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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bermuda Shorts: Quick Takes From An Island Perfumery

By Donna

As I have mentioned before, the Lily is just about my favorite flower, in great part due to the amazing, intoxicating fragrance inherent in many of these gorgeous blooms. I have tried many perfumes with lily accords, trying to find one that approximates the delicious scent of the fresh blooms. (So far the clear winner is Serge Lutens Un Lys.)

In the course of my quest to find the perfect Lily perfume, and long before I even heard of Serge Lutens, I sent away for some Easter Lily perfume from a company called The Bermuda Perfumery. This was even before I had Internet access; I think I cut a little ad out of a magazine and mailed in an order without knowing very much at all about the fragrances or the company; I just wanted a lily perfume and this was the first one I had ever heard of.

As it turned out, the Easter Lily fragrance was quite nice, considering it was very inexpensive ( the actual price I paid is lost in the mists of time) and I also got some very generous samples of their other offerings for both men and women. Recently I unearthed an unopened packet of eleven different scents, some of which are now discontinued, or perhaps just renamed in some cases.

The island of Bermuda, like the North Coast of California, was once a center for the commercial cultivation of Easter lilies (Lilium longiflorum) due to its mild climate. These lilies are native to Taiwan and Japan and appreciate balmy weather. The Easter Lily scent and the other perfumes seem to have been aimed at the tourist trade rather than at high-end perfume connoisseurs. Their web site reflects that they have gone a bit more upscale since I got these, but the selling point of “island charm” is still very evident. There is a nice little write up of the perfumery’s history on the site too. I found all of these to be pleasing in their own way, and mostly very wearable during the dog days of high summer when uncomplicated scents are so appealing. Some of the top notes may have been blunted by time, but I found them to be in very good condition. (Of course, now that I have opened them all, I should use them up quite soon.)

Easter Lily: This is a pleasantly refreshing scent, though I find that the “lily” note is more like muguet than anything, and I suspect that little or no actual Lily essence was used. Rather it is an analog scent and pretty successful in that regard. It does bring to mind the cool, sweet breath of the Easter Lily bloom, which I truly love, but it does not smell like White Lily (Lilium candidum) which is the accord used in virtually all commercial lily perfumes. Interestingly, this scent is no longer listed on the Web site, and they now sell a perfume simply called Lily, the listed ingredients of which bear little resemblance to the one I have; it has loads of citrus and lists “Calla Lily” as a note, which I find quite fascinating, as Calla (Zantedeschia) is not a true Lily and is also entirely scentless!

Oleander: They still sell this one and it’s one of my favorites of the bunch. Listed notes are muguet, Bermuda oleander, white orris, pink water lily, silkmusk(?) and vanilla flower. All I can say is: Yowza! It starts out as a very pretty floriental bouquet but that does not last long, since as soon as it starts to warm up on the skin, the sweet, heavy indolic undercurrent of the oleander begins a slow burn. (If I was unsure of exactly what oleander smelled like before, there is no longer any doubt). Very shortly it enters femme fatale territory, and I am fantasizing about putting my tiny pearl-handled pistol in my evening bag and going out to the nightclub, which is owned by my gangland-boss/sugar daddy boyfriend but is also where I meet up with my secret lover, an Argentine tango master who wants me to run away to Monaco and help him swindle the casino. I will, of course, double-cross them both. Yeah, it’s that kind of sultry.

Jasmine: This jasmine is paired with freesia and magnolia and thus does not have much of a “dirty” jasmine aroma, and that’s okay. It’s a jasmine for those who can’t handle the truth, so to speak, and it remains romantic and ladylike throughout. A little bit of skank peeks out when it’s hot but it’s fairly tame. It reminds me of any number of drugstore scents with some jasmine in them that are perfectly suitable for teenagers and soccer moms, such as Jontue or other Eighties romantic florals. They still make this one as well.

Passion Flower: I quite like this scent, it is a heady white floral with gardenia, mimosa, tuberose and orange flower in addition to the eponymous passionflower. It carries quite a kick but it is not as overpowering as the Oleander. It begins with a fresh burst from passionflower and nectarine notes, and quickly settles into the well-balanced white floral heart. There is also a violet accord and some wood in the base that keep it from getting too sweet. All in all this one is a pleasant surprise. It is currently available.

Frangipanni: This one is still sold on the Web site too, and it’s also a white floral, though perhaps more complex and sophisticated than Passion Flower. I will allow their own ad copy to speak here:

“Frangipanni glows with the captivating accord born of white flowers, orange blossom, ylang ylang, jonquil, jasmine sambac with a dash of cassis bloom in a symphony of colorful nuances. The elegant combination of patchouli, sandalwood and vetiver gives the fragrance its depth and smoothness, while the timeless dry down of amber and vanilla add mystery to the sensuality.”

I can really appreciate the difference the use of patchouli and sandalwood makes in this composition. This one may be the closest to a really “fine fragrance” in the group. I would not be afraid to wear this anywhere, and I adore tropical florals anyway. Thumbs up!

Bermudiana: This perfume is apparently discontinued though it takes its name from the unofficial “National Flower” of Bermuda, which is a wildflower found nowhere else. It is named Sisyrinchium bermudiana and is in the Iris family. A close relative more familiar to most people is commonly called “Blue-Eyed Grass.” As this is most likely a scentless flower, I am assuming they used Orris in this one for the iris note, and it has a definite rosiness to it as well as a very pleasing grassy/hay character. I have been unable to find a list of the notes used in this scent, but I would describe it as a tender floral. I think I detect something like marigold or immortelle in it that gives it warmth, and there is a somewhat dry character that brings to mind late summer wildflower fields baking in the sun.

Paradise: This perfume seems to be marketed as be their most “seductive” scent, and it’s a lush fruity-floral opening with a burst of bergamot, tangerine and pomegranate. ( I think this was the first scent I ever knew of that used pomegranate, though it’s ubiquitous now.) It’s very sweet, with honeysuckle, orchid, orange blossom, spices, musk and vanilla. It has a rather candied quality that’s not for everyone. It would not be out of place in a Victoria’s Secret, but it lacks the garish synthetic “out gassing” of their perfumes that keeps me out of the VS stores. I would really have to be in the mood for a sugar hit to wear this, but for what it is, it works well.

Bermuda Cedar: One of their men’s scents (now named simply Cedar) that’s still going strong, it’s cool and balsamic and smells like a fresh Christmas tree. I plan to wear it soon, next time I need something calm and soothing for the hot weather. It is really very nice and does not scream “masculine” like so many cedar-heavy mainstream fragrances do. There is some juniper in it, which can be a little too much in some scents but it is very restrained here. Hints of herbs and just a trace of nutmeg give it a cozy, reassuring air.

Bambu: This fragrance is no longer listed on their site and I am unable to locate any descriptions of it. It is a fresh, transparent yet astringent scent with a bit of sea tang to it, very much an island-themed essence, though thankfully without the dreaded “metallic marine” quality that currently infests the perfume industry. I am getting vetiver and grapefruit and some sort of dry wood. It’s another one that could easily be worn by a woman and it’s great for the hot weather too.

Navy Lime: Now just called Navy, it’s just what it says: Lime, lime and more lime, kicked up with mandarin, bergamot and verbena; this is a poster child for hesperidic scents. Did I mention that it’s very fresh? I am real lime-lover and I wish there were more perfumes made for women with lime in them. Lacking that option, I am happy to go to a masculine scent for my lime fix. There’s a nice little black pepper punch in the drydown along with a good sharp coriander. The herbal note is my favorite basil, which I can never get enough of. There is a little juniper, but as with the Cedar scent, it does not overpower everything else, just adds a little extra dimension. Surprisingly for such a zinger of a scent, it also has a nice long amber drydown.

Bravo!: No longer listed, this is a marine-style scent very much in line with mainstream men’s selections. There is an herbal sharpness that I am pretty sure is artemisia; there is also a sage accord but I can’t really tell if it’s clary or “true” sage. For a marine fragrance it’s not bad at all, and it is obviously intended as a sport scent; there is no sweetness to it at all, which is fine with me. This could be worn to the gym without fear. I liked this one more than I thought I would considering the style.

You can still have a taste of island breezes from the Bermuda Perfumery. They have some new perfumes now too, and sample packets are still available. Bon Voyage!

Image credits: Bermuda sea view from Vintage photos of Bermuda Easter lily fields and perfume ad from

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Blogger Kelley said...

Donna, great article! Here in Mexico the calla lily (in Spanish, Alcatraz! I kid you not) is very fragrant. To me it smells like a magnolia blossom. When they are in season, there is a man that comes to my studio two times a week selling them for $3 a dozen. I don't know if it's just the variety they sell here that smell or not but it is a heavenly smell.

12:35 AM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

Very cool to learn about a new (to me) perfumery! Thanks for posting about them! Some of them, Oleander and Frangipanni in particular, sound quite lovely. But adding freesia to a jasmine scent? Cruel thing to do to jasmine. :-( Their sample set is decently priced. Think I'll be placing an order.

12:00 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mmmmmmmm, Oleander sounds very seductive.

My favorite lily perfume is still Penhaligon's Lily & Spice. Some people seem to think it's too linear and straightforward, but I think that, although it smells just like a vase of big, heady white lilies, what's not to like? This is an intoxicating, demurely-sexy scent to my mind! - Emma

2:45 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks, Kelley!

I would love to smell those fragrant Callas! We can grow many varieties here, big and small, and from purest white to purple-black, and nary a one has a scent.

3:51 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elle, you don't like freesia?! I can understand why in perfume, but in the real flower, I just adore it.

And be careful of that naughty Oleander.... ;-)

3:53 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Emma, I will obviously have to try that Lily & Spice very soon! I am always eager to discover a new Lily perfume, thanks for the tip! :-)

3:55 PM EDT  
Blogger Heather said...

I've only been collecting perfume for about a year now. Lili Bermuda was one of the first lines I ever tried, so I'm always surprised when I find out how unknown they are in the perfume world.

I had high hopes for the Jasmine fragrance, but I don't care for it at all. The other ones are a bit too flowery for me, but at least I can't say that the names are misleading.

7:30 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Heather, I have known about these for a long time, but I discovered them via an obscure classified ad in a gardening magazine! I think they need better publicity.

1:31 AM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In terms of lily scents, I'm a fan of Fredric Malle's Lys Mediterranee? What do you think of that one?

1:17 AM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Anonymous, I have never smelled Lys Mediterranee! It is on my short list of lily scents to try.

11:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you'd like it (Lys Med)--it starts out crisp/fresh and eventually becomes a warm and comforting lily scent. It's a bit bold on me but I live in a very warm climate all year. I noticed in your post above that you love the scent of freesia. Have you found a perfume that is true to real freesia and is still nice to wear? ---Jennifer

4:56 AM EDT  
Anonymous Nick Matyas said...

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11:42 AM EST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just discovered this review and right on about Paradise (parfum), which I bought maybe 15 years ago and still have most of the bottle, as you can only use drops at a time, on a cotton pad. The deeper scents are what come out now, and my husband has decreed that this is ONLY to be used as a winter scent. Very powerful and yes, it IS seductive, like the oleader, but not as dark as Niki de Saint-Phalle.

12:09 PM EST  

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