Fragrance of Spring : Perfume Article

Levitan_spring_flood

William Shakespeare wrote, “Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.” Although delicate and ethereal may be the first associations one makes with spring, this season of the year is also a time of great upheaval. Before the first leaves appear on the tender branches and before the first gossamer thin white petal unfolds, the snow and ice have to melt. Nature’s awakening from the slumber of winter can be almost violent and unpredictable, contrasting sharply with the crystalline and radiant beauty of the late spring. Similarly, the musky aromas of wet earth, the metallic pitch of melting ice and the pungency of last year’s decaying leaves revealed by the vanishing snow can be contrasted with the brilliant verdancy of first grasses, the sunny warmth of narcissuses and the luminous freshness of spring air. The duality of spring and her scents is fascinating and alluring, and it is difficult to resist their call.

In his extraordinary memoirs Souvenirs et Parfums, perfumer Constantine Weriguine declares his teacher, Ernest Beaux, to be the master of spring perfumes. “All of his best creations scintillate with the joy of spring, its upheavals and its moods. Thus, unrivaled Chanel No 5 is suffused by the breath of spring, musky, earthy, much like the aroma appearing after the melting of snow… Intensity, strength, brilliance and brightness as well as the light intoxication of youth are contained within it.” Although my translation does not seem to capture the beauty of Weriguine’s descriptions, I cannot leave aside his characterization of Beaux’s other creations. “Gardénia by Chanel is no less brightly touched by spring, especially in the initial flight of its fragrance. However, its spring is the spring of a different nature—it speaks of the spring of southern and tropical countries. Cuir de Russie is also remarkably fresh in its first movement and only later does it segue into an autumnal fragrance, which characterizes the perfumes of its type [chypre].”

The same enchanting spring-like beauty marks some other Chanel fragrances, from the refined freshness of Cristalle to the green musky richness of No 18. The latter is especially appropriate for the spring. The initial unctuous note, reminiscent of sticky green buds, slowly transforms into a delicate bouquet of tea rose and iris. Lacking the honeyed warmth of the summer blooms, the flowers unfolding in the heart of No 18 are marked by a slight sharpness and dewiness. It is a bouquet picked after a May storm—the earthy muskiness on the petals only serves to accent their delicate beauty.

If I were to name a modern perfumer whose fragrances capture the essence of spring, Jean-Claude Ellena would be someone of note. His compositions are based on the contrast between the dark woody or musky base notes and the ethereal radiance of top accords, which for me beautifully captures the intriguing duality of spring. Frédéric Malle Angéliques sous la is reminiscent of the first grasses appearing under the melting snow. With its combination of osmanthus, tea and suede, Hermès Osmanthe Yunnan evokes the sweetness of apricot blossoms and the darkness of wet branches. Similarly, Cartier Déclaration possesses the effervescence and intensity which mark the beginning of spring. The vision that it paints is of a slowly awakening landscape which is about to burst into sensual and voluptuous bloom.

Green leaves, delicate blades of grass, spears of tulips and crocuses… Once the winter departs with its snows, the aromas of spring attain a vibrant green hue. Fresh and bright, untouched by the dust of the soon to be sun parched soil, the verdancy of spring instills a sense of joy and lightness. Its fragrance has also inspired a number of legendary perfumes, from the ebullient Balmain Vent Vert to the elegantly restrained Chanel No 19. Guerlain Sous Le Vent is an intriguing juxtaposition of green herbal notes with lush jasmine and ylang ylang. Even if at times it appears to be filled with the balmy warmth more characteristic of the summer, its effervescent seems to me to be quite spring-like. Jacomo Silences is the translucent greenness of snowdrops and first May roses.

Annick Goutal Eau de Camille is a colder and fresh green floral, combining the sweetness of honeysuckle with the sparkling touch of ivy leaves. Monsieur Balmain (another creation by the perfumer behind the aforementioned Vent Vert, Germaine Cellier) is a delicious marriage of green notes, lemon and sandalwood. Everything about this extraordinary fragrance speaks of the vivacious brightness of spring and the more seductive charms soon to be brought by the summer. The dark verdancy of Diptyque Virgilio speaks of the late spring, which is soon to segue into the summer. Although it has been discontinued, Gobin Daudé Seve Exquise is one of the most spring-like green fragrances. It conjures the sticky sap covering the leaves, the chilly breeze of capricious April weather and a delicate whisper of white blossoms. Finally, Miller et Bertaux Green, green, green… is an exhilarating tribute to the greens of spring, even if it is as evanescent as the spring itself.

Speaking of spring scents, one cannot ignore the flowers. The commercial understanding of spring blooms is often crisp and fruity layered with bright white musks. However, the incredible diversity of spring flowers defies generalizations. Thus, Frédéric Malle En Passant speaks of lilacs drenched by a May storm. Guerlain Chamade hides a stunning hyacinth in its heart, intoxicating, opulent, sweet and green all at once. L’Artisan Parfumeur Mimosa Pour Moi is a lighthearted mimosa soliflore, while Caron Farnesiana and Frédéric Malle Une Fleur de Cassie are the more complex mimosa dominated symphonies. The queen of spring flowers, fragile and heady lily of the valley is the inspiration behind the legendary Christian Dior Diorissimo, Parfums DelRae Début and Gucci Envy. Finally, the exquisite Guerlain Après l’Ondée captures spring in its full blooming glory, contrasting dusky violets and chilly iris with spicy hawthorn and milky sandalwood. Après l’Ondée is filled with airy spring-like freshness. This remarkable fragrance enchants with its tenderness and fragility foiled by the sunny intensity of its warm heart. Even if its top notes speak of the winter chills and the final accords evoke the gilded autumn, the heart of Après l’Ondée belongs to spring.

For an additional list of my favorite perfumes, with which to usher in the spring, please see Perfumes To Usher In Spring article.

Also, please see two essays on some of the most beautiful spring flowers: hyacinth and lily of the valley.

Painting by one of Ernest Beaux’s favorite artists, Isaac Levitan. Spring Flood, 1897. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. An interesting explanation of this painting can be found on the website called Russian Painting.

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25 Comments

  • aryse: Hi dear Victoria,

    Reading your beautiful (and very poetic) post, I thought : it’s spring before spring.And I could smell the scent of every fragrances and the revival of the nature.
    I agree completely with your wonderful list and your comments.
    Angeliques sous la pluie (by JC Ellena for F. Malle) is certainly the most typical scent of spring but unfortunatly it’s not a long lasting perfume.That is its big problem.

    For Chamade, it is necessary to announce the reedition of Chamade for men, a marvellous fragrance by Guerlain.
    It was created in 1999 in a limited edition (the hearts of Chamade) and was completely discontinued since.
    Today it joined the Collection “Les Parisiennes” in its bottle bees.
    This collection is only available in the shop Guerlain at Champs-Elysées in Paris.
    (Chamade for men includes green notes, violet, bergamot, precious woods, vetiver and leather).

    And just a little detail : in my opinion, the great Bois de violette and the new Chanel Bel respiro are also perfumes of spring.Is it your opinion too ?
    Very nice day. March 19, 2007 at 6:19am Reply

  • carmencanada: As usually, you and I are pretty much on the same page — as far as lists are concerned. I’ve been wearing Une Fleur de Cassie (a new favorite), En Passant, Diorissimo and Vent Vert. I have to decant my N°19 edp miniature into an atomizer — I’m really very much into spraying these days as I find it enhances the sillage and lasting power of many scents — in my plan to finally discover the house of Chanel properly. I think you’re right: they’re something very spring-like in Ernest Beaux’s style and Cuir de Russie is just right for mid-March (iris and aldehydes).
    I’ve been thinking recently that one should really wear perfumes the same way one eats fruit and vegetables: in season. Thus: mimosa, lily of the valley, iris and even lilies (Lutens’s Un Lys is a voluptuous preview of hotter days). March 19, 2007 at 8:19am Reply

  • Elle: What a wonderful list of spring scents. The dilemna is that I now want to wear almost all of them this morning. Oh, and you’re right about spring being a time of upheaval. In Chinese five element theory the season for wood element is spring and that’s far from the gentlest of the elements.
    That memoir sounds like it would be an absolutely fascinating read, but I’m guessing it’s not been translated. And just went to look for it and only found a mention of it at Abe Books France where it’s not in stock – *why* must great books be let go out of print?? And I didn’t know that Isaac Levitan was one of Beaux’s favorite painters. *Adore* Levitan. March 19, 2007 at 8:23am Reply

  • newproducts: What a beautiful article. You have captured all the varying aspects of spring with the corresponding scents! I look forward to your favorites list on Wednesday. March 19, 2007 at 8:34am Reply

  • Marina: What a pleasure it was to read this post!
    If I haven’t read the article you linked to, I would have never noticed that the houses on the painting are actually submerged…changes the whole spirit of the painting, fascinating.
    I think for me the most spring-like Chanels would be No 18, 19, Cristalle and Bel Respiro. March 19, 2007 at 8:57am Reply

  • cynthia: V, what a beautiful post! I was hoping that you might write about spring perfumes and this is just perfect.

    I 2nd Elle’s question; where can we find that book about Ernest Beaux? March 19, 2007 at 12:23pm Reply

  • violetnoir: Gorgeous article, as always, V.

    For lily of valley, have you tried Michel Roudnitska’s newest creation, Ellie D? I would say that it’s like his PdR Debut, but actually only the opening is like it. Instead, it veers off into a different direction that is a smooth, warmer green, almost milky. I would love to read your thoughts on it.

    Hugs! March 19, 2007 at 12:28pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Aryse, definitely, Bois de Violette and Bel Respiro are the beautiful fragrances that capture the essence of spring (although somedays I find an autumnal hint in Bois de Violette too). Thank you for the news! I tried Chamade Pour Homme years ago, when it was first released as a limited edition. March 19, 2007 at 12:40pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: D, I absolutely love this idea of seasonality. 🙂 Although in practice I find that I crave lily of the valley in the winter and mimosa in the fall. A few days ago I was at the florist shop, and Rose de Siwa from Parfums MDCI on my arm blended so beautifully into the rose-scented atmosphere of a shop.

    I am glad that you have discovered Une Fleur de Cassie! Isn’t it such a gem? March 19, 2007 at 1:30pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, it is an amazing book. I have read and re-read it a couple of times within the past week alone. Ernest Beaux’ss mother was Russian and his father was French. Since he was born and raised in Moscow, he spoke Russian perfectly. He admired artists like Serov and Repin, writing of Pushkin, Turgenev and Dostoevsky as well as music by Beethoven, Debussy, Borodin, and Mussorgsky. March 19, 2007 at 1:38pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Elle, oops, I missed a part of your question. No, the book is only available in French and Russian, and even so, I cannot seem to locate a copy anywhere. A fellow perfume lover Dmitriy send me a xeroxed copy. March 19, 2007 at 1:39pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: N, thank you. It is a very beautiful time of year, and it was enjoyable to ponder my favourites. March 19, 2007 at 1:46pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Marina, it does, doesn’t it! Changes the perspective completely. March 19, 2007 at 1:47pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: C, thank you very much! As I replied to Elle, unfortunately, I do not know. I have not seen it anywhere. March 19, 2007 at 1:48pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: R, I tried it briefly, and it is a beautiful fragrance. I definitely plan to revisit it again and sample it more thoroughly. March 19, 2007 at 1:49pm Reply

  • Peter: Thank you for this article! I especially loved the quote about Cuir de Russie. I understand from your answers to Elle and Cynthia that the book is impossible to find, but can you please share more tidbits about Ernest Beaux from it? There is very little written about him in English. March 19, 2007 at 2:12pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Peter, I definitely will! He was a fascinating person and a genius perfumer. March 19, 2007 at 2:26pm Reply

  • ruxandra: One can see from your poetic style of writing your ukrainian roots.
    The amount of information you have on parfums is impressive.Thank you for sharing this whith us.
    I know only some of the fragrances you mentioned above,since there are no niche parfums where I live and I rely only on your articles when I buy-mostly online or when friends are buying for me from abroud.I am waiting now for Une Fleur de Cassie(I know!…), Un Zest de Rose and Angelique Encens.I can hardly wait!
    Hugs! March 19, 2007 at 3:55pm Reply

  • Linda: Dear Victoria,
    You are a true Renaissance woman! Your knowledge of languages, art, literature… as well as, of course, fragrance … is quite astounding. Every day I can hardly wait to see which picture you have chosen to illustrate a particular scent, and I’ve learned so much. The Baudelaire poem is now in my commonplace book, for instance, and I’ve tracked down the Greek perfume lady. But, I digress: how I agree about No.19 and Chamade as being lovely fragrances for spring. And do I think correctly, that Apree l’Ondee is your real favourite ever? I have Chamade in EdP and Apree l’Ondee but only in EdT (one day the extrait I hope!) And, for me, the French composers of the early 20th century speak to me of spring: Ravel, Poulenc and some of the Debussy Images and Preludes. A capricious season indeed, but exciting and truly scented! Warmest wishes – March 19, 2007 at 5:16pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Ruxandra, thank you very much! I am so glad that you are finding the information helpful. I know how frustrating it can be not to have good stores nearby where you can go and try everything. I do a lot of online shopping myself, because often there is simply no time to go to the store. Thank goodness for internet! 🙂 By the way, your choices are wonderful. Enjoy your new fragrances. March 19, 2007 at 8:52pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Linda, thank you very much for such a lovely compliment! I am touched by your kind words. I am so glad that you like the paintings I admire as well. It is often the best aspect of thinking of a theme–browsing through my art catalogues. I like Chamade and Apres l’Ondee in all concentrations. When I first tried Chamade in the EDT, I was not impressed, but now I can appreciate it sheer form. The parfum is much more opulent. New or vintage, it is a beauty to be cherished.

    Ravel Trio and Sonatas are among my favourite pieces of music. I get shivers up and down my spine whenever I play them. March 19, 2007 at 9:00pm Reply

  • k-amber: Dear Victoria,
    Thank you for the review. Spring is the only season I wear flowery scents. I will try beautiful fragrances you recommend shortly. BTW, Eat and sleep well(as your mom is always telling) since you are very busy!

    Kaori March 19, 2007 at 9:32pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Kaori, thank you very much for your sweet concern! I am trying to, because otherwise it is nearly impossible to function at this rhythm. 🙂 Lily of the valley is one of my favourite flower notes right now. I think that I will break the seal on my Guerlain Muguet bottle at last. I have been saving it. March 19, 2007 at 9:38pm Reply

  • Grace Fleet: Did I read your post wrong? You meant Chanel 19, right?
    Don’t make me crazy…..there’s no Chanel 18, is there?
    I love #22 and Cristalle. Or I should say that they love me.
    Whatever’s in Coco, makes me smell like the town dump.
    I love this web site; I guess because I love perfume!!!

    Grace Rovegno Fleet March 25, 2007 at 6:35pm Reply

  • BoisdeJasmin: Grace, no, you read it right–Chanel No 18. It has been released last month, along with 5 other new fragrances–28 La Pausa, Coromandel, 31 rue Cambon, Eau de Cologne and Bel Respiro! March 25, 2007 at 6:53pm Reply

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