Archive

tonka bean

I find it interesting that of all the Hermessence fragrances it seems quite apparent that Vetiver Tonka is the most popular one. Not so surprised that many would like it because it is really sublime, but rather perhaps that it makes so many different types of personalities feel really comfortable in it. Personally, I find it extra-ordinary so I am definitely one of the fans. I love having this fragrance on me. It is so elegant and so well-balanced in its presence. But not only that, it is also a fragrance with a lot of integrity and definitely has a little playful or mysterious twist. Maybe it is that perfect mix of extremely being comfortable but also unusual that makes it attractive so many of those who try it. It is not very famous though, outside perfumista circles.

Photo of Jean-Claude Ellena from WSJ

Some facts. Vetiver Tonka was created in 2004, and by Jean-Claude Ellena naturally. In an earlier post on vetiver, I mentioned that one of the things that make it so interesting is how different one vetiver is from another. (If you want an example, find a sample of Vetiver Tonka and one of Le Labo’s Vetiver and you will experience the versatility of vetiver). Not only because of what it is combined with and how it is used in the composition of a fragrance, but also depending on its origin. I find it a fascinating note, vetiver is to me full of contradiction and has a strange kind of depth, tension and coarseness that makes me think of traveling and in particular taking the taxi from the airport late at night in an unknown place and then driving through landscapes that smell of a cool sky but a hot ground. I have no idea exactly where this idea comes from, what specific situation or place but that’s how I feel about vetiver.

In Vetiver Tonka, after The Great Zest that introduces it, the vetiver is wrapped in a soft cashmere hue created by the tonka bean. Some describe the tonka as adding an almost gourmand aspect to this perfume but I don’t feel that at all. On my skin it never becomes really sweet. It just lingers playing its textures. And it’s just so very sophisticated. 

“Odor is a word, perfume is literature.” 
Jean-Claude Elena

“A tobacco aroma with sweet undertones of honey. A pure aphrodisiac”. This is how today’s fragrance is described by Kilian. And Kilian’s perfumers know their stuff so I am sure this potion has caused more than one baby in its lifetime. For me…no. Unfortunately. I would love to love tobacco and honey. I want to love every Kilian fragrance because the ones that I do love I am completely enchanted by. And I know enough to know that every black bottle with this name has been created with great passion and dedication. Also I am interested in all sorts of connections between the olfactorial world and the emotional world. So I am sorry to say, “Back to Black: aphrodisiac.…our paths will never cross again”.

The first two hours I was intrigued by this perfume. I felt like I smelled like a male rock star. Crude, restless, eager, fierce. I did however not feel like that rock star, but like I had borrowed Mick Jaggers perfume. A bit weird but interesting! However the fierceness disappeared and turned into something more like heavy incense at Midnight Mass. Bit too much of it for me, I couldn’t carry it off, but still… interesting. But then by the end of this day suddenly something entirely different emerged. To me, it resembled heavy roses and soap. I know a lot of people think that sounds beautiful but it is just not my thing. I felt like when you have not rinsed the soap away from your hands and that experience to me is really uncomfortable, just the thought of it makes my head itch. But this is personal, the people in my company did not react like this at all or even sense that sort of thing.

My reflections do not mean anything else than this, a bad match simply and I would love to hear someone else describe a contrary experience of this fragrance to me. In fact, when you google “kilian aphrodisiac review” you will find exclamations of great joy. And this, is one of the things that makes perfume so interesting.

So, please look at the notes below and if you like the sound of them look up reviews on blogs, Fragrantica etc. This could be a sensational discovery for you. And now I am going to look up the notes – which I have in fact not done before this very moment because I wanted to give you a sincere reflection without having “the right answer”.

What would the perfume house of Chanel be without Jacques Polge? Of course, there were Chanel perfumes before Polge. But he has done so many of Chanel fragrances and had such an infinite impact on the olfactory aspects of the Chanel brand that it is hard to imagine a bottle with Chanel written on it without the content being if not created than poetically surveyed by Polge.
I am a lover of poetry. What would reality be without its poetic dimension? Even if you do not read poetry, it plays an important role in everyday life. I am a lover of fragrance, and fragrance is a form of poetry. It doesn’t speak, but it gives so much.” Jacques Polge
Jacques Polge was born in 1943. During his childhood he spent many summers in Grasse, which he has said what made him aware of the possibility of pursuing a career within the perfume world. It was in 1978 that he became the house perfumer of Chanel and took over the role from Henri Robert who created, among other perfumes, the last perfume in Gabrielle Chanel’s life, No. 19. Before coming to Chanel, Polge worked at what is now Givaudan (then Roure) and before that he did an apprenticeship in Grasse after taking his degree in English and literature. 
When Polge came to Chanel he took it upon himself to both treasure and renew a perfume brand synonymous with the world’s mot famous perfume, Chanel No 5. This perfume was in fact the first perfume launched by Chanel and there are of course many myths and stories about it’s creation. It was created by Russian-French chemist and perfumer Ernest Beaux who Gabrielle supposedly met through her lover Dmitri. Dmitri knew Ernest Beaux as Beaux was the favorite creator of bespoke perfumes for the Russian court.

With Chanel No 5, Gabrielle Chanel, like many other times, challenged what views, offers, restrictions, aesthetics should be associated with men or women.
 Sometimes we forget the enormous symbolic value this perfume has, political I would even say. Today Chanel is sometimes a bit too superficially regarded as the iconic image of French femininity. We should not forget that Gabrielle Chanel was quite avant-garde when it comes to gender equality matters. When it comes to Chanel No 5, the design of the bottle was a provocation to what was “design for women”. It was clean, bold. (The bottle has looked the same since 1924 with modifications done only to the stopper). For the content, well at that time respectable women often chose solifleurs. Heavier perfumes with for example musk were associated with sexual provocation and therefore with more physically generous types of women. And then there was the liberated flapper. Chanel No 5 was for her.

Real perfume is mysterious, but the perfume which many women use is not mysterious. Women are not flowers. Why should they want to smell like flowers? I like roses, and the smell of the rose is very beautiful, but I do not want a woman to smell like a rose.”  Gabrielle Chanel 
Gabrielle was exposed to numerology already as a child as the convent orphanage where she was raised, Aubazine, was founded by Cistercians who were strong believers in numerology. To them, the number five was very significant. In 1920 during the process with the development of a fragrance for Chanel, Gabrielle was presented with numbered glass vials she chose the sample composition contained in the fifth vial. (The number five reoccurs, Gabrielle would present dress collections on the fifth of May for example). 
Gabrielle Chanel, photo by Edmonde Charles-Roux 
Chanel No 5 is one of the earliest famous perfumes with aldehydes. Aldehydes are organic substances, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, which are manipulated in the laboratory. The process arrests and isolates the scent. A myth states that according to Constantin Weriguine, Beaux’s student, the aldehyde that Beaux used had the clean note of the arctic, “a melting winter note” but was the result of an accident. A laboratory assistant mistook a full strength mixture for a ten percent dilution… “Number five”, Gabrielle Chanel said, “a perfume like nothing else. A woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.” 
Gabrielle Chanel challenged many conventions about femininity during her lifetime. But Chanel is not really a very unisex kind of perfume house. If you take a look at Antaeus (sage, myrtle, patchouli, sandalwood, labdanum, beeswax) for example this is what you get. 

(Antaeus, a character in Greek and Berber mythology, was a half-giant and the son of Greek Goddess of the Earth, Gaeia and God of the Sea, Poseidon.) 
However, as you might recall from my post on pour homme and pour femme, there are men who for example use Chanel No 5. I think if Gabrielle could visit us for a moment and have a cigarette in a café and read the thread I recommended….she would have loved it.
On my personal Chanel wish list are samples of the fragrances from the line Les Exclusifs de Chanel. When this line was launched in 2007, Chanel took a new step by offering the line on chanel.com. This increased accessibility tactic got some media coverage and was a step that was completely in line with Gabrielle Chanels vision of accessible style.
Les Exclusifs de Chanel includes four scents created by Ernest Beaux (Chanel no. 22, Bois des Iles, Gardenia and Cuir de Russie) and six new fragrances (Bel Respiro, 28 La Pausa, 31 Rue Cambon, Coromandel, no. 18 and Eau de Cologne). In 2008, Sycomore and Beige were added and in 2011, Jersey. 
I have a particular weakness for No 22, which Beaux created in 1922. Also the naming of the perfumes was revolutionary in their uncomplicated conceptual form. Gabrielle Chanel preferred simplicity and the symbolism of numbers. No 22 is also a floral aldehyde but with nutmeg, bourbon vanilla and Florentine iris. After No 22 came Bois des Iles, created in 1926. This perfume took Chanel perfumes in a new direction. It was a romance with the exotism of the time, the longing for the far away, woody with oriental rose, mandarine and tonka bean. 
All the new scents are the evocation of a some part of Gabrielle Chanels life. For example, Bel Respiro is the name of the house close to Versailles that Gabrielle Chanel bought in 1920. 28 La Pausa was also her property, a vacation house by the sea with a view over Menton and the Italian coast. No 18 is the number la place Vendôme that Chanel saw from her balcony at the Ritz. Coromandels, Chinese laquered screens belonged to her favorite decoration elements, she lived surrounded by them. And 31 rue Cambon is of course the sacred spot where everything started and still thrives.
I liked the idea, the poetic idea that fragrance is a kind of language. It doesn’t use words. It doesn’t use images. It’s invisible.” Jacques Polge 

An unusual man brought up the matter of what fragrance to wear for Christmas. By now I suppose you have all made your choice for today, (I would love to know what it was). Tomorrow we will all make it again. So, my thoughts on this are as follows.

Christmas is a beautiful holiday that offers a wealth of inspiration for self-insight and care for others regardless of how or where you spend these days. It is a special time and therefore deserves a special fragrance, This does not mean complicated fragrance. Just a deliberate choice. (Which on the other hand is the way I wish more people looked at fragrances all days of the year but anyway).

Here are a couple of examples of things to consider when picking your Christmas fragrance.

1) What other fragrances and scents will surround you? 

Christmas is a holiday of many odors, scents and smells. Some amazing, some less amazing. Wherever you will be – your perfume will be a part of a larger olfactory sensation. Try to predict some dominant traits and see them as a part of your palette that you work with when choosing what to add (with your chosen perfume). In my home for example there are various white flowers, spruce needles, oranges, cardamon, an open fire, no meat or red wines during Christmas Eve, just white fish and very delicate flavors followed by cakes or warm drinks with dried fruits. This to me suggests a lighter fragrance or gourmand.

2) Who are you spending Christmas with and how close will they be? 

This is actually quite significant. Just think about it – for example would you want to put a delicate piece of white fish in your mouth while your nose is stuck in an attack from your neighbour’s heavy floral? (I HATE when that happens at a restaurant). If you are in company of many people seated very close for the whole evening I would suggest you all go easy on perfumes for dinner. I am strongly in favor of not wearing strong perfumes to dinners at all actually. Or apply them so much in advance that by the time you sit down you’re in a gentle base note phase.

These two are things you should think about. Apart from that other criteras are more for pleasure and as many as you want them to be: what will you wear (style, texture, how warm etc), what scents do you want to feel yourself and what will make you comfortable etc.

My choice today was based on this: the general fragrance palette described above, that I like the classic Christmas style, that my day was divided in two parts where the first was a long walk downtown, a visit to church to light candles for the absent ones, light lunch and then in the evening dinner with few people in a spacious house. Plus also that Christmas Eve for Catholics is not “the real feast” (that is tomorrow) but an evening of anticipation for what is to come. In Polish we call this Wigilia.

Therefore… I chose something light and young, elegant but discreet. From an iconic brand (for the classic feeling) and by an iconic nose. As I applied it in the morning, by dinner there was just the softness of the basenotes. Also, I applied it only on the neck so the sensation was very mild, both for me and others. 

Top notes: orange, bergamot, mandarin, grapefruit
Middle notes: morning rose, Italian jasmine, ylang-ylang, mimosa, florentine iris
Base notes: Indonesian patchouli, Haitian vetiver, Bourbon vanilla, white musk, opoponax, tonka bean

You probably guessed. By Monsieur Jacques Polge:

Tomorrow I will wear my beloved Omnia. The first one. Masala tea, cinnamon, nutmeg, almond, chocolate, ginger, mandarin orange, saffron, pepper, cardamom, cloves, tonka bean. Quite appropriate for Christmas Day in other words. 

Hope you are all having a beautiful Christmas.
The 1920’s were a decade that had great impact on perfumes and perfume use. In fact, this decade produced some of the most important perfumes of the entire century. One significant trend was that fashion designers started to sell perfumes under their clothing brands, the most legendary one (and quite revolutionary at the time) of course being Chanel No 5, released by Chanel in 1921. Even the bottle was a bold zeitgeist statement with a bottle design far from the ornamentation associated with feminine things. It was simple, bold and unquestionable. 

Bottle designs and the visuals around the fragrances were extremely important and often flirted with contemporary life style. There was the mascerade theme… Masque Rouge, for example, was introduced in a modern bottle, and a box with a red mask. “Mascarades” by Cherigan came in a black bottle with a golden face under a rain of gold dust and gilded triangles. Baccarat were extremely popular for bottles because of their superior quality crystal.

One of the reasons for doing a post on the 1920’s, I admit, is the occasion to indulge in…

Shalimar. A fragrance that, for me, just basically sums it all up. All of it. Shalimar was created by Jacques (I feel this name keeps reappearing in my perfume-life) Guerlain in the early 1921 but it was in 1925 that it had its breakthrough, at the Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris where it was an instant success. The fragrance is named after the Garden of Shalimar in Lahore, built by emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife, Mumtaz. (Also the woman that Taj Mahal was built for…). Shalimar means the ‘Abode of Love’ in Sanskrit. The sweet vanilla creation mesmerized its first discoverers. Oh…how I wish I could have been there. Can you imagine? Being one of the first women to put Shalimar on your skin? The 1925 bottle was designed by Raymond Guerlain and made by Baccarat.


Shalimar had a bit of a comeback in the 1980’s. It was relaunched in a new bottle in 1985 to commemorate the 60th anniversary. This was followed by the addition of Shalimar Light in 2004 which was replaced by Eau de Shalimar in 2008. Shalimar is currently made as Shalimar Extract, Eau de Parfum, Eau de Toilette, Eau de Cologne, and as a Fleur de Shalimar Edition. Shalimar contains bergamot (top), lemon, jasmine (heart), rose (heart), iris (heart), opopanax (heart), tonka bean (base), and vanilla (base). It is an oriental perfume, which is also according to what was fashionable at that time – an era seduced by its own interest and fascination for things exotic.

Other famous fragrances from these years are Arpège, created by Jeanne Lanvin for her daugter’s 30th birthday and of course Jean Patous Joy. Joy was created with the intent to send a message to the heavy cynical Great Depression-attitude that Patou described as dominating society. He asked Henri Almeras to create something using Bulgarian rose and jasmine from Grasse. The result that Almeras presented to Patou was sensational, but Almeras was worried that the ingredients were too expensive for the fragrance to have success on the market. Joy became the most expensive perfume in the world, and a huge success. It is also the perfume supposedly worn by Josephine Baker.