It’s no secret to my best fraggy friends that this year I’ve been on a particular perfume quest…..
……The Quest For GREEN
Everyone has certain notes and accords that resonate and add ‘flavour’ to the whole olfactory experience. Some like their patchoulis, roses, ambers, smokeys, etc etc. Others are partial to categories such orientals, soliflores, chypres, floral, aromatics. What about colour? There are no ‘reds’, no ‘purples’, no ‘blues’ in perfumery (yet!), but there are mos def greens. And I love ‘em.
How does one identify a green frag? When I’m prowling around the stinkosphere for “green”, I’m looking mostly for three things:
- organic presence – which come primarily from one or more of the following – galbanum, moss, tomato leaf, grassy chlorophyll, mint, geranium, fig, vetiver and many other plant sources
- colour – the juice should be green. It’s the only category where this is kind of a requirement. Maybe I’m shallow or simple, but I like it that way.
- depth – all great greens have much more going on for themselves than merely greenness. They should project complexity, nuance and substance.
I believe my favourite green frags possess all of these. Here are but a few….
Balmain Vent Vert – the ‘original’ flat-out green, created by the inimitable avant garde Germaine Cellier (who also made the exquisitely butch green leather chypre Bandit) in 1947. The original, pre-80s Vent Vert is characterized by lots & lots of top quality galbanum that retains its slightly rubbery bitterness and peppery menace. Below this core of galbanum is wonderfully refined oakmoss and above the most elegant, enchanting rose-jasmine accord that is blown weightlessly through & above the whole composition by the green breeze of its namesake. It is truly from another age and my large bottle of 60s vintage edt is one of the real gems of my collection.
As with most reformulations, modernizing has not been kind to Vent Vert. The current stuff is a scratchy drugstore iris with some grassy vibe going on. It’s like going to a Beatles reunion with only Ringo showing up….
Chanel No. 19 – what many consider to be the quintessential green fragrance since its creation by Henri Robert to celebrate Coco Chanel’s 87th birthday on August 19, 1970. Although galbanum also dominates, No. 19 is much more minimalist, starker, and serious. There is no green meadow floral breeze afoot. But there is also nothing to be angst-ridden about (I’m looking at you, Tania Sanchez!), as No. 19 simply one of the most refined scents I’ve ever come across. Beyond the central core of chilled galbanum lies a gorgeous iris note that mesmerizes in its modernity. Married to this is a base of vetiver and the softest leather imaginable. This is a string quartet to Vent Vert’s orchestra, and it always satisfies when minimalist elegance is required.
Again, I reference the vintage juice, this time from the 70s & 80s. While No.19’s reformulations over the years have not been as destructive as in Vent Vert’s case, No. 19 is now less about galbanum, leather & vetiver, and rather more about the iris with a ‘green touch’. It is still quite good but if you can find a bottle of intact vintage, you’ll know what’s been lost. Be careful with vintage, as No.19 really needs to be cared for to survive.
Etro Palais Jamais – this uniquely quiet, introspective number has been a solid green favourite for years. This is the scent of contemplation, of mystery, of quietude. There is probably zero galbanum, and hence very little bitterness. The green aspects here comes from some of the usual suspects: oakmoss, vetiver, and aromatic herbs, but what really sets it apart is the use of smoky tea to impart a completely different take on green; I’m thinking lapsong souchong….. Taken together in exquisite balance, this combo hints at leather and anise accords, all rendered at a very low hum of volume yet lasts all day.
Once again, I speak of the relatively vintage edt from about 15 years ago. There have been reformulations in the past 4 years at retro, many of them quite poor, virtually all have dropped in assertiveness. Luckily, ‘vintage’ Palais Jamais can still be easily found.
Parfumerie Generale 24 Papyrus de Ciane – a fairly recent entry into the green field, Papyrus de Ciane is meant to evoke a river in Sicily known for its reedy waters, banked with cyperus papyrus and Spanish broom, a bitter flower. The always clever and often inspired Pierre Guillaume also incorporated the resplendently named mousse de saxe* into the fragrance, giving it a classic, old skool vibe. On top is a fabulously ‘modern’ galbanum that is not bitter but sharp & bracing. Add to this the incensy zing of cistus labdanum and VOILA!, a beguiling and incredibly satisfying green experience.
Although Papyrus can at times come off a bit “soapy” for some (as it did the first time I wore it), I find it ultimately a very successful contemporary mélange of various green aspects. For such a complex scent, it is a remarkably easy wear for both sexes in any season.
Annick Goutal Ninfeo Mio – this ebullient fragrance is stacked with all sorts of life-affirming greens; it’s hard to know where to start. The first thing to hit is a very tart and bitter petitgrain and green limes supported by wonderfully juicy fig and a really fat slug of galbanum that refrains from bitterness, instead marrying well with the astringency of tomato leaf. Strangely, this accord smells quite ‘animalic’ for a time and I feel it needs to literally settle down. In short order comes the opaque greeness of lentisque/mastic, indeed settling the frenzy down and serving as a clever bridge to the woodier base toward the drydown. There is really special accord or milky fig, mastic and galbanum that must be experienced to be appreciated. In all brutal honesty, words are quite lame-o when it comes to describing many scents, and this accord of tangy juicy milkiness is one of them.
Ninfeo Mio is a fragrance brimming with mid-summer juiciness and excitement. It might well be the most positive fragrance I own, along with Tauer’s Incense Rosé.
Amouage Opus VII – the final green on the list is probably the most polarizing. I’ve included it simply because the maximal use of top quality galbanum literally screams GREEN, and believe me, it has a lot to scream over: this is a big-ass, rather menacing fragrance, in the best possible way, of course. As with most Amouages, there is a LOT going on here. Upon first spray the wearer is almost assaulted with a barrage of spices (fenugreek, nutmeg, cardamom) before it settles into an ambregris-leather-oud that is always buffeted by that luscious galbanum monster.
The balance and development of Opus VII is always impressive and quite unique, although at times its feral growl (costus root) teamed with uncompromising galbanum does make me think of Robert Piguet Bandit. Although it is quite expensive, its potency ensures that a bottle will last a lifetime.
Although some may associate green with ‘freshness’ – and some do in fact emanate this quality: Dior Granville, Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Herba Fresca, and Frederic Malle Geranium pour Monsieur come to mind – I’ve always tended toward green with something more to say. I encourage you to seek out all that this unique colour category has to offer in perfumery.
think green! (and good luck in your quest)
* mousse de saxe is a old and complex base composition made from oakmoss, anise, geranium, vanilla and leather. It is most famously used in Caron’s Nuit de Noel. The IFRA has greatly restricted its use but PG has used it at just the right concentration to be considered acceptable.