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.
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.“
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.