The New Cavendish Club is sadly closing so we gathered at the venue behind Oxford Street for one last time to explore the wide range of fragrances with a green facet.
Event organiser Lila Das Gupta led through the evening and started by explaining that whereas previous genres we had explored had been more ‘linear’, green was not. In Leather perfumes we had suede at one end and chorizo or newly ridden saddle at the other. When we explored iris perfumes we had rooty, carroty at one end and powdery, violet at the other. Green perfume was more like a country with very important regional hubs.
Green perfumes were described by Lila as having elements which reflect “The Great Outdoors” and crushed leaves and fresh smells from nature.
Gold Standard and Landmark Greens
Lila: So, tonight the regional hubs are made up of ingredients. And the most important ingredient of all, when it comes to green, is galbanum. When people come to visit me to help them find a perfume I use this fragrance to see if they like green perfumes or not. It’s a real litmus test because if they like this, they are definitely going to like something green. It’s very much a classic of the genre, by Jean Claude Ellena and released in 1973. It’s a full-on perfume that shouts ‘green’. It is a favourite of Grant Osborne, founder of Basenotes (and he’s a bit fussy about perfume). It’s quite linear, but lovely all the way through. Definitely stood the test of time…
It features tomato leaf and galbanum. Galbanum is probably the most important ingredient in green perfumes as I said. No self-respecting green perfume would be without it.
Here is some galbanum sap for you to try. The plant is an umbel and related to the carrot family, and it has a very strong, lasting scent.
Alliage, Estée Lauder
Lila: Released in 1974, sadly this one seems dated now, though I applaud Estée Lauder for keeping it in production for the people who like it. It feels like the Farrah Fawcett-Majors of the perfume world – it might have been fine then, but I’m not sure it’s doing too much now. Interestingly, it was the first perfume to be marketed as a sports fragrance – the ads showed women playing tennis and being active. We should definitely smell it as a reference point –it’s very much talked about on forums.
Comments from the group included “Horrible” “Essence of talcum powder” and “A bit musty”.
Lila: It’s a landmark in the land of green perfumes but hasn’t really stood the test of time. It’s a period piece.
Lila: This was the last perfume that Coco Chanel selected when in her 80s. It was made with her in mind. It’s classic but not old-fashioned. It has galbanum with iris which turns everything velvety. For me, wearing it feels like it’s a crisp, white shirt. I always feel well dressed in it. This is the EDP. I find it warm, soft and comforting at the same time (the opposite view to Luca Turin’s elegant description in The Guide). It’s a classic in the green canon.
Lila: This is light galbanum and clean jasmine. It’s often worn by women who don’t really like perfume or are unsure about which perfume to choose. This is the EDP but there’s also a fresher, Eau Verte version. It won’t frighten the horses, but it is really pretty. It features a lot of hedione which is the aromachemical answer to jasmine. A lot of you may not have smelled it. It’s certainly one everyone should know. It may be safe, but it’s popular because it’s lovely.
Eau Thé Verte, Bulgari
Lila: This is another Jean Claude Ellena perfume released in 1993. Michael Edwards gave a very good talk on the history of cologne at the perfume fair in Milan a couple of years ago. He said it was the first time tea was used as an ingredient in western perfumery and it was a milestone in the history of perfumery, spawning later blockbusters such as CK One. Thé Vert is very fresh and belongs to the cologne territory.
It was novel in its day and a surprise hit for the jewellers Bulgari, but it’s interesting to see it’s at the discounters now and not particularly popular. We’ve also got Elizabeth Arden Green Tea, a lovely, fresh perfume that was created by Francis Kurkdjian. He’s not too keen on his back-catalogue these days, which is a shame, because it’s still a very nice perfume.
Chai, Robert Piguet
Lila: A lot of brands have released tea and light jasmine perfumes to appeal to the Far Eastern market.
Group comments: “Inoffensive” “Not warm and milky like chai” “Teenagers first fragrance”.
Lila: And while we are on the subject of Cologne, if you haven’t already, don’t forget to smell the Thierry Mugler Cologne. It’s a wonderful one for people who don’t like what traditionally goes into a cologne. It’s not floral at all, it’s refreshing, light and green and wonderfully affordable.
Lila: Blackcurrant bud is another interesting ingredient in the green list of ingredients – it has an odour profile which can remind some people of box hedge and Sauvignon Blanc – for others that sour note is more like a pissy, urinal smells. It’s intriguing.
Enchanted Forest, The Vagabond Prince
Lila: This was the first perfume released by the perfume website Fragrantica. Elena and Zoran, the founders are both Russian and they started their own perfume company called The Vagabond Prince. Enchanted Forest was their first release. It’s supposed to be evocative of their childhoods in Russia and was created by Bertrand Duchaufour.
This was a rather polarising fragrance. The best comments were “Horrid and amazing” and “Blackcurrant flavour throat lozenges”. “It’s a strange sweet and sour fruity mix with a lot of strength”. Serge, from Belarus, who was in the audience said it reminded him of picking raspberries and blackcurrants at his grandparent’s house and brought back happy childhood memories. Callum from Les Senteurs did not like it but felt strangely attracted to it he said.
Lila: Other fragrances in this category are Blackberry & Bay which was is very refreshing and a best-selling hit for Jo Malone. Also Mad Madame by Juliette Has A Gun which I gave to a group of women to try and they thought it was really sexy. It’s down to me that a certain sector of suburban west London now smells of Mad Madame!
Aedes de Venustas
Lila: Aedes de Venustas is a shop in New York. I’ve never been but I’d love to go – it looks all baroque and mysterious. Anyone in the room ever been?
Grant (from Basenotes): It’s like a random aunt’s bad attic, in a good way.
Lila: It was done by Bertrand Duchaufour and for me it smells like the moment when you pull the rhubarb out of the ground, twist the leaf and toss into the compost heap. It’s very fresh rhubarb with a grapefruit note and a slight bit of incense. It has a lot of zing to it. Rhubarb is another popular way to get a green element into a perfume.
(For another rhubarb fragrance see Hermessence Rose Ikebana, a favourite of Olfactoria’s)
Lila: This one was criticised when it came out because it’s lovely rather than a self-conscious masterpiece like the rest of the Les Exclusifs range. For me, it doesn’t need to apologise for anything, it’s a beautiful haze when I wear it; it feels slightly white and slightly green. The pure parfum is my favourite strength.
Comment from the group “Lipstick-y”
Lila then ran through other kinds of green fragrances:
- Linden blossom (Ciel d’Opale by Ann Gerard and Tauer’s Zeta) which is a subtle, smell, like putting your nose in a pollen-rich, green flower.
- The modern Vent Vert we have here is perfectly nice but I can’t believe it’s anything like the great perfume by Germaine Cellier it once was. Sometimes described as one of the greatest perfumes of all time…
- Grey Flannel, by Geoffrey Beene is a cult fragrance on Basenotes, much discussed. Here for reference.
Lily of the Valley
Lila: Noses are getting tired, but we still have to talk about Lily of the Valley. Edmond Roudnitska nailed with Diorissimo (which we don’t have here). Muguet is still popular on the continent. Muguet by Yves Rocher which is wonderful and budget perfume you can buy on the continent. It’s a comforting smell and if you don’t like white flowers very much, lily of the valley is a good choice.
Lila: On the whole, I do not like fig at all. It always strikes me as very artificial because when you put your nose in a fig, it doesn’t smell like that at all. I love the fig note in Neela Vermeire’s Ashoka and last week this perfume landed on my desk, with a fig note I actually like.
Some vetivers are more green and citrusy and some are more smoky. We’ve had a whole evening dedicated to them, so we won’t discuss them tonight but we’ve brought them out because people love them so much. Highlights are Sycomore by Chanel, Vetiver Vert by Chech & Speake and Infusion de Vetiver by Prada.
- Violetta is a pretty violet by Penhaligon’s. If you love parma violets as many of us do, you will love this cheerful fragrance.
- Urura’s Tokyo Café by 4160 Tuesdays features a violet note along with rose, raspberry leaf and woods on top of a resinous base.
Green perfumes have long interested me and I particularly love wearing them in early spring and on hot summer days. Many thanks to Lila for showing us the wide range of fragrances this genre encompasses during another lively evening.
Are any of these favourites of yours or is there something missing?