So, this one will be entertaining for some of my friends at Grasse Institute of Perfumery I think, as they have been part of the process and we have had some real laughs while I describe ideas and blush regularly… One of our projects during the course has been to develop a fougère. Fougère means “like fern” and is a fragrance family, the name comes from the perfume Fougère Royale by Houbigant. A fougère has an aromatic top note accord with lavender and a base with oakmoss and coumarine. An aromatic fougère also has additional herbs, spice and wood. Our fougère base that we worked with in class had a lot of vetiver and bergamot. We all made the same base and then added notes individually so we ended up with eleven very different fougères in the end. We have then reworked and developed our creations during the course of the next days to find the exact right proportions.

Fougères are normally fragrances for men and I took this opportunity to experiment with a note that I have been thinking about for many months after I smelled it in a shop in Stockholm last year – fennel. Fennel has a certain kind of spicy, green, somewhat affirmative, freshness that I find very elegant. So I was very happy to see that we did indeed have fennel in the lab and that after an initial short analysis, with the help of scent strips, it did feel right. I decided to create a brief for myself that was to create a fougère that would be the olfactory reflection of a man that I would like to get to know. In order for this brief to be of help I needed to define this man and some characteristics a bit more, so that I could find the corresponding notes and olfactory details and effects that would be a correct portrait.

So, this is how I described this man. He is a man with a past, but with a young mind. Classic look with a twist. A liberal mind that likes to explore. He likes to read, both lines and space between them. For this fragrance I picture him on a Sunday afternoon in a big city like London or New York (he could be from anywhere though) reading the newspaper supplements. He has done some sort of sports activity before so he has just showered and changed his clothes which means he is fresh but with an increased pulse and blood flow. It is an intelligent person, intellectual, a home-brewed mix of books and life experience. Sometimes maybe just a little bit irritating when he gets into an encyclopedic mood (I have a weakness for men who know a lot about a lot). It is a men that knows social rules and how to use them to navigate through different contexts, polite and with poise, extrovert but not desperate for attention. He has high-quality leather or suede shoes that are not new (important detail) and he will sigh out a heavy burden in a moment and then, just as naturally, burst out in childish laughter the next. This man’s rainbow has many colors and you will never entirely know him but he is good company for all sorts of challenges and adventures. There are many other aspects and details of course but these are a few examples just to give you an idea.

Now the translation to notes. The raw materials I first used apart from the fougère base were: nutmeg, clove, fennel – and then a tobacco, vanilla, vanillin accord. The fougère base gave the freshness of the body and mind of this man, but also the classic aspect. The tobacco represented his experience and the casualness of an old leather reading chair. The perfect tux with a cigar. The spices were to give a freshness that is a bit coarse and with integrity. The vanilla gave the kind of softness that symbolizes the relaxed intimate feeling of a Sunday when there is no professional pressure, but also a warm heart with genuine intentions. It was important for me to use natural vanilla as this raw material has that combination of softness and unruly dynamic. Soft but not sweet. Smooth but not really trying to please. Sensual in an innate unpolished way, like an equatorial night sky surrounded by sounds of nature kind of way.

When my first formula had gone through maceration and the raw materials found their place I felt that the feeling of the fragrance was a bit too soft and light. It was too babyface. I needed more hairy chest kind of thing, maybe also some closeness to nature, a primitive (primordial?) aspect. So I increased the vetiver, the tobacco and added a difficult one – birch tar. Tiny tiny drops, one drop too much and the formula would be destroyed. It would go completely wood chopper groin sweat and lose the pocket square. Then I left the fragrance to go through maceration again and smelled it after a few hours. Perfect. I really like it myself which is an essential aspect for this particular idea of course. Now I just want to find the gentleman that is the real life reflection of this fragrance. If you have an idea of who it might be, do let me know.

Insects have the most acute sense of smell in all nature and used it for all sorts of physical courtship. A queen bee attracts drone males with an indisputably welcoming scent from a gland in her mouth. In an experiment scientists harvested this scent and put it on a flying balloon. Drones clung to the balloon in layers desperate to mate. No wonder the queen bees are not exactly humble… The same gland produces another pheromone that worker bees take from the queen and distribute to female workers bees. The effect it has on these is that their reproduction ability is killed. This means that there will never be another queen bee competing for the spotlight until the first one has died and stopped distributing her pheromones.

There are more than twenty thousand species of bees but only a couple of them can make honey. They make it by using nectar from flowers. Honey is actually partially digested food that bees store in the hive during winter when no nectar is available. It takes about ten worker honey bees to make one tea spoon of honey and each bee’s contribution to that tea spoon corresponds to the amount of honey it will produce during its lifetime. In 2006, honey bees suddenly started to disappear in the US. When this was discovered a more careful monitoring of the honeybees was conducted and soon it was clear that this was a global phenomenon. This phenomenon was named Colony Collapsed Disorder. It affected the honey supply of course, but also all crops globally that are pollinated by bees. It is still not entirely clear how this started but research indicates that is has to do with pesticides severely affecting the nervous and immune systems of the bees.

Cave paintings in Valencia, Spain, seem to reveal that humans have been harvesting honey for at least 15,000 years. Bees have been producing honey for about 150 million years.




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Mesolithic rock painting of a honey hunter harvesting honey and wax
from a bees nest in a tree. At Cuevas de la
Araña en Bicorp

Honey almost sounds too obviously “nice” to be perceived as something interesting enough to analyze and be seduced by. It is enormously attractive visually of course, like liquid jewellery. But still, it is also something we associate with tea and honey and home made facial masks, right? Honey does play an interesting role in perfume though and can be found in an impressively wide range of fragrances. And the history of honey is mesmerizing and impressive. Yet we tend to not really speak about it that much in perfume contexts. Why is that? Honey seems to be like the pretty smiling well-composed sister that gets forgotten at the family dinner because the little magnates, monsters, delinquents, clowns, professors and divas demand all the attention. But we should not forget about honey. Honey is sweetness with attitude and patina.

Honey is versatile and interesting. In daily life it is a wonderful sweetener but also has health benefits. Honey builds up our immune system, soothes sore throats, fights with bacteria, viruses and fungi and helps with hangovers. Phytonutrients found in honey seem to possess cancer-preventing and anti-tumor properties, and may improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity.

When used in perfume the honey note is sweet in a soft and balsamic way, soothing. The scent can vary from woodsy to floral, herbal or tobacco-scented. It is often used as a prelude to the gourmand character of a fragrance. The honey used in perfumery is typically created from beeswax and molecular ingredients found in organic honey.

Melting beeswax.
You’ll find honey in an epic olfactory diva like Dior’s Poison but also in Jo Malone’s youthful Nectarine Blossom & Honey and in Chanel’s Beige. And in a very unfrightening cosy Honey I washed the kids. In Acqua di Cuba by Santa Maria Novella honey is combined with herbs, tobacco and citrus. It is a warm fragrance, slightly spicy with a vanilla base. If you are into Serge Lutens look for Miel de Bois and A La Nuit. There’s an interesting discussion on Miel de Bois here. One of my personal favorites, Ambre Narguilé by Jean-Claude Ellena, also has a honey in a sultry olfactory performance that is nothing for a shy day. Another gourmand honey fragrance is Thierry Mugler’s Angel, brilliantly exposed by The Perfumed Dandy. To get to know TPD’s world – and honey analysis – better, just click anywhere on the eloquent area below. (And for a female Dandy, do check out the review from Olfactoria’s Travel of La Dandy).

Other honey fragrances and thoughts of them can be found here: Hedonist by Viktoria Minya, Perfum de Luxe from enchanting DSH reviewed by the lovely Sigrun and the exquisite dark unusual M/Mink from Byredo. 
Honey can be kept for thousands of years without losing its qualities. An extra-ordinary example of this is the honey found in Tutankhamen’s tomb which was still edible after more than 2,000 years. Honey is mentioned as a symbol of good things in many sacred writings. In Hinduism it is considered as one of the five elixirs of immortality in Hinduism. The Promised Land, Canaan, is “a land flowing with milk and honey.” The word “honey” itself reveals a powerful, sacral significance. This word originates from the ancient Hebrew word for “enchant.” Honey is considered kosher, even though it is produced by non-kosher beings. The explanation for this can be found in the fact that bees during Biblical times were wild bees who carried nectar from flowers to hives for storage in the shape of sweet liquid gold. Beekeeping was developed long after this. And honey, the liquid sacred sweet gold, will be around long after this…

I love this. For being vanilla that is not trying to be cute. For being vanilla that a man can wear. For being soft and fierce. For being strong but undemanding. For feeling like the crème in the crème brûlée and like leather. For it’s intimacy blended with a feeling of ancient heritage. I really love this admirable creation.