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Synthetic Raw Materials – Part 2: Post-World War II

The interwar period (1918-1939) saw significant advancements in analytical chemistry, directly impacting the fragrance industry. Throughout this time, innovative synthesis methods were developed, existing ones refined, and new technologies invented. The 1920s and 1930s became a golden era for the discovery of macrocyclic musks, as well as for techniques to perfect the isolation of naturally occurring compounds and increase the yield of oil extraction. American and Japanese companies and chemists entered the field, contributing to these achievements.

 

See also: Synthetic Raw Materials – Part 1: Pre-World War I

 

In the course of World War II (1939-1945), research on luxury products like perfumes slowed. Chemists shifted their focus to locating and synthesizing specific molecules with a strong odorant capability, such as Ambrox (found in ambergris) and Hedione (found in jasmine). They also dedicated themselves to the discovery of aroma molecules not found in nature, like Calone and Galaxolide. By the late 1960s, the fragrance industry – both functional (grooming and household) and fine – was thriving as never before, benefiting from these synthetic “hits”, which are the focus of this article.

 

Drakkarnoir

AMBROX (1949)

 

Ambrox was first developed in 1949 by Firmenich, which had identified ambroxide, one of the key components of ambergris, in the late 1940s. The company successfully synthesized ambroxide from sclareol, a compound found in clary sage, and named it Ambrox. It has a rich, warm, sweet, mineral, and oceanic aroma with woody, musky, leathery, and animalic nuances, providing smoothness, complexity, and longevity to fragrances. Ambrox revolutionized perfumery by offering a sustainable and consistent alternative to the rare and ultra-expensive natural ambergris. A more refined and potent version, Ambroxan, was subsequently registered by Henkel in the 1970s and was initially used in Guy Laroche’s Drakkar Noir (1982). Amounts of over 10% can be found in modern fragrances such as Creed’s Aventus (2010), Dior’s Sauvage (2015), and Maison Francis Kurkdjian’s Baccarat Rouge 540 (2016). Escentric Molecules’ Molecule 02 (2008) is made entirely of Ambrox.

 

Pacorabanneph

DIHYDROMYRCENOL (1956)

 

Dihydromyrcenol, synthesized in 1956 by Firmenich, imparts a cool metallic note reminiscent of lime, lavender, and green accents to fragrances. Its importance lies in providing a clean, tonic, and long-lasting freshness that especially enhances fougères and aquatic compositions. Paco Rabanne pour Homme (1973) pioneered its use with 4% of the formulation, followed by Guy Laroche’s Drakkar Noir (1982) with 8%, starting the trend of a new generation of fougères, which culminated in an overdose of 20% in Davidoff’s Cool Water (1988), combined with Calone. One of the least expensive ingredients in perfumery, Dihydromyrcenol is predominantly applied to hygienic products such as deodorants and soaps, and it has been increasingly losing its appeal in fine fragrances.

 

Eausauvage

HEDIONE (1960)

 

Methyl Dihydrojasmonate, popularly known as Hedione (from the Greek word for pleasant), is a compound found in jasmine, synthesized by Firmenich in 1960. It has a fresh, airy, and transparent floral scent with lemony undertones, enhancing the radiance and diffusion of not only florals but any fragrance. Hedione was first introduced in Dior’s Eau Sauvage (1966), which contains 3% of the molecule. Many consider it the most important discovery of the 20th century in perfumery. Hedione HC (Hedione High Cis) is a more diffusive variant, tea-like and less floral. Although effective at concentrations as low as 1% of the formula composition, Hedione is often overdosed with a 30-35% dilution, as in CK One (1994) and Acqua di Giò (1996), in the latter case combined with a significant dose of Calone.

 

Whitemusk

GALAXOLIDE (1962)

 

Invented by IFF in 1962, Galaxolide is a synthetic musk with powdery, floral, and berry undertones. It was quickly adopted by the American functional fragrance industry due to its water resistance, extreme tenacity, strong diffusion, and ability to impart a clean, velvety skin feel. As a result, it began to be used in shampoos, detergents, and fabric softeners. Due to its popularity and relatively low cost, Galaxolide is one of the most used musks, frequently overdosed in perfumes such as Amouage’s Jubilation XXV (2008) and Kiehl’s Original Musk (2004), making up about 40% and 90% of the formulations, respectively. Although Lancôme’s Trésor (1990) is often regarded as Galaxolide’s greatest icon, with a 20% dilution, The Body Shop’s White Musk (1981) represents its entry into perfumery.

 

Angel

ETHYL MALTOL (1963)

 

Discovered in the food industry in 1963, Ethyl Maltol took nearly three decades to be embraced by the fine fragrance industry. This synthetic compound has a distinct candy-like aroma characterized by the scent of caramel, cotton candy, and red berries nuances. Ethyl Maltol is often combined with patchouli, a bitter and earthy note, to minimize its intense sweetness and to gain depth, richness, and complexity. It debuted in perfumery with trace amounts in L’Artisan Parfumeur’s Vanilia (1978) and was overdosed in Mugler’s Angel (1992), whose commercial success led to the creation of the gourmand genre. This trend was followed by countless fragrances, such as its masculine counterpart A*Men (1996), Miss Dior Chérie (2005), Prada’s Candy (2011), and Lancôme’s La Vie Est Belle (2015).

 

Newwest

CALONE (1966)

 

Renowned for its very fresh, ozonic, fruity scent evocative of sea breeze and melon, Calone was synthesized by Pfizer researchers in 1966 while investigating benzodiazepines. Its breakthrough in perfumery came in the 1990s, when it ended up creating a new fragrance genre, the aquatics, offering a unique feel. Calone has the ability to evoke the olfactory illusion of a vacation by the beach. It was first prominently used in Aramis’ New West for Her (1990), Calvin Klein’s Escape (1991), Kenzo pour Homme (1991), L’Eau d’Issey (1992), Escape for Men (1993), L’Eau d’Issey pour Homme (1994), and Giorgio Armani’s Acqua di Giò (1996).

 

Nahéma

DAMASCONES (1968)

 

Discovered by Firmenich’s researcher Édouard Demole in 1968, isolated from Bulgarian rose oil, Damascones are known for their strong, fruity floral scent profile, reminiscent of apple and ripe fruits such as peach, plum, and apricot, slightly spicy. Alpha-damascone is more rosy, with a wine-like undertone, while Beta-damascone showcases dried fruit and tobacco accents. Iconic fragrances that carry generous amounts of Damascones include Guerlain’s Nahéma (1979), Yves Saint Laurent’s Paris (1983), and Dior’s Poison (1985).

 

Loulou

CASHMERAN (1969)

 

Cashmeran, also known as “cashmere wood”, gets its name from its warm, smooth, and musky scent profile, evocative of the velvety and comforting qualities of cashmere wool. Synthesized by IFF in 1969, this musk adds depth and smoothness to any composition but is particularly famous for its ability to expand florals and leave a sensual balsamic, spicy trace. Insoluble in water, Cashmeran is highly valued in the functional fragrance industry. First appearing in Cacharel’s LouLou (1987), noticeable amounts can be identified in Kenzo’s Jungle L’Éléphant (1996), Narciso Rodriguez’s line (starting in 2003), and Mugler’s Alien (2005), and overdosed in Frédéric Malle’s Dans Tes Bras (2008).

 

Halston

ISO E SUPER (1973)

 

Iso E Super, patented by IFF in 1973, is known for its delicate, velvety, and woody scent with hints of cedarwood and amber. Its debut in Halston (1975) demonstrated its importance not only as a fixative but also in increasing sillage, seamlessly enhancing other notes, notably flowers, to create complex and long-lasting compositions. Iso E Super gained prominence with Dior’s Fahrenheit (1988), exceeding a 20% concentration, followed by Serge Lutens’ Feminité du Bois (1992), Abercrombie & Fitch’s Fierce (2002), Terre d’Hermès (2006), and Le Labo’s Santal 33 (2011), all exceeding 40% at the time of their launch. Escentric Molecules’ Molecule 01 (2006) is made entirely of Iso E Super. This aroma chemical is present in the vast majority of contemporary fragrances.

 

See also: Synthetic Raw Materials – Part 1: Pre-World War I

 

(text by Daniel Barros)

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DANIEL BARROS

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DANIEL BARROS is Brazilian, based in São Paulo, and the author of  ‘1001 Perfumes: The Guide’. He has been collaborating with ScentXplore since 2021, contributing to content production and management, as well as organizing the annual ScentXplore People’s Choice Niche Fragrance Awards. In addition to his editorial responsibilities, Daniel is actively involved in mentoring niche brands and fragrance enthusiasts all over the world. Click here to send him a private message or report an error. Follow Daniel on Instagram @danielbarros_1001perfumes.

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