When the perfume executives at Estée Lauder were introduced to a natural pink peppercorn material made by the flavors and fragrances company Firmenich (a scent pure and exotic and extraordinarily lovely), they made an excellent decision: "We're taking this raw material off the market," they told Firmenich. "By contract you'll sell 100 percent of your production to us, and we'll put it into one of our perfumes. No one else will get their hands on it at any price, and yes, we'll pay you a premium for it." The Lauder perfumers mixed this pink peppercorn into Pleasures, a surprising scent: Underneath its modern, fresh floral exterior hides a natural pink peppercorn gourmand heart, which gives it a biting, almost fruity spiciness. At the dinner, we pair it with steak au poivre and delicate pommes soufflé.
Gourmands can also be built from excellent synthetic re-creations of food scents. Yves Saint Laurent has two: Baby Doll takes a brilliant, neon-glowing mix of synthetics called cassis base—an elixir that smells like berries swimming in white-hot halogen light—and turns it into a delightfully sugared perfume; In Love Again is a high-powered fruit salad—powered with several synthetic fruit materials; it's as if you could taste Technicolor.
Where can you find gourmands? Everywhere. Les Belles de Ricci Liberté Acidulée, by Nina Ricci, and Essential, by Lacoste, both contain tomato leaf, one of the most wonderful raw materials in the world; tomato leaf essence smells like a hint of the red ripe tomato fruit, strongly cut with a lemony-rosy geranium scent and freshly mowed grass.
Missoni's Missoni, has an "accord" (the industry term for a scent carefully created from a blend of notes) of whipped milk chocolate—what Missoni calls a chocolate ganache. And this perfume absolutely smells of chocolate, but what's fascinating is that the perfumer added an accord of flowers and got a hybrid floral-gourmand. For one of the dessert courses, Jimmy paired the Missoni with a sweet, warm, dark brownie. Tommy Hilfiger's Tommy 10 goes one better, interlocking three different food accords: a synthetic cranberry, a natural tangerine, and a luscious synthetic cream. The result is a mouthwatering scent so light, it floats atop the skin. Tommy 10 smells like a creamy fruit smoothie perfectly balanced between the cream, the tart berry, and the tangy citrus.
There are even gourmand fragrances that create the smell of food that has no smell. My favorite is from a small niche French house called the Different Company. The perfume is Sel de Vétiver—vetiver salt. It was created by the young perfumer Céline Ellena, who made the scent of salt with, principally, three raw materials: livèche feuille, an herb that grows in France; a synthetic molecule called salicylate (the only way I know to describe it is to say that it smells like what gasoline would smell like if gasoline had no smell at all and were pure vapor); and iris resin, the scent of the most delicate ethereal balsam wood with a tiny hint of musk. It is an unearthly perfume, deep and cool and liquidly dark as the water in a stone well at midnight. The magic is that salt has no smell. None at all. And yet, impossibly, this smells like salt: a scent of a salty sea breeze over sand and cool, wet dune grass.
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