If ever a land were a natural extension of the perfume organthe perfumer’s library of scentsMadagascar is it. The red island offers a vast palette of fragrant delights to inspire the olfactory composer.
Madagascar is known for the earthy scent produced when tropical rain hits the warm soil; for that of masikita, the delicious marinated zebu kebabs; and for that of its melancholy. A lesser-known fact is that it harbors a trove of olfactory opulence. Just over a ten-hour flight from mainland France, equidistant between Africa and Asia, this giant island with its turbulent history is a continent in itself. Driving just a few hours allows you to see every type of landscape and nearly all climates, from the lush forests in the north to the arid, dusty scrubland of Androy.
This is surely why no other country in the world offers the perfume indus-try such a wide variety of quality essences: ylang-ylang, green vanilla and Bourbon vanilla, vetiver, blue ginger, geranium, clove (both leaf and bud), pink and black peppercorn, marigold and lemonnothing but the finest. Kenzo paid tribute to this magnificent terroir with a fragrance called 5:40 PM in Madagascar.
The perfume plants there are so renowned that any nose traveling through the country, even as a tourist, will start to twitch. Multinational companies such as Givaudan, Symrise, Robertet, Firmenich and IFF producing fragrances for luxury brands have been exploring the island for a long time. “Take any perfume and you’ll inevitably find some ingredient in it that comes from this patchwork landscape,” explains Dominique Roques, head of sourcing for Firmenich. Vanilla (some 2,000 tons of pods per year, 80 percent of global production) is grown in the northeastern regions, and used in Cierge de Lune by Aedes de Venustas, Luna by Nina Ricci and YSL’s Black Opium line. Ylang-ylang, reminiscent of travel and exotic lands, is grown on Mont Passot on the island of Nosy Be, in the far north, while pink peppercorn, which comes from the Schinus molle tree, is used in Lalique’s sweet- peppery perfume L’Insoumis.
But the island may not have revealed all of its secrets yet. Last December, in the pristine Makay mountain range, made up of hundreds of intricate canyons, independent sourcer Stéphane Piquart happened upon Canarium madagascariensis, a variety of elemi, and masonjoany, which he describes as “Madagascar sandalwood,” with its unsettling aquatic and iridescent notes. He also found a beautiful tricolor plant with heady jasmine notes, which the Malagasy prettily call “yesterday, today and tomorrow,” and which perhaps one day will be used in a great luxury fragrance.