Last year, when I was on staff at a fashion magazine, we did a story on organic perfumes—a category that’s been gaining ground recently thanks to the blossoming eco movement. Fragrance experts tend to scoff, of course, at the entire concept, since synthetic raw materials have formed the basis for most scents ever since Chanel No. 5 hit the market in the 1920′s. (It was the first scent derived entirely from artificial ingredients—before that, fragrances contained only botanicals like rose, sandalwood and lavender.) Fine perfumery is definitely an art—synthetics and all—so as a beauty editor, I wasn’t sure how I felt about naturals. (How could they even begin to match the sophistication of creations by perfumers like Annick Goutal or Hermès’ Jean-Claude Ellena?) But ever the intrepid reporter, once we finished the aforementioned story, I thought I’d try out one of the scents: Guaiac by Red Flower, a New York-based purveyor of luxury organic beauty products.
On first application, it just smelled so different. I was used to vanilla or watery notes. This was fresh and earthy and citrusy. At first, I wasn’t sure I liked it, but the more I wore it, the more I fell in love with it. Now, I see that it was slightly ahead of the trend: chypre (woody) notes are the next big thing in fragrances (as opposed to the sickly-sweet dessert-type scents that have been in favour for the past few years). Also, as an allergy-sufferer, I tend to sneeze, practically on cue, whenever I spray a mainstream fragrance—but this doesn’t happen with Guaiac.
Anyway, the other day I decided to Google my beloved scent, since I’d never bothered finding out much more about it. Imagine my delight when I came across this review by the brilliant New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, who gave Guaiac four stars:
“Red Flower Organic Perfume in Guaiac” (the thing’s official mouthful of a name), created by Alkalay and the perfumer George Devoe, is enchanting. It is also startling, a result of the oddness that comes as much from what you are not smelling — the absence of the ubiquitous synthetic musk Galaxolide, for example — as what you are. Nor does the perfume smell like guaiac wood, at least not patently. It smells like the sweet sunlight-filled citric burst you get from gashing the peel of an exquisitely fresh orange with your thumbnail mixed with the scent of warm hay (very fresh, with no trace of dust) and a clear mint-like freshness that manages not to have the slightest trace of literal “mint.” Its sweet comes without sugar. It is so straightforward that it smells mysterious, and it is so simple, so nakedly, lucidly pure that it smells naïve. If Guaiac is a universe away from the rich, plush, Frenchly elaborated pre-war Guerlains, it is just as far from the early 21st century minimalist intellectual art scents of Frédéric Malle and Le Labo. Both those schools produce brilliant perfumes. This is something else. One feels about this perfume as one would a tiny blossom, impossibly lovely, ridiculously fragile, evanescent.
Read the whole thing. (And yes, wouldn’t it just figure that the scent I fall in love with is also one of the most expensive: US$186 for just 15 mL. Darn.)