Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rantette - with a nose for Galbanum

I was about to prepare a rantette bemoaning the fact that when things change it's rarely for the better. Things in question at the time: perfumes.

Never having been a big fan of most perfumes, I'm really, really picky. Greenish, citrus-ish, light flowery and/or fruity blends are the only "families" of fragrances I can bear to wear. Back in the days of vacations by air, from Britain, I'd scour airport duty-free shops to try tester bottles, hoping to find something acceptable. That's how I found three that became my favourites: Vent Vert by Balmain, Calyx by Prescriptives and Spring Fever by Origins.

My rantette was to be about the way two of those have been reformulated in recent years, and the other one has been dropped completely, in spite of petitioning by other rantetters like me. The reformulations of Vent Vert (it had two during the 1990s) and Calyx which was "taken over" by a different cosmetics firm, Clinique, a few years ago are but shadows of the originals. Why, I wonder should this be?

I've come to the conclusion in the case of Clinique's version of Calyx, it's likely a matter of making the fragrance generally weaker, possibly omitting some more expensive ingredients, and so cheaper to make, but the price is either the same as, or higher than before. Origins' Spring Fever disappearance is a puzzle, but that too could be due to increasing cost of ingredients, I guess.

The most interesting, the one with most information available on its reformulation, is Vent Vert.

It appears the main difference in the original Vent Vert and the reformulations is less of, or complete lack of Galbanum, which is said to have made the original so outstandingly striking. The reviewer at the above link wrote, of the original format of Vent Vert:
The interplay of contrasts and harmonies in the composition is simply breathtaking. Vent Vert is a ruffian dressed in transparent chiffon. One cannot help being mesmerized by her.

And of the first reformlation:
While Vent Vert is still lovely, it lacks its most remarkable quality — its renegade spirit.
Writers about perfume are wont to use similar heady descriptives as those beloved of wine buffs!

So then, what is Galbanum? It has a more interesting background than I expected.

From Wikipedia
Galbanum is an aromatic gum resin, the product of certain umbelliferous Persian plant species in the genus Ferula, chiefly Ferula gummosa (synonym F. galbaniflua) and Ferula rubricaulis. Galbanum-yielding plants grow plentifully on the slopes of the mountain ranges of northern Iran.

Aha...Iran! Is this a clue ? Are supplies of this ingredient not easily come by any more?

There's more...

In the Book of Exodus 30:34, it is mentioned as being used in the making of a Ketoret which is used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It is also referred to as the HaKetoret (the incense). It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem. Rashi of the 12th century comments on this passage that galbanum is bitter and was included in the incense as a reminder of deliberate and unrepentant sinners.

It is occasionally used in the making of modern perfume, and is the ingredient which gives the distinctive smell to the fragrances "Must" by Cartier, "Vent Vert" by Balmain, "Chanel No. 19" and "Vol De Nuit" by Guerlain. The debut of Galbanum in fine modern perfumery is generally thought to be the origin of the "Green" family of scents, exemplified by the scent "Vent Vert" first launched by Balmain in 1945.

Some of the mythology may have transferred to the related galbanum which was referred to as the sacred “mother resin.” Galbanum was highly treasured as a sacred substance by the ancient Egyptians. The “green” incense of Egyptian antiquity is believed to have been galbanum. Galbanum resin has a very intense green scent accompanied by a turpentine odor. The initial notes are a very bitter, acrid, and peculiar scent followed by a complex green, spicy, woody, balsamlike fragrance. When diluted the scent of galbanum has variously been described as reminiscent of pine (due to the pinene and limonene content), evergreen, green bamboo, parsley, green apples, musk, or simply intense green. The oil has a pine like topnote which is less pronounced in the odor of the resinoid. The latter, in turn, has a more woody balsamic, conifer resinous character.[unreliable source?] Galbanum is frequently adulterated with pine oil.

Galbanum oil is steam-distilled to yield a green, fruity-floral odor reminiscent of fine malt
“Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, [or sniff back] everything is different?” ~ Anon.


mike said...

I've studied-researched many of the essential oils. I'm a person that enjoys fragrance, though I rarely employ fragrances on my body or surrounds. Sometimes I indulge, thinking that my world is small and no one will enter my periphery, but those are the days I have unexpected visitors it seems. I'm not alarmed by the second-hand-fragrance that the easily annoyed complain, though I'm sympathetic to those that may have sensitivities. Delightful olfactory experiences are one of life's pleasures. I'm partial to the woody-spicy vapors. High-grade patchouli essential oil is one of my favorites, but it requires a hefty dilution...vetiver eo is another.

Regarding galbanum, I suggest you purchase some essential oil and apply a small amount concomitantly with Vent Vert...experiment until you balance the fragrance to your perception of the original perfume. The fact that galbanum is found in Iran has minimum influence, as it's found in the surrounding areas as well (vegetation doesn't recognize national boundaries).

I purchase essential oils from "Mountain Rose Herbs" and have never had any problems with the company. They list galbanum:

mike (again) said...

The website Fragrantica is wonderful for comparing perfume formulations and learning about various essential oils and fragrance additives. They present a listing of galbanum-containing perfumes:

The Vent Vert page has a section "this perfume reminds me of":

Twilight said...

mike + (again) ~ Thanks for your suggestion of mingling essential oil with current, weakened, Vent Vert - that is well worth a try - hadn't thought of it before.

Yes - I've scoured those Fragrantica pages in the past, and recently too, hoping to find something akin to the original Vent Vert - or even like its first reformulation. Some suggestions I'd already tried but been disappointed by them. I'm in a place now where I hardly ever have the chance to get at spray testers in swanky department stores. I used to do that at airports and in department stores in Leeds regularly, back in the UK. Now I rely on obtaining, or buying, sample vials...not always easy to find. So far I've found one perfume new to me that I like - not as much as Vent Vert or the other 2 of my favourites, but nice: Versense by Versace. I bought some samples on e-bay. When my (ahem) ship comes in I shall treat myself to a big bottle of it. I hope that, by then, Versace will not have decided to reformulate it! In the meantime some essential oil and a small bottle of Vent Vert III on trial then!

Thanks again for the suggestions. :-)

mike (again) said...

The original was quite complex:

"Its rawness is, in fact, due to its clever rather than simple composition: According to Luca Turin, perfumaniac extraordinaire and co-author of Perfumes: The Guide, the original formula was analyzed and found to have 1100 components (compared to the 1991 reformulation, which only has 31). Vent Vert's clarity and upfrontness gives you the illusion that it merely a collection of essences from natural materials rather than a carefully constructed work of art."

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Oh my, oh my, oh my! LOL! But thanks for this link.

Sounding off with a peppery blast of galbanum like a trumpet's call, shortly thereafter other flower notes run and swirl onto the stage like primitive ballet dancers in a production of Nijinski's paganistic "The Rite of Spring."

There is something savage, fierce, and raw about Vent Vert, recalling the first lines of T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land: "April is the cruellest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain." Hope, desire, rebirth, renewal — these are primal feelings and the perfume respects that with its scent of freshly picked flowers with bent stems and crushed herbs mixed in for spiciness.

And I thought it was just a rather unusual, very fresh and interesting fragrance that I loved. :-)
I was often asked what it was, and when I answered "Vent Vert" the enquirer usually looked completely blank, and even blanker when I added "Green Wind". LOL!