Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Temptation Tuesday: Perfumes

Michelle Styles joins us today with an aromatic topic - the mystique and allure of perfumes!

Ever since I first allowed a hint of my grandmother’s Shalimar perfume in its wonderful crystal bottle, I have loved the idea of expensive perfume and the luxury and lifestyle it evokes. I love the mystique and the stories behind the creation of the perfumes and the why of them as well as the interesting shapes of the bottles and wonderful scents they contain. For example Lanvin's Arpege was inspired by a mother's love for her child and is dedicated to Jeanne Lanvin's daughter Maguerite. The emblem is a stylised representation of Jeanne and her daughter going off to a ball.
Far too often perfume or aftershave is an impulse purchase, driven more by advertising and the shape of the bottle than the actual contents.

Perfume and scent has been around since the Egyptians. Some of the oldest surviving bottles are perfume bottle. Scent played an important role for the Romans. During the reign of Nero, a vast amount of the Roman treasury was spent on scent. Perfumes were also popular in Islamic and Indian society. However, it is in the mid 17th century that the French really begin their love affair with scent. The court of Louis XV is known as the perfumed court. Then as the whole de elopement of chemistry happens, the compounds used in perfumes become more stable and modern perfumes are born. Equally at this time, the nature of glass became better understood and scent bottles were able to be developed in more and more unusual shapes.

Floris which has resided at 89 Jermyn Street since Juan Famenias Floris bought the property in the mid 18th century. Its cabinets are from 1851 and many of its fragrance formulas date from the 19th century. Stephanotis was developed for the brides in the St James area in 1795. Edwardian Bouquet was invented in 1901. Oscar Wilde used to enjoy wearing Malmaison while Ian Fleming much preferred No 89, a fragrance dating from 1951.

The precise formulas of perfumes are never given but when you are speaking of perfume, you speak about the top or head notes – these are the ones you get when you first put a perfume on and dissipate quickly, the middle or heart notes are the ones that arrive after a few minutes while as the base notes are the scents that appear after about 30 minutes. This is why you should take your time when you are trying on perfume. It can also be useful to the writer when they are attempting to describe what sort of scent a character might wear. A cloud of vanilla and rose is much more evocative than a cloud of perfume.

Manufacturers will often publish the notes but not the precise formula. The formulas are closely guarded secrets and they may purchase the ingredients from several different sources, just to keep people guessing.

For example Floris’ Malmaison has top notes of cinnamon, clove and lemon, middle of heart notes of malmaison carnation, rose ylang and base notes of cedar wood, musk, patchouli and vanilla. Vanilla as a base note gives a seductive lingering scent.

Shalimar which was created in 1925 after Guerlin was inspired by the tale of Shah Jahangir and his wife, Mumtaz Majal and the mausoleum he created for her. Apparently Mumtaz Majal loved the scents in the gardens of Shalimar. How much is true and how much is clever marketing is debatable but the fragrance has withstood the tests of time. The notes are lemon, bergamot, jasmine, rose de mai, opopanax, tonka bean, vanilla, iris, incense, ambergris.

Davidoff’s Adventure which endorsed by Ewan Macgregor has top notes of mandarin, lemon, bergamot ,mate leaves and black pepper, with middle or heart notes of black sesame and pimento and with base notes of cedarwood, vetiver and white musk. A common complaint with Adventure is that it is too light after the initial top notes have worn off. While with Floris’ no 89, the top notes are bergamot, lavender, neroli, nutmeg orange and petitgrain, with middle or heart notes of geranium, rose ylang ylang and base notes of cedarwood, musk, sandalwood and vetiver. Because the base notes are different even though they both contain the classic masculine base notes of cedarwood and vetiver, the fragrance lingers longer.

Hopefully, next time you pass a perfume counter or go shopping for a new fragrance, you will be tempted to take your time and chose one that really suits either you or the character you are creating.

Unfortunately the scents that the Vikings wore are lost to history so Michelle Styles's latest book,VikingWarrior Unwilling Wife does not explore this aspect of viking culture, but she does love thinking about what sort scents they would have used.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Kim --

    Shalimar is such a lovely scent. Your mom has good taste.
    It has withstood the test of time for good reason and I think exudes quality and luxury.

  3. Michelle - this post has sparked a story in my head ;-)

    Ahhh perfume... I love it, it just doesn't love me. I seem to be one of those people that can turn a lovely scent bad! Mind you it does mean that perfume that does work smells differently on me to anyone else. I used to wear Gucci No3 but now I wear a Banana Republic scent. Ysatis always reminds me of my sister even though she now wears a lovely Hermes scent (which smells terrible on me... curses)

  4. Biddy -- It is always good when posts spark stories.

    And perfume and its combo with skin is such a personal thing. It is great when you find a scent that works. I seem to keep changing scents, but at the moment, I do really like malmaison.

  5. Shalimar is my mom's favorite scent -- it always makes me think of her when I smell it!

    (Thanks mods!)

  6. Kimberley --

    It is interesting how many women have good memories of Shalimar.
    There is something wonderful about it. Maybe it is the vanilla...

  7. LOL You're welcome Kim.

    And I don't wear perfume often, but I do like light, citrusy scents. Nothing cloying, nothing overly floral. One of my favourites is Clinique's Happy. I like Calvin Klein's Truth as well. Not quite as light, but it seems to blend well with me.

  8. Ohh, vanilla perfume. Gorgeous. (I wear Dior Addict - it was the vanilla that hooked me.)