Recognizing the presence of aldehydes in perfume is not easy for me. In fact, I bought White Linen by Estée Lauder as a reference scent just to be able to practice. But the aldehydes in White Linen are easy to identify because they are overdosed and they are the kind that really sting. Generally, the aldehydes are not so obvious and so I look for different clues. With Joy eau de parfum by Jean Patou, it was the abstraction that provided the clue. In other words, it’s not so much what I smelled but what I didn’t smell. I couldn’t pick out notes. Jacques Polge said it best when he said that “les aldéhydes concourent à brouiller les pistes.” Simply, aldehydes blur the notes. That’s why Chanel No. 5 doesn’t smell like its constituent parts… rose, jasmine and ylang ylang.
For people just starting out with perfume, aldehydes are frustrating because they can make a perfume illegible and everyone loves to be able to sniff a fragrance and say… “Ah… iris!” or “What a great rose note!” But with aldehydes, you can’t do that because the notes are blurred. Aldehydes force you to just smell (and perhaps feel)… but not think! Total fragrance abstraction reminds me of abstract art such as the sublime rubber stamp print by Saskatchewan-born Agnes Martin. There is no point in analyzing it. You are reduced, or rather elevated, to just looking at it and appreciating it for what it is.
Chemically, aldehydes are built of 3 hydrogen atoms and a carbon atom (H3C) at one end followed by a straight chain of carbon atoms and anchored with an oxygen atom at the other end. The first 8 iterations (from 0 to 7 carbon atoms) are not used in perfume. But from C8 (8 carbon atoms) to C12 (12 carbon atoms), watch out! Their notes vary from waxy to citrus to incense-like. What they do to perfume is difficult to describe but they are responsible for masterpieces like Chanel No. 5, Arpège (pre-reformulation) by Lanvin and Chant d’Arômes by Guerlain… the most famous among them being No. 5 with its cocktail of C10, C11 and C12 aldehydes. If anyone is interested in finding out more about aldehydes and perfume, I encourage you to check out The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin.
And so for this week, I’ll be wearing either Joy eau de parfum or Diorella and I’ll get back to you with my review.
Have a nice week everyone!
Image : Praise (1976) by Agnes Martin