Among the populations which lived in the immense forests it was usual for them to paint their bodies with clays and dyes derived from fruits and roots, both as a defence against disease as well as for care and beauty and also as a means of seduction. Little is still known about the aspect most closely linked to fragrance and its use in particular occasions and in everyday life.
However, in reality the modern day perfumery owes a great deal to the Americas, above all because, without some of the plants and substances originating from this part of the world, we might not ever have been able to experience some of the most important stages of our “fragrance” history.
Lets take for example vanilla
), the only orchid cultivated for non ornamental purposes. It originates from Mexico, where it was used among the local populations for flavouring an energising cocoa-based drinks. On arrival in Europe, it became one of the fundamental ingredients of the oriental accord
, animating compositions characterised with intense seductive power, to which it infuses its round, mischievous and insinuating notes which envelop in a sumptuous mantle the elegant rigour of woods and the mysterious charm of spices. Habanita
Molinard, the first oriental fragrance, launched in 1921, was used to perfume tobacco. Sold in perfumed sachets to be kept in cigarette cases, in 1924 it became the «most persistent skin perfume in the world». The Maison Guerlain made this accord one of its “piece de resistance”, creating eternal fragrances such as Shalimar
(1925), refreshed with sparkling and citrus touches which alleviate its warmth, Habit Rouge
(a men’s fragrance from 1965) or such as Samsara
(1989), whose woody notes create a precious frame to the warm tones from the Far East. Timeless fragrances capable of enchanting generations of consumers, in fact this year the creation of Shalimar Parfum Initial
, created to “capture and win over women who weren’t even born when Shalimar was launched”.
Obviously the list doesn’t end here: only by limiting the citation to fragrances which have in some way marked important moments in the modern perfumery, it is not possible to forget compositions such as Opium
(Yves Saint Laurent, 1977) decisive and spicy, dedicated to the enterprising and established woman of the ‘80s, Angel
(Thierry Mugler, 1992) the first to use in such an intensive way the mischievous gourmand shades, Hypnotic Poison
(Dior, 1998) enhanced with opulent and sensual flowers, Lolita Lempicka
(1997) greedy with liquorice…
Another important chapter are the “balsamic” notes, obtained from resins produced by trees originating from Central and South America (as well as the already known notes of benzoin and opoponax of Asiatic origin): Perù Balsam
) and Tolù
), with their round warm notes, sinuous and embracing, together with vanilla and labdanum they’ve given new life to the amber accord which is continuing tobe recognised as one of the most important modern olfactory tendencies. One of the founders was Alien
(2005, Thierry Mugler), whose silky softness of the amber notes and sensual magnetism of sambac jasmine melt into a fragrance with dreamy suggestions. Alamut
(2005, Lorenzo Villoresi) with leathery accents, Ange ou Demon
(2006, Givenchy) with gourmand touches, Kenzo Amour
(2006) delicately wrapped in a cloud of face powder and white musk, Serge Noir
(2008, Serge Lutens) with woods, leather and spices which highlight its mysterious atmosphere, L’Eau Ambrée
(2009, Prada) and Eau Duelle
(2010, Diptyque) are just some of the “interpreters” of this trend.
Tobacco (nicotiana tabacum) also originates from the New World. Its notes, with touches of hay and dried fruits, are olfactively classified among leathery ones. Tabac Original (1959, Maurer & Wirtz), Vetiver by Guerlain (1961) Paco Rabanne pour Homme (1973) and Macassar by Rochas (1980) are among the first compositions in which tobacco was introduce, thanks to which they acquired elegant shades of a slightly “British” type, refined and virile at the same time: more recently Blu pour Homme (2001, Bulgari) Code (2004, Armani), Ambre Narguilé (2004, Hermés) and CKOne Shock for Him, launched this autumn.
Last but not least in this short review is the Tonka Bean (dipteryx odorata), the seed of a tree which originates from Brazil and Venezuela, initially used to aromatise tobacco. An indigenous Amazonian tribe called the tree “kumaru” , a word from which the term coumarin was taken, which indicates the main constituent of the Tonka bean, isolated in 1868. The olfactory shades of Tonka bean, which evoke hay and almonds, are full of the old fashioned charm of the powdery notes. Together with coumarin, it is one of the base components of the fougère accord, which also consists of lavender, geranium, oak moss and vetiver, a perfect balance of freshness and warmth, rigour and gentleness, and an olfactory expression of traditional and solid values. From Fougère Royale d’Houbigant (1882) up until today, fougère fragrances have known how to win the favour of the male public, especially among Italian men, who are particularly attached to the image of a man whose virility knows no compromise. Again in 2010 many of the best selling men’s fragrances belong to this family : among these we can recall the timeless Cool Water (1988, Davidoff) whose freshness is enhanced by the addition of aromatic notes and the clean airy touches of the New Freshness molecules, Dolce & Gabbana Men (1994), with citrus accents and One Million by Paco Rabanne (2008), a young and unconventional fragrance.
Just a few hints but enough to illustrate the olfactory importance that the Americas have given and are still giving today to the history and the culture of today’s modern perfumery.