Ylang-a-long: A round-up of Ylang Ylang perfumes

Single-note explorations can be a dangerous thing. Sometimes you realize you love almost everything about a note, making you hungry for even minute variations on the theme (talk to my wallet about my thing for opoponax). But sometimes, you can conduct a year-long exploration into a note only to discover that you don’t like it that much at all.

That’s me and ylang.

Let me be clear. I do appreciate ylang (in specific forms, which I’ll get to later), but I have found that unless perfumers are careful, it can age a composition back to the 1980s quicker than a flock of seagulls combover.

There is an interesting feature on Basenotes where you can click on a note in the scent pyramid of any fragrance, and it takes you to a chart of its use in perfume compositions over time. The entry for ylang (below) shows ylang trending hard in the ten-year period between 1976 and 1989. Since this happens to roughly coincide with the time period where I was being squished between the capacious bosoms of women doused in too much perfume in our airless church or dying of boredom on the periphery of my parents’ social life, ylang often reminds me of the (dated, confining) social norms of what was expected of a woman back then.


From what I could see, my Amarige-wearing, golf-club going, church-attending, conventionally-feminine mother only truly became herself when my father left her stranded with four young pre-teens and all the debt involved in keeping the golf club lifestyle afloat. Dropping the heady white-and-yellow floral bombs and switching to the casual wateriness of L’Eau d’Issey (Issey Miyake) marked stage one of her metamorphosis. Is it any wonder then, that I find the smell of those 1980s, early 1990s ylang florientals slightly triggering?

ylangylang.jpg At least writing this article has helped me understand why I feel the way I do about certain perfumes. Chanel No. 5 eau de parfum, for example, created in 1986, is my least preferred variation of No. 5 precisely because of the plasticky 1980s feel created by the overdose of ylang. I could not bear Number One (Parfums de Nicolaï), released in 1989, because though the leafy green bitterness at the beginning drew me in with its chypric eloquence, I found the ylang-dominated drydown to be a boo-hiss switcheroo to ‘ladies who lunch’ and Nights in White Satin. Samsara (Guerlain), released in 1989, is something I enjoy on occasion, but then again, more for its sandalwood than its florals – the hairspray ylang and plasticky jasmine reveal it to be a uniquely 1980s creation, even if the version I’m smelling was produced in 2019. And though Amarige (Givenchy) was launched in 1991, because my mother and all her friends wore it (and way too much of it), it feels like a continuation of a theme. For me, ylang perfumes from this era are more social weaponry than perfume.

Having been so negative so soon, let me re-right the balance now by saying that ylang can be quite versatile and used to create an impressive range of different effects – as long as the perfumer is careful to steer away from that big, 1980s floriental thing. (Again, you might like that. I just don’t).

Some indie perfumers, like Andy Tauer, Laurie Erickson, and Mandy Aftel, for example, use ylang to underscore a particular characteristic of the scent’s character without getting bogged down by its heady maturity. Other perfumes extract the more desirable (to me anyway) characteristics of banana custard or creaminess from the ylang, and these are perfumes I could happily wear every day. And then there is Songes (Annick Goutal), the ylang perfume that redeems all other ylang perfumes. Anyway, at some point in my exploration, once I had identified what kind of ylang I definitely did not want, it became easier to identify the types of ylang I did.

Here is a cross-section of ylang ‘type’ categories that I was able to identify, plus some examples.

The Ylang Bellwether: Ylang Essential Oil

Since fragrances grouped under the Ylang Soliflores category below all pitch their tent in the shadow of ylang essential oil, it is worth talking about what this actually smells like.

First, as Jennifer Aniston says in the old L’Oréal ads, here comes the science bit— concentrate! There are five grades of ylang produced through fractional distillation of Cananga odorata var. Genuina, namely Ylang Ylang Extra, the first distillate collected one-two hours after distillation has begun, followed by First, Second, and Third ylang, each of them portions of the distillate collected at staggered time intervals. The fifth and final grade is called Complete, which is a blend of Extra with the first and second grades.

I have purchased multiple ylang essential oils from different producers, and I can tell you is that the variation between them is not all that dramatic. Ylang Ylang Extra smells a bit more creosote-y than the other grades, but that’s about it. Furthermore, a first ylang distillate from one producer can smell completely different from a first ylang distillate from another. There seems to be about as much standardization in the ylang distilling business as there is in the pure oud one, i.e., not much at all.

Anyway, all the layman really need to know is that, in isolation, ylang essential oil smells sweet, tarry, fruity-sour, pungent, coarse, creamy, somewhat woody, and bright. Though many (correctly) define the ylang’s fruitiness as banana-like, be aware that it is more the gaseousness of a banana stem left to implode on itself in a brown paper bag than the banana custard I know we are all fantasizing about. The fruitiness is higher-pitched, in other words, than the vanilla-ish route often taken in fragrances.

Ylang is often called the poor man’s jasmine, and indeed, the two florals have quite a bit in common, most notably the grapey benzene honk of benzyl acetate, a natural compound found in both. Under certain conditions (or treatments), jasmine and ylang exhibit a tarry, gasoline-like smokiness. This thick, almost creosote-like quality in ylang has been used very cleverly by Thierry Wasser, for example, to give the 2017-era Mitsouko (Guerlain) a distinct Cuir de Russie effect in its opening moments, and by Jacques Polge to give the 2016 eau de parfum editions of both Chanel Cuir de Russie and Bois des Iles their leathery-powdery thickness – a new body, so to speak, to replace the aldehydic sparkle missing from their topnotes and their previously translucent mien.

Ylang has an assertively resinous edge to it. This catch-in-your-throat resinousness is associated with the naturally-occurring compound benzyl benzoate, which features strongly in both ylang and benzoin, a powdery, vanillic resinoid. Ylang can also be quite minty and camphoraceous, another thing it has in common with benzoin.

Ylang can also smell quite like (damp) cocoa or dark chocolate. Perhaps the vegetal, tuber-like aspect of ylang is just a split hair away from the velvety, truffle-like texture of cocoa? What is certainly true is that Tom Ford was a first mover in capitalizing on the simpatico nature of this pairing – his entire Black Orchid series is designed around it. Mind you, as you will see in this article, Guerlain and Bogue Profumo also dip their toes in that particular water.

Another minor facet of ylang worth noting is its creamy medicinal twang, which is especially evident when combined with rose, aldehydes, and jasmine. Indeed, it is this emergent property that gives both Chanel No. 5 and Chanel No. 22 their famous ‘cold cream’ effect. And actually, though I don’t find ylang to be especially powdery, it does lend itself well to the recreation of that class cosmetics accord in perfumery – not lipstick in particular, but cream foundation, face powder, and luxurious body creams.

Ylang Soliflores

Ylang in Gold (M. Micallef)

Ylang in Gold is often cited as a ylang soliflore but, in truth, given that its pretty fruit custard aroma has been carefully sifted to remove the ‘uglier’ bits of ylang essential oil, it is more accurate to call it a rose-tinted glasses version. That said, Ylang in Gold’s slight lack of fidelity to the essential oil is probably the reason why I find myself so attracted to it.

What does it smell like? A thick, cinnamon-flecked Bird’s Custard poured over slices of greenish banana, coconut (hairy husk attached) and ripe yellow peaches in a crystal trifle bowl. It might be heavy were it not for the lift provided by a cream soda-like fizz woven into the fabric and a cottony musk in the basenotes.

Ylang in Gold is slightly tropical, but not in a cheap suntan and flipflops kind of way. In fact, it is more fruity-floral gourmand than beachy, and treads the same syrupy peaches and cream track I like so much in Burberry Woman (Burberry) and Casmir (Chopard), albeit with - and I hang my head in shame saying something like this - the kind of silky mouthfeel that speaks to a higher budget. The extenuated woody vanilla drydown is to die for. I don’t usually go for such obviously pretty, feminine fragrances but I am happy for this to be the exception.

Ylang Ylang Nosy Be (Perris Monte Carlo)

Ylang Ylang Nosy Be (named for the island from which the ylang oil used in the perfume was sourced) is true to the scent of ylang essential oil in that it is pungently fruity-sour, creamy, and coarse-yellow in smell, with the throaty pitch of a millefleurs honey.

Like many of the Perris Monte Carlo scents, including Absolue d’Osmanthe, the floral notes eventually get bedded down in an ‘orangey’ ambery-resinous drydown that gives it the feel of an old-school floriental. I sold my bottle because it didn’t sit right with me to own something that smelled so much like uncut ylang essential oil in the first act only to trail off into a pleasant but pedestrian ambery-balsamic accord in the second. But if it is straight ylang you want, Ylang Ylang Nosy Be gives it to you in spades.

Minty, Camphoraceous Ylang

013 (Hyde & Alchemy)

Wintergreen toothpaste! Germolene! Ylang’s medicinal, camphoraceous aspect is not often emphasized in perfumery, but here, the perfumers seem to have rolled the dice and won. The opening of No. 013 delivers the same Listerine slap to the face as Serge Lutens’ Tubéreuse Criminelle. Indeed, in Britain, Listerine is known as TCP, which happens to have the same initials as Tubéreuse Criminelle Parfum. Coincidence? I think not.

The tiger balm mintiness of the ylang softens but never dissipates completely. It freshens up the earthy, almost metallic breath of a lei of mixed tropical flowers – jasmine, orchid, gardenia, as well as ylang. This combination of creamy and medicinal notes means that the fragrance has a sultry tropical feel, but also the nipped-in waist of proper corsetry. Clods of earthy patchouli in the drydown provide a humid soil pillow for the florals in much the same fashion as Manoumalia (Les Nez).

No. 013 is a balmy tropical floral that feeds you all the earthier, leafier parts of the island experience, and very little of the sugar or cream that normally accompanies it. It might be just the thing to convert a self-avowed tropical floral hater. A hint of dark cocoa and amber in the tail is further inducement, should you need it.

Solano (Le Couvent Maison de Parfum)

Ylang presented so cleverly that you instantly recognize it as a true representation of the flower, yet not as something even definably floral. In the topnotes, a minty ylang bellows its bright yellow tune against the dun background of crushed hazelnuts, something briefly rummy, and the half-doughy, half-powdery cherry-almond duvet of tonka bean that stretches from here to forever.

Belying the stodginess of that description is the actuality of its texture - translucent, mica-ish, almost sparkling. The leafy sting of camphor here is a natural derivative of ylang, but the patchouli (a member of the mint family, after all) also gives it some welly. Solano’s earthiness almost rebalances the flower’s reputation for being traditionally feminine. The remarkable thing about it is just how creamy, bright, and sensuous the ylang is, even while smeared all over this nu-fougère-ish base.

I have to call out the incredible tonka bean drydown here. It is practically a legume-i-flore. Even twelve, twenty-four hours on, I can smell the velvety-but-rough nut cream of the tonka, its bittersweet cherry-almond tonalities melding so effectively with the fruity-sour creaminess of the ylang that it is impossible to tell where one begins and the other ends.

OSA-Re (Note di Profumum)

Osa-Re, a play on the Italian verb osare, meaning ‘to dare’, is a minty-grassy baller that walks right up to some of the biggest, most muscly scenery-chewers on the prison yard – Carnal Flower, Tubéreuse Criminelle – and shouts, “Oi! Any of you bitches want to fight?”

Osa-Re is all the rustling stemminess of a florist’s fridge, out of which a creamy ylang unfolds its long, banana-yellow legs. If you love the ‘privet hedge’ opening to Carnal Flower and ever wondered what a similar treatment would do for ylang, well, this is it. It is really quite similar to Carnal Flower, but with ylang rather than tuberose. Given that Meraviglia-Re, also by Note di Profumum, smells like a jumped version of Portrait of a Lady, also by Malle, the cynical part of me wonders if Profumum just ran the entire Malle back catalogue through Gas Chromatography/Mass Spectrometry analysis to crack the code.

But cynicism is no way to live, man.

Anyway, if Osa-Re is running on some Carnal Flower-ish fuel, is it really any surprise that it smells amazing? The rich, banana-ish tones of the ylang creates a bubblegummy aura that doesn’t feel at all juvenile, probably because it is swiftly countermanded by that minty, grassy bitterness and ylang’s characteristic rubber and gasoline underpinnings. It is this balance that knits it all together.

Therefore, while Osa-Re is creamy, fruity, and sweet, like nectar squeezed from the center of a flower, it is also quite stemmy, crunchy-bitter (like biting into dandelion stalks) and well, a bit odd-smelling. Truly ylang then. Like Carnal Flower, it is BIG. And like Carnal Flower, there is quite a lot of that salty, spacey musk stuffed in the trunk to keep it all trundling on, long past the point where the luscious florals drop off. It is at this point that I want to rewind to the glory of the opening, to smell the force of a thousand ylang fingers unfurling in the heat, through a cooling eucalyptus haze.

Modern Retro Ylang

This is a category of ylang-dominant fragrances that, despite being thoroughly modern in composition, use ylang in a way that self-consciously dates the perfume backwards to a distant era (some 1980s, some 1940s). This sort of retro styling can be enormously effective if done with a knowing wink and a nod by the perfumer, but risks becoming a victim of its own copy if not.

Ylang 49 (Le Labo)

Most reviews for this scent emphasize that, counter to Le Labo’s usual bait and switch strategy, Ylang 49 is actually quite strong on ylang, with many using words such as steamy, languid, or potent to describe it. That makes me think that people see the word ‘ylang’ and automatically link it to the tropical banana-ish scent for which the flower is famous. But I think that this is something that Le Labo is relying on to happen – they give us the word, and we fill in all the blanks ourselves, whether accurate or not.

To my nose, the ylang in Ylang 49 is actually more the dry, vegetal-leathery facet of ylang that we see in fragrances such as Cuir de Russie (Chanel) and Une Fleur de Cassie (Malle) rather than the super-buttery, fleshy, or humid one. In order to transition the Les Exclusifs from the eau de toilette to eau de parfum concentration in 2016, for example, Chanel added quite a lot of the vegetal-leather type of ylang to the scents, giving Bois des Iles and Cuir de Russie in particular a thickly-powdered, almost stuffy leather note that renders their texture opaque in EdP format. And it is this treatment of ylang we’re seeing in Ylang 49, as opposed to the tropical banana custard type.

Strictly speaking, Ylang 49 is more of a rose-patch than a ylang-focused composition. It features a plummy, wine-stained rose draped over a hulkingly dry patchouli-vetiver combination. And though it is called a chypre, I am not sure that it is a chypre any more than it is a straight-up ylang. It achieves a quasi-mossy impression purely because the leather-patch accord is so dry. But it never really smells like oakmoss (salty, marine, inky, bitter). Instead, Ylang 49 smells a bit like the rose patch of Voleur de Roses (L’Artisan Parfumeur) or JHAG Lady Vengeance grafted on top of the dry ‘semi-chypre’ leather base of Noir Patchouli (Histoires de Parfums), which, in and of itself, happens to be a portion of Aromatics Elixir (Clinique) extracted and blown up to scale.

The ylang is there to either bolster or help construct the impression of vegetal, tuber-ish leather. There is – to my nose at least - absolutely nothing tropical or creamy or languid about the florals here. Neither the ylang nor the much-vaunted but utterly undetectable-to-my-nose gardenia note register much beyond their textural contribution. Ylang 49 is indeed luxuriously retro, but in its specific configuration of leathery ‘fuel-like’ ylang, patchouli, and musks, it is far more Marlene Dietrich smoking alone in a Berlin bar than Carmen Miranda shimmying in a pineapple hat.

Alahine (Teo Cabanel)

Alahine is the story of how weak and easily influenced I am. I am drawn to certain perfumes over and over again, not because I love them but because everybody else loves them. But sometimes – just sometimes – you are right and everyone else is wrong. (Just kidding. Sort of.)

I have owned Teo Cabanel’s Alahine a total of four times now. The first was a generous sample from a kind Basenoter. Nice, I thought, but hardly deserving of the breathless adoration it was inspiring out there in the stinkoverse. I passed the sample on. But when Teo Cabanel was having a change-of-bottle sale, I began to agonize over whether I had judged it too hastily. FOMO got me by the short and curlies, so I bought a bottle at a much-reduced price.

Opening the bottle and spraying liberally, I remembered exactly why I was so underwhelmed the first time around and began to contemplate the seemingly depthless pool of my own stupidity. To be fair, the opening does make an impression. For the fifty minutes that Alahine blooms on my skin, it reminds me a bit of the loud floriental perfumes of the eighties, like Joop! Femme (Joop) or Rush (Gucci) – the kind of stuff you wear to knock out the competition on the dance floor. Tons of chewy labdanum and powdery sweet benzoin heaped high and covered with syrupy, fruity-sour ylang, supported by whiff of dirty patch and musk…..but then, POOF! Gone.

Yep, within the space of barely an hour, Alahine completely falls off the ledge. The dry down drones on for a bit, in that traditional, slightly boring way most ambers do, along the benzoin-labdanum axis. But all the action has already happened – look behind you and you might catch a glimpse of it in the rear-view mirror. Wearing Alahine is a bit like having the most drop dead gorgeous man sit next to you at a bar and then discovering that he has no conversation.

I sold my bottle (the first version) for a song. But someone on the Facebook forum where I sold it said something that I never forgot. He said, “You’ll regret selling Alahine. It’s one of the most beautiful perfumes ever made.” And thus started the second, even longer cycle of regret over Alahine. The minute I posted the parcel off at the post office I began to long to have it back in my possession. Before long, I did (through a swap). But oddly enough (surprised Pikachu face), the perfume had not improved in its absence. So, I sold it and gave myself a stern talking to.

And then, Reader, because I never learn my lesson, I re-bought the damn thing again. The pretty gold and pink bottle taunts me from a shelf of perfume shame. I even wear it now and again, to see if my opinion has changed. Let me spare you the suspense. It hasn’t.

Unlike Ylang 49, which smells retro but almost knowingly so (which makes it smell current), Alahine aims for retro but lands on old-fashioned. The ylang is especially prominent to my nose these days, with its slightly suffocating, spicy yellow intensity. It still smells mature, and very, very 1980s. Which, as I’ve explained above, is a big no-no for me. I also still think it smells a little like Joop. A much better variation on this theme – albeit with jasmine rather than ylang – is Creed’s sumptuous Jasmin Impératrice Eugenie, which eschews amber in favour of a generous dollop of sandalwood to carry the florals forward into the base.

Miriam (Tauer Perfumes)

Now sadly unobtanium, Miriam is one of Andy Tauer’s best fragrances and also one of his least known. It is entirely almost entirely non-canonical, except for a dusty Pez candy frankincense accord that might be familiar to some from the drydown of Incense Extrême, or for the soda pop fizz borrowed from Noontide Petals. But, on balance, I feel confident that few people would peg this as a Tauer creation.

With its swirl of violets, rose, and a cold-cream ylang whipped up into a sweet-n-soapy cloud of aldehydes, Miriam smells like someone mixed bottles of White Linen (Estee Lauder), No. 22 (Chanel), Lady Stetson (Coty), Vega (Guerlain) and Baghari (Piguet) and a violently-shaken can of 7-Up into a cannister of Elnett hairspray. It is glorious. A 1940s-style, carbonated ylang bomb.

Miriam is retro done right, though. It references a classic style without getting all literal about it. In cantilevering the structure of the scent with a sweet, milky sandalwood and a doughy, cinnamon-dusted benzoin – a base far more suited to a modern taste for slightly gourmand-woodsy drydowns than the slightly sour, green structure of a Vega or White Linen - the fragrance feels modern in construction. This is something that becomes very clear when you wear it side by side with something like Vega or No. 22. The nature of the aldehydes alone is a clear departure – the sweet, lemony fizz from a freshly opened can of 7 Up (pop art) rather than the creamy, metallic soap cloud of Chanel or Guerlain (pointillism).

The use of ylang in Miriam is critical to creating that lush, steamy floral custard undertone that drags the genre away from the pointy elbows of the classic aldehyde and towards the supine sensuality of, say, an amber. I love it.

Chasing the Dragon Euphoric (Clive Christian)

With its spicy, grapey jasmine and ylang syrup poured over bitter, burning balsams and headshop amber cubes, this is an unapologetically literal sweep of all the big hairspray classics from Mother’s vanity (Poison, Coco), the only adjustment for modern tastes being a white musk element that dilutes the texture down to a socially acceptable level of loudness.

It is very ylang-forward, with that perfumey, yellow floral spiciness that screams premature maturity and grown-up business suits and traditional femininity. I am sure it’s for someone, but that someone sure ain’t me.

Cosmetic Ylang

Ylang Ylang (Lorenzo Villoresi Vintage Collection)

As an avid Lorenzo Villoresi fan (his Musk is one of my top-worn fragrances), I looked forward to sampling Ylang Ylang. Reader, I was not disappointed. Opening with a green, stemmy plant milk note that feels fridge-cold to the touch, I am reminded of the scent of a Casablanca lily right before the spice hits your nose, a smell full of pollen, camphor, and buttery body cream, the kind that sets you back $90 in the airport duty free (the price point, by the way, at which ‘cream’ turns into ‘crème’). This accord tilts quickly forward into armfuls of fresh white jasmine, backed by a sweet nutty powder.

It takes me a while to spot the ylang. This is a sunny, slightly syrupy ylang, with zero petroleum or grapey highnotes. The sharp, insistent (slightly sour, perfumey) edge I associate with ylang is entirely absent. Instead, this is a floral sigh, held aloft by entirely by green notes and a dollop of Pond’s cold cream. This sort of green, joyous (yet also buttery or milky) botanical aroma always grabs me and shakes my heart into my throat. Ostara and Amaranthine (both Penhaligon’s) do something similar, though there is also something gently cosmetic (face cream, powder, lotion) that reminds me of Chanel No. 22 (minus the aldehydic sparkle).

Every single note exploration I undertake uncovers a heretofore ignored treasure that I would crawl over hot coals to get my hands on, and for a while, I think that Ylang Ylang is that for me. However, in the far drydown, the latent development of a spicy, resinous yellow floral accord gives me that 1980s floriental taste at the back of my mouth and I press pause on the tape. Still beautiful, yes, but now there is a reservation. Something suffocating and insistent and intense in its far reaches, like Amarige sprayed on soap powder packed into small wooden box and quickly closed up. I will have to think about it more.

Tropical Ylang

Sabbia Bianca (Profumum), Oud Jaune Intense (Fragrance de Bois), Terracotta (Guerlain), Intense Tiaré (Montale)

European suntan oil (Ambre Solaire), coconut, Monoi, warm skin, buttery tropical florals, fruity cocktails, sand between your toes. You know the drill. If you’re a tropical floral aficionado, then you’ll probably find my grouping of these perfumes together arrogant or feckless. However, to my nose, tropical white-and-yellow perfumes like these are much of a muchness.

These perfumes smell very pretty – some even beautiful – but in their unrelenting suntan-and-flipflops mode, they also feel kind of wrong (to me at least) in any other context than a beachside resort. And while I actually do live in a beachside resort, complete with palm trees and all, it’s an Irish beachside resort and the smell of tropical ylang just doesn’t vibe with goosepimples, wind chill factor, and skin the colour of uncooked chicken.

Even if it did, I would be hard pressed to favor any of these fragrances over good old Yves Rocher Monoi oil. But then I’m a pleb. So don’t mind me. The Sabbia Bianca (Profumum) and the Oud Jaune Intense (Fragrance du Bois) are the heaviest on the ylang in this group. Keep in mind, though, that the ylang in this grouping of scents is just one component of the sweet stodge of tropicalia, with only occasional flashes of its uniquely ylang-ish rubberyness or gassy banana fuel facet allowing it to be picked out of a line up.

Manoumalia (Les Nez)

Manoumalia enjoys a fearsome reputation as a tropical ylang so big and strong that it could snap your neck like a python. Au contraire, mon frère! The complete lack of fruity sharpness should be your first clue that Manoumalia isn’t stopping at the tried-and-true station of beachy tropicalia. Rather, this is a rich floral ‘mud’, the voices of its ylang and tiaré muted by a thick blanketing of earth, rubber, and sawdust.

Indeed, we are not on the beach at all, sipping cocktails, gazing at the sun, but rather, subsumed into the humid jungle behind it, sucked into shadows by the smell of vetiver, with its smoked hazelnut swampiness. The feeling here is dark and warm, gentle almost, as if all the shrill brightness of ylang has bled out into a red-brown sandalwood sawdust beneath the bush.

Manoumalia does smell enticingly odd, though, which must have something to do with the nature of ylang itself. Drifting in and out of the floral silt are hints of wood, medicinal ointment, cold cream, sweet yellow rubber, salt, and occasionally something metallic, like dried blood. Midway through, there is a waft of something expiring or going stale. Imagine a pound cake left out in a jungle clearing, pools of yellow melted butter drawn to the surface by the hot sun, steaming in syrup, and dirtied at the edges by soil, leaves, and other jungle flotsam and jetsam.

There are also tendrils of smoke or gasoline (ylang-typical), and in the drydown, a gummy-mealy nag champa note that calls up the DNA results Jeremy Kyle-style on a surprising sisterhood: Sikkim Girls (Lush), Le Maroc Pour Elle (Tauer), and Daphne (Comme des Garcons). In the far reaches of the drydown, Manoumalia has nudged us out of the tropical floral category entirely and into territory that might be more accurately described as a mud gourmand.

Manoumalia is a masterpiece. But because I am never sure if it is still available, or if Les Nez is even still in business, I wear it only very rarely. Like Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s), Nu EDP (Yves Saint Laurent), and Daphne (Comme des Garcons), its limited availability makes me want to hoard the remnants of my bottle. Which is a shame, because something as alive and as glowing as Manoumalia really ought to be worn. Use the good china, they say. Perhaps I will.

Songes (Annick Goutal)

Songes pursues a roughly similar track to Manoumalia, above, in that the jutting sharpness of ylang, jasmine, tiaré, and frangipani has been softened by, and partially subsumed into, a creamy sandalwood. However, while the flowers in Manoumalia have been melted down entirely into a fine floral silt, only partially identified by hints of identifying rubber or fuel (ylang) or fruity cream cheese (tiaré), in Songes, the individual flowers still smell brightly and recognizably of themselves.

The shiny-dirty-plasticky jasmine is the main player in the EDT, which has a woody but still quite bright, translucent texture, while a banana-ish ylang dominates in the EDP, with tons of creamy, animalic musks fleshing out the landing. Both versions are supremely graceful and classically beautiful; but only the EDP smells as cuminy as a woman’s inner thigh.

Well, ok, listen. Both versions have cumin. But the addition of billowing, cumulus-sized white musks to the sandalwood and vanilla of the EDP has the effect of blowing hotly on the cumin, amplifying it to a point that makes me blush. The EDT is bright, clear, and sensual – the EDP is dense, creamy, and frankly suggestive. I own both, because I love Songes in every way, shape, or form, and also because sometimes I like to choose between single and double cream.

Milk Custard Ylang

My favorite treatments of ylang, including these ones below, focus on the delicate ‘egg custard’ properties of ylang that align it quite naturally with vanilla and sandalwood.

Tasneem (Abdes Salaam Attar)

Tasnim (otherwise known as Tasneem) is one of my favorite ylang compositions of all time. Its buttery, creamy banana custard is touched here and there by rubber, and given a gentle, steadying backbone of dusty woods and resins. It smells – for lack of a better word – dreamy. Like custard clouds whipped up by Botticelli angels. In the late drydown, there is a wonderful texturization akin to almonds or hazelnuts pounded down to a fine paste with cinnamon and clove. Although it ultimately winds up in the same vanilla-banana-lotion area as Micallef’s Ylang in Gold, it remains resinous and nutty rather than fruity. Think of it as a higher IQ version.

By the way, the attar (or more accurately, mukhallat) version of Tasnim is similar to the original eau de parfum, but because it stresses different facets of the ylang and for longer, it smells quite different for the first two to three hours. Specifically, the slightly pungent rubber and fuel-like tones of the ylang are brought out more clearly, complete with the melted plastics undertone inherent to pure ylang oil. The opening is not unpleasant, but it might be a little odd for people unused to the super potent (and not terribly floral) nuances of raw ylang. In terms of complexity, I prefer the opening of the eau de parfum because it is both softer and more traditionally ‘perfumey’, whereas the opening of the attar smells more like ylang essential oil.

The attar stays in this fruity banana-petrol custard track for much longer than the eau de parfum, affecting both the texture and the ‘feel’ of the scent. Namely, the eau de parfum possesses an innocent, fluffy softness that I visualize in pastel yellow, while the attar is a bright, oily concentrate – a Pop Art yellow smear of gouache.

The drydown is where the attar truly shows its mettle. In fact, the ever-evolving complexity of the drydown is a good example of where the attar format often trumps an alcohol-based one. In oil format, the naturals continue to unfold and retract in somewhat unpredictable ways, while the development of the alcohol-based format evolves to a point and then stops. So, while the eau de parfum displays a beautiful, nutty ‘feuilletine’ finish folded into gentle puffs of woodsmoke, the attar just gets spicier, lusher, and more bodaciously sensual.

Tasnim attar is also less sweet than the eau de parfum, a pattern I notice in all direct comparisons of the attar versus the eaux de parfum for this house. (This feature might make the attars more attractive to men). The attar eventually dries down into a rich, leathery ylang-resin affair, with the same dusty-creamy texture as the eau de parfum (think crème brulée with a handful of grit stirred through). It is more animalic than the eau de parfum, with a sort of stale, animal-ish costus note appearing in the latter hours.

Both the eau de parfum and the attar of Tasnim are beautiful. I have a slight preference overall for the eau de parfum, especially in its measured collapse from feathery custard clouds into richly nutty feuilletine. But in terms of longevity and richness, I give it to the attar, which only gets deeper and lusher the longer it is on the skin, shedding its rather simplistic ylang oil topnotes to become a floral with an animal growl. The attar is as powerful, rubied, and pungent as a high grade ylang essential oil, while the eau de parfum is softer, milkier, and sweeter.

Ylang de Mayotte (Maison Nicolas de Barry)

Ylang de Mayotte is my favorite out of Nicolas de Barry’s all-natural line. Sourced from the 100% natural, small-batch production of ylang on the private plantation of Jean-Paul Guerlain on the island of Mayotte, it showcases all of the good aspects of ylang and none of the more disturbing properties.

Ylang de Mayotte smells like a powdered length of buttery yellow silk, a subtle pattern of fresh mint leaf picked out here and there. It is delicately fruity, but not in the harsh, benzene-laden way of some ylang oils, rather like a sliver of apricot skin dropped into a milky banana custard halfway through the cooking. Rich yet subtle, with small gourmand flourishes that make it quite delicious, it is a quivering tropical panna cotta dotted with slivers of apricot, almonds, peaches, and mint.

Ylang de Mayotte is somewhat comparable to Tasnim by Abdes Salaam Attar, above, in that they are both 100% natural, artisanal productions and both present the soft, custardy side of ylang. But while Tasnim is more ‘decorated’ with other nuances (smoke, wood, amber), Ylang de Mayotte doesn’t deviate from the central ylang note and has a clear, pure shampoo-like smell. Both allow the soft, sweet almond-like tones of the ylang to emerge in the late drydown, a pleasure for anyone who loves this complex floral essence.

In terms of price, Ylang de Mayotte is twice the price of Tasnim per ml, so perhaps only the true ylang enthusiast would be able to justify a purchase. But both are beautiful, both present the very best sides of the difficult ylang, and both are all-natural; a preference for faithfulness to the central material versus a preference for a more evolved composition are the only parameters (beyond budget) that matter here.

Amaranthine (Penhaligon’s)

Like Ostara, Amaranthine seems to have fallen victim to a cull of ‘old wood’ when Puig bought Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur from Fox Paine & Company. Perfumes by ‘star’ perfumers like Bertrand Duchaufour, who composed both Ostara and Amaranthine, were promptly kiboshed from the Penhaligon’s line up. A heartbreaking decision that probably only a CPA would understand.

Anyway, what a pity, because Amaranthine is my true North of two specific genres - the steamy tropical genre and the milk-custard genre. Though it opens on a green, almost fruity musk note (Galaxolide?), it quickly settles into its defining accord of what I would define as plant milk, frothed in a steamer, and lightly spiced with cardamom, ginger, and cumin, and cooled until it sets into a nutty vegan custard.

It’s the ylang brings the custard, of course, its banana-ish intensity ratcheted up a few notches by the way of an exotic banana leaf note, a condensed milk accord, and a feverish Casablanca lily impression. But overall, I think that the real sleight of hand here is in how the cooler-toned, crisp green tea notes have been feathered in to keep the creaminess from weighing the whole thing down.

The use of cumin here is also very well thought out. There is just enough to give Amaranthine warmth and intimacy – the slightly moist skin under your collar bone on a humid day – but not enough for it to smell scarily sexual. On the cumin scale of things, therefore, Amaranthine tends more towards Songes (Annick Goutal) than towards Jubilation 25 (Amouage), Femme (Rochas), Rubj eau de parfum (Vero Profumo) or even Al Oudh (L’Artisan Parfumeur). But still, the (female) sensuality factor is clearly present. Ylang custard, yes, but nothing near as innocent or as pure as Tasneem or Ylang de Mayotte.

Hummingbird Ylang

Happy ylang. Bright, nectarous, joyous.

Eau Moheli (Diptyque)

Eau Moheli opens with a Garnier Fructis accord, bristling with green apple peel and a bubblegummy ylang. It smells lush, like champaca, but also fresh and lively. Ylang is a complicated hussy, but sometimes all it wants to do is shake off its shoulder pads and high heels and give us the full force of its sunny brightness.

So here it does, appropriately matched to that crunchy-botanical Diptyque style. This is a ylang that has been through the filter several times, polished to a high shine, and set in a cushion of green leaves and powdery benzoin. As clean and pearlescent as a ylang boba tea, I recommend Eau Moheli to anyone wishing to avoid the weirder or more mature aspects of ylang, or to people who just love Diptyque’s refined, faux-naturalistic approach to perfumery.

Hansa Yellow (DSH Perfumes)

A child’s smile of a scent. At first, there is a blast of ‘fun’ banana – not an artisanal banana (whatever that means) but the sweet fake banana of banana milk and those chocolate-covered banana candies the texture of Styrofoam you can find all over the Balkans. Incredibly nostalgic and joyful. I swear I could wear this stuff every day. In fact, Hansa Yellow is as mood-brightening as chancing upon your children’s secret treasure trove of Haribo Cola bottles while you’re tidying their bedroom.

It would be excellent even if stopped right here, but Hansa Yellow refuses to rest on its laurels. After muddying slightly into an indie headshop accord, complete with wax melts and unlit joss sticks, the scent eventually smooths out into a milky ylang custard that is only lightly milky - a sheer wash of primrose yellow rather than a saturated ochre. This accord is made up of the purest parts of ylang, cleaned up, turned out in a silk sash and ribbons, a mere dab of earth in the background to ground it and stop it diffusing entirely into the ether.

A touch of resin and spice in the far drydown makes me think of the cardamom-spiced custard-i-ness I love so much in Dawn’s Cimabue. I suppose that, in putting custard (or kulfi) accords together with gentle chai spices and backing them up with vanilla, sandalwood, or as in this case, ylang, it is inevitable that you wind up in Safran Troublant (L’Artisan Parfumeur) territory. Which, honestly, is more than fine with me. As with Shalimar and L’Heure Bleue (Guerlain), if I love a fragrance, I am fine with countless even minute variations on the theme.

Blue Lotus (TRNP)

Blue Lotus is one of those interesting scents that smell one way on the skin and another in the air. Up close, it is all ylang – sweet, fruity-coarse, woody, with tarry fuel-like nuances. Also making an appearance on the skin are thick smears of labdanum laid out to dry, giving the initial blast a goaty, leathery-balsamic tonality that verges on too much (just like the ylang).

This dense, almost muddy knot of natural essences is familiar to me from other natural perfumers. I’m neutral on this aspect. Teone Reinthal is a natural perfumer of extraordinary skill, so you never just get a hastily shaken cocktail of naturals. There is design here. On the other hand, 100% natural essential oils always want to behave in a certain way. The most you can do is hang back a little, let them play out their little drama.

But in the air? Immediately a different story. Sweet, citrusy yellow florals and resins fizzing like the inside of a Refresher Bar set free into the air. The sillage carries balmy hints of sun cream, lemon pie, baby powder, and a soft, orangey elemi. This is a sunny, ornate accord, decorated with the glitter of resins and polished woods, a specifically Italianate accord of benzoin, lemon or bergamot, elemi, orange blossom, coriander, all over creamed white sandalwood. Though there is nothing in the notes, or indeed in other reviews, to suggest it, Blue Lotus achieves the same general effect as Opus 1411 (UNUM), Kashnoir (Laboratorio Olfattive), and even Iris Oriental (Pierre Guillaume), i.e., powdered lemon sugar incenses.

Ylang brings the sun but towards the end of the ride also a touch of sultry lily-like spice, ushering in a heady, mature 1980s vibe (yes, even here). I find that many of the TRNP carry that grown up, rich 1980s spicy floriental vibe in their DNA. But it remains subtle, a thread of something present but barely perceptible, like the tune from a far off radio. Ylang is really the star of the show in Blue Lotus, but I love Teone’s way of presenting it. I don’t know if this was the original intent, but Blue Lotus is a ylang rendered in a sunlit Mediterranean style that references old Italian cathedrals more than it does the East.

The drydown is a treat for those who are paying attention seven hours on. A pure Mysore sandalwood – dry, aromatic, dusty, almost incensey. Ironically, I sense far more real sandalwood in the far reaches of Blue Lotus than in the TRNP scent widely feted as the sandal king, i.e., Embers, a scent whose rich labdanum absolute tends to drown out the quieter, shyer voice of the sandalwood. At the moment where the ylang cedes territory to the sandalwood, flickers of mint and camphor spark. I love Blue Lotus, and think it is slightly underrated in the TRNP catalogue.

Weird Indie Ylang

Rumi (Neil Morris)

Like many of Neil Morris scents, the opening is so front-loaded with naturals that it feels dense to the point of being unpleasant. A paste-like, goaty labdanum makes itself known immediately, muscling its way up the ladder all the way from the basenotes. Combined with the uncooked potato dough facet of benzoin, a fuel-like ylang, and a unmistakably headshop patchouli, it smells a bit like a wet sheep.

I only start to like Rumi when it passes this awkward teething stage (itself a natural by-product of the bulky naturals, I’m aware). When the muddy clenched fist of essences relaxes and spreads out a bit, I can start to see what’s really going on. And what I begin to smell is more a scene than a perfume - New England intellectuals arguing in a second-hand bookshop, sporting corduroy pants in various shades of mustard, wire frame glasses slightly steamed up from the rain outside, and wrists stained ochre – to a person – with raw patchouli oil. Now this is totally my thing.

But Rumi contains a surprise up its sleeve. Out of the New England bookshop gloom, a milky-fruity rose and ylang accord breaks free, its playful tone at odds with the hipster grunge of the backdrop. This is a dairy-rich smell, oddly, with a wheaty undertone. If there was such thing as a rose ylang lassi, it might smell like this.

Palimpsest (Mandy Aftelier)

I smell Palimpsest out of order, with the breathy oud (usually a base note) the first to strike my nose. This isn’t really oud at all, of course, but firewood, an essential oil from an African tree (of which I own a tiny vial), interacting with a stale, marshy ambergris. Then the ylang, honey, fruit notes – all in various stages of intensity – rise up and fall back in patterns that are not that easy to follow.

This seems appropriate, given that the word palimpsest refers to a text where the previous words have been erased to allow for new ones to be written, but sometimes peek through, offering us a glimpse of what was originally there. In Palimpsest, notes come and go, folding back over one another, erasing and then revealing their former selves. At times all you smell is stale wood, and at others, the unctuous rot of a hunk of agarwood smeared with old honey and left to fester in a steamy jungle. At other times, a buttery, sunlit ylang. The texture also vacillates. Palimpsest is simultaneously dusty and wet, smoky and oily.

For a long stretch, past the woody opening, Palimpsest lingers on honey, specifically the organic stuff that smells like malt, wildflowers, and pine bark. This is a very Vero Kern-ish sort of honey – saliva-ish, musky, licked skin and all. Withered peach skin flits in and out, slicing through air thick with agarwood dust motes. At some point, the ylang makes a run for it. Or maybe it was always there, and I just notice it now. Loud and happy, the fat banana fingers of the ylang hydrate every inch of the heretofore dry, slightly stale wood-honey surface of the scent, filling its desiccated pores with peachy butter and tropical pancake syrup.

Palimpsest, in being simultaneously as languid as a peach, as high-pitched as honey, and as leathery as agarwood, reminds me of Sepia or Tango (also by Aftelier Perfumes) in that they are all very complex, almost puzzling scents that take some time to pick apart. In fact, I am not sure that something like Palimpsest belongs in a category as straightforward as ylang. It is part of the arcane library of scent imaginings of Vero Kern and Mandy Aftel, books that will forever remain stranded in the ‘uncategorizable’ section. I never thought of Mandy Aftel’s work and Vero Kern’s work as being similar, and really, they are not – but perhaps there is a certain (female) non-linear way of thinking about notes and accords that acts as a common thread.

Earth, Cocoa, and Truffle Ylang

Embruns d’Ylang (Guerlain)

Embruns d’Ylang is a humid tropical ylang, encased in dark cocoa and earthy tuber. I sprayed it on in an airport once and wandered around for ages wondering if, at some point in my airport-and-Xanax-induced haze, I’d cocked up and sprayed Black Orchid on myself. I try not to do that, in general.

But sometimes you don’t realize that the perfume company has put Black Orchid in bottles named something else, so you put it on, walk around, and then boom! You realize that you’ve been Black Orchid-ed, whether you wanted to be or not. Embruns d’Ylang is one such Black Orchid-by-stealth perfumes. So is Maremma (Tiziana Terenzi), Precious Oud (Van Cleef & Arpels) and, to a lesser extent, Café Tuberosa (Atelier Cologne). If you know one, you know them all – huge, stuffy white florals made even more excessively rich with chocolate, earthy tuber, suntan oil, cucumber, and truffles (both kinds).

Embruns d’Ylang is more elegant, I’ll give it that. But it’s Black Orchid all the same.

I love YY (Bogue Profumo)

I Love YY surprises me, mostly because, for a creation of Antonio Gardoni, it is remarkably straight forward. Yes, it certainly has a bit of that boozy herbal vibe that undercuts much of the Bogue back catalogue. But the sharpness of Gardoni’s shaving foam citruses and culinary herbs is almost entirely muffled by a ylang note so muscular it’s like a silverback sitting on kittens.

What is remarkable to me about I Love YY is the way that its topnotes are kind of musty, like damp cardboard doused in 80% dark cocoa powder - perhaps the natural result of a tonka bean roasted at high heat. I’m not a fan of the grapey-banana ylang, to be honest. But I’d totally hang around for more of that musty cocoa note.

Modern Ylang

Ylang that does its own thang, referencing only its own dang self.

Cornaline (Anatole LeBreton)

The opening of synthetic peach smeared over an abundantly natural ylang, a sharp nail polish note riding its ass, makes me suspect that I’m going to have a bad time. But it is saved by a subtly coconutty undercurrent and the fennel-like doughiness of carrot seed, which make it smell endearingly quirky rather than, say, straight-up Trèsor. This is followed by a long, graceful woody-resinous drydown, with something like a humid, reddish sandalwood dust bulking it all out.

Warning: the sillage on Cornaline is ten-sprays-of-Amarige-sized. The powdery benzoin at first amplifies but then tries to overthrow the minty-fruity ylang entirely, to the point at which the floral notes feel as if they have been plunged into a bath of dry ice. The combination of the dusty resins, orris, and woods eventually succeeds in wrestling the peachy ylang to the ground, sucking the juice out of its flesh. Worth noting, however, is the distinct Jolly Rancher or doll’s head accord that emerges in the last gaps of the drydown. This is the ylang saying, hello, do you see me? I’m still here and will never be vanquished.

Cornaline is one of the most original takes on ylang that I’ve encountered thus far. Having said that, I am not sure I would ever wear it. Sometimes the clash between the dusty cosmetic powder and the intense syrup of the ylang-peach pairing strikes me as just right. Sometimes it gives me a headache. But it is never less than interesting. If space and money were infinite, I’d buy a bottle and take it out to sniff the top every now and then.

Yin & Ylang (Sonoma Scent Studio)

Yin & Ylang makes light work of some really heavy floral absolutes. At first it smells more like wood alcohol esters than ylang, like pieces of citrus rind, coarse black pepper, and hot, raw ginger caught up and preserved like a fly in amber in a pot of wood varnish. Now slap that varnish on a freshly split log of sandalwood, and you have an idea of the weirdly raisin-like sweet-n-sourness of this top accord.

Past the first blaze of wood esters and spice, the florals break free, notably a bright botanical ylang and a sensuous, rubbery tuberose. But listen up. This is no traditional white and yellow floral. This is clean indie hipness. Aerated by a fizzy champagne-like note, like aldehydes or a white musk, the ylang is turned inside out into glittering particles that seem like fractionated ylang, split off into molecules, with only the bright, salty and citrus-sour parts of the flower put back together again. Like Hera (Papillon Artistic Perfumes), this particular treatment of ylang has the effect of sluicing its structure with something cold, acidic, and cleansing. It leaves a pleasant sourness, like the taste in your mouth after drinking a very dry tonic water.

This is all reinforced by a bracingly astringent sandalwood in the base, which interacts with the fruity-sour ylang and the sweet, bland soapiness of the aldehydes to lift the voice of the ylang skywards. As with Hera, the final impression is of something heady being spun off into a vapor made up of furiously spinning molecules. Just the kind of thing to detox the gluttonous richness of traditional ylang accords from the old bloodstream.

Have I forgotten a ylang favorite of yours, or worse, included it and was unpardonably brutal about it? Feel free to hand wrestle me on it in the comments. Do you like ylang? If not, why not? Do tell.
About the author
Claire Vukcevic is a Basenotes contributor, two-time Jasmine Award winner, and author of the blog Takeonethingoff.com. Currently, she is serializing her book, The Attar Guide, on Takeonethingoff – a must-read if you are interested exploring the world of oil-based perfumery, i.e., attars, mukhallats, oud oil, sandalwood oil, or concentrated perfume oils (CPOs).

More articles by Claire Vukcevic


Although not my favorite note, I do own and enjoy Solano by Couvent. It seems to me more masked in this creation. Maybe that's why I like it. It's not in your face so to speak.
This was an absolutely fascinating read! I am still fairly new to basenotes and the world of fragrance altogether, so in my mind… whenever I saw Ylang Ylang I always thought of those beachy type of fragrances… or bouquet of flowers types where I can’t pick out one type of flower amongst the dozen involved in its creation. I will certainly keep this article in mind as I sample some of the perfumes listed over time, in order to get a true understanding of what Ylang is.
At least writing this article has helped me understand why I feel the way I do about certain perfumes.

Claire, I loved learning your associations of ylang-ylang scents from your childhood. Makes me want to do some similar reflecting on my own feelings about perfumes from growing up in the 80s. No one in my family really wore or even liked perfume and we were quite poor besides, so perhaps my love of Poison, Carolina Herrera, etc. is just that childhood yearning for luxury and self-expression. Or maybe I just really love tuberose.

Beautifully written article, as always.
Many thanks everyone!

LauraH, isn't it amazing how our childhood experiences color our perception of fragrance later on in life? I am wary of those big, luxurious florals as sometimes they remind me of the hothouse flowers in huge vases all over the luxury hotel where I worked as a young girl (in addition to the Amarige/1980s floriental association with a rather painful time in my life). But for you, since nobody around you wore those kinds of scents, you find yourself drawn to them because they are suggestive of the luxury you never had and perhaps wished for. I think the most meaningful thing about scent is that it can satisfy a yearning or an aspiration that have lived rent free in our heads for who knows how long. A Romanian friend of mine loves big, romantic luxe florals because Boucheron for Women was the big status symbol of its day in Romania and her own mother dreamed about owning it (but couldn't afford it). So anything big and retro hits her in the feels. I hope that you're in a position now to indulge your desires to the fullest degree possible!

Mark, not entirely keen on ylang ylang myself, but I've found a few exemplary fragrances that are the exceptions. Not sure I could ever truly love a scent with a heavy 1980s ylang character or a purely 'sun oil' tropical one. But the banana custard ones, the knowingly vintage ones, and the dusky island sensuality of a Songes or Manoumalia, oh yes, gimme, gimme.

barcode8, it's frustrating, isn't it! I actually discovered Miriam when I was searching for a stand in for Guerlain's Vega, which was also criminally discontinued and now goes for thousands of euros. Then Miriam was itself discontinued. I guess the closest in Andy Tauer's line up would have been Pentachord White or Noontide Petals, but guess what - bloody discontinued. In terms of what's available, I would say that Baghari (Piguet) comes the closest, but I see that Fragrantica suggests No. 5 by Chanel (hmmm, not really) or Reve d'Ossian (Oriza L. Legrand) - the latter of which is actually pretty darned close, though I never would have thought of it myself. Chanel's Bois des Iles would be a better match than Chanel No. 5, actually.

Starblind, thank you! I'd say you do know a lot about ylang, though, since you're the resident Cuir de Russie expert ;)

Lyric82, I am very glad that this article is helpful! I consider myself a beginner too. Every time I do a deep dive on a material or note like this, I learn something new. I've written similar articles on osmanthus, musk, and ambergris for Basenotes, if you're interested in single note explorations. Or, if you like, you can look at my explorations of oud, sandalwood, and resins on my blog (in my signature). I think my original purpose behind writing these guides was to whittle my collection down to a few exemplary interpretations of each note - a curation of sorts. But it has opened more doors than it's closed. People talk about 'falling down the rabbit hole' of scent but I'd always assumed that eventually you hit the bottom and stop falling. Unfortunately, I've yet to find the end!
What a kind, uplifting thing to say, jujy54 - thank you! I think it was you who sparked my interest in sampling Vega all those years ago, wasn't it? Boy was that some rabbit hole....

I think scent breaks are a necessity every now and then. I hope you eventually wind your way back to it, though.
I love Ylang, it's my favorite floral beating rose and jasmine by a landslide. Wish it was in more masculine/masculine leaning unisex frags. I would throw money at whatever company did a mix of Ylang, lime, vetiver and CdG style Hinoki. If that exists or anything vaguely like, please let me know. Thank you!
I love Ylang, it's my favorite floral beating rose and jasmine by a landslide. Wish it was in more masculine/masculine leaning unisex frags. I would throw money at whatever company did a mix of Ylang, lime, vetiver and CdG style Hinoki. If that exists or anything vaguely like, please let me know. Thank you!
absolutesavage, have you tried Ylang 49 (Le Labo)? I genuinely think that it's unisex, with its mossy, leathery drydown. There's a dry woodiness there that makes me think it's a good fit both men as well as women. Actually, I think of it a being quite butch. From the others on my list, Solano (Le Couvent) is worth a try because it has this grassy, camphoraceous edge that pulls the ylang away from its creamy floral tendencies and more towards the earthy, fresh green side of things (on the same note, you might also give OSA RE by Profumum for its pungent grassiness). From this article, I think those are the three ylang fragrances that are the most masc leaning. Though, as you know, it's quite difficult to escape ylang's more femme character.

Lime, vetiver and hinoki wood sound like divine accompaniments to ylang. It seems like camphor/fuel is the note or accord most commonly used to pull ylang into a more macho direction, but I guess some fragrances also use citrus and woods, like Eau d'Hadrien (Annick Goutal), Aqua Vitae Forte (Maison Francis Kurkdjian) and Millesime 1849 (Creed) to retain both a ylang character and a fresh, sporty masc vibe.

But in general, I think the American indie scene might prove fruitful ground for your search. Neil Morris, for example, loves ylang and his compositions are generally resinous, earthy and leathery (Prowl is a good ylang leather, if I remember correctly) and though I am not personally familiar with the brand, Darkwood Forest's Vetiver is said to be a great ylang-vetiver fragrance. I see you're in the States, so you'd be able to pick up samples of these quite easily.

Lastly, a quick recommendation to look into Middle Eastern mukhallats and attars, and American indie oils - it takes a bit of patience to search through the enormous back catalogues, but there are some fantastic (and really unusual finds), like Ilang Ilan by Mellifluence, which I've written about on my myrrh round up here, which juxtaposes ylang with a really earthy, mushroomy myrrh. I am publishing chapters of my Attar Guide about attars, mukhallats, and indie oils here so do check the review sections on florals to see if any of the ylang-centric fragrances sound appealing to you. My husband absolutely loves Al Haramein's Hajar, which is a butch ylang-rose-saffron musk that smells very much like a stridently woody rose-oud in the air. It costs about $5 on eBay and comes packed in a cigarette box!
absolutesavage, have you tried Ylang 49 (Le Labo)? I genuinely think that it's unisex, with its mossy, leathery drydown. There's a dry woodiness there that makes me think it's a good fit both men as well as women. Actually, I think of it a being quite butch. From the others on my list, Solano (Le Couvent) is worth a try because it has this grassy, camphoraceous edge that pulls the ylang away from its creamy floral tendencies and more towards the earthy, fresh green side of things (on the same note, you might also give OSA RE by Profumum for its pungent grassiness). From this article, I think those are the three ylang fragrances that are the most masc leaning. Though, as you know, it's quite difficult to escape ylang's more femme character.

Lime, vetiver and hinoki wood sound like divine accompaniments to ylang. It seems like camphor/fuel is the note or accord most commonly used to pull ylang into a more macho direction, but I guess some fragrances also use citrus and woods, like Eau d'Hadrien (Annick Goutal), Aqua Vitae Forte (Maison Francis Kurkdjian) and Millesime 1849 (Creed) to retain both a ylang character and a fresh, sporty masc vibe.

But in general, I think the American indie scene might prove fruitful ground for your search. Neil Morris, for example, loves ylang and his compositions are generally resinous, earthy and leathery (Prowl is a good ylang leather, if I remember correctly) and though I am not personally familiar with the brand, Darkwood Forest's Vetiver is said to be a great ylang-vetiver fragrance. I see you're in the States, so you'd be able to pick up samples of these quite easily.

Lastly, a quick recommendation to look into Middle Eastern mukhallats and attars, and American indie oils - it takes a bit of patience to search through the enormous back catalogues, but there are some fantastic (and really unusual finds), like Ilang Ilan by Mellifluence, which I've written about on my myrrh round up here, which juxtaposes ylang with a really earthy, mushroomy myrrh. I am publishing chapters of my Attar Guide about attars, mukhallats, and indie oils here so do check the review sections on florals to see if any of the ylang-centric fragrances sound appealing to you. My husband absolutely loves Al Haramein's Hajar, which is a butch ylang-rose-saffron musk that smells very much like a stridently woody rose-oud in the air. It costs about $5 on eBay and comes packed in a cigarette box!
I thank you,my wallet does not lol.

I've been eyeing a bottle of Acqua Vitae Forte for some time now, going to pull the trigger on that and get samples of the others. Worst case scenario if they are too feminine for me I'll give them to my girlfriend.

Thank you again, I appreciate the in depth response.
absolutesavage, have you tried Ylang 49 (Le Labo)? I genuinely think that it's unisex, with its mossy, leathery drydown. There's a dry woodiness there that makes me think it's a good fit both men as well as women. Actually, I think of it a being quite butch.
I used to wear this quite a bit and find it to be quite confident and buttoned up. Nice with a suit.
Great article ClaireV (as always!)

I am also not a fan of the banana-esque-ylang-ylang notes I've encountered here and there. However, that changed when I tested Bortnikoff scents that feature it: Musk Khabib and Musk Cologne. They're delicious.
Thank you Claire for a fascinating article, your brilliant writing is a pleasure to read, as always! 😀

As most people here know, l am a big fan of lush florals, especially the tropical kind, & l adore ylang ylang. l've only tried a handful of the ones you mentioned, but l fell in love instantly with OSA & l'm pleased l bought a bottle, although it was expensive & not easy to find. lt struck me exactly the same way, as being "like Carnal Flower done with ylang instead of tuberose", & that's the reason l had to have it!

l tried Ylang in Gold quite recently, & to my nose it's the pinnacle of beachy, suntan lotion-style perfumes, because it's so rich & luxurious. l'd dearly love a bottle of this one as well!

l tried Manoumalia years ago & loved it, but never bought a bottle. Now l feel the urge to see if it's still out there...

l had samples of Rumi & Prowl which are now finished, but l never noticed the ylang note, because they are so dense & complex that it's hard to pick out notes. Now l wish l could sniff them again to try & find it, thanks to you! 😉
Ylang-Ylang best known in Europe as the dominant note in the Toi-Toi's disinfection liquid ;)
Dear Mrs Claire V....i would like to ask you a quick question about your attar guide, please send me a message so I can have a quick conversation with you...thank you

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