Eau d'Italie as seen on NYTimes.com...
...and available online at Beauty Frontier
52 Fragrances and How to Think About Them
An encyclopedia of some of the most interesting floral, woody, fresh and spicy scents around.
How do you organize perfume?
Michael Edwards, the perfume historian and author, founded and runs what is arguably the most extensive database on perfumes, fragrancesoftheworld.info. It contains over 38,000 scents and counting. This is nuts. How is anyone expected to make sense of these things? You organize them into categories. OK, pretty obvious — categories exist explicitly to give us a common language we can use to talk about things with one another. The less obvious question, then: How do you create your categories?
Perfume categories have always been based on raw materials. The medium is around 4,000 years old, and one of the oldest known scent material markets was in Kannauj, India, which remains the country’s perfume capital today. At first, the ingredients were limited: A few flowers whose oils (which are almost always the part of the raw materials that contain the scented molecules) were extracted with rudimentary methods. A few kinds of woods that, when dried, gave off a scent. Various benzoins — the saps and resins of local plants and, eventually, those that grew around the Persian Gulf, and in East Africa and Southeast Asia. Spices, of course. Green herbs and dried seeds. Fruit peels, which are loaded with oil, particularly those of citrus fruits.
Then came the 20th century and, with it, solvent-made absolutes, carbon dioxide extractions and molecular fractionations, and the number of raw materials exploded. Almost everyone still divides perfumes according to their predominant raw materials, but Edwards now uses a full 14 categories, and others use even more.
In the name of simplicity, we decided, for our own guide to some of the best and most interesting fragrances on the market today and where they live in relation to others — part of T’s Beauty & Luxury issue — to use just four: floral, woody, fresh/citrusy/green and spicy/gourmand — which means that the perfume smells as though it is made of edible ingredients. The dozen or so options in each category should give you a general sense of the range and complexity of the medium, even if what “woody,” or for that matter any label here, means when you apply it to a work of art — and indeed, so-called woody perfumes are some of the most inventive, strange and beautiful ones around — is somewhat arbitrary, or at least subjective. After all, to smell a perfume is, by design, often a personal exercise in imagining.
The Italian fragrance house Eau d’Italie could already lay claim to one of the most beautiful rose perfumes, Paestum Rose — a richly textured late-evening fragrance created by Bertrand Duchaufour in 2006 — when its founders and creative directors, Marina Sersale and Sebastián Alvarez Murena, commissioned what would become Rosa Greta, named for Greta Garbo’s home on the Amalfi Coast, from Fabrice Pellegrin. Around his central structure, Pellegrin applied fresh, pure lychee and white tea, which lift the rose, making it glass-smooth and almost weightless.