Melanie Jane

This week we're delving into the world of aldehydes – the unsung heroes that revolutionized modern perfumery. Let's uncover the science and art behind these intriguing compounds.

The story of aldehydes in perfumery can't be told without mentioning Chanel No. 5, a fragrance that turned the perfume world on its head in 1921. Its creator, Ernest Beaux, used aldehydes to an unprecedented extent, crafting a scent that was unlike anything known at the time – abstract, non-floral, and uniquely modern. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn't the first perfume to contain aldehydes, but it was the first to “overuse” them…


Popular legend has it that Chanel No. 5 was the result of a 'mistake' that made history when perfumer Ernest Beau's apprentice misread his formula and added ten times more aldehyde to a sample blend of Chanel No. 5.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel loved it so much they kept the formula, and it became the most iconic fragrance of all time. It was released on the fifth day of the fifth month in 1921—five was Coco's favourite number—and she hoped it would be lucky for the success of the perfume. It wasn't luck, but the overuse of aldehydes that defined its success and changed the perfume industry forever. The fragrance is known as an “Aldehydic Floral”.

This legendary “mistake” is a popular tale, and one told many times over. However, Ernest Beau's family and colleagues at the time refuted the story, saying there is no proof it ever happened and that Ernest himself never mentioned it to them. Regardless, it still makes for an entertaining story!


Aldehydes are organic compounds that, in perfumery, are known for their distinctive and diverse scents. From sharp, metallic, and clean to waxy, soapy, and citrusy, aldehydes add complexity and a certain 'lift' to fragrances. They're like the salt in cooking – a little can transform a dish, or in this case, a scent.


Here's a twist in the tale – not everything called an 'aldehyde' in perfumery is technically an aldehyde. Compounds like Peach C14 or Coconut C18, often referred to as aldehydes, don't fit the strict chemical definition. Yet, they share a similar capacity to enhance and add dimension to fragrances, earning their place in the aldehyde family in the broader, artistic sense of perfumery.

List of Aldehydes and Their Corresponding Natural Scents:
1. Aldehyde C-8: Resembles a citrusy, orange-like scent.
2. Aldehyde C-9: Has a rose-like, waxy aroma.
3. Aldehyde C-10: Offers a strong orange and rose scent, somewhat waxy and citrusy.
4. Aldehyde C-11: Known for a sharp green fragrance, that to me smells like coriander. Less is more with this one, but try it you must, C-11 adds a champagne pop to your perfume!
5. Aldehyde C-12 (MNA): Mimics a soapy, waxy, and fresh linen scent.
6. Aldehyde C-12 (Lauric): Carries a floral, slightly citrusy fragrance.
7. Peach C-14 (not a true aldehyde): Evokes the aroma of peaches.
8. Coconut C-18 (also not a true aldehyde): Smells like coconut.


A lesser-known aspect of aldehydes is their potential impact on mood and perception. Some studies suggest that certain aldehydes, when used in perfumery, can have subtle psychoactive effects, potentially influencing emotions and feelings of well-being. This fascinating area of study blends the worlds of fragrance chemistry and neurology, hinting at the profound ways scent can affect us beyond just the olfactory experience.


Beyond Chanel No. 5, aldehydes have played starring roles in many iconic scents, helping to create perfumes that are radiant, airy, and distinctly modern. They're used to impart a clean, almost effervescent quality that can make a fragrance feel more vibrant and alive.

1. Lanvin Arpège (1927): This classic fragrance is known for its rich and complex floral aldehyde composition. It's a harmonious blend where aldehydes add a sparkling and effervescent quality to the lush floral bouquet.
2. Estée Lauder White Linen (1978): A modern classic, White Linen is famous for its crisp, clean, and fresh aldehyde notes, which give the fragrance its signature brightness and purity.
3. Guerlain Mitsouko (1919): While not as aldehyde-forward as others, Mitsouko features subtle aldehyde notes that contribute to its unique and mysterious peachy chypre character.
4. Yves Saint Laurent Rive Gauche (1971): This fragrance is a perfect example of how aldehydes can add a metallic, sharp edge to a scent, making it stand out with a unique and modern twist.
5. Robert Piguet Baghari (1950): Baghari is an elegant and sophisticated fragrance where aldehydes play a significant role in enhancing its floral and amber notes, giving it a timeless quality.
6. Givenchy L'Interdit (1957): Originally created for Audrey Hepburn, this fragrance uses aldehydes to lend a sparkling and airy quality to its sophisticated floral composition.
These fragrances are just a few examples of how aldehydes have been used to create some of the most memorable and enduring scents in the history of perfumery.


Working with aldehydes is an art. Their intensity means they must be used with precision – too much can overwhelm a fragrance, too little might not achieve the desired effect. It's a delicate balance that requires a masterful touch.


Aldehydes have the unique ability to make a fragrance more than just a scent – they turn it into an experience. They bring an abstract quality, a sense of mystery and allure that's hard to pinpoint but impossible to ignore.

As we explore the fascinating world of fragrances, let's not forget these transformative molecules that continue to shape and redefine the boundaries of perfumery.

Until next time, may your scent explorations be as enigmatic and exciting as the world of aldehydes.

Fragrantly yours,

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