Oakmoss, or evernia prunastri, is a type lichen. Lichens are often called mosses or tree mosses, but they should not be confused with real mosses which are small flowerless green plants, growing in low carpets on wet soil. Lichens are neither fungi nor plants. They are strange organisms, an association between a fungus and an alga, where both parties cooperate for survival and growth. Even if their nature is puzzling, lichens are not rare since they are estimated to cover 6% of the surface of the Earth.
Oakmoss grows on the bark of several species of trees, such as pines and firs, and oaks of course. This lichen is widely found in our temperate forests of the North and South hemispheres. Major producing countries are the Balkan States, Macedonia, Bulgaria, France and the USA. Oakmoss has some therapeutical properties that Native Americans already knew for treating wounds and respiratory complaints. The plant was also known by the Egyptians; baskets full of oakmoss were discovered in ancient tombs.
Oakmoss essential oil is known as rich in antiseptic properties, useful for relieving congestions in the respiratory tract, wounds, and inflammation, and also to maintain moisture and oil balance in the skin. In the past, oakmoss oil was the product of steam distillation. Today, a superior oil is obtained by solvent extraction of the plant, followed by the vacuum distillation of the concrete.
Despite its medicinal properties, oakmoss oil also contains allergenic substances such as atranol and chloroatranol. These chemicals are behind the severe restriction of oakmoss oil in perfumery, where only 0.1% of the total product is allowed. As a result of these restrictions imposed by the EU and IFRA since 2011, thousands of perfumes had to be reformulated, mostly for the worse, to the despair of perfumers and perfume aficionados like us. For 3% of the population susceptible to show an allergic reaction to atranol, the whole industry has been penalized. Today, some sources of oakmoss with a low level of atranol have been sourced and cultivated. They represent a hope for this scent to remain in our favorite juices.
The oakmoss note is an earthy, woody, sometimes creamy or even leathery base note. The oil is an excellent fixative. It is a fundamental component of masculine Chypre and Fougère fragrances. Coty was the first perfumer to bring oakmoss to its fame, with its landmark fragrance Chypre, launched in 1917. The perfume was named after the Island of Cyprus which was once renown for its incense molded in a bird shape (aka “oyselets de Chypre”) and containing labdanum resin, styrax, calamus, and oakmoss. Some other sources relate the origin of “Chypre” to the face powder produced in Cyprus and known as “cipria”, also perfumed with the same ingredients. Coty used these notes to compose his oriental juice which became the reference of a complete range of modern fragrances, all having a base of oakmoss.
Chypre and Fougère fragrances are clearly among my favorites. I always try to look for vintage perfumes in this range to truly appreciate the deep scent of oakmoss. It is harder to get the same sensation with recent creations. My picks of the week for oakmoss base perfumes are:
Chypre Mousse by Oriza L. Legrand. I just bought this one in Tokyo two weeks ago. I already tried it a couple of times in the past and each time got transported back to the alpine forests of my childhood. The scent is dark and moist, with oakmoss and mushroom notes and some comforting sweetness which I truly love. There is no other fragrance like Chypre Mousse, which formula, by the way, was composed in 1914. Look forward to my future interview of this revived fragrance house which was once more famous than the Guerlain of that bygone world.
Mitsouko by Guerlain is for sure another reference in the world of Chypres, with a robust base of oakmoss and a gourmand note of peach over a classic “guerlinade” accord. You will find the oakmoss base note on all EdT, EdP and Extract versions of this legendary juice launched in 1919. Always look for vintage editions which are still possible to find on eBay and specialized perfumery shops.
L’Eau du Soir by Sisley is a feminine chypre-floral which is a happy mixture of moss and woods with top notes of citruses. Rose in the heart and patchouli in the base complement the refined fragrance which has a very long lasting life on the skin and a moderate sillage. Very modern chypre for a dynamic and elegant woman.
Tribal from Arte Profumi in Rome was one of my discovery of summer 2016. Tribal brings us back to Nature, to the world of spirits and ancestors. The earthy patchouli stands proudly over a base of oak moss and sweet tonka beans. Tribal is a dark, unisex, mysterious fragrance packed in a beautiful aborigine art decorated bottle and box. A superb gift to wear on a wild evening.
Walking in the forest, on a cold and sunny winter afternoon is a pleasure of life. The yellowish light of the Sun pierces through the sparse foliage, revealing the wrinkles of the bark and magnifying the dear antlers of the oakmoss. A moist humus and fermenting fallen leaves emit a bitter scent that oakmoss sweetens wonderfully. What a magic visual and fragrant moment nothing else can equal at this season.
I wish you all a great fragrant week!