Call it the pepper effect. The inclusion of peppery notes emerged as a full-blown trend by the late nineties due to the availability of a few new unique ingredients. I remember working on a tuberose fine fragrance in those days; we used pink pepper for what seemed like the first time, it was groundbreaking. The perfumer dosed it as a disruptor, a top note to cut through the intoxicating headiness of the tuberose while giving the fragrance lift and movement. Since then, of course, these notes are ubiquitous in perfumery—in nearly all applications.
First, a simple primer on pepper ingredients
Traditionally processed as essential oils, supercritical fluid extraction (commonly known as CO2 extraction) now allows the faceted, natural beauty of pepper ingredients to shine while minimizing what is, in some cases, the negative or harsher aspects of pepper.
Pepper comes in many varieties. Pink pepper, also called pink peppercorn or red berries, has a spicy, aromatic, fruity, and lemony-fresh profile. Black pepper is commonly processed as an essential oil bursting with spicy-hot, peppery, woody, slightly sweet warmth, yet CO2 extraction can remove the perceived irritating notes and preserve the refreshing aspects on top. The pepper that isn’t technically related to black pepper but rather to a citrus botanical family is the Sichuan Pepper. Properly named Pepper Sichuan, it has a zesty, bergamot / mandarin, metallic, petitgrain, and, of course, spicy impression. Finally, white pepper is spicy, fresh, and has a faint animalic character, which is surprising for a pepper ingredient.
Pepper-forward scents of 2017
The most striking use of pepper’s piquancy is evident in Creed’s long-awaited 2017 launch, Viking. Pink pepper is overdosed in both the top and middle note to impart a fiery effect as it blends with Bulgarian Rose, peppermint and a base of dark woods. The overall signature is bold, spicy, and confident.
Pepper Sichuan, or Timur, is the star of Tom Ford’s Noir Anthracite. Here, the citrusy-woody pepper top note gives the scent an electricity and edginess that’s sexy and almost disturbing, but not quite. I keep going back to it, there’s an addictive quality to Noir Anthracite.
While Malin&Goetz launched Cannabis perfume oil in 2014, an EDP version was launched in 2017, featuring black pepper in the top note to balance what the company aptly names the ‘modern apothecary’ spicy herbs in the middle note. Spice on spice—with soft magnolia, bright bergamot, warm woods and a hint of, you guessed it—smoke.
White pepper provides a cooling, spicy freshness in EX NIHILO Citizen X. Black pepper complements the fruitiness of quince and rhubarb to round out the creamy-woody base of L’Homme Lacoste. Promise by Dominique Ropion Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle combines rose, pink peppercorn, and cypriol for spice and intensity from top to base; and Tom Ford uses pink peppercorn with briny, salty ocean aspects in his Private Blend Oud Minérale. It’s Magic!
The perfumer’s palette of pepper ingredients is varied and vast. These ingredients have added texture, disruption, heat, freshness, and even cooling aspects to fragrances over the years. 2017 saw a resurgence of this trend in countless fine fragrance launches, and I can hardly wait to smell what perfumers have in store for us in 2018.
Lisa Wilson, owner of fragrance advisory firm Scent&Strategy, develops fragrances for all categories. Her 25+ years of experience include advertising, consumer products marketing, multi-platform strategic fragrance development, and natural fragrances. Her work has won numerous industry awards.