The world of perfume is full of surprising facts and misconceptions. Here, master perfumer Roja Dove reveals some jaw-dropping facts about the mysterious world of perfumery. Keep scrolling for nine facts we’ll bet our bottle of Chanel No.5 you never knew.
Those with a sweet tooth should look to the gourmand perfume family (the sweet, foody scents). Our sense of taste and smell are the most closely interlinked of all the senses—think how the smell of our favourite sweet treats can literally make our mouths water. When you eat a tasty treat, a very small amount of this is registered by the tongue. It is actually the nose that is working to notify the brain that the food in question is delicious. Gourmand fragrances are addictive in exactly the same way—they are moreish, enjoyable and indulgent. Each ingredient works on our subconscious releasing hormones that enhance a sensation of pleasure.
How a perfume is dressed up—the bottle and the advertising—is what transforms ingredients into a feminine or a masculine scent. In reality, a rose on a woman smells like a feminine rose, whereas a rose on a man is a masculine rose. So, why not open your mind to a masculine scent?
In the same way a pearl is formed inside an oyster from a grain of sand, ambergris (aka whale vomit)—a pathological secretion from the sperm whale—is formed when the whale ingests cuttlefish. Because the whale is a mammal, it has to expel the cuttlefish; if not it could suffocate. It is normally expelled through the mouth, although bits of it break off and pass through the animal's intestines. The ambergris at this stage is of no interest whatsoever to a perfumer. Ambergris is made up mainly of fats, cholesterol being one of the main components. An oxidation process occurs through it being in contact with the salt and the sun, which takes a minimum of two to three years, before the ambergris starts to take on its characteristic perfumery odour. It is found by fishermen and always has been—they are very happy if they are lucky enough to find it. If the ambergris quality is good, it can be worth up to 10 times the price of gold bullion!
Scented white flowers like jasmine, magnolia, gardenia and tuberose all contain a molecule that we, as human animals, produce naturally. The molecule is called indole and is produced wherever there is pubic hair. It is essential to understand that we do not smell with our noses but with the most primitive part of the brain—the sense of smell is the most primitive of all the senses, developed to help us find food, escape danger, and to find a mate. In perfumery, whilst the nose is smelling jasmine and the rational part of the brain thinks it is smelling flowers, the subconscious is thinking of something much more animalistic.
The word synthetic conjures up images of white-clad technicians working in anonymous laboratories. In reality, this area of perfumery is not quite as it seems. There are no perfumes that do not use synthetic materials, and that’s okay. I like to compare it to the use of 1% elastin in a cotton T-shirt—it makes it that tiny bit better without compromising the quality of the pure cotton.
Escentric Molecules Molecule 01 (above) contains just one ingredient the synthetic: Iso E Super.
The best quality jasmine comes from Grasse. There are few fields left in cultivation as the price of land tempts owners to sell for development, which is safer than relying on nature for an income, but the microclimate there creates the finest quality jasmine in the world. It takes five million blossoms (each picked by hand) to produce just one kilo of absolute, a process that required 200 days of labour. The best rose—Rose de Mai—which also only grows in Grasse takes over 300,000 flowers picked by hand to produce one kilo of oil. In the last two years, this oil has gone up 40 percent in price because of dreadful harvests. Both these flowers are costlier than gold but the scent they leave is well worth the price. Which is why luxury, niche and small brands are not necessarily expensive without cause—the price reflects the quality of materials used.
Although it sounds unlikely in this day and age, the finest quality lavender used to be grown in Croydon. Commercial cultivation was established there in the early 16th century and for a long while created the best smelling Lavender the world had known. Today, it has been outranked in quality by the lavender found in the Alpine region of Grasse in the south of France.
When you come across vanilla scents, whether the association is with ice cream, cake or biscuit, the vanilla subconsciously makes somebody feel very secure. Vanilla is a proven psychogenic aphrodisiac that enhances sensations of pleasure across the entire central nervous system and gives those who smell it a sense of comfort. The tiniest hint of it can speak volumes—you don't have to smell like custard! Without it, Guerlain fragrances would not exist; chocolate would be an austere, saturnine drink favoured only by Yucatan monks; and ice cream would be forever stuck in sorbet territory.
There are so few perfumers working in the industry, which is why it is important for me to create fragrances that are personable and highly creative. If you want to understand my world, close your eyes and try to think of a colour you have never seen using no reference point; so you can’t say a peachy shade of turquoise because you already know those two colours. Then try to imagine a smell you have never smelled before.
What's your signature scent? Let us know in the comment box below.