L’Air du Temps, Deconstructing the Heart

Perfumery: Practice and Principles, by Robert R. Calkin and J. Stephan Jellinek describes the “heart” notes, also known as middle notes, of L’Air du Temps.

A floral bouquet builds on the base notes (see last post), and becomes the heart and central theme of the perfume. Heart notes usually show up 15 minutes or so into the perfume’s evaporation. They should last at least several hours.

I was a little disconcerted when I saw the compounds going into this assembly of flowers. Once, I prepared the mixture and it just smelled like a bunch of chemicals; perhaps it needed more time to age. But as the authors make clear, in 1948, when the perfume was first released, it would have contained a far higher percentage of naturals—especially jasmine and rose—than it likely does today.

Each flower in the bouquet is represented by a single compound: terpineol for lilac, styrallyl acetate for gardenia, phenylethyl alcohol for rose, hydroxycitronellal for muguet (lily of the valley), and benzyl acetate and amyl cinnamic aldehyde for jasmine.

A compound used in large amounts in perfumes, Terpineol does have a subtle—yet distinct—aroma of lilacs.

Unfortunately, styrallyl acetate has little to do with memories of my mother’s gardenias, in a pot near my rear window. I first smelled it at 10% concentration and thought it too chemical. I diluted it to 1% which gave it a bit of a gardenia note. Perhaps a little vanilla and a trace of ylang ylang?

The phenylethyl alcohol is extraordinarily volatile and seems to fill the room before the top gets off the bottle. It’s clearly rose-like, but rather like a wan rose—one without flesh and blood. In classic rose perfumes, phenylethyl alcohol would be balanced with geranium (or geraniol) and citronellol, preferably l-citronellol. A rose fragrance in 1948 would have contained plenty of rose otto and rose absolute.

Next, our dissection continues with the head notes.