"Blue" By Luca Turin
Bees specialize in flowers, and for some flowers the feeling is mutual. Bees only see ultraviolet (if you wear sunscreen, you’ll look streaky black to them), blue, and green. Lavender, the bluest of all blue flowers, wastes no time attracting less industrious insects and turns entire swathes of Haute Provence Apis mellifera Blue. I must have been a worker bee in a previous life, hence my laziness in this one: I love both the smell and the color. It is hard to unlearn an association once you’ve made it, but I swear even if it turned out the stuff came from hibiscus blossoms I would still find the smell of lavender, (and for that matter the electric sound of bees) intensely blue.
My anglophile grandfather always insisted on using on Yardley’s English Lavender (not bad, but no longer great). I followed his advice until I hit upon Caron’s Pour un Homme, and stayed with that until recently. Of late, though, it seemed to me that something less sophisticated, less yellow-vanillic (aptly, Pour un Homme is colored green), was called for, a really simple lavender. This is not as easy as it seems. Excellent grades of steam-distilled lavender oil come from all over the world, but adding just the right amount of other stuff to turn lavender into a real perfume is tricky. It is an uncooperative perfumery note, halfway between top and middle. It doesn’t quite fly off in seconds the way citrus does, but fades by the time you finish breakfast. Merely extending it with woody or herbaceous notes won’t do: wrong color.
What makes a great lavender is good fixation, that mysterious process by which heavy molecules make lighter, flightier ones stay longer. After smelling a dozen lavenders that fade to purple or gray, I think I may have found the true-blue best. It comes from Caldey Island, in Wales, and is sold by the monks that inhabit it (at www.manufactum.de, a,mong other places). Caldey Island Lavender has an exquisite quiet, musky drydown. It was composed by Flemish freelance perfumer Hugo Collumbien, now 89 years old. I called him up to ask how he did it, and he explained he used the best stuff from Sault, in the Vaucluse. I worked up the courage to ask what he’d used as a fixative: the legendary musk Exaltolide, now synthetic but originally found in the musk rat. What works for bees and rats works for us.