Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Gift of Jasmine

An ounce of Jasmine grandiflorum CO2 extract sits inside a rosewood box. Protected by a black velvet pouch, the essence rarely sees daylight. A French perfumer gave it to me as a gift before I left New York. One whiff and I instantly remember what he said when he gave it to me, "This is jasmine of Grasse from Chanel's Fields. You will never smell any other jasmine like it." A short moment of silence transpired as the perfumer migrated from reverie to speech, "Treasure it. The vintage is sublime and not so easy to get."

The cosseted lilt of his French accent was infused with the sweetness of dark honey and a hint of mischief. There could be no doubt that what he said was true; I could smell the fruity floral essence of the fragile white petals accompanied by an indolic trace that spoke of leather, musk, sweat and skin. It was written in the soft undercurrent of fragrance that followed the path of his hand as the bottle left his jacket pocket and found its way into my fingers.

No wonder there are tales in jasmine-lore about farmers who keep their young daughters out of night blooming jasmine fields for fear they might be seduced by roving lotharios. Jasmine does not impugn, but she does not ensure chastity where she breathes.

Jasmine CO2 has a rich amber color and contains the complete concentrated essence of the flower. When combined with rose absolute a familiar olfactory pairing emerges. It’s the smell of every woman who has worn a classic luxury perfume; an intimate smell that is more about presence than the boudoir. The marriage of jasmine and rose is legend in the art of perfumery as each ingredient accentuates the beauty of the other. It is said that there isn't a fragrance formula that jasmine can't befriend.

Much has been written about the rose in the English language, but far less of jasmine. Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai wrote about the flower's fragrant persistence which he shares in this poem:
The jasmine came upon us, as always, from behind
when we were drunk and vulnerable.
All evening we spoke about the armor of perfume
that will be pierced by pain, the security
candy provides, about brown
chocolate insulation,
about old disappointments that become
the hope of the young
like clothes that went out of fashion
and now are worn again.

At night I dreamed about jasmine.
And the next day jasmine penetrated
even the interpretations of the dream. 

The perfumer who gave me the jasmine knew how complex jasmine could be and planted a seed as he advised, "Even after you have learned the Jean Carles Method of perfumery, and have memorized similar and contrasting ingredients with your nose, you must continue your studies privately. You should try smelling a single raw material before you go to sleep once or twice a week. Don't analyze it. Just smell it and let it work through your senses. You will be amazed at what happens when you wake up."

I took the perfumer's advice a few times, first with bergamot, then with lavender and finally with frankincense. These essential oils are known to inspire relaxation and continue to be studied in the lab. The story of jasmine and its preciousness made me hesitate. If jasmine was capable of marrying so easily in perfumery where would it nest in my consciousness?

For three consecutive evenings I smelled jasmine before bed. The first two nights I smelled the essence on a perfume blotter. For the third and final night I applied a small amount of jasmine in the hollow at the base of the throat (known as the suprasternal notch in classic anatomy). When applied in this manner the aroma diffuses evenly as you breathe.

All of these smelling exercises produce an effect that is similar to reading a book before you go to sleep; you remember the details of what you've experienced with incredible clarity upon awakening.

The jasmine effect was more intense when the fragrance was worn to bed and found its way into a dream. I woke up that morning and spent a good part of the day making paper flowers out of wide perfume blotters for an olfactory class I was scheduled to teach. I needed a device to support a slender fragrance blotter for smelling and the dream inspired by jasmine allowed me to create it.

As I formed each paper flower the perfumer's words echoed in my mind, "You will never smell any other jasmine like it." His words still ring true. I have smelled many varieties and vintages of jasmine in my work, but never anything like the Jasmine grandiflorum CO2 ensconced in a rosewood box...

The waxy and herbaceous floral aroma of Jasmine grandiflorum includes facets of; green pear, banana, cinnamon, tea leaf, bee's wax and tobacco leaf.

Aftelier Perfumes sells a gorgeous jasmine absolute (grandiflorum) and a beautiful Turkish rose absolute. A few drops of each diluted in jojoba oil or perfumer's alcohol make a beautiful perfume. They are truly a perfect pair.

Jasmine flowers at night. It is believed that florigen, a plant hormone, builds up in the leaves when the plant is exposed to sunlight. This signaling hormone travels towards the flower buds where it causes them to bloom at night. Florigen's chemical identity is being researched via molecular genetics.

The perfume of jasmine, like many fragrant white flowers, is more noticeable at night as these flowers attract night pollinators. 

Joy by Jean Patou is a wonderful example of the alchemy of jasmine and rose. According to legend there are 10,000 jasmine blossoms and 28 dozen roses in a 30ml bottle of Joy perfume.

A la Nuit by Serge Lutens is inspired by singular aroma of jasmine. Though other ingredients are used to support the fragrance the effect is intensely jasmine. 
Though there are no online examples of the fragrance charts used to study the Jean Carles Method of perfumery, you can purchase an article I wrote for Perfumer and Flavorist in May 2007 which contains the Jean Carles charts. The article is called "Exposing the Perfumer". Glass Petal Smoke is of the opinion that universities would benefit greatly from teaching the Jean Carles Method of Perfumery as part of sensory curriculum in science and the arts.

It is not uncommon to find jasmine fields in Grasse that are exclusive to fragrance brands. Le Domaine de Manon's Jasmine grandiflorum fields are proprietary to Christian Dior. Diorama, a Christian Dior perfume created in 1949, is a stellar example of a beautiful execution of jasmine in perfumery by perfumer Edmond Routnitska. Like many classics it has been subject to reformulation and has lost some of its complexity. It is still a beautiful perfume and is available exclusively at Sak's Fifth Avenue stores. 

Graphics designed by Michelle Krell Kydd. All rights reserved.