Lavender. The mere word conjures up memories, ideas, visions, dreams, romance, beauty…and old. When you tell someone you’re creating a perfume with Lavender in it, immediately they go to the “it will smell like an old lady” place, a phrase which really irks me (especially since it was in men’s perfumes, not women’s, in the early part of the 1900’s, that Lavender was overused). First off, what does an ‘old lady’ smell like? Maybe in olden days, Violet, Rose and Lavender may have been the thing. However, in this day and age, there is really no longer such as thing as ‘old.’ If you think Madonna is still contorting herself into a pretzel on stage, and she is past 60, that can give one a whole new perspective of what ‘old’ is. Maybe the “You’re as old as you think” phrase is better suited. I like to think the same applies to Lavender. Many people don’t realize some of their most beloved perfumes have Lavender in them. That is because a skilled perfumer can take Lavender and pretty much do whatever they want with it. But the stigma remains. Perfumer Marypierre Julien says, “I feel sometimes [perfumers] don’t say that they have lavender in their creation because [some think] … it just feels a little bit old,” [1]

Personally, I have always loved Lavender. In aromatherapy, it is known as the ‘universal oil’ because it can do just about anything. Burn your hand in the kitchen? Apply Lavender. Insect bites? Lavender to the rescue. Need to relax? Spray Lavender in your living area. And better yet, Lavender mixes with just about anything…unless we’re talking perfumery.

Original English Lavender, by Yardley

In perfumery, Lavender is a whole different animal (or plant?). Many perfumers will say that Lavender, on its own, is worthless. Remember we’re talking perfumery here, not aromatherapy. Lavender can come across as herbaceous and sharp, especially depending on the Lavender type used. Therefore, in perfumery Lavender is never used alone. For perfumery, Lavender is considered part of the Herbal or Aromatic family. Because of the strong herbaceous nature of the scent, even in the old days a Lavender perfume carrying its name was enhanced by other aromatic elements such as Bergamot, Patchouli, Vetiver, Musk Ketone and Musk Xylol, and yet the perfume was still called ‘Lavender.’ Lavender was (and is) the main aromatic component in the Fougére perfume family, alongside Oakmoss and Coumarin. Lavender even made its way into the Chypre perfume family, although at much lesser dosages, and always supporting other components. “Small percentages support the complex of bergamot and oak moss in a definite way within a great number of Chypre perfume compositions.” [2]

Oftentimes, various Lavenders will also be mixed together for effect, such as with Spike Lavender (see formula below), or with Lavender’s cousin, Lavandin. A Lavender known as Lavender 40/42 is also used. Because essential oils will vary in scent, depending on where the material grows as well as the type of soil and weather involved, to maintain the same level of scent desired in perfumery various lavenders are mixed into one, called Lavender 40/42. These are blended to match consistent levels of Linalool and Linalyl Acetate esters (this is the 40/42 reference), to release the best of Lavender’s floral notes.  Lavender 40/42 is never used in therapeutic aromatherapy and only used in perfumery.

Classic Lavender,
by Crabtree & Evelyn

It is interesting to note that the top constituents in Lavender Oil are Linalool and Linalyl Acetate. The percentage varies depending on region, such as Bulgarian, which generally contains 46% Linalyl Acetate and 27% Linalool, whereas French Lavender contains 41% Linalyl Acetate and 44% Linalool [3] — a stark difference in Linalool content. So, which Lavender a perfumer chooses will have a different effect in their perfume creation, and sometimes adding Linalool and Linalyl Acetate to the mix can also enhance the actual Lavender used. The Lavender version created by Crabtree & Evelyn, called ‘Classic Lavender’ and sadly discontinued (presumably after choking IFRA regulations on Oakmoss, Coumarin and Musk Xylene), and replaced by a more modern Lavender scent, used to contain Lavender alongside Linalool, Citronellol,Coumarin, Oakmoss, Musk Xylol and other aromatic materials, to crate a lovely Fougére based Lavender.

The various Lavenders I like to use are Lavender 40/42 (mix of various inclding officinalis and angustifolia), Lavender Bulgaria and Lavender French (both Lavandula Angustifolia), Lavender Absolute, Lavender Maillette, Lavender Fine or High Elevation, as well as Lavandin Grosso (lavandula hybrida var. grosso) and Abrialis (lavandula hybrida var. abrialis). Spike Lavender (lavandula latifolia), in small dosages and in conjunction with Lavender, can offer lift to a perfume. What I use depends on what scent I am looking for and also the cost of the finished perfume. The higher the cost of the final product, the finer the Lavender I may use. If I am creating a Lavender scent to be used in a cosmetic base or for room scenting, I will go with Lavender 40/42. For high end perfumery, I may choose Lavender Fine, Absolute or Maillette, which offer a much more lovely, floral, sweeter scent. Lavandin is a little more high pitched, so it can offer an interesting note when mixed with Lavender, especially in men’s perfumes. There are also other grades and types of Lavender to be found out there like Extra Fine, Absolute Precious, Lavender White, etc. Experience and your nose can ultimately tell you what to use and when. As a perfumer in a Perfumery forum used to often say, “You’re the perfumer, experiment and do what you want.”

Encens Et Lavande
by Serge Lutens

Lavender also works well with many flowers when it is brought into the mix in small dosages, and it also works well with Vanilla and Musks. The combinations are really endless and if done well can create a lovely perfume — either for every day or high end use. Such an original perfume is Encens Et Lavande, by Serge Lutens, which combines Lavender with the exotic air of incense. The beauty of Lavender in perfumery is that it will blend into the mix, adding its personality to it. When blended into a perfume compound, Lavender will first stand out from the rest, as if making the statement, “I am here!” However, within hours and days, it becomes part of the ensemble, playing nicely with the other elements, much like my brother who, as a child, first refused to attend kindergarten, kicking and screaming, but a few hours later had to be bribed to leave the playground and come home.

Below is a formula from W. A. Poucher [4] in which he shares a Lavender ‘bouquet,’ showing a way that Lavender is enhanced and rounded to create a beautiful ‘old world’ compound.

250Lavender oil
250Spike Lavender – French
100Geranium oil – Spanish
100Bergamot oil
80Rosemary oil
30Red thyme oil
10Patchouli oil
70Benzyl acetate
10Borneol
50Coumarin
50Musk xylene
1000Total

In the end, Lavender may not be for everyone, nor for every perfume, but there is a lot that can be done with it and its beauty should never be overlooked. In a time when aroma-chemicals such as Iso E Super, Calone, Hedione, Dihydromyrcenol and Cashmeran have taken over, sometimes some eternal beauties like Lavender can be a lovely addition to the mix.

References:

[1] Perfumer & Flavorist Vol. 38 – August 2013, p. 36.
[2] Lavender, by Dietmar Lamparsky, Givaudan Research Company Ltd., Duebendorf, Switzerland. Perfumer & Flavorist, Vol. 11, August/September 1986. p. 8.
[3] Essential Oil Safety, by Tisserand and Young. Churchill, Livingson, Elsevier, Second Edition, 2014, p.326.
[4] Perfumes, Cosmetics and Soaps Vol. 1: The Raw Materials of Perfumery, by W. A. Poucher. Chapman And Hall, Seventh Edition, p. 223.

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