The Flower Connection : Soliflores

Honeysuckles from

Honeysuckles from

Should a human smell like a flower?  My answer to this is that women in particular, but sometimes also men, have endeavored to smell just like flowers for centuries. Well bred women were recommended to steer away from bouquet perfumes in the past, especially those which were too expansive. Also the scent of certain flowers such as tuberose were considered too risque for the young or the innocent.

The Countess Bradi who wrote an etiquette book in the 19th century writes,” I forbid you to use manufactured perfumes, however I consider those diffused by natural flowers to be perfectly permissible…” So for women floral perfumes were fine once upon a time, but  more than a hundred years later Luca Turin was wondering why any woman would want to smell like a flower?  The answer is that flowers smell wonderful and we would like to as well.  Also, there are times when complicated perfumes, ones with olfactory twists and turns and blind alleys are like  mazes, and on certain days we would prefer not to have to thread our way through them.  Simplicity gets you from point a to point b directly and that can have a charm of its own.

Lily of the valley bouquet from

Lily of the valley bouquet from

So I thought I would devote a little time and consideration to the soliflore.  There may be some reasons not to do this, one is that soliflores are not in vogue at the moment.  But whatever, they are still among the most interesting perfumes to create and to use.  If they weren’t interesting to do, you wouldn’t find so many proportionally in the perfumer proposed scents of the Frederic Malle line.  They are mainstays too among Serge Lutens’ perfumes , and so the theory that soliflores are boring mostly belongs to perfume critics and not to perfumers.  Something about the natural perfumes of flowers, like the mysterious flight of bumblebees, invites efforts to reproduce  the effect, and what seems uncomplicated often turns out to be fiendishly difficult.

My own guess is that the soliflore is to the perfumer what the two egg omelette is to the chef, a simple assignment that often ends in tears, and therefore a test of skill.  The worst offense of perfume anyway- according to most perfumers- is to be a “soup” perfume, something which is full of ingredients but which fails to make a coherent statement on the air.  This sort of overstuffed production number is all too common.  It’s harder to create a soup of a citrus fragrance or a floral.  Soliflores resist soupiness by their very homogeneity. A rose may be green or fruity or myrrh tinged, but ultimately the flower must smell like a rose.

Lilacs in Vermont

Lilacs in Vermont

I think it would be fun to give a diverse set of perfumers the same brief: honeysuckle, or lily of the valley, or lilac and see what comes out of fifty different thought processes concerning the one familiar scent.  I would love to smell a competition of that sort, but I can’t, and so must confine myself to smelling those soliflores that over time have approached various flowers in variously successful ways.  But then, it is the end of February, and maybe it’s just a good time to slow down and smell the flowers.

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4 thoughts on “The Flower Connection : Soliflores

  1. I’m with you. Luca Turin can just SUCK IT, at least in regards to that one statement. (So can Coco Chanel with regards to her similar one, although I keep in mind that she was trying to sell some perfume.)

    I agree on the technical difficulties of making a fragrance that smells like a flower. I want a nice hyacinth, myself – not a cold metallic icy one, and not a mixed floral. I just want one that smells like green leaves and wet dirt, green and snappy and spicy and floral and intoxicating. I don’t think there’s a hyacinth scent in existence that smells like the real thing.

    To be honest, however, it’s cold here right now and the last thing I want is a floral, unless it’s a wide-load BWF.

    1. Two things, first I burst out laughing over the Turin comment, and secondly, was just trying to separate my soliflore samples into one bag when I dropped the hyacinth one which burst.

      It was Mme de Pompadour from Maison Nicolas de Barry, and all I could say was, “Oh Mme. de Pompadour just went all over the floor!” while trying to keep the cat out of the debris.

      Sadly, although Mme. de P is largely hyacinth, it is neither green nor snappy, and the earth wasn’t in there either. Curious how few good hyacinths there are out there. You would think hyacinths would be simple right? Nope.

  2. Haha – I think your omelette analogy is spot on – and boy, have I smelt a few muddled ‘soup’ – or kitchen sink – fragrances in my time?! Nothing wrong with smelling of flowers in my book. I would like to see the world’s top perfumers all having a go at the gardenia challenge (inspired by Mals’s recent post). You know, like the Great British Bakeoff, but for soliflores.

  3. I love the Great British Bakeoff- it’s not being broadcast here as consistently as it should be but what a revel for bakers. I’m working up the courage to attempt a cherry cake.

    Yes, as a matter of fact I was going to skip gardenias because I thought Mals was so thorough, and have of course bumped into a few more gardenias since her post. Gardenia Rattan? Is that gardenia?
    I would like to smell an international gardenia competition. The International Gardenia Open 🙂

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