THE PERFUME COLORS - Lavender, the PURPLE colour scent I could not live without
"Lavender and cold spring water,
Coldwater that the sun has warmed.
Looking at my white village, I remember the image
Of the white clothes that the washerwomen laid out:
Three corsets, one apron,
Seven pillows, one bedsheet,
Three shirts from the trousseau,
Which the customer gave us as a list to wash."
These are the lyrics to a very curious old song from an almost one century-old black and white movie. I recognize that it only rhymes in its original language (Portuguese), but there is a curious idea coming out of these words: Lavender and crystalline spring water are good enough to make your fabrics look whiter, fresher and cleaner. The name "Lavander" (English), "Lavendel" (German), "Lavande" (French) or "Lavanda" (Portuguese, Spanish and Italian) derives from the Latin word "lavare" that means literally "washing". Lavender's distinctive scent is mightily clean, light and fresh. It is floral but not overwhelmingly sweet or heavy and distracts you with herbal nuances and balsamic undertones.
Let's dig a little into lavender use origins. Egyptians, Phoenicians, and Arabs used lavender as a perfume for the living and for burial rites for the dead. Ancient Egyptians mummified their dead in shrouds dipped in lavender. Some history researchers suggest that Cleopatra's secret love potion was lavender. According to them, she used lavender essential oil on her wrists, and this heavenly scent seduced both Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. And the scent was certainly extraordinary, as recent findings to not portrait Cleopatra as an outstanding beauty. At least not as beautiful as Monica Belucci playing Cleopatra's role.
The plant itself is native to the Mediterranean basin and spread throughout Europe during the Roman Empire. Probably Cesar played an important role in it by praising so much Cleopatra's scent. The Romans were very famous for their public baths. Their SPAs were made even more enchanting and therapeutic by adding lavender to the water.
Moving forward a few centuries, we find the first French lavender plantations in the Provence region. This plant has always been credited with the beginning of the French perfume industry. In the 16th century, the products of French glove craftsmen were always scented with lavender. Not only were they pleasant to smell, but they also helped ward off cholera. The rise of gloves as women's fashion accessories in France did not occur until the early 16th century and is certainly the work of Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II. Catherine was always very vain and careful with her hands. She found that gloves not only wrapped her precious extremities but also enhanced her beauty and drew attention to her gracefulness. One fashion innovation is certainly attributable to Catherine - the heavily scented glove. This evocative piece was sometimes so fragrant that it was hard to tell whether a suitor would swoon from pure carnal desire or from the overwhelming effect of a glove so heavily infused with essential oils. And the scent most commonly used came from the distilled oils of lavender.
Other well-known queens help cement the use of lavender. English Queen Elizabeth I consumed large amounts of lavender tea to relieve the migraines for which she was famous. Perhaps because of lavender, several necks were spared in the Tower of London. Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of English King Charles I, popularized lavender for its visual appeal at a time when people had only used it for perfume and medicinal purposes. Later, Queen Victoria also established lavender's popularity with the British court because she used it to calm her nerves. According to the testimonies of the time, this seemed to be an arduous and complicated, if not almost impossible, task. However, some of her ladies-in-waiting dared to suggest that lavender was also often used to ensure marital passion and to mitigate some uncomfortable odours. With such a high level of royal patronage, lavender became the fashionable scent among the nobles and elegant burghers of 19th century England.
Some of the perfumes I currently care about...
Although green and fresh scents are not usually my favourite, I confess that from time to time I like to spritz myself with a carefully chosen lavender shower. And I can vary between many recommendable recipes.
I like the elegant lavender scent with barbershop nuances that I find in Beau de Jour Eau de Parfum by Tom Ford. For a barbershop scent with lavender nuances, I may switch to Sartorial by Penhaligon's. These two fragrances are classic, timeless and overflowing with style. If I want to disguise myself in the skin of a true Gentlemen, either one is an excellent choice.
On other occasions, I may prefer a very strong lavender note, undeniably very masculine, and preferably lightly spiced with vanilla and just a little rosemary. I enter the realms of Pour Un Homme de Caron Eau de Toilette by Caron. Women like to smell it on men, and they often enjoy wearing it themselves. I also like it for a more selfish reason. I often use it just for myself, and every five minutes or so, I smell it on the palm of my hand. After all these years, it is still very unique and a pure olfactory pleasure!
A complex lavender blending combines very well with troubling emotions. When my state of mind asks for anything but peace, I rely on Jicky Eau de Parfum. Jicky is a warm perfume, but it opens with a fresh blend of citrus fruits flavoured with a herbal and minty rosemary note. Its distinctly fougère nature appears in the body with a strong rustic lavender. It is sweetened by almond coumarin and jasmine, in addition to orris earthier nuances. At this stage, the development is somewhat masculine with an almost rural roughness while lingers with a bewitching feminine, graceful sweetness. We face the struggle of two gender patterns, a male fougère and a female oriental floral, helping each other to maintain this duality.
The antithesis of a fragrance with a strong lavender note, usually very fresh and clean, could be a dark and smoky perfume. Serge Lutens has masterfully combined these two facets in the passionate and strange Fourreau noir. In this perfume, lavender writhes in a dark storm of smoky bittersweet molasses suggesting a caramelised sugar-sweet aroma elaborated with almond and tonka. I cannot help but love it.
If I want a more peaceful and gentle lavender scent, slightly sweet, but for no other purpose than to enjoy the mental image I have retained of Provence, I could easily be persuaded to use Annick Goutal's very unisex Eau de Lavande. This is an olfactory vignette of a Provençal summer's day on the edge of a peaceful meadow, surrounded by flowering lavender fields. Pure peace, love and lavender!
Finally, I would like to mention just one more lavender preference of mine. Imagine a fougére scent that is elegantly masculine yet undeniably boldly sexy as hell. It's unusual to find the masculinity of strong lavender fougéres typical in the 80s and 90s but within a totally modern fragrance. It combines traditional lavender with a bunch of spices (but no pepper), as well as with other notes much more in vogue in the last decade. I am referring to Sauvage Elixir launched by Dior in 2021. This perfume resumes the audience goals set by the original Sauvage but developed around a strong Provençal lavender note. It leaves us undecided if in an imaginary timeline, we are facing a modern perfume or if we have travelled several decades back in time to a very rich scented past... and as to its power of masculine seduction, I have no doubts at all.
I could probably justly mention dozens of other perfumes worthy of note for their excellent lavender note. But that would only make this text longer and probably a bit boring. However, I would really like this page to be added with your choices and your reasons why.