Imogen is a feminine, heady, powdery ambreine, oriental perfume that actually evolved from my studies of Shalimar.
The incomparable flagship for Guerlain, Shalimar was created by Jacques Guerlain , third in the line of Guerlain family perfumers to head the historic house, and released in 1925. This is the same perfumer who created Mitsouko, Champs Elysées and many more classics in the Guerlain line. Anything created by Jacques is required study for a student of perfumery.
The structure of the perfume is reminiscent of earlier 19th century perfumes with their high proportion of essential oils and balsams and with musky animalic notes in the base. Jacques enhanced this structure with large doses of the relatively new synthetic vanilla ingredient ethyl vanillin as well as the nutty, ambery and sweet coumarin.
The early development of Imogen was therefore also centred on the framework of those early perfumes along with Jacques’ addition of ethyl vanillin and coumarin. As work on the formula progressed the construct began to head off on a unique direction away from Shalimar and followed its own path to become the unique perfume that it is now.
As a side note – the creation of a perfume is a wonderful journey full of dead ends and unexpected discoveries with twists and turns along the way. The perfume will develop itself in an organic, olfactory selective way. Beginning with an idea, theme or framework, the perfumer provides a judiciously selected range of materials for the perfume to try before selecting a surviving combination at the expense of others – letting the perfume evolve through its versions. This is the major advantage of being an independent perfumer without contracts and briefs and time constraints and so on that can only serve to stifle this organic process.
Witness the difference between those fragrances created in a forced, restricted environment of market audiences and budget limitations and those released by such houses as Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle where the perfumers are free to follow their perfumes’ path. Developing purely in response to the market has killed the evolution of perfumes, inevitably resulting in a homogeneous mass of poorly performing unsuitable fragrances that must surely suffer their own mass extinction soon.
So anyway, in Imogen there are still a large proportion of essential oils and other botanically sourced ingredients with synthetics used only as a support, except for the major role still played by ethyl vanillin and coumarin.
Imogen’s top note includes the lighter, most quickly evaporating components including bergamot, lemon, lavender, jasmine and coriander.
In particular there is a large amount of bergamot used to create a sharp counterpoint to the overall vanillic backdrop; there is a compromise to be made here as bergamot oil contains the chemical bergaptene which is well known to cause problems with photosensitisation when used on skin. Now, the process of removing the bergaptene to prevent the photosensitising effect can be detrimental to the scent of the resulting essential oil, so a choice had to be made between using a bergaptene-free oil or a synthetic (and therefore completely safe) substitute. I went with the essential oil after finding one whose quality was as close as possible to the completely unprocessed oil.
Imogen has a floral, spicy and slightly aldehydic heart. The floral elements used are rose, jasmine, violet, orange blossom and patchouli. The rose and jasmine notes are composed from a combination of both my own bases (mini perfumes) and the real absolutes.
Absolutes are the very essence of the flowers’ scents with kilograms of flowers famously being used to result in grams of the end product. To smell these absolutes in isolation, especially the Jasmine Grandiflora absolute used in Imogen is enough to convert any cynic to a perfumista instantly! I shall be writing about such materials as these in future blog entries, so stay tuned.
The scent of violets also plays an important role in Imogen and is present for most of the perfume’s journey, combining with the roses and musks to provide a powdery talc scent. The floral talc note is likely to be the first that others perceive at the outer edge of the perfume’s sillage or trial left behind in the air when you pass by. This violet note is provided by an orris root base composed of various synthetics known collectively as ionones along with a touch of carrot seed oil, believe it or not. This powerful base only needs to be dosed in small amounts to provide expansiveness to the perfume as well as the airy, pretty violet scent.
Cinnamon and clary sage also provide some spiciness and a touch of herbal character to the heart of the perfume, and it is from here on that things start to become a little raunchy. As the heart of the perfume heads towards the base, the Russian leather, or cuir de Russi, note begins to show its presence.
The scent of Leather has been used in perfumery since the 16th century when it became fashionable to perfume the leather gloves of the aristocracy to mask the malodours left over from the tanning process. The combined odours of the fragrant materials used and the tanned hide became the scent of leather as we know it today.
Traditional Russian leather has its own unique version of this scent that is a little more smoky and tar-like than the sweet smell of new wallets received for Christmas in the West. This stems from the use of birch tar in the Russian tanneries and the fats of sea animals used to soften the leather, each providing their own unique smell.
The cuir de Russi base used in Imogen contains smoky elements with the exotic animalic castoreum (a synthetic version – no animal products were used in the perfume) along with a touch of saffron and other materials to make up that unique Russian leather note.
The leather and vanilla notes blend wonderfully into the final base of the perfume composed of tolu balsam, bezoin resinoid and the best quality West Australian sandalwood oil. Once again, sandalwood oil is as subject that could fill an encyclopaedia and one which I will be writing about on this blog in future entries. The last that you smell of Imogen, usually the next day, is a slightly woody and balsamic skin scent with sweetly powdery musk and a little oakmoss.
Overall, Imogen is a rich, long lasting, powdery, musky and spicy perfume with a heart of leather within a framework influenced by classic fragrances of bygone times when the market was not a perfume’s creator, but the perfumer’s independent hand.