Fragrance Friday: Monsoons

I just read the most interesting article about a village in India that creates an attar to capture the scent of rain and the seasonal monsoons: Making Perfume From the Rain.

Every storm blows in on a scent, or leaves one behind. The metallic zing that can fill the air before a summer thunderstorm is from ozone, a molecule formed from the interaction of electrical discharges—in this case from lightning—with oxygen molecules. Likewise, the familiar, musty odor that rises from streets and storm ponds during a deluge comes from a compound called geosmin. A byproduct of bacteria, geosmin is what gives beets their earthy flavor. Rain also picks up odors from the molecules it meets. So its essence can come off as differently as all the flowers on all the continents—rose-obvious, barely there like a carnation, fleeting as a whiff of orange blossom as your car speeds past the grove. It depends on the type of storm, the part of the world where it falls, and the subjective memory of the nose behind the sniff.

Fascinating! The author, Cynthia Barnett, goes on to describe how she flew to India on the eve of monsoon season for the express purpose of visiting the village in Uttar Pradesh where, for centuries, villagers have captured the scent of the rain in their part of the world. They call it mitti attar. She describes in great detail what materials they gather and how they process them according to traditional routines. And then, she samples the end product, “Earth’s perfume”:

The mitti attar was in an inch-tall glass bottle on the counter. I twisted off the little gold cap, closed my eyes, and breathed in the scent of the Indian rain. It smelled like the earth. It smelled like the parched clay doused with pond water in the Siyarams’ backyard. The aroma was entirely different from the memory of rain I carried from my childhood and my part of the world—ozone-charged air, wet moss, Wolfe’s “clean but funky” scent of the south. But it was entirely appealing: warm, organic, mineral-rich. It was the smell of waiting, paid off: 40 years or more for a sandalwood tree to grow its fragrant heartwood; four months of hot, dust-blown summer in northern India before the monsoons arrive in July; a day for terra-cotta to slow-fire in a kiln.

Sadly, these centuries-long traditions in Kannauj, known as the perfume capital of India, are endangered by modern commerce: India’s Perfume Capital Threatened by Scent of Modernity.

Maybe coincidentally, it has been pouring rain where I live for the last twelve hours, and when I got dressed this morning, there was only one possible fragrance for me to wear: Hermes’ Un Jardin Apres La Mousson. Although I sprayed it on during our local monsoon, not after.

Later: my thoughts on Un Jardin Apres La Mousson:

There are notes in this lovely, cool perfume that are not listed on its Fragrantica page, including some kind of melony fruit (melon? mango?) and vetiver. The melon-like smell is not the inside of the fruit, though; it is more like the fragrant, intact outer rind of a fruit, the kind you would smell in the market stall to see if the fruit is ripe. I love this perfume. I like cardamom and I love the way you can smell that note right away when you spray Un Jardin Apres La Mousson, without it being overpowering. The ginger is there, but with a light touch. I’m not getting the cucumber others have mentioned but cucumbers, watermelons, melons and cantaloupes are all members of the Cucurbitaceae plant genus, so they are related; and the same scent might smell like one or the other of them to different people.

So on first spray, I get cardamom and melon rind. Then a touch of ginger and ginger flower, with a little pepper. As time goes on, I smell the coriander emerging but the melon rind and ginger flower linger, to be joined at last by vetiver. Honestly, this scent is something of an obsession of mine lately; I return to it like a homing pigeon. I think I am gravitating to Jean-Claude Ellena’s signature, described thus by CaFleureBon:

There is undeniably a signature to Jean-Claude’s work, a creamy aquatic yearning, scattered with baie rose, cumin, glassy rose, hesperidic tones of bitter orange and grapefruit, palette awash in the lambent glow of Iso-E Super. His works move like watercolours, wet on the paper of skin, flowing and mixing, the perfumed chromatics bleeding and washing into one another creating more complex effects and messages. He focuses on scented details, pursues themes, using repetition and echoes of notes, chasing their development through different scents.

I did blind buy Un Jardin Apres La Mousson because I have loved Un Jardin Sur le Nil, but this is a unique and distinctive fragrance. I love it but not everyone will, so try before you buy!


3 thoughts on “Fragrance Friday: Monsoons

  1. Pingback: Fragrance Friday: Nirmal – Serenity Now

  2. Pingback: Kannauj - The Perfume City of India | History, Price & Making

  3. Pingback: Fragrance Friday: Un Jardin Apres La Mousson – Serenity Now

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