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bases

An old base from Firmenich.

It was created in the 30’s, although it was possible to compose such accords back in the first decade of the 20th Century heliotropine was first synthetised in 1869, ionones in the 1890’s, methyl heptine/octine carbonate in 1900.


AD from a 30’s French trade paper


This is the very classical accord of violet, not quite reminiscent of the flower though. An elegant, powerful and longlasting violet, reminiscent of violet leaf absolute (that was possibly meant to replace).

I like to think that this very base shaped consumers for almost a century. This base is the archetype of perfumers’ violet  in fine fragrances and functional products as well. True-to-nature accords are easy to make using p-cresyl derivatives, indol and ionones as a foundation but unpleasant to the general customer.

Green, sweet, powdery, slighlty jasmine-like. You can have a beautiful example of such violet in Paris (Yves Saint Laurent), where I definitely smell this very accord (I cannot prove that Parmantheme was used though).

In Parmantheme I smell nonadienal and/or nonadienol as a powerful topnote: a green, cucumber-like, wet, oily note. This perception seems to be confirmed by S. Arctander in his monography on Nonadienal.

The base is founded on the main accord: methyl heptine/octine carbonate – ionones (an heavy dose!) – heliotropine – powdery musks. Some additional notes might be jasmin or rose.

A simple and beautiful composition that glorifies the green, violet leaf-like, extremely powerful methyl heptine/octine carbonate, quite difficult to use alone (and nearly banned by today’s IFRA standards).

I think that today Parmantheme features some methyl heptine/octine carbonate replacer.

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An old De Laire base (much probably reformulated today).

This base was created in the 20’s (1915-1926?) by the French company De Laire. In the 1939 de Laire’s ‘Notice des produits pour la parfumerie’ (a perfumery products catalog for their customers) the Amber 83 is described as follows:

“Produit de choix pour les notes orientales et parfums ambrés très aimés aujourd’hui.

Sa finesse, alliée à beaucoup de puissance et de ténacité, explique aisément le succès qu’il a rencontré dans des genres très différents d’emplois, en France comme à l’Etranger.
[…]
Son point de ramollissement assez bas nous permet cependant de le mouler en petits morceaux d’égales dimensions, et de couleur relativement claire […]”

Translation: “The best product for oriental notes and ambery perfumes, very much enjoyed today.

Its subtlety, combined with much power and tenacity, easily explains the success it has achieved in many and very different uses, in France and abroad.
[…]
Nevertheless, its quite low softening point allows us moulding in small pieces of the same size, quite light in colour […]

It is interesting to notice how the original amber was sold in a solid form, pale in colour.
This may suggest that much of the formula were nitromusks, vanillin and maybe resinoids (like benzoin).

The sample I have is physically different.

Appearance: pale yellow, pourable liquid (DPG’s like viscosity). May form a crystallin precipitate in the cold. This is sort of a diluted version of the original base that I suppose was a yellowish solid.

This is the archetypal “amber” of perfumery. Nothing in common with the ambergris, the sperm whale secretion.
This one is based on vanillin or similar products (a heavy dose), powdery musks, some patchouli (but not earthy and terpy), sandalwoodbalms (Tolu) and resins (labdanum, benzoin and styrax), plus a rosey, geranic note in the heart. Nutmeg and maybe cardamom lend some spiciness.
Everything is wrapped and smoothed out by the vanillin overdose. I also detect a civetty facet.
Long lasting and musky, powdery, vanilla absolute-like in the drydown, The sharp, incensey labdanum signature is still alive till the very end, discreetly.

A masterwork of balance, good structure, fine details, simplicity. Easy to recognize.

As almost any bases do, it needs incorporating into a fragrance, to give some boost and projection, especially in the very beginning. The high vanilla-musk dose is something that won’t come out easily, laying down close to the skin.

Here is a (solid) amber type formula from a 1931 book (Le livre du parfumeur – Félix Cola, chimiste-parfumeur), to give us an idea of the composition of such bases:

AMBRE SYNTHETIQUE N°3      
 
Musk Kétone     425 grammes
Muscambrette     100
Héliotropine     75
Vanilline       225
Résinoïde de Benjoin   100
Baume de Tolu     75
Ambréine absolue     50
Résinoïde d’encens     50
Vétyvert Bourbon     10
Patchouly     10
Acétylisoeugénol     110
Stéarine       170
        1400 grammes

Musk ambrette is now forbidden, but could be replaced by the flowery-type musk: ambrettolide, galaxolide or Romandolide (not powdery, but more ‘vegetal’ and clean in comparison to ancient musks, Romandolide in particular).
The ‘ambréine absolue’ is sort of a purified labdanum.
I don’t really know why stearin appears in the formula.

The composition in this photo was inspired by the Ambre 83 base. You can notice Tonka seeds, vanilla pods and geranium leafs. Photo: perfumechemicals.com

The still life in this photo was inspired by the Ambre 83 base. You can notice Tonka seeds, vanilla pods and geranium leafs. Photo: perfumechemicals.com

Green, fatty (aldehydic), acidic, rose ketone-like. Refreshing and juicy, really like biting an apple. Powdery and woody (similar to a patchouli coeur, Piconia or Verdox). Hints of floral fruitness. Well rounded and balanced throughout the evaporation. Maybe a little soapy, detergent-like (is my judgement somehow biased by my experience with functional products, that often contain such appley accords?). Quite a ‘perfumey’ apple, indeed.

On drying out the odour become more fruity, still dry and fatty, very apple-peel like. Hints of green, rose, geranium. Bright and sweet. Iris-powdery. On further evolution I can get whiffs of cinnamic alcohol-like molecules, sweet spicy, fruity and waxy, woody and very damascone or aldehyde C14-like.

Personally a very beautiful base, intelligently and technically well done. I like the many facets that refine the composition: the nice green accord and the beautiful waxy fatness. Moreover, it preserves its identity and character till the end.
Very much like the real thing, juicy and fleshy, astringent. Well balanced at any moment and nicely rounded, one can almost taste the peel and the flesh. As I said, a little bit ‘perfumey’… too sweet, not waxy and fatty enough at some point in the dry down.

But comparing a base to the object it mimics is often not satisfying. Considerations have to be made on the intended application: has been this base mostly conceived for functional products (a choice imposed by trends in perfumery)? Furthermore, would a copycat of nature be interesting enough on a technical point of view, would it stand itself like this base mostly unchanged and still alive for more than 12 hours?

My answer to the last question is simply: No. Not to talk about regulatory issues… nature actually has a much wider palette than a perfumer.
Concerning its use in fine fragrances: I think it would be good as well, since this base has many interesting facets that would come out even better in an hydroalcoholic menstruum, and possibly open smoothly on skin.