jero 10/25/20 06:35
Best in Show: Honey Fragrances (2020)
Best in Show
Honey, which invariably conjures its makers (bees) is a substance steeped in history, mystery, and texture. There are as many layers to the tapestry of honey as there are separate hexagonal capsules within a hive. Honey has been gathered since the dawn of humankind, and depictions of people gathering honey can be found on cave paintings in what is now modern day Spain and the Republic of Georgia. The smell of honey is almost universally appreciated - one of nature’s sumptuous, achingly sweet and complex aromas. The general idea our brains connect to the smell of honey can shift based on many factors, all of which contribute to the territory that honey inhabits. The bees themselves pull their nectar from flowers, and the flowers they choose will greatly impact the flavor of the honey that they create. Closely associated with this smell is the smell of beeswax (the building blocks of a beehive) bee pollen (the protein and flower pollen that the bees use for food,) and propolis (resin, balsam, and wax produced by the bees to help seal and add structure to their hives.)
One of the earliest perfumes to use honey as a perfume note is Jean Patou’s Que Sais-Je? This very early gourmand was a precursor to many nut-and-honey formulas that would gain popularity at the beginning of the 21st century. Patou’s formula was made in 1925, but it must have been an interesting day in the lab when this was created. Despite its proliferation across the planet, isolating the scented components of honey has never been very easy. Honey’s chemical composition is unusual, but clearly working with it not easy: It’s extremely sticky. For a long while, other ingredients have been been used to approximate the smell of honey, some coming from flowers that either have kinship with the smell, or are often the flowers of choice of bees. Frustratingly, honeysuckle (a plant that has a very honey-reminiscent smell) also eludes replication from nature. Beeswax, also sticky in its own way, produces some of the more animalic and “fuzzy” scent qualities of honey that make it so distinct and warm. Over time, synthetics and naturals have come together to create some of the many profiles that communicate the smell of honey in modern perfume.
There are two faces to the smell of honey, something that perfumers have delighted in when including it in their fragrances. On the one hand, it is the sweet stuff that covers waffles and fruit, and on the other hand, it is the illicit temptress, suggesting a sweetness that ought to be left alone. By Kilian’s Back to Black plays shamelessly with this notion, promoting its perfume as an aphrodisiac, wrapping seductive honey around such innocents as almonds and gingerbread, and more “dangerous" notes like cherry and saffron. Christian Dior’s original Poison uses honey as one of many sweet but deadly notes, grouped together with plum and tuberose to create a dense and impenetrable velvety floral sugar. Incorporating more of the full spectrum of the bee’s world is Jean Paul Gaultier’s Scandal, combining honey and beeswax to form a super sweet and humming melange of fruit and flowers.
Fragrantica’s editors have selected their favorite honey fragrances - what are some of yours? Please let us know in the comments below!
INTRODUCTION BY JOHN BIEBEL
Some poets call sweet nectar and honey the flower's soul, since honey is the essence of fragrant flowers, but really it's just a sweet gift to bees for participating in plant pollination. For ages, honey was the sweetest thing available to humans, and you may recall the ancient words from the Song of Solomon, "Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue."
That’s why I chose Chergui: Serge Lutens for this article; the honey note in its pure form feels too sweet and cloying to my taste, so I prefer my honey perfume to be mixed with something bitter and dry. Christopher Sheldrake made the honey here to be a sweet and lasting accent for the tobacco and hay absolute, stretching the experience from bitter to sweet. Being built as a spicy oriental fougère, Chergui starts fresh, green, and spicy-metallic in its top notes, then draws down to honeyed tobacco and drying grass, slowly descending to a warm, oriental amber and sandalwood base. For about half an hour, you can smell how green grass withers into dry hay under the hot and dry desert wind (Chergui is named for the Moroccan wind that blows from the East over the Sahara desert.) Coumarin and bitter tobacco keep the fragrance from falling into a honey trap, and the honey, in turn, keeps the whole away from a Tobacco Vanille clone.
Chergui is a warm and long-lasting comforter; it’s simply a perfect perfume for the cold European seasons. A concentrated, hot and dry, honey-smelling wind in your drawer; a friendly genie in a bottle.
BY JOHN BIEBEL
Honey is an opulent note in perfume, something that feels like it smells and smells like it tastes. Honey also recalls one of the most sophisticated parts of the insect kingdom, the world of bees. Their complexity and hierarchies mirror the intense social systems of humans (though we’re probably less organized.) It seems fitting to me that a favorite honey perfume reflects the elegance that honey has built into its DNA, and my nose immediately thought of Chanel’s Beige. One of Les Exclusifs from 2008, and first released as an Eau de Toilette, and then in its current version of Eau de Parfum, this is one of my favorites of that line. It's a perfume of gentle sweetness and refined sensibilities.
Beige, the color which is often relegated to the generic color of walls, is also the color of sand, dusky sky, and pale leather. It has become the neutral color on which many people project so much else - it’s a backdrop, a blank canvas, a setting on a stage. Chanel decided to take three primary elements (one more typical for perfume, and two quite unusual) to create this “trench coat”-colored fragrance: Frangipani (the more common of the perfume ingredients,) and then the curious accords of hawthorn blossom and honey. Hawthorn is one of the oddest folklore notes in perfume. The tree’s blossoms are both fair and foul (both sweet and dirty at the same time) but it’s a particularly apt element to pair with honey, which fits a similar profile. Honey carries that same dark, animalic aspect with so much sweetness on top. Something as purely floral as frangipani is necessary to fold into such a strange mixture of positive and negative forces.
Freesia, that flower of strawberry-like brightness, is a final touch which completes this simple but striking profile. It bursts at the beginning and unfolds throughout the smelling experience, adding a top note to a warm and luminous honey. From the middle of the perfume to the base, honey is the primary focus of Beige, becoming a foundation. Beige is rendered as a study of transparent, liquefied honey in soft, gentle tones, held back artistically and with deft fingers. It is this restraint that makes honey a purring animal as opposed to the clawing savage. In typical Chanel style, it suggests a tailored, stately bouquet of purposeful sweetness, in just the correct amount.
For the gourmand-disinclined I have become over the years, honey eventually became a less-favored note for me. Nevertheless, one of the very best template mixtures in niche perfumery is the note of tobacco with honey and whiskey. Back To Black is a pronounced tobacco scent but wouldn't be what it is if not drizzled with honey. A complex and sophisticated (but delicate) scent, it offers the perfect accords of what portrays wealth and class.
Back To Black is a truly opulent composition of fresh pipe tobacco, vanilla and honey. It brings many weighty fragrances to mind, but it always develops to something smoother and creamier, with a soft spicy trail. It gets darker with time, but never heavier. It gets woodier and spicier, but less so than many fragrances playing with the same accords. It develops a little tannic and fruity, with a hint of spicy saffron and a subtle raw honey note that wraps everything together skillfully. It's dark, melancholic, and infused with tar/cedar-woody effects, pronounced and thick but never sticky or glazed. It dries down balsamic and sweet with a reddish autumn potion of spiced honey; very rounded and enveloping like a cuddle.
Back To Black is a velvety smooth honeyed amber fragrance; it instantly takes me to a cabin in the woods with buttery leather and warm mahogany furniture pieces near a roaring fireplace and a vast collection of high quality liquors waiting for a great evening. As a female, I found this utterly delicious on a man; it vibrates confidence with an irresistibly hypnotizing sexiness aureole.
BY MIGUEL MATOS
If you look for honey in a fragrance, but you don't want to be running away from bees and wasps when outdoors, this can be a good choice, since it is not pure honey, and it's not sweet. Honey and Deer Musk is another one of Matt Meleg's demonstrations of how to use animalics unapologetically. Honey is already an animalic ingredient, and if not treated in a way that enhances its sweetness, it can become dirty and sensual. Exactly how I smell it in this composition.
Here, the honey is not syrupy nor glistening in gold and sweet tones. It's closer to honeycomb, with that waxy undertone. But the secret is really what musk does to this dollop of honey. It brings air into it, while expanding its complexity. The scent
becomes clean and dirty, bright and dark, and a bit dense, but never heavy. There is a sweetness to it, but also something earthy.
Honey and Deer Musk is a crepuscular fragrance, moody and bright simultaneously. It has a definite vintage vibe to it, and it clearly represents well the style of this perfumer, especially his love for the notes of natural civet. The result is a mix of traditional elements and artisan ingredients that might seems so challenging today; however, this is done in a fashion that doesn't scare and might even seduce many.
"Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.
- A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh
Golden brown, warm and spicy, viscous, delicious honey, accidentally diluted with perfume alcohol and garnished with a large tonka bean. The name can't be right, Tonka is too simple to label this honey trap. This should be called Bees' Pride or Bees' finest; I'm sure Winnie the Pooh would have tried to inhale, drink and splash around in his bear dreams of swimming in a pool filled with Tonka.
Tonka smells very warm and enveloping, at the beginning showing a bit of cool aniseed, warming up into soothing cloves that add a light spiciness to this golden brown honey-tonka team. A few pieces of wood, a little resin here and there; this honey is the liquid effort from industrious forest bees. Durability and projection are as good in Tonka as in the other offerings by Reminiscence. A splash on the back of my hand and countless hand washing, rinsing etc. later, I still smell a honey-glazed, golden shimmering Tonka bean on my hand. Autumn and winter feel like the natural habitat for this beautiful warm, almost lulling, sweet scent that is neither kitschy nor sticky due to the subtle spices. I am sure that this would be a very inviting smell on a gentleman as well, best worn as an addition to a fluffy, warm wool sweater.
The question of honey and fragrances is one of genetic perception. The main constituent in commercial and niche perfumery is the substance phenylacetic acid, which has that odd and compelling quality that some ingredients possess to lean one way or another in the attraction or repulsion scale according to your genetic makeup apparently, and its ability to pick up a certain size of molecule (for another, try grapefruit synthetics, which turn sulfurous to some noses' perception, like garlic, or various musks which are infamous for their ability to reveal partial anosmias.)
Miel de Bois (Honey of the Woods) by Serge Lutens uses phenylacetic acid and therefore some people perceive it as intimate and honey-dripping like thick honeycomb, while others pick up a musky-urinous quality to it and get immediately distanced. It's a toss of the dice, really, and you have to try it out yourself to find out in which camp you, well, camp. And it's the reason why, although initially launched in the so called export range, it soon reverted to the Parisian exclusive range of Serge's, in the purple seraglio of his at Les Salons du Palais Royal in Paris. But it's worth the hassle procuring a sample at the very least.
It's not a particularly complex fragrance, as its effect is mostly constant like a basso continuo in a church hymn from the pre-Baroque period, however there is the charm of a floral component that peeks through it recalling yellow sweet clover on a spring field. There are a few fragrances with a urinous undertone, like Une Fleur de Cassie Frederic Malle, and Shalimar Eau De Cologne Guerlain and I'm drawn to them, which makes me think that the underlying musk effect is what does the trick, as I'm a big fan of dirty musk. So, there, Miel de Bois is really more complex than initially given credit for.
BY NAYELI CANO
As a biologist I’ve always been fascinated with honey. From the taste to the way bees make it, those incredible insects have an extremely complex system - and they work so hard all the time, being one of the most important animals in our world thanks to their role in the pollination process. But as a perfume lover, I find honey to be a difficult note for me. To be honest, I don’t love animalic scents, there’s a few that are just ok with me, but love is never there. As much as I love all things honey-bee related, honey-centered perfumes tend to smell very animalic on my skin, that skanky smell is always present. Although there are some perfumes that preserve that delicious honey smell on me without evolving into something skanky and weird.
One of these scents is Loukhoum by Keiko Mecheri. The take on Turkish delight is just perfect, I now understand why Edmund couldn’t resist eating those candies offered by the White Witch on Narnia. You really can smell those chewy jellies with honey and crunchy almonds infused with rose water; a little bit powdery which makes it more mature and it’s not animalic at all but you have to love sweet perfumes to enjoy this one. It's a very well blended, grown up and heavy gourmand that will make you feel like you’re in a fairy tale, about to betray your brothers just for a few bites of the irresistible Loukhoum.
Have you enjoyed reading about this selection of honey perfumes? We'd love to hear about your favorites, please join the conversation below!
Elena Vosnaki Editor, Writer & Translator
Elena Vosnaki is a historian, archaeologist and fragrance...
John Biebel Writer
John Biebel (johngreenink) is a painter, writer and softw...
Miguel Matos Editor, Writer, Translator
Miguel has been a Fragrantica editor and columnist since ...
Nayeli Cano Editor, Writer, Translator
Nayeli joined the Fragrantica team in 2016 as an editor f...
Rouu Abd El-Latif Editor, Writer, Translator
Rouu is a financial analyst who holds a PhD in Economics....
Sergey Borisov Editor, Columnist
Sergey Borisov studied Physics at Krasnoyarsk University....
Stefanie J?hn Editor, Writer, Translator
Stefanie has been interested in fragrance since her early...
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