Material Focus: Cashmeran

The raw materials in the perfumes we wear are fascinating but they can often be confusing and inaccessible. In Material Focus I try to demystify these essential building blocks of perfumery, covering how they smell and how they’re used.

Let’s be real for a second, it can sometimes be utterly mystifying to read a notes list. Often you’ll stumble across materials that you’ve never heard of and some that frankly, don’t exist (“black gardenia” anyone?!). You see, many of these materials aren’t things we encounter in every day life, so it can be hard to place them, and when we can’t place them, or relate to them, they can feel meaningless. I’m all about making perfume accessible, so in this new series I’ll be looking at some of the nifty aroma chemicals that are used widely in perfumery, covering how they smell and how they’re used, so when you encounter them in the wild, you know exactly what they are.

What is Cashmeran?

I’m kicking off with one of my favourite materials: the wonderfully warm and seductively smooth Cashmeran. You may have seen it referred to as “cashmere woods” in perfume descriptions or notes lists, and I’m certain that, if you were to smell it, you’d certainly recognise the unique odour profile it has brought to some of the perfumes you love and wear.

Cashmeran was discovered at IFF (International Flavours and Fragrances) in the late 1970s. It’s a polycyclic musk – OK, let’s stop for a second, what does that actually mean? Because let’s face it, that is an incredibly science-y description that doesn’t mean much to non-science-y people (and I am the least ‘science’ person on the planet). I could start talking about multiple/cyclic hydrocarbon compounds, but in truth, that doesn’t mean anything to me and I only know that those are a thing because I asked my sister who has an MSc in Chemistry. I barely have a GCSE…

Anyway, in essence, Cashmeran is a synthetic material with an aroma that is somewhere between woods and musk. It’s often used in perfumes, in relatively small amounts, to amplify woody, aromatic, powder, musk and leather facets, but it can also be used in higher doses, resulting in novel effects. Cashmeran is a staple of perfumery and it smells absolutely fascinating.

How Does it Smell?

Cashmeran has a really complex and versatile odour profile – so much so that smelled in isolation, Cashmeran almost feels like a perfume in its own right. Cashmeran is warm and woody, with a smooth, powdery texture, but it’s also rich and resinous, with a pine-like quality that feels dry and arid. There are hints of leather and sweetness too, with prominent musk and woody-amber facets. Cashmeran is radiant and vibrant.

If Cashmeran was a colour, it would be
blonde with green and purple iridescence.

If Cashmeran was a texture, it would be powdered woods.

If Cashmeran was a place, it would be the heart of a forest in a hot country.

If Cashmeran was a sound, it would be a soft, steady vibration.

With such a multi-faceted profile, Cashmeran can be used in many different ways. Perfumers can emphasise each of these facets, teasing them out by blending them with other materials that either compliment or contrast, piecing them together and tessellating them with Cashmeran to create a wide variety of odours. Due to its radiant nature, Cashmeran is also used to boost woody fragrances, giving them a more diffusive and spacious trail. It’s a pretty nifty thing, I tell you.

Let’s explore some fragrances that showcase the complex, multi-faceted beauty of Cashmeran.

It’s Most Recognisable in…

…Molecule 05 by Eccentric Molecules

As a consumer, it’s sometimes really hard to smell perfumery materials in isolation, after all, they’re not exactly sitting on the shelves of your local department store, are they? Well, actually, some of them may be and we have Escentric Molecules to thank for that! This brand brings materials to the masses in their Molecule scents, which are simply aroma chemicals diluted in alcohol. The approach is part educational and part subversive art statement, and it democratises perfume materials in a way that hasn’t been done before.

So, if you want to sniff out some Cashmeran, the easiest and best way to do so is to get your nose on Molecule 05 from Escentric Molecules. This is Cashmeran and Cashmeran only, with no other ingredients in play, which means you get to smell this wonderfully complex material in all of its sweet, woody, resinous, and piney glory. You could feel short changed by a fragrance composed of just one material but Cashmeran is so multi-faceted, it works beautifully as a perfume in its own right. Molecule 05 is a must sniff that is effortlessly wearable.

It’s a Core Element in…

…Alien by MUGLER

The first time I ever smelled Cashmeran in isolation, one word immediately sprung to mind: “Alien“. A single sniff of the material led me to a clear association with this fragrance because that’s where I have encountered it most notably. This is no surprise, because Alien features Cashmeran in quite a high dosage. Alien’s perfumer, Dominique Ropion, calls the material “voluptuous” and says that, along with jasmine and a grey-amber accord, Cashmeran forms “an innate oddness” in the fragrance, and it’s this strange, unfamiliar feeling that makes Alien such a fascinating perfume.

In Alien, a syrupy, sticky and sweet Sambac jasmine note (sweet, green, hot white flowers) is contrasted by the dry, resinous character of Cashmeran to create an olfactory clash between the soft and the hard. This ignites a solar flare effect that is blindingly bright, warm and glowing. The Cashmeran brings spice and resins, adding a richness that stops all of that hedonistic jasmine floating off into space – it grounds it with a solid sense of gravity. To put it simply, Alien without Cashmeran is like Angel without patchouli – it’s a fundamental core of an iconic fragrance.

It’s Most Multi-Faceted in…

…Escentric 05 by Escentric Molecules

We’re back at Escentric Molecules again – this time we’re looking at Molecule 05’s counterpart, Escentric 05. The Escentric scents in this collection take an aroma chemical and show how it can be used in a traditional perfume, adding context to the intriguing facets we smelled in isolation within the accompanying Molecule fragrance. Escentric 05 is an exploration of Cashmeran that celebrates the harder and warmer facets of the material.

The dry, radiant, hot and woody character of Cashmeran, and its unexpected facet of pine, inspired Escentric Molecules’ perfumer Geza Schoen to create a subversive summer scent that was reminiscent of the parched, resinous and aromatic scrubland found on a Mediterranean island. Escentric 05 is an olfactory snapshot of the sun and sea without marine notes, where Cashmeran evokes a rugged landscape through notes of wood and pine. Enveloped in glistening citrus and dry juniper, Escentric 05 presents the arid, brush-like and pine notes of Cashmeran in full glory, creating the sense of a landscape radiating with heat.

It Smells Really Good in…

…Cashmeran Velvet Impression by Ostens

Cashmeran Velvet is essentially a variation on Cashmeran. If we were going to get all scientific up in here, which we are not, I’d talk about how it’s a different mixture of isomers, but we’re not going to do that, instead I’ll just say that Cashmeran Velvet has much of the spirit of Cashmeran however, its odour profile tends to be more steered towards the velvet-amber side than the pine-like, fresh or austere side of the material. Knowing this, it’s easy to understand why Ostens, a unique niche brand that celebrates raw materials in their raw form and within the heart of perfumes, opted to create an essay on Cashmeran Velvet.

Ostens’ Cashmeran Velvet Impression is a gorgeously warm and gauzy fragrance that softens all of the rough edges of its titular material, resulting in the plushest, warmest and most gorgeousest (definitely a word) take on Cashmeran there is. The delicate powder of iris and the supple texture of vanilla bean extract really work with the Cashmeran Velvet to create a cashmere-like texture that is warm, enveloping and smooth. It smells really, really, really (yes, really) good!

It’s Most Unusual in…

…Dans Tes Bras by Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle

Dans Tes Bras is one of Editions de Parfums Frederic Malle’s strangest fragrances. Created by perfumer Maurice Roucel, it is an exploration of Cashmeran, with a huge slug of the material at the perfume’s core. Violet overlaps the Cashmeran with sweetness, adding an earthy nuance, whilst sandalwood amplifies the woody, amber and velvet facets, and musk brings a human touch. The result is the most abstract and cerebral example of Cashmeran in fragrance you will find.

What started as an essay in a synthetic aroma chemical became an artistic statement on the beauty of human skin. Dans Tes Bras smells like salty, naked bodies caught in a warm embrace. Out of all of the fragrances in this edit, I’d say it’s the one where Cashmeran is the least recognisable, shrouded by the strange beauty of sweet earth and the presence of a loved one.


Images are my own. Samples provided by brands. This is not a sponsored post.