The Unexpected Scent of Tulips

Tulip1Tulips are impossible to resist.  Certainly it was beyond me when I found a large escaped clump of bright scarlet tulips blooming in an out of the way corner of the lot, obviously former garden bed detainees who had decided on a prison break.  Out came the secateurs, and now I have a bouquet sitting on my breakfast table, drooping ever so slightly – well, okay, quite a bit – as tulips do after a first day in water.

The revelation is their smell.  They are large late tulips, which we used to call May tulips, with a correspondingly big scent: their smell is initially green with the freshness of ozone in it, then floral, a daffodil like scent with something powdery about it, presumably the pollen on those black pistils, and the base is honey, very warm and very golden, with a very faint component of dirty musk drowned in its sticky depths.  It is a perfume complete in itself, and most unfortunately, I cannot think of any fragrance on the market that really tries to replicate it.

There are two with the word Tulip in the name.  Byredo’s la Tulipe, and Il Tuo Tulipano.  I have not smelled the Byredo, but Il Tuo is a bouncy, cheerful floral fruity of great charm, a talkative and expansive kind of scent, though not, very like the tulips on the stem. The closest I have been able to come is Liaisons Dangereuses, a By Killian perfume that is largely a rose fragrance, but the rosiness is subjugated to a golden apricot note, and the whole concoction is one optimistic bright orange fruity composition, that could not be worse named.

Liaisons belongs to a sub-collection called Typical Me, which name would have been a much more fittingly unpretentious for this garrulous blend than the portentious Liaisons Dangereuses. In texture LD is rather fuzzy, and that has to stand in for the powdery notes you smell in the real tulips, but this is actually closer to the smell of the tulip in bloom than a lot of other fragrances, although it is minus the green ozonic lift of the living thing.

But you still don’t have the honey note that the big red tulips have.  I was wondering if the MAC scent would stand in here, but I don’t think it is floral enough, and  have to fall back on the hypnotic Delrae Amoureuse, which is vehemently floral and so drunkenly sweet that you feel you could ferment it and get mead as a result. Once again though, the initial freshness isn’t there, and Amoureuse doesn’t stand in for the flower, although the fragrance is well worth trying anyway.

Rummaging about in my vintage perfumes, one suggestion for a kind of tulip-anity is Rochas’ Tocade.  I’ve heard vague rumors that this has been reformulated and my mini bottle is an antique of sorts, at least a decade or more old. Tocade has the slightly flowery wine tonality that you smell in late spring flowers as though you could bottle the essence of a day in May.  You can’t, unfortunately, but you can find old bottles of Tocade for not too much money, and they are pretty without being either too loud or too heady. It is not as round a fragrance as the tulip scent though, and nothing else in my collection comes anywhere near the flower’s perfume.

So here’s a brief for a perfumer: make a tulip, a real tulip. A big, bright, brash, fresh tulip that explodes into a springtime bouquet and ends on a honey/myrrh and dirty musk note, you’d get some takers for sure, after all, tulips are irresistible.

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6 thoughts on “The Unexpected Scent of Tulips

    • Hope you did not have too many squirrel depredations! Our squirrels used to consider tulips a major food group.

  1. I like tulips but I’m not sure I want to smell of them. Byredo’s take is the closest… not to the right scent but to the scent I’m willing to wear 🙂

    • Just looked up the notes of La Tulipe, and it does look tempting. I particularly like the fruit note they have, rhubarb, is it, because the red tulips have that note. Gotta try it.

  2. Just ran across your blog and was wondering if you ever found a comparable perfume? I recently discovered that addicting honey/musk fragrance of tulips and I just can’t get enough!

    • That is an interesting question. I think that some of the musk florals do approximate tulips. The limited release Peut Etre from Lancome did a bit, that is somewhat hard to find. Currently I would try Narciso Poudre and maybe Neil Morris’ Rainflower which smells of fresh watery tulips.

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