The weather warms, so my gardenia buds open, seeking attention and permeating the night air with their perfume. As I made a study of the fragrance, I decided to write on this nature’s wonder. The common gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) has highly fragrant white flowers. In the evening, the opening buds smell slightly green and piquant because of the salicylate aspect. The flowers also smell creamy, recalling coconut and peach skin. There is an unmistakably heady indolic element of jasmine. In ripe blooms, they have a sharp green ‘mushroom’ overtones. Gardenias also share some aspects with lily, lily of the valley, ylang ylang, and a bit of rose.

In terms of composition, (E)-ocimene, linalool, methyl benzoate and a number of tiglates compose the gardenia flower headspace. However, there are likely olfactory variations amongst species. For example, the critically endangered native of Hawaii Gardenia brighamii, as demonstrated by headspace analysis of its gas-phase components, contains 41% methyl benzoate, 13% (3Z)-hex-3-enyl benzoate, 7% indole that recalls ‘white-flower smell’, 7% jasmine lactone that lends the jasminic and coconut touch, and 3.7% (3Z)-hex-3-enyl tiglate that gives the tang of soil fungi and mushrooms to the flower. It is possible to extract the desired fragrance from their flowers by enfleurage as the villagers of Fusagasugà in Colombia have continued to produce gardenia absolute since 1945. However, such enfleurage-derived absolutes are rarely ever produced in industrial scale due to the exorbitant costs involved. And, yet, I have stumbled upon a solvent-extracted absolute of the Tahitian gardenia or Tiaré (Gardenia tahitensis) which can be used in fine fragrances up to 1% of a composition to impart the exotic white-floral quality.

Gardenia in Perfumery

Like many flowers that do not yield the desired quality of their scents or do so at a prohibitive cost of extraction, the smell of gardenia is also the object of fascination in perfumery. Early reconstitutions of gardenia often revolve around a tuberose note and aldehyde C-18 and may eschew styrallyl acetate altogether. Still, most gardenia bases almost always call for it. Such bases rely on its powerful rhubarb-like green note in combination with jasmine, rose, lily of the valley, lilac, and a small amount of orange blossom to render gardenia odour characteristics. But styrallyl acetate is rather harsh, so salicylates may be used to soften it along with aldehyde C-14 and C-18 as modifiers. The top note of such bases may call for aldehyde C-8 to C-12 and citrus oils such as lemon, mandarin, orange, or bergamot. To fix the components, heliotropin, coumarin, musk, labdanum, myrrh, tolu balsam, cinnamic alcohol, and synthetic ambergris may be used.  Other aroma chemicals such as the mildly floral ‘gardenia oxide’ (isoamyl benzyl ether) and the citrusy fruity linalyl isovalearate are sometimes incorporated into gardenia compounds. Meanwhile, perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, who professes his love of simplicity, draws a more-or-less complete gardenia note with just three ingredients: the fruity sweetness and coconut of aldehyde C-18 (γ-nonalactone), the fresh green of styrallyl acetate (Gardenol), and the Concord-grape sweetness of methyl anthranilate. Indeed, the reconstitution of gardenia is subject to the creative interpretation of the perfumer.

Gardenia in Perfumes

In fine fragrances, gardenia was initially a secondary floral. It formed part of the composition, but was itself not featured. For instance, gardenia found its way into the floral aldehydic L’Aimant (Coty, 1927) via the styrallyl acetate contained in infusions of jasmine, cassie, and tuberose used in the original formula. The green freshness of gardenia pairs well with chypre accords in perfumes such as Bandit (Robert Piguet, 1944), Ma Griffe (Carven, 1947), Miss Dior (1947), Cabochard (Grès, 1959), Coriandre (Jean Couturier, 1973), Michelle (Balenciaga, 1979), and the excellent fruity chypre La Panthère (Cartier, 2014).

Gardenia as main floral theme can be seen starting from soliflores like Gardénia (Chanel, 1925) and Jungle Gardenia (Tuvaché, 1933). If you like your gardenia creamy, Lou Lou (Cacharel, 1987) offers an interesting interpretation of the creamy Tahitian gardenia or Tiaré based on an oriental accord and tuberose. Another very creamy, coconut-like gardenia is Crystal Noir (Versace, 2004). But if you like the company of magnolia and jasmine, the bright gardenia of Un Matin d’Orage (Annick Goutal, 2009) may suit you better. A recent resurgence of the note seems to have produced a slew of gardenias for everyone, ranging from the sombre gardenia of Une Voix Noire (Serge Lutens, 2012), the fruity frangipani and gardenia of Gorgeous Gardenia (Gucci, Flora, 2012), to a full-fledged gardenia offered in the masculine context of Boutonnière No.7 (Arquiste, 2012). But for those who crave a more realistic impression, Gardénia (Robert Piguet, 2014) offers a no-frills flower with minimal contrasts.

mom gardenia

As for me, I cannot quite pick a favourite gardenia perfume at the moment. My pot of gardenia has had all the attention from me — perhaps, the only other rivals are the gardenias in my mother’s garden.

Sources:,, P&F Vol.8 October/November 1983 by Danute Pajaujis Anonis, Perfumery: Practice and Principles; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, Scents of the Vanishing Flora

  1. Müller PM, Lamparsky D. Perfumes: Art, Science & Technology. Amsterdam, New York: Elsevier, 1991
  2. Tamogami S et al. Analysis of enantiomeric ratios of aroma components in several flowers using a Chiramix column. Flavour Fragr J 2004;19:1-5.

Part 3: Neroli oil and orange blossom absolute

This is the third and final part of the series ‘The bitter orange tree: bigarade, petitgrain, orange leaf, neroli, and orange blossom’.

If rose is the queen and jasmine the king, then bitter orange flower is the princess of all flowers. The youthful, radiant, and romantic scent of these vernal blossoms captures the spring time. The main extracts of bitter orange (Citrus aurantium subspecies amara) flower are neroli oil and orange blossom absolute.

orange blossoms.jpg

Legend has it that neroli oil is named after the princess of Nerola, Marie-Anne de la Trémoille, who was known to have perfumed her gloves and bath with the essential oil of bitter orange flowers. Neroli oil has a fresh floral profile with green and spicy tone that recalls petitgrain oil. But despite their olfactory resemblance, the contents of ocimenes, β-pinene, limonene, linalool, and linalyl acetate of neroli oil are higher than those of petitgrain oil. Moreover, neroli oil also possesses the jasmine odorant cis-jasmone as well as the exotic jasmine note of 1H-indole and the Concord grape of methyl N-methylanthranilate that differentiate it from petitgrain oil. And interestingly, despite coming from a citrus plant, nootkatone and other typical components of citrus oils are not found in neroli oil.

Production of neroli oil and orange blossom absolute concentrates in Tunisia, Morocco, and Egypt in April. It starts from manual picking. The flowers are picked by hand to avoid damaging the immature flower buds, which will be collected in subsequent harvests. After distillation, around 850 kg to 1000 kg of flowers yields 1 kg of neroli oil. The Tunisian oil has the fresh floral note of orange flower and is reminiscent of freshly ironed linen. The Moroccan variety possesses the fresh floral sweetness of orange flower, but also harbours green and animalic aspects.

To obtain orange blossom absolute, around 1000 kg of flowers are loaded into an extractor with a solvent for heating. The solvent is later removed by evaporation, leaving the liquid ‘concrete’ of orange blossom, which solidifies at room temperature due to the presence of wax in the flowers. The collected concrete is melted down and mixed with alcohol at 60°C. After an hour of mixing, it is cooled down to 0°C to remove the solidified wax from the mixture. Finally, the alcohol is removed by evaporation to yield roughly 1 kg of orange blossom absolute. Tunisian orange blossom absolute is floral, warm, sensual, and heady — typical of orange flower. The Moroccan origin is also warm, but more animalic and indolic. Moreover, the by-product of steam-distilled flowers can be solvent-extracted to produce orange blossom water absolute, which has a harsher orange blossom character, is less indolic, and not as heady when compared to the absolute.

There are several aspects that impart distinguishing features to neroli oil and orange blossom absolute. The hydrocarbons such as α-pinene, β-pinene, myrcene, limonene, and ocimene confer the bright citrus note. Particularly important are the ocimenes, which provide a very fresh citrus note with a subtle green accent. These compounds make up about 40% of neroli oil whose sparkling and diffusive character is used to add freshness to a composition. In contrast, the hydrocarbons constitute only around 6% in the absolute that is, nonetheless, employed to boost the floralcy of other components.

Meanwhile, the alcohols are a class that contributes to the floral notes. These include linalool, phenyl ethyl alcohol, α-terpineol, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, nerolidol, and farnesol. Amongst these, linalool provides much of the character impact.

As for the esters found in extracts of bitter orange flower, they serve as accents to modify the citrus notes. Such esters are linalyl acetate, methyl anthranilate, neryl acetate, citronellyl acetate, and geranyl acetate. Methyl anthranilate, also a nitrogenous compound, is the most important of its kind and can be found up to 10% in the absolute; its fruity and floral character is essential to both neroli oil and orange blossom absolute.

Yet, another minor but important class of compounds is phenol. Eugenol is an important phenol in extracts of bitter orange flower. Despite being a minor constituent, its spicy clove note imparts a kind of brightness and natural character to the flower.

Interestingly, important nitrogenous compounds found in extracts of bitter orange flower are the aforementioned methyl anthranilate, indole which is a potent floral chemical with animalic character, and pyrazines that impart green, dry, and earthy character. The high-impact 2-isobutyl-3-methoxypyrazine, for example, confers a green facet that recalls galbanum oil and green peppers to neroli oil. The pyrazines are, perhaps, what give orange blossom extracts their peculiarity that can add a long-lasting, signature freshness to the top note.

Neroli and Orange Blossom in Perfumery

Such insights into the chemical compositions of bitter orange flower are also essential to the reconstitution of an orange blossom or neroli note. This is because extracts from bitter orange flower are very expensive and, in most cases, can only be afforded in small amounts.

A classic reconstitution of the orange blossom note, for instance, is through a Schiff base formed by a reaction between an aldehyde (–CHO) and an amine (–NH2) such as methyl anthranilate. One of the most widely used Schiff bases in the reproduction of orange blossom and neroli notes is Aurantiol, which is produced by the reaction between hydroxycitronellal and methyl anthranilate. The only problem with Schiff bases is that they are strongly yellow and would pose a problem, should discolouration be a concern. In any case, they can be further used in compounding orange blossom or neroli notes in bases or fragrance composition itself.

New odorants for orange blossom or neroli notes have also been developed and could lend special signature to such fragrance bases, and hence fragrance compositions. Nerolione® is an example of a high-impact, very stable, non-discolouring orange blossom material. Even in small amounts, it performs excellently in challenging bases of household and personal care products. But it can also be used in fine fragrances to brilliant effects. Perfumer Maurice Roucel dosed a few parts of Nerolione in Insolence (Guerlain, 2006) and brought out the floral radiance of violet. It may not provide a scent of its own in a formula, but it creates a synergy with floral and fruity notes, giving a blooming effect.

Neroli and Orange Blossom in Perfumes

In terms of use, neroli oil most famously finds itself in eaux de cologne. In the past, we would find around 7% neroli oil in 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser (Mülhens, 1792) or even 5% neroli oil in the revived Green Water (Jacques Fath, 2015) in contrast to the 0.5% neroli oil that lends just a bright dandy touch in Habit Rouge (Guerlain, 1965). An example of a ground-breaking composition in the eau de cologne style that employs neroli is Eau Sauvage (Dior, 1966).

Moreover, we also find orange flowers in compositions of other styles such as lavender water, aldehydic, chypre, and amber types. These include Chanel N°5 (1921), Arpège (Lanvin, 1927), Fleurs de Tabac (Cherigan, 1929), Vol de Nuit (Guerlain, 1933), Fleurs de Rocaille (Caron, 1934), Miss Dior (1947), English Leather (1949), and Fidji (Guy Laroche, 1966). Another interesting example is the development of a jasminic facet of neroli oil in 24 Faubourg (Hermès, 1995). The sensual floral character of orange blossom is key to masterpieces such as Après L’Ondée (Guerlain, 1906) and L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain, 1912).

Sources: P&F Vol.6 June/July 1981 by Felix Buccellato, P&F Vol.16 November/December 1991 by Mans H Boelens and Antonio Oporto, P&F Vol.9 February/March 1995 by Danute Pajaujis Anonis, P&F Vol.34 March 2009 by Jeb Gleason-Allured, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors,

Part 2: Petitgrain oil and orange leaf absolute

This is the second part in the series of ‘The bitter orange tree: bigarade, petitgrain, orange leaf, neroli, and orange blossom’.

biolandes petitgrain moroco

The main extracts from bitter orange leaves are petitgrain oil and orange leaf absolute.

Petitgrain oil is produced by steam distillation of leaves and twigs of the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subspecies amara). The video below shows a traditional petitgrain oil production in Paraguay. Traditionally, the branches are harvested manually with machetes and transferred to the on-site distillery. The wood still is filled with the harvested leaves and branches before it is covered with a lid and sealed with wet clay. The resulting petitgrain oil is immiscible and forms a layer on top of water. Usually, 500 to 600 kg of leaves and twigs yield 1 kg of petitgrain oil.

The oil is intensely bittersweet, woody, fresh floral, and with a green undertone. It is mainly produced in Paraguay from October to March, but a higher-grade oil comes in small quantities from France, Southern Italy, Morocco, and Tunisia in June and July. Petitgrain oil from Paraguay has a characteristic bitter green note with a slight floral touch of neroli oil. Tunisian variety possesses also a bitter green note, but is the most floral amongst the origins of petitgrain oil.

Sometimes, the leaves are solvent-extracted, and around 500 kg of leaves yield 1 kg of orange leaf absolute. It has a powerful bitter green note, but is a step down from petitgrain oil; its dry down is soft and with a marine facet. Interestingly, even the water by-product from the steam distillation of the leaves and twigs can be further solvent-extracted. It takes up to 3300 kg of leaves and twigs to produce just 1 kg of orange leaf water absolute that has a deep bitter green note precisely recalling plucked leaves. It is also slightly smoky and long-lasting. In any case, I imagine these two types of absolute to be incredibly expensive!

In terms of composition, petitgrain oil can comprise up to 80% of the 2:1 mixture of linalyl acetate and linalool. There are also geranyl acetate, neryl acetate, and α-terpinyl acetate that are important. Petitgrain oil also contains geraniol, nerol, α-terpineol, nerolidol, as well as the woody spathulenol and isospathulenol — both of which are constituents of clary sage oil. Interestingly, small amounts of high-impact compounds like the violet-smelling β-ionone and rose-smelling β-damascenone can be found in petitgrain oil. Certain aldehydes, present in minor quantities, also contribute to the character of petitgrain oil. Some aldehydes impart strong, exotic, spicy odours. 3-ethyl-benzaldehyde, on the other hand, possesses a benzaldehyde-like odour with a mimosa undertone. Yet, another aldehyde confers a fresh peel note. There is also a galbanum-reminiscent green note of 2-isopropyl-3-methoxypyrazine. And though extracted from a citrus plant, nootkatone and other typical components of citrus oils are not found in petitgrain oil. Such is the complexity of a deceptively simple perfumery material that is petitgrain oil.

Petitgrain in Perfumes

As with many citrus ingredients, petitgrain oil is classically related to the eau de cologne genre. For example, Original Eau de Cologne (Farina, 1709) by Johann Maria Farina contains 20% petitgrain oil. The classic 4711 Echt Kölnisch Wasser (Mülhens, 1792) by Wilhelm Mülhens features 11.3% petitgrain oil. However, petitgrain oil can also provide natural brightness to the aldehydic floral genre, and the iconic Chanel N°5 (1921) in the original formula is one such prime example that contains 1% petitgrain oil. Moreover, petitgrain oil is used to brighten oriental or floral compositions, but it is rarely dosed more than 2% in modern times. Such a relatively high dose of 2% is found in Habit Rouge (Guerlain, 1965), Eau Sauvage (Dior, 1966), and Eau d’Hadrien (Annick Goutal, 1993).

Beyond these, petitgrain oil is also used as a substitute for the more expensive neroli oil in functional products. This is because of its relatively inexpensive price and good performance even in bases such as air fresheners and soaps. Still, the high content of linalyl acetate makes petitgrain oil unstable in strong detergent.

Part 3: Neroli oil and orange blossom absolute

Sources:, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

  1. Zarzo M.Sensors (Basel, Switzerland). What is a Fresh Scent in Perfumery? Perceptual Freshness is Correlated with Substantivity. 2013;13(1):463-483.

Part 1: Bigarade or bitter orange oil

This is the first part in the series of ‘The bitter orange tree: bigarade, petitgrain, orange leaf, neroli, and orange blossom’.

Citrus aurantium fruit

Seville, Spain, is famous for its abundance of bitter orange trees (Citrus aurantium subspecies amara) that line the streets. Their prolific blossoms perfume the air in spring. They were brought in the ninth century by the Moors that ruled the south of Spain. The local bitter orange fruits are not directly consumed due to its intense sourness and bitterness, but are prized for their high pectin content — perfect for making marmalade.

The peel is, however, valued for its fragrant essential oils extracted by cold pressing. Bigarade oil is sourced from various places, but especially from Argentina and Ivory Coast. Despite being strongly citrusy, it is remarkably different from sweet orange oil (Citrus sinensis). Bigarade oil is less aldehydic, and possesses a fresh floral and bergamot-like character. Its pronounced bitterness is due to the presence of non-volatile, polar components that also set it apart from sweet orange oil. Certain molecularly distilled quality of bigarade oil provides a more intense fruity, zesty orange note with a balance between aldehydic character and fruity sweetness. Some main constituents are aliphatic aldehydes, oxygen-containing mono- and sesquiterpenes. Aldehyde C-8 to C-14, linalool, linalyl acetate, nootkatone, and α-selinenone could contribute to its odour character.


In perfumes, bigarade oil imparts distinct freshness to the composition, and for instance, is featured in Cologne Bigarade (Frédéric Malle, 2001) with as much as 50% bitter orange oil.

Part 2: Petitgrain oil and orange leaf absolute.

Sources:, Scent and Chemistry, The Molecular World of Odors,

  1. Ling Zhengkui, Hua Yingfang, and Gu Yuhong, The Chemical Constituents Of the Essential Oil from the Flowers, Leaves and Peels of Citrus Aurantium; in: Proc of the Intl Conf on Ess Oils, Flavours, Fragrances and Cosmetics, 380-381, Beijing, China, 9-13 October (1988).
  2. Mans H Boelens, Critical Review on the Chemical Composition of Citrus Oils, Perf & Flav, 16(2), 17-34 (1991).
  3. Mans H Boelens and Rafael Jimenez Sindreu, Essential Oils from Seville Sitter Orange (Citrus aurantium L. ssp. amara L.), BM Lawrence, BD Mookherjee and BJ Wllis (Editors), Flavors and Fragrances: A World Perspective. Proc of the 10th Intl Congr of Ess CMs, Fragrances and Flavors, Washington, DC, Elsevier Sci Publ BV, Amsterdam (1988).
  4. Mans H Boelens and Rafael Jimenez, The Chemical Composition of the Peel Oils from Unripe and Ripe Fruits of Bitter Orange, Citrus aurantium L ssp amara Engl, Flavour Fragr J, 4, 139-142 (1989).

The Bitter Orange Tree

seville orange

Amongst the most useful citruses in perfumery is the bitter orange tree (Citrus aurantium subspecies amara). The plant can be extracted for different ingredients. The cold-pressed fruit peel produces bitter orange or bigarade oil. The steam-distilled leaves and small branches yield petitgrain oil, whereas their solvent-extraction produces orange leaf absolute. As for the flowers, they can be steam-distilled to produce neroli oil or extracted by solvent to produce orange blossom absolute.


Of course, the flowers and leaves of other citruses can be similarly extracted. For example, the sweet orange tree (Citrus sinensis), whose fruit peel is cold-pressed to give sweet orange oil, can yield neroli oil by steam distillation or orange blossom absolute by solvent extraction — albeit of inferior qualities.

It is the bitter orange tree that contributes significantly to the typically used orange blossom absolute and neroli oil. Despite coming from the same plant, the composition of bigarade oil, petitgrain oil, orange leaf absolute, orange blossom absolute, and neroli oil each differs markedly. I will discuss each of these ingredients in the upcoming posts.

Part 1: Bigarade or bitter orange oil


When The Post Office Smells of Corsica…

I fell in love with the everlasting flower since my first contact with it in the now discontinued Immortelle de Corse (L’Occitane, 2011) by perfumer Claire Chambert. I have always sought its warm, comforting sweetness. But, I have just fallen in love with these golden bunches again because of Sables (Annick Goutal, 1985). Precisely, because of a broken bottle of Sables.

If you have an idea of Sables, you will understand why I have been inspired to write this upon receiving my package at the post office. The 100 ml of juice that soaked the package and trickled down on my table as I opened the parcel has left an indelible scent of immortelle.


The everlasting flowers or immortelles are so named possibly because they retain the bright canary even after drying. They seem immortal. These aromatic shrubs thrive in low-nutrient coastlines, rocky cliffs, slopes, and ditches in the Mediterranean. The immortelle belongs to the genus Helichrysum, of which the species H. italicum is most important to perfumery. It can be divided further into three subspecies. H. italicum subspecies microphyllum is found mainly in Corsica in France, Sardinia in Italy, and the Balearic Islands of Spain. H. italicum subspecies italicum thrives in areas around the Mediterranean, including the Balkans. H. italicum subspecies serontinum populates areas of Spain and Portugal. Amongst the three subspecies, the first two provide most of the commercial extracts. The three main producers are Corsica, the Balkans, and Spain.



Not only the flowers, but the entire plant, which is charged with volatiles, is harvested in summer. In Corsica, harvest takes place in June, around summer solstice. The aromatic top bush is skilfully harvested with a sickle, and only part of the plant is left above ground to survive — a haphazard swing could thus kill the plant in one season. Thereafter, the harvest is quickly taken to a nearby processing plant, where the extraction of essential oil by steam distillation takes place immediately. The copper or steel kettles are filled with the flowers in such a way that creates most resistance to the steam, hence maximising the yield. As for the absolute, the flowers will be sun-dried in a greenhouse for one month prior to solvent extraction.

Generally, the essential oil is fresher, greener, and fruitier, whereas the absolute possesses a more tobacco-like character with celery, curry, nutty, and dry-fruit facets. The absolute is also reminiscent of labdanum and spirits such as cognac and Armagnac.

Moreover, origin also influences the olfactory profile of immortelle extracts. The Corsican oil is much fruitier, spicier, more ambery, and warmer, but the Balkan oil is almost aldehydic and possesses tobacco, hay, amber, and leather notes. For absolutes, the Corsican origin is also the most prized for its richness, density, and diffusion; it is the most powerful with honeyed, aromatic notes, and a floral facet that rounds up the character. The Balkan absolute recalls liqueur and dried fruits, and is nutty, spicy, aromatic and ambery. Interestingly, the Spanish variety maintains the hallmarks of herbal hay and tobacco, and is more animalic.

In terms of composition, the essential oil generally consists mostly of nerol and its ester neryl acetate. However, provenance also affects the composition. For example, the Corsican oil has relatively significant levels of neryl acetate along with elevated levels of nerol compared to the Balkan oil that is much lower in neryl acetate, but possesses ten times as much α-pinene.

But above all, immortelle has such an alluring warmth that is so singular so that even Napoléon Bonaparte often said that he could smell his hometown — Corsica — before he would set foot on it.

dry immortelle

Sun-dried immortelle: I cut the bunches in bloom and left them to dry in the sun. The result looks like those dry puffy bunches in L’Occitane stores, but with intense aromatic, curry, tobacco note.


Immortelle in Perfumery

In perfumery, immortelle has traditionally been a complement to chypre, floral, and amber compositions. It is also sometimes considered an aromatic subset of the gourmand family. Immortelle usually takes a subsidiary role in both formulation and consumer marketing. But thanks to the surge of woody or spicy fragrances with darker notes, perfumers are driven to employ lesser known naturals with warm, tobacco, tea, liqueur, and wood notes like those of immortelle.

Perfumer Dorothée Piot, for instance, often incorporates immortelle absolute in men’s fragrance. Its tobacco character blends well with woody, oriental, fougère, or leathery accords. The challenge of using immortelle lies in the dose. Its warmth can be used to illuminate the composition, but too much of it, and one has mouth-watering pancake topped with maple syrup. The softness of the absolute also pairs well with magnolia or tagete in floral and fruity accords. As for me, immortelle is akin to the assoluta voice with the rich darkness of a contralto and the ringing bells of a soprano — it simply pierces through the thickest of compositions.

Immortelle in Perfumes

My first and most favourite immortelle composition is Immortelle de Corse from the Voyage en Méditeranée Collection of L’Occitane. It features a floral immortelle whose honeyed accent blends with the rich balsamic benzoin, extending the character. The tea accord therein accentuates the tea nuance of immortelle, keeping the composition fresh. The sweet maple syrup aspect of immortelle, in the meantime, provides a glaze to the delicious ginger pumpkin pie of Like This (Etat Libre d’Orange, 2010). Going into the sweet territory, Blanche Immortelle (Atelier Cologne, 2014) is anything but blanche: imagine barrels of maple syrup and bitter roasted coffee to reinforce your favourite immortelle — surely not for everyone. For a similar, but less sweet immortelle note, one can explore the herbs, burnt caramel, and woods of Eau Noire (Christian Dior, 2005).

In the terrain of woods and chypre, The Afternoon of A Faun (Etat Libre d’Orange, 2012) buries its immortelle note amongst the heft of spicy woods, earthy myrrh, leather, and mosses. Yet, the rich immortelle cuts through the chypre elements with surprising limpidity like a huge sfogato voice soaring above the chorus. In 1740 Marquis de Sade (Histoires de Parfums, 2000), immortelle creates a beautiful resonance with the dense chypre composition as its dark sweetness and tobacco nestle perfectly amongst the patchouli, amber, leather, and labdanum, whilst its luminous accent lights the background. It is a good bridge between the sweetness of a honey note and the warmth of amber.

As for the gold standard, I pick Sables. The emphasis falls on the blazing intensity of a whole field of immortelle distilled. It parallels the heat of curry, and is only contrasted by the milky, creamy cushion of sandalwood and vanilla. I reach for Sables most often for winter comfort and summer reminiscence. Its warm signature that goes on slowly like undying embers is perfect for the coldest of days. Yet, in the searing 34-degree Celsius heat of tropical Hong Kong, it transports me to the hot sands of a summer holiday.

And, I am sure that no post office since has ever smelled as good as the one that received my Sables.


Sources: P&F Vol. 34 May 2009 by Pierre-Jean Hellivan, The Federazione Italiania Produttori Piante Officinali (FIPPO)

  1. Leonardi, M., Ambryszewska, K. E., Melai, B., Flamini, G., Cioni, P. L., Parri, F. and Pistelli, L. (2013), Essential-Oil Composition of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) G.Don ssp. italicum from Elba Island (Tuscany, Italy). Chemistry & Biodiversity, 10: 343–355

The Humanistic Buildings of Rafael Moneo


They say nature is the best teacher. This could not be more true for the works of Pritzker Prize-winning architect Rafael Moneo. His iconic Kursaal Congress Centre in the city of San Sebastián is one of the reasons why I love the Basque Country. I admire his creative works that resonate beautifully with their contexts. They are marked by simplicity and offer a sense of emotion through the plans or manipulations of natural light or of textures.

For this reason, I can only count myself fortunate that I would see Señor Moneo in person merely two months after my visit to Donostia. There happened to be an exhibition in Hong Kong in which his works from 1961 to 2013 were showcased, and Moneo himself discussed selected works: the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, the Kursaal Congress Centre in Donostia, the City Hall of Murcia, and the Northwest Corner Building of Columbia University. It was most insightful to listen to his ideas and sensibilities.


The arcade of relieving arches in the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, Spain

Already with the National Museum of Roman Art completed in 1986 in Mérida, Moneo ‘did not want it to be a container, a conventional museum’. He believed that ‘the new building should convey at once what the old one was’ in referring to the rich heritage of the Roman city. By employing Roman discharging arches and Roman-style flat bricks, he erected an arcade that blends seamlessly with the ancient identity of Mérida. The buttresses, arches, and windows all conspire to create a natural extension. Rafael Moneo indeed stood on the shoulders of past giants whilst conceiving the utmost expression of Meridian pride. ‘The city deserves to have the pictures of both cities, [the old and the new], together, making the true Mérida’. Moneo believed that the way the Romans built should be a pride here.

kuursaal eus.jpg

Lit like beacons of celebration at dusk, the iconic boulders form the complex of the Kursaal Congress Centre in San Sebastián, Spain

The Kursaal Congress Centre, my favourite piece, was built in 1999 relation to what Moneo called ‘geographical accidents’. The city of San Sebastián in Northern Spain is filled with a collection of geographical accidents: island, boulders, and beaches that give a sense of natural frames. And, Moneo wanted to ‘recover those sunken rocks’. To do that, he proposed two ‘rocks’ as the core of the design, precipitated perhaps by some sense of minimalism. They are essentially two boxes, each enclosed in an external layer of ribbed and textured glasses. This creates an open walkway lit by natural light that allows freedom of movement around the auditorium. At night, the structure comes alive like beacons of celebration; it is after all a place of public gathering and performances. The Kursaal feels as though two big boulders were simply thrown there. One cannot help but feel that they have dotted the terrain since time immemorial.


Façade of the City Hall of Murcia faces the imposing Baroque traditions of the Cathedral of Murcia and the  Episcopal Palace.

Completed in 1998, the Murcia City Hall is an annex to the City Hall that happens to frame the historic square of Murcia. Here, Moneo’s unflinchingly modern façade might seem to contradict the rest of the edifices that include the sixteenth-century Cathedral of Murcia and the Episcopal Palace from 1768 – two buildings of strong historical connotation. But the surprise lies in the asymmetrical nature of staggered columns and irregular openings. In fact, Moneo was engaging in a dialogue with the historical façades as the motifs reference the many images of church altarpieces. It is an encoded intellectual discourse.

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Constrained, but not congested: the Northwest Corner Building of Columbia University may seem limited in space, but its designs encourage interactions aplenty.

And even when the construction tends to prevail in the case of the Northwest Corner Building of Columbia University that was completed in 2010, he never fails to offer a sense of engagement with the context, the site, and the community. Here, the constraint presented in the form of a gymnasium below the site  and limited space made the construction challenging. However, Moneo fulfilled the challenge by offering spaces for social interactions. For example, the wide exterior staircase connects the outside and the inside easily. And, on the upper storeys, the loft-like laboratory and office spaces encourage exchanges. The bridges that connect to neighbouring buildings also encourage interdisciplinary dialogue. In a way, Moneo’s designs force us to look around and at each other. The building may be confined to a corner, but it has plenty of generosity.

In contrast to the monolithic and intimidating forms to which most architectural modernism otherwise lends itself, the works of Rafael Moneo elevate the spirit. I like them because they may form a continuing dialogue with the precedents, or at times create an intellectual discourse, or resonate with the community. I would even go so far as to praise his humanistic touch. In the face of buildings of soulless glasses and concretes, his is a most welcome change.

‘Rafael Moneo: A Theoretical Reflection from the Professional Practice’ features archive materials from 1961 to 2013 and runs from 22th October 2016 to 14th January 2017 at the Hong Kong Design Institute (HKDI).

Sources: ArchDaily, HKDI

Review: Chanel Boy — 4.5 points

Much like how Gabrielle Chanel had played with the code of women’s fashion, perfumer Olivier Polge experimented with the fougère accord in creating Boy (Chanel, 2016). This perfumery accord was born when perfumer Paul Parquet created the eponymous Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882). The accord classically revolves around lavender, oakmoss, and sweet coumarin, but also contains a citrus top, geranium and spicy herbs in the heart, and woody or animalic notes in the base. It is traditionally associated with masculine fragrances. But Polge was determined to flout that rule and toy with the accord. The result is nothing short of brilliant.


Already, the fresh top of Boy is a tell-tale sign. It is Chanel; it is aldehydic with penetrating citrusy and rosy notes. These come hand in hand with grapefruit and fresh lemon. The effect feels like an effervescent champagne with a rosy tinge. Accompanying that is lavender aplenty with its aromatic, herbal, and floral charm easily felt. This sublime lavender of Boy runs the show for the rest of its top-note freshness.

The composition, then, segues classically into a rosy geranium heart, but it takes a surprisingly soft turn here. A touch of orange blossom and jasminic brightness wraps around the sharp geranium. A rich sandalwood accord evinces an intimate caress towards the dry down.

It becomes enveloping, but also with a dusky accent. At first, the tonka bean note of coumarin provides a warm sweetness, like a gentle fondle. This develops into a full embrace with the powdery sweet vanilla and heliotrope. There is also a hint of hidden desire in hot patchouli and civet that feels like a nod to the classic Jicky (Guerlain, 1889). But contrasted classically by the mossy note of Evernyl, this sensual sweetness has suddenly acquired a rough-hewn signature. Around this mossy sweet powder forming the dry down is a rich musk cocktail that keeps Boy soft and intimate for all of its day-long duration—those who are anosmic to certain musks may thus find this part of Boy to be a whisper.

The fougère accord is manipulated in Boy to reveal an interestingly tender side. Whilst the classical trinity of lavender, coumarin, and oakmoss as well as the animalic touch of civet are kept, the character of fougère is made softer, borrowing elements of feminine fragrances. The fresh introduction consists of aldehydic and rosy notes beside the traditionally hesperidic notes. The powdery sweet coumarin is enhanced with heliotrope, vanilla, and musks. In this way, the accord sways towards its rosy and enveloping side. With Boy, Polge has saliently demonstrated the flexibility of this perfumery accord.

I think the reinvention of the fougère has been in the making, and Boy is almost the tipping point. Looking back in 1921, there was Maja (Myrurgia, 1921) whose fougère elements of citrus, lavender, geranium, and woody vetiver are hidden beneath a dominant spicy oriental personality. Then, only a decade ago, perfumer Jacques Polge perhaps tested the water with the patchouli and amber of Coromandel (Chanel, 2007) that resembles the rose-patchouli fougère of Zino Davidoff (Davidoff, 1986), except for the fact that lavender — one of the defining elements of a fougère — is absent in Coromandel. And, though Brit Rhythm For Her (Burberry, 2014) marries lavender and rosy peony, it is still a fresh floral rather than a fougère. But with Boy, the classical fougère has entered a new ground. Boy re-orchestrates the classical fougère to interesting effects. It may well pave the way for a revolution, and the next descendant of Boy might surprise us.

But, for now, I am quite enamoured of its rosy freshness and mossy-yet-sweet powder with that restrained elegance of Chanel.