So many flowers fall out of the repertoire of perfumery. The number of flowers that are not used always surprises me, outside of such perennials as gardenia, jasmine and tuberose practically every other flower I can think of has fallen out of favor during my years smelling perfume.
These days the hardest to find are lilacs, although Lilac Faith was released last year, part of the Aerin line at Estee Lauder, Carnation, and Heliotrope are little used except as moderators in some fragrances, others: Mignonette, Stock, Nicotiana, Wall Flowers, Primroses, Dame’s Rocket, and Phlox, as well as all sorts of other garden inhabitants never make the grade for contemporary fragrances.
I personally doubt that’s due to the flowers’ low Q ratings. I know that none of them have their own U-tube channels, but that really doesn’t make a difference. The public responds to what smells good on their skin, and if wallflowers do, what difference does obscurity make? Wallflowers were in Dior’s Dune, and that didn’t seem to bother consumers, even if most of them had never seen or smelled a wallflower in their lives.
But old fashioned flowers can find niches to grow inside the structure of modern perfumery. They can do so brilliantly too. The synthetic brightness of Francis Kurdijian’s style has demonstrated this particular kind of floral perfume very effectively. Take his Carven Le Parfum from 2013. That was a shadowless, almost klieg lit, portrait of a sweet pea blossom and the use of his blinding white light settings for flowers made the Sweet Pea almost crystalline, while remaining perfectly legible as a Sweet Pea. I should know, I’ve grown sweet peas for years (though sadly not in Jersey where they bolt). I knew precisely what I was inhaling, and still the perfume did not become an old fashioned soliflore, instead Le Parfum became a glass and steel Sweet Pea suitable to a high powered Parisienne who takes nonsense from no one, and yet the perfume had a lyricism as discernible as any Chopin Nocturne’s.
Once someone has gotten their technique down, there’s no great surprise when they refine it. We are talking about the same perfumer who released a mob of scented bubbles over Versailles, where they invaded the grounds, floated reflecting the chateau in their iridescent sides before popping and shedding their perfume over party goers. The work was equal parts play and impudence.
Kurkdijian has done it again, and distilled a formula of glassy brilliance with L’Eau Couture Elie Saab. I was not so impressed with the first Elie Saab honestly. That was mostly orange blossoms. I’m spoiled by wearing Cologne Sologne which is one of the best neroli colognes around and so any orange blossom composition I come across gets judged by that standard. Le Couture is another largely synthetic orange blossom but this time the blinding sweetness has been switched on and wearing this is like watching orange blossom filing onto a field to play a night game against vanilla. Old methyl anthranilate is sidelined. Maybe the stuff is there, but if it’s there I can’t spot it. This orange blossom
is a flower I can recognize because I’ve killed off I don’t know how many Calamondin orange trees, but this fluorescent orange blossom is totally twenty first century. I find the longevity of the almond , vanilla and orange blossom trio to be long for a modern citric floral, four hours and I had to take L’Eau off, having a backlog of things I wanted to try that day.
This kind of fragrance is interesting precisely because of the juxtaposition. It’s a mixture of something recognizable from the natural world and materials that are memory-less and modern. These are abstract scents, transparent and sleek: floral architecture for the twenty first century.