A good taste in fragrances

As a perfumer working with natural raw materials, my palette includes many gourmand notes – scents that would be found in a herb garden, spice rack and kitchen. A gourmand fragrance can be crafted to be many things: light and candied, heavy and rich, or sweet, or spicy.

In 1992, French fashion designer Thierry Mugler launched the first contemporary commercial gourmand fragrance, Angel, composed by perfumers Olivier Cresp and Yves de Chirin. It revolutionised perfumery by exploring new olfactive plains.

Angel was a contemporary accord of candied sweets and chocolate. It won the International Fragrance Foundation annual award in 2007 and young women all over the world responded instantly to this exciting new formulation in its star-shaped bottle.

Why are gourmand fragrances so appealing? I think it has to do with familiarity. When I conduct a session, taking clients through hundreds of raw material scents, they have no reference points for many of these new smells. As with our other senses, we find comfort in things we know. When clients identify a familiar smell, it always elicits a strong response – and gourmand smells are universally recognisable.

They are also easily describable. With smell, in contrast to a wine tasting where imbibers are guided by a well-known taste-wheel, we lack the words to describe fully the scent experiences our receptors are receiving. We are left to our own devices of emotion and an obvious jump is to consider smells from kitchens and gardens; we use terminology found in shows such as Nigella’s Kitchen or Masterchef as we try to communicate scent. It is often easier to decipher those gourmand food-like notes in perfumery than, say, the smells of ambergris or indole.

The benefit of this lack of lexicon is that we have the freedom to decide for ourselves what scents we like.

Unlike with wine, there is no set of “rules” like a taste-wheel that tells us what is good and what is not. Our preferences can be based on our own interactions, experiences and memory associations with particular smells instead of the whims of experts.

Gourmand fragrances are significantly more accepted in the world of perfumery now, because modern perfumes increasingly consider natural smells and influences, which would fit in with the popularity of gourmand smells in our search for comfort and nostalgia. Fragrance trends today sees the ongoing popularity of gourmand formulations such as Lolita Lempicka’s Lolita Lempicka (1997) and Prada’s Candy (2011) and my favourite, L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Bois Farine (2003), reminiscent of baking bread.

Gourmand smells can take us beyond the immediate, evoking memories and moments. Experiencing the smell of coconut does not necessarily remind me of eating a coconut but rather evokes the nostalgia of memories related to the idea and promise of what coconut is – like a summer holiday, or even at the start of winter.