Part 2 - THE FRAGRANCE FAMILIES
Before we go into the actual fragrance groups, I think we should start by understanding the mechanics of a fragrance.
The skin is one of the most remarkable organs of the human body. It acts as a barrier against invading germs and bacteria by virtue of its PH value of 5.7, just acid enough to discourage all of those little nasties, regulates our internal temperature by sweating, the evaporation of which cools us. Our skin is equipped with countless sebaceous glands that secrete sebum, keeping our outer covering supple and moist. It is these two actions of the skin that also do the most marvelous thing when fragrances come in contact with them. They become the final ingredients that make a fragrance truly yours. It is that skin acid, and oils, slightly different in every one of us, that causes one particular fragrance to smell different, from person to person. The acid will react with some of the ingredients, causing them to become sharper. Other ingredients will become more rounded in character, while still others will become more intense. The skin oils add their changes as well. Some wood oils, such as Sandalwood will become sweeter and heavier, lingering on our skin for a longer time than normal. Musks will intensify; mosses become more earthy smelling, flower components more floral. In short, our skin will tailor the fragrance to our bodies, creating an olfactory signature that that is uniquely ours.
Now perfume is an incredible concoction, made up of as many as 500 different materials, or as few as 2, as in the case of Fragonard’s Zizanie, an artful blending of Sandalwood and Patchouli that produces a male fragrance that is both sensual, yet refined. These many raw materials, as they are called in the industry, are not just thrown together, willy nilly, but carefully composed, much like a great symphony. Just as that symphony is made up of carefully arranged high, middle, and low notes, the perfume is composed much the same way with natural and synthetic materials, replacing the musical tones with olfactory notes. There are a number of notes in a fragrance composition, but for the sake of simplicity, and clarity, we will address the classic three. They are known as the Top note, the middle note, or heart, and finally the base, or bottom note.
When we apply the fragrance, we are introduced to it by way of the top notes, mostly citrus oils, such as Lemon, Lime, Bergamot, Yuzu, Tangerine, Orange, Petitgrain and Lemon Verbena. There are certain flowers that have the same fleeting quality, like Lily of the Valley, Jasmine, Neroli. These are the opening trumpet notes that introduce us to the fragrance, sometimes brash and powerful, other times softly. These oils have a low boiling point, and the heat of our bodies causes them to evaporate quickly, along with the alcohol, within the first twenty minutes to an hour.
As the last of the top notes disappear, we are introduced to the middle notes, or the heart of the fragrance. By now, the middle notes have mixed with the acid and oils on your skin and marries to them, creating that signature fragrance that is yours alone. This heart lasts on the skin for up to two to three hours, evoking the emotion that was the raison d’etre for its composition.
Finally, with the middle notes fading, we are left with the bottom, or base notes. These are the heaviest of the materials and are generally used to anchor the middle and top notes, making them last longer. These base notes pull the other two together and make them work together as a seamless whole. They are the ones that linger for several hours and are like the coda in that olfactory symphony.
We will be covering six of the groups that are commonly used in men’s fragrances. It should be interesting to note that even within the groups, there are variations, different twists that alter the basic scent and make for an infinite menu of choices for every personality.
Our first group is one called Chypre (pronounced sheep-er), named after the island of Cyprus. The originator of this fragrance was the famed Francois Coty who introduced the public to it in 1919. This fragrance was a departure from the sweet ones that were the norm, at the time, and the incense smelling Orientals. Heavy, dry in character, with occasional leather notes, the Chypres used an innovative base composed of Oakmoss, Patchouli, Bergamot, Labdanum, and Sandalwood. The women’s versions sometimes used Rose and Cassie to achieve floral notes. Tobacco Absolute may be added for a smokier note, as in Cigar Aficionado Cologne. Some of the other Chypres in this group are Aramis, one of my personal favorites, Salvador Dali, and Dunhill. The heaviness can be lifted by the addition of citrus notes like Lemon, Lime, or Verbena.
The next group is the Citrus. We’re all familiar with them and may have found that they’re not very long lasting. The function of the Citrus group is mainly as a refresher, perfect for the summer, where heavy fragrances would be overpowering. Originally compounded for the Russian Imperial Court, this light, sparkling fragrance became synonymous with the German city which lent it its name, Cologne. It reached its peak of sophistication in Guerlain’s Cologne Imperiale. Crisp, sharp, at times, and able to lend a feeling of coolness, the Citrus blend is often composed of Lemon, Lime, Tangerine, Bitter Orange, and Bergamot. 4711, the oldest eau de Cologne, still in production, is a prime example of this group. Penhaligon’s Blenheim Blend and CK One are two more examples of this vast grouping.
But let’s not think that that’s all there is to Citrus blends. Its character can be changed in wonderful ways, making it more exciting, and in some cases surprising. They can segue into the evening with aplomb with the addition of some floral notes like Rose Geranium, Carnation, Ylang Ylang , Iris, and Jasmine. The addition of Chypre notes will turn it into what is called a Romantic Fragrance, suitable for formal wear. Now add spices like Cassia, Nutmeg, Clove Bud, and pepper, both Pink and Black, and you have a Citrus that is warm and exciting. Woody notes like Vetiver, Sandalwood, the Cedars, and Patchouli will take it to a now sensual level. And finally, the addition of aromatics, such as Thyme, Rosemary, Spikenard, and Lavender changes our lowly Citrus into the star of the tennis court and golf course. Yes, this variety is known as sport scents, suitable for the daytime. Although they’re at home on the playing courts, they’re also the perfect compliment to the corporate business suit. They are the least distracting of the fragrances for office wear, lending an air of quiet sophistication.
We now move on to a group known as the Orientals. These are the heaviest of the male fragrances, best reserved for evening, formal wear. They’re often described as incense smelling, and for good reason. Most of the materials used in them were once burned in temples as offerings to the gods. A few of them are; West Indian Nutmeg and Bay oil, Cinnamon and Cassia, from Asia, Clove bud oil from Zanzibar, fragrant Basil, from the Mediterranean, Patchouli oil, distilled from leaves grown in India, British Malaya, Sumatra, and South America. This oil imparts a musty note and a sweet, herbaceous, spicy, woodsy-balsamic odor. Spicy Carnation, tangy Ginger, and the camphor like Lavender are often used as well. These materials can be found, in some part, in male fragrances like Jaipur Homme, Joop!, Gucci Envy, Tiffany for Men, Opium for Men, Le Male, and Contradiction for Men. The key word here is discretion in application. Since they are heavy, a very light hand is called for. Too much can be overpowering and wind up filling up a room. The proper fragrance aura should be no more than your outstretched arms; your personal space. When you enter a room, you want your fragrance to announce your presence, but not five minutes before you actually enter.
The next oldest of the fragrances is the group called Fougeres. The word, translated from French means Fern. Although ferns don’t really have any fragrance, Fougere is used to imply a forest-like smell, earthy, mossy and green. This is achieved with French Lavender, Spanish Labdanum resin, Venezuelan Coumarin, tinctured from the Tonka Bean, Bergamot and Geranium oils from the Island of Reunion. For men, this is often rounded off with Citrus and Tobacco notes, giving it a masculine appeal. Good examples of the Fougere family are Canoe, Paco Rabanne for Men, Monsieur Givenchy, and Kouros. To explain Fougere more clearly, you have to realize that ferns don't really have a smell. As the article says, it just happened to be a name flight of fancy of the perfumer because it probably reminded him of the woods when he first blended it. It does happen to be the major component of most men's fragrances because it does have a rather robust, masculine smell. If you'll take a trip to www.basenotes.com
and type in the word fougere in the search engine, it'll pull up a lot of men's fragrances that fit that profile. I love Basenotes because I can look up any fragrance and get a basic guide to what's in them. Then I can go to the blending table and try to recreate the aroma. Usually, I wind up adding my own touches to it and, voila, I have something new and all my own.
Next on our list are the Woodsy-Mossy fragrances. Probably the most popular in men’s scents, the number of them is too numerous to count. If anything typifies the Great Outdoors, this does. Basic to this blend are Vetiver, from Haiti and Java, Sandalwood, from India, Cedar, from the Himalayas, China, and Virginia, and Cade. Earthy Oakmoss, Rosewood, and notes borrowed from the Fougeres round out and accentuate this fragrance. Good examples of this group are Dunhill Edition, Bulgari for Men, and Vetiver. Now, in my opinion, the best Vetiver was from Caron. Sadly, it’s been out of production for years, and you still may find vintage bottles of it on eBay, and other auction sites. This Caron fragrance is definitely a “babe magnet”. It seems to affect women like catnip does a cat.
Our final stop is the group called the Fresh Aromatics. When DuPont coined the phrase “Better living through chemistry” they opened a whole new realm for the perfumery world. The chemists at large companies like Givaudan, IFF, and others have engineered new aroma molecules that have replaced the more traditional essential oils that would vary in quality, depending on the climate in the areas that grow them, assuring the perfume companies a steady supply of consistent quality scent material. Some of their creations have been a result of environmental concerns. Sandalwood, the most popular woody essential oil is in danger of complete disappearance because of over harvesting. Others have made their appearance because of animal protection legislation. Ambergris, Castoreum, Musk, Civet, are all animal derived and the harvest of these materials involves the slaughter of these creatures so chemical substitutes have been created that rival the natural article.
Aside from these concerns, the fragrance market demands new and innovative aroma chemicals to fill the ever growing needs of the industry. Some of these new aroma molecules are smells that don’t exist in Nature, and in many cases, don’t smell like anything we’ve ever experienced before. One case, in point, is the aroma molecule, dihydromyrcenol, which is responsible for this new category of fragrance. When dihydromyrcenol was added to materials, formerly in the Fougere family, a new fragrance emerged, soapy clean and smelling of the salt ocean. Another aroma molecule, ambroxan was added to the compound, contributing a Pineapple, Apple, and Woody note. In the end, the fragrance is not of any of the other groups, but fresh, having no identifiable connection to anything else in the other groups. It is more of a feeling than a scent. Examples of this group are Tommy Hilfiger’s Cool Water, Armani’s Aqua di Gio, Dolce & Gabanna pour Homme, L’eau D’Issey pour Homme, and Davidoff’s Good Life.