February is about to turn into March, it makes me think that I should clean out all my wardrobes, take the coats to the dry cleaners, wash the sweaters, and clean out the perfume closet because one day soon incense will make me recoil. Does everyone wear perfume seasonally? I always have, partially because everywhere I have lived there have been sequential seasons, and it was difficult to ignore their cold and heat, and wear the same thing. You could stock a rudimentary scent wardrobe by selecting one scent for summer and one for winter, but even that strained the Spring and Fall dichotomy. Unsettled weather, weather that changes from day to day, is hard to plan for and hard to choose for, your old favorites are too stuffy and warm or too evanescent and light. What can you wear in between perfume seasons?
The green floral scents do this for me. I’m not quite sure why. Oh well, maybe the idea of shoots sent up from the earth or the half dozen huge clumps of daffodils I’ve discovered in our old garden. So I’ve been looking for perfumes that celebrate the narcissus. Balmain’s Ivoire, Guerlain’s Un Air de Samsara, also Le Temps d’un Fete the great discontinued scent by de Nicolai. All of them capture that fresh grassy softness that is the harbinger of Spring and which goes with suddenly warmer weather, windows cracked at night, and the rich dark smell of rain soaked soil in the garden.
Let me begin with the greatest loss here, Le Temps d’un Fete. This is perhaps the best of all the narcissus fragrances. It has the pollen scent of the daffodils down cold, and is wonderfully choral and full, as though you were smelling a hillside’s worth of daffodils at once. I used not to like it myself, but came around after a couple of years and bought a bottle, because I knew something this lovely would not last. It hasn’t. I really can’t think of anything that is like it. There are a couple of perfumes with daffodil openings, but they segue into cheaper and flatter scents. Much less formal than Caron’s also discontinued Montaigne, and Cradle of Light, Christopher, Brosius’ grande dame of a narcissus floral, Le Temps was not only beautiful, but wearable. It spun a springtime atmosphere around its acid green core. Le Temps was a perfume in the tradition of Vent Vert- only modern.
Oh well. My other two options are still out there. Vintage Ivoire* is easy to find, and although. like a lot of scents of its era, it has many listed notes the whole impression is of smooth pale celadon, rather than the advertised ivory. Ivoire tamed the notoriously strong galbanum and incorporated that into a bouquet dominated by lily of the valley and rose, with a little hyacinth thrown in to intensify the springtime effect. The musky woody ending was also gentle, with just a whisper of sweetness from raspberry. Altogether Ivoire was a study in the proper way to craft a green perfume: not as a bustled, vetiver trimmed, whale boned Worth ensemble that itched, but like a Fortuny dress that draped in a velvety texture against the skin. Ivoire was comfortable.
Un Air de Samsara on the other hand, was and is airy. Big jasmine and big sandalwood, hiding under a mist of pale mint in the head notes like a morning fog destined to burn off by noon. All this is more pleasant than you might think. Myself I’ve never been able to wear the expansively sandalwood Samsara so the flankers are my preference. Un Air is a good scent for those prematurely humid days when it has gotten too warm too fast, and you struggle with yourself about turning on the A/C in April.
These are not the only choices. If you like new things, Penhaligon’s Ostara is a lovely floral based on the daffodil, but jump because like many Penhaligons, it seems to be a limited release. Some people call it a soliflore daffodil ( which would be a good idea, they’re rare) but probably Ostara is a springtime bouquet and I have not smelled it.
Among other narcissus fragrances you can find…
Retro: L’Artisan Parfumeur, Fleur de Narcisse: a very animalic, haylike narcissus, with a good many other things (not necessarily floral) going on. Very expensive if found, very good on men.
Original Weil de Weil: This is a really beautiful 70’s version of the green floral idea with a distinct hay scent in the heart. Beautiful and expensive on Ebay, but worth it.
Original Lauren Safari: This was a green perfume to begin with but changed over time. The first version did contain a narcissus in the middle.
Caron Narcisse Blanc: Now very hard to find, a real perfume for connoisseurs, made up of narcissus and iris notes. It begins with daffodils and ends with elegant dry iris, simply stunning.
Narcisse Noir: The classic fresh faced cologne on top of a dark narcissus centered oriental floral. Very sexy, very sophisticated, even reformulated, not a young girl’s scent, but easily a man’s these days.
Vicky Tiel Couture: Like many of the VT’s this is a floral and an aldehydic one with a lot of similarities to NO 5, but it is gentler on skin, and a more affordable fragrance. Possibly a pocket square scent for a gent?
Do you have a favorite daffodil scent?
- The new release of Ivoire in the square bottle does not contain narcissus and is rather different.