Retro Green Florals to the Rescue for Summer
There always comes that time in the deep trough of summer when the very idea of wearing perfume seems almost ridiculous. It’s fine when I am indoors and the air conditioning is running, but eventually it is necessary to step outside, whether to go home from work - on the bus, no less – or to water the thirsty garden. When the temperature approaches 100 degrees, I not only lose the will to live, but sometimes I even lose interest in wearing fragrance, which for me is even more alarming. Of course, part of it is just trying to avoid creating enemies at the office, but when it’s unbearably hot and sticky I just can’t seem to figure out what I want sometimes. That’s where my summer standby fragrance style comes in; the ethereal green florals. When no other perfume calls my name, I can count on one of these when the heavy hand of seasonal lag lays siege to the city.
Green scents were definitely out of fashion for a long time until niche houses and reissues of classics such as Robert Piguet’s Futur brought them back into focus recently; in fact all of the fragrances I am spotlighting are practically considered “vintage” these days even though they are only about thirty years old. The oldest is Silences by Jacomo from 1978, but I never knew of it back then. It’s the modern answer to the great Vent Vert by Pierre Balmain, opening with a veritable blast of galbanum and citrus leavened with citrus, hyacinth and other florals. Its development is somewhat more unisex and not a delicate as its predecessor’s, seeming to open with a floral burst and then become greener as it progresses instead of the other way around, but it is soothing and cool and just perfect for sinking into during a relentless heat wave. Spraying on Silences is like lying down in a darkened room with an ice pack. I do not know what silences was like when it was first released or how much it has been re-orchestrated, but I do have some vintage Vent Vert and that Queen of Green has definitely been dethroned with its most recent reworking, so in its place, Silences is an excellent choice. Find it at the discounters for less money than you ever thought possible for something this good.
From 1980 comes the elegant Ivoire de Balmain, a perfume I foolishly ignored for years for a very silly reason; it was marketed as having been formulated with blondes in mind, and suited to their skin chemistry, but I am most definitely not blonde. Much later I rediscovered it, and what a lovely thing it is. It is more floral than green, but the back beat of cool grassiness is a constant. The galbanum in the top notes is but a whisper compared to the not-so-silent rush of Silences and its green character comes more from bergamot and other less ostentatious green elements. A rather unusual blend of notes such as jasmine, raspberry, carnation, nutmeg and pepper makes for a fascinating trip through the heart notes and a woody base with good quality oakmoss, sandalwood and labdanum gives it a lasting finish. I recently acquired minis of the vintage EDT and Parfum, and now I know what I have been missing all this time. Regrettably, Ivoire has been reformulated like all the Balmains, but it has suffered less than Vent Vert in this regard and it is still very lovely. It is still available at stores that carry the Balmain line as well as online.
Another favorite green floral of this era is 1979’s Molinard de Molinard. Most people probably only know this house through Habanita these days, since all their classics of the past save that one have either been changed radically or are gone forever, replaced by a line of mostly nice but unremarkable soliflores, and its fragrances are usually very hard to find in the U.S. now except at the online discounters. A notable exception was this entry into the mainstream that saw considerable success for quite a while. It has some of the same character as Lauder’s 1972 iconic green chypre scent Aliage, as it is not very sweet despite rose and jasmine in the listed notes; it has blackcurrant bud, lily-of-the-valley, and a generous does of narcissus, heady and narcotic and refreshing all at the same time yet curiously not very “floral” in the sense that might expect. It’s hard to describe and I wish I had the right words for this aroma, the way the Japanese word “umami” has been appropriated to describe the savory quality of such flavors as meat and mushroom that is separate from salty, sweet, sour or bitter, the only terms normally used to describe how we experience the foods we eat. I always knew that not all taste sensations fell into those strict categories, and now there is finally a word for it; if only I knew how to do the same with fragrance. Anyway, this perfume has an exhilarating freshness to it that lifts my mood when I wear it and calms me at the same time, like a much-needed breeze on a warm, still summer night. I like to apply the perfumed body milk before bed when I need a little help drifting off to sleep after a hot and humid day, and it works like a charm. I think the current version is a bit woodier than the original, which had a certain damp grassiness to it, and it has always had a rather soapy aspect, but it’s not the “fresh” kind of detergent accord that is so unfortunately popular today, rather it arises from the floral and green accords. Look for Molinard de Molinard at mid-range department stores, perfume superstores such as Perfumania and online. You might also get lucky with an online auction site and score an older bottle, which is definitely worth a try. If not, you can get the newer juice for about $30 to $40 for a nice big bottle, so it’s one of the great bargains in perfumery.
There are other green florals from this era that are great for summer wear, but some, such as the best green floral of all time, Jean Patou’s Vacances and the wonderful Yendi by Capucci from 1974 are long gone, and the 1997 latecomer Gucci Envy, which I also love, is perhaps a little too loud and bright for use in very close quarters such as an office. I have been wondering why there were so many perfumes of this style in the late Seventies to early Eighties, and of course part of it was perfume houses trying to duplicate the astonishing success of Cacharel’s Anaïs Anaïs , but others were contemporaries of that milestone scent or even preceded it, so I guess it was just a cyclical trend. I hope it comes back in a big way so I can stock up on them. Had I known back then that this family of perfumes would go out of style for this long I would have bought them by the case. Do you have any favorite green floral perfumes that are currently available? I would love to hear about them! “Greens” seem to be either love or hate for many people, and for me it’s love all the way.
Image credit: Abba-inspired and very “retro” jumpsuit from online costume store PartyPants.co.uk