Sunday, 14 July 2013

Perfumery Materials I like - No 5 - Lavender

Lavender, old ladies and The Lion Cupboard

In France, they'll make an ice cream out of almost everything fragrant; lavender does turn into a lovely sorbet. Then again, in France lavender is the default household clearning material scent so that must be a bit like having your desert smell of furniture polish.

In the UK the Elizabethans used lavender to flavour their meals; it was a fashion thing, designed to show off their wealth, but they'd have got the added bonus of its antimicrobial properties so their lavender scented hare stews would have lasted a little longer than normal. And it grew in Surrey, along with violets. Naturally Thinking are supporting a project to bring it back.

In the UK lavender is sometimes seen as an old lady's scent.  In France they see it as a modern masculine, often blended with tobacco fragrance. I'm with the French.

Lavender is in the classic cologne recipe, and you'll find it in fougere scents. (Forgive my blog; it doesn't like accents above French words.) Fougere is French for fern; ferms don't have much by way of a scent. It's another of those perfumery misnomers like amber. This group of scents isn't named after a natural material, but a fantasy concotion from the 1800s. Houbigant kicked it off with his Fougere Royale, mixing lavender with coumarin (and a load of other materials) to make his ideal fern fragrance. 

Coumarin, by the by, was one of the first commercially produced synthetic scents. William Perkin made it right here in sunny Ealing in the 1860s; it's a grassy almondy smell; the chemical is found naturally in tonka beans but Perkin made it affordable. And popular.

Fougeres have been the masculine fragrance of choice ever since.

Myself, I've put it into a whole bunch of scents including The Lion Cupboard. I'd call this one a classic fougere if I had to put it into a well known box. That's not the way it started out, but it's what happened when I used the materials I needed to create the smell I wanted. So a fougere it is.

Lavender for perfumery comes in different forms, there's an essential oil and an absolute, and now we're getting through some light bright CO2 extracts. It's sharper as a perfumery material than the scent you'd get from walking through a field of it. Often people don't recognise it until they're reminded.

Perhaps it's because pure lavender essential oil smells more like a herb than a flower.  When we think of lavender we tend to think floral. That's why we get caught out. With its piercingly clear odour, it hits the olfactory bulb more like freshly harvested rosemary, basil or thyme, than its flowery friends. And the further up it's grown the sharper it gets. High altitude lavender really clears out the nasal packages.

Another reason I like it is that it gets rid of my headaches. So it's one of those materials I'll use not just for its scent but for its magical properties that are undetected by our noses, and felt by our minds and bodies. The herbalist Parkinson said that lavender is:

'of especiall good use for all griefes and pains of the head and brain.'  

Although it was also the favourite scent of the wife of Charles I of England, and her husband got his head cut off in the revolution. It has its limits.

PS If you'd like to make your own lavender scent, you might like to consider one of these.

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