The joy of aldehydes

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

Estée Lauder : White Linen

Created by : Sophia Grojsman

Date : 1978

Genre : Aldehydic floral

Concentration : eau de parfum

I went to the store and tried White Linen several times before I decided to buy it.  I found White Linen very hard to love, even like, at first sniff.  Eventually, I purchased a bottle because I needed an example of an overly aldehydic floral for a perfume conference I was giving.  On a scent strip White Linen repelled me, particularly during the first 30 minutes, but when I wore it to the office the following day, I liked it.

My previous Estée Lauder purchase was the sublime Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia and so the bar was very high but I found that as an everyday fragrance, White Linen is perfect if you like soapy white florals sparkling with aldehydes.  To describe what aldehydes do to a perfume, Jacques Polge, Chanel’s nose, describes it best… “les aldéhydes concourent à brouiller les pistes.”  In English, aldehydes blur the notes which is why Chanel No. 5, although made up of rose, jasmine and ylang-ylang smells like no one particular flower.  In the case of White Linen, with its overdose of aldehydes, the floral notes of rose, jasmine, lilac, orris, lily of the valley and ylang-ylang are totally unrecognizable… but you do get an impression of a blurred white floral bouquet.

In addition, you get a big white soapy note, Ivory soap to be exact, which lasts throughout the day… up until the laundry musk drydown.  This is not my favourite finale but White Linen’s musk is not too bad… however check out Dane’s review from Peredepierre for a different take on the drydown.  There may be something that I’m missing.

You know… I can’t help but be impressed with Estée Lauder’s mission to provide women and men with luxurious perfume at everyday prices which would explain why Estée Lauder is over-represented in my collection.  I think White Linen would be particularly fun during the summer and I see no reason why men can’t wear it… especially with that ultra-clean Ivory note… which if you believe the early advertisements, is great for depression.

This one may be not be in my current top ten… but I bet it moves up as the days get longer and the weather warms up.  Try this one.  At this price, it would be a shame to miss out… just don’t judge it on the first 30 minutes.


Top image : Anna Pavlova in The Dying Swan (1905)

Bottom image : Vintage advertisement for Ivory Soap

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