Thursday, March 1, 2012

Olfactory Studies: Honeysuckle and Poplar Buds Absolute by Aftelier Perfumes

A perfume absolute is the concentrated aromatic essence of a plant. It is derived using solvents (hexane or liquid CO2) as opposed to steam distillation which is used to extract essential oils. An absolute is rich, complex and yields its character over time, a quality that halos the absolute as a perfect subject for olfactory study. The allure of terroir also adds to an absolute's intrigue, but its devastating beauty is what compels most.

Interest in difficult to find and renowned absolutes is growing among  independent perfumers who join traditional perfumers in a love affair with rare and sacred ingredients.  When Givaudan's Yann Vasnier created the a perfume based on Baudelaire's "Le Flacon" for Glass Petal Smoke, he described the pedigree of Rose de Mai absolute used to formulate the fragrance with the passion of a vintner, "It is from the famous rose fields of Grasse," he said, "fields adjacent to the same roses harvested for Chanel No. 5 and that is the best rose in perfumery."

Because absolutes are expensive one will not always find rare variations in the traditional perfumer's palette. This indulgence is left to independent perfumers and luxury niche brands who actively seek the rare and the sacred for their perfume formulas. Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes offers independent perfumers, fragrance enthusiasts, and collectors a carefully curated selection of raw materials. Aftel recently acquired Honeysuckle Absolute and Poplar Buds Absolute; the first is a rare essence, the latter is a sacred essence that has a history of healing and is respected among herbalists. Poplar Buds Absolute is commonly mistaken for the biblical Balm of Gilead that is derived from Balsam of Mecca (Commiphora gileadensis, syn. C. opobalsamum) which is related to myrrh. Poplar buds are used in salves as they possess healing properties that are anti-inflammatory, antipyretic and analgesic. These properties are due to the presence of salicylate precursors related to aspirin*.

Aftelier Perfume Poplar Buds Absolute is fruity, floral and animalic in nature. When smelled neat it can be slightly off-putting due to the initial aroma of overripe stone fruits. If given time to breathe Poplar Buds Absolute reveals a rich olfactory impression and is an ingredient worthy of the perfumer's palette. It follows the following pattern of evaporation over time:
Green - Acacia (Mimosa) Absolute 
Sweet - Cassis (Blackcurrant)
Floral - Genet (Broom)
Fruity - Osmanthus
Balsamic - Peru Balsam
Animalic - Beeswax, Leathery (Cistus Labdanum like)
Woody - Calmus
Honeysuckle Absolute is rarely used in perfumery because there is little of it to go around; it is simply too expensive to produce. Honeysuckle flowers emit their fragrance at dusk and the gathering of blossoms must occur at a specified time. Most "honeysuckle" perfumes on the market contain synthetic honeysuckle which has a musky citrus apricot quality resembling the fresh flower versus the complex character of an absolute.

Aftelier Perfume Honeysuckle Absolute is sourced from Italy. Little is known regarding the olfactory profile of Honeysuckle Absolute in general as it is so rare (little if any gas chromatography–mass spectrometry has been conducted on the raw material and there is no reliable data on its flashpoint and safety). Honeysuckle Absolute offers an aromatic impression that is less complex than Poplar Bud Absolute, but it engages the senses by telling the kaleidoscopic story of all narcotic florals (Tuberose, Jasmine, Orange Blossom, Magnolia, etc.) The character it reveals is one of a white floral vintage which evaporates in fits and starts before reaching a honeyed dry down that echoes the enigmatic scent of autumn outdoors. The order of olfactory impressions is contained in the accompanying graphic.

Experiencing the smell of something as complex as a perfume absolute takes patience and quietude. It can take a few hours to see how the aroma unfolds, but the process is rewarding with continued practice. Evaluating aromas teaches us to separate our likes and dislikes from what experience in the present. This allows us to savor the moment for what it has to offer. Glass Petal Smoke recommends cataloging sensory impressions in the form of an olfactory diary should you choose to take up olfactory study. Some aromatic qualities may be difficult to express in words which is as it should be. The savor of mystery is just as precious as a fleeting moment of perfection that can never be repeated.

Mandy Aftel of Aftelier Perfumes curates an interesting selection of essential oils and absolutes, as well as singular and compounded natural isolates.

Ryan Drum of Island Herbs has an interesting article on poplar bud harvesting with detailed information on the raw materials active constituents.

*Poplar Buds contain salicylates which can cause a reaction in people with aspirin allergies. If you have an aspirin allergy avoid poplar bud absolute.

Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel offers tips on how to smell perfume from a smelling strip (blotter) in this post on Glass Petal Smoke

Photo Credits:
Image of the poplar bud taken by photographer Marilylle Soveran and edited by Michelle Krell Kydd. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Image of honeysuckle taken by AWA and edited by Michelle Krell Kydd is licensed under Creative Commons.

Images of Aftelier Perfume absolutes provided by Mandy Aftel, and edited by Michelle Krell Kydd.

Photo collage with absolutes and plant shots created by Michelle Krell Kydd using attributed images. Some rights reserved.

Photo of rosin by Just Plain Bill (Creative Commons). Quote from a letter to
Crawdaddy's editor by singer Patti Smith added by Michelle Krell Kydd. Some rights reserved.