Crossovers between fragrance and food are as old as the spice roads, but over the past 20 years perfumers have mostly been raiding pastry and candy shops. Lately, they seem to be looking for ways to climb out of the caramel vat – or to find more subtle ways of expressing what the industry now prefers to call “addictive” or “gustative” rather than “gourmand” notes.
Coming up on foody notes isn’t quite as simple as crossing the hall into the flavorists’ lab. For one, flavor compositions are meant to be fleeting: having them linger too long in the mouth would be counter-productive. They’re also conceived to be perceived through retro-olfaction (i.e. what hits the olfactory bulb from inside the mouth). So you can’t just shift a formula from yogurt to a perfume bottle. Still, there’s a world of inspiration to be drawn from cocktails, sweets and condiments since their particular balance of aromas are already quite close to the way perfumes are conceived.
In the presentations perfume and flavor companies organize for their clients and the press in to showcase their new materials and their perfumers with blue-sky-thinking compositions, food or drink-inspired have been popping up quite a lot. At the 2012 edition of IFF Speed-smelling, notes of aquavit and Swedish spicy breads, salty nut mixes and snapped peapods popped up – I’ll be completing my write-up of the event quite soon, since the limited edition coffret containing the scents will be commercially available.
For its own presentation, the Grasse-based Mane decided to base all of its 20 scents on drinks and food. Mane is the company that produces Thierry Mugler’s Womanity, notable for its extractions of fig and caviar, carried out with a patented method called Jungle Essence (click here for the technical explanation). This method can be applied to various foodstuffs, from gingerbread to passion fruit or hazelnut, an obvious reason for Mane to go foody this year with Delicatesscent, a “restaurant of perfumes”.
Since no samples were given out, I only experienced these briefly on blotters and therefore won’t attempt to review them. But I thought it would be fun to list them and ask you to “vote” for the one(s) you’d most like to experience in a fragrance…
Smooth Talk by Olivier Paget dips a sprig of mint leaves in a pineapple smoothie, while Ralf Schwieger derives a masculine “milky oriental” from horchata de chufa, a Spanish drink made of ground tigernuts (actually a tuber known since Ancient Egypt both as a food and perfumery ingredient) whose almondy flavor is enhanced by tonka bean.
CocktailsPlaymate by Cécile Matton is a variation on chypre that plays on the fruity notes of carrot fired up by rum. Violaine Collas plays on 007’s cocktail of choice in Quantum of Solace with Oh James! a “Vesper Martini” accord (the accord, but not the drink, is made of absinth absolute with juniper, cassis and lemon thyme). Massilia by Cécile Matton bears the Latin name of Marseille and matches a typical drink of the South of France, the Mauresque (pastis and the almond-based orgeat syrup) with a coffee chaser.
Peanutty by Claudia Carolina, is inspired by the pacoça, a peanut-based sweet from her native Brazil. Macadamia Cowboy by Mathilde Bijaoui stays in the nutty register, with hazelnut in a spicy accord of nutmeg, ginger and fenugreek. Irina Burlakova also strays from sweetness with Street Scene conjuring the hot pretzels sold on New York streets. Jim Krivda bathes his caramel popcorn accord in wafts of orange blossom and magnolia for an evening in a deep-South Drive-in. Finally, Christine Nagel spares a thought for dieters and health food junkies with À Plein Régime, a puffed rice cake accord in a cloud of powdery musk and heliotrope.
Lance-roquette by Julie Massé explores an unusual, bitter green note with an aragula (“roquette” in French) accord created with galbanum, tarragon and a rhubarb-smelling molecule).
Up Up and Away! by Mathilde Bijaoui draws its inspiration from an even odder source : ketchup. Sweet, salty, spicy and tart, it matches raspberry and Indian long pepper with celery, tarragon and rose. Harissa-pristi by Christine Nagel is inspired by the fiery North African condiment.
Pain des Lys by Serge Majoullier matches a Jungle Essence™ extraction of gingerbread with a lily note via spices. Mademoiselle Abricot by Violaine Collas uses an apricot meringue pie accord as the lactonic fruit accord in a neo-fruity chypre. La Passion Selon Le Fruit, again by Serge Majoullier, is based on passion fruit and blue hemlock (which isn’t the poisonous plant that ended Socrates’s days but a conifer). Sophie Truitard, French but based in Mane’s Brazilian branch, exploits the country’s exotic flavors in The Girl from Ipanema with a jaboticaba, the fruit of the Brazilian grape tree.
From the New York office, Cécile Hua has obviously taken a page from a Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation study stating that sniffing a combination of pumpkin pie and lavender arouses men, because that’s exactly what her Pump-Kin-Up smells of (though oddly – or not? – it’s intended to be a masculine fragrance). As for Vincent Kuczinski, he pays tribute to a cherished childhood memory with Junior’s Cheesecake.
While coffee notes sometimes pop up in masculine scents (Yojhi Homme, A*Men), Julie Massé has played Starbucks barista with Jungle Fever, a moccachino accord of coffee, hazelnut, milk froth, cocoa and fenugreek topped off with magnolia and freesia.
And now, on to you: which of these foody notes would you be most curious to spritz on your skin?
Illustration: Foodscape by Erró (1964)