An Infusion of Jasmine and Climbing Ylang Ylang

Our garden always mesmerises me with an array of flowers and herbs. One of the most familiar smells is the narcotic sweet scent of jasmine sambac (Jasminum sambac) at dusk. But as the evening breeze blows, it brings also the fruity, ylang-ylang-like aroma of karawek or climbing ylang ylang (Artabotrys siamensis)* from the neighbour’s. These two fragrant floras have long been used in Thai perfumery and cuisine. My mother, as I recall, would extract their essences for the traditional desserts. So, when I chanced upon these blooms, I felt inspired to share a simple infusion that she would often make.

The recipe is fairly straightforward, but there are some tricks to getting it right. Knowing when to pick requires careful observation. The flowers should be collected when they are most fragrant, which is at dusk. The jasmine sambacs can be picked even when they have not opened; these unopened flowers will eventually bloom and release their scent overnight. But only the ripe yellow karaweks, which are fragrant, should be picked. And each of the six petals should be separated from the calyx.

The flowers are quickly rinsed before being gently placed in a bowl of water. The water is allowed to absorb the scents overnight. Care should be taken not to cause disturbance because the flowers would otherwise become ‘bruised’ and the infusion would acquire a sharp vegetal note of crushed leaves. The spent flowers are removed and the process is repeated once more with a new set of flowers to saturate the infusion with their perfume.

One can use this infusion for a number of purposes. My mother often uses it to make a syrup, and the aroma still lingers on even after the infusion is boiled with sugar. One can also include other fragrant flowers for a complete water-based eau de cologne. I, on the other hand, simply use it to spike a glass of chilled water. It makes for a refreshing beverage with a pleasant lingering after-taste. But be warned: it is potent, and a tablespoon suffices to perfume a whole jug of water.

A note on classification*: The family Annonaceae includes the classical ylang ylang (Cananga odorata) used in perfumery and other plants with similarly strongly fragrant flowers. Karawek (Artabotrys siamensis) belongs to the Artabotrys genus of this family, which explains why it shares some olfactory characteristics with ylang ylang.

Review: Chanel N°5 L’Eau — 4.0 points

A flanker of Chanel N°5 (1921) aiming at the modern crowd must not only possess the glamour and history of its forbear, but also appeal to modern taste. Perfumer Jacques Polge bore that in mind: the structure must be kept, but some old-fashioned notes reduced or replaced. The result was Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008) — made more transparent to highlight certain notes, but still faithful to the original. Effortless sophistication.

That responsibility has fallen to his son and successor Olivier Polge who took the rein early in 2015 as in-house perfumer. And, in creating the latest flanker for an even younger crowd, namely women in their twenties, he accorded the same respect. Chanel N°5 L’Eau (2016) thus exudes the vivacity of a young mademoiselle, but at the same time, possesses the bearing of its predecessor.leau

The aldehydic shards, for which the opening of Chanel N°5 is infamous, are reduced to just a dash in L’Eau. The exuberance of citrus and neroli sets the bright tone. It is transparent, fresh, sparkling as I imagine the perfect eau de cologne version of Chanel N°5 should be.

Its iconic floral bouquet is sheer and well-blended, but all the flowers are still vying for attention. I can make out the components now and then. Sunny heady ylang ylang dominates; jasmine petals are scattered here and there; and the spicy and green nuance of rose imbues the composition with a strong rosy accent.

L’Eau is also heavy on musks and sweet vanilla, but it feels tender. If the rich, balsamic, animalic dry down of Chanel N°5 were velvet, then the cottony radiant musk of L’Eau would be layers of shimmering organza. But those anosmic to certain musks may find L’Eau even more reticent than is the case.

L’Eau is an example of how a good flanker should be. The spirit of the great grand dame – the hesperedic top, the floral bouquet, and the musky woods — is kept alive in a different light. The vivacity of citrus is emphasised and the musky dry down is radiant. The aldehydic and powdery aspects are also reduced. This lighter take on the original icon resembles Chanel N°5 Eau Première (2008), but is even more light-hearted and jovial even. Its ingredients smell of quality. And, I am sure those other than its target audience will be pleased.

source: chanel.fr

Review: Diptyque Eau Mohéli — 4.0 points

Whilst roses and jasmines are revered as queens and kings amongst flowers, the yellow, droopy blooms of ylang ylang never enjoy such reverence they so deserve. Much has been said about the extrait de parfum of Chanel N°5 (1921) being infused with jasmine and May rose from Grasse, but what of the solar radiance provided by its ylang ylang, without which the aldehydes of Chanel N°5 cannot be overdosed to achieve such a sparkle? In fact, ylang ylang can be found to impart its solar quality to as much as forty per cent of all feminine compositions. Such is its cardinal role, and yet it is never the focus of a composition.

However, with the arrival of Eau Mohéli (Diptyque, 2013), ylang ylang takes all the limelight — and I am not only talking about the perfume. Eau Mohéli uses an ‘extra superior’ grade of ylang ylang oil, which is derived from the cultivar of ylang ylang grown on Mohéli, an island of the Union of the Comoros. Years prior, Mohéli produced a rather poor quality of ylang ylang oil because of inadequate distillation tools as well as the poor living conditions of the ylang ylang farmers. But, it would later become a successful model of ethical sourcing as Givaudan partnered with a local producer to improve harvesting techniques and livelihoods of the community. The fruit of such efforts is a very special quality of ylang ylang oil rich in all facets: crunchy, sweet, floral, fruity, spicy, and vanillic. Then, it falls to the adept hand of perfumer Olivier Péscheux that does justice to this sterling material in Eau Mohéli.

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The combination of grass-like green of hexenol and green galbanum conjures the fresh and crunchy texture of this tropical flower. Its spicy burst is accented by ginger and pink pepper. This develops into a peppery accord that contrasts beautifully with the floral and narcotic sweetness at heart. Up to this point, the rich character of ylang ylang is excellently captured right to the details with green receptacles, spicy brightness, and heady floral. If you have never smelled an actual ylang ylang flower, this development in Eau Mohéli is likely sufficient to satisfy your curiosity as to why this tropical flower is so revered.

The sweetness of ylang ylang is also enriched by vanilla, sandalwood, and musk. The vanillic facet is thereby projected to the dry down, and the milky depth of sandalwood provides a classical harmony with ylang ylang. The result is a rich, rotund character that unfurls in layers, and it lasts well.

Eau Mohéli is excellent. It highlights the rich, multi-faceted ylang ylang essence and makes it lively and wearable. It is not too sweet, thanks to the fresh, crunchy green accent. Its narcotic floral is kept vivid by the spicy, peppery accord. Sandalwood also lends its depth and softness. There are turns and accents that make the composition come alive. A simple, well-crafted ylang ylang soliflore.

Sources: diptyqueparis.eu, Scents and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors.

Review: Christian Dior Diorissimo — 4.5 points

In the years following the post-war austerity, perfumes took on a new level of sophistication with increasing number of complex compositions entailing long formulae. These included the grand chypres blending citrus top, floral heart, and woody, mossy, animalic fond in perfumes like Ma Griffe (Carven, 1946), Miss Dior Originale (1947), and Jolie Madame (Pierre Balmain, 1953). Even other styles such as the exhilarating floralcy of L’Air du Temps (Nina Ricci, 1948) or the oriental seduction of Youth Dew (Estée Lauder, 1952) were just as puissant.

They were beautiful, of course, but perfumer Edmond Roudnitska differed in his ideal of aesthetics. Why not a simple formula that could just as well bring out novelty, signature, and beauty clearly? And, perhaps, when he collaborated with Christian Dior — whose lucky charm was a boutonnière of muguet — the chips fell into place, and Diorissimo (Dior, 1956) was conceived.

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It came along and threw everyone back to the soliflores of the early nineteenth century when flowers that did not yield scents to extraction were being rendered by perfumers. There was no abstraction of elaborate ideas. Diorissimo felt as though it were against the idea of baroque grand parfums: it was just a flower.

Was it not?

One ought to smell again to see the concealed complexity beneath the white porcelain bells. The current Diorissimo is rather intense in the opening blast of ylang ylang. Its spicy solar note spearheads the brightness, whilst its fruity and heady notes also hint at the underlying depths.

As the jarring debut settles, the shimmering white bells emerge. It is coloured in layers, from the rosy top, the narcotic floral volume, to the green depth. These are interspersed with the watery shades of lilac. The infinite patches of muguet are to be admired along with the accompanying crisp, cold spring.

However, the current eau de toilette is not as radiant and rich as it should be. It has certainly been reformulated. Lily of the valley odorants are now limited to a certain concentration and animalic tinctures that once suffused the composition with a vernal impression of damp earth is banned. This likely accounts for some lost radiance and depth.

Despite that, Diorissimo is still excellent and surprisingly modern for a fragrance concocted half a century ago. In any case, the composition settles after some time into the distinct lily of the valley note of cool white flowers. It stays close to skin for six hours, and occasionally wafts out its crisp green floral sillage.

Diorissimo came at a time when perfumes were fuzzy formulae. Its impression of a single flower might seem like a reversion to the tradition of soliflore at first, but the depth of Diorissimo begs to differ. Its character leaves a strong impression with simplicity and veiled complexity found in shades and nuances of muguet. In Diorissimo, Roudnitska painted a vernal backdrop for the lily of the valley. He did so with the Impressionistic touch of Debussy. No longer are the lilies of the valley confined to a delicate vase. The result is redolent of the muguet in its very habitat deep in the damp, earthy woodlands.

Source: dior.fr

Review: Guerlain Samsara — 5.0 points

The house Guerlain owes much of its glory to the oriental character of its perfumes. The association of Guerlain perfumes with tales of the Orient is therefore a given, and Samsara (Guerlain, 1989) –Sanskrit for the ‘wheel of life’ — is no exception. For Samsara, the marketing at Guerlain also twisted this Buddhist reference of perpetual rebirth into a story of serenity and harmony.

But, in fact, what is far more interesting than such a woven Oriental tale is the conception of Samsara. It is a known fact that a passion of perfumer Jean-Paul Guerlain is dressage. And, through their legendary horse trainer Patrick Le Rolland, he met Decia de Pauw in 1985, a Belgian woman of English origin who would later inspire the creation of Samsara. She had the habit of perfuming her bath with two essences, jasmine and sandalwood, which are of particular affection to her. Therefore, Jean-Paul Guerlain, with Gérard Anthony playing a part, created a perfume around these two essences — it was the first time that Jean-Paul Guerlain employed this accord. He would often go to India to acquire the particular jasmine and sandalwood that he wanted. Madame de Pauw also recalled that Samsara was very recognisable at the time and once people on the streets of Vienna would accost her just to inquire what her perfume was.

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The answer, perhaps, is still Samsara. It debuts with the classic freshness and brightness of bergamot. The invigorating freshness contrasts nicely with the rich development of its floral and oriental aspects. Already a radiant and diffusive sandalwood note of Polysantol appears early and resonates throughout the duration.

Then, the florals of Samsara unfold. The duet between plush sandalwood and narcotic jasmine serves as the centrepiece. Its heady depth is provided by a damp brushstroke of narcissus, whilst its spicy floral character comes from ylang ylang and rose.

The ornamented centrepiece rests on the softness of powder provided by orris, vanilla, and tonka bean. This harmony lingers for about an hour. The sandalwood-jasmine complex becomes warmer and richer, transforming along with orris, tonka bean, and vanilla into the famed praline-like Guerlinade accord.

Samsara might have set a new standard with the highest dose of sandalwood oil, but that alone cannot entitle its classic status. The time when Jean-Paul Guerlain could afford some 20% Mysore sandalwood oil is long in the past, and the sandalwood note has been supplanted by Polysantal brightness. Yet, it is the way Jean-Paul Guerlain weaves the sandalwood-jasmine richness into the distinctive Guerlinade to engender a unique yet familiar personality that makes Samsara so enduring.

A note on the concentrations: In the extrait de parfum, the rich florals are lavish with rose petals, narcotic jasmine, spicy ylang ylang, and powdery orris so much so that it reminds me of Chanel N°5 (1921). The focus on Guerlinade, likewise, makes no mistake that this is a creation of Guerlain. The eau de parfum, meanwhile, shifts the focus towards the ripe florals so that it recalls Arpège (Lanvin, 1927). In this formulation, I enjoy equal attention from the ripe flowers and the Guerlinade dry down.The eau de toilette is the brightest with a dab of Guerlinade; the sharpness of Polysantol can be slightly dissonant.

Sources: etsy.com, makeupalley.com, Scent and Chemistry The Molecular World of Odors, noblesseetroyautes.com reportage Alexandre Cousin.