On Magnolias, Being Southern, and Pierre Bourdon

The Old Bull Bay magnolia

The Old Bull Bay magnolia

Not necessarily in that order.

Perfume taste is different in different parts of the world, and it’s even different between states in the US, which is admittedly a big  place. New York likes strong novelty perfumes, the niche stuff, you smell a lot of ambroxan, a lot of synthetic oud.  Jersey likes fruitchoulis, and up market Jersey buys Bond No 9 and Creed, especially Virgin Island Water. Connecticut so far as I can smell depends heavily on the township, from low to very high end. Californians I understand go for the flowered stuff and will buy naturals.

If you’re Southern though you have been born with a fondness for the smells of humid afternoons in late Spring.  I know, because I was and the scent of magnolias, of gardenias, and of those big old weed trees locusts, are among my favorites.  Now here is a new perfume from Pierre Bourdon no less, with a 60% concentration of magnolia absolute and I cannot get my hands on a sample!

Pierre Bourdon's Sous les Magnolias from his new line

Pierre Bourdon’s Sous les Magnolias from his new line

If you’re new -or sort of new to perfumery- a word of explanation here, Pierre Bourdon is one of the greatest perfumers of recent decades.  Retired now, he seems to have stepped out for the launching of a company of his own.  Instead of the obligatory dozen perfumes he has five, two masculines and three feminines packaged in his sober good taste which runs I have read to Directoire furniture and reading Proust.  So far as I can tell, people who’ve tried them like Le Grand Tour, the citrus masculine, and predictably La Dame en Rose which sounds a little like his Ferre or his Iris Poudre except that the notes don’t include the famous iris that was the basis of Iris Poudre. la Dame en Rose is a rose perfume under a raspberry chapeau and sounds quite flirtatious.

Still it’s Sous Les Magnolias that intrigues me, and this despite the fact that it contains my old nemesis musk.  It also brims with magnolia, and if the perfume is as evocative of Southern lawns as Bourdon’s Dolce Vita was of Roman trattorias, then I must try it.

Partially this depends on the magnolia. Which kind is it? In any case, if it smells like Magnolia grandiflora (the old Bull Bay magnolias to us Americans) good, but if it smells like any of the other white flowering magnolias I am in.  You see it’s that unique blending of the lemony and the creamy that makes the scent of magnolia so irresistible.  Personally I love it even more than gardenia.  There is something about the magnolia which speaks to any Southerner just as much as sweet tea does, and almost as much as fried chicken, especially buttermilk marinated fried chicken, but I digress.

Yulan magnolia in flower, this one has a wonderful scent

Yulan magnolia in flower, this one has a wonderful scent

It’s heartening to know that  another master perfumer has made a seriously magnolia perfume.  I confess that I could not smell the Eau de Magnolia of Frederic Malle and got mixed reports of the Magnolia Grandiflora duo  by Michel Roudnitska and Sandrine Videault. Maybe this time I will smell the magnolias in the bottle. It may not be Dumbarton Oaks in spring but this far north, I take what I can get.  Do you have a favorite magnolia perfume?

*When I was a child the matrons of Howard County used to argue about fried chicken, but generally it was conceded that marinating the chicken overnight in cold buttermilk before drying, flouring, egging and rolling in batter produced a very succulent result. Otherwise techniques varied, and my British mother covered herself in shame by using Shake n’ Bake!

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7 thoughts on “On Magnolias, Being Southern, and Pierre Bourdon

  1. Oh dear… Shake n’ Bake. Oh dear, oh dear. (To be forthrightly honest about it, since I belong to that subset of Southerners whose roots go into the Appalachians, I’m far more concerned about proper cornbread than about proper fried chicken. I’ve had more bad cornbread than bad fried chicken, especially the farther I venture out of this region. And we won’t discuss pork barbecue or sweet tea; that would likely take all week!)

    The big grandifloras don’t thrive this far up in elevation. We can grow the sweetbay, but they don’t get huge and sprawling the way they do in warmer places. Wonderful, though – we donated a sweetbay magnolia to the grounds of our church in honor of our daughter’s birth, and babied it all summer. It’s thriving now.

    I didn’t like the Michel magnolia; it was dull. Didn’t try the Sandrine, didn’t try the Malle. Would like to try this one, and perhaps La Dame en Rose. You know I love Iris Poudre especially for its fluffy drydown. I don’t know that I’d miss the iris so much…

      • The roses are in honor of Valentine’s Day because, heck, everybody deserves roses in February!

        La dame en Rose does seem to be the most popular of the Pierre Bourdons and I’d like to smell that too, but first things first- the magnolias please!

        Love the idea of donating a magnolia to the church when you had a baby girl! What a good idea, I think we cherish the feminine in the South, or as one lady in Charleston once said to me,”We love our little girls!”

  2. Ah the beautiful Magnolia. You speak of it with the same love and memory that I as a Southerner, Southern California that is, feel about Gardenia. The flower we all grew up with in our back yards from Santa Barbara to San Diego. That heady mix of the fleshy flower and the waxy leaves that become like a drug in August on a hot night in Palm Springs. The glorious mix of heat, smog, chlorine for thousands of pools and gardenia is a particularly Southern California olfactory sensation. It may not sound appealing but believe me it is movie star magic.
    I so loved reading your post. Bravo and I now want to get my nose on Sous Les Magnolias

    • Well, actually now I want to smell a backyard in Palm Springs after that description of yours. The whole atmosphere does sound incredibly glamorous.
      There is something about the smells and sounds of home that just exert an incredible pull on us. So yes, I understand the lure of gardenias on a Californian completely.
      Now we’ll have to beg shamelessly the next acquaintance going to Paris or London for a sample of the new Bourdons 😉

  3. Tried the Malle, not the other ones! Not really the fleshy lemony magnolia we crave. I don’t particularly rate Magnolia Nobile by Aqua di Parma, which is a bit similar. In the mainstream market, I’d say Kenzo Eau de Fleur de Magnolia is the best rendition I know, and for niche it is Zelda.

    Re the fried chicken, you have reminded me of that chain of restaurants specialising in the cuisine, whose slogan was ‘Born and Breaded in South Carolina’!

    • Oh great stuff, born and breaded! You have just made my morning which was otherwise filled with shoveling snow :-(

      Zelda is complex, and I could only once really separate out the magnolia note in that, have you tried her Zoologist scent? Lanier was reviewing Hummingbird, and it’s fruity.
      The best version of magnolia I’ve smelled was a soap made in South Carolina by a local firm. Course I’ve forgotten the name, but that was real magnolia alright.

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