Lavender is a much misunderstood perfume ingredient. “Too simple” is a common response from many who’ve long associated it with aftershaves and soaps. Among perfume materials, lavender may not have the femme-fatale allure of jasmine or tuberose, but in terms of versatility, the essence of its tiny violet flowers often outranks more exotic blooms. It can be found in fragrances from all corners of the perfume map.
The scent of lavender captures the essence of summer – few visitors to Provence in August can be unmoved by the heady aroma wafting from the fields. Such an experience inspired perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena to create Brin de Réglisse (£166 for 100ml eau de toilette) for Hermès. Brin de Réglisse marries lavender with liquorice – the salty with the sweet. It sounds unusual, but the combination works perfectly. You can close your eyes and smell the sun-warmed grasses and the salty Mediterranean breeze of the French Riviera.
Equally unexpected is the addition of lavender in L’Artisan Parfumeur Séville à l’Aube (£95 for 100ml), a sultry orange-blossom composition. In this dark, luscious context, lavender reveals its dramatic side, and adds a dose of shimmer to the composition.
While the floral note of French lavender in Tom Ford Costa Azzurra (£142 for 100ml) is used in a classical manner as a fresh cologne, the result is sleek and contemporary. The lavender is blended with seaweed and salty woods and sprinkled with cardamom and mandarin zest. This fragrance, for Ford’s Private Blend collection, is uplifting and vivid, but it still has elegance and polish.
If one wants lavender with minimal adornments, then Caron Pour Un Homme (£49 for 75ml) is the best choice. Its place on the masculine side of the fragrance counter should not prevent women from seeking out this classical gem. Pour Un Homme blends lavender with vanilla and sets it into a layer of translucent amber, proving that only a perfumer’s imagination is the limit when using this iconic ingredient.
Unfortunately, however, French lavender is under threat due to a destructive bacteria called Stolbur’s phytoplasma. Spread by a sap-sucking insect, the bacteria causes the plant to wilt and die. This insect population has been proliferating and the increasing incidence of drought in Provence further weakens the plants.
The impetus to find a solution is strong, and fragrance manufacturers and growers have come together to develop ways to combat the bacteria and the spread of the disease. For instance, Givaudan, a manufacturer of fragrance and flavour materials, has created the Innovative Naturals programme and, in partnership with France Lavande, an association for lavender growers, the company supports the production of healthy plants and nurseries. The essence produced through these efforts is priced higher than usual, but it is also more complex, with rich floral nuances. It is impossible to imagine the Provençal landscape without the blue haze of lavender, and one can only hope that the effort to protect this plant and an important note in the perfumer’s palette will succeed.
Victoria Frolova has been writing her perfume blog, boisdejasmin.com, since 2005. It began as a hobby – her interest in perfume had been kindled while growing up in a family of chemical engineers – but it quickly turned into a full-time undertaking. Since receiving her professional perfumery training, she has been working as a fragrance consultant and researcher.