The Simple Complexity of Honeysuckle

Bush honeysuckle

Bush honeysuckle

Lonicera is the proper surname of of honeysuckle, but no matter which name you happen to call this vine you can’t mistake the scent. It’s frankly one of my favorite fragrances  on earth, and commonly found growing in enormous mounds at the seashore, a gorgeous, white floral fragrance with a fruit undertone from a plant that is sometimes not much more than a garden nuisance.

Surprisingly though honeysuckle isn’t that easy to interpret as a fragrance. You would think  it would be a very simple exercise for perfumers, but that seems not to be the case.  Reputedly Edmond Roudnitska created a beautiful honeysuckle base that took care of the note for many working perfumers, and I would love to smell this, but don’t know where it was incorporated into perfumes.

You see the difficulty here is that honeysuckle being a recreation, like lilies of the valley, is composed of a variety of other floral notes.  Getting the proportions right, so that the consumer inhales and says, “Ah honeysuckle,” is no easy  feat. Brands like Jo Malone,  partnered their honeysuckle with jasmine and hyacinth.  I found the Malone pretty but more jasmine than honeysuckle which defeated the purpose. In any case, this scent doesn’t seem to be in production any more.

Avon Honeysuckle Bottle with Bee

Avon Honeysuckle Bottle with Bee

If you love  honeysuckle you have a number of vintage options out there, including an Avon Honeysuckle( sometimes sold in an adorable beehive bottle with a small golden bee climbing the side ) that reminded many people of the vine in bloom.

There is also the Demeter version done reputedly by Christopher Brosius, which you can still buy on Ebay, including a roll on perfume oil which may last longer than the statutory Demeter fifteen minutes. However when you search for honeysuckle perfumes, most frequently you find  bouquet perfumes with  several ingredients that combine in your nostrils as honeysuckle.

The champion here is probably the discontinued Kate Spade perfume.  That was released

The original Kate Spade perfume

The original Kate Spade perfume

in 2003 and although it’s supposed to be a white floral with all the trimmings, what it smelled like on me was a very airy and realistic honeysuckle with an improbable but successful coconut base.  The trouble with that perfume is the price.  The original Kate Spade is often re-selling for two hundred dollars if the bottle is full.

More affordable is Cynthia Rowley, a perfume that is also very true to the honeysuckle but to my mind a bit sweeter and less perfectly floral than the Spade.  I prefer both (rather stubbornly I admit) to Annick Goutal’s le Chevrefeuille.  The stumbling block there is the level of green-ness in the Annick Goutal. This becomes more about the foliage of honeysuckles than the flowers, or seems so to my nose.  Vintage bottles have the trademark tomato leaf of Annick Goutals and that tomate-y version is the best of them, but still the AG honeysuckle is a creature of the hedgerow.

There exist a few other alternatives, L’Erbolario does a garden honeysuckle which incorporates the leaves and dirt of the vine’s s surroundings into the composition, and Santa Maria Novella does a sophisticated and pricey honeysuckle which is (or was) well worth the price for its warmth, sweetness, and truth to the flower.  Unfortunately I have not smelled the current SMN and do not know if the company has maintained the formula.

Japanese Honeysuckle in bloom

Japanese Honeysuckle in bloom

Coty released a Honeysuckle in their Sweet Earth series dear to those  alive during the seventies, and that is still around on Ebay.  I find it particularly touching because Francois Coty  himself a very talented nose, was defeated by honeysuckle. Finally his company re-constructed the flower many years after his death.  I sniffed the solid perfume which was a good likeness, very sweet with a slightly woody dry down.

Another choice is the Italian perfume Byblos distributed for years in Europe by Hanorah. This is a honeysuckle by way of combination with mimosa, and the perfume has a roundness and a depth sometimes missing in honeysuckle fragrances.  The fragrance is a fruity floral, a fact you can’t miss, and has an up beat happy quality.  Older bottles are best, but are very inexpensive now.  Otherwise some say IL Bacio is honeysuckle, but I did not smell the note there, and so don’t recommend it.

I have smelled very few contemporary honeysuckles. Providence Perfume’s Hindu Honeysuckle is a sensual jasmine, and I don’t detect the vine flowers in it.  However Soivohle’s Honeysuckle Bird is a worthy successor to some of the vintage perfumes, with a green introduction to the familiar floral heart of honeysuckle.  Like the best of them, HB maintains the rural quality of the flower.  There is something about this bloom that resists gentrification, honeysuckle loves  dirt between its toes.

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4 thoughts on “The Simple Complexity of Honeysuckle

  1. I own Le Chevrefeuille and agree that the greenness and tomato stem aspect detracts from the honeysuckle, which to my mind should be pretty darn sweet. Am not familiar with the Kate Spade one -probably just as well. ;) The Jo Malone scent is ringing a vague bell, like a couple of others I owned but which are now discontinued. Funny how your memories fade with them!

    • I liked the Jo Malone but not enough to buy, and actually don’t think I’ve ever bought a JM though I was tempted by Ginger Biscuit.

      It is just as well about the Kate Spade because that has become ridiculous on Ebay.

  2. I’m not sure if I know how honeysuckle smells. I do not like le Chevrefeuille – I can’t quite explain why but something in it smells unpleasant to me. I remember Kate Spade’s perfume very well: I liked it and wanted to get but it was expensive for me at the time so I used a couple of samples I’ve got and waited for it to get to discounter sites. I missed when it got discontinued and never bought it. But I always thought of it as jasmine perfume.

    • Your experience with Kate Spade sounds like mine. I liked it and was going to buy a bottle but the only place I could find it was Neiman Marcus and it was outside my budget. So I waited and poof it was gone.
      On me the Kate Spade was honeysuckle though I could definitely smell a nice jasmine in it. Wish the company would consider a re-issue.

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