Vegetal, herb, and spice-inspired scents are very important note categories, often skipped or used as an afterthought. They’re often found in scents marketed to men. We all know how xoVain feels about wearing "men’s" scents — we do it with abandon! I myself still cannot get enough of Thierry Mugler Pure Coffee — I wear it and revel in it’s rich caramel coffee ribbons garnished with a rosemary/juniper-esque sprig at the end like a daring cocktail.
I am never bored with fragrance. It’s one of the easiest things to tweak if you have an essential oil collection. Playing with scents normally associated with food can add so much interest to your scent style, and they don’t always have to be sweet or fruity.
Citrus and Vegetal Notes
Orange is but one of many citrus scents, but may just be the sweetest. Lemon has a cut to it, lime an herbal green undertone that isn’t just color association. Bergamot is in nearly everything these days, with its bitter perfume an easy way to add some complexity.
To me, orange is an underdog that can add middle-bolstering sweetness to a DIY blend, or can clean the glue off of a countertop — literally. Use with care by diluting for topical use, but don’t forget about the humble, juicy aroma of an orange peel when making custom scents or products. (Just dilute safely and keep away from sun.)
With vegetal scents, Demeter just goes there — that’s why I love their single notes. Beetroot and Tomato at first smell strikingly similar, but that is just the feeling of a garden built into the fragrance overtaking you. Beetroot hits you in the gut chakra with grounding dirt and light sugar. It smells like you need to go buy some goat cheese and arugula and get your carotene munch on. Tomato is intriguing, I could imagine smelling it on someone who loves the outdoors. Gardening your own tomatoes and handling the resinous nightshade’s stalks gives off a potent aroma that is almost long gone by the time the tomatoes get to the grocery store. A spicy green umami balance of savory and sickly sweet are spot on for the real plant and the fruit at the same time, and it’s a memory inducer for me!
Herbs are so important to cooking. Sprinkling parsley on food isn’t the simple garnish we make it out to be in America; the essential oils in the bitter leaves aid in digestion, making downing au gratins a-go-go NBD. Parsley as a scent reminds me of church and Passover Seders, which we did at the church I grew up attending. Dipping parsley into white vinegar makes me think of my shitty dad, and though this single-note from Demeter smells pretty dead-on like the scent of parsley (but surprisingly not the taste), I can’t be mad at it.
Basil is one of the best smells in the entire world. It used to only remind me of Mama’s sauce and garden, literally, but now it gives me so much cuisine in one sniff. Pho, Tiger Salad, Pizze e Napolitano all come rushing back. Demeter makes this as a one-note; the essential oil is a bit more bitter than this bright incarnation, which nails basil’s licorice undertones without going too far into anise territory.
I also like to hit up essential oils for certain herbal notes, especially the mints like peppermint and wintergreen. Same goes for thyme and lemongrass; I use them as essential oils and scents interchangeably, getting both medicinal and cosmetic purposes out of the same little bottle. (Whether I’m going for NOW Solutions or a smaller indie brand, I use The Vitamin Shoppe to get my EOs.)
Spices are present in so many scents, and whether you want the warmth and directness of cinnamon (another dillute-r) or the biting uniqueness of cardamom, spices culled from dried barks, berries, and sometimes seeds can be a great depth adder, a complement to herbs and their top action.
Pepper is the most obvious spice and lives up to its scent in this one drop, also from Demeter. It’s got pepper as a single high note, it has the funk of true black pepper without the dusty earth of other types of pepper, so it’s great for mixing.
Bringing it all together with scents isn’t always so easy. With regard to the use of food oriented scents, many notes get buried amongst decidedly non-edible components.
A perfumer that I’m pretty into, Euphorium Brooklyn, makes some scents that work in the notes of some edibles without becoming sweet gourmand bombs. 100 Tweeds smells like an office, literally, but one of another time, and it’s directly formulated to smell as such with a fictional backstory to boot. Lavender and spicy greens like oregano and peat mingle with tobacco and a distinctly fabric-like accord. Chocolatl is a much more scandalous experience. Like the perfumer’s inspiration of a distant tropical upbringing, it’s teetering on orgasmic incarnation of Mexican cocoa, vanilla, and spice. There’s a hint of myrrh for a mystical apparition at the end. This stuff doesn’t play!
Polo’s special-edition scents are always a hit. I’ve always enjoyed them despite their male-marketed direction. Supreme Leather reads like the entrance of a humidor, ripe vanilla and soft unlit tobacco with hints of cardamom. The overall effect is really special, and it’s extremely memorable.
And how could I leave out Lavanila‘s mastery of sweet vanilla, but with the tart lemon and sweet coconut twists to bring in a desert-like finish. Like limoncello and an amaretti served after dinner, these are delicate and soft and not foggy, sweet perfumes like the names suggest.
I like using both single notes and complex blends to treat my perfume wearing like cooking or formulating a cocktail. By calling on the powers of a unique spice or herb to lighten or deepen a scent idea, it becomes not only in my control but not able to be duplicated, sometimes even by me. It bears a Warholian attitude to scent, creating a mood as fleeting as time itself.
Photos: Maria Penaloza