Nina Ricci – Farouche

Nina Ricci – Farouche


The Nina Ricci fragrance line is one that I did not traditionally have much exposure to growing up, as none of the women in my family wore it. I did have a distant aunt who sometimes wore L’Air du Temps, but we’ll save that for another post. No wonder then that the house’s 1973 release Farouche failed to catch my attention until now (there were after all plenty of other fragrances to keep me busy).

I recently purchased an assortment of vintage perfume minis, and one fragrance included in the assortment was Nina Ricci’s Farouche in the Eau de Toilette concentration. While I have a decent knowledge of French, I will admit that I was not familiar with the word “Farouche”. Interestingly, I did not look it up until after I had tested the fragrance several times, fearing it might skew my impression. In that vein, I will keep its meaning silent until the end of the post.

Farouche opens with some fizzy aldehydes adding lift to a soft orange and galbanum melange. While galbanum fragrances generally make weak in the knees, Farouche comes on like a whisper. The heart unfolds to a gentle floral bouquet of jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and geranium, to which iris lends a hint of powder, While carnation and clary sage add a bit of a twist, Farouche’s overall character remains moderate. The fragrance wafts up again after a about an hour or so, revealing a mossy, vetiver base, reminiscent of classics such as Ma Griffe, but executed with a subtle hand.

In fact, my main issue with Farouche was its faint presence, which made an otherwise lovely fragrance with all of the hallmarks of a classic, slightly forgettable in the face of other mossy, green giants. That being said, this lightness of character would make it a perfect scent for someone just starting to explore the genre, as it touches on all of the aspects of a mossy green floral. I can only imagine how lovely the parfum concentration must be, though I have heard that is subtle as well. The Eau de Toilette bottle is lovely, with its slender neck is reminiscent of a swan, while the flacon for the parfum (reportedly made by Lalique) resembles a heart.

And in case you are still wondering (and have not searched for it yourself), Farouche translates as shy. Perfect.

Floral Aldehyde

Notes: Aldehydes, Mandarin, Bergamot, Galbanum, Peach, Honeysuckle, Carnation, Iris, Lily, Clary Sage, Jasmine, Lily-of-the-Valley, Rose, Geranium, Cardamom, Sandalwood, Amber, Musk, Oakmoss, Vetiver.


Guerlain – Vol de Nuit

Guerlain – Vol de Nuit

vol de nuit guerlain 1

I am not a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. If one has positive changes to implement in one’s life, why wait until the dawn of a new year to start doing so? That said, I am a proponent of focusing on new year’s intentions – those visions and dreams which we want to manifest over the coming twelve months. Being a lover of travel, my mind naturally starts focusing on where the next twelve months can take me.

In addition to poring over photographs of dream destinations,  I love wearing fragrances which take me away to foreign locales, even if I am sitting nowhere more glamorous than my desk at work. One of the fragrances I find myself reaching for most during my intention setting is Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit, or Night Flight in English. This 1933 fragrance is Jacques Guerlain’s tribute to Antoine Saint Exupery’s novel by the same name and is yet another link in a long line of masterpieces.

While Saint Exupery’s tale is a memorial to the dangerous and sometimes tragic missions of early airmail pilots flying through the night to deliver their charges, Vol de Nuit celebrates the romance of air travel, in typical Guerlain fashion. From the elegant flacon with propeller-inspired relief to the distinctive zebra-print box, Vol de Nuit is the embodiment of elegance and adventure. Air travel is something that we largely take for granted in modern society, so it is incredible to imagine a time when this was a rare luxury reserved for the elite. The first commercial flights, which took place nearly a hundred years ago were much planned and greatly publicized. People fortunate enough to board a plane took the travel itself as a momentous occasion, and did not neglect to dress the part.

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Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit suggests this world of decadence and luxury, evident in the rich materials of the vintage formulation which are of superb caliber. The fragrance possesses a highly unique character, evoking a sense of otherworldliness and wonder which I associate with exploration. When compared with other vintage Guerlains, including its predecessors L’Heure Bleue and Mitsouko, Vol de Nuit has a subtle masculine (and dare I say rebellious) edge, not unlike the androgyny found in Caron’s Tabac Blonde.  

Indeed the fragrance is a delicious balance of bitter citrus and deep green notes which part the skies to reveal a warm, woody base set atop the famous Guerlinade. Shining throughout like the gleaming wings of a plane is one of the loveliest examples of galbanum I have ever encountered in a fragrance, on par with the beauty and bite of vintage Chanel 19.

While the fragrances are very dis-similar in scent, I cannot help but draw comparisons between Vol de Nuit and Guerlain’s own Bouquet de Faunes for the darkness of character. While many fragrances today are formulated to be light, casual and pretty, Vol de Nuit suggests a depth and mystery very akin to its name, and is among the more “intellectual” of the old Guerlains. If you are a lover of vintage Guerlains or of galbanum, I highly suggest seeking this out – as the current formulation (updated due to restrictions on materials) unfortunately do not do this justice.

 Notes: Bergamot, Petitgrain, Galbanum, Lemon, Jonquil, Vanilla, Oakmoss, Sandalwood, Iris, Musk.

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Chanel – Nº 19 Poudré

Chanel – Nº 19 Poudré

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There are some fragrances which take me ages to review, simply because I find them uninspiring. Then there are those fragrances which are so sublimely iconic that they are nearly impossible to reduce to mere words. Finally, there are those fragrances which I have difficulty getting my head around and need time to reflect upon before formulating an opinion, let alone a review.

No 19 Poudré falls into this last category, emphatically so. My expectation upon its release in 2011 was that it would be something along the lines of how the Chanel website describes it – a “luminous re-imagining of Coco Chanel’s signature scent”.  Given how bold the original Nº19 is, I envisioned its Poudré sister would be equally so, with a dose of modern perfumery’s requisite sweetness and of course, powder. I could not have been more mistaken.

Admittedly, it took me some time to get over my preconceptions, so much so, that I made a (short-lived) vow never to read a perfume press release again.  But once I got past the lack of crisp galbanum, the boldness of leather and the rich, earthiness of oakmoss, I started focusing on what the fragrance did possess.

To truly appreciate this fragrance, my recommendation is this: forget the name. Put it completely out of your mind that this bears any relation whatsoever with Nº19, since the only impression of the original is as though smelled from a great distance, through a smoky veil.

Nº19 Poudré possesses subtle, delicate green notes which feel as soothing as toner on sunburnt skin. Rather than focus on the sharp, angular aspects of the original, the fragrance highlights its subtleties. Stripped of its edgy aspects, Poudré feels like a powdery floral, rounded out with super-clean musks and sweetened with tonka. The overall effect of is of an iris powder-puff surrounded by a fuzzy incense cloud. While I cannot help but wish for more dimensionality and lasting power in the scent, Jacques Polge did create a lovely-enough iris fragrance.

Notes: Mandarin, Neroli, Iris, Jasmine, Galbanum, Vetiver, Musk, Tonka Bean.

Robert Piguet – Bandit

Robert Piguet – Bandit

Leather scents rank highly in my top fragrance choices, but they can be difficult for some, especially as the weather turns warmer.  On days when I want the daring, provocative rebellion that only a leather can deliver, but without the heaviness, Robert Piguet’s Bandit is my fragrance of choice. Created by the fragrance mastermind Germaine Cellier, the woman responsible for Fracas and Balmain’s Vent Vert, Bandit is a fine balance between bracing leather and green florals.

Legend has it that the perfume was inspired by a symbolic post-war runway show, with models dressed up in masks and carrying toy weapons, like cross-dressed outlaws. Whether or not this legend is true, Bandit clearly has a foot squarely in each the masculine and feminine realms, giving the fragrance a subtle androgynous character and driving home its bad-boy image.bonnie-and-clyde-faye-dunaway

While the post-2012 reformulation is surely miles away from the 1944 original, the magic of Bandit lies in the interplay of leather and chypre, smokiness and green depths, masculine and feminine. From the first moments of its sharp galbanum opening until its rich smoky roots, Bandit is a beautiful marriage of opposites, like a tussle between James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. It’s elegant, bitter and beautifully unconventional.

Notes: galbanum, artemisia, neroli, orange, ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, tuberose, carnation, leather, vetiver, oakmoss, musk, patchouli.

2012 reformulation sample courtesy of Bergdorf Goodman.

Balmain – Ivoire

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Elegant and polished like the keys of a piano, Balmain’s 1979 Ivoire perfectly captures the sensibility of its time and of the refined, luxurious fashions of its creator, Pierre Balmain. While the fragrance can go head to head with the big, bold and brash fragrances of the 1980s, it possesses an earthy quality characteristic of the 1970s. While the name Ivoire, French for ivory, conjures for many images of a big white velvety floral, Ivoire is positively green.

From the outset, Ivoire is dense and layered. On my skin, the fragrance does not unfold in the typical top-heart-base progression, rather it unleashes its depths all at once. Ivoire is green, herbal and floral, with a pungent, spicy warmth at its depth. And while the fragrance does take some twists and turns throughout the day, revealing bright citrus and hints of floral underpinned by galbanum, the warmth of oakmoss and musk is ever present. The drydown is a creamy, woodsy and slightly soapy pillow.

I have a small vintage bottle from the 1980s that I take out whenever I want to feel especially elegant in a confident, Chanel No 19-esque  manner, so I was thrilled to see that Balmain had re-issued the fragrance in 2012. While perfumers Michel Almairac and Jacques Flori are certainly talented in their own right, the beauty of the original was unfortunately lost in translation due to restrictions on perfume materials. The re-issued Ivoire leans more toward a straight floral, and feels sharp and unbalanced without the richness that only true oakmoss and musks can bring. And while it does not possess the elegance of the original 1970s ads, the new marketing photos are a knockout.

ivoiredebalmainvisuelpuNotes: green accord, galbanum, bergamot, lemon, aldehydes, lily of the valley, rose, hyacinth, jasmine, carnation, orris, orchid, geranium, cedar, musk, oakmoss, amber, raspberry and sandalwood.

Carven – Ma Griffe

Carven – Ma Griffe


My eyesight is very poor, a circumstance which at times provokes sheer panic at the thought of not being able to read, which is essential in my line of work and my life as I know it. When asked which of the five senses they would give up, people are often quick to sacrifice their sense of smell without taking into consideration the impact this would have on their lives. Aside from the obvious lack of scents, flavors would be gone as well. Think of how many scent-triggered memories and associations you treasure: the smell of a loved one, autumn, holiday cooking – these would all be relegated to the territory of imagination. Indeed, life would take on a flat and somewhat frightening existence, since we often perceive things with our nose well in advance of our eyes.

Imagine how much more terrifying this loss would be if one’s passion and livelihood depended upon it. At the time perfumer Jean Carles created Ma Griffe, he was largely anosmic. Anosmia is condition whereby one loses their ability to perceive odors. Let’s put aside the fact that if any of us tried to create a fragrance with no sense of smell it would probably resemble kerosene, but the fact that this man created a beautiful and unique fragrance is astounding and a testament to his abilities as a perfumer.

The French term “ma griffe” is literally defined as “my claw”. While the fragrance would later be repositioned (both in its chemical composition and its advertising) to fit this definition, it was initially portrayed with the more subtle, figurative translation of Ma Griffe, namely “my signature” or “my label” as in a designer’s label. Ma Griffe was launched in 1946 by the design house Carven. Madame Carmen de Tommaso, Carven’s founder, was a proponent for innovative clothing, meant to suit women in their everyday lives and the house’s “signature” scent clearly reflected these sensibilities.

My main experience of Ma Griffe is of the vintage, and while this does possess an intense, green burst of galbanum and citrus in its opening (I felt I could almost see the green) it quickly offers brief, veiled glimpses of the soft, mossy heart that is to come. Ma Griffe in its original form is not the talon-bearing sabertooth alluded to in later advertisements which depict a woman’s hand clawing deep marks into a man’s back. While its composition and character are assuredly memorable, Ma Griffe is more like a playful feline which gently rakes its nails over your arm and then proceeds to arrange itself cozily in your lap.

While the heart notes feature jasmine and rose, this is by no means a sweet fragrance. More prominently featured are dry and warm facets of iris, musk and oakmoss. Even the vetiver, labdanum and sandalwood take on a tone which is more mossy than woody. While most mossy fragrances offer the impression of rain-soaked forests, Ma Griffe feels more like a walk in the forest on a dry day, when the soaring oaks and ma griffetheir mossy inhabitants are warmed by the sun and give off a dry, slightly powdery musty odor. If you are not a fan of oakmoss or musk, this may be a challenging fragrance. While its character is not overpowering, it is certainly distinct. For me, this fragrance takes me back to hours spent exploring the forest behind my house, in search of magical creatures both real and imagined.

Unfortunately, Ma Griffe has been repositioned into something of a bargain basement fragrance due in part to regulations regarding the use of oakmoss, in addition to financial considerations. The current incarnation plays up the more “aggressive” factors of the fragrance and has unfortunately all but destroyed the velvety drydown. While I cannot recommend the reformulation, I find the original to be exceedingly unique and would wear it more often if my supply of it were not so limited.

Floral chypre

Notes: gardenia, greens, galbanum, citrus, aldehydes, clary sage, jasmine, rose, sandalwood, vetiver, orris, ylang ylang, styrax, oakmoss, cinnamon, musk, benzoin, and labdanum.

Prada – Infusion d’Iris

Prada – Infusion d’Iris

prada iris

Nothing imparts a sense of springtime quite like iris. The bulbs which have lain dormant, nestled deep within the earth’s rich soil, seem to smell the warmth of the sun, a signal to commence pushing their shoots upward in order to crown the day with their regal flowers. With its ethereal, haunting beauty, iris has a foot firmly planted in two seasons: the beautiful floral aspect hails the coming Spring, while the cold, dusty and earthy aspects of this note recall the Winter months it has left behind.

In Infusion d’Iris, perfumer Daniela Andrier has beautifully captured this duality of iris, conveying the bright burst of green stems and floral notes, tempered by the richness of the still-cool earth. Infusion d’Iris opens with a lovely aldehyde burst of orange blossoms and mandarin, a delicious introduction to the green and soft floral quality of its iris heart. Although the fragrance maintains a light character throughout, the iris unfolds to the depth of its earthy roots, warmed by the richness of incense and woods.


While Infusion d’Iris has a modern sensibility, the iris tinged with what smells a bit like violet feels like a throwback to many beautiful vintage fragrances containing this note, notably Apres l’Ondee and L’Heure Bleue, though without their powdery feel. My sole criticism of this 2007 release is its light nature, which is especially gentle for an Eau de Parfum. While it possesses adequate longevity, the sillage is minimal and I found myself wanting to apply liberally and frequently.  


Notes: mandarin, orange blossom, galbanum, iris, incense, benzoin, cedar, lentisc and vetiver

Chanel – Cristalle

Chanel – Cristalle


I largely put myself through college via a combination of scholarships, student loans, and numerous jobs to supplement whatever assistance my parents could provide. While this would teach me the importance of careful planning and budgeting, it left little room for personal items, especially those which were not absolutely vital. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that I was attending college in Manhattan, a city not necessarily known for its reasonable cost of living.

Dedication to my studies was not as difficult for me as it was to some of my classmates. I was enrolled in a very challenging school, in one of the toughest cities of the world. I knew that I wanted to be bright and sharp and to do that in such a competitive environment would really require all of my effort to shine. While this did not reconcile well with my love for fragrance and for Chanel in particular, it was a great motivator for success.

During my first year of school, while attending a chemistry seminar, I met a young woman who ultimately became my best friend. She had a similar upbringing and we shared many of the same goals, both scholastically and personally. This included, not surprisingly, a love for Chanel. Given that we were both struggling to meet our immediate needs, together we devised creative ways of sampling and purchasing a few special items. This largely involved two activities which most of us master in childhood: dress-up and pretend.

My friend and I would save up for bus fare to Bloomingdale’s (which cost a dollar in those days) but made it a point always to walk back home. After all, we only needed to look presentable upon arrival. No one needed to know the many blocks we would walk back to return to campus uptown. To prepare for our excursion, we would put on our best outfits and make ourselves up to be sure we looked the part. We also did our research, which in those days involved pouring through magazines at the library. We needed to ensure that we seemed extremely knowledgeable when we arrived at the fragrance counter.

As we sampled the latest releases (which was not the terrifying task it is today), we came up with creative escape clauses for those we did not like, so as not to put off the eager sales associates who were so generous with the vials of liquid gold we so craved. “Oh, my mother just purchased that for me for my birthday” or “My sister wears that one and I could not bear sharing the same fragrance”. With these intentioned hints, we were often able to come away with considerable samples of the fragrances we did want, having given the impression that we were certainly able to afford any of these fragrances at a moment’s notice.


It was during one of these excursions that I happened upon Cristalle. It was unlike anything I had ever smelled before, though I have since seen it reincarnated to some extent in the magical Calyx by Sophia Grojsman. Henri Robert’s 1974 masterpiece was perfectly named, for it is the scent of something sharp and bright – precisely everything I longed to emulate. Cristalle cuts a sharp plane of light with its bergamot opening but it is the complexity and range of the green notes which is most alluring. These range from savory to sweet and grass-like thanks to a vetiver note. While the EDP version later introduced by Jacques Polge in 1993 pushes the floral accords into a sweeter, headier territory, the original 1974 release achieves in my opinion a greater balance by not allowing the floral notes to drown out the composition.

While Cristalle is often cited on top ten lists for summer and spring fragrances, it is a wonderful winter scent and shall forever remind me of cold Manhattan days and of the power of imagination to forge our destiny.


Notes: lemon, bergamot, basil, petitgrain, galbanum, jonquil, jasmine, hyacinth, oakmoss, rosewood, and vetiver

Chanel – No 19

Chanel – No 19

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We are all familiar with the expression “It’s not you, it’s me”, words that have been inextricably tied to the end of a love affair. In my case, these words came to signify not the end of an affair, but a delay in the commencement of what would become one of the greatest loves of my life.

The 1980s were the era of the signature scent. In contrast to the current over-saturation of the market, fragrance companies focused on promoting brand loyalty. And while women might be lured to explore a new release, temptation typically set in only after a beloved bottle was running low. Being a young woman at this time, just starting to purchase fragrances with my own money, the concept of a signature fragrance seemed practical to me.

After a consistent affair with Chanel No 5, in the then available Eau de Cologne version, I fell in love with the sharp brightness of Chanel Cristalle. Given my utter satisfaction with Cristalle, our affair was exclusive for several years. While Cristalle still holds a very special place in my heart and on my shelf, my only regret is that I was blinded to the beauty of a more silent suitor, who stood by in the wings, waiting to be noticed.

Oh, No 19. When I fell, I fell hard. My initial impression of No 19 was so intense it bordered on off-putting, which is surprising given that Cristalle has an equally sharp introduction. The opening notes are a bold blast of green galbanum and neroli, which seem almost metallic, a quality which is psychologically reinforced by the unique brushed silver top of the traditional flask. The opening is rounded out and very lightly sweetened by bergamot and neroli. The green sensation is enhanced by hyacinth, which makes an appearance in Cristalle as well. I find that the hyacinth note in the eau de toilette version is much sharper than in the eau de parfum and versions where it takes on a sweeter quality, a sensation which occurs similarly in Cristalle, but the similarities end there.

Chanel no.19 edt

The heart of No 19 references the smooth Chanel duo of rose and jasmine, however, they are rendered more tangy and fresh by the introduction of narcissus and lily of the valley. While the addition of ylang-ylang into this already floral heart could theoretically have pushed this into the territory of cloying fragrances, the dry, powdery sensation created by iris tempers the whole bouquet and reinforces the bright green opening.

The true magic and beauty of No 19 however lies within its base of musk, oakmoss, leather, sandalwood and cedar, which ground the entire heady creation. No 19 was marketed with the tagline “Audacious and assertive. Never conventional” and is often referred to as a “power” scent for a woman. While the opening and heart notes certainly lend themselves to this interpretation, the earthiness of the dry-down reveals a warmth which is surely the soul of this strong woman. Silent and slow to reveal itself, but present nevertheless. Despite the intended direction of the marketing, this is a comfort scent for me, one I often reach for after a difficult day. She is like a close friend, one which needs no words to understand the language of your heart.

No 19 was named in celebration of Coco Chanel’s birthday on August 19th. There is some controversy regarding the release, as it is often claimed that this was her signature scent, a theory which seems confusing given that it was released one year before her death and that Henri Robert, Chanel’s second nose in residence was credited with its creation. In her book “The Secret of Chanel No 5”, Tilar Mazzeo offers a wonderful interpretation.


During 1945, and owing to conflicts over control of Les Parfums Chanel, Coco Chanel launched a separate line of perfumes sold exclusively in her boutiques under the name Mademoiselle Chanel.  One of the Mademoiselle Chanel fragrances became her personal favorite and as a result was set aside for her private use. According to Ms. Mazzeo’s research, after some reformulation by Henri Robert during his tenure at Chanel, this fragrance was later made available to the public as No 19. While we may never know the complete truth, I will relish the thought that Mademoiselle Chanel’s favorite scent is now one of my own.

Floral Chypre

Notes: Galbanum, Neroli, Bergamot, Jasmine, Rose, Lily of the Valley, Iris, Vetiver, Sandalwood, Leather, Oakmoss and Musk.

Guerlain – Chamade

Guerlain – Chamade



A good friend of mine is from Iceland, which like any country, features an unique culinary tradition. Given the island’s reliance on the fishing industry, much of their cuisine revolves around fish, although their excellent dairy places a close second. Since we first met each other toward the end of the year, the subject of holiday meals came up. Always eager to learn about a new culture, I asked my friend if there were any special dishes that were eaten on the holidays, conjuring visions of holiday recipe-swapping. The response was not quite what I was expecting: fermented stingray. After clarifying that this was not a joke, my friend went on to explain that stingray was traditionally prepared by Iceland’s Viking ancestors by burying a dead stingray and letting it “ferment” (her word, mine “rot”). While I will spare you the minute details, the ammonia contained within the stingray’s body essentially “cooks” the fish, not unlike a ceviche. Needless to say, I would not be preparing this in my kitchen anytime soon.

When I asked my friend if she liked it, she said “Not the first time. The first time it smelled so awful, I thought I might get sick”. The use of the term “first time” implied that there was a second or even numerous times. She explained that while it was an acquired taste, after the initial opening stench of ammonia, the stingray was delicious. I was baffled! How did she get past that offensive opening and come to love this strange creation? It made no sense to me. And then I realized it did: Chamade.

While I am a lover of bright, intense openings and even more so a lover of Guerlain, in all honesty I must admit that the first time I smelled Chamade I thought that someone, somewhere had made a mistake and filled this beautiful, inverted heart bottle with nail polish remover. While I adore several fragrances which feature prominent hyacinth notes (Chanel’s Cristalle and No 19, Balmain’s Vent Vert) they are tempered by the introduction of other elements. Not so with Chamade. The combination of hyacinth with galbanum and blackcurrent created an opening that cut through the air like a sharp green saber which showed no signs of relenting. I put the bottle back, far into the darkest reaches of my perfume cabinet, untested.


But something didn’t feel right about walking away from this fragrance, named after the distinctive pitter-pat of a heart in love, a nod at the Françoise Sagan novel and French film by the same name starring none-other-than Catherine Deneuve. So many had waxed poetic about its charms, and the skill of the then-young Jean-Paul Guerlain, I felt I must be missing something. I had read the fragrance notes, and I knew there was a Guerlain accord hiding in there somewhere, if I could just steel my reserve and do the unthinkable: test it on skin.

Needless to say, I was rewarded. Chamade perfectly captures the cool detachment of attraction and the growing warmth of love, but its beauty is only revealed to the patient suitor. The intense opening was merely the awkward, butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling that proceeds the sweetest and most passionate of kisses. Chamade slowly unfolds into a soft floral base of rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, lilac, and lily of the valley: for every great romance must have its tenderness. As the fragrance settles further, drawing heat from the skin, the magic of Guerlain is revealed in a soft, velvety base of vanilla, amber, iris and woods: for every great love must have its warmth. And as we overlook the idiosyncrasies of our most beloved, I am finally able to embrace the sharp opening, knowing that a warm embrace awaits me.

Floral oriental

Notes of Turkish rose, ylang ylang, jasmine, lilac, blackcurrant, lily of the valley, hyacinth, cassis, galbanum, sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla, musk, amber, iris and tonka bean.