Notes of cade oil, spikenard, and labdanum

Among the scent notes in the “unisex perfume” A City on Fire — burnt match is another, but that doesn’t require looking things up — from the Imaginary Authors company, whose remarkable fragrances come with synopses of fictitious works of extravagant fiction and with striking graphic-designer labels on their bottles.

The perfumes aren’t cheap — $95 for a 50 ml bottle ($38 for a 14 ml Traveler size, $6 for a 2 ml Sample size) — but then we don’t know how many bottles get sold, and how much the perfumes are actually worn, as opposed to being treasured and displayed as art objects with an olfactory as well as visual and textual dimensions.

Background: if you talk about them, ads beget many more ads. Ever since I posted recently about some remarkable men’s underwear that had come to me through ads on Facebook (as opposed to through my many postings on men’s underwear that comes to me in regular mailings from the Daily Jocks company) — see, for instance, my 1/19/21 posting “Pair of jockstrap” and my 2/6/21 posting “Is that an American flag in your crotch?” —  my FB account has been deluged with ads for still more men’s underwear, some of it quite handsome, a lot of it laughably extravagant.

And now that I’ve posted about some remarkably named and advertised men’s fragrances that had come to me through ads on FB — in particular, Abercrombie & Fitch’s Fierce, in my 1/30/21 posting “Cologne tease”, and then Testosterone Original Fragrance Paris, reported on in my 2/20/21 posting “Three remarkably named men’s fragrances” — I’ve experienced an avalanche of fragrance ads in my FB feed. By far the quirkiest of this often quirky company are the Imaginary Authors ads.

Details, details. Four stand-out names from from IA offerings, together with three of the most notable fragrance “notes” from each (these are scents, not, thank goodness, actually ingredients):

The Cobra and the Canary: leather, lemon, asphalt
The Soft Lawn: linden, oakmoss, fresh tennis balls
A City on Fire: cade oil, dark berries, burnt match
Bull’s Blood: patchouli, tobacco, black musk

(also available: a Whiff of Waffle Cone;  Cape Heartache; Decisions, Decisions; Every Storm a Serenade; Falling Into the Sea; Memoirs of a Trespasser; O, Unknown!; Saint Julep; Slow Explosions; Sundrunk; Telegrama; Whispered Myths; Yesterday Haze. The naming is itself an art form.)

For the last two items on the short list of four, the artwork on the labels and the company’s synopses of the associated fictions, together with a full list of scent notes and also tongue-in-cheek suggestions about when to wear the fragrances:

— A City on Fire


notes: cade oil, spikenard, cardamom, clearwood, dark berries, labdanum, burnt match

synopsis: A brilliantly dark graphic novel, A City On Fire, is the story of two match-makers. Rupert literally fabricates matches in a factory on the waterfront while Frances writes a dating column for the city’s newspaper. Both are recluses who haunt the night’s shadows observing clandestine activities from afar but never partaking. That changes one fortuitous evening when they are both witness to the same high-profile murder and are forced to come together as an unlikely vigilante pair in order to save their own names.

Imaginary Authors developed this fragrance exclusively for Machus, a modern menswear retailer focused on forward concepts and clean classics in Portland’s Lower East Burnside neighborhood.

when to wear this fragrance: The refined smoke accord makes this an austere and luxurious scent for evenings on the town, whether with a special someone or alone and looking for trouble.

— Bull’s Blood


notes: patchouli, rose, costus root, tobacco, black musk, bull’s blood

synopsis: Devante Valéreo was raised in a dusty Spanish village on the Balearic Sea [in the Mediterranean]. He fondly recalled going to the bullfights with his father, an ex-picador, and credited those early experiences with inspiring his most popular novella, Bull’s Blood. The book’s lurid tale of seduction garnered obscenity charges against the author. Though the charges were rejected by the court, a ban on the sale of his works persisted for a number of years.

A fixture in Barcelona, smoking cigarillos and writing in the cafés and bars into the night, Valéreo disappeared as a fugitive in 1967 after a highly publicized bar scuffle with American sailors, one of whom later died from his injuries. “A man who has killed,” he wrote in Bull’s Blood, “is a man who knows passion.”

when to wear this fragrance: This is a powerful scent for someone who knows what they want. Bull’s Blood is for those nights when you want to take the bull by the horns.

Notes on the notes. Just from these two items, another collection of scent vocabulary (mostly tied to ingredients, although the scents are likely to be synthetic rather than natural). I assume that readers are familiar with cardamom and patchouli, but that still leaves a fair number of other notes.

— cade oil. From Wikipedia:

Juniperus oxycedrus, vernacularly called Cade, cade juniper, prickly juniper, prickly cedar, or sharp cedar, is a species of juniper, native across the Mediterranean region from Morocco and Portugal, north to southern France, east to westernmost Iran, and south to Lebanon and Israel, growing on a variety of rocky sites from sea level up to 1600 m elevation. The specific epithet oxycedrus means “sharp cedar” and this species may have been the original cedar or cedrus of the ancient Greeks.

(#3) Cade shrub in southern France (Wikipedia photo)

… Cade oil is the essential oil obtained through destructive distillation of the wood of this shrub. It is a dark, aromatic oil with a strong smoky smell which is used in some cosmetics and (traditional) skin treatment drugs, as well as incense.

— spikenard. From Wikipedia:

Spikenard, also called nard, nardin, and muskroot, is a class of aromatic amber-colored essential oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi, a flowering plant in the honeysuckle family [a now critically endangered wildflower] which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. The oil has been used over centuries as a perfume, a traditional medicine, or in religious ceremonies across a wide territory from India to Europe.

(#4) The wildflower in the mountains of Tibet (Wikipedia photo)

Historically, the name nard has also referred to essential oils derived from several other species, including some species in the closely related valerian genus and Spanish lavender, which have also been used in perfume-making and sometimes to adulterate true spikenard using more common, less valued materials.

— Clearwood™ (by Firmenich). The Perfumer Supply House site reports the

Firmenich Odor Description: Soft, clean version of Patchouli without the earthy, leathery and rubbery notes found in the natural oil.

(The Swiss company Firmenich (headquarted in Geneva) is the largest privately owned company in the field of fragrance and flavor.)

— labdanum. From Wikipedia:

Labdanum, also called ladanum, ladan or ladanon, is a sticky brown resin obtained from the shrubs Cistus ladanifer (western Mediterranean) and Cistus creticus (eastern Mediterranean), species of rockrose. It was historically used in herbal medicine and is still used in the preparation of some perfumes and vermouths.

(#5) Cistus ladanifer (Wikipedia photo)

… Labdanum is much valued in perfumery because of its resemblance to ambergris, which has been banned from use in many countries because it originates from the sperm whale, which is an endangered species. Labdanum is the main ingredient used when making the scent of amber in perfumery.

Rockroses merely resemble roses, and are taxonomically distant from them. See my 11/2/14 posting “Rockroses”.

— costus root. From Wikipedia:

Saussurea costus, commonly known as costus, kuth, or putchuk, is a species of [now critically endangered] thistle in the genus Saussurea native to India [at high elevations, as in the Himalayas]. … Essential oils extracted from the root have been used in traditional medicine and in perfumes since ancient times.

(#6) Costus root powder, for medicinal purposes

… An essential oil obtained from the roots is used in perfumery, incenses, and in hair rinses. It has a strong lingering scent that has the scent of violets at first, yet changes to a more unpleasant goat-like smell as it ages.

[Digression on the genus name Saussurea. A genus name built on a family name at which linguists’ ears prick up, since it belongs to Ferdinand de Saussure. From Wikipedia:

Ferdinand de Saussure (26 November 1857 – 22 February 1913) was a Swiss linguist, semiotician and philosopher. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both linguistics and semiotics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the founders of 20th-century linguistics and one of two major founders (together with Charles Sanders Peirce) of semiotics, or semiology, as Saussure called it.

[On his enormously influential Course in General Linguistics, see my 7/25/12 posting “Saussurean cartooning”.]

… [Laryngeal Theory:] While a student, Saussure published an important work in Indo-European philology that proposed the existence of ghosts in Proto-Indo-European called sonant coefficients. The Scandinavian scholar Hermann Möller suggested that they might actually be laryngeal consonants, leading to what is now known as the laryngeal theory. It has been argued that the problem that Saussure encountered, trying to explain how he was able to make systematic and predictive hypotheses from known linguistic data to unknown linguistic data, stimulated his development of structuralism. His predictions about the existence of primate coefficients / laryngeals and their evolution proved a success when Hittite texts were discovered and deciphered, some 50 years later.

But the genus name. De Candolle named the genus after Horace-Bénédict de Saussure (1740-1799) and Nicolas-Théodore de Saussure (1767–1845), Swiss scientists who were father and son.

Wikipedia on the father:

Horace Bénédict de Saussure (17 February 1740 – 22 January 1799) was a Genevan geologist, meteorologist, physicist, mountaineer and Alpine explorer, often called the founder of alpinism and modern meteorology, and considered to be the first person to build a successful solar oven.

… His great-grandson Ferdinand de Saussure was an important linguist and semiotician.

And on the son:

Nicolas-Théodore de Saussure (14 October 1767, in Geneva – 18 April 1845, in Geneva) was a Swiss chemist and student of plant physiology who made seminal advances in phytochemistry. He is one of the major pioneers in the study of photosynthesis.

… He was the second child of Horace-Bénédict de Saussure

… Nicolas-Théodore left no direct heirs, but he is the great uncle of Ferdinand de Saussure

The son was the plant scientist, but his very famous father got swept into the nomenclatural honors.]

— Black Musk is a synthetic musk created by The Body Shop company. From Wikipedia:

Musk is a class of aromatic substances commonly used as base notes in perfumery. They include glandular secretions from animals such as the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odors. Musk was a name originally given to a substance with a strong odor obtained from a gland of the musk deer. The substance has been used as a popular perfume fixative since ancient times and is one of the most expensive animal products in the world.

… Natural musk was used extensively in perfumery until the late 19th century when economic and ethical motives led to the adoption of synthetic musk, which is now used almost exclusively.

Further note on notes. Above, reference to musk as a base note in perfumery. From Wikipedia on the classes of perfume notes:

Notes in perfumery are descriptors of scents that can be sensed upon the application of a perfume. Notes are separated into three classes: top/head notes, middle/heart notes, and base notes; which denote groups of scents which can be sensed with respect to the time after the application of a perfume. These notes are created carefully with knowledge of the evaporation process and intended use of the perfume. The presence of one note may alter the perception of another — for instance, the presence of certain base or heart notes will alter the scent perceived when the top notes are strongest, and likewise the scent of base notes in the dry-down will often be altered depending on the smells of the heart notes.

One Response to “Notes of cade oil, spikenard, and labdanum”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Re “The Cobra and the Canary”: Asphalt. Yeah, that’d be real sexy.

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