As we head into the days of the year when spring is close enough to hope for but winter still holds sway I turn to perfume for my jolt of the coming warmer weather. Lavender is a quintessential warm weather fragrance. Conjuring up purple fields at the height of summer just prior to harvest. Lavender in perfumery has been around since the very beginning. My favorites are the ones which show off both the sweet floralcy and the herbal nature. Here are five of my favorites.
Guerlain Jicky was one of the first modern perfumes, created in 1889, and lavender provided the focal point. Aime Guerlain would lay down the formula for the fougere that would last the next one hundred or so years. He married lavender with rosemary in the top. The rosemary is the key as it brings out the herbal almost medicinal nature of lavender. It heads to a heart of geranium before settling on a vanilla base characteristic of Guerlain. That you can still buy this, 127 years after it was created, tells you what a classic it is.
In 1934 perfumer Ernest Daltroff would create the template for the masculine lavender in Caron pour Un Homme. The concept of men wearing floral perfumes was a tough sell. M. Daltroff makes it work by taking a large amount of vanilla to go along with the lavender. This one almost entirely hides the non-floral character. A bit of amber and musk butch things up so any man can be caught wearing this.
The last of the traditional lavenders is Caldey Island Lavender by perfumer Hugo Collumbien, released in 1959. This is the version where the herbal character is displayed at the expense of the floral. That is done by using a mix of amber and musk. With no vanilla around to tilt one’s senses towards the sweet this is the most like the smell you get from picking actual lavender and smelling your hands afterward.
There are two modern interpretations of lavender by two of the best modern perfumers which show how far perfumery has come since Jicky was released.
Serge Lutens Encens et Lavande was released in 1996 composed by perfumer Christopher Sheldrake. Opening on a rosemary and juniperberry top accord it is the heart where the name comes to life. Lavender is buttressed by clary sage and an austere silvery frankincense. They provide a chilly effect that carries an icy beauty. A healthy amount of amber thaws things out. Incense and lavender go together like peas and carrots.
Hermes Hermessence Brin de Reglisse is what happens when you take the herbal side of lavender to its fullest effect. Perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena uses licorice as lavender’s partner. This is one of the most unique lavender perfumes out there because with all of the intensity of these two notes it is the addition of orange blossom and hay which round things out into an opaque masterpiece.
If you have never tried any of these lavenders because you think lavender is boring give it a second look I think these five will change that opinion.
Disclosure: This review is based on bottles I purchased.