Is certainly not poinsettia, which isn’t a flower anyway, only a set of colored bracts around a stunted central flower head. The only bloom with a scent that you can easily find in December is the carnation. It tends to crowd plastic buckets in supermarkets (along with pink and blue dyed chrysanthemums) and is the Christmas floral of choice. It’s pretty inexpensive too, so that what with the affordability and the ubiquity, the carnation bouquet has become the discount bouquet.
Who knows if tastes in perfume reflect the availability of flowers or their rarity? In my lifetime, the carnation has never been considered elegant. Therefore, it has fallen out of the perfumers’ lexicon. Or, to put it another way, carnation has become archaic. Almost any other flower is more common: lilies, roses, mimosas, jasmines even tuberoses and gardenias are more frequently reproduced in perfume (perhaps because of the banning of eugenol often used to recreate the scent of carnations).
Once when I was writing to a perfume critic years ago, I asked him why it was that carnation notes were so rare. “They are old fashioned” he wrote back. All of which circumstances lead to the paradoxical result that for an inexpensive flower, good carnation perfume is now very expensive.
There are three classics I can think of straight off the bat, none of them affordable: Bellodgia (Caron) Malmaison (Floris, and discontinued) and Golconda (JAR perfumes). I am trying, by the way, to boil down my results to the very best of them, because I love carnations and have looked for years to find the ones I thought most elegant and best wearing, though if anyone has any new suggestions let’s hear them!
I have not included Garofano (Villerosi or SMN), or Fiori di Capri (Carthusia), or for that matter Etro’s Dianthus which was too watery, or L’Artisan parfumeur’s Oeillet Sauvage, which smelled like pinks, and have not mentioned the niche work of Ava Luxe or Dawn Spencer Hurwitz, though I liked the waxy scent of Ava Luxe’s Oeillets Blancs quite a bit.
So here I am, stuck at three. I own a small bit of carefully guarded Bellodgia in extract. It is vintage, very dark, and has to be applied sparingly. Too much makes for an olfactory impasto on skin, smudging the lilies of the valley of the heart into a brown indistinguishable mess with the red roses of the top note and the carnations of the dry down, but if you are careful not to over do it, the perfumer’s intentions come across with startling freshness for such an old perfume, and a lush floral generosity that has to be smelled to be believed. Bellodgia in extract ceases to be sprightly and becomes regal and quite Christmasy just as much- to me, anyway- as Caron’s official Christmas scent Nuit de Noel.
Golconda, which I smelled in New York, is pretty outrageous, $500 an ounce, but what an ounce it is! Easily the best carnation perfume in production these days, and available now in its original formula, which as I recall it, is half way between the flowers and the spices of clove, a gorgeous, opulent composition, which also smells largely natural to me, especially in the older version. I would buy it, but there are already so many other things to do with that kind of money, that I find myself putting the credit card back where I found it.
And then there is Malmaison. That has to be one of the best names for a carnation perfume ever used. Napoleon’s wife Josephine grew parterres overflowing with carnations in her gardens around Malmaison. She probably grew more roses proportionately than carnations there, if Redoute’s work is to be credited, still Malmaison is the British firm Floris’ version of a spicy carnation perfume, formulated with what must have struck their staid British souls as Gallic panache.
There were (you’d already guessed it right?) different versions, and the one I smelled in the nineties, when I foolishly preferred Edwardian Bouquet to Malmaison, was spicy, carnation-y and soft, but the earlier version was a good deal more assertive. This is the version I wish that I could smell now. Truth be told, since I already own and wear Bellodgia, this is also the perfume I would want to acquire but, it ain’t happening. Malmaison appears to have vanished off the face of the earth.
Carnation perfumes should come back. Let me point out that they are close to being perfectly unisex, good choices for men and women alike, and they are devoid of the indolic notes that make tuberose and jasmines difficult for men to pull off. Perhaps a white carnation note would be a good choice, a lighter option that the incense and ambers people use in winter weather, a crisp floral option for the crisp cold air of Christmas.