What does Singapore smell of?

VIVIENNE KHOO
May 31, 2010
*Special to asia!

Perfumers around the world laud China's osmanthus but why has no one captured the scent of Singapore's tembusu?

As one anonymous perfume insider I chatted with puts it, "I've never heard of angsana or tembusu used in perfumes. In fact, I don't think the angsana has a scent."

My brothers-in-scent, Caleb Doi and Kenneth Chua from The Naturalist at The Esplanade in Singapore say that producing an absolute, or a perfume note is very much dependent on what research has been done on the particular plant. It could be that the flower does not lend itself to perfume extraction, that the essential oil turns rancid rapidly or that perfumers have simply not come across the flower. Once a flower's scent is identified as viable for commercial use, there is a rigorous process.

According to blog Perfume Shrine, "Flowers are placed on racks in a sealed container. A liquid solvent, usually hexane, is circulated over the flowers to dissolve the essential oils. This produces a solid waxy paste called a “concrete”. The concrete is then repeatedly treated with pure alcohol (ethanol) which dissolves the wax and yields the highly aromatic liquid known as an absolute."

Singaporean Martin Koh, a nose at Firmenich who is based in London says, "To make an absolute commercially viable, there have to be plantations of trees because a large amount of raw material is needed to produce a very tiny amount of absolute. In a quality perfume, naturals form maybe at most 20 to 30% of a perfume. Another 30 to 40% will be nature identicals (found in nature but produced synthetically). The rest would be specialised perfume molecules."

 

Sharizah Zainal, part owner of traditional perfumers Aljunied Brothers in Arab Street, has not heard of the tembusu tree and is unfamiliar with its perfume.

Sharizah Zainal, part owner of traditional perfumers Aljunied Brothers in Arab Street, has not heard of the tembusu tree and is unfamiliar with its perfume.

 

China is benefitting greatly from the rise and rise of the osmanthus. In recent years, Hermes, The Different Company, Gucci and Serge Lutens have produced perfumes which depend largely on an osmanthus topnote.

Why can't Singapore produce a local perfume with either tembusu or angsana topnotes?

Dadi Balsara who dabbled in producing Singapore scents never quite developed a perfume that called to me, or reminded me of home. He has since found bottling Himalayan water and selling it to the US far more profitable.

Celebrated perfume blogger Elena Vosnaki of the Perfume Shrine mentions tembusu in her post about Singapore.

Will no local noses champion our local flowers? Will we one day have an Eau de Tembusu?

 

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vivienne khooOnce a lifestyle editor at a website, a newspaper journalist and a food editor, Vivienne Khoo writes about luxury hotels, food and travel whenever she is not sub-editing. The perfume industry and essential oils are her pet topics at the moment.

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