. Many tea perfumes don’t smell like tea so much as the ambiance we associate with tea: delicate florals, chilly refreshment, chai spices, whispers of fruitiness, cleanliness, leaves and fresh cut grass, a relaxing spa.

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Nez Magazine’s new Hong Kong Oolong scent has me revisiting tea perfumes.

What, exactly, is the common denominator? The best tea perfumes I’ve smelled are broadly characterized by a subdued disposition: compelling, yet restrained, calm, and collected.

My favorites so far are the classic Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert by Jean-Claude Ellena for BVLGARI (this was released in 1993 and was, to my understanding, the original tea perfume), Comme des Garçons’s simple and refreshing Series 7: Sweet – Nomad Tea, and Nishane‘s Wūlóng Chá, a crisp lychee oolong. Zoologist’s Elephant is a stimulating, astringent black tea nestled among big green leaves. Masque Milano’s Russian Tea is atmospheric, with hints of sweetness, hints of smoke, and a leather base. Le Labo’s Thé Noir 29 is tea-adjacent: smoky, robust, with vetiver, cedar, bay leaf, and the idea of black tea, while CH I Hate Perfume’s Russian Caravan Tea is as accurate and straightforward a black tea perfume as I’ve smelled.

Do you have a favorite tea perfume?

Perfume Insights from Raw Materials

Sometimes smelling a raw material feels like discovering a Rosetta Stone—it unlocks a perfume that until then I couldn’t quite decipher.

flouve1Recently I had this flash of recognition with flouve absolute (see description below), which was entirely new to me, but upon smelling it I suddenly understood what’s going on in Oriza L. Legrand’s Chypre Mousse. Similarly, when I smelled a gorgeous fir absolute, it felt like I could more deeply understand Slumberhouse’s Norne and its dense, sweet, “jammy” forest character. I don’t know if this material is in the perfume, but when I smelled hydrocarboresine (made from the gummy resin of labdanum) my mind instantly went to Bruno Fazzolari’s Ummagumma, and the chewy quality of its smoky leather made more sense, like I could see the through-line from incense to chocolate.

Have you had this experience with any raw materials and perfumes?

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From Steffen Arctander’s Perfume and Flavor Materials of Natural Origin.

Mushroom Smells

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Ever since I ate that matsutake mushroom dish a few weeks ago, I’ve been curious about the smells of different types of mushrooms. So last weekend I went to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s Annual Wild Mushroom Show and got to see, smell, touch, and taste a lot of mushrooms! My new favorite aromatic mushroom is the candy cap, which smells like maple syrup with hints of curry when dried. It’s used in all kinds of sweet desserts. I was talking to @wurstillustrations and she mentioned that as she’s become more experienced identifying mushrooms, she relies on smell more than sight.

After the show, of course I rummaged through my library (**hoarder’s stockpile) of perfumes to find some mushroomy scents. 🍄

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Chypre Mousse by Oriza L. Legrand is so weird and I love it. Frothy, mossy, loamy, with an odd green and aromatic sourness, no hard edges whatsoever, and a whisper of mint.

After the Flood by Apoteker Tepe also has a fresh, “forest floor after the rain” mood to it, but it focuses more on aquatic notes. This one has edges and contrast—like seeing the light and shadows of sunlight filtering through pine trees.

Cepes and Tuberose by Aftelier Perfumes departs from the “fresh” forest floor theme and goes full-on dirty sexy floral. It’s rich, earthy, and sweet with bitter orange and a hint of spice. Gorgeous.

Perfume Material: Frankincense

I’ve been having fun burning frankincense and other resins as incense lately. Frankincense specifically is one of the more light, “clean”-smelling resins with notes of lemon and pine.

Trees of the genus Boswellia ooze the resin “tears” from “wounds” that harvesters cut into the bark.

My favorite frankincense perfumes are Avignon by Comme des Garcons which perfectly evokes that high church blend of frankincense and myrrh that Catholics will remember from their childhood; Passage d’Enfer by L’Artisan Parfumeur, which showcases the cleaner side of frankincense, somewhere between freshly showered and cool & cavernous; and Camel by Zoologist, rich and warm with incense and sweet dried fruits. Do you have a favorite incense or incense perfume?