Return of the White Floral Queen: Three Superlative Tuberose Perfumes
Readers of this blog know how much I love white floral fragrances, especially when they involve high quality tuberose and gardenia creations. I thought I had no need to search out any more tuberose scents once I discovered the fabulous Carnal Flower; game over, set and match, everybody go home. After all, what else can be done with tuberose that either Carnal Flower or Fracas can't outshine? Not so fast! I have found some more of them, each very different in character, which just goes to show that it's not just the ingredients, it's the perfumer's skill that can make even the most ubiquitous and popular fragrance notes sing in a unique way. Each one of these is a masterpiece in its own right and worthy of attention.
A few months ago I bought a nice selection of niche perfume samples, among which were several By Kilian fragrances. I had never tried any of them, but the ones I selected were among the best of the line, as they were all composed by the wonderfully talented Calice Becker, and they included the superb tuberose-based Beyond Love (2007). The authors of Perfumes: The Guide had given it high marks so I was curious to find out if it really could be a serious contender in the crowded field of heavy white floral perfumes. The answer is a very definite yes. This fragrance is stunning and over-the-top sexy. No less than four different forms of tuberose are in this concoction; absolute, concrete, green tuberose and a tuberose “petal accord”, and the result is a close approximation of what the real flower smells like, intertwined with coconut and Egyptian jasmine to enhance this effect, and these all rest on a warm base of musk and ambergris. The overall effect lands it halfway between the candied luxury of Fracas and the jungly green Carnal Flower, and it's a magical place I want to visit over and over as I imagine it transforming me into some kind of irresistible sex symbol with just a little dab; it's that good. If my budget included the By Kilian line, a full bottle of this would be at the top of my list. In my opinion it is destined to become a modern classic, if there is any justice in the world. (For Marina’s take on this one, go here.)
Something else caught my attention when I read Perfumes: The Guide, and it was something I had let pass me by when it was still in production. An online search resulted in the purchase of a mini bottle of the Eau de Toilette. Michelle by Balenciaga is one of those perfumes that got discontinued despite having a loyal fan base, and it makes you wonder what Balenciaga was thinking. Michelle was introduced to honor the memory of the late founder and was named for his favorite house model. It was released in 1980, around the time all the “big” Eighties perfumes were beginning to appear, and perhaps it was bad timing that resulted in its eventual demise. For some reason I had it confused with the soapy-fresh Maja by Myrurgia for a long time, and the black packaging was somewhat similar, so I never realized what was hiding behind the rather conservative-looking box design. It is a soft and inviting version of a tuberose scent, and it is not too strong for day wear if you don't overdo it. It too has coconut, and peach as well, but what really sets it apart is the use of spicy carnation, vanilla, benzoin and sandalwood. This makes it one of the most user-friendly perfumes of the white floral style, and its delicious warmth is about as addictive as anything I have ever smelled. When I put it on, it makes me sigh with delight, and I can't leave my own arm alone for more than a few minutes. Needless to say, I will be replacing the mini bottle with a bigger one when the time comes.
The third fragrance is one I never thought I would get a chance to try, let alone own. I have always been a fan of the perfumes of Le Galion, having fallen hard for Sortilège many years ago. For a long time I thought that it and Snob were the only fragrances from that house, since I never heard about any others. Well, there were some more, though not that many, and among them were a number of well-regarded soliflores. Shortly after acquiring an old mini bottle of Jasmin, which is a first class and very indolic jasmine scent, I read about more of them on perfume historian Octavian Coifan's blog, 1000 Fragrances. He described his impressions of the house's famous signature perfumes and several of the Le Galion soliflores, including Jasmin, Lily of the Valley, La Rose and Tubéreuse (1937). Of course, I wanted to smell that last one very badly, but it would appear that most of the Le Galions were discontinued long before Sortilège finally succumbed. (That one's formula was acquired by the Irma Shorell Company and reproduced under the Long Lost Perfumes label; I have never tried it.) When a small vial of Tubéreuse in Parfum appeared on eBay one day, I could hardly believe it, and to my even greater astonishment, I was the only bidder. I tried not to get my hopes up too high, since it was a very old perfume, but when it arrived, it was still sealed and perfect, and it was everything I could have hoped for and more. It is indeed shockingly good, a heavily animalic tuberose laced with the same gorgeously filthy jasmine found in Jasmin, only more so since this was Parfum strength, and underscored with intensely rich hyacinth and dark, earthy narcissus of a quality I had not experienced since smelling pre-reformulation Narcisse Noir. It is dangerously, deeply, subversively sensual, yet possessed of a rare and refined beauty due to the use of the finest French essences; this perfume was created back when the flower field s of France still produced most of the materials used in fine perfumery and tight quality control was a way of life; it is the polar opposite of the chemical monstrosity of such so-called tuberose perfumes as Amarige. Le Galion Tubéreuse is a radiant example of what can be accomplished when the finest materials meet a gifted perfumer (in this case the great Paul Vacher). To me it combines the best aspects of Tubéreuse Criminelle and Carnal Flower yet retains its own special character. If you have ever smelled a fragrance that was so good that you can't imagine how it could be improved upon, this is such a one. If you love Tubéreuse Criminelle but would prefer not to endure the weird opening before it becomes truly beautiful, just be grateful that it exists at all, because this one is long departed.
Sources: The By Kilian fragrances are available at Luckyscent and at finer perfume shops, as well as from the By Kilian Web site.
Balenciaga Michelle occasionally surfaces at some online discounters (expect to be put on a waiting list) and specialty vintage perfume merchants and is regularly seen on eBay, both up for auction and in eBay stores to purchase with no bidding (expect to pay a premium price).
Le Galion Tubéreuse: Log on to eBay (or other online auction site of your choice) and pray fervently to the perfume goddess for a miracle.
Image credit: Actress Christina Hendricks (“Mad Men”) at the 2008 Emmy Awards, photographer unknown, via comicvine.com