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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Garden of Memories: Histoires de Parfums Vert Pivoine

By Donna

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

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read this article. It very good story!!

12:55 AM EDT  
Anonymous Jemi said...

I received samples of the Histoires de Parfum line from the same source as you -- the very generous Miomia. And yes, the Vert Pivoine is delicious! It was just a little bit sour, in a good way -- tart enough to be a bit mouthwatering, to put a little sharp edge into the floweriness.

Your description is perfect. I've never smelled a real peony before, but if your article and VP are any indication, they are indeed lovely.

3:11 AM EDT  
Blogger Solander said...

Ooh I have to try this! I absolutely love the smell of peonies and have yet to find a perfume capturing it... Demeter's Peony is a miserable failure, an ordinary rose, Guerlain's Aqua Allegoria Peony smells almost like a synthetic version of the real thing for about two seconds before it vanishes, but this sounds fantastic!

4:22 AM EDT  
Blogger chayaruchama said...

No surprise that we both love this one, is there ?

I think it's a real stunner, green as well as floral.

Solander- I've missed you !
What a lovely photo.

[Kisses, Donnaling !]

6:05 AM EDT  
Anonymous Mimi said...

Gorgeous review for what sounds like a gorgeous perfume. I've never been close enough to a peony to smell it, but have admired their blooms from afar. Is this line available to buy online?

6:57 AM EDT  
Blogger Marina said...

You inspired me to wear this today, it is so lovely! Transports me to childhood.

7:07 AM EDT  
Blogger Beth Schreibman Gehring said...

Oh Donna,
I love peonies too!!! What a lovely review this is and I must try this soon! Thanks for such a lovely wakeup this morning!

7:41 AM EDT  
Anonymous Suzanne said...

Hi Donna,

This one sure is a beauty (I reviewed it, too). The whole line is quite good, but I especially loved Vert Pivoine and the also very pretty Blanc Violette. I have a smidge of Blanc Violette left from my sample and would be happy to send it to you if you'd like to try it.

Anyway, great review!

9:45 AM EDT  
Anonymous Mals86 said...

Ah, peonies. A garden favorite of mine, and a flower that makes me sentimental about every single woman in my family. I love them. Curses, Donna! Now you have me lemming this in a huge way... and my budget is busted...

Why is it that everything you write about, I want to try - and generally have good luck with? (No, that's not a complaint. Except from my credit card.)

Slightly off subject: one of your favorites, Nahema, either behaves oddly on my skin, or my nose is busted (as well as the stupid perfume budget). I bought a mini vintage parfum - yeah, it was a $10 risk - and cannot smell it. It's vaguely soapy, and then it smells like nothing. Thinking that my purchase was damaged, I then obtained an edp sample from TPC, and I assume that it's in good shape. However, I can't smell that one either. Hint of rose, then soap, then nuthin'. Is it my nose? Neither my daughter nor my husband can smell it, but I haven't asked anyone else. Just wondered if you had any possible explanation - other than the possibility that there's some element in there that "blocks" my perception.

Thanks for another lovely review.

10:37 AM EDT  
Blogger Ducks said...

Donna, what an absolutely enticing review! This sounds adorable, and I love peonies.

1:16 PM EDT  
Blogger krnszn said...

Histoires de Parfums has an incredible line of scents. I have the full collection of samples, and would love to buy a couple of bottles, but they're so expensive. Only size is 4oz, and they're $185. Miomia has a sale on some of the scents in the older packaging. I think she has them listed at $89. Great deal, considering. Be cautioned, though - most of the scents were reformulated with the new packaging, so if you have new samples, the old scents won't smell the same, and vice-versa. Old samples are in clear glass vials with black lettering - new samples are in clear glass vials with colored stickers around them (you can see an example of these on the Beautycafe and HdP sites). I say this cause I was really confused...I had samples from each - old and new - and some of them were SO different! Same name, very different scent.

Anyway, they're all really interesting and worth sniffing! I particularly like 1740 (WOW!), 1969, and 1804. I took samples of Vert Pivoine and Blanc Violette with me on a week's vacation - they were great, too!

3:08 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you, Niktaris!

3:47 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Jemi, thank you. I found the tartness to be exactly what I was looking for, just like the real thing!

3:48 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Solander, I think that it is hard to capture a true to life peony scent - it is too often skewed toward the "rosy" side when they have a character all their own.

3:50 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Dear Chaya, I am not surprised either! We seem to be scent twins in many ways. :-)

3:51 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Mimi - see Karin's comment on this page for better details on where to get these.

3:52 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Marina, thank you! I see I am not the only one for whom peony equals memories. :-)

3:54 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Beth, somehow I knew you would be a peony girl, they are so sensual and romantic!

3:55 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thank you Suzanne - and I would love to try that Blanc Violette!

3:56 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Mals86, what can I say, I am a perfume enabler! :-D

Can't smell Nahema?! Wow, I have never heard of that. It is so powerful that I cannot imagine anyone being anosmic to it. I only have the EDT at present and I have to apply it very sparingly if I want to go out in public with it.

3:59 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Thanks Ducks! I wish I could have them in bloom all year, but this stuff is the next best thing.

3:59 PM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Karin, I had no idea that the new packaging also involved reformulation! I hope they don't ruin this one. It is on sale in the old boxes right now but it's still out of my range.

I hope to review the other 3 I got from them soon - I was impressed with everything.

4:02 PM EDT  
Blogger krnszn said...

Hey Donna! Turns out I have both old and new samples of Verte Pivoine. I'll test them and see if they're different or the same. I've tried the new one, but not the old, so we'll see...

4:36 PM EDT  
Blogger elle said...

*Love* peonies! Am stunned to see you describe them as hardy! So jealous! Here in the south they are anything *but* hardy. Uber, uber temperamental and quite difficult to get established. Definitely not happy w/ our heat and humidity. I chose iris for my wedding bouquet because it went better w/ the style of dress I had, but in my heart, peonies were my top choice. Everything about them is perfection. And this scent really is all that! Glad to see your wonderful review of it.

5:04 PM EDT  
Anonymous Suzanne said...

Donna, email me your address and I'll get that remainder Blanc Violette sample out to you. (

6:52 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Karin, I would be very interested to know if there is a difference.

11:47 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Elle, that is too bad! They really do need cold winters to thrive. It's cold enough in the Northwest, fortunately, I can't imagine ilving without either peonies or lilacs!

11:49 PM EDT  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you very much Suzanne! :-)

11:50 PM EDT  
Blogger Abigail said...

OH, Donna!

I have a sample of Verte Pivoine and am off to sniff it right now. I've been afraid to try it because I've always wished for a gorgeous peony scent but had given up hope - didn't want another disappointment. Now - I'm off to dig it up!

12:03 AM EDT  
Anonymous Flora said...

Abigail, do let me know what you think!

4:01 PM EDT  
Blogger krnszn said...

Hey Donna! Sorry, haven't tried the two Verte Pivoine versions yet...but wanted to let you know that Miomia just reduced the price again on the older packaging. Regular retail was $115, it's now $60!!! Wow. That's an amazing deal for such a large bottle - 4 ounces. Looks like Katie (Miomia owner) removed them from the website, so contact her directly if you want to purchase a bottle. She also has bottles of 1740, 1804, 1823, 1873, 1876, Blanc Violette, and Noir Patchouli.

7:15 PM EDT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What an amazing story. Gorgeous. In fact my dad who likes to get Generic Viagra also likes this.

10:41 AM EDT  

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