White Floral Queen Part Eight: Best Of The Rest and Also-Rans
This is the last in my series of white floral perfume reviews – which certainly does not mean I will never review another one, however. I am always trying new ones and rediscovering past favorites. This I a roundup up those fragrances which I like or even love but which I felt did not merit a stand-alone review yet, at least by me, or I already wrote about them before, or they are fragrances which I have not had a chance to get to know well enough to give a fair shake when describing their qualities.
For the purposes of this series, I targeted “big” white florals, but there is another class of whites – the cool ones. These are the scents composed from lily-of-the-valley, white lily, stephanotis, narcissus and other flowers which are technically white florals and carry the same indolic compounds in their blossoms, but they are not warm and sultry - they are cool, even cold sometimes, and they are often made from flowers that give off their scent at night. I love these perfumes and the flowers they are made from just as much as the gardenia, tuberose and jasmine scents that make up the traditional white florals group. Among the essences I cherish, there is one I adore more than most – Un Lys by Serge Lutens. I wrote about this one when I wrote for Aromascope, where I also reviewed its “sister scent”, the sometimes sinister Datura Noir. If you read about these you will understand why I hope I never have to be without them. (The scent of lilies may be my favorite floral aroma – but it is impossible to pick just one) Also in this class is the magnificent Narcisse Noir by Caron. It is somehow serene and stately yet ferociously sexy at the same time. Of course, classic Lily-of-the valley perfumes belong here too – among these Diorissimo and Caron’s Muguet de Bonheur are tied for first in my estimation. I even like good old Coty Muguet de Bois, though I long for a chance to try it in its original form before Coty “dumbed down” its perfumes for the mass market.
There are three other Serge Lutens white florals that I must mention. Everyone thinks of musk and spice and sweet smoke and opium dens and all sorts of decadence where Serge is concerned, but the white florals from this house are amazingly good. Fleurs d’Oranger and Fleurs de Citronnier are wonderful, true-to life compositions of orange and lemon blossom respectively. If the luscious orange blossom version is too sweet for your taste, do try the lemon – it is not fruity at all, just gentle white flowers of crystalline loveliness. It is ideal for warm weather wear. Then there is the masterpiece, the jasmine to end all jasmines: the dazzling A La Nuit. Heady does not begin to describe this lyrical ode to the tiny yet potent flower that forms the backbone of modern perfumery. A triple dose of Egyptian, Indian and Moroccan jasmine varieties brings this accord front and center and makes it sing. Therein lies the problem for me – as much as I adore this perfume, it is right on the edge of unwearable for me, due to my white floral magnifying skin. I have come that close to buying a bottle, and someday soon I will, since I cannot imagine being without this radiant beauty for too much longer – yet I must exercise extreme caution in its deployment lest I overwhelm everyone around me with my powerful Jasminezilla presence.
There are others that I smell when I have the chance but I don’t love enough to buy, at least not yet. Guerlain’s Jardins de Bagatelle is a perennial contender, but I have yet to take the plunge. On the other end of the spectrum there is Coty Sand & Sable, a drugstore favorite that I have not bought in a very long time – it smells really good though, if you like sweet florals, and you can’t beat the price with a stick. Another one I really fell in love with a couple of years ago is now discontinued as far as I can tell – Le Couvent de Minimes’ Orange Blossom, from Bath & Body Works of all places. Superior to nearly all of their store brand scents, it as a bright and sunny slice of orange blossom perfection, and came in the most delicious body cream ever. A touch of vanilla made it creamy rather than soapy, and I could not get enough; I got the body cream, the eau de toilette and the shower gel. Now it has disappeared, but I still check around the Internet every so often to see if the company has brought it back. (Le Couvent products are available elsewhere, but not in the Orange Blossom line; it’s gone.)
I have not really figured out how I feel about some white florals, oddly enough. A prime example is Annick Goutal Songes. When I first tried it, I was taken aback and I did not like it at all. It smelled oddly rubbery and something akin to motor oil to me. I tried again later– same thing. What was going on here? Everyone was singing its praises, what was wrong with me? I am now convinced that my nose was under the weather at the time, because I finally got up the nerve to try it yet again and –I loved it! What was once virtually repulsive to me had turned into rich, clinging dirty jasmine, just the way I like it. I am just not sure I trust my nose not to pull a one-eighty on me and make me hate it again.
I had wanted to smell Isabey Gardenia for a long time before I finally got the chance recently – and it is nothing like I thought it would be from its description on Luckyscent. It is more of a floral bouquet than a gardenia soliflore, and I get more of the ylang-ylang than the gardenia. I really like it, but it is far more restrained than I had envisioned, more light and bright than heavy and sensual. I think I was expecting the gardenia version of Fracas or something. Even so, I would not turn down a bottle of this lovely scent. (Not that I will be offered one at $165 for 50 ml, of course. Sugar daddies are hard to come by.)
One perfume I tried not too long ago I really fell for – Bond No. 9 Saks Fifth Avenue for Her is a beautiful and well balanced jasmine and tuberose scent that is soft enough to be wearable just about anywhere. It reminds me of those commercials for luxury goods where gorgeous women stand in front of palatial windows while the floor-to-ceiling sheer curtains billow in the breeze. As if anyone really lives like that - but if they did they would wear this perfume while doing it. Too bad I am not that woman, and this stuff is not exactly cheap either.
A few white florals were just disappointing to me. I had great hopes for Esteé Lauder Private Collection Tuberose Gardenia, and it was truly lovely on me for about ten minutes – then the “Lauder accord” came in and ate up all the white flowers. Within half an hour there was nothing left but the smell of every Lauder perfume from the last twenty years. Since I have studiously avoided more than a passing acquaintance with any of these, needless to say it was a real letdown.
So what’s next? I never tire of white florals (and floral perfumes in general) in all their infinite variety, so I will keep sampling and buying and enjoying and sharing them for as long as my nose holds up. Even as I have broadened my perfume horizons to include appreciation for smoke and leather and cumin and martinis and incense and any number of other notes both traditional and weird, I will always come back to my beloved flowers. As I love them in my garden on a warm summer evening, so do I love them captured in a bottle, where I can experience them any time I need to be transported to the realm of the White Floral Queen.
Image credits: “The Goddess Flora” by Luca Giordano in the Prado Museum in Madrid, from museodelprado.es. ‘Conca d’Or’ Lily photo by the author.
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