Honeysuckles are difficult to do properly in perfumery. No less a perfumer than Francois Coty was said to be annoyed at the end of his life that he never mastered the scent. There wasn’t much that Coty hadn’t succeeded at in sixty four years of existence, so you can imagine the magnitude of the difficulty involved.
When honeysuckle season blows past me every June or so, I inhale and wonder if anyone actually bottles this wonderful smell? It isn’t in the least indolic, even though honeysuckle gets repeatedly cast in walk on roles as a white floral. It’s not remotely suited to them. The scent has something fruity about it, but the fruit scent is abstract. Honeysuckle actually has a lot more in common with osmanthus or freesia than jasmine, and I wonder that no one has combined the note with them, they would make a natural fruity floral of great charm, with none of the overtones of pricey sensuality that jasmine, or worse rose, bring to the table.
Honeysuckle reminds me of little Mabel Normand, the delightful partner of Fatty Arbuckle in the Fatty and Mabel movies. (She was tubercular and used to eat ice cream for breakfast, and her close friend the director William Desmond Taylor was murdered in 1922, which scandal poor Mabel never lived down.*) Lovely, utterly without pretense, and just a little bit prone to covering things up, this is what honeysuckle and Miss Normand both did, and what honeysuckle still does, anywhere it grows.
There are expensive versions of honeysuckle out there, if you want to spend: Aqua di Colonia Caprifoglio, Santa Maria Novella’s iteration, and you can drop the big bucks on Annick Goutal’s Chevrefeuille, personally I think honeysuckle does better by going down-market a bit, and I’m unimpressed by the notes included in things like Marc Jacob’s Blush, and don’t smell it at all in his release Dot, which my daughter wears. No, to get the goods (by which I mean the soliflore goods) you need something like the old Byblos by Byblos, available on Ebay now for less than $35.00. As always, older bottles are better, but you will like this fruity rendition, possibly more than the green inflected Goutal. The Byblos is a sweet friendly scent, and does well in summer, and some people say it is like the original Ines de la Fresange on Fragrantica, and that is getting rare as hen’s teeth.
This observation brings me to the other winner, in my experience, Demeter’s Honeysuckle, done by Christopher Brosius, and one of the best in the original line of pick me up fragrances. It does not last long, but hey, it’s a cologne, and was never meant to last. The Demeter smells as close as anything I have ever found to the real thing which is fleeting anyway. No really good flower smell ever sticks around for hours, and if it does it’s usually cloying. The best such experiences are evanescent, and so either feature briefly in the life of a perfume, as in old bottles of Chant d’Aromes which had a pronounced and exquisite honeysuckle note just before the heart opened, or else you need little colognes like the Demeter.
In any event, Honeysuckle, which grows anywhere and is a feature of waste ground and sea coasts, is unused to luxury. The fragrance is uncomfortable with pampering and may do just as well, or better, in the small bottle you bought for a song. I like to think of it wending its way along the boardwalk kicking its worn overalls over its toes, like little Mabel Normand, in a trance induced by summer, and heat, and the taste of frozen custard melting down a cone onto its suntanned fingers.
If it doesn’t stick around long, so what? Neither did Mabel. she was dead at thirty seven.
*I read this story, still a cold case as far as the LAPD is concerned, in A Cast Of Killers, which speculated upon the identity of Taylor’s murderer – almost certainly not Mabel, according to the police