In the range of olfactory facets available to the nose, we find particular tones, with powerful and sensual nuances: the smoked notes. These very fragrant and tenacious notes are used sparingly to enhance fragrances by giving them a lot of character. Let’s lift the veil on these bewitching and mysterious compositions.
The smoked notes, at the origin of perfumery
The origins of perfume go back to prehistoric times, especially since Man discovered fire. It was while gathering plants, herbs and wood that the first men had the idea of throwing them into the flames. As these natural raw materials burned, they created clouds of fragrant smoke, the very first forms of scent made by humans. The smoked notes are thus the first olfactory facets that the nose of Man has known.
Through the rituals of the various Egyptian and Greek civilizations, the burning of plants took on an even stronger symbolism, a means of communicating with the gods. The smoke, by rising, was thus a bridge between mortals and the sacred world of the deities. Moreover, the term perfume itself testifies to this ancestral heritage. Indeed, its Latin etymology per fumum literally translates as “by smoke”. The use of smoked notes in compositions is therefore a return to the roots, to the origin of perfumery and its most sacred meaning.
How do you get those special notes?
There are several ways to add this delicate nuances to a composition. The nose can integrate ingredients that naturally give off smoked notes into the formula. The second solution is to smoke certain raw materials directly so that they reveal new tonalities.
Ingredients with smoked notes
The cade is a Mediterranean shrub which proliferates in an environment of garigue, on the arid coasts of the south of France. It is actually a variety of juniper, but its leaves are longer and marked with two white stripes on the sides. Red-brown fruits develop on the shrub between April and November. Cade wood has been used since ancient times as a fumigant to purify the air and keep insects away. It is one of the oldest natural moth repellents! In perfumery, an essential oil is extracted from the heart of the wood. Relatively little used, cade wood is generally used to sublimate leathery fragrances. Its fragrance is extremely powerful and reveals an intense smoky smell. It is warm and reassuring, with almost rough notes that evoke a campfire.
In the regions of Northern Europe, some scented materials manage to develop despite the cold. This is the case with birch, which is found in the taiga forests, especially in Sweden. As a resistant wood, it is often called the tree of wisdom. In perfumery, it is its bark that is used to deliver birch tar essence. Tar, or pitch, is a substance that is created by heating birch bark in a hermetic manner to obtain a pasty substance composed of tar and ashes from the bark. In perfumery, this wood tar essence is obtained by a long dry steam distillation of this substance. This essence evokes the olfactory sensation of a wood fire, thanks to its warm and smoky notes. This ingredient, like cade, is mostly used in leather compositions.
Vetiver is a tropical plant with rhizome that has become the emblem of woody fragrances. In perfumery we distil the dried roots of vetiver to deliver its essence. Its scent is very identifiable: it has woody, green, earthy tones with subtle smoked nuances, much softer than the previously mentioned ingredients. With vetiver, the smoked notes that emerge are less raw and dry. This is why it reminds us of undergrowth, incense or sometimes even peanut. Vetiver is used as a base note in our fragrance alõ to give it a woody facet. Its slightly smoky notes bring warmth and a soothing olfactory sensation.
Smoked woods and resins
Many ingredients do not naturally reveal these bewitching smoky tones. But that’s not what stops the perfumer from smoking certain raw materials to give them new nuances. And some plants, especially woods and resins, seem to be made for that. This is the case of fragrant woods such as sandalwood, cedar or oud, which once smoked, reveal even more intense and rich essences, oscillating between animalized scents and airy sensation. Patchouli can also be smoked to accentuate its raw and resinous aspect even more. Like precious woods, resins and other balsams are also very interesting olfactively speaking thanks to smoking. They display more sensuality.
Other materials are revealed in a different way thanks to the smoking process. It is the case of vanilla which becomes very smooth with liquorish nuances. Smoked tobacco offers a lot of sensuality and mystery to a composition, with warm and honeyed nuances.
The use of smoked notes perfumery
Perfumes that include smoked notes in their olfactory pyramid are generally juices with a strong character! There are few compositions where the dominant facet is smoky. Indeed, these notes are most often used sparingly because they are quite powerful and especially very tenacious. But adding smoky notes to a composition can give it even more richness and depth, with a lot of sensuality. However, this olfactory facet remains quite airy and light, it does not weigh down the fragrance. At once animal, leathery, chypre and woody, the smoked notes can be married with many accord. One thing is for sure, they bring that “little extra” to a perfume, with bewitching, almost mystical side.
Do you like this kind of notes in fragrances?
Discover the fragrances mentioned in the article