Yes, the same little annuals you have planted in your vegetable patch to discourage insect predation, those are the ones used in perfumery, or to correct myself, they were used in perfumes. Tagetes (which is their proper surname) seldom put in appearances in fragrance formulas anymore.
Once they were common enough. In the eighties when the first generation of fruity florals came out, tagetes were frequent top notes in scents. They had a strong but slightly fruity touch to their herbal tartness and so ended up in compositions like that of the original Lauren, Weil’s Bambou, and Calyx.
Many people regret Lauren, which used to have a glowing golden fruitiness to it that is now vanished. The beginning was a marigold and green leaf posy, the heart was chiefly cyclamen, and the end was musky. If you were a child or adolescent during the eighties you probably smelled Lauren on someone, because this was Ralph’s first big hit, before Polo and all its variations, Black or otherwise.
Tagetes seem to be out of favor these days, but I did run into two fragrances where they have turned up recently. The first was Arquiste’s Flor Y Canto. This is an exuberant white flower mix dominated by tuberose. There is an orange Hispanic sun burning on this bouquet. The perfume smells like a fiesta, and there is a sunlight marinated warmth about the composition.
Altogether Flor Y Canto reminds me of some of Diego Rivera paintings of flower sellers in Mexican markets. If only there were whiskey in the composition, Flor Y Canto might stumble into Under the Volcano’s territory, but Flor remains feminine, even proper, and because of this annoying propriety at a party, ever so faintly bitter underneath its magnolia and marigold chapeau.
After the stunning Anima Dulcis, this smelled like one of the best in the Arquiste line to me, which seems to come most alive in its Mexican vignette perfumes.
The other recent tagetes sighting was in Mark Buxton’s Sleeping with Ghosts. This is a milky, apply little scent which reminded folks of Joop’s All About Eve on Fragrantica. If you never smelled Eve back in the nineties, that was a perfume that was all about apples. In this perfume quince and tagetes are the appetizer, before a peony and leather entree, but the end is not woody as you might expect, serving up instead a Habanita reminiscent vetiver and vanilla desert. In short, Mark Buxton has baked his apples into a creamy pudding, and that is a change from All about Eve, whose apple was crisp as I recall it, possibly a Granny Smith green.
In both cases the Mark Buxton and Arquiste lines have gone out of their way to use a not very common natural. They deserve to be looked at a bit more. In the heap of releases from 2011-2012 these may have been somewhat overlooked. Both are worth revisiting, marigolds and all.