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.

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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: andalucia.com, Scent and Chemistry, The Molecular World of Odors, parfumo.de

  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).
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Review: Frédéric Malle Portrait of A Lady — 4.5 points

Named after the 1881 novel ‘The Portrait of A Lady’ by author Henry James, the perfume surely must have raised questions as to the association with the novel’s heroine, Isabel Archer. What would be the connection? What would this American heiress smell of? Would Portrait of A Lady (Frédéric Malle, 2010) smell of her? This left me pondering.

Considering the rigorous tenets of a proper Victorian lady, Isabel Archer would eschew the sensual oriental drama of Portrait of A Lady. Opulent perfumes were the embodiment of vulgarity and impropriety, regardless of the social standing of the person who wore it, however high the station. Even Queen Victoria, on her 1855 state visit to Paris, was overtly criticized by Le Messager des Modes for her choice of perfume that emitted a ‘distasteful hint of musk’, despite her irreproachable stature. Such strong fragrances were the opposite of ‘good taste’. Meanwhile, lavender, violet, and eaux de cologne would be more likely; their representation of discretion, modesty, and hygiene was never in doubt.

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Nicole Kidman in The Portrait of A Lady (1996). Feisty, is she not? I should think that this version of her likes this Frédéric Malle’s perfume very much.

Portrait of A Lady is as far from Victorian propriety as possible. It is a sweeping force of opulent rose set in an oriental frame. The moment I sprayed it, I decided that I could no longer be bothered to make the connection with Isabel Archer. All my thoughts before were swept away.

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Dollops of hot pepper act as a prelude to the oriental theme along with clove and cinnamon. Its glaring brightness makes a strong introductory statement. The hot cloves and cinnamon remain as a lasting bright accent throughout the development.

The rose of Portrait of A Lady is sublime. It has a honeyed, raspberry-confit facet that lends an opulent curve to the composition. This decadent jammy richness also tells plenty about the quality that goes into the juice. It lasts through to the dry down. Its dense and rich character blankets the dark oriental notes that begin to emerge.

Much of the oriental flair comes from patchouli, incense, and musk. The rich woody notes of patchouli are interspersed with strong resinous accents of incense. Its interplay is rounded by plenty of musks.  and creamy softness of sandalwood. A crisp ambery accent sets a warm sensual tone to this oriental recipe.

The oriental rose of Portrait of A Lady is not a novel idea, but the quality and peerless execution by perfumer Dominique Ropion give it character and performance that stand out. Sterling ingredients are used with such lavish hands that the resulting richness already marks the rose with a distinctive note. The spicy contrast also lasts until the finish. The pairing of an opulent, fruity rose with rich woods and incense create a dark, dramatic accord. It lasts for days, and can sometimes come back on laundered clothes. A single spray is highly recommended, and even then, one is certain to leave a trail. That being said, this is the kind of perfume to wear with confidence. Its mysterious whirlwind may turn heads and draw questions.

Sources: ocado.com, sundaytimes.co.uk, gearpatrol.org

  1. The Force of Fashion in Politics and Society: Global Perspectives from Early Modern to Contemporary Times, p. 97-113.
  2. Le miasme et la jonquille, p. 323

Review: Frédéric Malle Dries van Noten — 4.5 points

Dries van Noten par Frédéric Malle (2013) was created by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic as Frédéric Malle collaborated with the namesake Flemish designer. The perfume has the atmosphere of a Belgian patisserie as it explores the delectable warmth of his Flemish roots.

Dries van Noten starts off bright with bergamot and lemon. I also notice the spicy accents of clove and nutmeg. The fresh spicy opening lends a nice contrast to the heavy oriental-gourmand theme of, perhaps, waffles, spéculoos biscuits, and sugar tarts. Through this transparent top note, the delicious direction of the composition is also evident.

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The central character is of baked butter pastries. It is built around the salted butter accent of saffron, the milky sweetness of Mysore sandalwood, and the musky softness of Cashmeran. Additional creamy richness comes from the warm milk note of Sulfurol (Sacrasol) and a touch of jasmine absolute. Then, ionones and caramel-like ethyl maltol sweeten the composition to provide an addictive suggestion of Flemish confectionery. And, with such luscious notes, Dries van Noten could easily be altogether opaque if it were not for the essence of patchouli to counteract with a woody touch. Yet, to make it truly edible, the creamy sweet and salted butter character is extended by vanilla, coumarin, and musk.

Dries van Noten is my choice of gourmand fragrance. It has a presence and lingers on even after the wearer has left. It oozes a mouth-watering suggestion of creamy desserts and salted butter, but it is never outright gourmand. This is what makes it tempting and wearable. If you are averse to sugary notes but also crave for something sensual and sweet, its teasing baked aroma will satisfy you. Every time I wear it, I imagine myself walking into my favourite bakery on Sunday and savours its irresistibly creamy air.

Source: maisondexception.com, tfsltd.com.au, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.

Review: Frédéric Malle Monsieur. — 4.5 points

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When I heard that Monsieur. (2016) by perfumer Bruno Jovanovic features a load of patchouli that it constitutes half of the formula, I approached this minimalistic, patchouli-dominated brew with caution. As patchouli is a complex and powerful material that has many facets beside the woody, earthy, and camphoraceous, there are aspects that can easily diminish my appreciation of a perfume. This is the case when I sometimes find the typical patchouli oil ‘sweaty’.

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Self-portrait (1629) of Rembrandt van Rijn

However, Monsieur. here conjures a vision of tweed suits, wild game hunting, and country estates because it feels polished. Its patchouli is replete with woody and earthy facets that it feels like a moist, dark brown bark. Its balsamic richness is complemented on top by sweet mandarin and the liquor accent of rum. The impression is much like the rich umber of this Rembrandt painting. There is no sweaty hippie or, if any, camphoraceous facet in the patchouli. Instead, frankincense adds a smoky resinous touch that offsets the sweet liquor character. And, its rough edges, are softened by a touch of vanilla and musk. The result is a well-mannered, spirit-soaked patchouli with a smoky, leathery hint.

The treatment of the overdosed patchouli here is done with a careful hand. It may not run the risk of being polarising, but its character is distinctive enough to stand out as a polished woody liquor. Its tenacity is great, but its sillage is surprisingly low-key. I think of it as well-aged whisky, rich with notes of fermented fruits and smoky casks.

Sources: barneys.com, clowesfund.org