With spring in full throes, it seems just the right time to chat about some of my favourite, botanical spring perfume scents. I also happen to be writing this on the first day of official summertime and on a day of cloudless deep azure skies that typify everyone’s image of the Mediterranean. The spring heat is lifting scents from the wild flowers and my courtyard garden is already awash with the scent of jasmine even though just a few flowers are open.
While my autumn perfume notes list was all about scents that cosset and conjure up warmth through their use of spices, oud, resins and balsams, spring perfume scents are designed to evoke the bearable lightness of being. Longer, light-filled days, the first frissons of heat in the sun’s rays and the shedding of a layer or two of clothing mean we yearn for perfumes that can accompany our energy boost and make our heart sing.
Typical favourite spring perfumes scents include florals of the less narcotic, heady variety such as freesia and iris along with citrus which never fails to add sparkle. Citrus, as you’ll know from my earlier posts on how to make natural perfumes last longer and 10 things to know about natural perfumes, are notoriously fleeting in natural perfumes. However, they are undeniably invaluable in the opening of a spring perfume as citrus gives an instant feel-good factor lift.
Most citrus pairs well with florals of all kinds and I adore the magic that happens between citrus top notes and white floral hearts. And with some perfumery art and artifice, it is possible to create a more long-lasting citrus top without using citrus. Elemi and various natural aldehydes that are now on the perfumery materials’ market make that possible. As a Mediterranean perfume brand, citrus plays an important role for Olentium; I’ve lemon and orange trees in my garden and in a week or two, their heavy intoxicating scent will permeate my house.
My top 10 spring perfume scents include some notes that will be less familiar perhaps, such as bitter almond along with natural musks and aldehydes which are increasing the botanical perfumer’s palette and rivaling synthetic scents that have held sway over these categories of materials.
Top 10 Spring Perfume Scents
Notes I recommended looking out for in natural and botanical perfumes for spring include these, my personal favourites.
White rose is a lighter, sweeter, less heady and heavy scent than many of its red-hued counterparts such as Rosa damascena from Turkey, Bulgaria and Persia. It is loveliness incarnate as it exudes a blousy, almost ‘ballet’ pink-white scent (if we use synethesia here) with a hint of lemon. My supplier of natural white rose has this to say and I can vouch for his description of the scent as a “…summer breeze of roses, consisting of delicate, fresh, playful rose notes. The middle has free flowing honey rose qualities with a citrus tang that is sharp, sparkling, possessing extreme impetuous charm”.
Rose is one of the most complex scents to map with upward of 400 different molecules having been identified in some rose varieties. If you love rose soliflore scents or wish your natural perfume to have rose dominating the heart notes, then I advise you to read up on the varieties not only of rose and their country of origin but to also discover more about the various methods of extracting rose scents. Essentials oils, absolutes, CO2 extracts and concretes all have their own specific characteristics.
Jasmine in my Mediterranean garden and courtyard is one of the first white florals to bloom and during mild winters and against sunny walls, it can flower almost all year round. Like rose, jasmine has immense variety and the perfumer will choose among sambac, officinale, grandiflorum and polyanthus. I tend to opt for Jasmimum sambac as it is heady and diffusive yet still light and playful enough to not be overwhelming. Of course, it depends what it is paired with in an accord. It can be ramped up or toned down according to its neighbouring notes.
Jasmine accompanies rose and narcotic white florals like orange blossom, yet can easily sit among some strange bedfellows like guaiacwood and other smokey notes, as well as ouds and spices or in gourmand perfumes. In Acqua di Olentium, we marry jasmine with another white floral, orange blossom, to evoke the fare at a Sicilian summer wedding.
To complete a trio of heady florals, comes orange blossom. It is one of the most intoxicating perfumes and no Mediterranean perfume house would be without at least one fragrance that includes it. I spend ages outside on warm evenings in late spring literally drinking the air when the orange and lemon trees flower. It hangs in the air, almost sticking to me. Given its strength, orange blossom is usually given a light touch and married with notes to take the edge of its potential to cloy.
The orange blossom flower water absolute is an interesting play between neroli and orange blossom absolute. It is less narcotic as is the extracted solids from the water remaining after neroli (the flower of the bitter orange, Citrus aurantium L. ssp. amara) has been distilled. It therefore has elements of neroli with a bitter, lighter, fresher harmony of notes than I find in pure orange blossom absolute.
Orange flower absolute can however add volume to the lighter, expressed citrus notes like bergamot in more cologne-style eaux de toilette.
The Bergamot perfumery note needs little introduction as it’s ubiquitous across almost all perfume families and compositions from Chypres and florals to opening even leather, marine, fruity-floral and gourmand scents.
Bergamot is also an Italian favourite and has been grown and harvested throughout the peninsula, particularly Sicily and Calabria, for centuries. It resembles a miniature orange and has a zesty, slightly twiggy scent that I find a cross between petitgrain and a mild lemon. Bergamot is a traditional note in Chypre accords where it is used alongside a labdanum-cistus heart and oakmoss base notes.
Bergmot won’t last long but makes its present felt longer by helping blend, smooth and round – thanks to its linalool content – the edges of other perfume notes.
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Before you ask, yes, bitter almond does have a marzipan scent along with fresher, greener and somewhat fruity trace elements as well. It may seem a surprising choice to add to a list of spring perfume scents but for the natural perfumer, it offers a different kind of top note that can’t be pigeon holed. I use it in Devoto as the opening to a scent whose muse is a typical Sicilian wedding with all the fare that you’d find on the summer wedding table. It is traditional in the southern Mediterranean to offer guests small posies of sugar-coated almonds as wedding favours. Plus, many Sicilian desserts include ground almonds and marzipan.
Bitter almond is a startling opening note but very fleeting. It blends well with citrus and also with woody notes thanks to its nut overtones. A fragrance to seek out if you are curious about the scent of bitter almond, is Serge Luten’s Louve – which means she-wolf. It has a distinct bitter almond opening which rapidly turns into a cherry-like scent reminiscent of Amaretto.
Myrtle is just about to flower in my garden as I write. It has exquisite fluffy small white flowers that have the barest whiff of sweetness. This herb cum small shrub is often found in bride’s bouquets (it has featured in British royals’ wedding bouquets since the time of Queen Victoria) as it’s a symbol of love, long-lasting marriage and fertility. This is a lot of responsibility for so humble a woody shrub that for most of the year is just a springy mound of unassuming small dark leaves.
Myrtle is a very useful top note for the natural perfumer to use in spring perfume scents as it has citrus nuances without the bitterness or stark astringency of some citrus. In small amounts it can add a bright, sharp woody note and therefore is a perfect match for almost any floral heart notes whether rose or the narcotic white florals.
It is beyond this post on spring scents to delve into the very complex world of aldehydes. If you wish to find out more, I can recommend this in-depth and well-written post on Perfume Shrine on debunking the myths on aldehydes and taking a look also at their famed overdose in birth of Channel No.5.
Aldehydes are synonymous with our expectations of a spring perfume; they add a zingy sparkle and lift to the opening top notes of a perfume but have largely been the preserve of synthetic perfumery materials – even though they occur in nature.
Now though, the natural perfumer has a good range of botanical-derived aldehydes including: the so-called peach aldehyde C14, which is slightly waxy and is ideal to ramp up other florals; the citrussy, grassy green aldehyde C6 which seems innocuous but can provide an oft-needed green top note along with another natural isolate Trans 2 Hexanol; and aldehyde C18 which has a powerful coconut scent. All these are useful if used in an understated way so as to amplify other top notes and add that lift we expect from their synthetic counterparts.
If you are reading botanical and natural perfumers’ ingredients’ lists, do look out for aldehydes and be aware that despite their chemical names they can be naturally derived.
Pear may be more an autumnal fruit but its crisp, fresh white flesh and skin hues that range from green to rosy pink and golden yellow, is to my mind a perfect fruit and perfume scent for spring into summer. I use pear in several spring salads, along with feta, mint and walnuts and find they add a delightful fragrant texture. The same can be said of the pear natural isolate I use in Devoto. In scent, it exudes the equivalent of a sumptuous ripe juiciness that harmonises well with almost any note you care the throw at it.
Late spring into summer scents need some fleshy sweetness to them, and pear, if not overdosed, does a splendid fragrant job of hinting at long, warm late spring evenings. Hermes former in-house master perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena struggled in his ‘jardin’ series to find the perfect pear accord according to notes he made in his ‘Diary of a Nose‘. I realise it takes careful and innovative handling if it’s not to overpower a light spring perfume. It does last a good six hours on a smelling strip so must be used as an accent not featuring note.
Lemon for many equates to household cleaners and soaps. Yet, it is the ultimate citrus for spring perfumes if one finds the best quality and from the most carefully chosen sources. I source lemon in Sicily from a supplier that grows organic lemon, bergamot and bitter orange. His lemon is one of the most uplifting, yet least rasping I have come across.
Lemon is a mainstay in men’s colognes and summery eau de toilette, and in judicious amounts can partner any other citrus, wood, spice or floral you care to use with it. I used a distilled lemon oil rather than one that is expressed. There are several reasons for this: first, this type if FCF free, which means it does not contain the furanocoumarins responsible for making oils photo toxic; and second, this particular lemon retains more zest and fizziness than some others which turn into a juicy note after a short while.
Musk is another note that is complex and warrants an epic write-up all on its own and I recommended an in-depth post on Bois de Jasmin to understand the history and uses of various musks in perfumery. Musk is an indispensable note in perfumery for its velvety-smooth sensuousness and its simmering powdery warmth. It is radiant and at times sweet in that unforgettable musky way. It can help fix perfumes and create an alluring drydown that is perfect for lighter or floral spring perfume scents. The amazing all-round enhancing properties of musk remind me of the phrase ‘everything tastes better with bacon’.
Until recently, musk was a near impossible note for the natural, botanical perfumer to use. A natural-derived musk called musk ambrette comes from hibiscus seeds. It has been prohibited by IFRA, the fragrance industry association, on account of its potential for phototoxicity and neurotoxicity. However, fragrance chemistry moves apace and there is now at least one natural ambrettelolide I have come across that is safe to use and which replicates and even supersedes many of the desired notes and effects of synthetics musks.
With warmer more sensual days arriving, spring perfume scents with an element of musk are a must.