A Brief (3,000 Year) History of Florals
It’d be easy to think that flowers in perfumery have been around since the time of Cleopatra, perfumery’s original poster child. But no.
Even the Roman leader Nero, who reportedly bedded down on a bed of petals and lost sleep if any one of them happened to be curled, couldn’t use his imperial powers to make the sweet scents of all those petals last.
Sure, flowers grew in lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea: the floral trade wafted along the waterways between Europe and North Africa, and lotus thrived beside the Nile. Early perfumers (aka alchemists) crushed those petals to produce the bold, ephemeral scents of blooms. By the early 11th century, a Persian chemist invented the steam-distillation process to transform crushed rose petals into essential oil, a huge step forward.
But the ability to truly “fix” a delicate floral note, allowing it in turn to become perfume, didn’t exist until the 19th century. The process, called “enfleurage,” was a time-consuming technique in which flower petals render their fragrance into a fatty pomade, the source for a powerfully scented oil. Since then, each advancement in perfume technology has made floral perfumes more populist.
Thanks to modern perfumery, the olfactory pleasure of florals, once fleeting, is flourishing. Nero would fume. Cleopatra would swoon.
Floral notes are found in most compositions, including "masculine" ones, thanks to their ability to create balance, fullness and warmth.
Summing up the millennia of floral perfumery innovation, one fan of Thymes Kimono Rose writes: “Enjoying clippings of peony on my patio is one of the joyful, awaited moments of spring for me every year. I had wondered if there was a fragrance on the market with peony flower, only to find … Kimono Rose. [Now] I can enjoy peony and roses all year round.”
So what is a lover of petal-powered perfumes to know? In perfumery, the floral family is without question the largest and most diverse. The robust bouquet represents “Voluptuousness in a bottle,” according to Mandy Aftel, perfumer and author of Essence and Alchemy: A Natural History of Perfumery.
Leading the blossom parade is rose, which needs no introduction, and jasmine, often referred to as “la Fleur” or “the flower” by perfumers. Cultivated for over 3,000 years, rose’s character is versatile, ranging from fruity, sheer and fresh, to deep and exotic. Rose and jasmine are often combined to form an accord that infuses some of the world’s best-known perfumes.
The structure of a floral fragrance can range from single-note (“soliflore”) to highly complex floral bouquets. Depending on the type of floral material used, the effect can be:
Such descriptions oversimplify the nature of each floral note, as every scent is a complex perfume in and of itself. Still, they provide a useful shorthand for exploring individual characteristics of specific floral fragrances, leading you to floral categories you like.
Though associated with women, floral notes are found in most compositions, including “masculine” ones, thanks to their ability to create balance, fullness and warmth. Perfumers wield them to smoothly integrate top and base notes and round out sharp notes.
Today Thymes offers five true floral fragrances, though they appear to some extent in all our collections. These five fragrances demonstrate the versatility of the floral family.
In bath and body products:
In home fragrance:
To explore more about florals and other fragrance families at Thymes, visit the Thymes Fragrance Studio. Let your nose lead the way.
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