Review: Guerlain Jicky — 4.5 points

Legend has it that Jicky (Guerlain, 1889) was named either for the English lass, of whom perfumer Aimé Guerlain was enamoured, or for the nickname of his dear nephew, Jacques Guerlain. But, for certain, Jicky claims the title of ‘the oldest perfume in continuous production’.

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What makes it special is the creativity of Aimé Guerlain. He made use of what he knew and had at the time. He exploited the popularity of the fougère accord, which had been successfully pioneered by Fougère Royale (Houbigant, 1882), and experimented with the increasingly affordable synthetic compounds. The result was that Jicky was not only an imminently attractive fougère, but also one with a memorable signature that began to take shape and would later set the framework for later oriental icons of Guerlain like Shalimar (1925) and Habit Rouge (1965).

Jicky, as a classical fougère, features lavender, a material that possesses herbal, floral, and warm gourmand facet. Aimé Guerlain dressed it up with a lot of sparkling citrus, a sprinkle of herbs, and a warm vanillic base.

The aromatic freshness of lavender is expanded by citrus and herbs in the top. Bergamot and lemon lend their hesperidic sparkles. The original formula of Jicky likely contains as much as 32% bergamot oil and 2% lemon oil, with a boost from linalool obtained from distilled rosewood. Rosemary and thyme add an agrestic accent, giving it a rustic Provençal charm.

In contrast, the warm base that emerges later accentuates the sweet gourmand aspect of lavender. It is a powdery mélange of iris, vanilla, tonka bean, and sandalwood – a rudimentary Guerlinade, if you will. The use of aroma chemicals such as coumarin and vanillin gives Jicky a special sweet vanilla character. The animalic overtone of civet is also there, like a creamy ganache. Jicky settles into this warm animalic powder with an aromatic backdrop of lavender and herbs for most of its duration.

Jicky might have a familiar ring to its predecessor Fougère Royale because of its fougère structure, but its juxtaposition between raw citrus and vanillic base lends a different character. This memorable contrast would not be possible without the use of aroma materials that give a strong signature to Jicky. For such a creative twist on a familiar accord and a memorable character, Jicky is very special.

A note on the concentrations: I find the extrait de parfum indubitably richer than the eau de toilette. Already in the beginning, the bergamot is plump with tart-sweet and floral nuances, not so much as diffusive as that of the eau de toilette. Lemon oil is more pronounced as well. The lavender is rich with floral and herbal facets, and it lasts longer. Of note is the civet that feels like a ganache smoothing over the bucolic herbs. Its oriental vanilla and tonka bean accord is present in full glory. The emphasis of the extrait de parfum is on the aromatic and warm oriental character.

The eau de toilette of Jicky, however, starts on a more diffusive note of linalool-laden bergamot. Its lavender is more herbal. Civet puffs seem to come and go. The familiar oriental accord requires a nose pressed hard to the skin to detect. Overall, the eau de toilette feels like a hesperidic eau de cologne with herbal and oriental accents. Its lasting power is mediocre.

I have not tried the eau de parfum, so I cannot comment on that. But between the extrait de parfum and the eau de toilette, the former is classically rich and infused with a Guerlain DNA, but the latter is like a creative twist of a classic eau de cologne. Though not a die-hard Guerlain fan, I am partial to Guerlinade and would pick the extrait de parfum. Perhaps, spraying the eau de toilette on top to add the hesperidic brightness would be perfect — alas, the price may not permit such a double purchase.

Sources: guerlain.fr, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors

  1. Esposito, Lawrence J.; K. Formanek; G. Kientz; F. Mauger; V. Maureaux; G. Robert; F. Truchet (1997). “Vanillin”. Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, 4th edition 24. New York: John Wiley & Sons. pp. 812–825
  2. Reimer, Karl Ludwig (1876). “Über eine neue Bildungsweise aromatischer Aldehyde”. Berichte der deutschen chemischen Gesellschaft 9 (1): 423–424

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Review: Arquiste Anima Dulcis — 4.5 points

Take a look at the esoteric prose of Serge Lutens and Freudian reference on Un Bois Vanille (Serge Lutens, 2003), for example, and one sees why I am happy with the accompanying information of Arquiste. It talks about the creativity of the nuns of the Royal Convent of Jesus Maria in Mexico that has inspired brand owner Carlos Huber. They exploited local ingredients such as chilies, cinnamon, and vanilla to spice up their cocoa infusion, and Anima Dulcis (Arquiste, 2012) by perfumers Rodrigo Flores-Roux and Yann Vasnier explores this beverage recipe along with its circumstances. The concept is direct and simple.

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Likewise, the original fragrance communicates clearly and with a beautiful surprise. At heart is a warm dark chocolate theme: imagine dusky bitter cocoa and hot chili infusion. Its gourmand accent is shaped by vanilla, cinnamon, and a bit of glazed orange peel on top. It would be the kind of hot beverage I would love to have on a chilly grey day.

But if you are worried that this might be cloying, fret not because it is surprisingly sombre. The rich balsamic, animalic tone of its amber is a dark revelation for such a gourmand direction of its theme. So is the whiff of incense that weaves in a liturgical air. The sum is dark and sensual, and this is a seriously creative beverage. Anima Dulcis seems to oscillate between dark chocolate confection and animalic amber that envelopes me for most of its six hours.

Although the theme of chocolate is not new, Anima Dulcis is such a surprise because it explores the other interesting side of chocolate: the animalic amber. But it is also perfectly paired with the intense heat of chili. This is the kind of gourmand composition with an edge. The swirling dark gourmand composition is certainly redolent of originality.

Source: arquiste.com

Thurgau Strawberries and Sprüngli Chocolate: A Case of Perfumery

What I eagerly await at the beginning of June here in Switzerland is the sun-ripened strawberries from Thurgau. They are nothing like those imported from the greenhouses of Spain in February; Thurgau strawberries are sweet, fruity, and possess the nuances of fresh pineapple and dulcet apple. Yet, the acidity therein provides a refreshing contrast. Paired with the deep bitterness of molten grand cru chocolate slivers from Sprüngli, and one arrives at pure decadence. As I enjoyed these two deceptively complex sensory profiles of strawberry and chocolate, I reflected on the fascinating craft of perfumery and flavours.

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Thurgau strawberries and molten Sprüngli  70% chocolate

Whilst we can easily say that something smells like strawberry or chocolate, the chemical make-up of these two entities are much more complex. There is no single character-impact compound that says ‘strawberry’ or ‘cocoa’. A strawberry comprises hundreds of volatile compounds, of which possibly twelve contribute to the characteristic ripe fruit. Of note is the naturally occurring Furaneol (HDMF, 4-hydroxy-2,5-dimethyl-3(2H)-furanone), which is sweet and caramel-like, and found also in pineapples, tomatoes, and buckwheat. As for cocoa, the beans are made up of nearly six hundred compounds, and some of these are found in cooked cabbage, raw beef fat, and sweat — not the most appetising combination, surely. In any case, the specific olfactory and gustatory profile of strawberries or chocolate also depends on factors like varieties, maturity, post-harvest conditions, and treatments. Re-creating these two simple foods can be a feat.

But thanks to the craft of perfumery, we do not need as much as a dozen or six hundred chemicals to make our brains perceive strawberries or chocolate. Sometimes, we do not even need a naturally occurring component of these. For example, the fruity aldehyde C-16 (ethyl methylphenylglycidate or ‘strawberry aldehyde’) is a popular compound for the reconstitution of strawberries. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena, however, begs to differ and suggests a simple strawberry accord of the strong exotic fruity note of Fructone and the crème caramel of ethyl maltol. Add the sweet berry accent of the methyl anthranilate, and one arrives at the intense smell of wild strawberries. For chocolate, the perfumer simply weaves together vanillin and the sweet, chamomile-like isobutyl phenyl acetate. And, to this accord, patchouli can create unsweetened chocolate. Whereas a trace of civet conjures a creamy ganache, orris concrete gives a cocoa powder. Other effects like orangette or minty chocolate thins can be rendered with the help of orange essence or spearmint oil, respectively. Such successful combinations have much to do with our innate ability of perception, and perfumery taps into that way we are wired. Our neural interactions allow us to perceive a new odour sensation, even if the individual odorants stimulate the neurons for very different smells. We smell chocolate from the vanilla of vanillin and the sweet charmomile of isobutyl phenyl acetate. The sensation created is an illusion of sort. The result is more than the sum of its parts.

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Wild strawberries

Instead of two, one plus one equals to three — that is the magic of perfumery.

Sources: Journal d’un Parfumeur

  1. André Schiefner, Quirin Sinz, Irmgard Neumaier, Wilfried Schwab and Arne Skerra. Structural Basis for the Enzymatic Formation of the Key Strawberry Flavor. J. Biol. Chem 2013, 288:16815-16826.
  2. Frauendorfer, F and Schieberle, P. Identification of the key aroma compounds in cocoa powder based on molecular sensory correlations. J Agric Food Chem, 2006 Jul 26;54(15):5521-9
  3. P. Schieberle and T. Hofmann. Evaluation of the Character Impact Odorants in Fresh Strawberry Juice by Quantitative Measurements and Sensory Studies on Model Mixtures. J. Agric. Food Chem., 197, 45 (1), pp 227–232

History and Review: Miss Dior Originale (1947) — 4.0 points

I find the reflection on the classics of perfumery just as difficult as an analysis of the literary classics. These perfumes are, for most cases, complex; they are filled with ingredients of distinctive qualities that, by modern standards, are either restricted due to safety concerns or unattainable due to social and environmental changes. The state of these perfumes is, therefore, often a pale shade of their former glory. Miss Dior Originale (1947) is a case in point. But before we smell our vintage sample, let us examine the trends and ideas surrounding the inaugural launch of Miss Dior Originale — which I shall refer to in its original name ‘Miss Dior’ in this article — to understand why it would become a smashing success of its time.

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It was 12th February 1947 at 10:30 am when those who had gathered in the salons of 30 avenue Montaigne heard the first announcement: ‘numéro un, number one’. Then, ninety silhouettes filed past the astounded crowd as Christian Dior debuted his collections: En Huit and Corolle.  They captured the feminine aesthetics of hourglass figure and of full skirts resembling a bloom with its open corolla — hence, the names ‘In Eight’ and ‘Corolla’. Amongst the silhouettes, the ‘Bar Suit’ — the cream shantung coat and rounded tails following the curves of the bust as well as the calf-length, full-pleated, black wool skirt — epitomised the aesthetics with the sloping shoulders, cinched waist, articulated bust, and padded hips. At the end of the show, the then editor-in-chief of Harper’s Bazaar Camel Snow exclaimed, clearly impressed, ‘It’s quite a revolution, dear Christian! Your dresses have created such a new look!’ The collections have since been dubbed ‘New Look’, which softened the shoulders, accentuated the waist, volumised the hip, and emphasised the bust. It was a repudiation of the 1920s and 1930s fashion. Dior tore off the pages of sartorial restriction, gloom, gravity, rationing, and uniforms, and revived a long-forgotten tradition of the corseted silhouette and opulence in the late nineteenth century. He opened a new chapter. A new outlook.

This thrilling sense of atavism pervaded right down to his final touch: perfume. Above all, it must translate his retrospective sense of aesthetics. Christian Dior worked with Serge Heftler Louiche, perfumer Jean Carles, and perhaps, perfumer Paul Vacher in the creation of Miss Dior, named after his sister Catherine Dior, to ensure that the creation reflects the quintessence of his couture. And rightly so, Jean Carles took to the structure of Chypre de Coty (Coty, 1917), hearkening to the heyday of the classical chypre. But he also wove into Miss Dior the green galbanum of Vent Vert (Pierre Balmain, 1945) by perfumer and colleague Germaine Cellier that he admired and the bold accords of Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946) that he created a year earlier — both were popular elements of their time.

From the first spritz, Miss Dior is unmistakably a chypre. The structure alone is foretelling, with the main chypre accord of bergamot, jasmine, patchouli, vetiveryl acetate, oakmoss, labdanum, and animalic notes comprising 60% of the composition. Yet, Miss Dior is wondrously original.

In the opening, Miss Dior sports the green citation similar to Vent Vert. It combines galbanum with a green accord based on styrallyl acetate, styrax, and aldehyde C-10 (decanal) and C-11 (undecylenic aldehyde). It feels like a fresh opening buds of gardenia. This is balanced by the spicy brightness of pepper and coriander. The sharp green top is also bridged to the floral heart by lavender and neroli.

The rich floral notes come into full-bloom with mainly a jasmine complex. Rose and confit-like tuberose also vie for attention. The green aromatic note of celery seed oil also enriches the tuberose. And, soon the warm base notes emerge.

Amber, animalic notes, and the powdery sweet combination of orris and vanillin provide the much-needed softness to contrast the sharp top notes. Much of the woody aspect in the chypre structure of Miss Dior also comes from 9.2% patchouli oil. And, what remains on skin is a combination of rich animalic musks, sweet floral powder, and warm damp-woody oakmoss.

Miss Dior harked back to the glorious chypres, but was also well-attuned to its time. The ingenious composition successfully demonstrated the versatility of the chypre structure in accommodating themes as different as leather, green, and floral. Jean Carles, though anosmic by that time, effectively placed the galbanum green of Vent Vert and the bold green accords of Ma Griffe into the classical chypre accord to take advantage of the remarkably versatile structural materials. He, then, gave Miss Dior the richness and complexity of natural ingredients such as jasmine absolute, tuberose derived from enfleurage, and even with traces of celery seed oil. The result provided such originality.

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Miss Dior is a grand parfum so inventive and idiosyncratic. But, it is also reminiscent of the sensorial richness of good old Lux soaps in the 1960s. This is also a compliment to its brilliance. That the accords of Miss Dior have trickled down to the functional scents of everyday life proves its trend-setting capability. Miss Dior is phenomenal.

Nevertheless, the fate of this classic perfume is lamentable. The current formulation of Miss Dior Originale in the eau de toilette is sorely lacking. Its verve has been lost due, perhaps, to the unattainable ingredients. For instance, oakmoss is restricted to a minimal concentration; the popularity of galbanum has waned; and the tuberose absolute of today is of a different profile than, back in 1947, when its confit-like richness was procured through costly and laborious enfleurage in India, using the now-restricted animal fats. What is left of Miss Dior Originale is a whisper of galbanum, a murky floral heart that lacks the richness and opulence befitting a classical chypre, and a fond of lukewarm oakmoss. It is now a hollow chypre, devoid of striking character and dramatic richness.

Sources: dior.com, hpprints.com, Perfumery Practice and Principles, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, vogue.ru