Monday, August 2, 2010

Perfumer's Palette Series - Oakmoss

photo of harvesting oakmoss from

" The perfumer's only tool is his nose . "
-Jean Carles
So many of my favorite fragrances contain oakmoss and the news of it's regulation was devastating . The IFRA decreed it as an allergen and regulated it's use in perfumery .
This restriction is what triggered my desire to collect vintage fragrances ! The thought that it is no longer permitted as it once was in perfumery is very depressing indeed .
Oakmoss ( Evernia prunestri ) has almost no scent in it's natural state , and must be dried and aged to coax it's leafy , salty , foresty aroma to come forward . Oakmoss is considered a base note , has great tenacity on skin , evaporates slowly and becomes a main characteristic in the scent . But it also smells quite unpleasant , sharp at first ! It must be used sparingly in order to impart it's magic .
Traditionally , oakmoss was the basis for the creation of the chypre family of fragrances . But it is more complicated than that .
Oakmoss cannot be distilled , it must be extracted using hexane ( a petrol product derived from gasoline production , very carcinogenic...)
Historically , some sources say oakmoss was discovered in Ancient Egyptian tombs . But then , inexplicably , it fell out of favor and diappeared for a couple of centuries . There is no reference to oakmoss whatsover in any of the books I have from the 1700-1800s . Then in the early 1900s it reappears . Coty used it to create his famous Chypre , which engendered a whole new fragrance family . Some sources say he was not the first , but the most successful . During the first 40 years of the 1900s , there were dozens of fragrances named Chypre , almost every house had one in their lineup .

If in fact it was used in perfumery earlier than 1915 , it would have been tintured in alcohol . Only when science discovered solvent extraction did it become feasable to distill the resulting concentrate .
Did you know that many cooking oils are also extracted using toxic solvent extraction methods ?
These toxic solvents are then released into the atmosphere ( acetone , hexane )!
I digress .
Whatever tha actual historical timeline , oakmoss was used extensively throughout the 1900s , adds a deep , foresty, earthy basenote to many classic fragrances , but recently regulated and restricted in perfumery , will most likely diasappear from the perfumers palette . It is an excellent fixative , and it is a sad fact it is disappearing . Is it the allergens in the oakmoss itself , or in the solvents used to extract the essence ? Complicated and confusing ...
Mitsouko , Apercu , Aromatics Elixir , Chanel Coco , Miss Dior , Cabochard , Guerlain Sous le Vent....destined for reformulation or extinction....I think I'll go drench myself in Sous le Vent and go for a bike ride .
If Dixie hasn't claimed her prize bt Friday , I will draw another name !!
" When you hear that I have died , just live . "
-Gabrielle Bouliane


La Bonne Vivante said...

I love oakmoss, and wish it were still used extensively, although I do understand and support environmental regulations--it's a terrible catch 22, like loving sushi-grade tuna, but avoiding it because it is so harmful to the ocean.....

Dixie said...

What? I won a prize? How do I claim It?

waftbyCarol said...

I got your e-mail and will mail out your " Holy Trinity " sample pack in a day or two !

Dixie said...

I absolutely adore oakmoss in perfume. Hopefully the smaller niche perfumers will continue to use it. I saw a quote by Anya of Anya's Garden saying she would continue to use it.

Lisa Abdul-Quddus said...

Love that Carles quote.