After travelling through Asia, South America, Africa and the Middle East, our olfactory world tour continues on the other side of the planet. This time, we settle down on a continent as mysterious as it is bewitching to discover perfume in Oceania. Behind this dream destination with landscapes as varied as they are fragrant, we set off on a journey rich in discoveries. Between the beauty secrets of the Vahines, ancestral recipes and ingredients with a thousand virtues, let yourself be transported to the heart of these atypical and exotic scents.
On the road of Oceanian perfume
Oceania is a region of the world that often tends to be seen as a continent in its own right. Nestled in the middle of the South Pacific, it has a multi-faceted face. Composed of 16 countries, including Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia, this continent represents an archipelago of several thousand islands. Ecosystems and traditions are extremely varied from one country to another, hence the richness of this region. A richness that is also expressed in the relationship to perfume, which is linked to many customs and evolves with the seasons.
A favorable land
Oceania contains resources that are still very poorly exploited. Indeed, it is a fantastic region of the world for its marine ecosystem and its flora. But many species are still waiting to be studied. For example, Australia covers almost 8 million km2, yet only 3% of plant varieties are used. Plants were the first to colonize the Pacific islands, carried by winds and birds from Southeast Asia. Thanks to fertile land, they managed to invade all of Oceania. Ever since humans settled in this region, they have been able to enjoy the lush vegetation for medicinal purposes, food and mystical rituals. In New Caledonia, ancestral literature thus asserts that Man would come from plants. A very strong link between Man and plant life, who will use nature for its incredible virtues and its formidable palette of smells.
An olfactory and gustatory journey
Our journey to discover perfume in Oceania begins at breakfast, with a sweet smell that already tickles your nose. It is that of Vegemite, a spread that Australians love, with a salty and bitter taste, between the stock cube and the soy sauce it seems… Quite unusual for our European palates! Change of scenery then on Kangaroo Island where a familiar scent of Provence releases in the air. Here, lavender fields stretch as far as the eye can see and small distilleries produce their own essential oil.
Our journey continues to New Zealand in the city of Roturua. Immersed in a thick mist from morning to night, the geothermal city is known for its mud baths and hot springs. However, you will have to get used to the smell of “rotten egg” that will permeate your nose, coming from the sulphur that escapes from the geysers. An unpleasant smell that will follow you all over the city, eventually blending with that of the hangi, a Maori barbecue heated with volcanic stones.
The trip ends in Polynesia. You cannot miss Tahiti’s black gold: a unique and powerful vanilla that only grows on certain islands. It will delight our nostrils with its aromatic notes but also our taste buds in all kinds of desserts. At the Papeete market, the stalls of colored and perfumed fruits will open their arms to you: bananas, papayas, coconuts, pineapples, limes or mangoes… You will have a wide choice!
The use of perfume in Oceania
Between tradition and modernity
Even today, perfume in Oceania has a mediating function between the world of the living and that of the ancestors. Fragrant compositions and recipes are often transmitted from generation to generation and show ancestral know-how. On the island of Wallis, halfway between New Caledonia and Tahiti, a “grandmother’s” perfume is reinvented with the new generation. This perfume is that of the Tuitui. Originally it is made from vetiver roots that are macerated in eau de Cologne. Nowadays, young perfumers are reappropriating this old recipe to modernize it.
Another testimony of modernity appeared after the sandalwood crisis in the 1970s due to deforestation. A few investors decide to implant the sandalnum album in Australia. It was the “olfactory explorer” Stéphane Picart, who contributed to making this culture part of a fair approach. In collaboration with NGOs and Aborigines, they guarantee the respect and protection of small-scale producers. Australian sandalwood is just as milky and woody as its Indian neighbor, but with a rougher side.
Monoi and tiare flower, the perfumed secret of the Vahines
Impossible to talk about perfume in Oceania without mentioning the emblem of Polynesia, Tahiti and the Cook Islands: the tiare flower. It can be found everywhere: on local airline planes, in storefronts, on flower necklaces to welcome tourists… Originally from the mountainous coasts of the South Pacific, this flower with white petals symbolises the Tahitian art of living. Also called gardenia tahitensis, the tiare flower is a pillar of Polynesian customs. It is used in the making of the traditional headdress, the horo. The flower is also an integral part of the many mystical rituals of love filters or aphrodisiac bouquets.
The meeting between the tiare flower and coconut oil gave birth to a sacred oil: the monoi. Used as a perfume, massage oil, care oil or miracle remedy, the elixir is present in the life of all Tahitians. To make it, the flower is picked while it is still only a bud. It is then put to macerate in copra oil. The creamy fragrance of the flower is gently extracted and blended with the softness of the oil from the coconut. Monoi has been crossing borders since the 1970s and conquered Western women during a period of sexual liberation. Its sensual and exotic fragrance has not finished seducing…
Emblematic raw materials
The scent in Oceania is not just about tiare flower and exotic fruits. These fertile lands are home to a very rich ecosystem, brimming with fragrant materials that are inspiring for all perfumers. In this region, fragrant flowers, herbs and woods grow in profusion.
The blue cypress
The blue cypress (callitris intratropica) is a conifer that is mainly found in Oceania, especially Australia in the north of the country in Queensland, but also sometimes in New Caledonia. Depending on the season, it can be dressed in an indigo blue color. It is considered to be a remnant of the vegetation of Gondwana, a continent existing in the Jurassic period. The Aborigines already used it for its calming and refreshing properties. Perfumers can use its essential oil, which has a woody, subtle scent with mentholated and slightly smoky notes.
The boronia of Australia
The boronia is a flower found in Australia. It is cultivated in the southwest of the country for the manufacture of essential oil with a lemony and spicy scent. This shrub with fragrant foliage is home to small bell-shaped flowers. There are many varieties of this plant, but it is the Brow Boronia or boronia megastigema that is most often used in perfumery. Boronia absolute is one of the few natural raw materials to contain ionones. Its scent is floral with subtle fruity notes and woody facets. The nuances of boronia can be reminiscent of osmanthus. Boronia absolute is used in fine fragrance and is usually found in chypre or ferny accords. It is a very expensive raw material.
Eucalyptus is native to Australia and is one of the flagship ingredients of aromatic accords in perfumery. This fast-growing tree dominates about 95% of the country’s forests, with more than 600 different species. The foliage and branches of the eucalyptus are very perfumed. An essential oil used for a very long time in perfumery and aromatherapy is extracted with steam. Eucalyptus brings a note of freshness and a dynamic aspect to a composition.
Thus ends this exotic stopover! A month from now, let’s meet again for our next olfactory journey…