I’d never met heliotropes in person until a wander round the Champ de Mars – the park that rolls from the Eiffel Tower to the École Militaire – found me suddenly daydreaming about biscotti… I traced the mouth-watering aroma to a bed of small star-shaped purple blossoms. Nature is a genius pastry chef.
Though the essence of heliotrope cannot be extracted, the note was tremendously popular throughout the 19th century: it was one of the few deemed demure enough for well-bred ladies. It was conjured with essences of almond, vanilla and orange blossom until heliotropine was synthesized in 1869. From the 1880s to the 1930s with, predictably, a peak during the Mauve Decade, well over a hundred heliotrope fragrances were produced, not counting dozens of lilacs and a handful of wisteria, heliotrope’s sisters in the anisic floral family. Its wistful, tender scent, wed to mimosa and violet, yielded the Impressionistic masterpiece Après l’Ondée. Is it surprising then that Patricia de Nicolaï, upholding her heritage, would turn one day to such a quintessentially gourmand, Guerlain flower?
With its candied lemon peel top note, Kiss Me Tender, to be launched later in September, is also quintessentially Nicolaï: the perfumer has always had an elegant hand with confectionery effects. Patricia de Nicolaï herself compares her newest scent to the pastel-coloured candied almonds called dragées that are traditionally handed out to guests in tulle pouches at weddings and christenings.
Though it is simple, to call Kiss Me Tender a soliflore would be selling it short: the smell of heliotrope is a perfume in itself. Patricia de Nicolaï has bolstered the almond and vanilla facets of the heliotropine core with natural essences, warmed with a sprinkle of clove. As the fragrance develops, the naturalistic heliotrope reconstitution gives way to a robust floral heart of ylang-ylang, orange blossom and jasmine – at this point, Kiss Me Tender is dominated by a jasmine and almond accord.
There is something innately well-bred, demure and a tad nostalgic about Kiss Me Tender – in it, Patricia de Nicolaï pursues the exploration of retro, romantic floral notes she started with her two previous feminines, Violette in Love and Weekend à Deauville, as well as her Un Coeur en Mai for MDCI. The scent also fully deserves its “tender” epithet – but between the floral and candied facets, you’ll never quite decide whether it calls for either a kiss or a lick.
Patricia de Nicolaï’s press office has kindly offered a draw for three samples: drop a comment if you’d like to preview tryout.
For much, much more on Kiss Me Tender and the mauve charms of heliotrope, read Octavian Coifan's review on 1000fragrances.
Illustration: Mother and Child by Pierre-Auguste Renoir