just reproduce templates conceived for « perfumery flowers » -- the
tuberose in Fracas, the gardenia in Ma Griffe, etc. – translating the true
scent of a flower into a fragrance isn’t as easy a proposition as it seems.
Most are seasonal: perfumers just have a few weeks, if that, to poke their
noses into the blossoms to find a novel way of expressing them. In big labs,
they can rely on scientific teams to present them with an array of analyses:
headspace captures of the flower at different moments of the day, of its life
cycle, or in different locations; spectrographic or chromatographic dissections
of the essential oil or absolute. This is what Dominique Ropion studied to cut
tuberose loose from its Fracas model
in Carnal Flower. He also faced the
problem of turning a smell into a “skin” fragrance: the photorealistic reproduction of tuberose, now available as a candle, had to be tweaked while remaining faithful to
its olfactory form.
Videault faced all of those issues when she created Magnolia Grandiflora, without the backup of a team of scientists.
Her magnolia was originally, if I recall our first conversations about it
correctly, intended as a home fragrance. Grandiflora’s owner Saskia Havekes
fell in love with it so much she was inspired to create her own fine fragrance
brand. The scent of the flower seems fairly straightforward: lemony, rosy, with
a white floral soapiness. How do you transpose it into something that evolves
over the hours while saying “magnolia” at every stage? This is what she
wrote for the press kit:
The first steps were to write the base of the
flower. Its interpretation forms the body of the scent’s construction.
Gradually, by wearing this olfactory body, I played with the different
olfactive facets that make up the specificity of the Magnolia Grandiflora. For
instance, it’s probably the first time I detect a chypre accord in the flower.
I didn’t know it existed in nature. For me, it was the most important thing to
say about this Magnolia. Of course, this flower smells of lemon, and also
conjures a certain moistness, but there are also fruity notes of melon,
watermelon, earthy notes. I consulted Saskia to remind me of the form of this
flower’s fragrance, it was easy to follow the tangents and to let myself be
mesmerized by its nuances.
worked on this floral portrait for two years and a half. In what were to be her
last months, she perfected the formula relying purely on her memory, to achieve
a perfectly limpid view of her concept rather than lose herself in countless
mods – for her, as for her mentor Edmond Roudnitska, perfumery was a cosa mentale, to reprise Da Vinci’s
is all the more precious because it is the last offering of this fiercely
independent artist. Her uncompromising Manoumalia
has as many admirers as detractors. Magnolia
Grandiflora Sandrine is the polar opposite: a shimmering, delicate,
meditative fragrance with none of the growling skankiness of her creation for
LesNez. Indeed, at times, it is almost too quiet, a teasing ghost of a scent
you catch out of the corner of your nose, as it were, in a movement or a
exhilarating squirt of peppery grapefruit overlays a dewy, silky floral with
sweet hints of melon and watermelon – though it is in no way an aquatic --,
kept in check by the bitterness of the grapefruit note. Though its sillage is
mainly rosy, or so I’ve been told, up close it gives off an arrestingly natural feel: not only the flower, but
the hazy-moist early summer air that carries its scent, and the sun-heated
earth the tree grows in. In short, the portrait of the flower is also a
landscape: this is Sandrine Videault’s Diorissimo.
Roudnitska’s interpretation couldn’t be more different. As I’ve written earlier, he met Saskia Havekes when she traveled from Australia to launch Magnolia Grandiflora in Paris. She took
the opportunity to visit Cabris, near Grasse, where the oil of the scent was
put together by Accords et Parfums, the offshoot of the company founded by
Edmond Roudnitska, Art et Parfum. The facility is located on the grounds of the
Roudnitska estate, Sainte-Blanche, next to the villa where Michel lives. It was
then that Michel pulled a newspaper-wrapped bottle out of a closet to show
Saskia his own interpretation of the magnolia planted by his father, a scent
he’s known since childhood and that has long fascinated him.
The temptation of
offering this second version, so different yet so intimately related to the
first because of its roots in the history of Sainte-Blanche – where both
perfumers took their first steps in their art – proved irresistible.
Roudnitska’s style as a composer could be described as somewhat maximalist:
without playing armchair shrink, it’s likely he wasn’t keen to reproduce his
father’s exquisitely balanced aesthetics. His years living in Tahiti must have
strongly influenced him as well: it is especially perceptible in the florals he
did for Parfums DelRae, like the grandly sensuous Amoureuse with its tropical vibe. Émotionnelle, his interpretation of his mother’s scent, which went
on to become Le Parfum de Thérèse, is
just as extravagantly vivid and rich.
surprise, then, that Magnolia Grandiflora
Michel is a portrait of the flower at its lushest, its waxy thick petals
just bursting with juice. Michel’s version is headier, but also earthier and
woodier than Sandrine’s, with vetiver and patchouli subtly enhancing the base
notes. Vanilla is also detectable: this is crème
de magnolia, an almost edible delicacy.
fragrances are utterly beautiful, and, for want of a better term, I’d call them
sincere. The work of two exceptional
people whose poetic conception of their art leaves no room for the compromises
of commercialism. Saskia Havekes is a lucky woman to have the privilege of
debuting in the world of fragrance with such compositions. And perfume lovers
should thank her – along with the irreplaceable Michael Edwards, who oversaw
the project – for offering them to the world.
Pictures by Imogen Cunningham and Johan Hagemeyer.