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The Surprising Appeal of the Mint Scent

By Renée Batchelor

 
Anne Pratt; Edwart Step
 

There are several perfumery ingredients that are often the main focus of scents, from flowers like the rose and jasmine, to gourmand notes like vanilla, to deeper ingredients like woods and patchouli. But it’s not often you’d find mint, as aromatic as it is‚ at the centre of a scent. Done wrongly, it can evoke images of toothpastes and bathroom fresheners, but in the hands of elegant perfume house Diptyque, one would expect nothing but an exquisite and utterly wearable creation. “Diptyque is a Parisian brand providing an art of living through the sense," says Fabienne Mauny, Diptyque’s managing director. "We offer beautiful fragrances for the home as well as personal fragrances, and beautiful objects. Our fragrances are singular, with the best ingredients and inspired development,” she says. Myriam Badault, Diptyque’s director of product design and marketing says, “Each time we develop something, it is to try and express a point of view and be innovative.” In fact, the brand, which was started in 1961 by three friends, painter Desmond Knox-Leet, set designer Yves Coueslant, and interior designer Christiane Gautrot, never made scents that were specifically gendered. “When the founders launched their first eau de toilette in 1968, they created a scent named L’Eau because they didn’t want to categorise it. It was a perfume. That’s it. They didn’t want to give a gender to their scents. They did not want to create unisex scents, but instead to give people the freedom to choose whatever they wanted to wear. A woman could walk out with a vetiver scent and a man could wear a tuberose scent. It was a vision of perfumery that was very innovative,” says Badault. It’s no surprise that over the years the brand gained high-profile fans that included Jane Birkin, the late Karl Lagerfeld and Philippe Starck. 

The idea for its newest scent, Eau de Minthé, was first conceived by Badault, when a chance encounter with a mysterious stranger in a lift who’d left behind a whiff of something that she then sought to capture in a scent. “There was a perfume left behind in the elevator by someone when I entered, and the scent made me go ‘wow’. It was something interesting and I was trying to analyse what I was smelling. And I asked perfumer Fabrice [Pellegrin], what about doing a warm mint? I was imagining something that was a contrast between the freshness and cleanness of the mint, and something much more enveloping, elegant and a bit traditional. And this was the beginning of the story,” says Badault. “When we launch a perfume, we try to introduce something new in the range. We wanted to do something in the fougère family — something we don’t have yet — in our own way. Using mint in a fougère was something we thought was new and interesting,” says Mauny. 

DiptyqueThe new Eau de Minthé celebrates the mint note but also contains geranium leaf, patchouli and a synthetic ingredient called rose oxide. Opposite: A vintage drawing of the plants of Great Britain featuring horsemint, round leaved mint and spearmint.
The new Eau de Minthé celebrates the mint note but also contains geranium leaf, patchouli and a synthetic ingredient called rose oxide. Opposite: A vintage drawing of the plants of Great Britain featuring horsemint, round leaved mint and spearmint.

Later, upon research, the Diptyque team discovered Minthe, a water nymph, who in Greek mythology, had a love affair with Hades, and was subsequently turned into a mint plant by Hades in order to save her from the fury of Queen Persephone, his wife.

This narrative tied in with a bigger story and inspiration behind the scent, and also in keeping with Diptyque’s philosophy of creating concrete ideas for each new fragrance. “The story around a fragrance has to be as beautiful as possible,” says Mauny, who notes that the juice, illustration and the idea around a scent has to be developed and created in parallel. “Our scents always start from something real. It can be a sensation, a story, or an ingredient. But it is something that is easy to share and understand. It is not conceptual at all,” says Badault. 

Badault then worked with noted perfumer Pellegrin who has created several other Diptyque scents including the popular Do Son. Pellegrin himself enjoys working with the brand because of its commitment to quality and creativity. “The main difference of working with Diptyque is that there is a lot of freedom in the creative process and no consumer tests, and there is a lot of respect for the creation. Diptyque always looks for the best, natural ingredients in the formula.” Pellegrin acknowledges that the mint was not a typical ingredient that he has dealt with, so he took his time testing the sillage of different kinds of mint. “At the beginning we chose two qualities of mint, a fresh, and almost frozen white mint, and another mint that was very sweet. My idea was to reinvent a fougère accord. We did a lot of trials to find the right balance, and Eau de Minthé was made with three main ingredients, dew of mint, geranium leaves and patchouli,” says Pellegrin. 

DiptyqueFabrice Pellegrin, the perfumer behind Diptyque’s Eau de Minthé.
Fabrice Pellegrin, the perfumer behind Diptyque’s Eau de Minthé.

Even then, it took a push in the right direction from Pellegrin’s 22-year-old son, who is also studying perfumery, to nail the right combination. “During the process of creation, I wore the different samples I was developing in order to get a sense of the strength of the product, the trail and how people interacted with me. I had a lot of good comments, but one day my son, who is learning perfumery, told me it was good, but there was something weird in the formula,” says Pellegrin, who went on to simplify the mint blend by keeping to just one type of mint — the white mint, which was fresh and spicier than the others. 

However, the process of developing a scent like Eau de Minthé is one that never truly ends. “Perfume is like a piece of art. In a way, it is never finished. We always spend time to create at a reasonable pace and a good manner, and we stop only when the both of us [Badault and Pellegrin] agree,” he says. Badault shared that she had been encouraged to stop at a certain point, and despite having given the green light to what was supposedly the final blend then, she later changed her mind and told Pellegrin to push the scent even further as it was too conservative. And he did. “What made the signature of this scent was the olfactive accident, which is not an accident but is done on purpose. For Eau de Minthé, the olfactive accident is a synthetic ingredient, rose oxide, that allowed me to make the link between the mint leaf and geranium leaf,” says Pellegrin. The result is a wonderfully distinctive, yet modern fragrance that captures everything the brand set out to achieve, and more. 

Eau de Minthé is available at the Diptyque store at Ngee Ann City, #B1-33A.