Our Pick of the Best Spice-Centred Scents for Spring

Hit the spice trail this spring with evocative new scents enriched with turmeric, saffron, ginger and pepper, says beauty editor SARAH HALLIWELL

Paul Getty Jnr and Talitha Pol on their Marrakech rooftop in the 1960s.

A few days in Marrakech is certainly a way to spice up your life. It’s the most overwhelmingly sensory place I’ve ever been to – even Grasse in the south of France does not blow you away on an olfactory level like the Red City. It’s intoxicating: citrus rises from the orange trees on every corner, sweetening the bitter, dusty, leathery wafts that fill the souks, and the charred smoke of the Jemaa el-Fnaa food stalls. And spice is at the heart of it all.

But what will evoke such a warm and exotic atmosphere back home in the rain? You want something rather more complex than a generic cinnamon candle, without it being too heavy and obvious. While spices have been used in scent since ancient times, for their health benefits as much as their smell, modern perfumers are using spices in a really interesting way right now, experimenting with notes like cardamom and ginger to add a touch of the unexpected. For 1957, the new Chanel Exclusive fragrance, for example, perfumer Olivier Polge used pink pepper and coriander seed to enhance the elegant white musks. Sana Jardin perfume is inspired by founder Amy Christiansen Si-Ahmed’s love of Morocco; she works with Moroccan master perfumer Carlos Benaïm (the “nose” behind several Frederic Malle scents), and the perfumes, such as Tiger By Her Side (cinnamon bark, coriander seed), contain high levels of natural essential oils. And so do the (vegan) oils by Irish brand Moss of the Isles; try Warm Body Oil, with ginger and cardamom.

While a single spice doesn’t make a fragrance special in itself, for Tom Daxon, whose unisex scents are created in Grasse, it’s about interpreting high-quality ingredients in an original and modern way. “And spices are key to that – in Crushing Bloom, for example, we partner rose, jasmine and iris with pepper and cardamom. It’s that partnership of floral and spices which made it the first rose fragrance I wanted to wear.”

Sylvie Ganter of Atelier Cologne is also enthusiastic about the qualities that spices can bring to a blend. Her favourite to work with? “Pink pepper has a longevity and lasting power; it gives that electric impression, and is invigorating, without the dark side of some spices. We have also had an amazing time playing with saffron [in Santal Carmin]; sandalwood as a raw material can be warm and sweet like dulce de leche or caramel, but mixing it with saffron makes it spicy, darker.” For Ganter, it’s a matter of finding the right combination of opposites that attract; you want spice but also softness and subtlety. Indeed, pink pepper has become very commonly used, particularly in girly pink perfumes; making it special is down to how it’s handled. “Counter-intuitively, I think while ‘niche’ fragrances have put increased importance on the ingredients themselves, it’s become less important which ones you use,” notes Daxon. “So long as the quality is there, the customer is more open-minded now to different ingredients.”

What to try? The current passion in perfume is for rich, dark, slightly bitter saffron, as used by Azzi Glasser in Bella Freud’s hedonistic 1970. Daxon’s Midnight Saffron features the accord as a top note to add intrigue, transporting the lavender far from its usual sleepy image. “I’m drawn to all spices but saffron stands out on its own for me; it’s clean, metallic, weird even. It’s how it combines with other ingredients I like. In Midnight Saffron it totally changes the character of lavender, making it sensual and exciting.” Spice up your life …

Spice rack: our pick of the best spice-centred scents

CINNAMON Mugler’s new Alien Fusion, co-created by Dominique Ropion, features “overdosed” cinnamon. GINGER Kilian Princess is a flirty green gourmand with a “tip of ginger”. Attrape-Rêves by Louis Vuitton spices up peony notes with ginger. SAFFRON Byredo Black Saffron celebrates the Indian heritage of founder Ben Gorham; Tom Ford White Suede has a trace of golden saffron, giving bittersweet warmth; Le Labo Oud 27 is an oriental with black pepper and saffron; Hermetica Vaninight features both a saffron molecule and cinammon oil. PEPPER Tom Daxon Crushing Bloom uses both black and white pepper; also try oriental spicy YSL Nu with black pepper plus incense. CARDAMOM Hermès Voyage d’Hermès is rich and classic, with cardamom, pepper and juniper berry; Olfactive Studio Lumière Blanche has hints of cinnamon, cardamom and star anise with a heart of iris. Try Tom Ford Oud Wood, with its dusty cardamom mixed with rosewood making it more about spice than oud. STAR ANISE The next big note in perfume? Try anise-centred Atelier Cologne Mistral Patchouli and leathery tobacco Cuir Impertinent by Mugler.

Sarah Halliwell

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