If you’ve ever wondered what solar musk, lunar petals or electric vanilla smell like, you aren’t alone. Fragrance marketing lingo is in a world of its own, and I have given up trying to find the logic behind the use of terms that nobody, not even professionals, can untangle. A list of notes describes a perfume’s smell as well as an enumeration of pigments captures Mona Lisa’s smile. While notes can suggest whether a fragrance is predominantly floral, leathery or spicy, they can also be misleading.
One example is pink berries. The name hints at the scent of strawberries or raspberries, but instead, pink berries is a literal translation of baies roses, French for pink pepper. The rose-colored berry of the shrub Schinus molle is unrelated to the black pepper plant, but it has a spicy sharp scent reminiscent of crushed peppercorns with a touch of violet. Its presence in perfumes is confined to the top notes where it reveals its fiery temperament, but pink pepper’s piquancy is without bite. It softens readily, allowing the subsequent layers to shine, be they flowers or woods.
Michael Edwards’s database Fragrances of the World includes more than 1,200 fragrances featuring pink peppercorns in one form or another, but this note is of recent vintage. It was made popular by Estée Lauder’s Pleasures (£52 for 50ml EDP) in 1995. Attempting to give radiance to the rich bouquet of rose, jasmine and peonies, perfumers Annie Buzantian and Alberto Morillas added a large dose of pink pepper essence. The spicy note offset the lush heft of the floral accord, without compromising the gauzy character of the perfume. A formula for success was born.
A similar pairing of flowers and pink pepper can be found in Chanel 28 La Pausa (£210 for 200ml EDT) and Ormonde Jayne Orris Noir (£110 for 50ml EDP). The former is an understated etude of iris edged in spice, while the latter is a baroque confection layered with moss, myrrh and patchouli. Narciso Rodriguez’s masculine scent titled simply Narciso Rodriguez for Him (£43 for 50ml EDT) sets this trendy note into a classical lavender accord, while Eau d’Italie’s Jardin du Poete (€110 for 100ml EDT) uses it to create an impression of a green tangerine.
Pink pepper can end up as an olfactory cliché. Do most florals need it as a perfunctory addition? Does the relaunch of Givenchy L’Interdit (£90 for 100ml EDT), a perfume created for Audrey Hepburn in 1957, require it for a “modern touch”? I think not. On the other hand, Aedes de Venustas’s Palissandre d’Or (£185 for 100ml EDP) makes a case for this popular material. The perfume smells of smoky tea, antique books and fine tobacco. Pink pepper with its mellow sizzle adds to the quirky yet elegant impression. It won’t come as a surprise that the hand behind this composition is that of Alberto Morillas, one of the creators who made us fall in love with pink pepper in the first place.