Notes on Notes: Oakmoss

Happy New Year! I wish you all a happy, healthy 2023! This year brings a new collaboration between me and Portia Turbo of Australian Perfume Junkies (and other sites as a regular guest blogger). Actually, it’s TWO new collaborations. The first is called “Notes on Notes”; Portia and I agree on a fragrance note we’d like to write about, and we’ll post our “notes” about it on the first Monday of each month, referring to a few specific fragrances. The second project is called “Counterpoint”; we’ll agree on a fragrance, and “interview” ourselves about it, seeing where our experiences coincide and where they differ.

I’m excited about these collaborations – I had such fun doing “Scent Semantics” with Portia and several other bloggers in 2022. I hope many of you will jump in and add your own observations and comments!

The first “Notes on Notes” is about oakmoss.

Branch with lichen of oakmoss
Oakmoss, or Evernia prunastri; image from Wikipedia.

I have a thing for fragrances with oakmoss. I love chypres, which were traditionally built on a foundation that included oakmoss as a base note. Some of my favorites are the vintage versions of Miss Dior, Parure, Chanel No. 19, Cristalle, Diorella, Dioressence, Azurée, Aromatics Elixir. Some modern chypres I love are Papillon Perfumery‘s Dryad, Hiram Green’s Arcadia, and 4160 Tuesdays’ Both Sides of Clouds. But for this post, I decided to write mostly about some other newer fragrances that have adapted to the 21st century restrictions on the use of natural oakmoss in fragrance. The restrictions came from IFRA, the international trade association of the worldwide fragrance industry, because natural oakmoss extracts can cause serious dermatitis. Luckily, today’s gifted chemists have developed many ways to replace it, including processes that remove the worst allergens, and synthetic substitutes. Some of these solutions are more successful than others, and true cognoscenti mourn the limitations that have resulted in reformulations of classic fragrances, but the refinement of these substitutes seems to be ongoing, so let’s hope for ongoing improvement.

In 2018, Fragrantica published a very comprehensive article by Matvey Yudov about oakmoss, its chemical properties, and the history of its use in fragrance, here: “Oakmoss and Tree Moss in Fragrance.” An earlier article on Fragrantica also discussed the IFRA restrictions in 2012: “Oakmoss in Fragrances,” by Marina Milojevic. For Portia’s take on oakmoss, go here: “Oakmoss: Notes on Notes.

The modern scents I’ve chosen to discuss are: Evernia, by Ormonde Jayne; Treemoss, from Scent Trunk; Mousse Illuminée, from Rogue Perfumery; and Meet Me On The Corner, from 4160 Tuesdays.

Of that group, my favorite is still Meet Me On The Corner, which I reviewed at length in 2019. Sarah McCartney of 4160 Tuesdays launched a fragrance in 2021 called Oakmossery, which would have been perfect for this post but which I haven’t had the chance to try yet! So here we are. When I reviewed Meet Me On The Corner in 2019, an official notes list wasn’t yet available, but now it is: Lemon, mandarin, mandora, clementine, magnolia flowers, magnolia leaves, sandalwood, bergamot, oakmoss, musks, styrax, patchouli. Sarah also lists actual ingredients, and there is the actual oakmoss extract: Evernia prunastri. Meet Me On The Corner is a citrus chypre inspired by Diorella, which itself contains real oakmoss extract (more so in the vintage version, but Evernia prunastri still appears on the current formulation’s ingredients list).

Sarah McCartney and Samantha Scriven collaborated recently on a marvelous book, “The Perfume Companion”, which has a whole section about chypre fragrances. You can even buy it with a sampler of the 4160 Tuesdays scents mentioned in the book, which is great fun and a wonderful way to educate one’s nose.

Ormonde Jayne’s Evernia opens with a bright and slightly fruity accord, a combination of cassis and bergamot, spiced with cardamom, pink pepper, and coriander seed, but you can tell right away that there is an oakmoss accord lurking in the shadows. Evernia progresses into a floral middle phase; the brand lists orris butter, lily of the valley, freesia, jasmine, violet, and rose as the heart notes. However, the oakmoss starts getting stronger in this phase, and it somewhat upstages the flowers. To be fair, the fragrance is named after the oakmoss, not the flowers!

The structure emulates the classic chypre fragrances, with its bergamot top note, floral heart notes, and oakmoss base, accompanied here by accords of sandalwood, musk, opoponax, Cashmeran, and ISO-E-Super. I think the oakmoss used here may be the extract from which almost all traces of atranol (an allergen) have been removed in a process created by the firm Robertet. The oakmoss is natural but it is then processed to remove allergens. As Evernia dries down, the sandalwood accord slowly replaces it as the dominant note. Longevity is excellent on my skin; my wrist still smells of Evernia the morning after I had applied it in the early evening before. I really like Evernia, it is a great unisex fragrance of high quality, but I think I prefer other Ormonde Jayne fragrances like Ta’if, Ormonde Jayne Woman, and Ormonde Jayne Privé, in which the floral notes are more evident.

Scent Trunk’s Treemoss was created by Maya Njie, as part of Scent Trunk’s series of original fragrance editions that each focus on a particular ingredient or note; here, the focus is on Evernia Furfuracea. The brand’s website lists notes of oakmoss, tree moss, birch leaf, orris, violet leaf, oak tree, green cognac, sandalwood, animalic musk. I would say that Treemoss falls on the lighter side of oakmossy fragrances. It just isn’t as dark as a couple of these others, which makes sense as Ms. Njie has said she was inspired by the woody landscape of Macedonia, where it is quite sunny. I find Treemoss to be somewhat linear; it doesn’t change much over time. It’s very pleasant, and I can actually still smell it on my skin if I put my nose close, 12 hours after application.

Mousse Illuminée is described on the brand’s website as green, aromatic, mossy, and resinous. The notes list includes Treemoss, Frankincense, Green Cypress, Artemisia, Laurel Leaves, Cedar, White Floral notes, and White Musk. The opening is quite medicinal, with green cypress, cedar, artemisia, and laurel leaves, and it stays that way for a while. More than one commenter on Fragrantica compared this initial phase to camphor, and they’re not entirely wrong. To my nose, this is also a strongly masculine scent in the traditional sense; it reminds me of a soap or shaving cream I can’t identify yet. I don’t pick up any floral notes.

Perfumer Manuel Cross has said that he used a treemoss extract from the firm of Robertet to create his mossy accord, and he is famously outspoken about not limiting his formulas according to IFRA. I wonder if what he used is the same as the extract Geza Schoen seems to have used in Evernia, as they both smell more piney than earthy to my nose. Mousse Illuminée didn’t affect my skin, but it did make me sneeze a bit! It has a dark green, bitter allure that would attract any number of perfumistas, but it is not a safe blind buy, and I prefer Rogue’s Chypre-Siam, which also has oakmoss but to a lesser degree. Fortunately, Rogue Perfumery sells a very reasonably priced discovery set, so it’s easy to try all the scents and make up one’s own mind. All of them have excellent projection and longevity on my skin.

For Portia’s “Notes on Notes”, go to the revived “Australian Perfume Junkies” website. I’m so glad APJ is back! And I’m honored that Portia invited me to collaborate again. Look out later this month for our other project, “Counterpoint”, in which we will choose a single fragrance every month and answer a series of questions about our experience with it. Hint: our first fragrance will be Mitsouko, in its various versions.

Claire at the blog Take One Thing Off, wrote a long piece when Evernia was launched in 2021, in which she discussed it and several other oakmoss-centric fragrances, so if you want more names of oakmossy fragrances to try, I recommend her post.

Notes on Notes logo
Notes on Notes; image by Portia Turbo.
Botanical illustration of oakmoss and other lichens
Evernia prunastri (oakmoss) and other lichens

22 thoughts on “Notes on Notes: Oakmoss

  1. I am also glad AJP are back! I didn’t know the Bottled Rose was on hiatus, if Tara reads this then many thanks for the years of wonderful blogs. I will miss the Bottled Rose dearly. But: I don’t manage to comment on Portia’s blog, for some reason I can’t log in WordPress and I don’t twitter or facebook. I hope Portia can change the comment format to what you have here.

    My favourite Oakmoss note perfumes are among my best loved perfumes: no 19, Mito, le Temps d’une Fête and Christalle.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WOPW OH! What a sensational piece. Thanks for picking oakmoss, what an interesting note. It might even be in my top 10 favourite perfume notes.

    Really glad to be collaborators again. I think we work really well together and I love how the ideas just created themselves, like they were already complete and waiting for us to tune in.

    Counterpoint will be something I never saw before, such an interesting path you’ve chosen for us. See you in two weeks for Mitsouko!
    Portia x

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Now THIS is how to start a new year👏🏻 Great news about APJ. I didn’t realise that I was such an oak moss fan until I discovered Fragrantica and saw just how many of my perfumes contained a goodly amount of it. It’s hard to pin down a favourite.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My first stab at chypres, way back when I first “discovered” perfume as something to explore vs just wear, was a fail. I remember my mom having Aromatics Elixir – did not like. Didn’t understand my little sample of Mitsouko. But at the time I was still enamored with vanilla centric, gourmand and light florals. It took a lot of sniffing for my nose to mature enough to understand some of the more complex perfumes. I don’t think I have anything that is really oakmoss centric but no longer turn away from chypre in horror! I’d like to try Evernia, I have had good success with OJ perfumes. Nice piece.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I had almost the reverse experience: I loved some chypres before I knew what they were, or even that name. It’s a bit odd, because I don’t recall my mother wearing a lot of chypre fragrances. She mostly wore Chanel No. 5, which only had a touch of oakmoss in its base (vintage version). I remember her wearing White Linen, which also had a touch of oakmoss in its base, and some might call it a chypre but I’m on the fence about that. She also had Norell, which I think is closer to a traditional chypre.

      Like

  5. I have struggled with some older chypres, but I have always loved No. 19 and Cristalle, especially. Wonderful article and I love this collaboration. I haven’t tried any of the newer ones you described.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello, Old Herbacious!

    Thank you for the completely wonderful start to 2023~ I can’t believe you have this fantastic back and forth with Portia, and I’m happy to hear APJ is back.

    And thank you for this in depth information about Evernia 🙂 I have moved feeling about oakmoss-I love it in nature. I mean I think that’s what I smell on the trees around here. That plus sat Maritime air, and the moss that usually accompanies it-this is what I want from Evernia.

    And I want to smell the M Nye fragrances but they’re not available where I live and a few of the shops that sell her fragrances do not ship to Canada. I’ll find samples, somehow-I’m so intrigued by her line.

    Now off to read some of your back pages. I’m looking forward to your Mitsuko writing. I read about that fragrance in Vogue, and was so intrigued. This would be in approximately 1993 before the net so difficult to actually smell it. Then I moved to a larger town and got to smell it-and my nose just recoiled in shock! There was too much information for my brain to process. Because the peach wasn’t like the Marks and Spencer body spray I used I just couldn’t comprehend Mitsuko. I kept trying my tiny 2 ml parfum and thought I was a Shalimar person. Then about ten years ago I bought a pretty little bottle of EDT and sprayed it on in the heat of a Sept day-and I got it. This was the version for me. If I wear a drop of parfum I get compliments galore-mostly about how clean I smell lol.

    So – bottle of Evernia for me, and thank you again.

    Sincerely,

    Carole

    Liked by 1 person

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