As we head into the days of the year when spring is close enough to hope for but winter still holds sway I turn to perfume for my jolt of the coming warmer weather. Lavender is a quintessential warm weather fragrance. Conjuring up purple fields at the height of summer just prior to harvest. Lavender in perfumery has been around since the very beginning. My favorites are the ones which show off both the sweet floralcy and the herbal nature. Here are five of my favorites.
Guerlain Jicky was one of the first modern perfumes, created in 1889, and lavender provided the focal point. Aime Guerlain would lay down the formula for the fougere that would last the next one hundred or so years. He married lavender with rosemary in the top. The rosemary is the key as it brings out the herbal almost medicinal nature of lavender. It heads to a heart of geranium before settling on a vanilla base characteristic of Guerlain. That you can still buy this, 127 years after it was created, tells you what a classic it is.
In 1934 perfumer Ernest Daltroff would create the template for the masculine lavender in Caron pour Un Homme. The concept of men wearing floral perfumes was a tough sell. M. Daltroff makes it work by taking a large amount of vanilla to go along with the lavender. This one almost entirely hides the non-floral character. A bit of amber and musk butch things up so any man can be caught wearing this.
The last of the traditional lavenders is Caldey Island Lavender by perfumer Hugo Collumbien, released in 1959. This is the version where the herbal character is displayed at the expense of the floral. That is done by using a mix of amber and musk. With no vanilla around to tilt one’s senses towards the sweet this is the most like the smell you get from picking actual lavender and smelling your hands afterward.
There are two modern interpretations of lavender by two of the best modern perfumers which show how far perfumery has come since Jicky was released.
Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande was released in 1996 composed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. Opening on a rosemary and juniperberry top accord it is the heart where the name comes to life. Lavender is buttressed by clary sage and an austere silvery frankincense. They provide a chilly effect that carries an icy beauty. A healthy amount of amber thaws things out. Incense and lavender go together like peas and carrots.
Hermes Hermessence Brin de Reglisse is what happens when you take the herbal side of lavender to its fullest effect. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses licorice as lavender’s partner. This is one of the most unique lavender perfumes out there because with all of the intensity of these two notes it is the addition of orange blossom and hay which round things out into an opaque masterpiece.
If you have never tried any of these lavenders because you think lavender is boring give it a second look I think these five will change that opinion.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.
When it comes to the great maisons de parfum if there is one overlooked member of this category it would be Caron. I am not sure why this is the case. They have a history around one of the greatest perfumers of the early days of modern perfumery Ernest Daltroff. The body of work is as impressive as the other great perfumers which shared the timeframe. Maybe it is the urns from which these perfumes are dispensed. When you choose one of the perfumes which make up the collection it is dispensed from a Baccarat crystal urn into the bottle you have chosen. It is one of the best ways to sell perfume in my mind because you can take as little or as much as you want. For those of you who have never considered Caron here are the five I would suggest you start with.
If there is a flagship perfume in the collection it would have to be 1919’s Tabac Blond. Tabac Blond is simply one of the greatest Oriental leather perfumes ever. M. Daltroff working in post-World War I time was looking for something to appeal to the French women who were just taking up smoking. His concept was a sophisticated leather accord matched with orris and ylang-ylang in the heart landing on a classic vanilla tinged Oriental base. The tobacco is an accord of the leather along with vetiver, and linden. I almost always just notice the leather and the tobacco occasionally surprises me. Tabac Blond is one of the most sophisticated leather perfumes you can experience.
Nuit de Noel was released in 1922 for the Holidays. It isn’t particularly evocative of the scents associated with the Holidays. Instead it is a simple construct of jasmine, sandalwood, amber and the base Mousse de Saxe. It is the Mousse de Saxe which makes Nuit de Noel unforgettable. In a time where the bases perfumers devised would make or break a construct Mousse de Saxe was one of the most versatile; somewhere between chypre and leather but not quite either. It has a shimmering quality in M. Daltroff’s hands. The jasmine adds a floral oomph and the sandalwood and amber provide warmth and creamy woodiness. Nuit de Noel is a great perfume no matter whether it is the Holidays or not.
One of my favorite recommendations for a man just starting out in expanding his fragrance wardrobe is Caron Pour Un Homme. Again M. Daltroff keeps it simple using lavender as the focal point and sweetening it slightly with vanilla before amber and musk make sure to give it a manly heft. If you love lavender, no matter what gender you are, Caron Pour Un Homme is one of the best.
When Caron was resuscitated by the Ales Group it commissioned a new masculine take on lavender from perfumer Akiko Kamei. The idea was to make a contemporary lavender as an alternative to Caron Pour Un Homme. Mme Kamei offers a spicy and floral enhanced fougere in Le Troisieme Homme. The lavender is paired with geranium and then coated in clove, tarragon, and coriander. These enhance the herbal nature of the lavender while the greranium adds its green tinted floralcy. Vetiver and oakmoss form the base accord. There was a long time where I thought if I only had to own two fragrances it would have been this and Caron Pour Un Homme.
Parfum Sacre is another of the modern Caron releases. Composed by perfumer Jean-Pierre Bethouart in 1991. It is one of the more comforting floral perfumes I own. It has the ability to be a fragrant version of a Snuggie in front of a roaring fire. M. Bethouart takes a trio of spices in coriander, cinnamon, and black pepper. He then used an expansive rose for them to push against. The base notes are sweet myrrh, vanilla, and ambrette. This is where you take the spicy rose and cuddle in tight while the fire burns.
As I mentioned above Caron is a forgotten brand and it shouldn’t be. If you haven’t considered them these five will show you why you they should be on your list to try.
Disclosure: this review is based on bottles of the perfumes I purchased.