By Francis Kurkdjian, perfumer
When flowers are mute…

Nature offers a multitude of flowers with complex scents that are comparable to perfumers’ creations. Although certain flowers surrender their soul to become essence or absolute, most hold back and only partially reveal their secrets, making perfumers forever want to recreate their elusive fragrances and aura. That is the beauty of nature and the magic of the perfumer’s profession.

With the exception of rose, jasmine, tuberose, magnolia, narcissus, daffodil, mimosa, cassia, orange blossom, lavender, broom, ylang ylang and osmanthus, all other flowers are “mute”, meaning they release no extract that can be used in a fragrance, because the extraction yield is insufficient or simply inexistent. Lily-of-the-valley, sweet pea, lily, hyacinth, violet, lilac, peony and honeysuckle, to name but a few, are artificially recreated. Since the second half of the 19th century, organic chemistry has enabled perfumers to imitate these “mute” flowers and analyse their aromatic facets. Putting olfactory molecules at the service of their art, they recompose the fragrances of flowers that don’t unveil their soul.

Whatever nature cannot provide must be recreated by the perfumer.

To reproduce the flowery, delicately almondy and subtly “green” scent of lily-of-the-valley, I can use natural ingredients, but I especially rely on synthetic ones such as hydroxycitronellal, a molecule discovered in around 1910. Its white, luminous, very slightly powdery floral fragrance evokes lily-of-the-valley as well as peony, sweet pea and mock orange. Depending on my inspiration, I choose to highlight a specific facet of each flower. If I want to compose a very green lily-of-the-valley accord to emphasize its freshness, I can magnify the “fresh-cut grass” notes using cis-3-Hexenol. For a rounder lily-of-the-valley scent, I make the heady floral notes pulsate around indole, a fascinating olfactory molecule that is also naturally present in white flowers such as lily, orange blossom or honeysuckle. Flowers have secrets that perfumers attempt to unlock, just like the Impressionists used to do with light.