Hyacinths in the Air

still life with hyacinthIn Britain it might be bluebells, but here in North America one of the best clues that Spring has really arrived, is this scent: grassy, pervasive, and fresh.  When I smell it a cascade of images always runs down the surface of my mind: Easter services I’ve sat through in buttermilk colored southern churches, huge bouquets in white wicker baskets, bristling with pink, blue, and yellow hyacinths in front of altar rails, and the bowls of faience pottery we always had at home, with forced hyacinth bulbs in them every March. These last, just because. As my Mother said, we were good and tired of winter.

Hyacinths for me are spring.  However not everyone enjoys their fragrance.  Even in named varieties of hyacinth it varies, and in some the smell is just a smell, and a powerful one at that. Some hyacinths are indolic and off-putting at meals, if placed too near the dining room.

My own best bets with hyacinths have been with the whites and the pinks, L’Innocence, an old variety, always smells good, as does Pink Pearl, some of the creams are reliable too, particularly City of Haarlem.  The blues vary, some are wonderful and some are just so strong that they’re better in gardens than indoors, though ymmv.  All scent issues aside, they are too fabulous to leave out of houses in March or late February if you just can’t stand another icicle drip of winter.

Blue Hyacinth for post Hyacinth perfumes are another matter.  Really good ones are few and far between.  Maybe it’s that forceful perfume again.  Possibly a lot of perfumers think that the scent is too strong for any wearer to get away with, making them just as conspicuous as those Easter basket arrangements.  Hyacinths are usually not subtle, and the public often doesn’t know the smells of nature.  They are so much more familiar with hedione than hyacinths, that hyacinths might prove a difficult sell in a fragrance now.

The oldest and most reliable version is Guerlain’s Chamade, however the perfume does wallow in the soap dish, and might seem dated to younger wearers.  Recent picks for hyacinth nosegays include Vero Kern’s Mito, which seems to divide people into two camps, those who think Mito’s like Eau de Rochas and the rest who liken it to Cristalle, in both cases everyone says Mito is more complex than either of those citrus chypres.  I’ve never smelled Mito, but include the fragrance here, because so much has been written about Vero Kern.

Modern takes on hyacinth include Patricia de Nicolai’s Le Temps d’un Fete, and her Un Coeur en Mai for MDCI.  This last is either a love or a hate experience, and ties off the hyacinth rose stems in its bouquet with very un-sweet sharp green grass.

Un Coeur en Mai is sophisticated, the Chablis of hyacinth perfumes, not the Pinot Grigio.  Although described as a rose perfume, I would call it a distinctly sharp green rose with more emphasis on those leafy notes than most noses might be expecting.

My favorite for producing (anyway for twenty minutes) the best hyacinth, daffodil and narcissus bouquet I’ve ever smelled is Pierre Bourdon’s The Mistresses of Louis the XIV.  I keep mentioning this series because I feel that it included some feats of perfumery that you don’t often come across, and this short lived bouquet is among them.  The rest of the perfume becomes a faintly sweet, pale green, incense smoked dry down of much less interest, but those first twenty minutes are spectacular.  If pressed, if someone asked for a hyacinth perfume now, I’d recommend this one for the beginning, and then I’d mention Mito.

pink hyacinths in bloomOr maybe the best way to smell hyacinths is in bloom next to your back steps on a warming April evening.  You couldn’t go wrong then.


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15 Responses to Hyacinths in the Air

  1. mals86 says:

    I never notice the hyacinth in Le Temps d’une Fete. (I adore them blooming. Have never not adored them.) It’s more noticeable in Chamade, I think, but still, sort of buried under everything else.

    Mito does not smell of hyacinth to me, either! Relationship to Cristalle, I see that, but I don’t love Cristalle and Mito didn’t sing for me.

    I think I have a sample of Un Coeur en Mai, but I’m not sure where it is…

    • Chamade is many things and honestly I haven’t smelled it in a year or so. But hyacinth is in there putatively, also in Nahema. That used to be a big pink hyacinth note and probably has dwindled to a small green stem.

      Is there such a thing as a hyacinth soliflore? Hyacinth is in Vacances of course, and also Chaldee, but the other hyacinth note I remember was from Fleur de Fleurs.

      Un Coeur en Mai I took on faith, because although I sniffed greens, no particular hyacinths. But very grassy, and very dry.

  2. bloody frida says:

    I was just thinking of hyacinths and wondering what perfume smells like them. Thanks for this; though I agree w/Mals – I don’t get hyacinth from Le Temps, though I should re-sniff just to make sure. I’m very interesting in sniffing out Mistresses now.

  3. You’re so welcome, I wish I could offer real hyacinths this spring!

    I just re-smelled Le Temps this morning and must say I agree that it isn’t one particular flower, hyacinth or otherwise, but an amalgam of floweriness, like a flower Rubic’s Cube, with first one sort of spring bulb dominating and then another.
    And because I was responding to Mals, was mulling it over and believe that the two best hyacinths I ever knew were in Nahema and Fleur de Fleurs.

    Mistresses is hyacinths in a spring bouquet with narcissus, and daffodils. Lovely thing but only for twenty minutes on my upper wrist. I just about timed it because was so bummed that it did not last. The end is pretty but nothing like so good, and there isn’t a discernible third phase dry out. Nothing green really seems to last well, apart from Alpona-that does, or old Vent Vert.

  4. carole macleod says:

    Here in the land of Never Ending Bloody Winter-I ahve been dreaming of spring flowers. Crocus. Hyacinth. I know it will come, but i want it now!!!

    And, if this isn’t a thread jacker-the Grandiflora Michel scent is so beautiful. It smells like it was composed by a man who grew up with the man who created Femme, Diorella, and Therese. Really complex, like a strand of silk twisting and turning. Beautiful and womanly. I don’t have the associations you do with magnolia-this isn’t the climate for that flower. But i am interested to know if you smell this, what your thoughts are.


    • Don’t mind changing the topic at all if it’s this interesting, I wondered about those two magnolia compositions and like most of what I’ve smelled of Michel Roudnitska’s, especially Amoureuse. So now, really must go and sniff this one too. Does no one like the Sandrine Videault? Her things were highly idiosyncratic…

      • carole macleod says:

        Manoumalia was the only SV creation i had the pleasure to smell-i loved it. The first time i wore it I felt repelled by it-i wanted to get it off my arm. But there was something in it-i couldn’t stop smelling it-then I loved it. I hope to smell this in the near future-i am very curious about her work.

        • Blacknall Allen says:

          Manoumalia was a very one of a kind perfume, and it’s good to hear that you loved it. I thought it was too …tropical for me. Or maybe tropical is the wrong word-nature identical- is the phrase possibly. It always reminded me of the garden behind the bungalow in Rikki Tikki Tavi.

  5. Undina says:

    I know that I like hyacinth in perfumes (since I keep seeing the note in the perfumes that I like) but I have no idea how it smells: I saw those flowers many times but I’ve never smelled them.

    • It’s a beautiful strong green scent. If you spot them in your local market, have a sniff. I love them myself, and only the very whiffiest hyacinths ever put me off.

      Did you ever try Fleur de Fleurs? That has a hyacinth component.

  6. annemariec says:

    Estee Lauder’s Private Collection (the original, 1973) is another grand hyacinth fragrance. From the days when EL made real fragrances, not pretty smelling waters.

    • Undina will laugh because I think we all keep recommending the original Private Collection to her for various lovely green florals, and she probably knows very well by now that the fragrance has been re’fo’d more than once since its glory days.

      But those glory days were pretty wonderful. I remember one sister in law wearing Private Collection and that was so elegant on her, like strolling next to a spring garden.

  7. mals86 says:

    NEW ENTRANT: Smell Bent Florist’s Fridge!

    Brent says hyacinth and orchid (though I could swear I’m smelling carnation and rose as well). Very freshhhhh. 4ml travel spray plus shipping, approximately $11 at the SB site. (It’s under FrankenSmellies.)

  8. Blacknall Allen says:

    This remind me of an old L’Artisan called… wait a minute. L’Eau de Fleuriste, that smelled just like a florist’s cooler. So now I’ll have to check out this one.

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