Scents of simplicity

“Perfume decorates the day. It makes you feel as if the colours of the air have changed. It’s a substitute for having an orchestra following you playing the theme song of your choice,” says Tania Sanchez, who has written extensively about the subject. Elsa Krüger elaborates.

Do you remember your first real fragrance? I bet you do. For me, at the age of 19, it was Lanvin Arpège and it established a life-long preference for floral fragrances. Later, in my mature years, I discovered oud. It was love at first sniff.

Fragrance is the only sector of the beauty industry that grew during the pandemic. Now valued at more than £40 billion, the global perfume market is expected to rise to £62 billion in the coming years. And why not? There’s no denying the feel-good factor of fragrance. “As the world becomes more complicated, fragrance will become more important,” says Dora Baghriche, a perfumer at the fragrance house behind scents for brands like Armani and Dolce & Gabbana.

Perfume trends

Of several trends in new perfumes, one stands out: simplicity. As Vogue suggests, “Maybe we’ll simply choose fragrances that make us forget about the politics of the present, for a mood that’s fresh and optimistic.”

Following on from this, ‘scentimalism’ (perfumes comprising single ingredients) has become a serious fashion statement in a world hankering after simple, uncomplicated and uncluttered lifestyles. This goes hand in hand with the existing trend for unisex fragrances. You like it, you wear it. Nothing wrong with notes of fresh rose or violets in a men’s fragrance or sultry tobacco and leather in one for women. Examples are Sisley eaux de toilette 1 (water jasmine), 2 (water iris) and 3 (osmanthus). Ted Lapidus Stories eau de toilette collection follows the same pattern.

Escapism is another big theme in new fragrance collections that take us to exotic and faraway places, evoking the feel, scent and spirit of dream destinations. Les Grands Crus de Berdoues, Tom Ford, Chanel, Armani and Yves Saint Laurent have all created collections that celebrate journeys and memories of places and experiences. The Les Eaux de Chanel collection, for example, is inspired by the places that were significant to Gabrielle Chanel during her lifetime, while Sisley’s eau de toilette range also focuses on experiences and places.

Also, ‘light and sparkly’ is the theme for summer in the form of colognes and eaux de toilette and almost ‘watery’ scents, replacing the demand for heavy, super luxury perfumes. The new 1902 eau de cologne and eau de toilette collections from Berdoues Parfums all represent this trend. But let’s not make it too simple; the layering of scents has become popular, particularly those that focus on very few notes in their formulation.

With so many new fragrances, and especially international niche fragrances imported by specialist stores, it can be difficult to determine what you really like. At the last count, there were more than 20,000 perfumes in the world for women and about 10,000 new formulations are released annually. So how do you go about choosing a fragrance when so any scents are assaulting your senses? First decide what group or family of fragrances you like, then refine your selection to the ingredients that appeal to you. An excellent website to consult is fragrantica.com, which lists almost all existing fragrances, their groupings and the notes that formulations consist of.

Olfactory groups

AMBER: Warm and sensual. Includes musk, vanilla, exotic resins and wood, often accompanied by exotic flowers and spices.

Categories: Amber Floral, Amber Fougère, Amber Spicy, Amber Vanilla, Amber Wood. YSL Libre Le Parfum (2022) is a new Amber Floral with notes of bergamot, lavender, orange blossom, bourbon, vanilla, tonka bean, honey and vetiver.

AROMATIC: Combinations of sage, rosemary, cumin, lavender and other plants with a grass-spicy scent. Typical of fragrances for men.

Categories: Aromatic Aquatic, Aromatic Fougère, Aromatic Fruity, Aromatic Green, Aromatic Spicy.

CHYPRE: Chypre is French for Cyprus. A composition based on oak moss, labdanum, patchouli and bergamot.

Categories: Chypre Floral, Chypre Fruity.

FLORAL: The largest group of fragrances.

Categories: Floral Aldehyde, Floral Aquatic, Floral Fruity, Floral Fruity Gourmand, Floral Green, Floral Woody Musk, Florientals. Chanel No. 5 is a typical Floral Aldehyde.

CITRUS: Compositions are based on lemon, orange, bergamot, grapefruit or mandarin, with other citrusy, aromatic and tart notes for men and floral notes for women.

Categories: Citrus Aromatic, Citrus Gourmand.

LEATHER: If you see the word ‘cuir’, it indicates a leathery whiff. Leather scents vary from floral, velvety compositions to tart, smoky ones. Chanel Cuir de Russie (Russian leather) was the first leather fragrance for women (1924).

WOODY: Woody notes normally anchor perfumes as the base notes and include sandalwood, cedar wood, vetiver and woody resins.

Categories: Woody Aquatic, Woody Aromatic, Woody Chypre, Woody Floral Musk, Woody Spicy. The new Ex Nihilo The Hedonist belongs to the Woody Spicy category, with notes of bergamot, ginger, cedar wood, vetiver, musk and tonka bean.

ORIENTAL: Oud wood resin, one of the most precious ingredients in Middle Eastern perfume formulations, is strong, mysterious and lingering. Oriental fragrances lean strongly on spices and aromatic flowers, like vanilla, cinnamon, orris, musk, patchouli, rose, jasmine, orchid and orange blossom. A new perfume in this group is Armani Stronger With You Oud, which is classified as Fougère Oriental Woody, with notes of precious oud, juniper, saffron, lavandin and vanilla bourbon.

Fragrance notes

CITRUS: Fruits or citrus-smelling raw materials (verbena and lemongrass) are among the most ancient ingredients in perfumery. Most classic eau de cologne formulas are based on bergamot. Ingredients include orange, grapefruit, mandarin, lemon, lime and lemon verbena. Citrus notes lend a refreshing and effervescent quality. They’re helpful for clearing the mind and promote a sunny and optimistic feeling. Try Abercrombie & Fitch Authentic Moment Man with bergamot, neroli and vanilla bean.

FRUITS AND NUTS: Fruity notes have become popular in recent times, providing a refreshing feel in fragrances. Think apple, pear, cherries, coconut, fig, red berries, cherries, rhubarb, peach and plum. Nut notes, such as almond and hazelnut, are normally used to anchor ingredients. Abercrombie & Fitch Authentic Moment Woman is a fruity, floral, woody fragrance.

FLOWERS: Fragrant blossoms include ylang-ylang, fresh roses, magnolia, osmanthus, lavender, marigold, violet, freesia, peony, lily of the valley, mimosa, heliotrope, hyacinth, iris and geranium. Floral scents add a romantic and feminine touch and influence the psyche, uplifting the spirit. The new Giorgio Armani Sì Passione Éclat de Parfum belongs to the Floral Rose family.

WHITE FLOWERS: White florals include orange blossom, jasmine, gardenia, tuberose, frangipani and honeysuckle. They have the most intoxicating scent of all flowers and can be overpowering.

GREENS, HERBS AND FOUGÈRES: Green notes smell like crushed leaves and freshly cut grass. Ingredients include galbanum, fig leaf, tomato leaf, violet leaf, tea leaves (green, red, white, black, oolong and Earl Grey), fern, grass and juniper. Herbs are ‘aromatic notes’, such as rosemary, thyme, mint, tarragon, marjoram, fennel, basil, sage, anise, cloves, coffee and liquorice. Fougère (French for fern) is an ‘accord’ between lavender, oak moss and coumarin and is both sweet and bitter, with an earthy, forest-floor scent. It’s a favourite in men’s fragrances.

SPICES: Cinnamon, pepper, cloves, coriander, ginger, saffron, tamarind, cardamom, caraway pink pepper and tonka bean find a place in this range. It’s popular for Oriental fragrances.

SWEETS AND GOURMAND: Gourmand fragrances are based largely on vanilla, but range from dark chocolate, fresh cream, coconut and caramel scents to honey, marshmallow, macaroon, crème brûlée, cupcakes and nougat. The first successful gourmand fragrance was Angel (1992). ‘Edible’ notes produce a feeling of euphoria and playfulness. Kate Spade New York Sparkle is classed as a Floral Gourmand.

WOODS AND MOSSES: These are the base notes in perfumes and encompass cedar wood, sandalwood, agarwood/oud, pine or fir, bamboo, cashmir wood, cypress, rosewood. Vetiver and patchouli are also considered woody notes, although vetiver is actually a grass and patchouli is the leaf of an Eastern bush. Woody notes used to be the territory of masculine fragrances, but they have become very fashionable for women’s and unisex scents. Mosses such as oak moss and tree moss are the backbone of the chypre and fougère fragrance families. These ingredients are grounding, pensive, introspective and sensual.

RESINS AND BALSAMS: The most ancient components of perfumes, these form the basis of the Oriental scent family. Balsams include vanilla, benzoin, Peru balsam and Tolu balsam. They ‘fix’ flower notes to make them last longer. Incense, frank-incense or olibanum, myrrh, birch tar, elemi and styrax are resinous balsamic ingredients. They come from the bark of trees in the form of crystalised resin ‘tears’.

MUSK, AMBER AND ANIMAL SCENTS: Scents reminiscent of animals are traditionally extracted from deer musk, castoreum, ambergris, civet cats, leather and truffles. Ethical concerns for animals’ welfare, as well as the extremely high cost of sourcing, have brought about synthetic variants that are synthesised in the lab.

BEVERAGES: Popular beverages such as champagne, bourbon, whisky, amaretto, rum, Coca-Cola, pina colada and cappuccino often form part of gourmand formulations.

SYNTHETIC SCENTS: The ingredients for these scents are created mostly in the lab and include notes of cotton, freshly laundered linen and sea water. They create a sense of freshness and optimism and are perfect for summer holiday fragrances.