“To create a new commonplace, that’s genius”, wrote Baudelaire in Fusées.
That the smell of greenery and flowers signifies spring is a cliché whose authorship no one can claim but nature. However, the accords it inspired to genius perfumers have become commonplaces, poncifs in the Baudelairian sense, and templates of modern perfumery. Jacques Guerlain’s galbanum and jonquil in Vol de Nuit; Germaine Cellier’s galbanum, geranium and hyacinth in Vent Vert, which would yield all the green florals of the 60s; Edmond Roudnitska’s perfect balance of green, rosy, white floral and animal notes in Diorissimo’s lily-of-the-valley arabesque; Henri Robert’s galbanum and iris in N°19…
It would be pointless to list those four in a seasonal top ten: they are a given. I’ll just take it from there and list the ten I am most drawn to this season. Floral fugue in tones of green.
Like the thin greyish skin of a fig slashed open by a sharp fingernail, the astringent, almost poisonous box-woody greenness of Isabelle Doyen and Camille Goutal’s Ninfeo Mio releases a milky, tender juice warmed by the mossy-green-almond/hay facets of mastic and aromatic lavender. Darting sunrays between fluttering leaves: Ninfeo Mio shimmers.
From glass-blade green to liquorice black, Pierre Guillaume’s Papyrus de Ciane slides from the juiciness of galbanum to the rounded, leather-tinged accents of the Mousse de Saxe along a slender stem oozing bitter wormwood sap: a green 70s floral growing out of a classic Caron.
Darker still: Vero Kern's Onda. The new eau de parfum which will be launched in July reprises the earthy vetiver, leather and tobacco notes of the parfum: the formula has been adjusted to bring out the iris; the animal notes which made wearing the parfum such a commitment have been replaced with the passion fruit, which soaks Onda’s dirt with an acid, sulfurous burst of tropical juice. It’s still a beast. But it can be walked around the park now without biting your arm off.
Up the green spectrum until it veers into white: Ormonde Jayne’s Tiaré (now available in the discovery set) pulls the 70s citrus/green floral into tropical climes by adding a thick, velvety petal texture to the muguet and jasmine heart with the namesake tiaré absolute, on the trademark Ormonde Jayne gauzy wood base. As buoyant as a Grace Kelly New Look cocktail dress billowing in trade winds.
Nathalie Feisthauer’s Gardénia Pétales for Van Cleef and Arpels is more of a lily-gardenia hybrid than a proper gardenia – welded by the flower’s common green note – set in tropical, ylang-frangipani-vanilla accord. Of all my fragrances, this is the one (along with Carnal Flower) that never fails to get a compliment thanks to its huge, irresistibly lovely sillage. I’m not turning up my nose at that.
No scent to this day has conveyed the carnivorous, smoky-spicy smell of my dream lily-from-hell, but Un Lys by Serge Lutens and Christopher Sheldrake may come closest to the aromatic saturation of a live bouquet. The lily accord is stretched out from watery green top notes that veer towards lily-of-the-valley to a vanilla slightly tinged with wood, perhaps warmed up with a dollop of opoponax. Sweet, but thankfully not quite virginal.
Annick Goutal and Isabelle Doyen' s Grand Amour dives into a garden gone wild with the giddiness of spring to gather an exuberant armful of flowers. The green, heady hyacinth accord is subdued with milky, honeyed ambery notes. How can a scent composed by and for one woman feel so intimate to another? It can only be grace.
As a dear friend recently told me, Bertrand Duchaufour’s recent floral trilogy, despite having come out in two different houses, should be boxed in a set: the sparkling, sunny Orange Blossom, the carnal, tropical, cardamom-spiked cream-of-ylang Amaranthine (both Penhaligon’s) and the oddly radiant, fruit-and-roots Nuit de Tubéreuse (L’Artisan Parfumeur) express the three faces of Eve – their common point being the Garden of Eden greenness that runs through them all.
I’ve had to exercise a certain amount of self-restraint not to wear them exclusively. In fact, Grand Amour and Le Parfum de Thérèse (oops, have I just added an eleventh pick?) are the only ones likely to get as much skin time these days. Woman is fickle, but these might be long-drawn affairs…
After all, you must believe in spring... (click to hear Bill Evans' version of Michel Legrand's soaringly beautiful song for Les Demoiselles de Rochefort).
For more Spring Top Tens:
Ilustration: Basket of Light by Flor Garduño.