Nelembo nucifera has got a wonderful perfume all by itself. The lotus produces an extract that is sweet and strong with a sort of hay or grassy facet. If you’ve never smelled it, this extract is surprising because there is none of that watery quality you might have been expecting, instead you encounter a scent that is part flower, part grass, and finally something faintly like tobacco. The lotus is unexpected.
The waterlilies on the other hand only sometimes have a scent and when they do the scent can vary. Nymphaea odorata has been described as smelling of vanilla, fruit, or lilies of the valley. Long years ago my mother grew some in a whiskey barrel which we hauled into her pond. They must have been tender day bloomers, and though I remember that they were scented, I don’t any longer recall the particular perfume.
In commercial mainstream fragrances most people seem to expect an aqueous presence from the waterlily rather than the floral perfumes you actually get. The recent Aerin Lauder Waterlily Sun is one such, a thin green perfume which becomes a bit uninteresting on your wrist as it opts for a tea note in the heart and then an unspectacular dry down featuring common place musk. The perfume stayed on me for maybe two hours and was rather dull company. I had been hoping for something that really highlighted the scent of waterlilies, and was let down by this one.
Mind you, it could have been worse. I could have gotten one of those perfumes which feature waterlily in such a way as to reproduce a shower, the clean water lily. I’m thinking of Pure Grace, which has been described as being a shower or a bar of soap in a bottle. This may be all very well, but perhaps a good wash would accomplish the same goal for less money.
There are also two options in the Rose de Rosine line Lotus Rose which I have not smelled, and Ecume de Rose which I did some time ago. Ecume de Rose is a smooth formula dominated by a black currant in the heart, but the scent has a distinct water lily note in the top together with rugosa rose, and the effect is pretty and cooling without becoming one of those overly fruity roses. Lotus Rose is said by posters on Fragrantica to be a sweet floral, and reminds some of magnolia. There are better alternatives if you want to smell lotus. One was surely Atelier’s Pink Lotus, which seems no longer to be made. The fragrance was apparently mostly lotus and sandalwood and was described on Basenotes as vegetal and fruity.
Instead I would suggest Dawn Spencer Hurwitz’s Padme Lotus which is a natural perfume that revolves around the lotus flower. The beginning of Padme Lotus is quite citrussy and floral, with petit grain, some tuberose, but best of all is the pairing of osmanthus and blood orange.
It turns out that lotus and osmanthus is something of a clicheed partnership, but never mind, they still work like Astaire and Rogers here and make a beautiful introduction to the very lotus filled heart of this fragrance. As they whirl past you, you notice a deep floral scent and that greenish, heavy slightly medicinal note is the lotus. Dawn does not try to down play its herbal grassy side but instead promotes it with marigold, and then emphasizes the floral aspect with rose. Finally her dry down is wisely still green with vetiver and violet leaf giving you a cool impression all the time this scent is on your skin.
I wore Padme Lotus for an entire summer and got to love it. PL was instant cool in a sniff, even though the perfume was not an aquatic bouquet. This is quite a lovely choice. Also I must mention Neil Morris’ Intimate Lily as a waterlily option.
Here the waterlily is in the introduction to the fragrance, a fragrance which is all about lilies of various kinds, and nothing else. The beginning is waterlily and aldehydes, the heart is Casablanca lilies and lilies of the valley, and the end is a powdery retro essay in musk and vanilla. This is so lily centric that you feel as if it were all lilies all the time, but it is done in such a soft, as I say retro style that you completely avoid the hedione-y fake melon notes that usually accompany any waterlily fragrance. This one is also very long lasting. Intimate stays with you all day.
Perhaps I could find a perfume that is supposed to smell like a waterlily more specifically, but for now, Padme Lotus for lotus and Intimate Lily for Waterlily remain my picks.