Fantasy notes. A bit of a misnomer in perfumery, if you ask me. Why?
A perfume is, in itself, a fantasy. It cannot exist without a little imagination from the perfumer. Almost everything in that bottle you’re smelling is fantasy. Even when a perfumer is recreating the smell of something of reality, we use a little of our imagination to do so. An orange smells like an orange, but to have it growing on a tree under a blue sky…ahh, herein lies the fantasy. Perfumes are fantastical tales written by authors, aka perfumers. Each material a sentence, an accord a page, a note a chapter. Just as Tolkien can trigger a reader’s imagination, so too can someone like Ropion trigger a wearer’s. Grand Soleil, For the Scent of It
Take for instance Grand Soleil, the newest release here at For the Scent of It. There is a combination of both “imaginary” and “real” notes, all creating one fantastical view of a hidden oasis tucked high in the mountains with a fountain of youth in its center. Shiso leaf comes from its essential oil, while the goji berry is a fantasy note from an accord. The fountain of youth is represented by an “orange blossom water”, which is a fantasy note, yet it contains a non-fantasy material: orange blossom absolute. The lines are quite blurry in perfumery.
First off, what even is a “fantasy note”?
Fantasy notes have different definitions depending on who you ask. Some consider them to be “naturals” that do not have a means of extraction and must be recreated, i.e.; a peach, an orchid, litchi, tulip. A Tulip and orchid are both considered fantasy notes because their essences can’t be readily extracted and must be recreated by nose or by analysis. Yet, a Rose and Jasmine are not because they have a means of extraction. Think about that for a second. Realistically, 9 times out of 10, that rose and jasmine you’re smelling was recreated by the perfumer just like a tulip would be and may not contain even a trace of real jasmine or rose. So, I ask, isn’t this too now fantasy?Mouillettes, For the Scent of It
I’ll explain. Take Linalool, Linalyl Acetate and Limonene, some Citronellol and Phenethyl Alcohol, and some Benzyl Acetate and Hedione®️. Extremely basic and simplified, that could equate to Bergamot, Rose, and Jasmine in a notes pyramid, respectively. These three would never be considered “fantasy notes”. But aren’t they having been recreated by the perfumer’s creativity? I personally find that interesting. This by no means diminishes the mystique of perfumery, but in my opinion, rather enhances it. To create something, one molecule at a time, with the imagination and creativity of a child with a fresh set of Legos.Tulips Reaching for the Sun, For the Scent of It
How do you create a tulip or an orchid note though? What’s nice about these notes is that they are more so “general representations”. There are so many species of both flowers, all having their own aroma, or lack thereof. A tulip reaching for the sun can be created using a combination of light floral materials that smell of rose and muguet, another fantasy note. Some tulips can be sweeter with shades of green, while others have slight anise and spice notes. The sunshine above could be created using bright aldehydes and citruses; the ground below using patchouli and materials like Terrasol (Bedoukian), with its rich character of damp soil and fallen foliage.Little Star Orchid, Aravind Tarugu Unsplash
With well over 20,000 species of orchids, it’s safe to say you can let your imagination run wild. Depending on the perfumer’s vision, an orchid note might have a sweet, vanillic aroma (vanilla bean comes from a type of orchid) with notes of jasmine and spices. Another orchid might smell of muguet with hints of rose and honey. Another perfumer’s orchid might smell of salicylates, which have a faintly herbal, solar, floral aroma and were used in many sunscreens. There actually were extensive studies done on the headspace of orchids by a man named Roman Kaiser. He helped pioneer the development of headspace technology that is used to analyse the aromas of flowers, fruit, etc. Using GC/MS, he was able to study the compositions of different species of orchids. Perfumers were then able to take this information and create orchid accords to use in their perfumes. What I find interesting is the fact that rose and jasmine accords/notes are created using headspace technology too.
Some consider fantasy notes to be those with which are complete fabrications of the perfumer’s mind and have no accessible aroma or extraction, ie; the smell of outer space, a tennis ball, metal, unicorn tears. Something like unicorn tears, now THAT is a fantasy note. Something that has absolutely no known smell and must be completely dreamt up. That, to me, is where the real fantasy lies. There’s no headspace analysis that can be done like with an orchid or tulip. Only the perfumer’s imagination and ingenuity.
Teardrop, Noah Grossenbacher Unsplash
Let’s talk about unicorn tears. Nobody knows what a unicorn’s tears smell like. But, with a little salty saline, a neon glow, some whispers of hair and a cotton candy sweetness and your imagination soars thinking the perfumer journeyed into the Forbidden Forest to find the mythical creature. A saltiness can be created using oceanic materials like Adoxal (Givaudan) and ambergris, some coriander, vetiver, and salicylates. Like writing an imaginative story, the materials-the ink; the pipettes-the quill.
Neon. Therein lies a fantasy note.
How would I create the smell of neon? Let’s do this one together. The process in my mind for creating a complete fabrication of the smell of neon light. Let’s begin.
Neon Sign, For the Scent of It
First, I ask myself, “what would neon smell like if its image was an aroma?”. Fuzzy. Glowing pinkish hues that are almost otherworldly. Warm. Radiating. Rosy. Smooth, yet also harsh against the dark of the night.
Neon Rose Oxide Mouillette, For the Scent of It
Second, “what materials might translate these descriptors?” The first that jumps to my mind is rose oxide. Coincidentally, this material is often used in many notorious fantasy notes found throughout perfumery (blood, litchi, metal, etc, etscentera). Rose oxide is rather harsh and metallic rose geranium that almost tickles your nose with its freshly painted nails. From this material, I would build upon my descriptions of a Neon light.
As you can see, there is no one answer nor path to these notes. My neon in that moment was red, while yours could be blue. Unicorn tears to one nose might smell like a mermaid’s hair to another.
Welcome to the Fantastical World of Perfumery!
-Michael, Perfumer of For the Scent of It Perfumes
Originally posted on Cafleurebon Perfume Blog, 4/21/23