This is the sort of idea that tends to put people off. It’s already pollen season in the Northeast, and I’m hearing a great deal of sneezing going on all around me, but the fact remains that an irritant is part of the charm of floral fragrances. Possibly there should be something, just a little something, abrasive in all that prettiness.
Some perfumers have had the same idea, and that’s why there is a small sub genre of floral perfumes that feature pepper in a prominent position of the formula. I can’t say the trick is a new one, Chanel’s Gardenia contained pimento back in the 1990’s in its heart along with clove and sage, this followed a lavishly floral beginning crowded with orange blossom, jasmine and tuberose. This gave Gardenia a piquancy that was maybe missing from some of its later iterations. Anyway that touch of pepper showed that white florals did not have to be banal.
The trend picked up a little at the turn of the century with Diptyque’s Ofresia, an Olivia Giacobetti perfume, of simple formula (or at any rate notes) and a very peppery presence. Ofresia is probably not one of the most popular in the line at Diptyque but bravo for their commitment to it, because it is one of the most distinctive and idiosyncratic floral perfumes ever composed. Ofresia is simply white freesia, pepper and wood. That’s it, just three accords, but they do sing together for hours and the effect is startlingly true to life. I have grown freesias and enjoy their fruity slightly dark
perfume, but the pepper takes what might have been a somewhat flat floral note, lifts it and shakes all the torpor out. Ofresia is a strange creature, despite its notes, as green a perfume as L’Ombre dans L’Eau, or very nearly, only the green here is intensely vegetable, all stem and leaf, and flower, in a living, rather nose tickling way. It’s an under appreciated perfume really.
Most recently I’ve come across this strategy of outflanking the petals with spice in the Diana Vreeland perfume Perfectly Marvelous. This series was one that almost all of the perfume reviewers and bloggers hated, but I think they passed judgement too fast. I liked Absolutely Vital, the floral oriental by Yves Cassar, and this beautiful floral by
Celine Barel is well worth smelling too. Like the old Chanel Gardenia PM uses pimento to wake up what might otherwise be a somnolent jasmine note, but the manoeuvre works quite well in Perfectly Marvelous, and the cliche jasmine takes on a fresh, unexpected form. This was my second favorite from the DV perfumes.
As you might not expect, the trick is done in slow motion. The pimento, jasmine, and sandalwood heat up to a lovely, slow, petal dominated dry down, that smoulders on skin for hours before burning down to the embers of Casmeran. On paper or fabric you can easily catch Perfectly Marvelous the next day as a luxurious left over from the night before.
If that’s what peppers can do for perfumes, lets have some more please!