A Garden of Memories: Histoires de Parfums Vert Pivoine
Several years ago I entered an online contest to create a fantasy perfume, with the prize being a selection of samples from a prestigious niche house. I really wanted those samples, since I was pretty new to the perfume blog scene and I had not tried very many of the smaller lines that were getting so much buzz. So I gave the idea a lot of thought and came up with something that would remind me of the gardens and fragrant memories of my childhood. There were the delicately sweet Rugosa roses my grandfather planted in our yard, the aroma of sweet fern drifting on the air on a humid summer evening, the ethereal wafting of apple blossoms in May and the spicy-sweet nasturtiums tumbling over the sun-warmed stones of my great-aunt’s summer garden in the country. The centerpiece of my memories and of the perfume was the peony. I grew up in New England, where peonies are widely grown as stalwart and reliable landscape plants, as they are hardy, long-lived and showy. I loved their silky blooms in shades of pink, white and crimson, but most of all I loved their fragrance. Many of them have a scent similar to roses but more pungent, while others are not as sweet but still pleasing. So I imagined a perfume that combined all these elements, and I ended up winning the contest.
There are two main kinds of peonies in cultivation, the more common herbaceous kind that dies back to the ground every year and the so-called tree peony, which has permanent woody branches. Tree peonies have become all the rage in gardening with their gigantic blossoms in spectacular color combinations, but as much as I admire them, most of them just don’t smell as good as the common (and far less expensive) herbaceous peony. One of the great pleasures of late spring and early summer is burying my nose in a fluffy bloom of ‘Sarah Bernhardt’, ‘Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt’ or ‘Festiva Maxima.’ You can tell by those names that they have been around for a long time, and they are popular for a reason. They are nicknamed the Memorial Day flower because their peak bloom is at that time of year, but it may as well be due to their fresh and piquant fragrance that brings back a flood of memories to anyone who experiences their fragrance.
Anyway, I was trolling all the perfume sites not too long ago and I came across a free sample offer for Histoires de Parfums on the same site that had hosted that contest. I had heard of the line but had never tried any of them. They would send four random samples of the fragrances to a limited number of people and I got in under the wire. I could not choose which ones I wanted, but hey, they were free, and I figured they were all going to be pretty good anyway. When I received the package, three of the scents were inspired by historical figures, which I had expected, and the fourth was Vert Pivoine. When I saw the name I was almost afraid to open it; could it be as good as I hoped it would be with such a name? Oh, yes it could.
With my first inhalation off this I thought of my fantasy perfume – it seems that I won’t have to make it myself now, because it was very close to the scent I had envisioned. Heady peony entwines with notes of fresh green ivy leaf, rose, tangy red fruits, mimosa and gardenia. The base has musk and vanilla but I don’t get much of either. Cedarwood helps to sustain the crushed-stem green aspect that carries through the development. What is interesting about it is that peony is listed as a top, heart and base note, similar to the scent I dreamed up, with peony leaf and root extracts as well as flowers. There must be parts of it other than the bloom alone in this fragrance too, for it very dimensional, a peony in the round, if you will, the essence of the living flowers. When I close my eyes, I can see it so clearly: on a spring morning shimmering with dew, as the peonies unfold their silken petals and expose their abundant golden pollen to the sun and the eager honeybees, their unmistakable fragrance is carried on the soft air. A child wanders into a garden and is drawn irresistibly to a peony bush heavily laden with bloom. She buries her face in a plump pink flower, and she is rewarded with both a heavenly aroma and a bright dusting of pollen on her little nose. Thus is born a lifelong love of flowers, and of perfume.
Histoires de Parfums is a small French niche house headed by master perfumer Gérald Ghislain. In the USA the perfumes have limited availability; the only brick-and-mortar stores are in New York according to their web site – Takashimaya, Woodley & Bunny, and also MIO MIA, which was the generous sponsor of the free sample offer; they also have several scents of this line on sale as the packaging has been redone and the scents in older packaging are being discounted, including Vert Pivoine. Beauty Café also carries the line and offers samples too. I think I need to try some more of their fragrances soon.
Image credit: Herbaceous Peony ‘Pink Delight’ from gardenhouseperennials.com