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.
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.
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.