Is certainly not poinsettia, which isn’t a flower anyway, only a set of colored bracts around a stunted central flower head. The only bloom with a scent that you can easily find in December is the carnation. It tends to crowd plastic buckets in supermarkets (along with pink and blue dyed chrysanthemums) and is the Christmas floral of choice. It’s pretty inexpensive too, so that what with the affordability and the ubiquity, the carnation bouquet has become the discount bouquet.
Who knows if tastes in perfume reflect the availability of flowers or their rarity? In my lifetime, the carnation has never been considered elegant. Therefore, it has fallen out of the perfumers’ lexicon. Or, to put it another way, carnation has become archaic. Almost any other flower is more common: lilies, roses, mimosas, jasmines even tuberoses and gardenias are more frequently reproduced in perfume (perhaps because of the banning of eugenol often used to recreate the scent of carnations). Continue reading →
One December about a decade ago I heard an increasingly annoyed exchange between an old gentleman and one of the SA s at a branch of Douglas perfumes. The subject was Caron’s Bellodgia. She said here’s the bottle and he said no, not the eau de toilette, I want the perfume!
The SA could be excused for thinking him a bit eccentric. He was clearly at least in his seventies and no doubt he was getting picayune about something that didn’t matter. The fuss, the codgery, the annoyance all had to do with the fact that he wanted to buy his wife a bottle of Bellodgia for Christmas. It was her favorite and he wanted the right kind, and they were a perfume shop, so why didn’t they have it? And if they didn’t have it, why didn’t they order it? Honestly, did he have to tell them their business?
You may not think of carnation as being an aggressive kind of a flower. I don’t certainly, but the fact is that Caron, the Parisian perfume house founded in 1904, seems to have meditated on the many ways to make carnation grow sharp long claws and an attitude to go with them.
One way was to make the carnation incredibly chic and competent. Those – like me – who could not aspire to the heights of chic could at least get their chores done in style, and so carnation (or its chemical doppelganger eugenol) was made to keep company with a lot of sequentially charming florals, and voila! Bellodgia.
Another stratagem for toughening up carnation, seems to have been a transformation into a floral oriental. That is what happened with 1954’s Coup de Fouet, which translates literally as “Whip Crack” or, as the charming Caron SA in New York more loosely put it: Crack of the Whip. (My own even looser translation is When the Whip Comes Down. We all have our little preferences.) Continue reading →
Sometimes floral notes are out of step with the times. It’s not that they have two left feet and can’t dance to contemporary tempos. It’s our fault, because we keep changing the beat. Right now we like to drink all night with rose alcohols, or alcoholic roses down at the club, and we figure these barfly buds are better company than old teetotal carnation.
Besides, carnations are cheap dates. In Europe you can bring home an armload of them for not much money. A few bucks will get you a nice bouquet in New York from your local corner grocer. They’re just not – recherché.
Their smell has not been emphasized by modern breeders, and they are not grown by modern gardeners, although actually they have one of the most individual and charming scents in flowerdom, and they come in every shade except blue and all have this nose teasing effervescence we call spiciness.
That was about it in 1976. Now you have entire lines devoted to the flower in all its variations. Les Parfums de Rosine is one such house, and besides its twenty or so perfumes, there’s a slew of mainstream releases popular with the public such as Stella, or Valentino’s Rockin’ Rose.
Parisian fashion loves to impose structure and absurdity on beauty in about equal parts. Don’t ask me why.
Oh well, go ahead. Ask me why.
Maybe it’s the French love of logic that requires the structure, and possibly the fondness they have for the offbeat that imposes the absurdity, cf Frenchie Bulldogs, the whole concept of the Jolie Laide, and Jerry Lewis.
The cumulative effect is at once mannered and a little strange, and so it is with that most Parisian of florals, the rose bouquet. To be French the bouquets must be extravagant in their rosiness, but to be chic, they must impose just a little peculiarity on their inhalers. Continue reading →