Sunday, January 31, 2016

What's That Smell? BERGAMOT

In the "What's That Smell?" series,  I'll explain some of the less obvious perfume notes that crop up in many indie perfumes. Keep in mind my descriptions and comparisons are based on my own experiences and your impressions may not be the same. Perfume notes are NOT ingredients. They can be natural essences, artificial isolated compounds that imitate the natural substance, blended accords, or a combination. Therefore, the note you like in one perfume may be unrecognizable in another. As with all sensory, subjective things, your mileage may vary.


Bergamot is a famous perfume component, one of the trustiest top notes around. It's super versatile, pleasant, and well-liked. It's a citrus fruit whose scent lies somewhere between sweet and bitter, with a scent profile that's not as sour as lemon and not as sweet or heavy as orange. In terms of balance, it's probably like a hybrid of the sourness of lime and the sweetness of grapefruit, but it has its own distinctive aroma that isn't exactly either of those, especially as it contains a zesty spicy note that smells more herbaceous than fruity.

Bergamot is used to tame notes that smell strange upon first application, and it dissipates more quickly, revealing heavier notes which have now had time to mature on the skin and become something more pleasant to smell. Bergamot is bright, spicy, sunny note. Imagine the green-spiciness of basil, crossed with the puckering brightness of lime, crossed with a delectable orange, and you have bergamot. If you've ever sniffed or drank Earl Grey tea, bergamot is the addition that makes it stand apart from plain black teas.

Bergamot is all-purpose. It can be used very lightly so as not to overpower delicate florals, but it's hearty enough to stand up to viscous scents like vanilla, or assertive dominant scents like woodsy notes. In small quantities, you'd never notice its presence (but you'd miss it if it were gone!) but in large quantities, it can be lovely and complex. Out of all the citrus fruits, it probably has the most complex and most versatile scent.

Perfumes featuring bergamot:

  • NAVA Frangipani Nokturne: Frangipani, plumeria, and lilac are all somewhat heavy, sweet florals that can veer into sickly-sweet territory if not reined in. If you've smelled a tourist shop in Hawai'i, you know what these notes smell like. Bergamot and a light Egyptian musk temper the blend and make it more smooth and palatable. The bergamot isn't apparent as an assertive citrus note, it just lends a fresh green feel that makes this more of a natural jungle scent than a gift shop one.
  • NAVA St. Germaine: Bergamot is used literally here, as a modifier to the black tea, to yield the same effect as a real cup of Earl Grey. The smoky tea and the sweet cream are tempered by the bright and spicy bergamot, giving an overall masculine or unisex feel. Although Earl Grey is an expected use of bergamot, it's clear why this is such a popular combination.
  • Solstice Scents Edge of the Night (or the Night series in general): In the Night series, Solstice Scents has crafted a traditional Oriental scent with a musk,, resinous, spiced vanilla base and riffed on it. Bergamot is only a small ingredient in the "Night" base, which has a perfectly-melded, indescribably complex scent. Bergamot shows its versatility in these thicker, sweeter fragrances because it "lifts" the notes out of potential heaviness and gives them an ethereal feel they wouldn't have otherwise.

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