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Soapy, clean, floral, fresh: Today’s newest fragrances revisit aldehydes, those game-changing scientific compounds that helped make Chanel No. 5 a perfume icon.
Chances are, unless you’re a beauty editor, a perfumer or a fragrance enthusiast, the word aldehydes won’t mean much to you. But what if we said: Chanel No. 5?
Whether you like it, wear it or know someone who does, ears always perk up when the couture name is dropped into conversation. Crafted by Ernest Beaux at Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s request in 1921 and then later, famously rumoured to be the only thing Marilyn Monroe wore to bed, No. 5 is not only an iconic scent, it’s legendary, reportedly selling one bottle every 30 seconds. And while each 30-ml bottle of parfum contains 1,000 jasmine flowers and 12 roses, they’re also replete with aldehydes—the soapy-waxy-lemony-floral effect carbon, hydrogen and oxygen atoms create when they’re bonded together.
A history of aldehydes in the perfume world
While Chanel No. 5 is said to be the first fragrance to mix-master the organic compound into its formulation, it’s actually not. According to perfume historians, L.T. Piver’s Rêve D’Or was, in 1889 as was its 1905 incarnation by Pierre Armigeant. Guerlain Après L’Ondée and Houbigant Quelques Fleurs followed in 1906 and 1912, respectively—all paving the way for perfumers to add aldehydic notes into elixirs.
“Aldehydes are said to give lift to a fragrance, meaning they offset the sweetness and heaviness of whatever else is in there,” perfume devotée and co-author Luca Turin explains in his book Perfumes: The A-Z Guide.
According to Chandler Burr’s book The Emperor of Scent: A True Story of Perfume and Obsession featuring Turin, aldehydes are formed in odd or even numbers: six carbons, nine carbons etc with the even numbered aldehydes smelling like mandarin orange and the odd numbers smelling like smoky candles. It certainly explains the sheer variety of scents that aldehydes help create.
What perfumers deem as fatty aldehydes, typically smell fruity or floral. As their descriptor dictates, fresh floral aldehydes lean towards evoking a fresh laundry-like flowery scent, such as jasmine, rose, iris or lily of the valley.
Green aldehydes are sharper and more outdoorsy in scent with botanical, grassy overtones, while woody floral aldehydes are warm and as the name suggests, and wood-like in their appeal.
Left: Prada Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger inspiration image.
Reimagining aldehydes in today’s scents
An inclusive, year-round staple in perfumery, aldehydes are coveted for their easy-to-wear appeal and versatility, a natural fit for spring. With its aldehydic feel, Prada’s new Infusion de Fleur d’Oranger blends a bouquet of jasmine, tuberose, neroli and orange blossoms for a soapy sweet finish. Serge Lutens’ Laine de Verre incorporates tangy citrus notes with warm musk and cashmere for a clean and skin-like experience. And of course, Chanel No. 5’s Eau Premiere provides a light and fresh interpretation of the original floral.