The Fougère: Why Use Lavender?

Have you ever wondered why lavender oil is necessary to make a fougère? Why linalool is always listed, but sometimes coumarin isn't? Let's take a very quick look at a couple of the earliest fougères, and we'll find our answer in just two paragraphs, followed by two short quotes.

These examples of early traditional fougères are also widely considered to be lavender soliflores: Atkinsons English Lavender from 1910, and Yardley's English Lavender from 1913. Aside from the fact that it smells good, one might wonder why these brands would resort to using high concentrations of lavender oil, especially in light of the fact that lavender was a common hospital disinfectant/deodorizer, and not exactly associated with sensual personal fragrance at the turn of the century. The answer lies in the complexity of the bud's oil, a material much like an olfactory prism, refracting essences of mint, camphor, and sweet hay, even to the extent of becoming vanillic. This unique material begs to be tampered with, and so perfumers began distorting the proportions of the natural essence by gussying up the herbal-camphor aspects (using things like geranium and bergamot), while also attending to the underlying ambery sweetness (adding more coumarin).

A common rookie mistake is to smell a lavender fragrance and call it a "lavender fragrance," without understanding what lavender is, or understanding its toxicology. When you appreciate the complexity and versatility of lavender, a true understanding of fougères is inevitable. Any fragrance that incorporates a noticeable lavender top note that permeates the drydown, or acts as a lavender soliflore, cannot avoid being a fougère, because lavender oil naturally contains significant amounts of coumarin. Where there is one element, there is the other. This is why fougères always use lavender - the mint is itself a fougère, complete with its own naturally-occuring camphoraceous and coumarinic chemistry. According to Burfield in the Leffingwell's January 2008 publication of Coumarin: The Real Story:

"Coumarin occurs widely in natural products, generally being liberated from corresponding glycoside (melilotoside) on drying coumarin-containing herb material . . . Lavender Absolute to 8% coumarin; Lavandin [Spike Lavender] to 5% coumarin."

This was expounded upon by Barceloux in the 2008 edition of Medical Toxicology of Natural Substances: Foods, Fungi, Medicinal Herbs, Plants, and Venomous Animals:

"Lavender contains a variety of coumarin compounds, and theoretically these compounds could increase the effect of anticoagulants, but the clinical significance of this potential interaction remains unclear."

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