Dennie Quill, Columnist
This one is for the ladies. I learnt a little while back that Clive Christian's X is currently the most expensive perfume in the world. Although many people may never be able to spray on a luxury perfume like X, they continue to enjoy other fragrances. In fact, more than 500 new scents were launched in 2005, many by celebrities, in an industry that continues to gross billions.
I was curious to know what the perfumer put in this little bottle, with its crown-shaped stopper, that made it so special to be priced at more than US$800 for a 1.7oz vial. Among the ingredients in X are jasmine, cardamom, lemon, bergamot and other citrus fruits that have been blended to create a truly niche fragrance.
The art of making perfumes goes way back to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The history of civilisation is delicately bound up with the perfume industry. Perfume had great hygienic value, as it acted as a deodorant to mask the offensive odours of people who did not wash themselves regularly back then. The first recorded chemist was a woman named Tappidi, who way back created perfumes by harvesting flowers and fruits and crushing and distilling them.
Improved personal 'scents'
Hygiene has improved in the 21st century, yet men and women still like to splash on a nice scent. Those who can afford a life of decadence can even have their own exclusive fragrance. Guerlain, in France, is one company that offers this service, with their fragrance director working with customers to produce their own unique fragrance. This takes between six months and a year.
On a recent visit to the upscale Neiman Marcus store in the United States, reporter that I am, I decided to find out more about this luxurious item X. As you may know, perfumes are described in musical terms as having three sets of notes - top, middle and base notes. Like an orchestra, the notes are blended to produce harmony.
After the obligatory squirts on paper, the salesman went on to explain that one of the rare and unique ingredients in this perfume is the oil of vetiver, extracted from the plant grown in Haiti. He said when the earthquake struck in 2010, perfumers were in consternation because their supply had been disrupted. Even though there are about 400 essential oils commonly used in the perfume industry, there are always very special ones.
The rhizome-like roots of the vetiver are washed, dried and distilled to yield this precious oil, which is similar to citronella, and is one of the greatest fixatives in X. It is also used in making soaps and medicines. The leaves are used to make mats, fans and baskets.
Jamaica's loss, haiti's gain
Well, I was simply blown away by this piece of information. Why did I not know of this? All the world ever sees of Haiti is dire poverty and impoverishment. In fact, Haiti has become the poster country for environmental degradation, yet here is Haiti supplying one of the most vital ingredients for the world of haute couture.
But wait, it gets better. My research revealed that vetiver comes from the roots and rhizomes of the khus khus plant, scientifically known as Vetiveria Zizioides, a native of Bengal and India but widely grown in the West Indies. Then it occurred to me that at one time Jamaica did have an indigenous perfume industry using, guess what, khus khus!
So what happened? Why have we not advanced in this industry when we have a vital ingredient growing wild all over the place? A few bottles of perfumes will not solve Jamaica's enormous problems, but I imagine that if we were serious about production, there is so much that we could do, even with the lowly khus khus.
Dennie Quill is a veteran journalist. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.