by Marla, the Nerd Girl
What exactly is an aldehyde? And what makes a perfume, vintage or new, aldehydic? Aldehydes are organic compounds that contain a carbonyl group that’s bonded to a hydrogen atom; the general formula is RCHO. They can be naturally derived (from citrus peels or clary sage, for example), or completely synthetic. Formaldehyde is a lower-weight aldehyde, and, as we all remember from high school biology class, has a truly disgusting odor. Paraldehyde is a hypnotic drug. Big, fat aldehydes, however, can smell really good. At least to some people. Turns out different people perceive perfumery aldehydes differently (shock!) and what smells delightfully effervescent and fruity to some can smell like burnt wax and diesel fuel to others. So if Chanel No. 5 smells repulsive to you, don’t blame yourself, it’s just your DNA….
There’s been a resurgence in aldehydic perfumes. An aldehydic perfume is one where certain aldehydes (those with a particular “waxy/fatty/rosy/fruity” character) take center stage, as in No. 5, White Linen, or Femme. Many of the perfumes of the 50s and 60s were Aldehydic Extremes. Now I’m seeing some indie perfumers, like Andy Tauer and Laurie Erickson, highlight these aldehydes in perfumes like Miriam and Nostalgie with a lighter touch and a deft hand, and I’m very pleased.
Aldehydics tend to make us feel a little more “dressed up”. They are (generally!) perceived as mature, upscale, sophisticated notes. You don’t wear aldehydics with unwashed hair, in an old jogging suit, schlepping the kids around in the SUV, or digging trenches in the backyard. They are “little black dress” perfumes, and are usually regarded as special. I know that my 50s/60s vintage perfumes will find their moment on those rare occasions I go to a concert, opera, or special dinner with my DH. When I wear them, someone near me will certainly comment, “My, don’t you smell posh!”
When I’m not in the mood, they smell too sharp to me, too firmly tethered to a bygone era, and I pass them by with a wrinkled nose. Then a month or so goes by and I just want to smell like the aptly named Ma Griffe (My Claw), Bakir, or Replique again! It’s a love-hate relationship I particularly relish, and so I’m glad to see these lovely gems, the aldehydes, in modern settings, crafted by artists I respect. My modern aldehydic faves are Champagne du Bois (Sonoma Scent Studio), Serge Lutens’ La Myrrhe, and Shiseido’s original Zen (the black bottle, just reissued and as good as ever). And I’m dying to try Miriam and Nostalgie. How do you feel about aldehydics, old and new? And which are your favorites?
Labels: aldehydes, Marla, Nerd Girl, Vintage