Sense-awakening fragrance notes
For a long time now, the world of spirits has enriched perfumers’ palette with unique notes with a high narrative potential. “They bring very rich tones and colours to men’s compositions, for example”, highlights Jean Jacques, perfumer at Parfums Caron. “Cognac, whisky and other ‘strong’ spirits offer woody, syrupy, amber, peaty or vanilla accents that blend with many notes from the classic repertoire. These are very figurative notes with a strong sensory impact.”
With its Liqueurs collection under the Kilian brand, Kilian Hennessy is undoubtedly the king in this field, given his heritage. Spirits notes play the leading role, from Angels Share and its essence of cognac to Roses on Ice and its notes of gin.
Whether they are lively (juniper berry in Juniper Sling by Penhaligon’s), mysterious (cognac again, in Liqueur Charnelle by Pierre Guillaume) or wrapping (rum for Guerlain in Spiritueuse Double Vanille), they never cease to inspire perfumers.
In Pour Un Homme de Caron Le Soir, the oak wood essence used by Jean Jacques comes from recycled cognac casks. The idea is not so much to discover cognac as to be taken in by a new, surprising and addictive note.
“The idea is to obtain notes with depth, sensory effects and vibration”, says Jean Jacques.
In addition to inspiration, perfumes can also be enriched with spirits expertise.
Scents of Wood and Maison Psyché: barrel-aged fragrances
While barrel ageing is renowned for the structure and character it imparts to a blend, could perfume be shaped and beautified using the same approach?
This is the gamble that gave birth to the brand Scents of Wood, L’Âme du Bois. Its creator, Fabrice Croisé, made experiments with both new barrels and vintage barrels formerly reserved to cognac, calvados or whisky.
The organic alcohol used to create his fragrances is aged in oak or maple barrels, or even barrels from other wood types from the spirits industry. So, perfumers can choose the alcohol that best suits their creations, enriching them with that ultimate touch of woody character.
The names of the Scents of Wood fragrances echo this synergy of materials: Sandalwood in Oak, Oud in Acacia, or Praline in Maple reflect this spirituous ode to wood, from composition to maturation.
It was the mastery of cooperage skills that inspired the creation of the most confidential Maison Psyché, sparked by the meeting between Baptiste Loiseau, Cellar Master at Rémy Martin, and Sophie Labbé, Senior Perfumer at Firmenich. The company’s olfactory creations are singular in that they are left in small oak barrels in the heart of the wineries of Maison Rémy Martin, in Cognac, France – the art of revealing materials with time and wood.
Distillerie de Paris: iconoclastic alcohol techniques
As alcohol-based perfumes are being challenged by water-based or solid perfumes, is it not exciting to consider restoring alcohol back to its former glory? How far can we go in questioning this traditionally neutral base to create new synergies?
Exploring its full potential: such is the approach taken by Nicolas Juhlès, the founder of Distillerie de Paris, for his eponymous perfume line.
Passionate about perfumes, this inspired distiller embarked on an olfactory adventure with perfumers Benoist Lapouza and Annick Ménardo, among others. With them, he quickly found a common language, culminating in the creation of a concentrate.
“But from the moment we had to put the concentrate into alcohol, I felt like I was losing it”, he explains. “We distillers do not like neutral alcohol: we find it austere and metallic. I wanted to take things in hand by creating alcohols specifically for perfume.”
In his eyes, the alcohol used for perfumes should be meaningful and can offer many nuances in the realm of the sensory, like the material of an art print or the paper in Japanese calligraphy (of which it is considered one of the "treasures").
Nicolas Juhlès has put his spirits expertise at the service of a new perfume dimension, reconnecting the world of perfumery with that of craftsmanship. “Alcohol is alive; it gets taut, oxygenated, and it can be manipulated”, he explains.
For each fragrance, he created tailor-made alcohol using his rich technical know-how. For C1, he worked with distillates from sugar cane fermentation. The spirit is aged in barrels, while for J1 and its juniper berries, he uses glass-based demijohns. Lastly, to beautify the maple notes of the scented candle created by Annick Ménardo, he creates a pear distillate “which brings a sort of subtle intensity and completely reinterprets the concentrate.”
It is like a four-handed score between the perfumer and the distiller.
Abstraction Paris: vintage perfumes
Ultimately, we cannot talk about wines and spirits without mentioning the power of time, the ultimate raw material. Old vines, vintages and ‘extra old’ indications are the prerogative of the great.
But time is rarely mentioned in the perfume world! On the contrary, it is almost an enemy. At most, we talk about preserving the bottle over time without altering the qualities of the fragrance. Harvest years and potential variations are smoothed out, erased, and certainly not asserted.
Variation smoothing is a technique that Sébastien Plan, the founding perfumer of Abstraction Paris, masters perfectly. When he started at Robertet, he was trained in the art of communelles, the process that consists in assembling different batches of a natural material to ensure its continuity over time. “It frustrated me a lot”, says Sébastien. “I liked the idea of having variations.”
With such rich know-how, he decided to create his own brand, but in exactly the opposite way: doing things differently, getting enriched from variety, and celebrating the unique character of a product. That is how Abstraction Paris and its vintage fragrances were born!
Focusing on the specific characteristics of raw materials, Sébastien Plan developed a process based on the ageing of the concentrate, before the alcohol is added in situ, when the perfume is purchased. It is a question of maturation – the secret of a perfect balance between an oxygenated and nitrogenous atmosphere. Each of the brand’s fragrance duos will be offered in its version of the year or in its vintage versions, which will follow one another from the 2022 vintage onwards, for at least 10 years, maybe more...
Over time, the fragrance will change at its own pace, revealing itself in a new light: “It is a dialogue between the different facets of the fragrance, which will reveal themselves or fall asleep”.
This approach seduced his perfumer friends Alexandra Carlin, Alex Lee, Amélie Jacquin and Mylène Alran, each of whom created highly personal fragrance duos which “refer to a moment shared with someone so special that we experience the moment through the other, to the point of abstracting the world around us”. We will see how Accidental Maybe, Slow Burn Desire and Here We Belong develop over time...
Perfumes and spirits, more interconnected than ever!
Olfactory palette, maturation, maceration: the bridges are rich, inspiring... and two-way! The world of spirits also draws inspiration from fragrances to reinvent itself.
For example, 44 N°Gin combines modern distillation methods with extraction techniques inspired by the world of perfumes. It is “the first gin distilled on the French Riviera, inspired by the art of master perfumers in Grasse”.
There are also H. Theoria – “designer French liqueurs” – one of whose founders is a graduate of the well-known French perfume school ISIPCA (and the other is passionate about taste), and Emanuele Balestra, who composes his cocktails at the Majestic hotel in Cannes as “edible perfumes”.
Plus, there are many possible synergies with design: for example, the totem creation by the Partisan du Sens agency for the Make a Mark project dedicated to exploring and innovating in luxury packaging, plays on the confluence between perfumes and spirits to offer a mixology service aimed at Gen Z, featuring olfactory essences that can be sprayed to customize the tasting experience.
Clearly, from bottles to inspiration, from expertise to maturation, perfumes will keep intoxicating us for a long time!