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tonka

It is a man. I am sure of it. A tall man with integrity in corduroy. He has the fingers of a pianist and speaks of politics. It is a fragrance of an intellectual man, sharp and keeping the world at a distance. Not someone you hug. Someone you would really want to discuss the world with by a fireplace with some incredible cognac though.
Two hours later he is gone. He has left a veil of something that makes me think of Santa Maria Novella or a meeting between the clergy and herbs. But the man is replaced by a woman with strong attitudes and sharp features. She takes over a room. 
She stays for about an hour. Then enters a different person. Someone more subdued but confident. Much softer though. I envision a baroness from Veneto in masculine clothes and unruly hair. I like her. 
As day turns into evening the herbs are gone. Also the sharpness. What remains is a soft warm velvety vanilla. Where did they all go?
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Does it matter if you can classify what fragrance you’re wearing? If you know whether it is a floral, fougère or oriental? In theory, if you ask someone like me who is against superficial pointless namedropping – the answer is no. There is absolutely no point in keeping that sort of stuff in your head just for the sake of it or because you “should” know. In practice however, there are two reasons for you to think about perfume classification – the main one being that it’s a great tool for new discoveries as it will provide you with concrete links between what you like or dislike, and this will lead you to new fragrance pleasures. And pleasure is a great reason to care about things. The other reason is just simply curiosity. Some people just like maps. I do.

19th century perfumer Charles Piesse was one of the first to start classifying perfumes. He quickly turned to the world of music for symbols and so the language of perfumers became similar to that of musicians (which it still is today). The terms used in perfume language have the purpose to describe the different aroma layers in a fragrance, like chords. We also talk about top notes and different tones when distinguishing between ingredients and specific scents. We talk about the tonality of a fragrance just like we when analyzing a music piece.

There is also a more architectonical way of visualizing perfumes. William Poucher was one of the first to use the ‘fragrance pyramid’ to explain the top, middle and foundation as layers. He created the structure based on measurement of evaporation rate of perfume ingredients (fastest evaporation = top).

Image borrowed from davidreport.com/201103/scent-tokyo/



Here are some terms (from different eras, let’s not be so dogmatic) that are good to know when going on your perfume quest. The terms continuously develop and some perfumes contain traits of different families.


Floral: There are a few different types of floral fragrances. A Single Floral is a fragrance dominated by one particular flower (if you are fragrance shopping in France just channel Vanessa Paradis or madame Deneuve and say “soliflore”). Floral Bouquet is combination of fragrance of several flowers in the perfume. And Bright Floral is a modern fusion between Single Floral & Floral Bouquet.


Amber or Oriental: Fragrances with slightly animalic scents of ambergris or labdanum, combined with vanilla, tonka bean, flowers and woods. Orientals are not fragrances from the Orient but rather evoke the European (or specifically Victorian) 19th century image of the Orient.

Wood: Fragrances dominated by woody scents, usually sandalwood and cedarwood.

Leather: Fragrances with a middle note with honey, tobacco, wood and wood tars.

Chypre: Bergamot, oakmoss, patchouli, and labdanum. “Green” is a modern more light version of this group.

Fougère: A base of lavender, coumarin and oakmoss. (More info in post on Houbigant)

Aquatic/Oceanic: A modern category with clean often androgynous fragrances.

Citrus: Used to be a term used about eau de colognes now used for, well, citrus fragrances. (I know, a bit boring this description but some things are just not that complicated).

Fruity: Fragrances characterized by other fruits than citrus for example peach or passion fruit.

Gourmand: A term used for fragrances that often contain tonka bean, vanilla etc and create associations to desserts or flavors.

If these terms seem confusing or too many, The Fragrance Wheel might be your tool. It was developed in 1983 by Michael Edwards and based on four standard families: Floral, Oriental, Woody and Fresh. (Edwards divides these into three sub-groups which helps us see connections. The subgroups are Floral, Soft Floral, Floral Oriental, Oriental, Soft Oriental, Woody Oriental, Mossy Woods, Dry Woods, Citrus, Green and Water. But I think you might be ok just remembering the four main ones). 


Fougére gets a special position in the center as it combines elements of all four. If you know just these five terms you are safe, and it is likely that by studying the wheel and fragrances that you like you will be able to tell your preferred scent family/families. Also, if you ask someone in a perfume store for help and they give you a puzzled look – then I would suggest go to another store. Let’s encourage enlightenment, shall we?

I have found several “how to find your fragrance” articles that talk about how a certain type of person or age is recommended to go for one of the fragrance groups (eg fruity – young girl, fougére – man, green – sporty, oriental – in the evening). This is not my kind of fragrance approach. Be aware of the signals that your fragrance sends out, what it communicates about you. But find your thing. Go for what makes you feel good – and feel like you.

My plan is to have a few re-occuring topics in the blog, for example perfume searching tips and tricks, famous houses/brands and common – or just interesting – ingredients.

This time – tonka bean.

Dipteryx odorata (known as cumaru) is a flowering tree in from northern South America. Today, the main producers of the seeds are Venezuela and Nigeria. Kumarú is the word for tree in Tupi, in the region of French Guiana. The tonka bean is the seed from this tree. The beans are black, wrinkled and brown on the inside. They smell like vanilla similar to vanilla with a touch of almond, clove or cinnamon. The seed contains coumarin, which gives the seeds the great smell. The taste however, is bitter and eating coumarin can damage the liver.


Tonka beans are banned or subject to restrictions in several countries (for example use in food is forbidden in the US – probably because it affects coagulation). In others (like France), they are used in desserts as a vanilla substitute or to enhance the flavor in nuts or poppy, and in South America it seems it is used to create a specific aphrodisiac beverage. A google session will indicate that there seem to be a lot of chefs around the world who do like to experiment with this bean. And then they also appear in pipe tobacco and…in perfume.

The tonka bean has been considered to have both magical and medicinal powers. It has been used to cure depression, to boost the immune system, to cure snake bites and to treat coughs and rheumatism. The bean has been used for a long time for medicinal purposes among tribes in the Amazon. In occult traditions ceremonies that involve tonka beans are believed to help wishes come true. I also found recommendations to carry a bean in your pocket or bag for courage.

You will usually find tonka bean in an oriental fragrance, for example legendary Shalimar and Tonka Impériale (plus generally Guerlain), but also in fougères like previously mentioned Houbigant Fougère Royale. In Ellenas Hermessence series you cand find the fragrance Vetiver Tonka. If you are looking for more contemporary brands try Tobacco Vanille by Tom Ford or A Taste of Heaven from By Kilian. 

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Min plan är att ha några återkommande teman i bloggen, till exempel parfymletartips, berömda märken och intressanta ingredienser.

Den här gången – tonkaböna.

Dipteryx odorata (kallas också cumaru) är en blommande träd från norra Sydamerika. De största producenterna/odlarna är idag Venezuela och Nigeria. Kumarú är ordet för träd på Tupi, i området Franska Guyana. Tonkaböna är fröet från cumaru. Bönorna är svarta, skrynkliga och bruna på insidan. De luktar vanilj med inslag av mandel, kryddnejlika eller kanel. Fröet innehåller kumarin, som ger fröna den fina doften. Smaken är dock bitter och om man äter kumarin kan man skada levern.

Tonkabönor är förbjudna i flera länder (till exempel är användning i livsmedel förbjuden i USA – förmodligen eftersom kumarin påverkar koagulation). I andra länder (t.ex. Frankrike), används tonka böna i desserter som ett substitut för vanilj eller för att förstärka smaken i nötter eller vallmo. Det verkar finnas en hel del kockar runt om i världen som tycker om att experimentera med denna böna. Och så finns den också i piptobak och … i parfym.

Tonkabönan har ansetts ha både magiska och medicinska krafter. Den har använts för att bota depression, för att stärka immunförsvaret, för att bota ormbett och för att behandla hosta och reumatism. I ockulta traditioner finns ceremonier som involverar tonkabönor som tros hjälpa önskningar att gå i uppfyllelse. Jag har också hittat rekommendationer att bära en böna i fickan eller i väskan för mod.

Tonkaböna finns i nästan alla orientaliska dofter, till exempel legendariska Shalimar och Tonka Impériale (plus Guerlain generellt), men också i fougères t ex tidigare nämnda Houbigant Fougère Royale. I Ellenas Hermessence serie finns doften Vetiver Tonka. Om du söker bland mer moderna märken så testa t ex Tobacco Vanille av Tom Ford eller A Taste of Heaven från By Kilian.