When Thierry Mugler released Angel in 1992, perfume industry professionals were ambivalent. Some hailed this over-the-top mélange of caramel, chocolate and patchouli as a masterpiece. Others considered it a brash combination, a flavour masquerading as perfume. More than 20 years later, Angel is still gracing the top 10 bestseller lists and inspiring new so-called gourmand fragrances. The question now is whether perfumers can offer something even more surprising. How about a savoury aroma?
Most savoury gourmands aim for a subtle illusion – the tangy darkness of olives, the green sharpness of coriander leaves or the musky warmth of basmati rice. Fittingly, the biggest savoury gourmand launch came in 2010 with Womanity (from £38.50 for 30ml, second picture), another Thierry Mugler creation. The composition is built around caviar and fig, the briny nuance pushing against a backdrop of roasted hazelnuts, musk and woods. Like Angel, it provoked polarising reactions, though not the same level of infatuation.
Recent fragrance research has delved into materials evoking salty impressions, and Jo Malone’s Blue Agava and Cacao(£82 for 100ml, second picture) takes a page from such findings. An accord of several notes mimicking the scent of sea-salt offsets the sweetness of red berries and chocolate. Malone’s Wood Sage and Sea Salt (£82 for 100ml, first picture) is even more strongly seasoned; one can almost feel the crunch of Maldon salt-flakes. In a similar vein, Hermès’s Eau des Merveilles(£113 for 100ml, second picture) uses ambergris, a marine, animalic material (or rather its more ethical synthetic analogue) to add radiance to the composition. The fragrance is earthy and dark, but the saline accent cuts through the heft and gives Eau des Merveilles a shimmering quality.
Appetising notes can also be used in citrusy and green colognes. This fresh, watercolour-like medium allows perfumers freedom to play with novel twists. One example is The Different Company’s Oriental Lounge ($235 for 90ml, first picture), a blend that opens with bergamot and curry leaves. Curry leaves, unrelated to standard supermarket curry powders, flavour Indian and Sri Lankan dishes, and in Oriental Lounge their piney and nutty aroma adds depth and richness.
Etat Libre d’Orange takes the gourmand idea further in Fils de Dieu du riz et des agrumes (from £70 for 50ml, first picture) and offers something even more daring by pairing savoury and sweet. The edges of Thai flavours like lime, coriander greens, rice and ginger are softened, and the effect is simultaneously intriguing and addictive.
In stressful times people often reach for warm, enveloping scents, reminiscent of childhood indulgences; for those who have salty cravings, fragrances with savoury accents offer similarly comforting delight. While it remains to be seen if the fragrance counter will welcome a novel gourmand idea to compete with the cotton-candy favourites of the moment, new-generation savoury notes are worth exploring for their memorable sensations and effects.