The Carnation Factotum

Sometimes floral notes are out of step with the times.  It’s not that they have two left feet and can’t dance to contemporary tempos.  It’s our fault, because we keep changing the beat.  Right now we like to drink all night with rose alcohols, or alcoholic roses down at the club, and we figure these barfly buds are better company than old teetotal carnation.

Besides, carnations are cheap dates.  In Europe you can bring home an armload of them for not much money.  A few bucks will get you a nice bouquet in New York from your local corner grocer.  They’re just not – recherché.

Their smell has not been emphasized by modern breeders, and they are not grown by modern gardeners, although actually they have one of the most individual and charming scents in flowerdom, and they come in every shade except blue and all have this nose teasing effervescence we call spiciness.

If you really smell carnations, you will find much more buttercream, sugar, and an intriguing green note to the perfume than the over advertised clove. Depending on the type of carnation- or its country cousin, the pink- you may actually smell more cinnamon than clove. If any floral perfume were ever devised for the production of oriental perfumes, the pink/carnation is.  It practically begs to be partnered by something rich and complex like myrrh or oppopanax.  These days though, perfume houses would prefer to put out yet another patchouli perfume. So what happens to the carnation?

There are still versions of carnation in perfumery.  These days the most popular is probably the Comme des Garcons Carnation, but I’d guess that Caron still has the monopoly on the flower.  They more or less won the triple crown of carnations: Bellodgia, Coup de Fouet and Poivre.  I’ll discuss Bellodgia first, since it is far and away the most popular scent of the three.  Almost no one dislikes it (except for my late great Shih Tzu Mr. Tang who, as I’ve stated elsewhere, hated it).

Okay, before someone jumps down my throat and says Bellodgia is no longer up to its old quality – you’re right. It isn’t.  Without eugenol, however, frankly nothing much is; to my nose the old Carons are still the gold standard.  The current Bellodgia eau de toilette is too green and too rose centric, but you can find old bottles on Ebay and they are worth bidding for.

What do they smell like?  Here’s the thing, the old Bellodgias had much clearer articulation that their contemporary counterparts. Notes were not slurred over as they are these days, drunk, I suppose, on those aforementioned rose alcohols.  Bellodgia was:  rose/jasmine, lily of the valley and carnation in that order.  Rose wasn’t much of a player in the old formula.  It was this one, two, three floral knockout of a fragrance. The parfum was warmer and fuller.  And before anyone asks, no, there isn’t anything even remotely like it out there.  I only wish that there were, but perfumes of the sort that Caron used to release take a long time to compose.  They also take a long time to get to know.

It’s also unusual in the ranks of Carons for being a career woman’s scent.  Bellodgia is not just complex, it is also chic in a feminine but crisp manner.  It’s this crispness (which you don’t often find in Carons) that makes it a good accomplice for a working woman.  Even if you don’t wear it to the office, it’s an excellent choice for the dinner out with colleagues, because it says, I have intelligence and good taste, but am also decisive and efficient.  Don’t ask me how it conveys this but it does.  I used it for the mornings when my four year old absolutely and no fooling had to be at school on time and the dog walked and the groceries bought, and then people were coming to visit, and dinner had to be made and the guests subsequently abandoned over cocktails because the dog in the interim had eaten a chocolate bar and had to be rushed to the emergency vet, sneezing all the way because he abominated Bellodgia which I was wearing.

Somehow it all got done on one, maximum two spritzes. To quote the inimitable Jackie Chan from The Spy Next Door, “Can your mommy do that?”

Mine couldn’t, and certainly not towed out to the choppy waters of a typical day by her old tugboat, Tabu.  Nope.  She needed rocket fuel.  She needed Bellodgia.

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5 Responses to The Carnation Factotum

  1. Alexandra says:

    What about Santa Maria Novella Garofano? I am really interested in this one. Bellodgia didn’t do the trick to me (too much spice maybe?), and Lorenzo Villoressi Garofano had too much rose for me. I hope I will like SMN carnation interpretation! Finally, Caron Tabac Blond is another take on the modest and macabre for some cultures carnation.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      You know, I smelled the SMN Garofano many years ago, and honestly, I don’t remember if it was wonderful or not. My guess is it’s probably similar to other good carnation soliflores including the carnation soap of Roger et Gallet, by which many carnation lovers swear. The Villoresi had something lurking in the dry down, and the more straight up Caron carnation Coup de Fouet, according to Les Senteurs, is now discontinued- so the choice is less. Tabac Blond’s always marvelous, with leather and carnation, stronger on the flowers than the leather these days I think, and it’s true that in many cultures, carnations are what you take to the graveyard and not on the date. Have you tried Etro’s Dianthus?

  2. Undina says:

    I haven’t tried either CdG Carnation or Bellogia yet. I probably should because I find carnation note in perfumery very interesting.
    Carnations that I like come from Oeillets Rouge by DSH Perfumes and Vitriol d’oeillet by Serge Lutens.

    • Blacknall Allen says:

      If you can get your hands on it, try the Bellodgia in extract because I know that as a perfume person you will simply find more to “read” than in the edt which these days is rosy and thin if still pretty. I very much like the DSH myself, and haven’t gotten round to the Serge yet. Is it spicy or flowery?

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