In Brief: Icarus


Greek mythology is always a great source for fragrance ideas. With tales of gods and goddesses, heroes and heroines… of loved lost and gained, lessons taught and learned… it’s a great example of how to tell a story with a universal message. It’s incredibly vivid and poetic, chalked full of lessons in morality.

One of my favorite myths is the fall of Icarus, the story of the winged boy, who while trying to escape from Crete, flies too close to the sun and plummets into the sea. I think what I really love about the story is the innocence seen in Icarus. Here is this perfect representation of tragic beauty. Icarus knows the joys of freedom for only a few moments, before he meets his unfortunate fate: A victim of his own hubris, and a lesson to all to be mindful of the choices we make. It’s no wonder that the Romantics selected Icarus as the symbol of the romantic artist.

In order to translate the story olfactively, I wanted to begin by re-envisioning the tale. In my version, Icarus is tempted by the Wind, who is constantly whispering in his ear. The Wind tells of the beauty of the Sky, who’s kiss is forever kept from man. After given his wings for escape, instead of following his father, Daedalus, to safety, Icarus chooses to steal a kiss from the Sky. He climbs high up into the heavens, coming face-to-face with his love. So impressed by Icarus’ boldness, the Sky rewards him with the kiss his heart so desired. However, Icarus’ actions anger Apollo, God of the Sun. Upon witnessing the kiss, Apollo increases the heat of the Sun, causing Icarus’ wings of wax to melt, whereupon he falls to his death in the sea. The Sky is so heartbroken that she begins to cry, drenching the Isle of Crete in rain. The love of Icarus is lost forever.


I looked to key components of the story to construct the scent. In my mind, the fragrance needed to move from a feeling of donning the wings of flight, to the rain-soaked landscape of Crete. Here are some of the major accords:

I knew I wanted a waxy smell to permeate throughout the fragrance. The idea of feathers covered in wax was so fascinating, and I thought the addition of wax would afford signature to the final formulation. Instantly my mind gravitated towards beeswax and its wonderful floral qualities. But beeswax alone wasn’t going to give the impact I was after. I needed to bend the floralcy of the beeswax back towards a more masculine tone. To do this, I wanted to experiment with using the fatty smells of tallow (animal fat used in candles); just dirty the fragrance up a bit. The wax smell was, after all, my Icarus.

The wax was to be layered onto this idea of feathers. Feathers served two purposes in the story: the construction of Icarus’ wings, and the symbol of flight. When I talk about introducing a feather feel to a fragrance, I’m looking to soften up the overall impression of the final formulation. In this case, it was my foil to the wax smell. I wanted something soft, airy, and feminine that would elevate the notes of the wax.

Sea Foam
Another key component was the scent of the sea. This accord would be salty, algal, and cool. Again, I was planning on using notes of the sea to complement the heat of the sun. The move from sun to sea would be a feeling of going from hot to cold, with the marine notes intended to be slightly unexpected. It was my attempt to mimic the feeling of Icarus’ fall. More aquatic tones would be used in the rainy Crete accord.

The Wind’s Whisper
A really fun fantasy accord (a smell that doesn’t naturally exist in nature or doesn’t really have a smell, but is used to represent that object figuratively). In the story, the Wind was the tease, the tempter. The idea of temptation is like shining a light on something. Something in the room you may not have noticed before suddenly commands all of your attention. Florals and especially musk are great for this purpose. They can both be initially disarming, and build to a scream.

The Sky’s Kiss
What does a lover’s kiss smell like? Your heart races. Your body melts. A white floral so full that it bursts with petals. Peonies tickled with spice and green.

Heat of the Sun
Adding heat calls out for adding spice. Cinnamon, cumin, pepper… something that gets the pulse racing and foils the notes of the sea. This is the heat of physical and sexual excitement.

I thought that this idea of hubris could also make for an unique fantasy accord. Specifically I was looking at that puffed up chest moment. A little arrogant. A little amped up. This is sometimes how I see the rose, a flower that seems so confident of its romantic power.

String Music
A fragrance needs an overall direction if it’s to take you from one place to another. Because of this, I normally work with complementary music. Having musical inspiration helps me understand the emotional heart of a scent, keeping me in touch with the overall desired tone. For Icarus, I felt like the movement and tension present in string music was the perfect match. Specifically, the tension in the fingers as they dance across the strings.

The Isle of Crete
To fill in the pieces, and balance the fragrance, I would rely on the native smells of a rain-soaked Crete. An impression meant to linger long into the dry down.

The Final Fragrance Concept
A marine floral with hints of animalic spice and herbaceous woods.

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