Review: Annick Goutal La Violette — 4.0 points

Nothing spells quaint like a good old violet scent. It was a defining note of perfumery during the early twentieth century when most, if not all, down puffs, toiletries, and fragrances were perfumed with violet notes. Therefore, anything that boasts violets certainly has a vintage vibe.

But for La Violette (Annick Goutal, 2001), it is not just about reminiscing that vintage powder puffs, violet corsages, and candies of era past. There is also a natural quality and an interesting accent to it that make La Violette a special soliflore.


Perfumer Isabelle Doyen must have revisited this seemingly old-fashioned and outworn note with such a focus. One is greeted with the veiled sweetness of rose and fruity raspberry. These come on strongly at first and settle into a palpable element throughout. Along with these is the characteristic powdery note of violets. Here, La Violette contains as much as 48% of isomethyl-α-ionone and 19% β-ionone, mirroring nature’s very own proportion of 35.7% α-ionone and 21.1% β-ionone. And, with a green violet leaf touch, the composition is convincingly photorealistic.

But these overdosed ionones are just part of the violet story, for there is a special peppery, woody touch to La Violette. It becomes more prominent as time passes and lasts until the musky dry down. I find that this adds an interesting dusky contrast to the sweetness of the ionones.

It is by no means a complex or ornate composition, but the simplicity is key. The nuances that make violets charming are captured here along with the subtle but assertive peppery, woody contrast. Simply put, La Violette keeps it short and sweet, which is why it is a memorable delight.

Sources:; M Cautschi, JA Bajgrowicz, P Kraft, Chimia 2001, 55, 379; Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors



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 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.

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

Review: Annick Goutal Ambre Sauvage — 3.5 points

Ambre Sauvage (Annick Goutal, 2015) by perfumer Isabelle Doyen is one of those perfumes that must not be tried on paper alone. It takes time on a warm skin to reveal the subtleties of its depth. Otherwise, it would be easy to dismiss the composition for its seemingly one-dimensional character.


Most of Ambre Sauvage is a dense accord of amber. Pink pepper and lavender lend their bright terpenic accents, but they do not seem to make much of an impact, let alone a lift. The notes therein are so well-blended they feel as though I were looking through a filter for Gaussian blur. I can make out a warm patchouli. There is also a swirl of leather, styrax, and incense that sets the dusky tone of the composition. It stays close to skin, emanating just a woody, leathery air. It certainly feels monolithic.

Despite its name, Ambre Sauvage is far from the animalic notes and incense of Ambre Fétiche (Annick Goutal, 2007). Nor does it resemble the spicy and sumptuous feast of Ambre Sultan (Serge Lutens, 2000) in the least. Fans of such dark or opulent ambers will be disappointed.

Nevertheless, the subdued richness feels refined. And, the absence of sweetness means that it can never be cloying. Those wishing to move from modern, streamlined, sweet ambers like Ambre Nuit (Dior, 2009) to a more challenging and shadowy side of amber might find Ambre Sauvage to be a good stepping stone. I just wish its ideas were extrapolated further.


Review: Annick Goutal 1001 Ouds — 3.5 points

Oud or agarwood has been popular amongst perfume houses for almost two decades ever since the launch of M7 (Yves Saint Laurent, 2002). This singular and complex material that combines the notes of ambergris, musks, woods, and balsams with a fruity and leathery facet can be difficult to render and mix beautifully in an accord. One of the tried-and-tested accords, derived from the Middle East, is the synergy between rose and oud. And, whilst it is no surprise that one could also find this accord well-rendered in 1001 Ouds (Annick Goutal, 2015) by perfumer Isabelle Doyen, there is a twist here that makes this perfume deserve a place in the crowded category of ouds.


1001 Ouds has this brash medicinal sharpness typical of many oud perfumes. I once sprayed it on a friend who is not used to oud at all, and he promptly recoiled and wrinkled the nose — that is a fair warning of its sharp edge to those new to oud. Soon, however, the honeyed note of rose takes over and sweetens. The rose is by no means as opulent as that in Oud Ispahan (Dior, 2012), but for a moment, the scale seems to tip over to the rose side.

As the plot thickens, the dusky combination of myrrh and papyrus present an earthy contrast to the opulent rose and oud. It remains dusky throughout, and late in the dry down, the smoky dryness of guaiac wood persists. It is rather well-mannered for a perfume of this style, and the sillage feels as though my skin were anointed by a ceremonial fragrant oil.

1001 Ouds is a familiar accord that offers a twist. The character is skewed towards the dusky resins of myrrh instead of the usual floral opulence or animalic musks. Even after a thousand oud perfumes, I would still be happy to add this to the one thousand and first oud.